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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

Christmas List-less-ness

by Rhonda Rhea  @RhondaRhea          

I was readying for a marathon Christmas shopping session when I suddenly felt noticeably…list-less. Not tired or disinterested or anything like that.

Not listless. List-less.

As in, we were into December and I hadn’t made the Christmas list. Hadn’t checked it once, much less twice. What was I thinking?

That list is usually taking over my life by early November, sassing me and hounding me and pitilessly bossing me around. A pushy little monster, that list. Every time I’d sit down to create it, I would start feeling a little Frankensteinian. Why would I purposefully create that beast? If I didn’t make it, it couldn’t bully me, right?

While I’m not necessarily listless around this season, now that my five kids are grown, I do sometimes get a little sentimental. I still grin at some of the outrageous want-lists I got from my kids. Sentimental now. More like “Santa-mental” then. What even were moon shoes? Just saying. Frankenstein’s monster would wear those.

Why is it so easy to get overwhelmed with the to-do lists and the Christmas lists and the monster lists of more monster lists in the season of giving? Shouldn’t I be feeling less Frankensteinian, more frankincense-ian?

I like thinking about the gifts given to Jesus, the gold reminding us of His kingship, frankincense of His role as Priest, and myrrh foreshadowing His death. If we listed other elements of the spirit of Christmas giving, I think we would top it with not only the three gifts to the Son, but:

  • The Father who gave the Son.
  • The Son who gave His life.
  • The Spirit who gives His constant presence.

Focusing on this triune “list” helps bring our other lists into perspective.

More people are depressed around the holidays than any other time of year. Many cite the stresses of the to-do-list-busyness. For others, it might be financial challenges or missing a loved one. Some have unmet expectations of that perfect holiday.

If you’re battling some lingering listlessness, try adding a couple of things to your to-do list:

  • Check the expectations. When we expect all our plans to come off just so and then they don’t, disappointment can become a monstrous joy-zapper. Not a single one of us can control every aspect of an event, and we can’t control even one aspect of a person.
  • When we’re joy-depleted, focusing on our King, our Priest, our Sacrificial Savior can miraculously bring joy back to life. Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (CSB).

Guess what. No more listing needed. That last one? That’s it! Complete!

David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4, CSB). David asks the Lord for one thing. One. David, what kind of list is that?

Lord, let my lists all boil down to this one thing: worship in Your presence. Oh the joy there!

I want to pray that prayer all season. All year. All always.

I should report, too, that I did finally make those lists. Then I tamed them by sewing them into one list and shooting electricity into it. Still not sure why I gave it neck-bolts.

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

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Christmas List-less-ness – 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.

Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for the Messy to Meaningful series, with My Purse Runneth Over coming soon. Edie Melson and Rhonda have a new book as well, Unruffled—Thriving in Chaos.

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: What is your greatest joy-stealer?

Give Your Life Away?

by Ashley Lauren McClain

“Give your life away.” I remember when I heard my Pastor say this in a sermon. He said it as a statement, but in my mind, it immediately became a question. Give my life away?

What about MY dreams, and MY purpose and MY calling? What about ME? How does giving my life away get me any closer to the goals and ambition I have for my life?

Can I just say I wish I had taken his words as truth all those years ago?

I believe the chasing, striving, disappointments, and my many failures could have gone so differently. If only I had taken his words to heart the first time I heard them.

My problem? My focus was on me. I loved the Lord, but I was more wrapped up in my dreams and plans than in Him. Give it all away? Who would I be if not the girl with the big dreams? Who would I be if I laid them down to serve God by sharing the gospel and His love with others?

Answer: I would be the girl fully walking in the calling that the Lord has on her life.

Maybe you find yourself today caught up in the chasing and striving in life: nothing you do is good enough or fulfilling enough. If you do, I get it. I lived there a long time. But I made a decision to not stay in that place anymore. I am hoping maybe you will join me.

Am I telling you to give up on your dreams and things you are passionate about? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that the focus has to come off of ourselves and placed on Him.

What good would my dream be if it didn’t bring any glory to Him? If it failed to bring anyone who is lost and hopeless to Him? I would be living a life, that in reality, I don’t want to live. I have to believe that it is probably one that you wouldn’t want to live either.

In Matthew we read the Lord’s “Great Commission”: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 CSB).

I love how The Message translation explains verse 20:

“Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 MSG).

Day after day. If we are truly followers of Christ, sharing His love and His work in our lives with others, it will never get old. This is where life is best lived.

That is where the fulfillment I have longed for is found. It is found in taking the lessons we have learned and using them to benefit others. It is found in being vulnerable with our failures and transparent with our lives. It is found in pointing people who have no hope to the One who is the Giver of Hope.

It is found when my focus shifts from me and my to Him and them.

Will you join me today in giving up our own goals? And instead focus on God’s agenda: reaching out to the world around us? We can live a life filled with amazing, life-changing dreams. But we have to first be willing to lay down our empty ones, get our eyes off of ourselves, and lock them on Him.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other…”  Matthew 6:24 NASB

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Give Your Life Away? insight on #FollowingGod from Ashley Lauren McClain on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Ashley McClainAbout the author: Ashley McClain is a girl with big dreams, a blog, & a heart to encourage women in their journey through this gift of life we have been given by the greatest Gift Giver there is! She loves to read, write, drink coffee, and spend time with the hubby & puppies! Connect with Ashley on her website ashleymcclain.org. She would love to hear about your journey too!

Join the conversation: Have you had a dream fulfilled? How did that effect you? Was it worth it?