Thursday, December 22, 2016

How to Share a Simple Nativity Devotion



I love surprises. And I received a very blessed surprise at a women’s Christmas gathering a couple of weeks ago.

One of the women on our ministry leadership team is a walking Pinterest app when it comes to ideas. Seriously. When someone on our team says, “We should _____,” Conni immediately responds with 2-3 amazing ideas on how to make it happen. Our meetings are a lot of fun, to be sure.

As we planned our women’s gathering and began to discuss providing a Christmas devotion, it didn’t surprise me a lick when she shared an idea. On the evening of the event, the devotion went off without a hitch. That didn’t surprise me either.

The surprise is that I am still meditating on the devotion, weeks later.  I continue to think through our simple, easy discussion. It’s glory and wonder still linger in my heart and mind.

I’ll share with you what we did. This is a great idea to use in your family gatherings this Christmas. The idea originated from Conni’s years as a middle school teacher, so it's easily doable with all ages. I’ll also share my continued musings if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me in that.

The Nativity Devotion 



We joined together and sat around a Nativity scene that was set out as a Christmas decoration. Conni wrote the individual elements of the Nativity set on slips of paper that she put them into a bowl. Then we each drew one of the slips. For example, on the slips were written:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Manger, Livestock, 3 Kings, The Star, etc.

Our group then took turns sharing – very basically – our understanding about the significance of the piece that was on our slip of paper. No one was consulting Scripture. We didn't over-intellectualize. We just spoke from the heart and shared either what we’d learned in the past, or musings that developed as we talked. I’d drawn Jesus, so it was easy to share what He means to me and the importance of a baby in a manger that Christmas morning.  Another woman drew the word “Livestock.” Surely that was a little more difficult, yet when it was her turn to speak, what she shared blessed us all.

The beauty of this devotion is its simplicity. Sometimes we overcomplicate spiritual things, forgetting the wonder and amazement of this pure, holy, and uncluttered scene.

My Simple Reflection


As I mentioned, I’ve continued to ponder the characters and elements of the manger scene for a few weeks. Thanks for allowing me a few moments to share my heart.  In the comments section, or on Facebook or Twitter, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. What significance do you consider as you meditate on the meaning of each feature of this glorious scene? We know God is not wasteful. Each component had reason and importance. Join me in slowing down and contemplating the joy and wonder of that first Christmas . . .

Jesus: As I consider our Savior, what strikes me each Christmas is his name, Emmanuel. It means “God with us.” This was a choice for Him – to leave His throne, His royal position, His heavenly dwelling, and live on earth as first an infant, then a growing boy, and then as a man who would give His life for us. His desire for relationship resonates. He wants to be with me. With you. Revel in that with me.

Mary: She was willing. When the angel disclosed God’s plan for her, she replied, “let it be as you have said.” Would I have responded with such trust and faith? Nothing about Mary or her life was ever the same. She surrendered all she was to follow God’s lead. May I have a similar willingness to follow Him.

Joseph: His trust was not immediate, but it did finally come. Joseph faced a profound trial and a crossroads: leave and protect himself, or stand firm and endure scorn, questions, and ridicule. He chose to trust God when things were most difficult. He stood firm. Help me, Lord, to stand with you and trust – even when life is difficult.

The Shepherds: The angel said, “Come and see.” And so they did. When God called, they responded, leaving behind their work and tasks. I’m a task-oriented person, so I fear I often miss God’s invitations through my busyness. Help me, Lord, to respond each time you summon. Father, give me ears to hear and the willingness to engage.

The Kings: They searched for Jesus in the sky and found Him through a star. Where do we search? Are we even looking? God is in everything and will reveal Himself to us wherever we look. Will we, too, have eyes to see? Lord, reveal yourself to those who seek You this Christmas.

The Donkey:  A donkey is “a beast of burden,” used to carry heavy loads. The heavy load that this donkey carried was a young woman with child. What a privilege. Jesus, as our Protector and Provider offers to carry our burdens. Lord, give me the willingness to accept Your help. You promise to bear the burden of my struggle if I will allow it. Thank you.

The Angel:  A messenger of great news, accompanied by a multitude of heavenly host who praised God. They were sent ones. A gift from God above who had news to share. He didn’t want us to miss this news, so He sent the angel to proclaim great joy for all the people. All. The. People. Help us, Lord, to not keep this good news to ourselves, but to share it with others.

The Manger:  Mary gave birth to Jesus in a barn because there was no room for them in the inn. Do we have room for Jesus in our own hearts? Will we allow Him in? I pray we will – during this Christmas and forevermore.


Merry Christmas, my friends. May God make His face to shine upon you and give you great peace.

Love,

Cathy


Monday, December 5, 2016

Stop Nagging!

a Guest Post

by Lauren C. Moye

“Better to live on a roof,” my husband quipped.
My mind filled in the rest of Proverbs 21:9, “...than to live with a nagging wife.

Don’t Nag Your Husband to the Roof


My lifestyle changed back in August when my husband took a new job that paid the same amount as both of our former jobs. The trade-off? We were no longer able to trade work days around to keep our infant daughter in a regular routine at home. I made the decision to become a stay-at-home mom.
This also meant that I took complete control of household chores. Since we married as working undergrad students, we had always divided chores equally between us. I quickly realized that, after three and half years of marriage, I still had no idea how my husband folded his laundry. In my defense, we rarely had time to fold laundry with our previous chaotic lifestyle.
It turns out my husband had a very unique organizational method. All button-up shirts hung. Everything else was left up to whatever category he placed it in. There was a line between t-shirts that were supposed to hang and t-shirts that were supposed to be folded. In my eyes, they were all t-shirts. I struggled to learn what he saw in them to make the difference.
Things didn’t get easier for me when I attempted to figure out his system for jeans. “Oh,” he said, “Don’t bother with those. Some of them need to be given away.”
It took me two weeks to tame the massive laundry monster that had been lurking in our room. During those two weeks, I gave him almost daily status updates on where he could find the clothes that needed to be sorted through. My organization methods changed anytime I touched the clothes, so I wanted to keep him aware. Which brings us back to the incident we started with.
“Okay, I’ve really done everything that I can do without your help,” I said. “So maybe if you have some time this weekend, you can sort through the clothes so I can finish the process?” It was an honest suggestion. We both knew he was busy as both a full-time employee and a full-time grad student.
“Better to live on a roof,” he quipped.
Even when I knew he was joking, I still felt irritated. Call it a guilty conscience if you want. You see, I never thought of myself as a nagger until I got married. After all, nagging is intentionally pestering somebody to get your way, right? That’s different than giving friendly reminders. But after marriage, I quickly realized one very simple truth about myself:
I had a propensity to nag.
You see, I never noticed it in my previous teamwork settings. The projects were either too short-lived for people to procrastinate or people just accepted my direction without complaint. Marriage was a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and fifty-two weeks a year teamwork environment. In addition, I had a very strong-willed partner. Strong-willed men make their own decisions, including when and how they do something.
It was then, when my will conflicted with his, that I realized that I could be the woman in Proverbs 21:9. 
During our first married year, we both learned valuable lessons: 
·      It’s easier to approach things from a humble attitude instead of commanding; “I’m feeling really stressed out. Do you think you can take over the dishes for me so I can work on blank?” instead of “Please wash the dishes.”
·      Strong-willed men have little grace for nagging. This includes reminders on tasks that are not time sensitive, even if he really did forget about it. In fact, it’s better just to write the task down on a marker board and let the board do the reminding.
·      If I told him to do something for me in the kitchen, it was because I was in the middle of a cooking emergency. Procrastinating assistance could very well mean a burnt supper.
You think I would have remembered those early lessons on how to cooperate peacefully with each other. Instead, I toyed with the idea of truly nagging him. I became even more irritated when I discovered that all the clothes I had sorted out were now mixed in with a freshly laundered load. “If he’s going to undo all of my hard work and call me a nagger, then I’m going to show him what nagging is really like,” I thought.
When he came home from work, I gave him a hug. Then I said, “I pulled the clothes back out that you need to sort. It would be great if you could do that.” The next day when he came home, I reminded him again.
The day after that, his eyes flashed with anger. But all he said in reply was, “I know about the clothes.”
There was a brief pain of regret in my chest. I shook it away. My once-a-day reminders continued for another few nights. It was when he turned his body away from me that I felt the full force of my actions. No matter my original motivation - whether it was right or wrong, to prove a point, or a horrible way of expressing my own hurt - I had truly become the woman in the proverb. I was driving him up the metaphorical wall and to the roof as I squandered our little bit of time on a foolish pile of clothes.



As I reflected on my actions, I came to the conclusion that there was no way on earth that he would truly forget the clothes at this point. And, since we had lived for an entire year with the clothes piled up, we could last a little bit longer with a much smaller pile in the way. I dropped the nagging.
In its place, I looked for ways to help him relax and unwind between work and schoolwork. We settled into a peaceful routine. We’ve spent that little bit of free time together as a family, playing with our daughter or reading the Bible together. There’s no sleeping bag on our roof and – although it took a few months – there’s no longer a pile of his clothes to sort through!

Biography: Lauren C. Moye is a stay-at-home mom, but in another life, she majored in Communications. She writes at www.chaoticlifeoflauren.com, where she is dedicated to helping busy Christian Moms manage life. For more relationship advice written by Lauren, see her post on “The Simple Way to Stop Fights from Defining Your Relationship.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Masks Removed - How to Reveal the Real You


All of us have things we’re not proud of, imperfections in our physical appearance, or thoughts and ideas that sharply differ from those around us. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve disappointed and hurt others and we’ve been deeply hurt ourselves. God wants to use our past for His glory, yet we’ve boxed up our stories, placing them on a high shelf where they can never be reached.
Let's figure out how to be ourselves and use our testimony for God's glory. It doesn't belong on the high shelf; it should be used as part of our story to reveal the love and power of Jesus Christ.
Cathy's post this week is published as a guest post on the Pen Paper Paint website. Please click here to read more, and while you're there, comment and follow!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Our Words Matter

What We Say Matters

by guest blogger Ailie Baumann

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:25
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. I’ve always found this to be an odd saying. Words do more damage than any physical action. They cut to the heart in one of two ways:
1 With conviction, purpose, destiny, and identity
2 With discouragement, hopelessness, increased fear and anxiety, and worthlessness
Our words have the power to bring life or death; blessings or cursing. We get to choose which one we partner with. A great example of the power of words is creation. When God made the earth, he said Let there be light. God spoke and there was light. That’s power right there.
Our words carry life and light. With our words, we can bring perspective into people’s situations. We are also able to bring people into a space where they can walk in who they have been created to be and the plans God has for them.
How?
By reminding them of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and hope. We use our words to point people to God so they may see life and people from his heavenly perspective. We shift atmospheres with our words.

Being aware of the state of the heart


Before we dive deeper into how our words affect the worlds of the people around us, our relationships, and our hearts, we need to be aware of the state of our own hearts. What is in our hearts will flow out of our mouths:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23


As a family, we’ve had some tough times this year and a lot more changes than I’d like. I don’t do well with change although I am trying. I tend to become snappy and irritable because I get anxious about the future. My anxiety filters through into the words that I say and the tone of voice that I use.
During these moments, God is walking close by my side, encouraging me to trust him with my family and our future. I still struggle. I need to guard my heart by hiding in the Lord’s presence and allowing his peace to saturate every part of me. Time with God is the best way to align your heart with his.
From this place of peace, we are able to speak words of life, encouragement, hope, and healing into our own situations and the lives of others. This can get challenging when your spouse or other family members are also struggling with stress, anxiety, fears, etc. This is when your words become even more critical.  With your words, you can either encourage the stress or you can partner with God in bringing peace, restoration, and healing.

Our words affect our disagreements


My beloved came home stressed and frustrated from a challenging day at the office; I was irritable and moody because the kids had been squabbling and shouting at each other non-stop since I picked them up from school.
I heard the snappy comments at the kids and my skin began to crawl. I didn’t care that I should keep my mouth shut. Being sensitive….not a chance, not today….Before I knew it and against my better judgment, I reprimanded my husband, the love of my life.
I’m sure you can imagine that for the next while, the atmosphere of our home was strained. He was hurt and I was furiously justifying myself to God and myself. Still, that little niggle gnawed at my heart. My words of correction had conveyed a message of disrespect and dishonor to someone I hold in high esteem and value. An invisible rift had taken refuge in our relationship.
Of course, we made up and apologized to each other. Sometimes I even apologize to my boys for both my words and actions towards their father in front of them. The only way my husband and I reconnect our hearts is through sincere words of compassion, understanding, and apology.
Imagine, how much better our evening would have gone that day if I had kept quiet at the very least. It could have gone a lot more positive if I had spoken kindly to him. Often understanding and empathy open a person’s heart for us to encourage and refresh them.

In tough times uplift others

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24
Recall the last time you were feeling anxious, fearful, worrisome, or low. What was it that gave you hope or encouraged your heart? I’m pretty sure that words played a big role in helping you overcome those low emotions.
Many times, this year, I have sat in worship on a Sunday or at home crying because I don’t understand where life is going or situations I find myself in. My heart aches for hope, purpose, and promises to be met.
Often, I have found God answering my cries with words of encouragement and affirmation from family and friends as they remind me of who God has made me to be, His character and nature, and that God has got me and my little family covered. These words have soothed my soul and released me from the clutches of despair and anxiety.
How about you?

4 Practical ways to encourage others with your words


We can uplift the people around us and in our community with our words in a variety of ways. It just takes a bit of imagination, willingness, and conversation with God. Here are some of my suggestions:
1 Write a note or text message for the person you want to encourage. Ask God to guide your words as you write. It may be a Bible verse, a quote, or a word of encouragement.
2 Pray over the person you are wanting to encourage. This may be when you are physically present with them, a voice note or a text message. Maybe you wish to phone them and pray over the phone. In your prayer, refer to God’s character and His love for them.
3 Play a song over them. YouTube has some amazing songs that you can use to encourage people with. You can send them the link via text message or other messenger chats. If you are musical, how about asking God for a song that you can record and send them?
4 Purchase or print a beautiful image with the wording you want to use as encouragement to your friend or family member. This may even include a Bible verse or two. You can give it to them as a gift.

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However, you prefer to uplift those around you, choose your words wisely. Value heart connection over being right and focus on keeping your heart pure and beautiful before God. Your words shape the world around you.

Ailie Baumann
Hi there, I'm a passionate lover of Jesus, wife, mom of three boys, and author of Pen Paper Paint (www.p3alive.com). I love to share my life and love for Jesus with others in the hopes of inspiring them toward a deeper relationship with him. I want to share the realities that Jesus is intricately involved in our everyday life. I love chocolate, drawing, music, and sushi. My goal in life is to love others wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

10 Ways to Pray for a Hurting Friend



When you receive that frantic call, your heart sinks. It’s the call from a friend at her wits end. She needs your help and encouragement. You know that she needs your prayers. But you feel that your prayer life is underdeveloped and that it can’t combat a trial as big as this. When you don’t know what to say to God on your friend’s behalf, you suddenly feel uncomfortable praying. 

A common solution is to reach out to a pastor, Bible study leader, or church friend for help.  And that’s a good solution. But you are the one who knows your friend’s heart. You are the one who knows her needs and shares her pain. In all honesty, you are the one who is best qualified to pray for her whether you feel strong in your prayer life or not. So yes, ask others for prayer support, not to take over for your role as prayer warrior, but to come alongside you as you pray, and don’t neglect to join in the spiritual battle yourself.

When to Pray

We offer profound encouragement to those in need when we pray with them during their trials. Consider how the words, “I’ll pray for you,” offer kindness and relief. Now compare that statement to this question: “Can I pray for you right now?” This ushers in immediate comfort and the Lord’s peace. Hearing the heartfelt prayers of one who intercedes for our trials can introduce healing and encouragement to the most troubling situations.

The Bible instructs us to pray for one another. It also tells us that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. This is compelling motivation for living right before God, because when are confronted with an urgent need to pray, we want powerful and effective prayers.

How to Pray

I’m writing this post for the times when you simply have no idea how or what to pray. It’s not uncommon for us to hear real-life stories that take our breath away or leave us utterly speechless. Instead of standing silent, we can use God’s Word as our script. Here are 10 powerful Bible verses to pray for a hurting friend, along with instruction on how to pray them.

1.     Psalm 9:9-10 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of truoble. Those who know Your name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, LORD.  (Pray it like this: “Father, be (my friend’s) refuge in this time of trouble. Help her trust in and seek you. We know that you will not abandon her.”)

2.     Psalm 22:24 For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He did not hide His face from him but listened when He cried to Him for help.  (Pray it like this: “Please move against (my friend’s) torment. Do not be indifferent, Lord hear her cries for help.”)

3.     Isaiah 26:3 You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. (Pray it like this: “Lord, help (my friend) fix her mind on you. Hold her in Your perfect peace as she trusts You.”)

4.     Isaiah 43:1 This is what the LORD says… “Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are Mine.”  (Pray it like this: “Lord, protect (my friend) from fear. Reveal to her that You have called her by her name and that she is Yours.”)

5.     Lamentations 3:19:22-23 Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! (Pray it like this: “Father God, your love is faithful and your mercies never end. Show (my friend) your great faithfulness! Open her eyes to see You in her life and to see Your new mercies every day.”)

6.     Luke 1:45 She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled. (Pray it like this: “Father, bless (my friend) to believe that your promises and all that you have spoken will be fulfilled. Help her rest in Your truth.”)

7.     John 14:1 Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. (Pray it like this: “Lord, calm (my friend’s) heart and keep it from being troubled. Help her believe in You and in the power of the name of Jesus.”)

8.     2 Corinthians 1:3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. (Pray it like this: “You are the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Lavish your mercy and comfort on (my friend) so she will see your glory.”)

9.     Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (Pray it like this: “Lord, help (my friend) approach You and Your throne of grace with boldness – by the blood of Christ – so that she may receive mercy and find grace for help at the proper time.”)

10.  Jude 20:21 But you, dear friend, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. (Pray it like this: “Father, help (my friend) build her faith through this trial, turn to you in prayer in the Holy Spirit, and be held in love with confident expectation of Your mercy.”)

Why We Pray God’s Word

When we pray the Word of God, we know that we are praying His will as He has revealed in Scripture. Psalm 119 (the longest chapter of the Bible which is about delighting in the Word) teaches us that God gives us life and strengthens us in our grief by His Word. It’s a mighty tool and exceedingly useful when we pray. The Bible is filled with commanding, encouraging verses that are sure to bring comfort, peace, and assurance of God’s will to your hurting friend. Pray them boldly and with confidence.

As you watch with expectation for God to move, know that His ways are higher than ours. As God moves into the situation, He may bring results that look a lot different from what we expect. Remember that God always aims for His glory and our good – and He never misses His aim.

Your Turn:


What encouraging verses did I leave off the list? Which do you commonly pray in times of need?

How have you witnessed the effectiveness of praying God’s Word?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or connecting on Facebook or Twitter

Be Strengthened Today by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy