Hope through a Little Baby

bLucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                                                                 Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

Our greatest Christmas 2019 gift is the birth of a new baby this fall — my new grandson in New York.

But as I witness the news of suffering, homeless war-torn and starving families struggling to survive the upcoming winter, I cannot help but think of so many through the years who were brought hope—through the birth of a baby.

The year 1809 was a bleak and dismal time for giving birth. With the ruthless dictator Napoleon determined to conquer the world, there was little hope left in anyone’s heart. Yet in that one year alone, babies who were destined to change the world were born – Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, William Gladstone, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, Cyrus McCormick and Felix Mendelssohn.

While no one noticed.

Millennia before, very few noticed a young couple arriving in Bethlehem, who were forced to spend the night in a stable and give birth to their baby there. But God knew. He orchestrated this humble birth as the beginning for the child who would literally change the course of history – Jesus Christ.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7 NRSV

Do you ever wonder what this birth was really like?

Allow me to borrow the description of favorite storyteller Max Lucado: “A more lowly place of birth could not exist. Near the young mother sits the weary father. If anyone is dozing, he is… The mystery of the event still puzzles him. What’s important is that the baby is fine and that Mary is safe. Wide awake is Mary. My, how young she looks! Her head rests on the soft leather of Joseph’s saddle. The pain has been eclipsed by wonder. She looks into the face of the baby. Her son. Her Lord. His Majesty.

“At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is and what he is doing is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. She can’t take her eyes off him. Somehow Mary knows she is holding God. So this is he. She remembers the words of the angel, ‘His kingdom will never end.’ He looks anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And he is absolutely dependent upon Mary for his well-being. This newborn baby is majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.” (Max Lucado, His Name is Jesus: Promise of God’s Love Fulfilled).

I picture that scene surrounded by the music of a fifth century carol, “O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace, By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race; And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore! (“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” Aurelius Prudentius)

Babies. Birth. Hope.

May you and yours treasure the quiet and peaceful moments that are waiting for you during this holy and yes, hope-filled, Christmas week.

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Hope through a Little Baby – encouragement 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?

The Mystery of Christmas

by Karen DeArmond Gardner

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  Colossians 1:15 ESV

It was a night like any other night. Or was it?

The evening sky glittered with specks of light except for one beautiful star, a guide for those who knew would follow. Nighttime sounds were heard along with the baying of animals. Suddenly, the darkness filled with the sound of screams, first of a woman, then of a baby.

Tucked away in a small corner of the world, a child was born. To the observer, the birth wasn’t significant. The town’s citizens unaware who had arrived in their midst. A baby in a barn was not what they expected.

No one knew that God had just broken 400 years of silence, first with the cry of a baby, then with a host of angels announcing to a few shepherds that the long-awaited Messiah was born. On this night, God could now be seen and touched in the form of a babe.

On this night there was a shift in the heavens. Everything changed. The promise of the Messiah had been fulfilled.

Heaven came to earth.

Did the great deceiver feel it? As the babe cried, did he also cry in agony? Did he sense his impending doom? Did he get a headache, feeling as though his skull was being crushed? Did he remember the curse placed upon him thousands of years before? Did he hear the sound of angels singing? I imagine he was frantic, trying to figure out what had just happened. This humble beginning was not what he expected.

The great mystery began with the cry of an infant. One day this babe would sacrifice himself for me, for you. This babe would conquer death and give us the power of the resurrection through the Holy Spirit. The creator of the universe could inhabit us. We could become the dwelling place of the Most High.

All because of a babe wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. All the authority, power, and glory of God wrapped into a sweet bundle of joy who needed to be fed, changed and cuddled.

Mary had carried the glory of God for nine months, and now she held him in her arms. She watched and listened when the shepherds came to tell of their encounter with heaven. She hid every word in her heart.

I’m in awe of all that Jesus endured bringing heaven to earth. Before the foundations of the world He, the creator of all, chose to become an infant so the invisible God could be seen.

The glitz and glitter of Christmas decorations are a reminder that the invisible God became visible. We remember how extravagant God’s love is and the lengths He went to show us how much He loves us.

Take a few moments this Christmas season and consider the mystery of heaven coming to earth. How the unseen became seen. How the powerful Son of God became a helpless baby. How the glory of God would be held in a young girl’s arms and be laid in a manger among the animals. How the world changed with the single cry of a babe.

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The Mystery of Christmas – insight from Karen DeArmond Gardner on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

karen dearmond gardnerAbout the author: Karen DeArmond Gardner is a 30-year survivor of domestic violence. She has spent 15 years on her own healing journey and nearly that long helping others find freedom, restoration, and redemption.

Karen is a facilitator in Freedom Ministry/Sozo and directs the Women’s Ministry at Catch the Fire DFW Church. She also facilitates Mending the Soul, a group that leads women through the trauma of their past into healing and wholeness. She serves on the Board of Directors for Arukah House, a transitional home for women coming out of sex trafficking and abuse.

Karen blogs at Crack the Silence and can be found at her Crack the Silence Facebook page. She continues to be a helpful contact and resource for abused women in her church and community.

Join the conversation: What part of Christmas seems the most mysterious to you?

What Does It Look Like to Be Highly Favored of God?

by Debbie Wilson @DebbieWWilson

“She lives a charmed life,” a friend said regarding her daughter-in-law. “Everything just works out for her.” If a charmed life is easy, then what do you imagine a highly-favored-of-God life to be?

If an angel called you highly favored, wouldn’t you expect some free “get out of pain” passes? If God picked you to carry His child, wouldn’t you anticipate some special treatment? Surely, He’d assure your fiancé of your faithfulness.

God chose Mary to be the mother of His only Son. Gabriel the angel called Mary highly favored of God twice in their brief encounter. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).

I’m not sure what Mary imagined would happen when she returned from a three-month visit with her cousin to tell Joseph she was pregnant—with God’s Son. But he didn’t buy it. Since their engagement could only be ended by divorce or death, he looked for a way to quietly divorce her.

Mary didn’t live a charmed life. Her fiancé believed she’d cheated on him. She saw Joseph’s pain and had no way to prove her faithfulness.

Since God set the bar on sexual purity, why did He let others believe Mary was sexually immoral? Why did He put this couple through this tension?

In the nick of time, God sent an angel to stop Joseph from divorcing Mary. But the religious leaders continued to call Jesus illegitimate even in His adult years. God allowed people, including their religious leaders, to believe Joseph and Mary were sexually loose, when they had shown extraordinary restraint. Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus’ birth.

I wonder how many Jewish customers and friends Joseph lost in his carpentry business because of this scandal. Wouldn’t you think God would clear the reputation of this highly favored couple?

Isaiah 55:8 reminds us God’s ways are not our ways. They are far better. God cleared Mary’s reputation with those for whom it mattered. He also used this misunderstanding to benefit Mary, Joseph—and us.

  • Mary and Joseph could empathize with those who doubted their story. They didn’t waste energy being offended that others didn’t believe them. After all, it took an angel’s visit for Joseph to understand.
  • Joseph modeled how to handle betrayal.
  • Mary and Joseph’s faith grew. With each new challenge they remembered God’s faithfulness through previous tests.
  • When people believe lies about us, we know we’re in good company. Some of God’s most highly favored saints were misunderstood.

Having God’s favor didn’t mean ease for Mary.

  • Instead of having a midwife and a clean bed, Mary delivered God’s Son in a stable.
  • Instead of being escorted by the king’s army, soldiers hunted her boy to murder him.
  • Instead of being protected from suffering, her Son’s scourging and crucifixion pierced her own heart.

Definitely not a charmed life!

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s not let the world’s view of how this holiday should look rob us of the true riches we have in Christ. God’s ways are not our ways; they are infinitely better. Despite her trials, Mary found peace in knowing no problem is too big for God. She dwells in heaven today with the Father and the Son.

If you asked her, she’d tell you: the favor of God far surpasses living a charmed life.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised by the fiery troubles that are coming in order to test you. Don’t feel as though something strange is happening to you, but be happy as you share Christ’s sufferings. Then you will also be full of joy when he appears again in his glory. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory—the Spirit of God—is resting on you” 1 Peter 4:12-14 GW

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What Does It Look Like to Be Highly Favored of God? – encouragement from @DebbieWWilson on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

debbie wilsonAbout the author: Drawing from her walk with Christ, and years as a Christian counselor, coach, and Bible teacher, Debbie W. Wilson helps women give themselves a break so they can enjoy fruitful and grace-filled lives. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Her latest book, Little Faith, Big God, is to be released February 2020. She and her husband Larry founded and run Lighthouse Ministries, a nonprofit counseling, coaching, and Bible study ministry. She is an AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) certified speaking and writing coach. Debbie enjoys a good mystery, dark chocolate, and the antics of her two standard poodles. Refresh your faith with free resources at debbieWwilson.com.

Join the conversation: What has God done that didn’t make sense to you at the time? Did His ways prove better than yours?

Yes, Brenda, There Is a Real Jesus!

by Brenda Poinsett

 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.                                                                                                                                                    John 1:14a TEV

When I was around eight years old, a classmate informed me that Santa Claus wasn’t real. There’s probably not an eight-year-old alive now that believes in Santa, but I did back then. My mind began working furiously trying to sort out the truth. Santa Claus? Not real? Dear wonderful Santa had to be real.

I had to admit I had been suspicious. How could Santa get down narrow chimneys with his round belly? How did he get into homes without fireplaces? As I thought about all this, I realized my classmate was right. There was no real Santa Claus.

I was disappointed and angry. I thought, Maybe this means baby Jesus isn’t real either. If one was a made-up person, then the other one probably was, too.

I didn’t want to be caught unaware again, so I began observing adults to see if the baby Jesus story was also a legend. Like Virginia, the famous little girl who wrote to a newspaper to see if there was a Santa Claus, I wanted to know if Jesus was real. I didn’t write to a newspaper, but I watched and listened, especially at church. If Jesus wasn’t real, then surely there would be clues. Some adult would slip with the evidence. As carefully as I listened, I didn’t pick up any clues. Everybody at church talked and acted as if Jesus were real.

Our pastor said, “Jesus forgives sin, and everyone sins.” I recognized that as truth! I knew that I had done some wrong things. The pastor encouraged us to confess our sins to Jesus and proclaim faith in Him. The thought of doing that in front of the church scared me, but eventually I did. I asked for forgiveness and confessed my belief in Jesus.

Then I experienced something that has been the hallmark of my relationship with Jesus ever since. He responded. He forgave my sins. One has to be real to respond!

Jesus continued to respond as our relationship grew and developed through the years. I could count on a good conversation with Him any time. He responded to my concerns with understanding and guidance. Sometimes when I was lonely and thought no one liked me, He assured me that He was my friend. He gave me courage to leave home, strike out on my own, and become an independent adult. He led me to a mate and helped us raise our children. Even at times when I wasn’t as faithful to our relationship as He was, I knew I could call His name and Jesus would answer.

Over and over as He verified His realness, an inner voice bubbled up within me, saying “Yes, Brenda, there is a real Jesus. He is ‘the Word of life’ (1 John 1:1 TEV). That’s why I exclaim with the apostle John, “We have heard it, and we have seen it with our eyes; yes, we have seen it, and our hands have touched it. When this life became visible, we saw it; so we speak of it” (1 John 1:1-2 TEV).

I may not see Jesus in the literal flesh the way John did, but I see Him operate in my life and in the lives of others. I hear His voice; I feel His touch; I sense His realness. That’s why, like John, I have to say, “What we have seen and heard we announce to you also” (1 John 1:3 TEV). I announce to you this Christmas season that Jesus is real! I write this as a reminder so “that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4 TEV).

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Yes, Brenda, There Is a Real Jesus! – encouragement 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 better. She does this through writing, speaking and teaching. She’s the author of more than 20 books.

The Christmas season can often be a time of great stress and pressure for women feeling the weight of expectation for a “perfect” holiday. This can overshadow the spiritual joy that can be found at the feet of Jesus. The 25 reflections in Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas will help the “Martha” in each of us realize that she is entitled to the “Mary” time with Jesus that He desires. Focusing on Christmas themes in a lively and amusing manner, this book ministers to any Martha’s emotional and spiritual needs.

Join the conversation: How do you know Jesus is real?

 

Mary, Model for Modern Women

by Fran Caffey Sandin

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1: 38

Early one morning with Christmas only a week away, I sat in a comfortable chair near the lace-curtained window. As I rocked our baby boy, listened to his soft newborn sounds, and stroked his velvety cheek, my thoughts drifted to that first Christmas night. Although my comfortable surroundings were far removed from the stable where she gave birth, I felt a common bond with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The love and tenderness we shared toward our sons might span the gulf of time, but Mary’s example remains as a guide for me and other modern moms.

Even as a teenager, Mary’s spirit was tender toward God. She was listening, expectantly, willing to obey when the angel Gabriel explained that she would give birth to the Son of God. Probably stunned and frightened, Mary wondered how it could be, but she did not run away and hide. I considered my active life to ask, Am I tuned in to God? Am I listening to Him before taking the next step? If he calls me out of my comfort zone or to accept a new challenge, I feel unprepared for, will I trust Him and obey?

A willing servant, Mary faced an unplanned pregnancy. Instead of refusing to place herself in an awkward social situation, she viewed herself as part of God’s sovereign plan for humanity and humbled her life before Him. Our culture emphasizes a woman’s need for self-fulfillment, even at the expense of others. And yet, our privilege as wives and mothers is to nurture and train our children to have a godly character. What is more important than protecting a helpless child and meeting his needs? It may not always be fun and convenient, but cultivating a servant’s heart will provide one of life’s greatest joys.

Isn’t it interesting that Mary did not wait for Joseph’s approval before saying “Yes” to God?

With a quiet spirit she waited for God to take care of Joseph, and He did. Instead of divorcing Mary, since they were already betrothed, or having her stoned to death, thinking she had committed adultery, he listened to God and chose a third option. Marry her.

Mary’s submissiveness to God proved to be a blessing as Joseph proceeded to love and protect Mary and baby Jesus. In my early years of marriage, I sometimes tried to take over the reins. I wanted the control in all of our decisions. Since then, I’ve learned to follow Mary’s example, and let God lead how we move forward. Mary waited for God to take care of the details. He did. 

Mary was told by the angel: “Fear not.” As women we often worry and fret unnecessarily. But as the angel assured Mary, nothing is impossible with God. Author David Hubbard wrote in his book, How to Face Your Fears: “We can face the future with courage. Why? Because the same God whose presence surrounded the Bethlehem manger will see us through our ‘impossibilities’ of tomorrow. When uncertainties come, let us not shrink with fear, but rather, respond as did Mary, ‘I am willing, Lord.’”

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the example of Mary, a woman who believed and trusted in You through her difficult situation. Let us learn from her servant heart, quiet spirit, and submissiveness to your will. Help us listen for your Holy Spirit to guide us in making wise decisions. May we exalt you daily and give you praise. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Mary, Model for Modern Women – Fran Sandin on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

fran sandlinAbout the authorFran Caffey Sandin is a retired nurse, wife, mother, and grandmother in Greenville, Texas. She enjoys baking, flower arranging, hiking, and traveling with her husband, Jim. Fran is a church organist, a core group leader for Community Bible Study, and author of See You Later, Jeffreyand Touching the Clouds: True Stories to Strengthen Your Faithand has co-authored othersJim and Fran are parents of two sons awaiting them in Heaven; a married daughter and son-in-law, and three fabulous grandchildren. Visit Fran at her website:  www.fransandin.com.

Join the conversation: What examples from the Bible are inspiring to you?

 

 

 

 

More Jesus this Christmas

by Kathy Howard @KathyHHoward

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”                                                                                                                                               Luke 2:11 ESV

 My big, beautiful 7-foot tall Christmas tree sat at the end of the driveway waiting for the garbage truck. Every December, for almost a decade, that tree graced a prominent spot in our living room all decked out with glittery gold and brilliant red ornaments. But it had seen its last Christmas.

The day before, I had drug it out of the storage closet, cleared the spot in front of the window, and set up the stand. I struggled with the heavy bottom section, wrangled it into the slot in the stand, and fanned out the branches. One branch fell off onto the floor. Oh well, just one. I figured I could fluff to fill that spot.

Then I plugged it in to test the lights. Only about a fourth of them worked. After trying in vain to get the rest working I made a difficult decision. It was time to retire the tree. We had hoped to get one more season out of our old friend, but alas, it was not to be.

With a sigh I carried the prickly base down the driveway to the edge of the street. Soon I had the tree bag and all the other sections out there too.

I had been vacillating on whether or not to even put up the big tree that year. It was an “off” year with our grown children. They had all been with us for Thanksgiving, so they would be with the in-laws for Christmas. But I love the festive red and gold ornaments. I couldn’t imagine the season without them twinkling at me every time I pass through the room.

Yes, I could run out and buy another big tree. But it didn’t make sense to buy a new tree before we moved in a few months. After briefly contemplating “no tree,” I put the 4-foot tree that usually adorned my home office in the living room. I put the wreath on the front door and hung the stockings on the fireplace. Even though that was just a fraction of the decorating I usually do, I declared it “Done.”

The first night the small tree shone in the living room, I really missed my big, beautiful red and gold creation. But the next morning I decided to take a step back and refocus. This scaled back tree gave me an opportunity to focus on the more important things of the season. Less decorating and more sharing. Less cleaning and more loving. Less me and lots more Jesus.

That simplified Christmas gave me the opportunity to contemplate the simple beauty of that first Christmas.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 1:10-11, ESV

A babe in a manger. Born for you. Born for me. God come to us so we might live.

Ah, that’s what it should be all about anyway. Christmas. More Jesus.

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More Jesus this Christmas – encouragement from @KathyHHoward on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Kathy HowardAbout the Author: A former “cultural Christian,” Bible teacher and speaker Kathy Howard now lives an unshakable faith for life and encourages women to stand firm on our rock-solid God. The author of eight books, Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education. She and her retired husband live outside the Dallas/Ft Worth area with their miscellaneous assortment of dogs. Find free discipleship resources on her website, www.kathyhoward.org and connect with Kathy on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest.

Kathy’s book “Before His Throne” leads you on a 9-week journey through the book of Malachi to discover what godly fear looks in our daily lives and how this biblical attitude will help you find deeper intimacy with God.

Join the conversation: In what ways have you lost focus on Jesus in Christmases past? How can you refocus on Jesus this year?

Squeeze the Sponge

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

Now is the Son glorified and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.” John 13:31

We’ve all encountered someone who later turned out to be much different than we originally thought. Maybe they presented as the perfect, compassionate friend only to turn on us when we didn’t meet their expectations. Or perhaps the opposite occurred, and we assumed someone was shallow or selfish or irresponsible, only to discover, when life became hard, they showed themselves to be steady, present, and unshakable.

It’s so easy to misjudge someone and tempting to assign selfish motives or ill intent. For years, I did this to my husband, and it nearly destroyed our marriage. He and I are different in so many ways, including how we receive and express love. I’m a “quality time” person who measures the health of our relationship based on the depth of our conversations. He’s a provider and protector at heart, who will spend hours if not days searching for that perfect gift and earning the income to provide it.

Not being a “gift” person, I not only didn’t appreciate this, but in my misunderstanding, I completely misjudged his motives. I assumed he loved his job more than my daughter and I and was merely buying us gifts to appease us. But when we went through a difficult financial period, I watched him sacrifice time, energy, sleep—everything—for us. I’ve now seen this again and again. When times become difficult, his inner hero emerges, and I lose all doubt regarding the depth of his love.

When times get tough, we see what people are made of. As a former publishing colleague once put it, “Squeeze a sponge, and what’s inside comes out.” Likely we can all attest to the truth in that statement, not just in regard to others, but in relation to Christ as well.

In the same way, my view of God has shifted over the years. The better I know Him, the clearer His heart becomes to me. Through difficulties, upheavals, and uncertainties, He’s revealed my misconceptions and allowed my falsehoods to surface, so that my heart can become more deeply anchored in truth. When it felt as if my world were spinning out of control, He held me and worked the chaos into good. When it seemed as if everyone else had abandoned me, He remained and drew me close. When bitterness welled within and even my prayers turned angry, He spoke words of love to my breaking heart.

Through hard times and good, God has proved that His love and faithfulness are beyond anything I ever imagined. But He’s revealed Himself most clearly through the cross. Shortly before His death, Jesus told His disciples what was ahead. He said it would all be very revealing: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31 NASB). To glorify is to make the worth of someone clear or understood. The cross glorified Christ “in two ways. It was the revelation of His heart; it was the throne of His sovereign power” (MacLaren’s Expositions of Holy Scripture).

On the cross, we see Jesus’s unchanging nature: the self-sacrificing God who loves His children fiercely and will stop at nothing to draw us close. In His resurrection, we see His sovereignty over death and sin.

To put it simply, Jesus showed who He truly is and the depth of His love through sacrifice.

And as His follower, I must do the same.

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Squeeze the Sponge – encouragement from @JenSlattery on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Jennifer SlatteryAbout the author:  Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Hometown Healing and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.Intentional Holidays: Finding Peace in the Prince of Peace by [Ministries, Wholly Loved]

This holiday season, with Intentional Holidays: 30 Reflections for Rest and Peace, Jennifer invites us to hit pause in the middle of our crazy, beautiful, and not-so-glamorous moments to experience Immanuel, God with us. No matter how busy our days, fragmented our minds, disrupted our plans, or frazzled our hearts, God beckons us to draw near so that we can live filled and refilled.

Join the conversation: How has God revealed Himself to you lately?

The Greeting that Changed the World

by Linda Evans Shepherd  @LindaShepherd

Imagine the night the first Christmas greeting rang through the skies outside the quiet town of Bethlehem.  There, in a pasture, a few hills away from town, stood sleepy shepherds who were watching over their flocks beneath the twinkling stars.

They had no ambitions of seeing the glory of God until their grazing sheep began to glow as glory filled the skies.  The shepherd’s shielded their eyes to gaze upon a shining figure who seemed to float above them.

This angel announced a heavenly greeting meant for every man, woman, and child:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12 NIV).

The shepherds trembled and the glory before them expanded until the entire sky was filled with God’s heavenly choir.

The angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV).

The shepherds had never heard such voices, and they were amazed.

When the sky went dark, the shepherds ran into town, shouting the good news.  The people woke up and marveled at such an announcement. But I imagine one family took a special interest. An unwed mother, still a virgin, and her fiancé, heard the shepherds’ shouts and understood their meaning.

For Mary, this Christmas greeting lay in her arms, as she placed the newborn son of God in a manger. She understood why the shepherds came to see the one of whom the angels sang.

What a moment.  The birth of the light of the world celebrated in the heavens, announced to lowly shepherds, and placed in a feeding trough. Such a visitation of God’s grace came to us so that God could give us the perfect Christmas gift.

Because of this night, if we allow, Jesus’s righteousness will cover our sins so we can not only walk with God, but so that His very spirit can rest upon us.

So let’s continue to share the Christmas greeting of the angels, not only with our loved ones, but with the world.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”   Isaiah 52:7 NASB

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The Greeting that Changed the World – encouragement from @LindaShepherd on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

linda evans shepherd

About the author: Linda Shepherd Evans is the president of Right to the Heart Ministries and the CEO of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), which ministers to Christian women authors and speakers. She’s the publisher of Leading Hearts Magazine and Arise Daily. Linda is an award-winning author who has written numerous books. Her prayer books have sold over a quarter-of-a-million copies. She is an internationally recognized speaker.

Linda’s latest release, When You Need to Move a Mountain: Keys to Praying with Power, is a practical and encouraging book that explains what intercessory prayer is, how to pray as an intercessor, and how to experience victory. You’ll quickly find the specific help you need to pray for the needs close to your heart. You’ll also learn how to develop your own intercessory prayer battle strategy and to celebrate each victory with thanksgiving.

Join the conversation: Have you had the opportunity to share the meaning of Christmas during the holiday season?

When Love Is Hard to Give, and Harder to Receive

by Donna Jones @donnajonesspeak

The conversation that set the event into motion went something like this: “She has nowhere to go. Do you think we should invite her to spend Christmas with us?”

What better time of the year to open our hearts and our home, than Christmas? we reasoned.

I’m excited to lovingly enfold her into our family traditions, and ensure she has a Christmas to remember.

I buy presents. I make sure she has Christmas pajamas to open on Christmas Eve, along with the rest of our family. I wrap her gifts late into the night, using carefully selected paper and coordinating ribbon.

She joins our family for the Christmas Eve service, and spends the night at our home, all cozy and warm in her new Christmas PJ’s. It feels like a holy night.

On Christmas morning, however, things take a turn.

She questions my choice of Christmas breakfast options. She wonders aloud if we’re spoiling our children with the amount of gifts they receive. I lose count of how many times I hear “Why did you do that?” and “I would have done this”. The list of complaints seems endless. Christmas isn’t at all what I’d hoped, or envisioned, or planned.

Christmas is Just. Plain. Hard.

Finally, darkness falls and desert is done. We hug her neck, close the door, and I breathe a deep, weary sigh. Relief spreads over me. And nearly as fast, so does guilt.

Am I a terrible person? I wonder to myself. Why is it so hard for me to love difficult people—even when I genuinely want to? I’m not naïve enough to believe one family Christmas with us would fix her broken pieces. I thought I simply wanted to show love—but my disappointed soul told me otherwise.

What I really wanted was to show love and have her receive love. But she didn’t know how. And I didn’t know what to do with someone who didn’t know how.

If you are like me, love feels most like love when it’s effortless, and when it’s embraced. But holy love can be hard. Love is a gift; one that is given even when someone else doesn’t take it–or worse–takes it for granted.

This holy, hard love is what Jesus offered when He traded the comforts of heaven for the constraints of humanity. In Jesus, God gave His love, even though people complain about it, misunderstand it, misuse it, or reject it.

Our houseguest isn’t the only one who has a hard time embracing love. Sometimes I do, too. How many times have I questioned God, thinking, why did you do this? or I would have done it like that? How often have I wasted blessings God lavishly purchased for me?

I suspect you can relate.

Yes, love is sometimes hard to give. But sometimes love is even harder to receive.

This hard, holy love–the kind of love extended to those who struggle to love when it’s hard, and also to those who have a hard time accepting love when it’s given–was embodied in Jesus. Jesus is God’s love gift to me. To you. To everyone.

This is the message of Christmas.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.    John 4:10 NLT

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When Love Is Hard to Give, and Harder to Receive – insight from @DonnaJonesSpeak on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

donna jonesAbout the author: Donna Jones is a national speaker, author and pastor’s wife who is passionate about helping people know and love Jesus. The author of several books, Donna is mom to three funny, Jesus loving young adult kids who frequently sit on her kitchen counter, just to chat. Connect with Donna at www.donnajones.org or on Instagram @donnaajones.

The market is full of books and Bible studies for well-seasoned believers,but what about the woman who longs to know God but has never cracked open a Bible? Seek: A Woman’s Guide to Meeting God is a refreshingly real look at the fundamentals of the Christian faith, written for the woman who doesn’t know Jacob from Job. It combines solid biblical teaching with engaging explanations to guide the spiritually curious woman on her journey to meet God.

The Wildness of the Great I AM

by Linda Rooks @linda_rooks

Christmas music peeled through the interior of the car as I made my final shopping rounds on the day before Christmas. Just a few more presents to get before I made my way home to do some wrapping then head to the Christmas Eve service. On the radio, the song, “Mary Did You Know” was playing. As my car rounded a corner, I heard that stirring question posed to the mother of Jesus—and us. Did she truly know who that baby in her arms was? Did she fully understand that He was actually the God of creation, come to earth to save us?

The song came to its climactic conclusion, reminding Mary that the small child asleep in her arms was the all-powerful God of the universe — the “GREAT I AM.”

As these moving words hit my ears, I stared in surprise at the license plate on the car in front of me. The first three letters on the plate read, “I AM!”

“Ha,” I thought. “Okay, God you got my attention. You want me to focus on who You ARE! Christmas shopping is fine, but you don’t want me to lose sight of the fact that the Great I AM, the powerful God of the universe, came to us at Christmas.

About an hour later, after picking up my last few gifts, I drove out of the parking lot and was stunned when I again pulled up behind another car with a license plate with lettering that began with “I AM.”

Wow! Was God trying to tell me something or what? It’s not about Christmas shopping. It’s about who Jesus is!

Later that evening, as I wrapped the last presents and went to Christmas Eve service, I continued thinking about the wild coincidences of that afternoon.

Then it dawned on me: doing something “wild” is actually not all that unusual for God. For instance, the story of Christmas is pretty wild. The all-powerful God discarded His power and glory for a time and came to earth as a baby, so that we could know and receive Him.

So, yes indeed, God can do wild things like putting a car with a certain license plate before me to remind me what He wants me to focus on at Christmas. He can do something wild like impregnating a woman, so she can give birth to His son. He did do the craziest, wildest thing of all, when thirty-something years later, that baby died in our place.

That’s what I want to keep at the center of my Christmas this year. I want to focus on His incredible love, remembering that it led Him to come so we could know Him and the salvation He offers. Because as wild as all that is…it is the truth.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

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The Wildness of the Great I AM – encouragement from @Linda_Rooks on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

linda rooksAbout the author: Linda W. Rooks has a ministry of hope for those in broken marriages. Her award winning books walk with those in the midst of marital breakdown to bring hope and practical guidance to those desiring reconciliation. Linda writes for both adults and children, and her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Focus on the Family and Today’s Christian Woman. She and her husband reside in Central Florida and thank God for the many reconciled marriages they witness through their ministry.

Linda’s recent release, Fighting for Your Marriage while Separated, dives into topics such as relationship dynamics and healing, protecting children, and praying for restoration, to deciding on boundaries and learning to live with the same spouse in a new marriage, Rooks illustrates what reconciling and rebuilding a marriage looks like—and how the sweet intimacy of Christ is in the waiting.

Join the conversation: Has God ever done something “wild” for you?