Finding Our Purpose through God’s Eyes

by Lori Vober

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21 NIV

My dad was a businessman, and I wanted a career in a corporate setting like his from an early age. After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in business administration, my first job was in marketing with the petroleum industry in Oklahoma. Because I was so career focused, I was promoted six months later and transferred to the very cold state of Minnesota. It was January 1997, and I had never seen that much snow, never mind drive or live in it!

I grew up attending church as a child, but we moved every few years with my dad’s career. In my senior year in high school, my friend invited me to her church. It was the first time I heard a message on having a personal relationship with God. I accepted Christ as my personal Savior that summer and was baptized. Once I was on my own, I knew church was my best source for friends, and that is where I met my husband, Dainis. I didn’t know it at the time, but God had moved me there to meet the godly man He planned for me to marry.

Dainis’ mom had recently passed away from hormonal cancer, which she had battled for sixteen years. We didn’t know it then, but one day I would have my own medical challenges and need a mate that understood what it meant to take care of a wife in those circumstances. After we were married, I continued my corporate career.

We had a wonderful first few years of marriage, traveling quite a bit and practicing parenting skills with our new puppy. Unfortunately, we were having difficulty starting our family. I made the decision to change careers and began to work as the office manager at our church. We were hopeful that less stress and travel would help our family planning.

I now know that job change was God’s way of protecting me, and I believe it saved my life. Three weeks later, I suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke caused by a malformation of blood vessels on the right side of my brain. I was rushed to the hospital, underwent emergency brain surgery was kept in a drug induced coma for seventeen days. I awoke having lost the use of my left side. I had a second ten-hour brain surgery to remove the malformation, and then my world of rehabilitation began.

Soon after I was discharged, my husband lost his job, and we moved to Arizona. Life was a combination of seizure management and rehab for many years. In 2011, we decided to start our family through adoption. We adopted a sibling group of three children from Colombia, South America.

Over the years, God has taught us the importance of keeping our focus on His plans and purpose for us. Without that, we could miss some amazing opportunities. Proverbs 19:21 NIV says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We all have our tentative plans mapped out for our life, but God has the bigger picture.

It is His mission and purpose that can make all the difference.

About the author: Lori Vober suffered an intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke at age twenty-nine, and then developed epilepsy due to the stroke. She is a walking miracle, and felt called to share her story and journey of faith and perseverance to encourage others. Lori believes God has a plan for each of us, but life is about our choices! Even with her difficulties, she was able to become an adoptive Mom of a sibling group of three.

Lori’s first book will release on March 11, titled CHOICES: When You Are Faced with a Challenge, What Choice Will You Make? Life rarely turns out exactly as you pictured it, and we all face challenges along the way. God always has a plan. But He leaves it up to you whether you follow His plan or not. Life is about choices.

Join the conversation: Do you remember a time God moved you differently than what you had planned? How did that turn out? Can you see the wisdom in his plan now?

Living from the Inside Out

by Deborah McCormick Maxey

We have a precious little Yorkie that is great about letting us know when she needs to go outside. Of course, without delay, we follow Maxi’s wishes. But I’ve diagnosed her with attention deficit disorder. Once that door is open and she trots out, all seven pounds of her switches from, I gotta go! to Hey, what’s going on out here? Wait, that’s a squirrel! Someone is walking on mystreet. Someone is on my lake?

Maxi’s list of distractions is too numerous to mention. We’ve developed the habit of saying, “Focus.” But it falls on deaf ears. After she’s scoped out her domain and barked a sufficient number of times—with such voracious barks that her whole little body shakes—she will often remember that nature called. But not always. If it’s cold or rainy, Maxi wants back inside before she’s completed her tasks. Then she stands, just inside the door, waiting for her treat.

Only when the treat isn’t forthcoming does she remember, oh, that’s right, I gotta go. So, out she goes again, performs the task that internally called her to start with, and receives her reward.

Oh, how I can relate. I pray for guidance, work on projects I internally believe the Lord has called me to, and, the next thing I know, I’m wrapped up in that world out there. I’ve started researching things that don’t pertain, shopping online, making coffee, and answering emails.

I hate to admit how easy it is for me to get distracted and act like Maxi. I should have more discipline to limit my time on dilly-dallies. You know the ones: a puzzle on my iPad, watching a YouTube video with hubby, deciding it’s a good day to bake something—even though I’ve scheduled the time as work hours.

That’s how outside pressures of the world can bear down on me. I’m acting like my pup. I’m living from the outside in. I’m not responding to the inner call on my life any more than Maxi does.

But if I turn it around, step back, become still, and ask God for guidance, I can recenter. “What would You have me focus on, Lord?” Then I apply obedience. Sitting in my chair. Behind my keyboard. Focusing. And the flow begins.

Living from the inside out: focused. Peace, motivation and a sense of accomplishment follow. My reward.

When I focus on Christ as my center, my inner Commander, I reconnect. I want to live from that place. I want to be in His will. Me and my Jesus. Directed internally. Doing what He wants me to do.

Isn’t this exactly what He has asked of us?

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2 (KJB)

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

About the author: A licensed therapist, Deborah McCormick Maxey repurposed her life when she closed her counseling practice in 2020 to joyfully invest her energy in writing Christian fiction,devotions, and her website https://deborahmaxey.com that focuses on miracles.  

The Endling: A Novel by [Deborah Maxey]

Deborah’s debut novel, The Endling, has just been awarded the Golden Scrolls Fiction Book of the Year! Native American Emerson Coffee is the last surviving member of her tribe. When US Marshals inform her she’s being hunted by a mob hit man, Emerson declines their offer of witness protection. But when three innocent children become caught in the crosshairs, Emerson must decide if she will risk it all—her mountains, her heritage . . . even her life—to secure their safety. 

Join the conversation. Do you struggle with focus?

The Alchemy of Focus

by Deborah McCormick Maxey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By April I realized I was having a Jacob experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Mary Christmas

by Lori Wildenberg

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

The day after Thanksgiving, many of the homes in our neighborhood are already clothed in Christmas décor and lights. Our mailbox even presents us with our first Christmas card along with a bazillion catalogs.

Holiday anxiety seeps into my mind, as I notice the lack of red and green at the Wildenberg home while the browns and oranges comfortably reside in their seasonal spot. My stomach tightens and my heart skips a beat as one of my Facebook friends declares, “I’m done with my Christmas shopping!”

Me? I haven’t even made a list, let alone checked it twice.

When the calendar flips to December, this is when my home transitions to Christmas. I take some comfort in the fact I’m only one week behind my neighbors. The tree is up. The lights are on, the stockings hung. Even a little gift shopping has occurred.

Every year I give myself a holiday pep talk, “I’m going to do Christmas differently. I will look up. Stop. Inhale. Exhale. I will enjoy time with family and friends. I will remember the reason for the season. I will be more like Mary. I want to sit at Jesus’ feet rather than be consumed with worry over preparations.”

My memory is short. Martha and I are tight. Like her, I’m more of a do-er than a be-er.

I have found if I want to be more like Mary, I need to refocus my thoughts and attention daily. To reject the rush, I intentionally recall my desired priorities. When I push earthly frenzy and frantic aside and replace them with a heavenly perspective, I experience more supernatural peace and joy.

I know, living Mary’s way is easier said than done. I must commit to being OK with what I accomplish and with what I don’t. My Martha struggles with this. As Jesus says, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

Are you like me? Do you want to keep the holidays in proper perspective? These three values help me focus. Perhaps they will help you too.

 People are more important than stuff.

 People are more important than chores, cooking, and cleaning.

People are more important than my iPhone or screen time.

Here are 7 ways I can live out those values:

  • Plan times to hang out with family and friends. Commit them to the calendar. Then do it.
  • Divide up the household chores and errands. Distribute the responsibilities.
  • Create a no phone and no screen zone space and time.
  • Avoid the joy stealing competition of comparison that plays in my mind.
  • Whittle down the yeses to God’s best for me, my time, and my family.
  • Be OK with good enough. Avoid catching the perfection infection.
  • Keep some white space on the calendar so I have some margin to serve or engage.
  • Daily, I choose to be present with family and friends…and whomever else the Lord would show me.

And for this holiday season, I confidently say to Martha who camps out in my head, “Don’t leave. Just move over a bit because I really want to have a Mary Christmas.” 

About the author: Helping families create connections that last a lifetime is Lori Wildenberg’s passion. Lori, wife, mom of 4 plus 3 more, and Mimi, shares her stories of failures and successes to encourage and equip parents. The Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connectionsis Lori’s fifth and most recently published book. As a national speaker and licensed parent and family educator, she leads the Moms Together Facebook group and co-hosts the Moms Together Podcast. For more information or to connect with Lori go to www.loriwildenberg.com .

Join the conversation: Are you planning to do Christmas a bit differently this year?

Drowning in Stress?

by Ginny Dent Brant @GinnyBrant

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NKJ)

Hearing the words “you have cancer” just four months after my mother had died from cancer was a jolt to my entire body. The next week, the news got worse: “It’s aggressive.” But strike three came when my surgeon flashed my MRI up on the wall and said, “It appears your cancer has spread to other parts of your body.” It looked like a tornado had invaded my body. Was this really my MRI? Was this my ticket to Heaven?

The way we handle stress and emotions in the trials of our lives can determine our health and well-being. Stress releases a cocktail of hormones that can suppress or temporarily shut down our immune response. It’s normal to experience stress from time to time. However, when stress is constant, our body shifts from defense and repair to an inability to defend against disease. Where we focus our attention in the trials of our lives makes a difference.

God knew that stress would wreak havoc on our bodies, but in His wisdom He has given us remedies—things we can do to help our bodies to restore during troubling times. In the book of Philippians, Paul instructs us on dealing with difficult times that cause stress to rear its ugly head. He first points us to prayer and gratitude (in the preceding verses). Then he challenges us to refocus our mind and attention.

While writing Philippians, Paul was under house arrest and chained to a Praetorian Guard, awaiting to go on trial for his life. Yet his mind is not focused on his negative circumstances. He instructs us to meditate on the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good reports, and those things that are worthy of praise. I call these “the good things.” Paul is admonishing us to refocus on “the good things” rather than the adverse circumstances around us.

Paul’s advice is well-taken. Drowning in the negative circumstances of our lives provides no benefit. Meditating on the truth of God’s Word, laying our concerns at His feet in prayer, praising Him for the blessings in our lives, and refocusing on “the good things” are all productive actions that give us hope. We know that God will use all things for our good and for His eternal purposes.

Paul’s imprisonment meant sharing the Gospel in ways he could not anticipate. Living under arrest gave him opportunities to witness, time away from the world to refocus, and solitude to write God’s Word.

Trials don’t last forever, but they do make us stronger. Research shows that people who practice a lifestyle of prayer, gratitude, and refocusing their thoughts on the “good things” daily are healthier and heal better.

So what did I do in the middle of a deadly and aggressive cancer journey?  I prayed more, I meditated on the truth in His Word, I sang His praises, I thanked Him for all the blessings, and I refocused on “the good things” along the way. I found that my cancer journey gave me time to refocus my life and eventually use my journey as a gift to help others. What’s good for the cancer patient is good for everyone. Where we focus our attention matters.

TWEETABLE
Drowning in Stress? – encouragement from @GinnyBrant on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Ginny Dent Brant is a speaker and writer who grew up in the halls of power in Washington, DC. She has battled cancer, ministered around the world, and served on the front lines of American culture as a counselor, educator, wellness advocate, and adjunct professor. Brant’s award-winning book, Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World, was endorsed by Chuck Colson and featured in many TV and media interviews. Her recent book, Unleash Your God-given Healing: Eight Steps to Prevent and Survive Cancer, was written with an oncologist after her cancer journey. Cancer prevention blog and more info at http://www.ginnybrant.com.

Join the conversation: On what do you focus when stress threatens to overtake you?

The Kingdom…in a Nutshell

 by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.   Matthew 13:44 CSB

I love eating a big handful of money. Er…pecans. I meant pecans.

Seriously though, sometimes a gal just wants to snack on some of those delish pecans, right? And evidently also wants to cease having that extra $14.50.

Not to get all squirrely about it or anything, but I had a craving for them the other day and the only bag I could find at the convenience store was tiny—and eight bucks. I bought them anyway. Even though I knew that was just nuts.

I wonder if squirrels even know what they’re stashing away these days. If they figured it out and learned to trade them on the gem market, maybe they could leave those old trees behind and move on up to a de-luxe apartment in the sky.

Our faith walk is often affected by what we squirrel away, spiritually speaking. Sometimes without even realizing it, we find we’re spending all our work energies angling for hanging onto comfort and ease and contentment in our circumstances. Sometimes our focus is stolen away by an intense desire to stash away money and things. Sometimes we can find ourselves desperately scrambling for great power, influence or fame—scrambling like we’re readying for the hardest winter.

As we’re following Christ, the “hardest winters” are the ones we experience when all those earthly aspirations leave us feeling disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned—empty. Joyless. Brrr. Even worthy aspirations are empty when we seek them selfishly, or we leave Jesus out.

Paul said in Romans 14:7 (CSB) that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” It’s not about that handful of snacks. We find joy as we focus on the kingdom of God, and as we let the Holy Spirit rule our hearts.

Two of the parables of Jesus teach us the overwhelmingly precious value of His kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46 CSB).

Jesus teaches that the kingdom is so valuable, a person will freely give up everything else in life to lay hold of it. The kingdom of heaven—that place where God, our King, rules.

For believers, the King rules in our hearts by His joy-giving Holy Spirit. To follow whole-heartedly is our calling. Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25 CSB).

Lord, by the working of Your Holy Spirit in me, help me focus right there, finding life, stashing away the eternally valuable, letting go of anything temporary I might selfishly crave. Giving all. As Your kingdom dwells in me, may I dwell in Your kingdom.

I want to pray that regularly, allowing Him to renew my focus every place it gets off.

That’s probably also why I’m giving up on my jewelry idea. The one where I make myself a necklace. From 24 karat pecan halves.

TWEETABLE
The Kingdom…in a Nutshell – encouragement from @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout 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 just released 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: How does knowing you are a part of the Kingdom of Heaven impact your life in the here and now?

To Make a Long Story Pie

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

Isn’t it great when someone says, “to make a long story short…”? Because then you know to cancel your plans for the rest of the day.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m not one to talk about long stories or the people who tell them. I’m known for being more than a little on the wordy side. And still, even in a personal conversation, I sometimes have trouble listening to others whose presentations are longer than three minutes. Especially if they don’t have visual aids.

People. Give me a cartoon. Flannel board, maybe. A graph or a nice pie chart even. Not necessarily because of my inability to focus or anything but it’s always good to be—hey, now I want pie.

Speaking of the abrupt segues of people with short attention spans, I opened the microwave the other day and found a piece of pie in there. I thought, Where in the world did that come from? Then I remembered. I put it in there two days before. Wow, bet that thing is done now.

All focus deficits aside, I really am trying to learn to listen better. Even without the pie chart. Or the pie. James 1:19 tells me that “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak,” (HCSB). And boy oh boy, can I get those backwards.

So how can we be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak”? Listen faster, speak slower? Actually, I’m quite sure it’s not a matter of speed. More often we need to simply replace the speaking with the listening.

How many times have I already been putting together some kind of “impressive” response in my mind while someone was still talking? All too often I should still be listening when I let my words take control of my brain and my lips. Letting our words take control is letting our flesh take control. And you can bet sin won’t be far behind.

Words out of control can lead to anger and all kinds of sinful responses on both sides of a conversation. James connects words and the angry responses we need to avoid in that very verse when he calls us to be: “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” and the next verse explains that “man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19, 20, HCSB).

Proverbs 10:19 says it well. “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise” (HCSB). If we desire to live well—to “accomplish God’s righteousness”—maybe we don’t need to be as concerned about an attention deficit as we are about giving our attention to the right things. We’re not walking in righteousness, nor encouraging it in others, when we let our me-focused words run wild, when we focus on having our say rather than finding ways we can use our words to build up another, and when we let our focus slip away from genuinely caring for the people the Lord has called us to love.

O Lord, may my focus be always on You. Use my words to love others in Your name.

I do want to love others with sweet words of grace, Proverbs 16:24-style. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body” (HCSB).

And forgive me if it’s the ADD talking here, but to me, that sounds a whole lot like pie.

TWEETABLE
To Make a Long Story Pie – @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout 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 novel Turtles in the Road, co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea.

Rhonda and Kaley have just released a new novel, Off-Script and Over-CaffeinatedWhen the Heartcast Channel Movie Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated: A Novel by [Rhea, Kaley, Rhea, Rhonda]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: Have you found ways to make yourself a better listener?

No Looking Back

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

…Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13 NASB

It was dark, and I was late. I was on my way last night to speak at a Christmas Tea just north of Lancaster, PA. Sitting in stop and go traffic in Baltimore had used up all of my smoodge time. There was no time for mistakes.

I took a wrong turn.

I didn’t panic until I ran out of civilization and realized something was very wrong. So I stopped at a convenience store to get help. Eight kind people gathered around my set of Google directions, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be headed. No one had heard of the cross street I was seeking. Finally, one man in the crowd recognized my destination. He pointed me in the correct direction. I left the store amid warm wishes of good luck.

I found where I made my mistake, and gratefully resumed my course. The tea started at 7:00. It was now 7:10. Turning on to an even smaller rural road, I heard a clunk. My rear view mirror had just fallen off the windshield. Oh, come on.

Once I arrived at the church, my time with the ladies at the Community Chapel was well worth the trip. They were warm, friendly, and ready for a good time. I shared with the women about the Light of the World, Jesus, who had come to bring light into a world walking in darkness. I even won a door prize! It was a very nice evening.

But now I faced the long trip home. In the dark. Without a rear-view mirror.

Suburban girls like me get a little shook riding on dark country roads. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the scenery immensely if it had been daytime. But at night, the isolation and darkness seemed a little scary. And how would I ever make it home without a rear- view mirror??

Yet as I drove my way south, to my surprise I discovered I hardly missed it at all. Which was remarkable, considering how much I depended on that mirror in normal circumstances. I began to wonder if I have spent a little too much time looking into my rear-view mirror.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t guilty of looking backwards, at least not too often. He wrote the Philippians: “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-13 NASB). Paul indicates the two directions he has trained his eye toward: forward and upward. Forward to what God has called him to do. Upward toward his power source and promise of reward.

Note the two directions Paul does not allow himself to gaze. Downward, at his own two feet and obvious fallibility. Backward, at his past accomplishments and regrets.

If we are to fulfill the purpose God has for our lives, we need to be careful at where we aim our gaze. I have the tendency to gaze into the rear-view mirror. I should have done things differently, better than I did. I worry over past conversations and how I might have been offensive or foolish in what I said. I also like to gaze at my own two feet. How could God use such a weak and faulty individual? Who am I to stand in front of women like I have it all together?

The problem with both directions is that they are all about me. What I did. What I said. What I can do.

Yet God’s will for me is to continue forward, with arms outstretched, step by purposeful step, moving toward the prize which has been promised me. My gaze must remain on Jesus, who has already walked on my path and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Resting in Him will provide the power to keep moving. The mistakes and regrets of my past are water under the bridge. Jesus died to release me from the burden of sin. He’s got it covered– washing me clean in His precious blood. His power working through me is all I need.

I really don’t need that rear-view mirror as much as I thought. This first day of the new year, I have decided to keep my eyes trained ahead—no looking back.

TWEETABLE
No Looking Back – @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. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What is your new year resolution?

More Jesus this Christmas

by Kathy Howard @KathyHHoward

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”                                                                                                                                               Luke 2:11 ESV

 My big, beautiful 7-foot tall Christmas tree sat at the end of the driveway waiting for the garbage truck. Every December, for almost a decade, that tree graced a prominent spot in our living room all decked out with glittery gold and brilliant red ornaments. But it had seen its last Christmas.

The day before, I had drug it out of the storage closet, cleared the spot in front of the window, and set up the stand. I struggled with the heavy bottom section, wrangled it into the slot in the stand, and fanned out the branches. One branch fell off onto the floor. Oh well, just one. I figured I could fluff to fill that spot.

Then I plugged it in to test the lights. Only about a fourth of them worked. After trying in vain to get the rest working I made a difficult decision. It was time to retire the tree. We had hoped to get one more season out of our old friend, but alas, it was not to be.

With a sigh I carried the prickly base down the driveway to the edge of the street. Soon I had the tree bag and all the other sections out there too.

I had been vacillating on whether or not to even put up the big tree that year. It was an “off” year with our grown children. They had all been with us for Thanksgiving, so they would be with the in-laws for Christmas. But I love the festive red and gold ornaments. I couldn’t imagine the season without them twinkling at me every time I pass through the room.

Yes, I could run out and buy another big tree. But it didn’t make sense to buy a new tree before we moved in a few months. After briefly contemplating “no tree,” I put the 4-foot tree that usually adorned my home office in the living room. I put the wreath on the front door and hung the stockings on the fireplace. Even though that was just a fraction of the decorating I usually do, I declared it “Done.”

The first night the small tree shone in the living room, I really missed my big, beautiful red and gold creation. But the next morning I decided to take a step back and refocus. This scaled back tree gave me an opportunity to focus on the more important things of the season. Less decorating and more sharing. Less cleaning and more loving. Less me and lots more Jesus.

That simplified Christmas gave me the opportunity to contemplate the simple beauty of that first Christmas.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 1:10-11, ESV

A babe in a manger. Born for you. Born for me. God come to us so we might live.

Ah, that’s what it should be all about anyway. Christmas. More Jesus.

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More Jesus this Christmas – encouragement from @KathyHHoward on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Kathy HowardAbout the Author: A former “cultural Christian,” Bible teacher and speaker Kathy Howard now lives an unshakable faith for life and encourages women to stand firm on our rock-solid God. The author of eight books, Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education. She and her retired husband live outside the Dallas/Ft Worth area with their miscellaneous assortment of dogs. Find free discipleship resources on her website, www.kathyhoward.org and connect with Kathy on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest.

Kathy’s book “Before His Throne” leads you on a 9-week journey through the book of Malachi to discover what godly fear looks in our daily lives and how this biblical attitude will help you find deeper intimacy with God.

Join the conversation: In what ways have you lost focus on Jesus in Christmases past? How can you refocus on Jesus this year?

The Wildness of the Great I AM

by Linda Rooks @linda_rooks

Christmas music peeled through the interior of the car as I made my final shopping rounds on the day before Christmas. Just a few more presents to get before I made my way home to do some wrapping then head to the Christmas Eve service. On the radio, the song, “Mary Did You Know” was playing. As my car rounded a corner, I heard that stirring question posed to the mother of Jesus—and us. Did she truly know who that baby in her arms was? Did she fully understand that He was actually the God of creation, come to earth to save us?

The song came to its climactic conclusion, reminding Mary that the small child asleep in her arms was the all-powerful God of the universe — the “GREAT I AM.”

As these moving words hit my ears, I stared in surprise at the license plate on the car in front of me. The first three letters on the plate read, “I AM!”

“Ha,” I thought. “Okay, God you got my attention. You want me to focus on who You ARE! Christmas shopping is fine, but you don’t want me to lose sight of the fact that the Great I AM, the powerful God of the universe, came to us at Christmas.

About an hour later, after picking up my last few gifts, I drove out of the parking lot and was stunned when I again pulled up behind another car with a license plate with lettering that began with “I AM.”

Wow! Was God trying to tell me something or what? It’s not about Christmas shopping. It’s about who Jesus is!

Later that evening, as I wrapped the last presents and went to Christmas Eve service, I continued thinking about the wild coincidences of that afternoon.

Then it dawned on me: doing something “wild” is actually not all that unusual for God. For instance, the story of Christmas is pretty wild. The all-powerful God discarded His power and glory for a time and came to earth as a baby, so that we could know and receive Him.

So, yes indeed, God can do wild things like putting a car with a certain license plate before me to remind me what He wants me to focus on at Christmas. He can do something wild like impregnating a woman, so she can give birth to His son. He did do the craziest, wildest thing of all, when thirty-something years later, that baby died in our place.

That’s what I want to keep at the center of my Christmas this year. I want to focus on His incredible love, remembering that it led Him to come so we could know Him and the salvation He offers. Because as wild as all that is…it is the truth.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

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The Wildness of the Great I AM – encouragement from @Linda_Rooks on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

linda rooksAbout the author: Linda W. Rooks has a ministry of hope for those in broken marriages. Her award winning books walk with those in the midst of marital breakdown to bring hope and practical guidance to those desiring reconciliation. Linda writes for both adults and children, and her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Focus on the Family and Today’s Christian Woman. She and her husband reside in Central Florida and thank God for the many reconciled marriages they witness through their ministry.

Linda’s recent release, Fighting for Your Marriage while Separated, dives into topics such as relationship dynamics and healing, protecting children, and praying for restoration, to deciding on boundaries and learning to live with the same spouse in a new marriage, Rooks illustrates what reconciling and rebuilding a marriage looks like—and how the sweet intimacy of Christ is in the waiting.

Join the conversation: Has God ever done something “wild” for you?