Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Light of the World

Wishing you time to sit with Jesus in front of the lights today.

"In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness ... the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Luke 1: 4-5a;14 

MERRY CHRISTMAS from my heart to yours.

Cross references:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Devotional Carnival - Jesus

The winner of the novel "The Mountain Between Us" is Pam Cason - congrats Pam! 
Email me your address and I'll get it in the mail to you.

Today is the 22nd and I was aiming to have all my Christmas preparations completed by today. And I very nearly do.  But I ran into two glitches, of a similar vein.

A box of gifts I ordered from Amazon has not yet arrived at my door. Since I was sick the better part of the last twelve days, I did much of my shopping online this year. (Not to mention the one time I tried to drive to Target to buy gifts, I would up in a car accident!) And since Jesus and both of my kids have birthdays in the next seven days, there's a lot of gifts in that box still needing to be wrapped.

Another box was delivered on time, only the shipping company didn't give me their customary knock on the front door letting me know a package had arrived. My kids and I headed out the front door to go to a "Happy Birthday to Jesus party" at a nearby church, only to run smack dab into a giant box containing my son's new bike. Did I mention the box had a picture of the bike right on the box?  Yes, so now my son knows what his big present is. 

"Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ...."  I keep praying that.

So I'm not done yet, but I am done with all I can do for now.  And I'm turning my attention to Christ. I thought what better way to do that than with a devotional carnival? I hope you'll join up!

Here's what you do. Write a blog post about Jesus - the Son of Mary, the Messiah, the Light of the World, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the King of the Jews, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace - anything at all about your Lord such as his birth, his teaching, his death, his love, his resurrection, anything. Offer a key verse at the top or bottom of your devotion. Try to keep it under 700 words.

Once you post it on your blog, come back here to add your post URL with Mr. Linky so we can all read it and reflect on the beauty of Christ.

On Monday 12/27 I'll choose a participant to receive a copy of my book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know. So you have until then to link up and enter to win. By the way, if you're not sure what to get a girlfriend for Christmas, may I suggest this book with a tin of hot chocolate or a coffee shop gift card - they look so cute packaged together!

Thankful for Immanuel.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What a week!

Whew, has this been a week. Up and down it went. My precious nephew was born after a somewhat difficult delivery. And he's so cute with dimples!  Then I got sick with a head cold.  Plus, my grandmother fell and fractured her pelvis. My husband got promising news about a promotion at work, and on the same day I got in a car accident. I came through the accident fine, only to strain a muscle while lifting a crate of winter clothes down from the attic yesterday.

Oh, and I had to make 46 gingerbread men cookies for my son's class party on Friday.  That took a while. And thankfully I only decapitated a few of the spicy men before delivering to the class party.

By Thursday I started declaring aloud, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life!"
It helped.

It also helped to join some friends Thursday night for a Christmas party.  Matt and Chris' house is beautifully decorated for the holidays every year, but this year I fell in love with what they did in the entry hall. I even took pictures so you could see it. Walking in the front door is like stepping into an enchanted forest:


And looking back at the front door:

And here's the view into the dining room, you've got to see what they do over the table!

Yes, that is a Christmas tree hanging upside down from the ceiling.

So today a new week begins - Christmas week!  And I am declaring Psalm 27:13, "I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."

Under 2 days left to complete all my holiday preparations by the 21st. I think I'm going to make it.
Leave a comment telling me how close you are to ready, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the novel The Mountain Between Us by my good friend Charles Martin.

Thankful for God's protection and grace, and the blessing of friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ready for Christmas

If you've come over from my devotion and would like to read the chapter in my new book it's based from, click here. You'll find the table of contents, introduction, and Always RSVP chapter followed by a few Bible study questions.

To be honest with you, I was convicted writing that chapter. The story Jesus tells about the people too busy and distracted with the things of life to answer the call feels like it could easily be a story about me. 

Not just me before I came to Christ, not just me a decade ago, but me today. And especially at this time of year, as ironic as that is.

Whenever someone asks me if I am ready for Christmas, I run through a mental checklist to determine my answer:
  1. Is my tree up and decorated?
  2. Have I sent out holiday cards?
  3. Have I finished shopping?
  4. Are the gifts wrapped?
  5. Do I know what I'll wear for the occasion?
  6. And what I'm cooking?
Sometimes I'm able to answer "yes" to those six questions - depending on what week of the month it is - and breathe a sigh of satisfied relief.  Only to realize come December 25th or 26th that I've missed something important along the way. It's over and done with (all but the cleaning up and exchanges to be made) and somehow something rings slightly hollow.

It's then, when things settle down, that I wish I could go back and do things differently - ensure that my spirit and not just my household was ready for the day.

I'm tempted to ask if anyone else knows what I'm talking about.  But based on the story Jesus told, I'm guessing someone can relate. So here's your chance to do things differently this year - it's only December 14th now.

I recently heard of an old world custom that calls for all Christmas holiday preparations to be completed by St. Thomas Day, December 21st. That way the last few days of Advent could be given to focusing the heart, mind and spirit on the Christ of Christmas. Perhaps you'd like to try that tradition this year.

Or maybe you could commit to doing a handful of Christ-centering activities between now and Christmas Day. Exactly what those would be or what that would look like for you may vary but some examples might include:
  • Commit to a consistent quiet time - start or end each day with the Word of God.  
  • Give generously to someone in need.  Anonymously.
  • Pick up that Bible study or Christian book/novel you've been meaning to read, and read it.
  • Serve at a soup kitchen.
  • Write Jesus a letter.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood with a couple friends or family - and invite those you sing to, to join the group for the next house. Print out a couple copies of the lyrics off the Internet.
  • Read the Christmas story in the gospels.  Or read one entire gospel.
  • Write your own account of Christ's birth in your own words based on the biblical account.
  • Go prayer walking through the park or snow and come up with 25 things to thank Christ for. Thank Him as you walk.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Sleep in sleeping bags around your Christmas tree and reflect on the conditions surrounding His birth.
  • Cook or deliver for Meals on Wheels.
  • Put the most inspiring Christmas carols on repeat. Dim the lights, close your eyes and soak in His presence as you sing.
  • Do that last one in the hot bathtub and thank Him for washing your sins clean.
  • Choose one night to go without out electric light - use only candles - and reflect on the One who is called the Light of the World.

Let's not let this month be a whirlwind of preparation absent of reflection. Let's fully, spiritually, intentionally anticipate the arrival of Christ the Lord. If we concern ourselves with more than tying the perfect package bow, I think we'll find the gift our hearts really long for. And come Dec. 26, we'll feel full.

I'd love for you to share your ideas or plans for ensuring your heart is ready for the spiritual celebration of Christ's birth.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

In search of a meaningful life

I saw a post at Donald Miller's blog today that resonates, since I've read a lot in Ecclesiastes this year. He posted a excerpt from the book Besides the Bible – 100 Books That Have, Should or Will Change Christian CultureIt's a collection of essays/reviews which will be released this month by Biblica.  Here's Miller's share-worthy essay:

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

Essay by Donald Miller

In 1942, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, along with his parents and pregnant wife, were taken by Nazi soldiers into the concentration camps, where his family would eventually be killed. Frankl survived the camps, including Auschwitz, and in the most dire of human circumstances realized a personality theory involving man’s need for meaning—a theory that would contend with Sigmund Freud, who was alive at the time and positing that man’s primary desire was not for meaning but for pleasure.

Tested in the concentration camps, Frankl realized no amount of torture could keep a person from living a fulfilling life, if only they had three elements working for them: a project in which they could contribute, a person to love, and a worthy explanation for their suffering.

His finding interestingly mirrors the Teacher’s search for meaning captured in Ecclesiastes. The Teacher argued that one should find enjoyment in his work and in his wife, that one should fear God, and that while, technically, meaning is hard to prove, experientially it is possible within this framework.

Frankl rightly argues meaning is experiential, and his three elements provide a recipe, if you will, to experience that meaning. His emphasis on worthwhile suffering stands in contrast to an American culture obsessed with comfort. One might say our lack of suffering fuels a cycle of meaninglessness.

What makes Frankl’s argument so important for the church is its invitation to suffer for the sake of the gospel, indeed, to suffer for something worthwhile, thus providing a sense of meaning to life. Christian leaders, then, should not try to make their congregants more comfortable, but call them into challenges that, by necessity, involve discomfort and even suffering if they are going to shepherd their congregants into more meaningful lives.

Frankl’s book is no more religious than the Teacher’s essay on meaning, and yet both have a masterful religious subtext, delving into the complex nature of fallen man, resistant against exposition at odds with their intended purposes.

Frankl’s book has now sold more than twelve million copies and is considered one of the ten most influential books in America. He died in 1997.

Thought to ponder: Does my life feel meaningful & worthwhile? Why or why not?

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Giftings

As promised, I'm here to report the winner of this week's giveaway ... Congrats to Terri! Email me your address, Teri, and I'll send you It's No Secret.

My top three gifts according to that questionnaire were:

   1) teaching
   2) tie between leadership and knowledge
   3) tie between wisdom and faith. 

And that's pretty on target with what other questionnaires have revealed.  Sometimes encouragement or shepherding shows up in my top three or five too.

The first time shepherding showed up, I thought "No way, not me." Then I led a few thousand people in a daily online Bible study of the women of the Bible for 10 weeks and loved it. That's where my shepherding kicked in - the project included my teaching/knowledge/wisdom/leadership gifts for certain, but it really all started just as a way to help women get consistent with reading their Bibles. To shepherd them through the process of forming that habit.

If you want to delve into this deeper - getting a better understanding of what your gifts are and what exactly that means for you - I can recommend the book Discover Your God-Given Gifts by Don and Katie Fortune. I used it several years ago. It contains a questionnaire and covers 7 categories of gifts, explaining them quite well.

And if you want to try another one free online, go here. I've done this one in the past too.

As always, if you mentioned a prayer request in a comment here this week, I have prayed for you.  And if you would, please pray for my sister-in-law who is in labor right now. Thanks, friends.

Thankful that prayer affects our circumstances.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spiritual Gifts

In my devotion published today, I looked at what a gracious giver God is. He gives us physical life, eternal life, family, mercy, peace, wisdom, joy, grace, rest, His spirit, guidance, a spiritual inheritance and more!  This is a God who provides -- often lavishly.

I'm wondering which of His gifts you need or long to embrace today?

Another thing God gives each of us is a spiritual gift - a gift, passion or talent placed within us by Yahweh Himself to benefit others.  And, when we use or "give" that spiritual gift He has given us, He is glorified, others benefit and a portion of our purpose is fulfilled. That's a win-win-win.

As a young woman in college who'd just met Jesus Christ and encountered this notion of gifting and calling, I desperately wanted to know what gifts God had placed in me. How did He want me to serve Him? What was I hard-wired to do?  Where would I excel - how could I help the body of Christ?  I prayed soooo many prayers asking these questions, and pleading for Him to show me the answers. I constantly reminded Him I wanted to serve Him, but I didn't know how.

The answers to my questions were all there, I just couldn't bring them into focus yet.  As a teen I longed to work in an airport because I loved the atmosphere and the excitement of travel. In college, I decided to major in journalism, where I learned to write.  A professor asked me to volunteer as an editor for the school newspaper, so I did. A couple years later, my church  needed volunteers to work in the church bookstore - I happily agreed to do it. I was doing a ton of reading anyway. Then, after graduate school where I learned to research, the university in my town asked me to teach public speaking classes for them.

Today I am a Christian author, editor of  P31's Encouragement for Today devotions, and a traveling speaker for women's events across the country.  It's all there. God prepared me each step of the way, only I didn't fully know it at the time.  I couldn't back far enough away from my own life to see the big picture coming together.

One thing along the way that did help me get some of that big picture perspective, and glimpse what my gifts are and are not, was taking spiritual gifts questionnaires.  If you've never taken one, or it's been several years, I encourage you to take one today.  Here's a link to one to try.  Just answer the questions quick and honest. 

It's important to know your God-given strengths and your weaknesses. And remember, He can shine through both of those. So go take the questionnaire - it will likely take you 20 minutes or so.

Leave a comment today telling me which gift of God talked about in the devotion you need, or tell me  your top spiritual gifts based on the questionnaire or experience. On Friday I'll announce a winner to receive a copy of my new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.

"In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly."  ~ Romans 12:6-8, NLT

Grateful for God's gifts. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The drum

Shout out to my new friends in Warner-Robins, Georgia.  Had a great time (and a great steak!) with them Monday night at the Christmas banquet.  I stood onstage beside a half lit tree, which is better than the "naked" tree that's been standing in my living room for over a week now.  That's OK because my message was about majoring on the essentials this Christmas season. (Note: tree decor is not essential.)

I'm over at Karen Ehman's blog today talking about The Little Drummer Boy and giving away my book, a magazine subscription to the P31 Woman, and a gift card to Barnes & Noble. Pop over there to read it, then come back here and - for another chance to win my book - leave a comment telling me what your "drum" is. 

If you don't know what your "drum" is and you're trying to figure that out, you can still comment here to enter.  Just fill out this online spiritual gifts questionnaire, and report back here what it identifies as your top 3 spiritual gifts.

I'll draw the winner on Friday.

Meanwhile, here's the video of The Little Drummer boy from the animated classic that first made me fall in love with this song as a child.

Off to do an interview with Renew FM in New England, then WPOS in Toledo, and then make some cocoa before decorating my tree.  I hope last year's strands of lights still work ...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Winner & An Invite

Here’s what I’ve learned, write a message like last Wednesday’s devotion and two things will happen.  A LOT of people will relate and respond.  And you will also quickly encounter some unexpected opportunities to put what you say into practice.

I’ve also learned sometimes God’s peace is just there when you need it – you don’t even have to ask for it.  Other times, asking is necessary – but then it floods in like a river.  And occasionally, you have to ask and keep on asking.  I don’t think that’s because God is hesitant to supply it, but because we are hesitant to trust it, to fully trust Him with the situation.  Especially when we can’t see Him at work.

I’m hopping off the computer and to get dressed for a Christmas banquet I’m speaking at tonight in Warner Robins, GA. If you happen to be local, a few attendees are sick today and seats are now available for this sold out event.  So first pray for those ladies to feel better, then call Southside Baptist and ask if you can come!

The winner of the book It’s No Secret from Don’t Overthink is commenter #50. HD email me your address and I’ll get the book out to you.

Here are your random numbers:

50	Timestamp: 2010-12-06 21:33:12 UTC

But I prayed for each and every one of you that left a comment or request. 

So take comfort in the fact that God is on the scene. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't Overthink

 The winner of the monogram giveaway from my last post is commenter #17 - Allison Morrison.
I'll be back Friday to post the winner of the book in today's giveaway.

In my teen years I experienced some highly stressful situations, and developed the tendency to ruminate. (I also had it modeled for me by a loved one.)  Ruminations - a fancy word for overthinking things or dwelling on our problems and all their possible causes and effects - are very compelling.  

When you're in the middle of ruminating, you feel you absolutely need to continue in order to figure things out.  You feel you're gaining insight or preparing yourself for the next move. The obsessive dwelling feels necessary and makes sense to the person caught in it's grip.

If you do this kind of thinking much, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

In reality ruminating wears you down - emotionally, spiritually, sometimes socially, and often physically.  I'm so glad I've learned how to stop this type of thinking in it's tracks.

The professor I quoted in today's P31 devotion, Dr. Lyubomirsky, emphatically states, "If you are someone plagued by ruminations, you are unlikely to become happier before you can break that habit. I will go so far as to say that if you are an overthinker, one of the secrets to your happiness is the ability to allay obsessive overthinking, to reinterpret and redirect your negative thoughts into more neutral or optimistic ones."

She has done years of research on this, and poured over the research of others on happiness and rumination.  And her conclusion mirrors what the Bible teaches us in Philippians 4:6-9.

Once again, ancient truths from the Bible prove real and relevant today.

So how did I stop ruminating? First, I became aware of it when it was happening, which was usually late at night when there was nothing else happening to distract me from such thoughts. Perhaps by God's grace, I began shivering when I'd followed the negative thinking for too long. The shivering caught my attention - I was powerless to stop it (unless I stopped the thoughts) and usually I wasn't even cold.

The shivering became my cue I was ruminating, and that became my trigger to pray it out to God, ask for His help and peace, and then let it go.  If I still couldn't get my thoughts off the problem I'd put them onto God by listening to christian music, journaling my blessings, or reading a book or the Bible.

Those sound like pat answers, but they're not. They're power-filled answers.

 “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing.

Then the God of peace will be with you.” ~Philippians 4:6-9

The God of peace is now with me.  May He also be with you today. Let's both turn each worry over to Him to deal with. Leave a prayer request or a statement of thankfulness in the comments here and you'll be be entered to win a copy of my new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.

 Grateful for God's Peace.