Give the Gift of Encouragement at Christmas

encouragement-daily-bread

Last week, I mentioned that I’m always wondering what God will have me share with you and often He waits until the end of the week to let me know, but He always confirms the topic in several different ways. Thursday night at our Couples Bible Study, we were talking about when “Saul,” who was persecuting Christians, had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus and became Paul the evangelist. Someone in our group mentioned how hard it must have been for the persecuted Christians to trust Paul and believe he had truly repented. I reminded the group it was Barnabas who believed Paul’s testimony and assured Christians they could believe that Paul’s conversion was genuine. Barnabas mentored Paul in his new faith.

Then Friday morning, I opened up Our Daily Bread devotional and the topic was “The Gift of Encouragement.” Who do you think they were talking about? Yes, Barnabas and the story I just told you with the added explanation that Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” So there it was . . . God wanted me to talk about encouragement at Christmas. I’ve received so many emails, comments, and social media messages of how last week’s post, Who Will Care for the Widows and Fatherless Children, was a timely reminder, so I’m trusting today’s blog post will be also.

How Was Barnabas an Encourager?

In addition to encouraging Paul in his faith, we see in Acts 4:36-37 that Barnabas sold a piece of property and donated the money to help other believers in need. Sometimes encouragement does involve tangible giving when someone is facing a lean Christmas. Some churches take food and toy boxes to families in the community and in their church who are going through hard times and those parents are so grateful and encouraged that their children will have a “normal” Christmas like all their friends.

But encouragement doesn’t always have a dollar sign attached to it. As I talked about in last week’s blog post, no matter how many gifts you give someone who has just lost a loved one, the pain and loss remains.

Or maybe you’re experiencing a difficult time yourself, but you can still be a source of encouragement to others this Christmas. Here are some ways I thought of, and I know you can add to my list.

Give the Gift of Encouragement by Letting Others Bless You

Letting others bless you might seem strange because isn’t this supposed to be a blog about encouraging others? Yes! When others want to bless you and you let them, it’s a source of encouragement to them. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I have a sweet neighbor with multiple sclerosis, now confined to a wheelchair. With the biggest smile, she said to us, “We want to have you over to dinner some time.” I responded to her dinner invitation, “That would be lovely, just let us know what we can bring.”

Can you imagine how discouraging it would have been to her if I had said something like, “Oh, no, that would be way too much work for you. We couldn’t possibly have you go to all that trouble.” I’m sure the smile would have disappeared from her face with disappointment. So often what we see as work is another person’s joy. Have you ever had to practically arm-wrestle someone to let you bless them? We need to learn how to receive kindness, hospitality, and love joyfully and graciously. When we let people use their God-given gifts to bless us, it’s a source of encouragement to them and we both get blessed.

blessings

Give the Gift of Encouragement by Letting Others Know When They Bless You

I recently received a comment from Lisa telling me how much she enjoys Monday mornings to see what I’ve written in my Monday Morning Blog posts. Wow, that encouragement will keep me writing those posts for another year. I have no idea if the posts are even being read, except for the occasional comment like Lisa’s, and then one day in church a young woman came up and gave me a hug and told me how much my blogs and Facebook posts ministered to her. Another encouragement blessing boost!

The Lord knows just when I need a jolt of encouragement to keep going.

Everyone needs the gift of encouragement . . .

  • My hairdresser says she can always count on a text from me telling her how someone loved my latest haircut. I know that encourages her and she blesses me with a fabulous hairdo.
  • Tell your pastor how his sermon blessed you. He hears complaints, but how often does he hear encouraging words?
  • Let your husband or kids know how their latest accomplishments bless you. Wow that would encourage them!
  • If you hand out Christmas gifts or bonuses to employees, how about telling them sincerely how they are a blessing to the company. Watch production soar.

What other ways in your life can you let others know how much they bless you?

Give the Gift of Encouragement with Your Words

We all know how words can tear down or build up.

  • As women how often do we look at another woman with a critical eye as we check out. . . her outfit, makeup, hairdo … how about switching that appraisal to looking at everyone with one encouraging sincere word to say to them.
  • Tell the person struggling to lose weight how pretty she looks or what a nice outfit she’s wearing.
  • When you ask someone what they’re doing for Christmas and they say nothing, instead of saying that’s too bad or telling them what you’re doing . . .  invite them over.
  • To the person who is struggling with an illness or surgery at Christmas, don’t try to fix it or tell them another person’s horror story, ask how you can pray for them and what can you do to help.
  • When someone cooks a nice meal for you, say “It was delicious, thank you” instead of “You shouldn’t have gone to all that work.”
  • Be as gracious and kind with the words you use with your family, as you are with the words you use with your church family.

Give the Gift of Encouragement by Telling the Christmas and the Easter Story

I cringe when I hear Christians talking negatively about Christmas. This is our time of year. This is our celebration. This is our Savior’s birth. If any time of year, Christmas and Easter is the time we should be joyfully sharing the encouraging, free gift of salvation with everyone we meet.

While many say our actions speak louder than words, we use words to tell the salvation story, the Gospel. People need to hear how Jesus lowered himself to the status of a baby born to a virgin, and lived as a humble man until he started his ministry at the age of thirty. After three years of performing miracles, teaching, preaching, casting out demons and healing the sick, he was crucified on the Cross to bear the sins of those who turned to Him for forgiveness of their sins, repented, and believed in Jesus as the Son of God who rose again in three days so every believer could have eternal life! Now that’s a “Christmas story” to tell.

Our loving actions will open the door to share the Good News story, but we must take the next step and tell the salvation story to hearts seeking forgiveness and repentance. The gift of eternal life is available to everyone, but not everyone accepts and opens it.

Can you imagine a more encouraging Gift to give someone who is not saved then to share the Christmas and the Easter story with them! Because you really can’t tell one story without the other . . . now can you.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

 “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.” John 3:16-21 The Message

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Who Will Care for the Widows and Fatherless this Christmas?

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 NLT

Each week I wonder what God will have me share with you in the Monday Morning Blog, and then God shows up. This week it was clear from several sources, even the Book of Job, that God wanted me to address the topic of widows and the fatherless at Christmas.

God has a focus throughout the Bible of making sure His people care for the widows and orphans. Sometimes at Christmas, we become so wrapped up (pun intended) with our own hustle and bustle that we can neglect those who most need the gift of Christmas love. And I don’t just mean the Salvation Army bucket, although supporting them is important too.

While widows and their families need help every day, the holidays magnify their need. Some churches do an outstanding job of caring for these families, and others . . . have forgotten God’s charge to the church.

The definition of being a widow means a woman has lost her husband, and if she is a younger widow, she may have children who have lost their father. The children aren’t orphans, but their mother is emotionally, perhaps physically and spiritually, in such pain and anguish that her children may feel like orphans. The mother they once knew will never be the same again. Maybe friends or relatives try to fill the “Mom void” while she’s going through the sudden, unexpected, and unwanted process of making arrangements to bury her husband . . . their dad . . . while she’s still in a state of shock and unimaginable grief and trauma, but no one will ever replace the parents they had before dad was taken from them.

The First Christmas Without Him

Christmas is fast approaching and Mom wants her children, maybe too young to understand—maybe old enough to go through their own tragic heartbreak—still to have a good Christmas. But she can’t stop crying and wailing and the doctor has given her something to help her sleep and relax until she can grasp the magnitude of this nightmare that isn’t going away.

So friends and family pitch in and set up the Christmas tree, which is heavy laden with presents that first Christmas without him. But nothing fills the emptiness that permeates their home. The presents don’t fill the empty chair at the breakfast table Christmas morning, or the presents he’s not opening, or the prayer he’s not saying before meals, or the toys he’s not putting together, or the presents he didn’t give her, or his stocking that hangs empty on the mantel, and the fire he’s not stoking.

10 Practical Ways to Care for Widows and Fatherless Children this Christmas

  1. Take her children’s Christmas lists, clothes sizes, and do her Christmas shopping, then wrap all her presents. Assure her that only her children need gifts this year. No one else expects or needs anything from her.
  2. If she’s bought presents, wrap them for her.
  3. If she’s already bought presents for her deceased husband, offer to return them for her.
  4. If she’s not going to be with family Christmas Eve or morning, pack up your family and bring your Christmas to her house. Then if she needs to go in her bedroom and cry, her children won’t be opening their presents or crying alone.
  5. Don’t just drop meals off, stay and have the meal with her and the kids.
  6. During Christmas vacation, take her kids on play dates so she can have time alone to cry without fear of upsetting the kids.
  7. Know when her extended family is leaving and line up people from church to stop by and bring meals, pray, comfort her, and see how she and the kids are doing.
  8. Don’t forget older widows. Don’t think that because her husband was elderly that the pain is any less. She loved her husband for many years and they had blended into one heartbeat. Watch for signs of her declining or possibly losing a will to live.
  9. If you don’t have one already, start a support group in your church for widows and one for children who have lost their father. This isn’t just a holiday need, it’s a daily need.
  10. It may be difficult for her to see all the “couples” at church. Invite her to sit with your family during Christmas programs and every Sunday. If you notice she’s not coming to church, pick up the kids, bring them to church, and ask the pastor to stop and visit her. She may be mad at God. Don’t let her stay mad. Shower her with God’s love, and help her understand that God is crying over the loss of her husband too.

Her Husband Will Never Be Home for Christmas or Anytime Again!

Don’t forget about the widow, or the widow and her children, after the first Christmas. Every Christmas will be hard. She’ll always have to lug the Christmas tree home, set it up by herself, try and get the outside lights up for the kids, and make Christmas merry even though her heart is aching. His chair will still be empty, and his side of the bed will still be cold. He was the spiritual leader of the home, and now she’ll have to fill that role as both mother and father to their children.

Don’t expect a widow of any age to “get better” soon. Time will lessen the acute pain, but she’ll always have a aching hole in her heart, so don’t forget her after a month. Remember, she’s still a widow and her children are still fatherless, and she will need help with all the things her husband used to do around the house and her children will need godly male role models in their lives.

The widow will always need the love, support, help, kindness, and prayers of her family, friends, and church family not just at Christmas, but year round.

How do I know what a widow or fatherless child would need? Because my mother was that 32 year-old widow, I was the 10 year-old little girl, and my sister was four when my father, a California Highway Patrolman, was shot with his own gun and murdered one night while on duty on October 8. We went through his first birthday a week later, October 17, and I still remember going with my mother to Penny’s to return the leather jacket she had bought for his birthday. The next month came the first Thanksgiving . . . then the first Christmas without him.

These past few months in the news, we’ve watched policemen gunned down in their cars and each one of those men represented a mother or widow and children who will have that “first Christmas without him.” Or if you live near a military base, there are doubtless widows and fatherless children in your community. Pray for them, and if you live near any of them or go to their churches . . . do something for those families in the name of the Lord. That would be the best gift Jesus would have you give this Christmas. It was the best gift people gave to us.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families . . . . Psalm 68:4-6

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I know this was a sobering post to start the Christmas season, but you all know a widow, a fatherless child, a single mom, a shut-in who needs to see the love of Jesus lived out tangibly. I became a Christian because a year after my father’s death, someone at the camp in the picture above asked me:

“We know you’ve lost your earthly father, but would you like to know a heavenly Father who will never leave or forsake you?” I said, “Oh, Yes,” and my life has never been the same.

You could give that gift to some fatherless child this Christmas too.

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Can you read the name of the photographer’s sign in front of me in the picture?

Love Your Body—Give Yourself the Gift of Health

Love Your Body Like God Loves It

Love Your Body Like God Loves It

Love Your Body Monday comes this year right after Thanksgiving weekend when you’ve probably just finished off the pumpkin pie with whipped cream—maybe for breakfast—and you’re wondering if you can lose that extra five pounds before the Christmas parties start next week. My first party is actually this Friday, December 2, and then away we go for the next month!

Don’t become discouraged and beat yourself up. After all, you only get Mom’s dressing and Grandma’s apple pie once a year, but you can’t continue that trend all month—especially if you’re on a medical diet and you’ve been making great progress or you just started reaching a goal. Don’t throw caution to the wind just because it’s the holidays and you’ll start over again in the New Year . . . chances are you won’t.

Give Your Body the Gift of Health

When I was a Registered Dietitian working in hospitals, they didn’t close during the holidays because people still got sick, they still had heart attacks, or insulin reactions, or any number of illnesses. I remember having to work one year on Christmas Day. So it doesn’t make sense to think I’ll just take a break from what I know I should do for this month or this party or this big dinner…because your body doesn’t care that it’s Christmas or Christmas Eve or the office party. Your body is going to react just like it would in the middle of January or June! So think and eat like this:

I must treat my body right every day, and when I overindulge, I must get right back to my normal regime the next meal.

You have to have a plan. Pray about how to deal with the tempting food you’ll soon be encountering before you encounter it. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment on what to eat, how much to eat, what to cook, how to cook it, and what to indulge in and what to avoid.

Sometimes I take a bite of something and it wasn’t as tasty as it looked, so I stop eating it. Or if it was good, I let that bite satisfy me. I peruse the selections and pick a couple that look the best . . . not one of everything!

Sometimes we plan to pace ourselves, then toss out the plan, and berate ourselves the next day when we get on the scales, or blood sugar or blood pressure is up—remember salty foods raise blood pressure.

Love Your Body—Beat of Treat High Blood Pressure

Love Your Body—Prevent or Reverse Type 2 Diabetes

Helpful tips and please share in the comments any you use:

  • Get on the scales daily so you know if your weight is fluctuating. If you wait until you notice weight gain in your clothes, you’ll have a tough time losing, and may just buy bigger clothes. If you’ve gained, avoid desserts, eat smaller portions, and eliminate bread, butter, and what I call “empty calories”—sugar, honey, jelly/jam, chips, junk food, soft drinks, alcohol.
  • Maintain your exercise regime. If you don’t have one, start! Even though the holidays can be crazy, give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Exercise helps with stress, gets the endorphins pumping, helps your heart, and burns calories. In bad weather, join a gym, walk laps around a mall, or invest in exercise equipment (hint: ask for Christmas).
  • Take a green salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing to a potluck so you always have something healthy to eat. On buffet/potluck lines, take a small spoonful of foods you really like with one caution: Jell-O salads are high in sugar and fat. Don’t go back for seconds.
  • Have a small piece of the one dessert you like the most. Or take tiny bites of several. If one isn’t as good as it looks, don’t eat it!
  • Let your stomach guide you. When your belt or waistband tightens, STOP eating.
  • If you love bread, have a small piece, no butter. Skip store bought dinner rolls.
  • Eating out, draw a visual line down the middle of your plate. Eat half and ask for a to-go box for a tasty lunch tomorrow.
  • Drink water! Avoid punches, juices, soft drinks, and alcohol.
  • Enjoy stuffing or mashed potatoes without gravy. Avoid “sauces.”
  • Don’t add extra salt or butter.
  • Plan to start the New Year with a group of friends studying God’s plan for how to live a healthy life. I’ve written a study for First Place 4 Health that would make a great Christmas gift to get you started: God’s Best For Your Life. Gods Best for Your Life Cover

Cooking Healthy for the Holidays

I used to spend a day or two in the kitchen making cookies and candy. Then I realized I was the one eating most of it! Now, I pick a favorite one or two and make recipes healthier:

  1. No shortening! Substitute coconut oil or butter.
  2. No “vegetable” oil, use coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or applesauce.
  3. Half the amount of sugar. You can substitute Stevia for the other half or use all Stevia.
  4. Use 2% milk, almond or coconut milk.
  5. Substitute whole-wheat flour for some of the white flour.
  6. I don’t use white flour, but use NAMASTE gluten-free Organic Perfect Flour Blend that I get at COSTCO, which can be used cup for cup for white flour with no other changes required.
  7. Put one stick unsalted butter and 1/2 cup olive oil in a blender or Cuisinart and use lightly as a spread on toast, rolls, veggies, potatoes as a soft “butter” spread.
  8. When making cookies with the grandkids, send the goodies home!

Keep the True Focus of Christmas

Remember Christmas parties aren’t about food! They’re about fellowship as you thank God for all His blessings and the greatest gift of all: His Son Jesus Christ.

I appreciate your desire to live the best life you can for the Lord and to love His gifts to you of Jesus Christ and your precious body.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

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The Urgent ‘Affluentza’ Epidemic

wallpaper of cross

www.christianwallpaperfree.com

We are an affluent society laboring under the tyranny of the urgent: marketers prey on our “don’t-want-to-miss-a-great-deal,” “gotta-have-it” obsession. If there’s a limited time to buy, then the product must be worthy of our time, energy, and finances. Our culture suffers from an urgent affluentza epidemic that has now invaded our churches and Christian lives.

The Lord recently pointed out to me how affluentza epidemic is transmitted virtually through the numerous emails I receive with subject lines like:

last chance, sale ends at midnight, discount ends tomorrow, only 48- hours left to buy, free shipping for the next three hours, exclusive in-store offer, exclusive online offer, exclusive holiday offer, today only, final days, clearance sale, order now before it’s too late, sale ends, last minute buy, flash sale, today’s deals, one time only, last day, you’ve been chosen, trending gifts going fast, hurry, don’t miss. limited time offer . . . .

You get the picture because you could add to the list. I found these in my email “trash.” That’s what I think of most marketing emails. As soon as an “urgent” sales campaign is over, another one starts.

I remember a friend once looking at the newspaper and exclaiming, “Wow look at all these sales. Maybe we should go shopping before the sale ends.” I laughed and said, “Don’t worry, tomorrow’s paper will be full of more ‘great buys.’”

When we moved to the mountains with no shopping centers, a city dweller said, “You’re going to miss all the sales in town.” I responded: “There will always be a sale going on somewhere any day I’m in town. And I’ll save so much money and time not running all over for the next big deal.”

Marketers use our desire to think we’re getting a great deal with a limited buying window to seduce us into buying things we don’t need with money we shouldn’t be spending for things that often end up stashed away in the garage or back of the closet.

What is ‘Affluentza’ Epidemic?

If you’re wondering if I made up the word affluentza, I did. But I couldn’t think of a better word to describe how salesmen, companies, and marketers entice us to think their product or gadget is something we can’t live with out, when you only have to drive by a garage or moving sale to see how many of those things were actually worthless.

We live in one of the most affluent countries in the world, but we always want more. This need to acquire–the affluentza epidemic–started with the most affluent couple in the Bible: Adam and Eve. They had everything in the world, and wanted for nothing. So how did Satan tempt them? With the only thing God told them they couldn’t have: to be like God.

And man has been in a power struggle with God ever since to: own more, make more, acquire more . . . .

The next time you see one of those adds that entice you into thinking this product will bring you contentment, joy, peace, happiness, wealth, a better life, health, wisdom . . . ask yourself: Is this from Satan or God?

There’s Only ONE Urgent Offer That Matters

This Christmas, don’t buy into the urgent affluentza marketing hype. There’s only One truly urgent offer; it’s free and you’ll never want again. . . but it’s an offer that won’t last forever. We don’t know when Jesus will return and we don’t know the number of our days. We all have friends, family, neighbors, workers, mentees . . . who don’t know Jesus . . . that’s the ONLY “time-is-running-out,” “must-have” offer that should get our attention.

There are people in our sphere of influence who have passed away without believing in Jesus. Maybe they were even affluent in earthly possessions, but they were spiritually bankrupt, and we didn’t seize opportunities to create a sense of urgency for them to make decision for Christ. We thought there was time, but there wasn’t.

That may be a sober way to look at Christmas, but in the wake of the senseless, random killings in our world today, how could we think of Christ’s birth any other way? He came to earth to offer the One and Only Gift worth our time, energy, resources, and urgency because this salvation offer does have a time limit . . . an hour, the next three hours, today only, tonight, last chance . . . with our last breath or Jesus’ return to earth.

If you’re a Christian, God chose you to do everything in your power this Christmas, and every day, to share Christ’s free Gift of Salvation with a world where the end time could be near.

I appreciate each of you who follow this blog, and I pray your Christmas makes a difference in someone’s eternity.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Here is a poem that I wrote a few years ago, and many ask me to share it every year because it has an urgent message we need to apply in our lives every Christmas and every day!

Time To Sit With You

Lord, so many things to do,

No time to sit with you.

There’s presents to buy,

And I must bake a pie!

But isn’t it all about Me?

What’s closed your eyes to see.

The purpose of Christmas day,

Isn’t how much you pay?

Lord, each year we hear that said,

Yet, still it comes with dread.

Anticipating all to do,

No time to sit with You!

This is MY day.

Don’t I have a say

In how you spend your time?

Remember, you are chosen…Mine!

But Lord, relatives will soon be here,

And the lawn Santa still needs reindeer!

There is so much to do,

Still no time to sit with You.

Relax and enjoy Me this season,

Let your activities have a reason.

This is My Birthday celebration,

And all I want is your attention.

Oh, Lord, we’ll make it all about You.

Do You think we should have fondue?

We’ll read the Christmas Story,

And give You all the glory.

Sit down and read My Word.

Your craziness is absurd.

Come spend some time with me,

Forget the Christmas tree.

Oh, Lord the cookies are all baked,

I have such a headache.

I know I need to pray,

But I’ve had such a day!

Lives are waiting to be saved.

Did you hear Me when you prayed?

It is certainly no wonder

Your world is all asunder.

No, God, I didn’t hear a word,

I was busy stuffing the bird.

I want to just slow down,

But I feel I’m losing ground.

You’ve made it all about you,

And all your parties too.

My message to the lost,

Overshadowed by homemade cranberry sauce.

Lord, that’s not true,

You know I do love You.

It’s just I feel a call,

To make this the best Christmas of all!

You’re wasting your time.

Do you think you could top Mine?

I had a virgin birth,

As my entrance to earth.

Oh, Lord, I’m beginning to see,

How You want to use me.

Telling Your story to all who will listen,

Is the true Christmas mission.

Spending time with Me,

Is the only way to flee

The world’s strangling control

On your time and very soul.

Oh, Lord, Your music softly plays,

As the candle glow displays,

The beauty of time spent

With our Gift heaven sent.

You’ll go against the flow

Taking time to help a lost soul.

But when the day has come to end,

You’ll have the joy of a new friend.

Oh, Lord, forgive me please.

Help me put down my car keys.

It really is so true,

There’s ALWAYS time to sit with You.

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United We Prevail, Divided We Fail

Anita and me at Crouch Community Church Women's Retreat

Anita and me at Crouch Community Church Women’s Retreat 2013

God has been talking to me this week about the need for unity in the body of Christ, especially as we face these uncertain times. With the daily assaults of world events, and the diversity of reactions and responses from believers, we come face to face with how Satan is using disunity to invade not just the world, but also the church. How the God who wrote that a house divided against itself cannot stand must be heartbroken as He watches His creation, His church . . . His world . . . crumble. As a body, we are quick to point out the failings of the “world” and the liberal agenda, but how closely do we look at the failings in the earthly world of Christ?

Satan is using the very morals and values the church was built on, recorded and upheld in the Bible, to successfully divide the church. It’s no longer only about music and pews or chairs that divide churches—as ridiculous as those issues seem to me—it’s about moral issues and the definition of sin. How did we get here? How did we let Satan implode the church? It was subtle and sly as he always is, but today there are many churches where it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the world.

Through the Eyes of Our Children and Grandchildren

Last Monday was grandparent’s night at AWANA’s, so my husband and I proudly accompanied 10-year old granddaughter Katelyn. She asked me to help her with these study verses in Acts 2:44-47:

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

As we answered together the questions about these verses describing the early church, I thought: This must seem so strange to Katelyn. She doesn’t see this happening in the church today. The answer is right here why there are not more people saved daily today. All believers do not have everything in common and they don’t enjoy the favor of all people watching them. Instead, we are ridiculed and not taken seriously by the world because often it’s hard to get two Christians to agree on the same topic.

We may look at the early church as utopia: a community that we all crave, but don’t believe is possible today. During those early days, the power of God overcame the selfish individuality of people united in awe of God. What happened?

Chris Tiegreen answers that question in The One Year Devotional:

“Spirit-filled fellowships turn into institutions, with all the baggage institutions seem to require. Personal agendas and concerns begin to rival one another, and eventually fellowship is corrupted or even broken. The body of Christ becomes a collection of churchgoers, and instead of one heart and mind, there are many.”

His antidote:

“Drop the personal agenda. Fill your days and nights with overflowing praise, letting the character and work of God become your obsession. Encourage others to do the same. Churches unite when they can focus on a single goal.”

That single Goal: Jesus.

If we focus on our differences, our focus is on each other. If we focus on unity, our focus is on God!

This morning in my Quiet Time, as I studied John 13-17, the author of my Walk Thru the Bible Devotional asked: What’s the difference between union and unity? Take a dog and a cat, tie their tails together, and hang them over a clothesline. The result will be union, but not unity!

Christians too often experience union without unity in the body of Christ: church fights and splits prove that unity is not automatic in the church. Throw out a spiritual or moral question on Facebook and watch Christians differ.

I wrote an article for Crosswalk.com “What the Divorced Christian Wants You to Know” and I was appalled to read how churches have treated their own. One person even responded that Christians are the only ones who condemn their own. Another was from a former Muslim, who had converted to Christianity and was ostracized from her Christian church because she was divorced. I read the comments with tears for the many Christians who do not understand, or have not experienced, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and grace. This blog was reposted @ IBelieve.com and the comments there from hurting divorced Christian women broke my heart.

Today’s blog is not about divorce, but you can read my articles and the comments if you choose.

“When the Bible speaks about church unity, it speaks of unity not at the expense of truth, but on the basis of it.”—Daily Walk

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1

“It [unity] turns a common gathering into a priestly community, able to communicate God to humanity and vice versa. It [unity] points to His character for those who don’t know Him and it confirms His presence among those who do. Unity is the best evidence that God is living, active, and where the fellowship is.

God desires our unity because our unity shows the world who He is and how He works. If we don’t have it, they won’t know Him.—Chris Tiegreen

Do you still think unity is Utopian? I don’t. I witnessed unity among diverse faiths just yesterday. The Mormon Church in our little mountain community hosted a women’s Christmas luncheon and invited women of the community from all faiths, and those with no particular faith. For the fourth year, since I’ve lived here, I’ve attended at the invitation of my sweet Mormon neighbor, Anita, who also attends our church women’s retreats and events. As I looked around the room yesterday, I saw that over half the women there were from my church! The theme was Christmas from Different Cultures, and various women shared the traditions they grew up with, including a Dutch woman from my church.

We sang Silent Night together in different languages. We listened to “Mary Did You Know.” We prayed together. We ate amazing food from different cultures together. And we celebrated the birth of Jesus in united fellowship together. My Dutch Christian friend, along with a Mormon woman, each gave a testimony of how amazing and Christ-like this gathering was that even with different theologies, we could meet as women of the community in fellowship and unity. What a witness to any unbelievers!

Next Friday, our church will do the same with a Women’s Christmas Dinner inviting all the women of the community. There will be women from the Catholic Church, Calvary Church, Mormon Church, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, gay couples, unbelievers, unchurched neighbors, seekers, friends, and family. They’ll eat together, enjoy a gospel message, which I was honored to give my first year here and last year, talk, sing carols, watch a puppet presentation, and show the world that while we may have our differences, one unifying message will prevail: Christ was born on Christmas Day to offer forgiveness and salvation to a lost world!

How are you bringing unity into your community?

And how will it be a witness to the world?

How else will the world know Jesus?

Jesus prayed:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.—John 17: 20-23

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As I was finishing this blog, I took a lunch break and was scrolling down on Facebook, and came across a post by Barbara Faber Kopitzke @ www.facebook.com/GodsWordinEverydayLife, which had been shared by one of my Facebook friends. I almost choked on my turkey sandwich as I saw that God had prompted Barbara, who I did not know, to write on the same topic I was writing on here. Yet another confirmation from God that in the face of the evil we see in the world, we must stand strong and united as one body in Christ. I asked Barbara if I could share her post and so I will leave you with her very well stated words and the picture she used. You will want to follow Barbara for more posts and articles.

Repairers of the Church Breach! By Barbara Faber Kopitzke

broken churchWe are so much better unified. The things that separate us are very often minor compared to the bigger issues we face in this world. The very thing that should bring us together, being the Church Body, is what separates us. Church walls aren’t meant to divide one segment of the Body from another, but they very often do.

Imagine the results if the physical church building we each attend was crumbled and scattered, the way the spiritual Church Body often is: one stone here, one brick there.

Refuse to be a separator: be the glue which unifies. One group prays this way, another prays that way, one worships this way, another worships that way. The important thing is not that we do it differently, but that we both believe there’s a need to lift prayer to God, and we do it!

One focuses on evangelism, the other on prophecy. One meets in a house, the other in a building. Thank you, God, that Your Body is fully operational, each specializing in the gifts You’ve given them to use for Your glory!

Forgive, let go of hurts, and know that many have been damaged and have damaged; you are not the only one. But God is the Restorer and Repairer, He is willing and able to close the gap and repair the breach! We are His instruments of repair and restoration – let Him use you for this purpose! If God can forgive them, so can you – this is the beginning of repairs and restoration!

Hold nothing against the Church down the road; love and be loved, there is power in this!

Amen!

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Divine Appointments

Ashley Inn in front of tree

 

If you read last Monday’s post, it was my poem “Time to Sit with You” where I challenged all of us to take time with Jesus, the Birthday Boy! Dave and I do try to practice what I preach and when we were married 21 years ago on December 19th, we vowed to put Jesus at the center of our marriage. We also vowed that even though our anniversary would only be six days before Christmas, we would always make time to celebrate our relationship with each other and with Christ.

So even as our family expanded to eleven grandchildren, and we had an annual Birthday Party for Jesus, we’ve still taken two or three days to get away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas and focus on the blessings of our marriage and our faith. On these anniversary getaways, we spend time prayerfully focusing on our goals for the upcoming year. One year, we decided we wanted our house to look more like a grandparents’ house and we came home and started remodeling. In 2004, we decided we would like to own a writing cabin in the area where we went for our anniversary getaway—Idyllwild—and God gave us the perfect cabin.

Another year, our goal was moving from California to a place we both enjoyed. We ended up in Idaho.

There were tough years, like thirteen years ago when I started radiation for breast cancer the day before our anniversary. But right after the appointment, we headed off to Julian, California where we spent several beautiful anniversaries. The great thing about our anniversary is everywhere we go, it’s decorated beautifully for Christmas—just like our wedding reception on a boat that cruised around Newport Beach Harbor with our wedding guests.

This year, even though we had invited 24 people to dinner three days after our anniversary, we still packed up and got a way to a magical place—Ashley Inn in Cascade, ID. The pictures you see here are from this wonderful trip. We went there our first anniversary in Idaho and were so impressed with the beautiful Christmas decorations and hospitality. It’s a spectacular place to get away and enjoy each other and the season.

We talked over next year’s goals in a little coffee shop in McCall as I wrote them out on a napkin. We mainly talked about seeking God’s will for About His Work Ministries and how we could get Dave exercising in the winter.

Each year, when we take this time away together, God shows up in divine appointments. The last night, when I went down to the breakfast room to get some hot tea and the fresh baked cookies they put out at 8:00 pm, to my surprise two couples were sitting at a table enjoying the evening treat. They said, “Oh there’s the other one staying tonight,” and that’s when I learned there were just six of us in the entire huge hotel. As we chatted, I mentioned that I was a Christian author. They asked what I wrote, and I listed several of my books and then excused myself as hubby had the DVD on pause waiting for me to return with cookies.

The next morning, as we were enjoying a late breakfast graciously provided by the hotel, one of the couples came down for breakfast and the wife was carrying a Bible, just like mine. As I commented on her great reading material, she said she had been praying that God would let us meet again before we left. As we sat and chatted, she said she wanted Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter, “I need that book now!” I just happened to have one in the car, and we cried and prayed for her daughter and knew that we would stay in contact. It was a divine appointment—the kind that happen so often when we let ourselves be still and not worry about the to-do lists waiting at home. We had that sweet time together with neither of us checking our watches, because we knew God had brought us together for such a time as this.

I pray that you too will stop during the next few days and just enjoy conversation and community with those that God brings into your life. Maybe it will be family you haven’t seen for a long time or those you see every day—or neighbors—or acquaintances—or strangers—who you know you’re supposed to stop and spend a moment with.

Maybe reading this post was one of those divine appoints. If so, I’m glad I got to spend it with you. Savor every day—especially the celebration of our Savior’s birth. If He had not come to earth and become flesh and blood, just like us, life would seem meaningless. But because of Jesus, ­we have hope to cope with whatever life brings us, as we await eternal life with Him.

I would love to hear about your divine appoints this Christmas. Please share a comment for others to be blessed.

Merry CHRISTmas,  Janet

 

Ashley Inn looking at each other

Breakfast room @ Ashley Inn

Breakfast room where we met the other couple

Time to Sit with You

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Photo: Thanks to Mountain West Bank for presenting 2014 Winter Garden aGlow. We are glowing nightly in all weather.  Get advance tickets in all Treasure Valley Mountain West Bank locations.

I wrote this poem in 2004 as our Christmas card and it seems like an appropriate time to share it with all of you. About this time in December. we can begin to feel heavy laden with all our “to dos” and forget why we’re even doing any of them. I hope the thoughts I share with you here will help you stop for a moment and give the Lord the best gift of all–your time.

“Time To Sit With You”

Lord, so many things to do,

No time to sit with you.

There’s presents to buy,

And I must bake a pie!

But isn’t it all about Me?

What’s closed your eyes to see.

The purpose of Christmas day,

Isn’t how much you pay?

Lord, each year we hear that said,

Yet, still it comes with dread.

Anticipating all to do,

No time to sit with You!

This is MY day.

Don’t I have a say

In how you spend your time?

Remember, you are chosen…Mine!

But Lord, relatives will soon be here,

And the lawn Santa still needs reindeer!

There is so much to do,

Still no time to sit with You.

Relax and enjoy Me this season,

Let your activities have a reason.

This is My Birthday celebration,

And all I want is your attention.

Oh, Lord, we’ll make it all about You.

Do You think we should have fondue?

We’ll read the Christmas Story,

And give You all the glory.

Sit down and read My Word.

Your craziness is absurd.

Come spend some time with me,

Forget the Christmas tree.

Oh, Lord the cookies are all baked,

I have such a headache.

I know I need to pray,

But I’ve had such a day!

Lives are waiting to be saved.

Did you hear Me when you prayed?

It is certainly no wonder

Your world is all asunder.

No, God, I didn’t hear a word,

I was busy stuffing the bird.

I want to just slow down,

But I feel I’m losing ground.

You’ve made it all about you,

And all your parties too.

My message to the lost,

Overshadowed by homemade cranberry sauce.

Lord, that’s not true,

You know I do love You.

It’s just I feel a call,

To make this the best Christmas of all!

You’re wasting your time.

Do you think you could top Mine?

I had a virgin birth,

As my entrance to earth.

Oh, Lord, I’m beginning to see,

How You want to use me.

Telling Your story to all who will listen,

Is the true Christmas mission.

Spending time with Me,

Is the only way to flee

The world’s strangling control

On your time and very soul.

Oh, Lord, Your music softly plays,

As the candle glow displays,

The beauty of time spent

With our Gift heaven sent.

You’ll go against the flow

Taking time to help a lost soul.

But when the day has come to end,

You’ll have the joy of a new friend.

Oh, Lord, forgive me please.

Help me put down my car keys.

It really is so true,

There’s ALWAYS time to sit with You.

Our prayer for you our friends and family is that you focus your life on only those things that will have Kingdom value.  It’s the only legacy worth leaving.  We love you all,

Janet & Dave

PS: The picture is from the Winter Garden Aglow at the Boise Botanic Gardens! It looks like a miniature Christmas Village, but it’s REAL. We’ve lived here for three Christmases and never gone. This year, we’re making the time to go and enjoy the beauty. What, or who, are you making time for this year?