So Close Together

by Lori Altebaumer

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

In a year where we’ve been forced into isolation and distancing, I am reminded of a favorite Christmas memory. It was the Christmas our family of four spent living in a travel trailer. We had no room to spare, so I joked that everyone was getting gift cards for Christmas. They would be the only thing we could fit under the twelve-inch tree on the fold out table. I also wasn’t going to be preparing a traditional Christmas feast in that limited kitchen.

But on Christmas morning, as we sat scrunched together opening gifts, our son looked up and said, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

I didn’t think he was referring to the gifts he’d received. As gifts went, this was a meager Christmas. I asked him why he thought so, and his answer has influenced my Christmases ever since. “I guess it’s just because we are all so close together.”

Close together indeed. We were practically sitting in each other’s laps in that tiny little space. No fancy tree or decorations. No extravagant gifts or spectacular feast. Just four people who loved each other celebrating the birth of their Savior together.

I love the Christmas season. I love the decorations and lights. I love the music and festive feeling in the stores. I love the abundance of edible treats I know I shouldn’t eat but can’t resist.

But my heart does not belong to any of these things.

They are but a reflection of the love Christ has for us. Take them all away and that love remains. It inhabits the tiniest of living quarters and meagerest of circumstances. It shines in the faces of our loved ones and lives in sacred moments we spend together.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NKJV). With this statement, Jesus warns His disciples to be careful about what they choose to value most. The things of this earth won’t last. These are the things that “moth and rust destroy” or “thieves break in and steal” (see Matthew 6:19).

That Christmas, my son’s heart wasn’t on the gifts or the decorations or the food. It was on something far more valuable. What he valued most was knowing he was a part of a family who loved him, a family that chose togetherness over the ostentations of the season.

How much greater must God’s delight be in us when we choose Him over the extravagances of the holidays— when we value time with Him over fretting about holiday plans.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas as far what gifts I received or what we ate for dinner. But I will never forget the love. Moth and rust will never destroy it, and no thief can take it from me.

This year has been one of altered plans and missed events. It has been the fertile soil of confusion and fear where isolation, loneliness, and despair have taken root. The thief of COVID has stolen moments of celebration and replaced them with moments of sorrow. A contentious political election has had a rusting effect on our hearts, and the moths of hatred and division have swept in to eat holes in our sense of community.

Our earthly treasures have been proven the fragile and temporal things they are.

The holidays may look different this year. Perhaps for that we should be grateful. Maybe this is the year we put aside everything that stands between us and our loving Father. We choose our treasures wisely and we snuggle in close to our Father’s heart and say, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

And when He asks us why, we say, “Because we’re all so close together.”

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

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: How has 2020 changed your perspective on Christmas?

Who Jesus Was, Is, and Will Be

by Debbie Wilson

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  2 Cor. 8:9 NIV

This verse plays through my mind at Christmas. In light of it, let’s consider who Jesus was before the first Christmas, what He gave up to come here, who He is now, and the glorious future promised to all who know Him.

Before the First Christmas—Jesus Was Rich

Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth Isaiah saw Him in His glory (Jn. 12:41). Look at Isaiah’s description. “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Angels were standing above him. Each had six wings: With two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They called to each other and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory. Their voices shook the foundations of the doorposts, and the temple filled with smoke” (Isaiah 1:1-4 GW).

At the First Christmas—Jesus Became Poor

The One Isaiah saw “made himself nothing” by coming to earth as a baby and later dying on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. … ‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:7, 12 NIV).

Today, Jesus Reigns on High

Jesus reigns in heaven in indescribable glory today. “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:12-18 NIV).

That You Might Become Rich

Before Jesus returned to heaven, He promised He would prepare a place for us in heaven so that we can join Him (John 14:2-3). Read how this Scripture describes our glorious future with Him.

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’

“And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children’” (Revelation 21:3-6 NLT).

Has your image of Jesus grown beyond the baby in the manger? This Christmas let’s rejoice in the One who, “died for us and was raised to life for us, and…is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:34 NLT).

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

About 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 Godand Give Yourself a Break. Her latest book, Little Faith, Big God, was released in February 2020.

Little Faith, Big God: Grace to Grow When Your Faith Feels Small by [Wilson, Debbie]

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 does the fact Jesus gave up so much to come and dwell among men mean to you?

God Works in the Waiting

by Jennifer Slattery

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Micah 7:7 NASB

When God doesn’t seem to answer my prayers as I like, or according to my timetable, I can become anxious, discouraged, and frustrated. I’ve had times when I’ve become disillusioned. I can easily forget that He is always, always working out His glorious, life-giving plan, whether I see His hand or not. He works as powerfully through our waiting and periods of divine silence as He does through His miraculous acts.

As Christmas approaches, which I know will be hard, maybe even disappointing, for many this year, I’ve been contemplating all that occurred prior to Jesus’s birth. The longing, the waiting, and the loving, sovereign hand of God that worked through it all.   

The nativity story begins with a faithful, older couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah. Luke 1:6-7 tells us “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”

These two verses, sitting back to back, really hit me. They honored God, despite the deep ache they must have felt, despite their decades’ long unanswered prayers. And I’m certain both—the fact that they remained faithful to God and barren—provided comfort to so many others in their community. Those who were pleading with God, perhaps for children of their own, maybe for healing, or that opportunity that never seemed to come, were beginning to wonder if they’d perhaps done something wrong. Maybe they thought God’s delay or decline revealed His lack of favor was the result of some sin.

In those moments when negative thinking threatened to consume their minds, did they pause and reflect on the unanswered prayers of this well-known, well-respected, godly couple? And in their reflection, did they find the strength to wait just a little longer, and to trust that God saw them, heard them, loved them, and was working in their waiting, just as He worked in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s?

If you’ve read the full story, you know God did answer Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers in an awe-inspiring way. After decades of barrenness, He planted a mighty man of God in Elizabeth’s womb, the one who came in the power and spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for our Savior. I love that part of the story. I love seeing those miraculous, only-God-could-moments. But today, let’s sit in the waiting, that place we’re sometimes tempted to rush through, remembering that God is working, even there. He is with us, even there.     

If you’re currently in a season of waiting, may you sense God’s presence and His love. You aren’t forgotten.

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

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: How might God be using your waiting period for something glorious and life-giving?

The Wise Still Seek Him

by Candy Arrington

When Jesus was born, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2 NCV

Several months ago, I looked online for an unbreakable nativity set. I wanted one my young grandchildren could touch, hold, and rearrange. However, I discovered that most sets do not include the wise men. Although they likely arrived long after the night of Jesus’ birth, the wise men are an important part of the Christmas story.

Some of what we believe about the wise men is based on speculation rather than Matthew’s account. Were they kings as the familiar Christmas carol states? Do three gifts indicate only three visitors? Were their names Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar?

The word “magi” most often referred to wise men rather than kings. The Bible says they came from east of Jerusalem, which was perhaps Persia or Babylon. They may have been scholars who studied the prophecies of a coming Messiah. (Daniel, living in Babylon, wrote of the coming king.) Or God may have revealed Jesus’ birth to them in a more personal way, in a dream or vision. Whatever the case, they were intent on finding Jesus and asked King Herod for directions.

In addition, a star guided them. When it stopped, they were overjoyed because they had reached their destination. “When the men went into the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.” Matthew 2:11 CEV

Notice the wise men came to “the house,” not a stable, and Jesus is referred to as a child, not a baby. Can you imagine the scene as these weary travelers bowed down before a toddler and presented him with gold and sweet-smelling spices? And what were Mary’s thoughts as she watched this scene unfold?

Although we don’t know if the Magi spent the night at Jesus’ house, in a local inn, or camped under the star that guided them, we can assume they slept because they were warned in a dream not to return to give Herod the information he requested. They obeyed and went back to their country by another route.

Despite speculation about who they were, where they came from, and how many were in the group, here’s what we can learn from the wise men that we can apply to our lives:

  • They were seekers. Some people today want God to reveal himself in some miraculous way. Instead, the wise men left the security of their homes, traveled many miles, and persisted in their quest until they found Jesus.
  • They worshiped with joy. Many times, we forget that joy is one of the benefits of knowing Christ and living a life focused on him. We get caught up in issues beyond our control or difficult life circumstances, and waste energy and time feeling disappointed or unhappy. Knowing Jesus and worshiping him brings joy.
  • They gave gifts. Often, instead of giving to Jesus, we expect him to give to us. Sometimes, our prayers resemble a Christmas gift list. We want God to do for us, but aren’t willing to offer our time or talents in service to him. The wise men presented gifts to Jesus, with joy, and asked for nothing in return.
  • They were obedient. When God spoke to them in a dream, the wise men obeyed. Perhaps their gifts funded Jesus’ family’s sojourn in Egypt, and their obedience in not revealing the family’s location ensured their safety. Likewise, when we decide to obey God, it is always a wise choice.

No matter how you view the wise men, realize they experienced the joy of seeking, finding, and giving to the King.

If anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! James 1:5 TPT

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 has God shown Himself to you after you sought Him?

He Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

by Nan Corbitt Allen

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s journal:

CHRISTMAS 1861

“How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

JULY 1862

“I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

CHRISTMAS 1862

“‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

CHRISTMAS 1863

No journal entry.

CHRISTMAS 1864

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men!

How did the great poet go from despair to silence to hope? It is no wonder that his poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” has become a beloved, classic Christmas carol. And when you know the story of Mr. Longfellow’s journey, it inspires more than hope to those who grieve. It also recollects the reason for which Christ was sent to earth.

July 1861. The War Between the States had just begun and Henry, his wife, Fanny, and their five children were in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a house overlooking the Charles River. It was a hot summer and Fanny wrote in her journal “We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”

The next day Fanny decided to cut little Edie’s hair. Since it was the child’s first haircut, Fanny wanted to preserve a lock of the hair in wax as she had with the older children. Hoping for a breeze of relief, Fanny did not realize what a hazard she had created as she lit a wax candle to preserve the hair, and then opened a window to get a breeze flowing.

A gust blew in, caught the hot wax, which splattered Fanny’s dress. The fabric immediately burst into flames. Panicked, Fanny began to run. She ran into Henry’s study screaming for help. In his attempt to smother the flames he was badly burned on his face and hands. Fanny, however, died from her injuries. Henry could not attend his wife’s funeral because of his burns. The pain was excruciating – physically and emotionally.

A home that should have been filled with joy and laughter at the next Christmas, 1861, was instead somber and silent. The cloud of mourning had not yet lifted. There was little sign of hope.

The following year, 1862, Charles Longfellow, Henry’s oldest son joined the Union Army. As the young man marched off to battle, his father feared he would never see his son again.

On Christmas, 1863, Henry received the news. Charles had been wounded in battle. A bullet had passed under his shoulder blade and injured his spine. In those days, such a wound was most often crippling if not fatal.

The following Christmas, 1864, though he was an invalid, Charles was still alive. There were rumors of the war’s end and hope began to flicker. On Christmas Day, Henry picked up his pen and wrote the first verses of the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Though total peace was somewhat elusive from a world point of view it was possible that Christmas Day to find peace.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

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

Nan Corbitt Allen

About the author: Nan Corbitt Allen has written over 100 published dramatic musicals, sketchbooks, and collections in collaboration with Dennis Allen, her husband of 45+ years. A three-time Dove Award winner, Nan’s lyrics and dramas have been performed around the world. Dennis and Nan have sold almost 3 million choral books.

Nan and Dennis retired in 2020 from full time teaching at Truett McConnell University. They now live south of Nashville. They have two grown sons and two beautiful grandchildren.

Nan’s book, Small Potatoes @ the Piggly Wiggly, is a collection of devotionals that reveal the great impact seemingly insignificant, routine experiences can have in our lives. She describes what she learned of God’s providence and wisdom while growing up in the Deep South in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Join the conversation: Are you at peace this Christmas season?

The God of Until

by Stacy Sanchez

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 18:15 NIV

Some of my most beloved memories of raising my children are of our Christmas traditions. And we had a ton of them! I may overdo it a bit. Five trees aren’t over-the-top, right? My husband begs to differ, as he pulls them down from the garage rafters. But there is nothing more magical to me than seeing my children’s (now my grandchildren’s) eyes light up as the house is turned into a winter wonderland of yuletide festivity. Would he want to deprive the next generation of my Christmas crazy?

One of our traditions was to read a part of the Christmas story together before dinner. The twenty-four days before Christmas one of the children read a section from the Bible while another hung a picture symbolizing that part of the story onto a tree we had sitting on the dining table. (Oops, make that six trees.)

I’ve read the story so many times I can recite it like Linus in the Peanuts Christmas special: “And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them. The glory of the Lord shone ’round about them. And they were sore afraid…” Can anything new be found in these passages?

This year, I prayed, “Lord, please pour out your spirit and illuminate your word anew.” And he did. As I read the passages in both Matthew and Luke, I was surprised by how many times the word “until” is used. Two examples are:

“But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25, NIV emphasis added)

“When they (The Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child and kill him (Matthew 2:13, NIV emphasis added).

“Until I tell you.” Hmmm…

When a word jumps off the page, pay attention. God may be speaking. “What do you want me to learn, Father?”

My mind recalled the years I’ve been praying for the health of one of my loved ones. I’ve cried out. I’ve believed. I’ve stood on the biblical promises of healing. I’ve pleaded with God to heal his precious child. In desperation, I even offered to trade my life for hers. It breaks my heart to watch the illness run rampant in her little body. If I were honest, my faith has waned a bit.

We are living in crazy times. (Can I get an amen!?) Like me, many are worried and crying out to God:

  • I don’t know if I can hold on until my finances are back in order.
  • I don’t know if I can hold on to my house until I have the money to pay the mortgage.
  • I don’t know if I can hold on in this marriage until our problems are worked out.
  • I don’t know if my health will hold out until there is a cure.
  • I don’t know if I can hold on until my children are out of trouble.
  • I don’t know if we are safe until the virus is gone.

The Jewish people cried out to God for centuries. They were promised a Savior; the One that God would send to deliver them from their worries and enemies. “How much longer until the Savior arrives?” they would cry. This is the season we celebrate God’s fulfillment of his promise of a Savior.

Throughout the Bible, we are reassured God will never leave us or forsake us. He is a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, when times are hard and we wonder, “How much longer do I have to hold on, until…?” Take heart. God is in total control and he will hold on to us when we think we can’t hold on any longer. “At the right time, I, the LORD, will make it happen” (Isaiah 60:22, NLT).

Is there something that you have been crying out to God about? Hold on in faith until he answers. He has always fulfilled his promises. He is the God of “Until.”

Heavenly Father, this is the season we celebrate your promises fulfilled. The ancient, long-awaited prophesies of a Savior came beautifully into fruition with the birth of Jesus. Thank you for always being faithful to us, even when we have not been faithful to you. We know no matter what is happening in our lives right now, you are at work for good. We love you, Lord. And look forward to the day that our prayers will be answered in your perfect timing.

We will hold on to you, until…

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

stacy sanchez

About the author: Stacy Sanchez has been married to her beloved husband, John, for 32 years, is a mother of 5, and a very young grandmother of six (soon to be seven) yummy grandcherubs. She is a pastor, author, and speaker. Her passions include teaching Christians about the Jewish roots of their faith, as well as helping to empower women to become all that God has created them to be. When not teaching or writing, you will find Stacy and John walking on the beach and playing with their grandchildren. You can connect with Stacy at her blog, writetotheheart.org, and on Facebook and Instagram.

Join the conversation: For what are you waiting?

Season’s Meatings

by Rhonda Rhea

You know how I can tell we’re approaching the Christmas season? I find myself thumbing through a catalog. A catalog. Of. Meat.

Potted meat. Pickled meat. Fried and dried and—maybe even poached meat. That just takes us to about page five. Then there’s meat by the log. Meat in a bar. Meat on a stick. Meat in a jar. And okay, that might sound a little Dr. Seuess-y-cutesy, but I get halfway through the catalog and I have to tell you, I’m pretty much meated out.

So here we are, heading into the season in which we really can end up meeting ourselves coming and going. And clearly we can also end up meating ourselves coming and going. More and more calories. More and more busyness. More.

There’s wisdom in keeping an eye out for the “more.” Sneaky clutter can fill our stomachs, our schedules—our lives. It’s the kind of “more” that can steal our focus from what’s important. It does it by rushing us to the busyness of what’s immediate instead of waiting for the blessedness of what’s vital.

We tend to think of ourselves as mature followers of Christ as long as we’re not throwing big-baby fits. But maturity includes so much more than that. It includes making wise choices—with our resources, with our time, with our focus. Let’s face it, some of us make more big-baby-choices during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season than any other time of the year.

How can we be grown up about our “more”? Jesus. Eyes off our own schedules and wants and everything fleshly. Eyes on Christ. It was because of selfish fleshliness that Paul said the Christians in Corinth couldn’t have solid spiritual food. “I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ…because you are still fleshly” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 3, HCSB). He said in verse 2, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food.” Put away the catalogs. No meat for these people.

Paul warns later in that same passage that, “No one should deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, he must become foolish so that he can become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19, HCSB).

It’s sad to get caught up in the busyness, thinking we’re accomplishing works of value, then discover we’ve been foolishly lying to ourselves about what’s important the whole time.

The wisdom we need is only found in Jesus. Time to put away that self-deceived baby stuff and sink our teeth into some meat. As we seek the Lord, He will give us the wisdom and direction we need to sort out our to-do’s. It’s only in Him that our choices can count. It’s only in Him that we’re able to identify the foolish temporary and then trade it for the will of God. We don’t need that other kind of “more.” We only need more Jesus.

That’s exactly what will make our season…well…more. But more in every good way—in ways we can see and ways we can’t. It’s more than meets the eye, as it were. You might even say, it’s more than “meats” the eye.

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

rhonda rhea

About 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.

Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated: A Novel by [Rhea, Kaley, Rhea, Rhonda]

Rhonda and Kaley have a new novel, Off-Script and Over-Caffeinated. When the Heartcast Channel Movie division announces they’ll briefly be allowing submissions for new Christmas movies, Harlow finds herself paired with a reluctant co-star. Jack Bentley may be the biggest Heartcast Original Movie name in the business, but he is anything but formulaic.

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: Are you settling for milk?

Some Good News for Christmas

by Kathy Howard

When I was a girl, every Christmas Eve my father would read the biblical account of that first Christmas from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. I can still hear those familiar words in my Dad’s sweet voice – King James style. Matthew records the angel’s visit to Joseph and the journey of the wise men from the east. Luke tells of Gabriel’s amazing message for Mary, the birth of our Savior, and the dramatic announcement to shepherds in a field outside of Bethlehem.

But did you know that the Gospel of Mark has its own version of the Christmas story? But unlike his long-winded gospel brothers, the fast-moving Mark gets straight to the main point – Jesus came to earth, and it was really excellent news for everyone.

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark 1:1 NLT

I think we all could use a little good news right about now. Bad news abounds. Most days it’s all we hear. Stories of death, disaster, and deceit flow from every corner of the globe. Bad news often dominates our personal lives, too. Loss, grief, illness, financial difficulties, relationship struggles, and more weigh heavy on our hearts and minds. Maybe even today you simply long to hear some good news for a change.

Like us, the Jews in the first century longed for some good news. Rome, the dominate world power, held Israel under its mighty thumb. The deliverance God had promised long ago still tarried. Where was their long-awaited Messiah?

Then finally, a new message, a spark of hope. People flocked to the wilderness, responding to John the Baptist’s call for repentance (see Mark 1:1-20). But John was not the good news, he was merely a messenger.

John’s life and ministry fulfilled prophecy. He was the messenger prophesied by Malachi (Malachi 3:1) and the wilderness voice foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3). Like the angels would announce the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds outside Bethlehem on that first Christmas, John also declared the good news of Christ, calling people to repentance, preparing their hearts for the Savior’s arrival.

Then Jesus burst on the scene and the long wait ended. God the Son had finally arrived. Good news indeed!

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15, ESV

The first sentence of the Gospel of Mark announced to readers then and now that Jesus Christ is the good news – or “gospel” – for which we’ve been waiting. The Greek word translated as gospel referred to a glad announcement that heralded great benefit for the hearers.

Christ died for sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, defeating sin, death, and the grave. His presence fills us with grace and strength for today. The Gospel also birthed the church, changed the world, and continues to propel us towards God’s full and final purposes.

Yes, bad news still makes headlines. But for those who belong to Jesus, His Gospel decidedly trumps any bad news the world can deliver. The Gospel of Christ. Life conquers death. Hope pushes out despair. Joy overwhelms grief. Truly the best news ever.

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

About the author: A former “cultural Christian,” Kathy Howard now has a passion for God’s Word that’s contagious. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught the Bible in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events. Kathy, who has a Masters of Religious Education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, is a devotional and Bible study author. She also writes for multiple online magazines and devotional sites. Kathy and her husband live near family in the Dallas/Ft Worth. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Kathy provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org.

Her new 40-day devotional book, Deep Rooted: Growing through the Gospel of Mark, is available now! Want to experience regular spiritual nourishment from the Bible, but not sure how to start? Deep Rooted, a 40-day devotional journey through the life and ministry of Jesus, will show you how to interact with and apply Scripture, not just read it. Finally, a daily devotional with some meat on its bones!

Join the conversation: What good news brings you joy this holiday season?

Looking at the Sacrifice in Christmas

by Edie Melson

I’ve always celebrated Christmas as the time of Jesus’ birth. It’s a joyful time—after all, when is the birth of a baby not a reason to celebrate? It’s marked with angel choruses, gifts of the magi, and celebration to end all celebrations.

In contrast, I’ve always approached Easter as a more somber time—certainly a time of ultimate triumph. But one that was preceded by the agony of Jesus on a cross. To me, Easter was when Christ laid down His life for us.

Now I’ve begun to look at things a little differently.

Recently, I was challenged by a friend to view Christmas in a new light. She pointed out that His birth on earth was when Jesus left His Heavenly glory. The more I considered this, the more sharply I saw the contrast of His life in Heaven. I had always looked at Christmas as a gift—which it is—instead of seeing past the present to the sacrifice it must have been. Jesus’ birth truly was the time when He laid down His life for us.

These are my thoughts on what Jesus really sacrificed by coming into this world:

  • He exchanged Heavenly robes for swaddling garments of ragged cloth.
  • He exchanged the chorus of angels praising him day and night with the voices of cattle in a lowly manger.
  • He exchanged the power and authority of being God in Heaven with that of living as a helpless—fully human—baby.
  • He exchanged the protection of angels with the dubious protection of human parents.
  • He exchanged immortality with a life that would end in physical death. (Yes, He was fully resurrected, but He had to go through the process of living to dying to reconcile us with God).
  • He exchanged perfect—intimate—fellowship with God for a relationship with us.

I will never see Christmas the same way again. How about you?

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13 NIV

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8 NIV

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

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About the author: Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. She’s a writer who feels lost without her camera and a reluctant speaker who loves to encourage an audience. And she embraces the ultimate contradiction of being an organized creative. As a popular speaker, she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books, including Unruffled, Thriving in Chaos and the award-winning Soul Care series reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. She lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she spends time off hiking with her husband and her camera. Connect with her on http://www.EdieMelson.com and through social media.

Join the conversation: What thought brings meaning to your Christmas season this year?

The Mountains Beyond The Manger

By Sheri Schofield

The blue mountains around our home are beautiful. Much of the time, they seem to be one long wave of mountains. But during the morning hours, smaller peaks appear in front of the high peaks, highlighted by rising mist. If you were to climb one of those tall mountains, you would reach a lower peak and find a valley stretching between yourself and the next mountain. You would climb a second peak and find the same thing, until you would finally reach the highest pinnacle.  

Be sure to take along camping gear! Be prepared to spend at least one night beside a campfire, snuggled down in a sleeping bag. The hike is farther than it looks.

And so it was with the birth of Jesus. The shepherds who heard the angelic announcement expected to see this new King reign in their day. That was over two thousand years ago! The prophecies of Messiah were like those mountain peaks: Each prophecy marked something new along the pathway to the rule and reign of Jesus.

The infant born of a virgin in Bethlehem would grow up among mankind. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed, Isaiah 53:3, 5 (NIV).

Jesus lived among us, experienced our sorrows, died for our sins, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God, our Advocate when Satan accuses us. But the shepherds saw none of this. Their minds went immediately to the coming reign of this King. They did not see the peaks and valleys that must happen before our King would be crowned ruler of the whole earth, according to prophecy.

We who believe in Jesus have now seen many of the end time prophecies apparently fulfilled. My heart cries out for the King to return! But I try to keep in mind that there may be more valleys and other peaks ahead before Jesus returns, valleys that I cannot see from where I stand, peaks that hide behind the next rise.

This Christmas as we celebrate the Baby in the manger and contemplate all the prophecies that He has already fulfilled, we can rejoice in what He has done. We can rejoice that His return is drawing closer!

Let’s climb the peak before us this year, knowing that our way toward that last mountain is closer. One day when we least expect it, Jesus will return to earth as the King of all kings and Lord of all lords! If there are valleys between now and the time we reach that mountain, keep looking to our Savior for refreshment and new strength along the way. For the Apostle John prophesied in the Book of Revelation that these final peaks would be challenging, just as those high mountains across the valley grow steeper as one climbs higher.

Others have climbed this path before us and are now in God’s presence. They have demonstrated that this mountain we climb can be done in His strength, and we will meet them again someday!

Gear up! The climb is just getting more exciting!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

sheri schofield

About the author: Sheri Schofield is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator. She was named Arise Daily Writer of the Year in 2020, and Writer of the Year in 2018 at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference for her work in effectively sharing the gospel of Jesus. Sheri also writes devotions for children at her website: www.sherischofield.com in “Campfire”, and is in the process of developing a children’s program on her YouTube site. Questions welcomed!

Read Sheri and her husband’s amazing story in One Step Ahead of the Devil: A Powerful Love Story. Thrust into national politics because of her husband’s work, Lissa McCloud struggles to save the life of the man she loves from those who are bent on his destruction. Based on true events, the reader is taken deep into the heart of national politics –all the way to Congress and the President of the United States.

Join the conversation: How will you keep your focus in the year ahead?