The Alchemy of Focus

by Deborah McCormick Maxey

I was so excited in February 2020 when I retired and sold the building that had housed my counseling practice for thirty years. Hubby and I had big plans: time with our grandchildren, travel, cruising, camping, activities at church, and painting. And finally, I would have time to write Christian fiction.

But…it was February… 2020. Two weeks after I shut my office doors for the last time, COVID-19 was announced. Suddenly, because of our age and a several health conditions, hubby and I were quarantined and cancelling instead of making plans. Church, cruise lines, campgrounds and restaurants were shut tight. I couldn’t look forward to celebrating my retirement, birthdays or even the big one, our 50th wedding anniversary.

Much as the Israelite slaves in Egypt did to claim Passover, I immediately posted these verses on our front door, calming my anxiety when it reared its ugly head by quoting God’s promise:

No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. Psalm 91:10-11 NKJV

So, my days became Bible study, long talks and lots of laughter with hubby, walks with our dogs, naps, plunging through my “to be read pile,” and writing. Lots and lots of writing.

By April, the lake we live on was teaming with life. Selah, my little garden tucked in front of my art studio, became an incredible source where my efforts were rewarded daily. Everything flourished, my works in progress sharpened and took off. I entered and received notices of acceptance in anthologies and placement in an international contest. My studio was alive with new painting projects. The yard was alive with flowers, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. We were living surrounded by beauty.

And my spiritual life…oh the joy. Finally, I had time to truly immerse myself in the Word, to commune constantly with the Lord, with so few distractions. Worship music filled our house and ran through my head even when I awakened at night.

By April I realized I was having a Jacob experience.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16 NIV).

Quarantine held so many blessings! I was rested, relaxed, joyous, motivated, and thriving. When others would lament that 2020 was a horrible year, I could praise God that despite conditions beyond my control and events I would never wish for, He was constantly using it for my good.

We don’t know what 2021 will bring. But even if it is chaotic or confusing, we can focus on how He is loving us constantly. We are His beloved children. We can start our year with joyous expectation and praise.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NIV.

About the author: A licensed therapist, Dr. Deborah McCormick Maxey retired from her counseling practice in 2020 to joyfully invest her energy in writing Christians fiction, devotions, and her website that focuses on miracles.

Dr. Deborah McCormick Maxey’s debut novel, The Endling, is available for preorder on Amazon, and will be released by Firefly Southern Fiction/Iron Stream Media, on May 11, 2021.

Join the conversation: How has the Lord used the events of 2020 to bless you?

Assured

by Susie Crosby

adj: very confident; sure that something is certain or true

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

We can’t be sure about much of anything right now. Many of the things we have always been able to count on are no longer certain. Plans are on hold, and we are realizing that even some of our most cherished traditions may never be the same.

Not only are we disappointed, we are weary, and we are worried. Even those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus­–we who know that life ends well for us–are struggling with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I catch myself occasionally drifting toward despair as my anxiety causes me to doubt the sovereignty of God. My heart needs to be assured and reassured. Often.

God, are you really in control?

Do you see this mess we’re in?

Do you hear us praying and crying out to you?

Are you ever going to answer?

It’s okay to ask him that. But then we have to be willing to devote some energy and time to looking and listening for reminders of his faithfulness.

We will find them in unique places. Maybe in a precious photo, a nature walk, a favorite song, or a conversation with a friend. For me, some answers were discovered in 20 years of prayer journals piled in a box on my bedroom floor.

As I poured through page after page, journal after journal, I started making a list. There were so many prayers, long forgotten, that God had been faithful to answer. Prayers for big things, and small things, for people, and for material things. There were times when I had asked him to heal someone I loved, to soften hearts, to help us figure out finances, to lead us to a church, to guide us in tough decisions, and to draw our family closer to him.

There were surprises in these journals, too. I found answers to prayers I hadn’t even voiced. I realized as I flipped through the pages that several of the gifts God had given me were things that he knew I needed, but I didn’t know I did.  Often it was a person he brought into my life to show me more of his love for me. These unspoken prayers were answered simply because of his goodness and his commitment to take care of his children.

There were also answers that looked very different than what I thought they should look like. I still don’t understand God’s plan in some of these, but I do know that someday he will show me how he has worked everything together for his good and his glory.

Can we trust him? Can we believe what Jesus said as he went to be with our Father in Heaven? These last words he spoke to us were meant for us to hold onto during times like these. He knows what is happening in our country, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our hearts. And here he reminds us that we can be unshakable and deeply at peace; because he has conquered it all.

As the year winds down to its end, look and listen to the God who loves you more than you can comprehend. Let him remind you that he has never once ignored your prayers or left you alone. You can be assured that greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

This article was brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

susie crosby

About the author: Susie is a grateful mom of two (almost) grown boys who currently live and go to school in Honolulu, Hawaii. She and her husband live in a seaside town in the Puget Sound region called Mukilteo. They love to hike and kayak, they are huge Seattle sports fans, and they mostly love hanging out at home with their little dog Koko. Susie teaches P.E., Art, Technology, and Music at an all-kindergarten school which keeps her busy full time. Her passion and joy is sharing encouraging words with the people she loves. She is an active blogger and speaker, and she is the author of Just One Word: 90 Devotions to Invite Jesus In. She is always on the lookout for fun coffee shops, inspiring books, remote beaches, and farmers’ markets. Connect with Susie at www.susiecrosby.com.

Join the conversation: Do you have trouble in trusting God?

Honored, or Forgotten?

by Candy Arrington

But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. 1 Peter 3:15a AMP

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it is a lot more fun to select, set up, and decorate a Christmas tree than to undecorate and dispose of it. Similarly, emotions of Christmastime: the excitement, joy, and anticipation, can be difficult to maintain after the fact, especially when a year is full of challenges.

One year, as I sat in the sunroom, I noticed our Christmas tree standing tall and erect in a secluded corner of our deck. There was nothing unusual about this, except it had been three months since Christmas. We pulled the tree out onto the deck early in the new year, intending to dispose of it later, and then forgot about it because it was not in a location easily seen.

Looking at the tree, I thought how it was a focal point in our home just a few months before. Selecting the tree was an anticipated family event, its decorating a family activity. It was a central part of our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Now it languished on our deck, forgotten. Although no longer ornamented, it was still beautiful, retaining its green color and shapely branches. The tree was a reminder of the joy and focus of the Christmas season.

Seeing the tree, I thought about how we sometimes push Jesus aside, out of view, in the same way. On Sunday, we honor Him with our time and attention in worship. We sing songs of praise and offer reverent hearts. Then, for the rest of the week, our Bibles are tucked neatly away somewhere, to emerge again the next sabbath, an ornament to our Sunday attire.

In the midst of our busy lives, we sometimes relegate Christ to a secluded corner of our hearts, while we frantically engage in the urgent, forgetting he is the source of wisdom and strength. Some nights, we fall into bed exhausted without spending time in Bible study or prayer.

Perhaps this year has made it even more difficult to maintain proper focus, giving Christ due honor. A pandemic has kept us away from places of worship for many months. What felt odd at first now seems commonplace. Fear and frustration seeped into our lives, diverting our attention. Yet our Creator and Sustainer patiently waits for us to seek him, to turn our attention toward him, and honor him with our time.

Decide today to make Jesus the focal point in your life every day, not just on Sunday, or at Christmastime. Commit to time alone with him each day and keep the joy and peace experienced at Christmas alive in your heart year-round.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Candy Arrington

About 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 do you keep Jesus front and center every day?

Christmas and the Courage to Obey

by Jennifer Slattery

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. Psalm 143:10 NLT

Most often, pride is my greatest challenge to obedience. When operating in my own strength, I will go to great lengths to not look bad. I’ll avoid saying that truth, or initiating that conversation, or taking on that new role I might perform imperfectly.

Had I been Mary, I fear I would’ve argued some when the angel Gabriel appeared with the news I would soon have God’s baby. 

 I mean, motherhood was terrifying enough, y’all. But to bear the Savior of the world? That had to be completely overwhelming, and yet, that’s not the only thing I would’ve found difficult. Processing it all, my mind would’ve immediately thought of all of my friends and neighbors, of everyone in my faith community, who would see my growing belly and wonder … 

And gossip.

And whisper.

And maybe even turn away.

I was young, about 21, when I became pregnant with our daughter, and I looked even younger. People often told me, “You look like you’re in your teens.” They may have meant this as a compliment, but their words always brought me shame. We were living in a small railroad town at the time, one with long held traditional values–like when and to whom children should come. And not only did I look “much too young” to have a child, my hand was also too swollen for my wedding ring. As a result, I always felt judged, as if people had formulated an entire story surrounding my condition. 

I’m certain my feelings of shame were exacerbated by my less than glamorous past and all the inner lies I’d formed along the way.

As a result, though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I often felt the need to “explain”. I also took to wearing my wedding ring on a necklace. Remembering all this, I marvel at how readily Mary replied, in Luke 1:38 (NLT), “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Keep in mind, the angel had yet to approach Joseph. Mary did not yet know that Joseph would believe her and stand by her. At this point in the story, his rejection was very possible, along with her parents and everyone else in her social circle. She wasn’t given any promises, no guarantees.

And yet, she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

I want to respond with that level of obedience. The kind of obedience that says, “No matter what happens, Lord, I choose you. I choose to obey You, to honor You, to live for You, and most importantly, to trust You.” 

That can be crazy-hard to do sometimes, until I remember the character of the One who calls me to trust. He is entirely trustworthy. The Savior of the world, my Savior, will never fail. 

I don’t know what God is calling you to this holiday season. Maybe it’s to share the gospel with that sibling or to step across the street to invite that new neighbor to coffee. Taking that first step might feel frightening, but may God grant us the courage to say, “I am Your servant, Lord.”

Jennifer Slattery

About the author: Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published author, ministry, and the host of the Faith Over Fear Podcast. Find her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com, find her ministry at WhollyLoved.com, and find her podcast at LifeAudio.com and other popular podcasting sites.

In her new podcast, Faith Over Fear, Jennifer helps us see different areas of life where fear has a foothold, and how our identity as children of God can help us move from fear to faithful, bold living. You can listen by clicking on the link below or by visiting LifeAudio.com.

Join the conversation: What is God calling you to do?

The Plenty Nests

by Doris Swift

There’s something about children in the house at Christmastime that adds an extra measure of joy to the season. My heart yearns for those crack-o’-dawn Christmas mornings when jumping beans would shake us awake, their Christmas list items wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. This late-night-wrapping mama would roll out of bed and make those littles wait while I “put the coffee on” and popped cinnamon buns into the oven. I’d light the tree and give the okay, standing camera-ready as they rushed by like the wind, wide-eyed and giggly, the likes of which you only experience once a year.   

Oh, for just one more glimpse of that sparkle in their eyes, smiles a mile wide as wrapping paper flies. Where did the time go? Our seasons change, don’t they? Time moves on, our littles grow up, and we mama birds must teach them to fly.  

While some may say our nests are empty, God encourages us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV).

And whatever the status of this mama bird’s nest or yours, we can choose joy, and we can choose to be glad. For although we may miss the seasons of old, God brings new seasons of life to experience. We can take comfort in remembering that those old seasons were once new, too.

In John 15, Jesus prepares His disciples for what was to come. He was leaving, and He knew it would be hard for them to bear. He told them what it meant to abide in the vine, bear much fruit, and how much He loved them. He told them all those things so His joy would be in them; that their joy may be full—because He would never leave them empty.

That is true for us, too: Jesus will never leave us empty when we abide in Him. His joy remains in us throughout the seasons of our lives, even the hardest ones. We are full of Jesus- joy. What could be better?

So young mamas, enjoy every moment and know this: Sleeping-in on Christmas morning is overrated, even if you just went to bed an hour before. Be careful not to blink—because all that talk about time going by quickly? It’s not a cliché. Savor every moment, and don’t sweat the lack of quiet time. Your home will be quiet soon enough, so invite your littles into your moments with the Savior.

And they-say-your-nest-is-empty mamas, your nest is full. We can hang onto memories, but let’s not miss the new ones waiting to be made. This is not the end of the story, because the old story is not gone, it is just stretching and growing and becoming something beautiful in its time.

So how about we change that phrase empty nest to plenty nest? Our plenty nests, where abundance flows with the fullness of love, peace, and joy. Where loving arms of sweet grandchildren wrap around us like a warm blanket. Where the Holy Spirit dwells and Jesus is Lord. Praise God, our nests are plentiful!

May your plenty nests be blessed this Christmas as you celebrate the Savior, who makes our seasons beautiful and our joy full.

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Doris Swift is an inspirational blogger, speaker, author, and host of the Fierce Calling Podcast. In ministry for more than thirty years, she is passionate about helping women study God’s Word, walk in their calling, and use their gifts to impact the world for Christ.

How would your life change if you discovered your past has purpose? In Doris’ book,

Goodbye, Regret: Forgiving Yourself of Past Mistakes, you’ll take a journey into the life of a woman who came face to face with her past. A woman who was set free when her ordinary day intersected with her extraordinary destiny. A woman with a history of past mistakes.

Join the conversation: How would you describe your nest today?

Looking Past Our Imagination

by Julie Zine Coleman

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” Ephesians 3:20 NASB

Every Christmas Eve, our kids carefully chose the best Christmas cookies and arranged them on a plate alongside a glass of milk. One year we even left hay for the reindeer. I can only hope Santa brought that hay up on the rooftop to them, rather than invite them into our family room. But in any case, it made the holiday that much more fun while my children were young.

Like it or not, Santa is a big part of the American traditional Christmas. He is pictured as a benevolent old man, working all year up at the North Pole with his elves to prepare for his delivery of Christmas gifts to the children of the world. Unless, of course, you have been naughty. Then it is coal for you.

I personally love Santa. I don’t mean to offend any of you Santa-haters out there. I just had such wonderful memories of rushing down the stairs as a child to discover if HE had come. I wanted my kids to experience the same magic for a least a few of their early years. So we always left a snack and a note of encouragement for the old guy before snuggling under the covers on Christmas Eve. And we were never disappointed when morning arrived.

Where our many ideas of Santa come from? How did the original St. Nicholas, very real and very human, morph into a sort-of omnipresent being who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake? Since when did the benevolent man, known for his generosity toward the oppressed, start making a list on who is naughty or nice? How did he get the magical ability to slip unhindered down the flu into the fireplace below, only to rise back up to the rooftop with a twitch of his nose? I suspect many of our current traditions on Santa have come from the poems, stories, and songs written about old Kris Kringle in the last few centuries. In short, he is a product of our collective imaginations and bears little resemblance toward the original third century character.  

I wonder if we have reduced the meaning of Christmas story details in much the same way. Our remembrance and understanding of a quaint manger scene and angels’ pronouncements can bear little resemblance to what God was revealing about Himself through them.

In reality, the events surrounding the birth of Christ speak volumes about the power of God.

Let’s start with the angels. While we might tend to think of angels as harmless characters, fluttering their wings to hover over the roof of a stable or fields of a shepherd, they are really quite the opposite. For example, in 2 Kings 19, God sends an angel to destroy the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, killing 185,000 men. An angel killed the first-born in every Egyptian household the night of Passover in Exodus. Jesus referred to angels as a formidable army when he asked Peter, “Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NASB). These are no cherubic, impotent beings. Yet God uses these frighteningly powerful creatures to announce the good news. His very messengers displayed the power of God.

Another power-revealing aspect of the Christmas story is in how God orchestrated circumstances to fulfill prophecy given hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. He prompted the great Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man alive, to require every family to go to the city of their family origin to register for a census. Thus Joseph and Mary were forced to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth, just as she was preparing to give birth, in obedience to this decree.

How did the Wise Men know where the Savior had been born? God placed a sign for them in the night sky prompting their trip to Israel in recognition of the birth of a king. We don’t know if the “star” was a super-nova, planets in alignment, a comet, or even some supernatural event. We do know God performed the supernatural in the heavenlies at other times, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua 10 or actually moved backward in 2 Kings 20. Whatever it was, God placed “the star” in the sky as an unmistakable sign guiding the wise men to come and worship.

Circumstances of the first Christmas were perfectly arranged by one very powerful God.

St. Nicholas had a real history, but that reality has been replaced by the whims of our imaginations. Let’s not miss the intended impact of the details in the Christmas story. While the quiet manger scene pictured in nativity sets around the world is dear to our hearts, it should remind us of more than the generosity and goodness of God. The coming of Christ was more than a sweet baby asleep in the hay at the edge of town. It was an unmistakable display of the power of God.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300

About 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 revealing 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: What fun traditions does your family practice around Christmas?

My Christmas Companion

by Janet Perez Eckles 

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

“Christmas?” a friend asked, “Who feels like celebrating anything these days? There may not even be any Christmas this year.” You and I don’t have to share in this pessimism. We don’t, because hope shines bright when we consider this:

The bush that Moses encountered was just an ordinary bush until it burned without consuming it. The staff was just a staff until it turned into a snake. The rock was one of many, until Moses struck and water gushed out. The Red Sea was just a body of water until God parted it for His people to cross on dry land. David’s rocks were simple stones, until he used one to defeat Goliath. Mary was a humble peasant girl, until God touched her with a miracle.

See? That’s how it works. Our life might seem impossible, needy, and desperate for a miracle…until something happens. We encounter the wonder of God’s power. Our future might be a series of unknown tomorrows, until the horizon of His riches appears. Our dreams might seem elusive, until we believe God’s love conquers all.

And this is how His conquering power works: “The virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:23 NIV).

He worked it out. Through Jesus, He’s with us. That’s why all worry, fear and stress must go out the window because He’s with us. And because He is, we have His company through the darkness. Because He is with us, we know for tomorrow, victory awaits.

We know it will come. All we have to do is glance back and remember what He has done through the ages: an ordinary bush burned with a message, because God was there. A simple rock produced gushes of water, because God was there. A virgin gave birth, because God was there. A sea of water created a barrier, but it opened up because God was there.

Today is no different. He’ll put something in our path that may burn to get our attention, so we will listen. He will make living water flow to quench the thirsty soul. He will make the impossible possible. And He will give us the stones of courage to defeat the giants we face.

He did the same with Joshua, as he faced a giant too. It was called fear and insecurity. God knew. So, He spoke to Joshua’s fear: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

Wherever we go? Yes. That promise came alive for Joshua. And it’s alive for us, too. God ushered he and His people across the Jordan river to the other side, where the promised land waited for them.

As we cross our own river of pain, He will be with us too, ushering us to the other side where His richness awaits.

That’s why this Christmas, with open arms and grateful hearts, we can accept the gift of His constant presence. That gift is wrapped in His love, held with the ribbon of His faithfulness, and adorned with the seal of His promise.

Lord, this Christmas will be different for me because my joy will not come from circumstances, decorations, presents or gatherings. My genuine joy is found in You, and in the reassurance that no matter what surrounds me, you are with me. In Jesus name.

janet perez eckles

About the author: Janet Perez Eckles helps thousands to look beyond circumstances and overcome fear. She is a best-selling author and international speaker. Her writing and virtual  presentations help thousands turn their trials to successful, joy-filled lives. 

Janet’s book,  Hola, Happiness: Finding Joy by Dancing to the Melody of God’s Word is a brief Bible study to nudge you to the next level of triumph and joy. It is packed with deep reflections and answers from God’s Word. No matter what you face–disappointment, fear, heartache, shame, insecurity, sorrow–you will say “Hola” to happiness, peace, and the joy for which God created you.

Join the conversation: How does knowing that God is with you and for you (Romans 8:31) make a difference in your life?

Not What I Expected

by Crystal Bowman

The year 2020 was not what I expected. I had several story hour programs scheduled at bookstores. I was looking forward to teaching courses at writers’ conferences. I planned on flying to see my out-of-state grandkids to celebrate their birthdays. Some of my kids and grandkids were going to stay with us for a few weeks in August. I bought a backyard toddler swimming pool and splash pad. I couldn’t wait to see my little ones laughing and splashing in the warm summer temps.

But none of that happened. Like the rest of the world, I was not expecting a global pandemic to bring my life to a screeching halt.

When God sent his Son into the world more than 2000 years ago, Jesus was God in human form. For hundreds of years, prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. They spoke of his birth, his ministry, and triumphal reign. They even knew where Jesus would be born. In Micah 5:2 (NIV) the prophet tells us, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clansof Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  And in Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) we read, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.”

The name Immanuel means God with us. But when Jesus came to earth, he was not what the people expected. The Jews were looking for a conquering king who would deliver them from Roman rule and establish an earthly kingdom. They were looking for a Messiah and Savior who would make all things right. But things didn’t happen the way they thought they would. Instead, Jesus’ followers watched him die a criminal’s death on a rugged cross. This was not what they expected, but it was part of God’s plan to make a way for people to be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God.

Even though Jesus told his followers he would rise from the grave, they didn’t fully understand what he meant. When he appeared to them after his resurrection, they were surprised because they were not expecting to see him again. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples once again asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 NIV). They still didn’t understand.  

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of peace and justice which comes through God’s grace and mercy. Through faith in Jesus, we become citizens in the kingdom of heaven. His kingdom is here and now, but many don’t see it.  

When Jesus returns, he will establish his kingdom on earth and will reign through all eternity. He will make all things right and we will live forever in peace. It’s a kingdom we will see, and it will be better than we expect.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord
 (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV).

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books including, Our Daily Bread for Kids.She and her husband have three married children and seven huggable grandchildren.

When a child’s grandparent or great-grandparent is afflicted with dementia, it’s difficult to explain the disease in a way that helps the child understand why the person they love is not the same. I Love You to the Stars–When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembersis a picture book inspired by a true story to help young children understand that even though Grandma is acting differently, she still loves them–to the stars!

Join the conversation: How has God surpassed your expectations?

Angels on a Midnight Clear

by Christina Rose

“And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people.  “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.” Revelation 14:6-7 NLT

Yet another sleepless night, tossing and turning over the unrest in our nation amid the pandemic, which continues to steal lives and our peace.  I, along with countless others, wake up in the middle of the night to check my phone, social media, and the news for the latest updates. Never has our nation been so divided that riots, destruction, and hate are filling our streets. For those of us walking in faith, we continue to pray and trust in a faithful God.

The Christmas carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, was written in 1849 by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. This Christmas, millions of people throughout the world will be singing this carol as they have for many years. The song describes how, in the middle of the night, angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold, singing God’s blessings of peace and goodwill to earth. The carol describes the angels flying over the weary world with peaceful wings singing their heavenly song to take away the suffering that comes from not knowing our Savior. 

The song calls for all of us to silence the battles among us and to rest beside the weary road of life to hear the angels sing. It tells us that the golden age is coming where all people will gather to sing the songs the angels now sing to us.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could see with our physical eyes the angels swooping down over cities with their giant wings and hear their heavenly songs? Imagine the riots and hate in the streets being halted by looking up to the sky to see these heavenly messengers flying overhead. 

Angels are mentioned over 200 times in the Bible and were created by God to serve him.  They are described as intelligent spiritual beings with an instant, unquestioning obedience to God’s commands. In these uncertain times, we are called to be like the angels in their obedience. We are to share our faith and stand firm, knowing that God is in control and has the final say.

King David was on his death bed when his son Adonijah began boasting that he would make himself king. He recruited fifty men with chariots and charioteers to parade before him, announcing that he was king. He put on a huge feast for many officials to celebrate his self-proclaimed victory. David’s wife, Bathsheba, and Nathan the prophet shared what was happening with David, who declared that Solomon was anointed to be the true king.

And the king repeated his vow: ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who has rescued me from every danger, your son Solomon will be the next king and will sit on my throne this very day, just as I vowed to you before the Lord, the God of Israel.’” 1 Kings 1:19-30 NLT

Adonijah was drinking and feasting with many celebrants when he was admonished for his lie.  He was told that he did not have the authority to name himself king; Solomon was anointed to be king. 

In our current waiting time, like Adonijah, people are boastfully claiming what does not belong to them. Those who walk in faith are peaceful and confident, knowing that God will decide the outcome of every battle. He calls us to be stand firm in prayer to honor His will.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” Revelation 3:11 NLT

As we approach Christmas, it is a comfort to think of the angels who are singing over the earth. Rather than toss and turn, let’s sing praises knowing that they will bring us the peace we are seeking. Let’s rejoice with one another and celebrate the Kingdom of heaven.

“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 NLT

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

christina rose

About 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. She is a world traveler, surfer, foodie, cappuccino- loving chocoholic and a devoted mom to kids and dogs, as well as auntie to many nieces and nephews who live around the world.

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Christina’s book, My Appeal to Heaven, is her story.  With her young family on the verge of falling apart, 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, redemption and restoration. Christina hopes her story will encourage others who are in need of hope and freedom.

Join the conversation: What is giving you hope this Christmas?

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

by Dena Dyer

They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. Psalm 145:7

What does the word “Christmas” bring to your mind? Caroling and joyful family reunions, or last-minute gift searches and fights with your teenagers? Maybe in 2020, you feel anxiety over the restrictions a pandemic has placed on us, or you’re grieving (and rightfully so) about not being able to gather with friends or relatives this December.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had many celebrations that fell short of my expectations. That led to disappointment, discontent, and sometimes even depression. Not a great way to start the New Year!

However, I now realize that perfectionism is a dangerous adversary–a Grinch who can only steal my joy if I let him. Really, what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t have a perfect tree, a ten-course meal for all my relatives, or a stunning Christmas card (that I got in the mail by Thanksgiving) to 500 of my closest friends?

Most of the burdens we place on ourselves don’t come from the people who love us and want to spend time with us around the holidays. They come from scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, comparing ourselves to other women who seem to do everything better than we do.

Here’s a question: what if God could use the chaos and uncertainty of 2020 to help us release the burden of having a “perfect Christmas”? What if He’s asking us to look at our weirdly empty calendar as a blessing, not a curse…to see the restraints COVID-19 has placed on us as calls to creativity and not despair?

What if we asked Him to show us how to lean into, and not fight against, the strangeness of this year? If we do, we might find ourselves empathizing more with shepherds who heard angels singing, a virgin who was asked to bear God’s son, and a promised Messiah born as an infant.

Let’s pray to have God’s perspective on the holidays. What an amazing gift we could give ourselves and others this year if we could see with His eyes and give ourselves (and others) grace. After all, that’s what God gave to us when He sent His son.

In Lion and Lamb, Brennan Manning says it so well: “Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than Himself and His name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling to settle for anything less . . . Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of Himself. Don’t be contented with a nice Christmas . . . Pray, go to work, play Trivial Pursuit, eat banana bread, exchange presents…feed the hungry, comfort the lonely, and do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God, give me your perspective this year as the holidays approach. Forgive me for putting unrealistic expectations and burdens on myself. Thank you for your grace and mercy, and most of all, for the greatest gift of all, Your Son. Help me to honor Him with the way I celebrate and serve this Christmas.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Dena Dyer is an award-winning author, speaker, and non-profit leader. She loves encouraging hurting, harried women with humor and hope. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook, or at her website.

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You’re invited to download a free copy of Dena’s devotional book, Grace for the Race, which uses real-life stories, Scripture, and gentle humor to soothe the souls of frazzled moms. By being honest and vulnerable about the ways God has shown Himself to her as she’s struggled with motherhood, Dena hopes to help women realize that they’re not alone, and they’re not crazy!

Join the conversation: How has God given you perspective this holiday season?