Angels on a Midnight Clear

by Christina Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

christina rose

About the author: Christina Rose is an author, trainer, and speaker certified by the John Maxwell Team of Leadership.  She is a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. She is a world traveler, surfer, foodie, cappuccino- loving chocoholic and a devoted mom to kids and dogs, as well as auntie to many nieces and nephews who live around the world.

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Christina’s book, My Appeal to Heaven, is her story.  With her young family on the verge of falling apart, Christina finds herself in a desperate situation with no resources other than herself.  After appealing to heaven, the Lord takes her on a journey of awakening, redemption and restoration. Christina hopes her story will encourage others who are in need of hope and freedom.

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

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Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

by Dena Dyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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?

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?

One Good Reason to Trust God with Unanswered Prayer

by Debbie Wilson

“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25 NIV

What if I told you unanswered prayer may be a sign of God’s favor? You might argue that since biblical days, many have taught otherwise. That if you’re sick, or God has closed your womb, then you’ve fallen from grace.

What if I told you the Bible shows the reverse was true for some of God’s chosen ones?

In the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, one line spoken by Elizabeth, after she became pregnant, speaks volumes about the pain she suffered during her years of unanswered prayer. “‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’” (Luke 1:25 NIV).

The Jews believed Elizabeth’s barrenness represented God’s punishment for some hidden sin. For decades, Elizabeth, a descendant of the High Priest Aaron and a priest’s wife, felt disgraced among her people. I can imagine her begging God to show her what she had done to lose God’s favor.

We know God’s delay in answering Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer wasn’t because of His displeasure. But they didn’t know that—until much later.

The Bible describes Zechariah and Elizabeth as “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” (Luke 1:6-7 NIV).

In their culture, righteous and barren didn’t go together. But what her peers saw as disgrace, God saw as special favorHe had not overlooked Elizabeth. He had chosen her for a special honor. He’d chosen her to raise the forerunner of His Son!

When the angel told Zechariah that God had answered his prayer, I picture Zechariah scratching his head. Which prayer? Since they were both very old, I’m sure they hadn’t prayed for a child in ages. Listen to the angel’s words:

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’” (Luke 1:13-17 NIV).

If God had shown Elizabeth His plan when she was young, whose plan do you think she would have chosen? Would she have chosen to fulfill her friends and family’s expectations by having an ordinary child at the expected age? Or would she have chosen to be a part of the miracle of Christmas and bear the son Jesus described as, “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 NIV)?

Do you have a prayer that has gone unanswered? Have you felt judged by others or forgotten by God because of it? From the perspective of time, we seeGod’s plan for Elizabeth was better than her own. Will you trust Him with your desires too? Elizabeth provides one more reason to trust God with unanswered prayer.

This article is 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: Have you struggled with unanswered prayer?

Supreme Sacrifice

by Marti Pieper

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

One of my favorite souvenirs from our family’s more than 50 short-term mission trips is a growing collection of international nativities. It began when, a number of years ago, I told my five children I had enough keychains and other throwaway gifts.

My nativity collection now totals more than thirty of these thoughtful replicas of Jesus’s birth, made from materials as diverse as pewter, olive wood, baked clay, glazed porcelain, corn husks, and more. I display them throughout the year and have also used them as centerpieces at church functions such as missions fundraising dinners.  And on the occasions when I speak about serving on the mission field, some or all of the nativities come along as a part of my display.

I especially love the way each nativity reflects the culture that created it. The Guna set shows authentic clothing and headdresses, replicated in clay, from the jungles of Panama. The Brazilian nativity rests inside a gourd found in that country, and the woven clothing of the Guatemalan figures features the broad stripes and bright colors characteristic of those worn by the Mayan people. In the Ecuadorian grouping, even baby Jesus wears a pointed Quechua hat.

When Jesus came to dwell among us, of course He did not come as a Guna, a Brazilian, a Mayan, or a Quechua any more than He came as the Caucasian infant so much of our North American art reflects. But this all-God and all-man identifies with us in much more significant ways than even our race.

Christ knows our pain, our sorrow, and our temptation, yet he loved us enough to die on our behalf. He understands, even weeps over, the hurt and pain we experience. Although he did not for one moment cease being God, he willingly gave up his place in heaven and, the Bible says, “emptied himself” to become a servant, born as a human infant.

Jesus was equal in every way to God the Father, but he did not grasp or cling to this identity. He had every right to call angels to his defense or shatter his enemies with a single word, but he did not choose to do so. Instead, he came to earth as a helpless infant, knowing full well he would ultimately suffer the shame and indignity of a blood-soaked cross.

I’m grateful Jesus came in the likeness of men, as a tiny, wailing infant born to die. And I’m even more grateful that after that cruel death, he was raised to life on our behalf. Because of his supreme sacrifice, we will one day experience the glories of the heaven he left behind for a short but significant season. As we celebrate Christmas, let us celebrate all his birth, his life, and his death mean to us—every day.

Out of the Dust: Story of an Unlikely Missionary by [Avis Goodhart, Marti Pieper, Moira Brown]

About the author: Marti Pieper’s eclectic publishing career includes writing two award-winning missionary memoirs including Out of the Dust along with five other nonfiction books. Find her at www.martipieper.com, where her “Snapshots of Dementia” blog offers transparent glimpses of life with her husband, who suffers from an early-onset dementia.

Join the conversation: What comes to mind when you look at your nativity set?