Recalibrating My Priorities

by Sue Likkel

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV

Full disclosure: when the leaves on the trees blow away and my chunky sweaters come out, I think of Christmas….tasks. Yes, Christmas tasks. I wish I could say that I think of celebrating Jesus’ birthday but usually, it’s the lists– of items to purchase, food to make, and events to host.

Even though my Christmas’s are more toned down than most, I can still get caught up in a season I find very distracting, taking my eyes off the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Two Christmases in particular recalibrated my priorities.

One year we had the privilege of spending Christmas in the Midwest with our son on the occasion of his wedding. After a long flight and various modes of transportation, we sat on the floor of a tiny apartment, eating our first home-cooked meal in a few days. 

With a strand of lights taped to the wall and a scrawny, mini tree leaning on an end table, the trappings were thin, but we were so happy.  We’d spent more time apart than together in the last few years and these three days were precious to all of us. Mostly, we wanted to reconnect, and there among us was our Jesus, smiling and eating with us.

Another year, my mom died on Christmas day. People were there, supporting, listening, encouraging.  No one said they couldn’t come because it was Christmas; they knew their presence was important. Jesus was there, too, arms around shoulders, taking a quiet walk with those who couldn’t believe what had just happened.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate nor fully understand the doe-eyed look my mom gave us kids when we were all home for Christmas.  Now I do.

Nothing underlines the importance of your people like losing one or having them absent either physically or emotionally. I get it. Just their presence is enough for me.  Sure, we’ll still exchange gifts, but their gift to me is just sitting in the living room watching the big game, making a mess in the kitchen while making cookies, or wrapping presents with the music cranked up.

I’ve come to realize that we just want relationship for Christmas. That’s exactly what Jesus offers us: relationship.

My best gift to my Lord is acknowledging my gratitude to Him through the joy I experience with my family and others I love. It’s a gift back to Him that I can give every day. Whether I have another lean Christmas, a more sumptuous one, or a quieter, lonely Christmas, Jesus will be there on my couch, in my kitchen, tasting my cookies.

Some years, circumstances force us to do Christmas differently. Life still happens at Christmas – someone’s in the hospital, the flu wipes mom out, or a job is lost. Thankfully, that baby in swaddling clothes is there for it all.

The joy of togetherness after miles of travel, the grace to weather a financial storm, the fortitude of managing family stress…baby Jesus gets the credit for it all. 

He doesn’t care much if we spend $70 or $7,000. What He cares about is our glorifying Him and celebrating His life through loving the people we’re with. And no matter where I am or who I’m with, I’ll follow my mom’s lead. Jesus and I will look at them doe-eyed, too.

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

About the author: Sue Likkel is a reader, writer, speaker, and teacher. A lover of words, she has spent decades in the classroom teaching English to middle and high schoolers. A child of God, she’s humbled and grateful for all He has done for her, like guiding her through challenges and blessing her with rich experiences. Native to Michigan but residing most of her life in the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys both the beaches and mountains with her husband, kids, and grandkids.

Join the conversation: What is your biggest priority this Christmas season?

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In the Fullness of Time

by Sheri Schofield

I’m a Scrabble fan. I like the planning and mental challenge of the game, and my family often plays it when we’re together at Christmas. But then someone introduced me to Upwords, a three-dimensional version of the game that can be built up from the board, not merely across it. Wow! Now that is a challenge!

One day I realized the parallel between Upwords and how God works in our lives. He doesn’t plan our lives on a flat plane. If we mistakenly miss his direction, he will still get us to his end goal as we live in surrender to him. He builds upwards and around obstacles. We cannot blow God’s plan by our mistakes, as long as we trust and keep following him.

That understanding of God became crystal clear to me when our son met his future wife. My husband and I had planned on serving God in either Santa Rosa, Argentina, or in Quito, Ecuador. But the sins of someone else destroyed that plan and sent us to Montana for many years. And this was where our son Drew met Chelsea for the first time. Her parents were missionaries whose home church was in Montana, and they were home on furlough after having served in Santa Rosa, Argentina and after she had attended a missionary school in Quito, Ecuador. Those same two cities! Our son and daughter-in-law could not have missed meeting one another on this earth! God’s plans included the detour we’d had to take.

Sometimes when I feel anxious about other people sabotaging my plans, God reminds me that he remains in full control and can build upward from the place I was derailed.

King David wrote, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 16 NIV).

When the Jewish people were taken into captivity to Babylon, God told Jeremiah he would bring them back to their land in his own time. Jeremiah wrote, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

Galatians 4:4 says God sent his Son to earth in the fullness of time. And God has good plans for each of us—in his time. His heart for his children is the same now as it was in ancient times.

.This Christmas, remember that God sent Jesus to us, “in the fullness of time.” God has a fullness of time in each event of his children’s lives.  He knows when we are delayed unexpectedly, or when someone else derails the plan he has for us. He has taken this all into account. When we hit a roadblock, God incorporates the change and puts us back on the right track.

It is not our job to worry or to be anxious. It is our responsibility to simply hand our problems over to God and let him do the work of directing us. Our all-wise God does not make mistakes. He’s got this!

As the Christmas season surrounds us, may the knowledge of God’s sovereignty comfort, calm, and fill each of us with joy.

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV).

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

About the author: Sheri Schofield, award-winning author and Bible teacher, has added a new way to share faith in Jesus: Her latest book, Before You Find Me, is a contemporary romantic suspense featuring a strong Christian who faces a crisis that tests her courage. Tara, a freshman at West Texas A&M whose parents are dead, learns that her younger sister witnessed a murder. To protect her siblings, she must spirit them out of Texas before the murderer learns there was a witness to his act. Tara has one day in which to act. Can she do it? She remembers a family ranch in Montana…and Ben, the boy next-door, who captured her heart once. Will he still be there? Will he help her protect her family now? This book entertains while it presents godly responses to danger and struggles. Sometimes fiction can draw people closer to God when they will not be drawn by nonfiction. Before You Find Me is available at http://www.sherischofield.com.

Join the conversation: What worries you this Christmas season? How does knowing God has all things in hand help the anxiety?

My Favorite Name

by Linda L. Kruschke

Christmas is here. It makes me wonder where the rest of 2022 went! We’ve spent the month thinking of the perfect gifts for family and friends. Then came the shopping and wrapping. But the older I get, the less Christmas is about the giving and getting of things. For me, it is now more about the one gift given long ago, the best gift of all. The gift of God’s Son.

My favorite part of decorating for Christmas is deciding where to display my 28 nativity sets and figurines. As I set each one in its place, I am thankful for the gift of the Holy Child.

I’ve been thinking about the many names given to Jesus in the Bible. He is called the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace, King of kings, Lord of lords, Alpha & Omega, and many more. But my favorite name of Jesus? Immanuel.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB). This prophecy is quoted in Matthew 1:23 by an angel in a vision to Joseph. He defines the name Immanuel to mean “God with us.”

When I look at my many nativity scenes, that is what I see: God with us. For thousands of years, God tried to get the message across to His people that He loved them and would always be there for them. He spoke through miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, and through prophets, such as Isaiah and Daniel. But even with all His attempts, His people did not listen.

So God became one of us, to live among us in the flesh, to experience life just as we do. I like the name Immanuel because it reminds me that God left His glory behind to experience all the pain, trials, and heartache that we experience. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is a high priest who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet was without sin. He has walked a metaphorical mile in our shoes. He can sympathize with our weaknesses because He has gone before us. All to provide those who would believe in Him an eternal relationship with God.  

This Christmas, I hope you will feel the blessing of being with God and of God being with you. I hope you will experience the fullness of Immanuel.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b NIV).

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

About the author: Linda L. Kruschke writes candid memoir and fearless poetry. She aspires to show women that God’s redemption and healing are just a story away. She blogs at AnotherFearlessYear.net, and has been published in Today’s Christian Living, Fathom Magazine, The Christian Journal, Bible Advocate, Now What?, iBelieve.com, WeToo.org blog, The Mighty, Calla Press, Divine Purpose blog, Agape Review, Arise Daily, and several anthologies. She is the editor-in-chief for Swallow’s Nest, the poetry journal of Oregon Christian Writers.

Join the conversation: What does the idea of God with Us mean to you?

Christmas: Where the Sacred and the Secular Collide

by Heather Norman Smith

There are two versions of Christmas. They share the same date on the calendar and the same holiday name, but they are two very different celebrations.

First, there’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God, demonstrating God’s deep love for humanity. We sing His praises and extol His goodness.

Then, there’s the Christmas celebration where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our home. We sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list.

Through the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th. Our church play with its nativity images is always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies, and my children’s faces on Christmas morning.

But should there be a balance? Should we entertain that which distracts us from the manger?

Some time ago, I was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmastime is like a wedding with a reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding are holy, the sacred part. But it is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At the reception, guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In a similar way, Christmas blends the sacred and the secular; and the latter depends on the former.

All the warm and fuzzy, less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by, and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child (magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation), are because of Him.

So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.

Let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name defines this day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway.

They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights, and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But Christ came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, even when they haven’t met the Source.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem.

A collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas really seems fitting since that’s what happened when Christ was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives.

So, as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think about the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17 NKJV

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

About the author: Heather Norman Smith is an author of Christian Fiction set in her home state of North Carolina. Her goal is to entertain and encourage while illuminating the redemptive love of God. Learn more about her work at heathernormansmith.com and amazon.com/Heather-Norman-Smith/e/B07DWLCXYG.

Join the conversation: What do you prioritize in your holiday planning?

Faith Matters

by Julie Zine Coleman

She was an ordinary girl, living in an ordinary town called Nazareth. Arrangements had been made for her to marry a good man named Joseph, who earlier had met with her father to make a legal agreement for their betrothal.

But then the extraordinary happened.

The angel Gabriel appeared and told her she had found favor with God; she would conceive and bear a son. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David…His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32, 33 NASB).

As you can imagine, Mary had questions. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (v. 34).

In his first chapter, Luke places Mary’s interaction with Gabriel up against the priest Zacharias, who also received an announcement from the angel. Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth, well past childbearing years, would bear a son. Zacharias’s response to the unexpected announcement was incredulous: “How will I know this for certain?” (Luke 1:18 NASB). The original Greek reads, According to whom?

I can almost imagine Gabriel rolling his eyes. He informed Zacharias he had just come from the throne of God. That’s Who. And then told him of the consequence he would experience “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time’” (Luke 1:20 NASB).

Have you ever wondered why the angel rebuked Zacharias for asking a question but not Mary?

Mary’s question was very different than Zacharias’s. She seemed to be looking for clarification on what she should do next. How would all this work? She was a virgin, after all. Was she to marry Joseph right away? We can tell that she asked in faith, because her ready response to the angel’s reply to her question was “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NASB).

Two announcements, two reactions. The difference between them? Faith. One trusted in the power of God. Mary placed herself in God’s hands after believing His message, trusting Him to work out the details.

We all have questions for God from time to time. Sometimes our questions are filled with pain or even anger. There is so much we don’t understand. But Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith, it is impossible to please [God]” (NASB).

So how we ask those questions is important to Him. We need to ask from the context of what we know to be true of God. He is wise and powerful. He sees the big picture when we cannot. He is at work everywhere at once to bring His plans into completion. He is good. He cares deeply for us and the things that matter to us.

Remembering that context will enable us to ask in faith. Hearing and understanding His Word will keep our hearts from becoming hardened. This will bring us peace, as we submit ourselves to His will even when we don’t understand.

Upon hearing Mary’s faith-filled question, Gabriel encouraged her: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NASB). And, as Hebrews 11:6 says further, “For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (NASB).

Faith makes all the difference.

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 10:11 NASB

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

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About the authorJulie Zine 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 crafting. More on Julie can be found at her new website JulieZineColeman.com and Facebook.

Many Christian women are torn between the church’s traditional teachings on gender roles and the liberty they experience in secular society. But what if the church’s conventional interpretations aren’t really biblical at all? Julie’s new book, On Purpose, is a careful study of the passages in the Bible often interpreted to limit women in the church, at home, or in the workplace. Each chapter reveals timeless biblical principles that actually teach freedom, not limitation. On Purpose was recently named the Golden Scrolls 2022 Book of the Year.

Join the conversation: What traits of God do you want to remember when you ask Him questions?

The Census

by Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott

Every ten years, the United States takes a census of the people. This headcount is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and was first taken in 1790. Every household is asked to list the number of people living in that home and indicate the race of each person. According to a PDF file found at www.mundelein.org, reasons for the census include:

  • to determine the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives,
  • to help decision-makers know how communities are changing
  • to provide information to affect funding to communities.

Census-taking happened in the Bible, so this is nothing new. In the Old Testament, God had Moses take a census of the people to see how to divide up the Promised Land equitably: larger tribes needed more land, smaller tribes needed less land. He also took a census of the men to see how large the army was.

The most notable census was the one we read about in Luke 2. I have the words of the first seven verses emblazoned on my memory from hearing them annually, not only at church, but also in public elementary school Christmas programs.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed… And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 KJV

Oh, my goodness, I can still see the narrator reading or reciting this from behind a podium at stage left as “Joseph” in his bathrobe and “Mary” in her mom’s head scarf and big muumuu covering the pillow belted to her tummy, slowly entered from stage right.

The couple knocked on each cardboard door only to meet other bathrobed boys who would roughly shoo them away announcing “No room here.” Finally, they found one guy who at least let them stay in the stable. Turning her back to the audience, “Mary” would then “deliver” her son (by pulling out that pillow of course) and turn back to the audience cradling the baby doll wrapped up as the baby Jesus.

I understand now that that scene would not have been possible had it not been for the census. Caesar Augustus thought he was counting folks so he could levy more money, but God was behind the whole thing. God had to get Mary to Bethlehem because that’s where Jesus was supposed to be born. The lowliest possible birth would have only been possible if other possible accommodations were full. After all, where else would a lamb be born but in a stable?

What can we learn from this? It’s simple: God can and will move every obstacle, reorder every circumstance, and even restructure societal order to work out and bring to pass His plans for our lives.

All we need to do is our part; God is well able to handle all of the rest.

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

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About the author: “Live significantly!” That’s the inspiring message of Sharon Norris Elliott, award-winning author, editor, agent, engaging speaker, and licensed minister. Author of 12 books, and associated with several prestigious organizations such as AWSA, ACE, and HSBN.tv, Sharon is also co-director of the WCCW conference. She is founder/CEO of AuthorizeMe® Consulting, Coaching, & Editing Firm and Literary Agency. www.AuthorizeMe.net

Sharon’s latest release, A Woman God Can Bless, walks through the house of your life with you and Jesus. This book will help you ease open the doors of old patterns of behavior, ingrained habits, and accepted dispositions with which you’ve grown accustomed. Within these pages you will find gentle prompts that will help you let the Lord remodel those closed rooms by redesigning your thinking and behavior to line up with His will for how you should then live.

Join the conversation: What are other details of the coming of the Messiah you can think of that show God’s orchestrating the circumstances to accomplish his will?

Turning a Season of Sorrow into a Season of Celebration

by Cherie Denna

It was just a matter of time before the call finally came. “Cherie, the paramedics just took your mom. She had a bad fall.”

Miraculously, she survived without any broken bones. It was clear to me that the Lord would use this as the catalyst to answer my prayer—that she would leave an abusive relationship to move in with us. In fact, themes of trauma, betrayal, and loss are woven throughout her story. For the first time, I am witnessing the depth of her spirit-wounds. The grief she is experiencing during this season of sorrows is heartbreaking.

Isaiah describes Jesus as a Man of sorrows. “He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a Man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him” (Isaiah 53:3 AMPC).

Jesus took on the suffering of humanity. He endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before Him: redeeming the world from their sin, then sitting down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). Even at Gethsemane, Jesus held onto the promise of His glory to come.

The burden of sorrow can often overshadow the goodness of God. This season of counted blessings and planned celebrations is also a season of sorrow for many. Despite loneliness, fear, weakness, or weariness, determined trust can endure. It will recall the things God has done, which will shift our perspective Godward in anticipation of His mercy and grace. We can know He will never leave or forsake us.

The Holy Spirit ministers to us through Scripture, illuminating our soul and lifting us from the overwhelming darkness. I am reminded of Jesus asking the paralytic, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 The Message, my emphasis). If we truly want to rejoice in His courts of thanksgiving and celebration, we will ask ourselves the same question amidst our sorrows.

Whether we keep our eyes on the Lord determines the duration of our suffering. Either we can allow Him to lift us up and carry us through our sorrow or we may fall deeper into hopelessness and despair. The latter is where the enemy would love to trap us. He certainly enjoys using our sorrows to prevent us from joyful celebrations.

This is my personal experience, and I see how God is touching my mom’s tender heart. We will look for the beauty and blessings in our surroundings together. We will make new memories in the simple things like decorating for the holidays, visiting grandchildren, worshiping through music, and cooking together. We will continue to love and pray for her, as she discovers the things worth celebrating.

Seasons of sorrow are a time when we should turn our hearts Godward. Ask Him to reveal those things that are true, gracious, beautiful, and worthy of praise and celebration. When we are in our Gethsemane season, He will faithfully pour out His glory upon us. During this season, my prayer is that our God of peace cover you and your loved ones with peace and make everything beautiful in its time.

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8 MSG

About the author: Cherie Denna is a ministry leader, award-winning author, podcaster, coach, and inspirational speaker. Her discovery of true belonging in Christ fuels her passion. Cherie encourages and inspires the outcast, forgotten, and rejected to embrace peace as God’s chosen and beloved. You can find Cherie writing on the seashore with camera in hand or exploring with her purpose mate husband in their cabin on wheels. Her motto is, “My coffee needs coffee!”

Aside from contributing to multiple publications, Cherie’s debut book, Beloved Outcast: The Quest for True Belonging, is a testament to rebranding the soul for true belonging (Bold Vision Books, 2023). Follow her on social media @cheriedenna and at her website https://www.cheriedenna.com.

Join the conversation: How have you kept the Lord as your focus in times of sorrow?

Power and Grace for Challenging Holidays

by Jennifer Slattery

Do thoughts of the holidays fill you with joyful anticipation, anxiety, or both? We probably all have that one family member who seems adept at pricking at our insecurities, challenging our peace, and poking at our emotional bruises. It makes the holidays challenging every year.

Years ago, someone I interacted with seemed angered by me and everything for which I stood, only this individual never told me this directly. Instead, after each encounter, she’d flood social media with posts regarding the hypocrisy or “hatred” displayed by Christ-followers–whether or not we’d talked religion or discussed personal beliefs. Feeling as if this person was passive-aggressively attacking me, I shared my hurt with a mentor, who replied, “She’s not fighting with you. She’s wrestling with God.”

Her words reminded me of Ephesians, where it states, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12-13 KJV).

Every action and reaction has a spiritual root. We, and all we encounter, are either living yielded to Christ or in opposition to Him. It’s about living His love and grace or giving in to self-obsession.

Galatians show both possibilities: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:19-26 KJV).

When I am driven by “the flesh” rather than God’s Spirit, I’m not to sink into condemnation. Instead, He wants to reveal places in my soul where His love and grace haven’t reached, so that He can heal every wound, expel every lie, and illuminate every lurking shadow with His glorious light.

A light that will push back the darkness, within me and also around me.

Whenever a Christ-follower enters a room, she carries with her the light of Christ. She changes the dynamics, on a supernaturally spiritual level, whether she speaks or remains silent. She becomes a strategic weapon against the evil seeking to devour her, when she remains in step with His Spirit.

Every encounter stems from the same over-arching battle. Scripture makes it clear, we have an enemy whose desire is to tarnish and destroy. But Christ is calling us to life. To hope. To healing, freedom, and eternal impact.

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

About the author: Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published novelist, speaker, ministry leader, and one of the hosts of the Faith Over Fear Podcast and the Your Daily Bible Verse podcast. Visit her at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com to learn more about her.

Join the conversation: As you anticipate Christmas, is it with joy or angst? How is God speaking to you in regard to this? Share your thoughts, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Let Mary’s Faith Inspire You this Christmas

by Debbie Wilson

Mary’s mouth gaped. The angel had vanished as quickly as he’d appeared, leaving Mary’s mind whirling with awe and questions. God had chosen her—a nobody—to be the mother of His Son! Who could she tell? Who would believe her? Would Joseph? The angel said her cousin Elizabeth also carried a miracle child. And Elizabeth’s husband was a priest. She would visit Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Elizabeth’s welcome astonished Mary.

In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’” (Luke 1:42-45 NIV).

Mary’s hope soared; she didn’t even have to explain! Would the Lord prepare Joseph as He had Elizabeth?

Three months passed, and Mary returned home. There was no delicate way to say, “Joseph, I am pregnant. But it’s not how it looks. I am carrying God’s son.” She rested her hand on her stomach and smiled. God would make a way.

Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God’s ways are not like our ways—they’re better. That includes His timing. I tend to forget that. But Mary didn’t. While Mary surely hoped God would prepare Joseph as He had Elizabeth—no one enjoys being rejected or misjudged—she fully trusted Him.

And God trusted Mary to walk through pain and hardship with Him.

Joseph and Mary’s betrothal was a formal covenant relationship that could only be broken by death or divorce. The Bible doesn’t say how Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, but he believed she’d been unfaithful. According to the law, adultery couldn’t be overlooked.

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19 NIV).

While Joseph considered what to do, God sent an angel to Joseph.

“‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ … When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matt. 1:20-21, 24 NIV).

Mary inspires me in many ways, but I want to focus on one aspect—her faith. She didn’t have to convince Joseph of her innocence or figure out the virgin birth. It didn’t matter if the inn was full and she didn’t have a midwife. Even King Herod’s murderous rampage couldn’t overshadow the wonder of God’s promise: Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21 NIV).

Has a loss or misunderstanding darkened your thoughts this Christmas season? Every year contains both pain and joy. May we follow Mary’s example and let the light of God’s promise chase the shadows away. For Immanuel has come. God is with us (Matt. 1:23).

Blessed is she who has believed. Luke 1:45 NIV

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

About the author: Debbie W. Wilson is an ordinary woman with an extraordinary God. Drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher, Debbie writes and speaks to connect sojourners to the heart of Christ. She and her husband Larry founded Lighthouse Ministries, a nonprofit ministry offering life and relationship counseling and Bible studies. Despite time in Boston, the Midwest, and Southern California, she still says y’all. Her family, which includes two mischievous standard poodles, calls North Carolina home. Find free resources to refresh your faith and connect with Debbie at debbieWwilson.com.

Join the conversation: How does Mary inspire you?

Treasures and Pivots: Gifts from the Magi

by Tina Yeager

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:11-12 NIV

My schedule brims full, but I must carve out the hours to anoint each room of my home with silver and frosted garlands. At least two batches of cookies and a trio of pies should warm the air with sweet and spiced fragrances. Curling the ribbons around each gift takes a moment more but adds a gilded embrace of my care to the package. Are these trifles my attempt to mimic myrrh, frankincense, and gold?

Traditions and life courses create meaningless ruts where we continue to enslave ourselves because familiar and shallow prove easiest. I know down to my marrow that there is more to Noel than this. So I must return to the deep work of glory as I do every year. The truth of Immanuel, God with us, demands greater depth than I have offered.

Twinkling lights resonate with my search for starry evidence of infinite hope.

I might not own a chest of gold, sing with a voice of angels, or always experience ideal circumstances. Still, I crave and savor the inspiration sparkling through this season. No matter how bleak the world appears or how meager my resources feel, the eternal rays of the nativity story shine through and brighten my spirit. Glory wrapped himself in baby flesh and fed his hope lavishly to pagan scholars and outcasts and commoners.

Christ’s enchanting call beckoned the hopeless and lost. After the shepherds rose from earthen beds to pursue the songs of heaven, a distant set of seekers arrived. Scripture reveals the Magi risked carrying their riches as they crossed many treacherous miles to meet Christ in a land oppressed by tyrants, darkness, and poverty. They presented their most sacred possessions, even forfeiting their own political and intellectual course to pivot toward God’s best.

The celestial shimmers of the season’s décor remind me to consider things I hold dear. What do I have to present before Christ? Though I neither create or control any blessing, the Father invites me to carry them as mine. I can hoard my precious holdings as a burden and fear losing them or enjoy the peace of gifting them to Jesus. Sometimes I re-gift the same burdens I once surrendered, but the Lord doesn’t seem to mind receiving them on repeat.

I wrap prayer ribbons around each treasure and lay my career, relationships, and possessions before him. Digging deeper into my chest, I find time and knowledge as weightier sacrifices. The Lord needs none of these from me, but loves me dearly enough to unburden my soul of their impossible strain.

Lightened, I now feel free to pivot with joy onto a new course as God leads me. He holds my time and I trust him to select each step when I cannot see or understand the way.

I’m thankful for the lessons in the Magi’s story as a treasured gift this season. I will celebrate the abundance of surrendered time and follow God’s call to pivot my life’s steps toward him. One gift, one risky step, at a time.

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

About the author: Award-winning author, speaker, Flourish-Meant podcast host, licensed counselor, and life coach, Tina encourages audiences to fulfill their potential. She hosts a Subdue Stress and Anxiety course featuring 15 expert presenters. Check out Beautiful Warrior: Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You and Upcycled: Crafted for a Purpose (Bold Vision, 2022). Connect with Tina at tinayeager.com.

Join the conversation: What thoughts about Christmas and the nativity bring you joy?