Have Yourself a Chocolate Covered Christmas

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 NASB

Anytime something breaks around the house at Christmas time, you should always glue it back together with melted chocolate.

Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “no” to someone offering me something from their well-constructed tower of fudge-covered Christmas party delights…well, I would still have zero nickels. But there have been a lot of chocolate towers, just the same.

Is there anything we won’t cover with fudge during the holidays? Anything? Not that I’m complaining. I try not to encourage it, but it is apparently compulsory. Maybe I mentioned before that I would’ve named one of our children Ghirardelli if my husband would’ve let me. Fannie Mae? That name was in the running too. Godiva? Okay, that one just seemed wrong, even to me. But I was still strongly considering “Whitman” for one of the boys. I’m a long-time respecter of all things chocolate covered. My favorite is when people just give up the silly pretense and start covering chocolate with chocolate.

I feel like people who say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend don’t really understand how much we like chocolate chips.

You can’t really go by me as far as what women want, that’s true. As a matter of fact, all of us—women, men, children, teens—we all tend to want whatever is wrong for us. That off-kilter “wanter” came with the curse of sin.

But I love Christmas. It’s the concentrated, commemorative reminder that Jesus came to deal with the sin curse we were powerless to get rid of. Because He paid in full with His own blood what was needed to provide the remedy for sin, He gives us His own righteousness and a right and tight relationship with a holy God.

He makes us new. And with that newness comes a new way of wanting. Paul said, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” (Philippians 4:13, HCSB). He gives us the ability to do good—and the desire to do it. He’s got us covered in every perfect way, all the way to the soul.

There’s nothing more delicious in this existence than accomplishing “His good purpose” for our lives. It’s what we were made for.

People do come up with creative ways to celebrate the season. Some are good. Some are chocolate. Some are downright weird. I like what Joseph did. The one he was to marry—pregnant. What a heartbreak that must’ve been for him. But when God announced His “bigger purpose” in Joseph’s dream, do you know what Joseph did? He obeyed. From the second he woke up. “When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him,” (Matthew 1:24, HCSB).

Because Joseph obeyed, he got to witness God’s bigger purpose up close and personal. “Immanuel.” “God is with us,” (vs. 23).

“God is with us” is really all I want for Christmas too. Celebrating the redemption we have in Him—our most blessed covering—that’s enough for me.

Though if you insist on getting me a gift anyway, I don’t suppose I should argue. Let the chips fall where they may. You know I mean chocolate chips, right?

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rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and a humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLife, Leading Hearts, The Pathway and many more. She is the author of 12 books, including Fix-Her-Upperco-authored with Beth Duewel, and a hilarious novel, Turtles in the Roadco-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for a new book and TV series titled, Messy to Meaningful—Lessons from the Junk Drawer. Rhonda enjoys speaking at conferences and events from coast to coast and serves as a consultant for Bold Vision Books. She lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown, mostly-coffee-drinking children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: How do you celebrate the real reason for Christmas? Share your ideas with us!

A Well-Appointed Christmas

by Julie Coleman @JulieZColeman

It’s that time of year. You know, when sitting down for a minute brings a feeling of immediate guilt, because there is just so much to do. Shopping and social events loom ahead. Presents need wrapping and the house needs decorating. So much to do. So little time.

Yet it all miraculously gets done year after year. As I fall into bed the night before Christmas, I marvel at the fact every gift is wrapped and under the tree. Food is ready to be put in the oven. The house is aglow with white lights and greenery. After weeks of rushing and sweating the details, all preparations are finally complete. A well-appointed Christmas is no accident. (And on the day after Christmas, my sister and I call each other to sing, “It’s the most wonderful day of the year!”)

We aren’t the only ones who put thought into Christmas details. A myriad of things had been prepared and were perfectly appointed for the Savior’s birth.

The world was ready. Until the Roman Empire, international travel had been difficult if not nearly impossible by land. Now, a system of roads guarded and maintained by the Roman army existed to make travel safer and easier than ever before. This highway system would make it possible for a quick spread of the gospel in the years following the resurrection.

In addition, a language barrier no longer existed in the Middle East. More than 300 years before the birth of Christ, Alexander the Great worked to establish Greek as a common tongue. Koine Greek had become the world’s common marketplace language. It would be in this language that the early church would be able to communicate its verbal and written message, able to be understood by both Jew and Gentiles in the surrounding nations.

And finally, the political atmosphere was now stable. Augustus brought in a time of peace and prosperity, called “Pax Romana.”

The nation was ready. Israel detested Rome’s control over them. Ever anxious for self-rule again, the Jews began to look intently for the Messiah to come and bring freedom at last. The Jewish people, chosen thousands of years earlier as God’s treasured possession and witness to the nations, served as custodians of God’s Word.  The Old Testament they preserved revealed the coming Messiah with several hundred prophecies. The precise details of the Messiah’s lineage, place of birth, life, death, and even resurrection would ensure an easy identification by those who would witness His coming.

The people were ready. Four hundred years earlier, a remnant returned to Israel from Babylon to rebuild the Temple and re-inhabit the land. In the ensuing years, the people had gotten bogged down in Pharisaical Laws and tradition which stressed outward actions and neglected an emphasis on the heart. Faith was no longer the issue. Outward compliance with the Law was revered. People strained under the burden placed upon them by legalistic religious leadership. Those without hope of gaining God’s favor waited for the arrival of the Messiah with a sense of anticipation unprecedented in the history of the nation.

Everything was ready. Galatians 4:4 tells us “But when the proper time had fully come, God sent His Son…” (AMPC). Every detail was planned and executed perfectly according to God’s purposes. As Daniel wrote, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings…” (Daniel 2:21 NASB).

God, who moves world leaders like pawns in a giant chess game, is then certainly powerful enough to care for the little things in our lives as well. The One who calls the stars by name, who knows when a sparrow falls, who has numbered the hairs on our heads, is a God who pays attention to details. Our difficulties may not be of cosmic significance, but they are important to us, and therefore matter to Him.  And just as He perfectly orchestrated His plan to bring salvation to the last detail, He will perfectly orchestrate His plans for us as well.

“You hem me in behind and before, you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain… all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139: 5, 16 NIV

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A well-appointed Christmas—then and now – @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. 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.

Join the conversation: What details about Christmas are the nearest and dearest to your heart?

Silver and Gold – Learning to Enjoy the Moment

by Louise Tucker Jones

I can’t believe that Christmas is just around the corner. When I think of all the shopping I need to do and the events I need to attend, I become overwhelmed. Then suddenly, I hear Burl Ives, as that squinty-eyed, smiling snowman, crooning Silver and Gold. Immediately  my thoughts wander back to an extraordinary moment at Special Olympics several years ago.

My son, Jay, was competing in the state events at Stillwater, Oklahoma. He was positioned at the starting line of the 25-meter walk, having retired from the 50-yard dash due to the progression of his heart disease. Everyone was poised to take off, including Jay with fingers stuffed in his ears to muffle the sound of the gunshot that signaled the beginning. Never having been a quick starter, Jay surprised everyone as he immediately began his gentle, easy gait toward the finish line, being careful to stay in his own lane. Slow and steady often wins the race, and Jay had moved far enough ahead that he was obviously the favored one in this heat.

As he neared the finish line the volunteer on the other side called out excitedly, “Come on, Jay. You can do it!” Just steps away from the gold, the crowd in the bleachers came to their feet. What an event! This would be Jay’s first medal. Then suddenly, Jay stopped, turned to the people in the stands and bowed to their applause, allowing another walker to slip right by him and win the gold medal.

What a moment! No one knew whether to laugh or cry. No one except Jay. He turned and walked across the finish line, into the arms of the hugger, and captured the silver medal. He was delighted as he received the award. He didn’t care what color it was or which place he stood on the platform. He was a winner, and he was having fun.

When I think of that moment, I am so proud of Jay for not rushing across the finish line to grab the coveted gold medal. I’m glad he stopped along the way, enjoyed the applause of the crowd, reveled in the moment, and sent a message of thanks to those cheering him on.

What a perfect mindset for Christmas. We don’t need to be so obsessed with shopping and attending every event we can fit into our schedules that we are exhausted before the holiday arrives. Like Jay, we need to stop and enjoy the moment, to revel in the season, and remember what we are celebrating—the holy birth of Jesus Christ.

Once we get our minds off the busyness around us, our hearts are free to worship. When we give thanks to the One who gave His life for us, we have a greater capacity to love others and to share wonderful gifts of joy, friendship, kindness, song, and laughter, which makes Christmas a much happier and brighter day.

So how about it? Are we going to run as fast as we can, or, like Jay, will we stop and enjoy the journey? Will we bow to the Christ Child and the applause of heavenly angels? Can we joyfully accept our place on this platform of life without envy? God has a place and a plan for each of us. His love is perfect and His gifts are worth more than silver or gold.

 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6 (NIV)

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Louise Tucker Jones

About the author: Louise Tucker Jones is an award-winning author, speaker and columnist. Her poignant life stories will touch your heart or tickle your funny bone. Having a son with Down syndrome, Louise coauthored the Gold Medallion award-winning book, Extraordinary Kids, with Cheri Fuller. Married to Carl for 45 years before he relocated to heaven, Louise is a mother, grandmother, professed chocoholic, and founder of the support group, Wives With Heavenly Husbands.

Join the conversation: What moments have you stopped to enjoy this holiday season?

“That’s the Magic of Christmas”

by Afton Rorvik @AftonRorvik

 ‘Tis the season… for Christmas movies. I love them! Happy people, beautifully decorated houses and towns, and wishes that come true—what’s not to love?  I watch and smile and go to bed happy with the phrase, “. . . that’s the magic of Christmas” rolling around in my head.

And I want that magic. I want amazing things to happen in relationships and at work and in our broken world. I want to keep believing in the good and the possible and the miraculous.

I know I can’t really write a letter to Santa and get a wish granted, and I know that I can’t really rub a snow globe and get what I want for Christmas. But often, without really thinking about it, I also know that I have treated God like a magic wish-granter: “Please, please, God . . . “

One morning recently I read some words that made me stop and think and remember that life with God is about so much more than getting what I want from Him: “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes” (Psalm 18:4 MSG).

Honestly, that phrase “opened the book of my heart to his eyes” makes me a bit uncomfortable. So personal. So honest. So very much NOT about asking God to do this or fix that for me. More about siting in the presence of God day after day and letting Him see all of me, then listening to what He teaches me. More of a long haul, a day-by-day, year-by-year process of transformation. Not quite as splashy or obvious as a quickly-granted wish.

But, ultimately, what can compare to a transformed heart, a rewritten life?

In this busy season of Christmas may we take the time each day to open our hearts to God, inviting Him to transform us. May we celebrate the gift of being known by the God of the universe, the God who loved us so much that He came in human form at Christmas. May we learn to let go of our wishes and rest in His loving presence.

Psalm 139 (NIV)

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

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afton rorvik2About the author: Afton Rorvik savors words, flavored coffee, time outside, and living connected. Although an introvert, she has come to realize that what really matters in life is people and faith in Jesus, which gives her the strength and courage to live connected. Afton wrote Storm Sisters (Worthy), a story-filled book about learning to stick around when storms hit a friend’s life. She blogs monthly at  aftonrorvik.com and thoroughly enjoys Pinterest (Afton Rorvik).

Join the conversation: How has God rewritten the book of your life?

Jesus Still Saves

by Cynthia Cavanaugh @CavCynthia

Her deep brown-black eyes and dark curly hair caught my attention as I walked by. She was standing alone, holding a book, and as our eyes met, she timidly called out, “Where’s my Nana?”

My friend and I looked around the store and didn’t see any adults close by. We leaned down and assured this sweet little three-year old we would help her find Nana. I offered my hand, and she clung to it instantly, allowing us to lead her to the front of the building. But before we reached the front counter, she saw her Nana and went running. It was a sweet reunion. She was safe in the arms of love once more.

In her darling voice, she said, “Thank you for saving me.” My heart melted, and as we walked away, what her words kept echoing through my head. The store was filled with holiday décor, and I thought about what “saving” could mean for all of us this Christmas season.

Is there something you need saving from as the holiday draws near? Maybe an overly busy schedule and not enough time to get everything done? Financial difficulty? A broken relationship? Are your expectations insanely high for you in the Christmas rush?

As I think on the days ahead, my heart breaks for a few of my dear friends. One recently suddenly lost her husband; two dear friends lost their adult daughters during this past year. I’d love to gather them all up and take away the pain, to save them from the heartache of celebrating memories rather than holding their loved ones close. Others face sickness or financial woes. The holiday season seems like a cruel joke when in the midst of such agony.

And yet, time marches on, no matter what our circumstances may be.

Christmas will come as it does every year, and right on time. We will once again remember the arrival of God in the flesh, in the form of a helpless baby, come to save the world. He may seem distant and even uncaring to us at the present. But His coming was a gift of unfathomable love, leaving heaven to be our Immanuel, God with us. And these two thousand years later, He continues in His desire to be with us, waiting for us to take His outstretched hand, asking us to simply trust Him.

The sweet, lost little girl in the store that day had to take my hand in trust, even though she was afraid, so that she could be saved. Jesus wants us to do the same for us. As we put our hand in His, He saves us. As we acknowledge we can’t do Christmas without Him, He saves us. As we recognize we can’t solve all our family issues, He saves us. And as we try to make Christmas a meaningful time for our families with limited resources, he saves us.

Don’t lose sight of the saving hand of Jesus this busy season. He is still God with us. He can still do what we cannot, all in response to our determination to trust Him even when we are afraid or overwhelmed.

 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 NASB

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cynthia cavanaughAbout the author: Cynthia Cavanaugh is the author of five books, including Anchored, and is a speaker, life coach, and leadership professor at Trinity Western University. She knows nothing about coffee and is a self-proclaimed tea addict who loves connecting with women helping them to flourish. 

Join the conversation: From what do you need saving during this Christmas season?

 

The Year of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

by Jonita Mullins @JonitaMullins

My sisters and I called it our “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. It was a little misshapen prickly spruce that Dad brought home just a few days before the holiday. We three girls were in our early teens, old enough to understand that money was tight and that this was the best we could afford that year.

Dad had waited until the last minute, and there wasn’t much left to choose from on the Christmas tree lot. This ugly little tree had been deeply discounted. With misshapen limbs, needles that looked like a defense mechanism, and lopsided branches, it truly qualified as a Christmas reject. Once set up in our home, it pricked our hands so badly, it was literally painful to decorate.

But we were determined to take that ugly little tree and make it into something beautiful. Carefully we added all the ornaments that we had collected through the years. We worked and worked on that little tree until finally, at least to us, it truly was something to behold.

Years later, the memory of that tree became a meaningful metaphor to me. God purchased us; and like that tree, we can be a little unattractive, a little prickly, forlorn and alone. No deep discount here; we cost him dearly, for we were purchased with his blood (Acts 20:28, NKJV). But he was willing to pay that price. That God would so love the world that he would give his own Son for our redemption truly is amazing.

God doesn’t see us just as we are; he sees us as we can be. And he is willing to work for however long it takes to make something beautiful of us and our lives. And he will be faithful to complete the task he started (Philippians 1:6). Through God’s grace we are all “becomers,” our prickly needles are being transformed into beautiful Christmas trees.

My sisters and I stood back and admired our Charlie Brown tree after we had finished our efforts. Bleeding hands from every prick of that sticky little tree made us only appreciate its transformation more. Of all the trees Dad brought home through the years, it is the one that stands out in my memory. It reminds me that even at my worst or most unattractive moments, God can take what I have and what I am and make something beautiful.

That flawed tree reminds me of  God’s promise made in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (1:8 NKJV). That kind of transformation and is available to all of us. How wonderful to know that even from our darkest moments, worst behavior, and most ugly sinfulness, God can turn scarlet into pure white by the redeeming work of the cross.

God never gives up on us, so we should never give up on ourselves.

We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:10, NKJV

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Jonita MullinsAbout the author: Jonita Mullins is an award-winning author and speaker from Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her writing career began at the Oral Roberts ministry, working for Daily Blessing magazine. Her devotional book is titled The Whatsoever Things. She has written eleven books and more than 700 articles focused on history. Her newest novel is The Marital Scandal which tells of the first removals of the southeastern tribes to Indian Territory. Mullins is a passionate preservationist and serves on the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Historical Society. When she is not writing, speaking or conducting historical tours, Jonita works on preservation projects, including the restoration of the home of Alice Robertson, missionary, teacher, and Oklahoma’s first female member of Congress.

Join the conversation: What is  your most meaningful Christmas memory?

Don’t I Wish – the True Gifts of Christmas

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

Ah, Christmas shopping. When you can find yourself completely enveloped in the smell of evergreen. And sometimes pepper spray.

When my five kids were little, I remember sometimes feeling my children thought my Christmas list was some sort of magic lamp. Make a wish, rub my list and POOF! It was under the tree. I might even remember one of them wishing for three more wishes.

Every year I would resolve not to be manipulated. I would be very determined…as I wrote all their “wishes” down on my long shopping list and headed out to the stores. As I headed out, mind you, to get everything on the list. All of it. Like a bit of a mom-chump. Incidentally, just to attempt to be somewhat responsible, I would try to limit myself to five or six hours of shopping per trip, but it usually took about that long to find a parking spot.

It was the most frazzling time of the year. I have to tell you, I had a few wishes of my own. Then sometimes I’d be almost finished with the shopping when somebody would come up with a new wish. What? I wonder how many times I heard myself saying, “How ‘bout we have a little less wishing, a little more cleaning your bathroom.”

Yeah…less wishy. More washy.

Then again, who was I to talk about wishy-washy? After all, I was the adult who waffled under the pressure to grant all the desires of all the littles.

In Psalm 27, David wrote about his number one wish. He said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire.” Okay, David. First of all, you’re doing it wrong. One thing? That’s not how we do it.

Then he tells us the one thing: “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4, HCSB).

The presence of the Lord. That’s the one gift that will actually change us. Toys and clothes and treats and “things” will come and go. But the presence of the Lord will make a difference all the way to the soul. It changes a family from the inside out.

It’s downright embarrassing that I can so easily get wrapped up in lists and wants, the busyness and the noise, and forget who we’re celebrating. God coming as a human, knowing He was destined for the cross—it’s the most beautiful redemption story. Celebrating His birth in His presence. That makes so much frazzle-free sense. Presence. Not presents. It’s a real gift to our children when we get this in the right order—and when we don’t waffle.

You might be interested to know that I eventually got a better handle on my wishy-washy-“wishy” ways. More presence. Fewer presents. We implemented a three-gift rule. Jesus got gold, frankincense and myrrh. Even the kids agreed they shouldn’t get more gifts than Jesus. We pared back (though I should probably confess here that I totally rocked out the stockings). Most of the time, I shopped, spent and stressed less. Would you believe the kids did NOT feel less loved?

And it might encourage you to know that this year I did my Christmas shopping early and didn’t even need a list. Grown kids and gift cards, thank you very much. Because nothing says “love” and “this is how much I’m willing to spend on you” like a gift card.

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

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Don’t I Wish – the True Gifts of Christmas – @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and a humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLife, Leading Hearts, The Pathway and many more. She is the author of 12 books, including Fix-Her-Upperco-authored with Beth Duewel, and a hilarious novel, Turtles in the Roadco-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for a new book and TV series titled, Messy to Meaningful—Lessons from the Junk Drawer. Rhonda enjoys speaking at conferences and events from coast to coast and serves as a consultant for Bold Vision Books. She lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown, mostly-coffee-drinking children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: How do you keep from having a frazzled Christmas?

Taking Control of Christmas

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

Most of us parents, even the most frugal among us, have an inner tug to splurge come Christmas. Our instinct is to ignore our budgets so we can get little Johnny that perfect toy that will create that perfect Christmas memory, or perhaps, show the extent of our love. Because honestly, who doesn’t want to see their children’s faces light up, to hear them squeal with joy?

After years of irresponsible living, my husband and I had landed in a financial mess. We’d racked up $35,000 in debt, and our credit cards were maxed out. And Christmas was just around the corner. We had two choices—take out another card and bury ourselves further, or make some drastic changes, even if that meant turning off cable, eating in every night and… not buying Christmas gifts that year.

That hurt. A lot—to know our daughter would suffer because of our sin. But sometimes it hurts to do the right thing, and we knew, should we continue the way we were going, she’d hurt even more if we lost our home, our vehicles, or destroyed our marriage.

So what’s a mom to do when she desperately wants to give her daughter something special for Christmas but doesn’t have the money to do so?

I decided to make her presents. Luckily, she was still young, at that age where ordinary items like toilet paper rolls and pine cones made the best toys. And she loved Polly Pocket dolls and Barbies, so I decided to make Barbie food from bake-able clay.

Day after day, as she napped, I’d pull out the clay and create chocolate chip cookies and hamburgers, lettuce and all. I made pizzas with pepperoni and bunches of grapes, lovingly crafting each and every item.

Jesus reminded us not to hold material wealth too tightly or give it a foothold in our hearts. He said, “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB).

The best gifts, whether during Christmas or otherwise, are those—like love, hope, joy, relationships, and faith—that last forever.

It’s funny, but that lean Christmas was one of our most memorable and cherished. Oh, what joy I experienced every day as I worked on her gift! She may not have known how much time and effort I put in, but neither did she feel deprived. I suppose because, when it comes down to it, Christmas is largely what we make it.

We can stress over gifts we can or can’t afford. We can allow our children to believe they need that latest and best video game or electronic device.

Or, we can step back, scale back, and simplify things a bit. Many times, when we peel back all the fluff, we discover our Christmas isn’t dependent upon what is wrapped and under the tree.

That Christmas so many years ago taught me something: we don’t have to allow Christmas obligations and expectations control us, our families, or our finances. We can focus on those things of eternal value and intentionally center our hearts in Christ.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:18 NASB

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Jennifer SlatteryAbout the author: Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog found at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team partner Healing Love by [Slattery, Jennifer]with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Join the conversation: What ways have you found to bring true meaning into your Christmas?

A Hallmark Christmas

by Louise Tucker Jones

I know Christmas is around the corner when I see those heart-tugging, tear-jerking Hallmark card commercials on TV. I almost had one of those Hallmark moments several years ago. At least, I thought I was going to have one. My prodigal daughter had come home for the holiday, and as I watched her stroll through the living room, lingering at the Christmas tree and touching ornaments her little hands had made, I hoped she was remembering good times. Special times.

Then suddenly, she walked into the kitchen.

I stopped what I was doing and turned toward her, noting the look of remembrance on her face. “Mom, do you remember…” I held my breath, certain this was the moment I had been waiting for. That priceless connection. Then she finished. “Mom, do you remember when you swatted that huge, weird-looking spider and baby spiders flew all over the place?” Did she really ask that? Yes, she did! It caught me off-guard. I was stunned. Shocked, in fact. And yes, I remembered the incident, but certainly not with fondness. A Hallmark moment it wasn’t!

The truth is, most of our lives are not made up of Hallmark moments. Most of our lives are a mix of the ordinary—the good, the bad, and everything in between. People are out there experiencing one thing or another. For every death being grieved there is a birth being celebrated. While one household is deafeningly empty and lonely, another is bursting at the seams with generations of family.

Being a person who ponders things, I find myself asking God the big question. Why? Why does He seem to bless one person, family or country and not another? Why does one person die from cancer while another survives? Why is one couple blessed with half dozen children and another remains childless? Why is a teenager cut down in the prime of life by a drunken driver? Why do evil people make shooting galleries of our schools? I have no answer to these questions or a thousand more.

The Christmas season can be a real trigger of past painful events. We miss loved ones who are no longer with us. We remember Christmases gone by and regret that our present is not nearly as happy as our past.

I know those feelings all too well. But I also know there is a God in heaven who has not forgotten us. He sent his Son to this earth that first Christmas, over 2,000 years ago. Jesus came so that we might have life and love, even in our most difficult times. Life in Him—not in a Holiday. Love in Christ—not in Christmas.

God’s love is not conditional on our emotions. Our circumstances will never predict or dictate God’s character. His eternal love, mercy and grace can invade our hearts and penetrate our souls, no matter what phase of life we might be experiencing. His presence reaches beyond the holidays.

The popular saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season” actually holds true. And the best news of all—Jesus promises to be with us forever. Not just at Christmas but for eternity. What an amazing gift!

“And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20 (KJV)

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A Hallmark Christmas isn’t Realistic – Louise Tucker Jones on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Louise Tucker JonesAbout the author: Louise Tucker Jones is a speaker, columnist, and author of four books, including The Gift of Christmas. Her poignant life stories will touch your heart or tickle your funny bone. Having a son with Down Syndrome, Louise writes extensively concerning people with special needs, co-authoring the Gold Medallion award-winning book, Extraordinary Kids, with Cheri Fuller. Married to Carl for 45 years before he relocated to heaven, Louise is a mother, grandmother, professed chocoholic, and founder of the support group, Wives With Heavenly Husbands.

Join the conversation: For what gift of God are you most thankful?

 

Why John the Baptist’s Mission Matters to You

by Debbie Wilson @DebbieWWilson

Fifteen months before the birth of Jesus, God sent the angel Gabriel to Zacharias to announce the birth of John the Baptist. John’s ministry was to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming Messiah. One line in his mission intrigued me.   

“And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17 ESV).

I wondered how turning the hearts of the fathers to the children prepared the way for Jesus. Then a counseling class taught by Jim Craddock, a pioneer in connecting the relationship we have with our fathers to the relationship we feel with the heavenly Father, showed me the staggering impact a father plays in a child’s concept of God.

During the course, each of us took an inventory on how we perceived our heavenly Father in regard to a variety of issues. I zipped through the simple list checking the appropriate columns.

Later, we filled out the same inventory with respect to our earthly fathers. I whizzed down the columns until my pattern arrested me. I flipped back in my workbook to the first inventory. I was stunned. The pattern of my answers was identical. I’d projected the image of my earthly dad onto my heavenly Father.

Where Daddy had a sense of humor, God chuckled too. Where Daddy was strict, I saw my heavenly Father frown. The lesson startled and warned me. My relationship with my earthly fathers had direct impact on the way I experienced my heavenly Father.

A friend took a seminary class that echoed this finding. A survey found that every self-proclaimed atheist shared a common trait—a damaged relationship with his or her father. Their fathers had been either absent, distant, or abusive.

John the Baptist’s mission now made sense to me. Turning the hearts of the fathers to their children opened Israel’s arms to welcome God’s Son. Loving, engaged fathers tenderize their children’s hearts towards the Father. Self-absorbed and emotionally disengaged fathers hinder their children from experiencing the unconditional love of our heavenly Father.

Two Modern Examples

Josh McDowell, Christian author and speaker, is a modern-day example of this. Josh grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. He entered college a hardened agnostic. But in his attempt to disprove the resurrection he discovered Christ and a heavenly Father. His heavenly Father healed his past wounds and transformed his life. Read his bio here. Josh McDowell has impacted millions of lives for Christ through his speaking and writing.

C.S. Lewis’s mother died when he was ten. Lewis was shipped off to school. The physically and emotionally distant relationship he had with his father no doubt played a role in his becoming an atheist. But the story doesn’t end there. Christ pursued Lewis. Experiencing the love of his heavenly Father transformed Lewis into the great Christian author and influencer we so deeply love.

If you struggle with trusting God, feeling close to Him, or believing He loves you, look at the relationship you had with your father. Perhaps there is a good reason you feel that way. But it is not based on the truth about who God is and who you are to Him.

Jesus came to show us the Father. Grow close to your Father by getting to know your Savior. His love will transform you as it did Josh McDowell and C. S. Lewis.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”  John 14:9 NIV

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How Does John the Baptist’s Mission Matter to You? @DebbieWWilson on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

debbie wilsonAbout the author: Debbie W. Wilson is an ordinary woman who has experienced an extraordinary God. Drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher, Debbie speaks, writes, and coaches to help women discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. She and her husband, Larry, founded Lighthouse Ministries in 1991. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog.

Join the conversation: Can you think of ways your ideas about God have been influenced by your earthly father?