A Sweet Aroma
Tracie Miles

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness." Galatians 5:22 (NIV)

A sweet thing happened recently. It was Sunday morning at church, and the congregation was standing, singing hymns. My precious little boy was beside me with his arms wrapped around my waist.

Every few minutes, he pressed his face into my shirt. After several times, I finally determined he was sniffing me, so I leaned down and quietly asked why. He stood on his tip toes, put his face close to mine and whispered, "Because you smell like fruit, Mommy! It smells really good!" I smiled and knew what he smelled was one of my favorite perfumes which has a clean, sweet, fruity aroma.

God turned my thoughts to how we're to be a pleasing aroma to Him, through thoughts, actions and behaviors carried out in the Spirit. Ephesians 5:2 encourages us to "…live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (NIV).
What does that really mean? How can we offer a fragrant offering that is pleasing to God and be a fragrance to those around us?

There is a Hawaiian saying, "Tiny is the flower, yet it scents the grasses around it." What a great illustration of how the smallest things can have impactful results. The fact that the flower is small and seemingly insignificant, does not keep it from spreading the fragrance it was created to share. In fact, often the smallest flower can have the most potent fragrance!

Sometimes we may feel like a tiny flower. We wonder if we are really capable of doing anything big or important for Christ. Insecurities, feelings of unworthiness or life challenges prevent us from seeing how God can use us to bless Him and impact others. It is not the size of the actions that matter, but the aroma that is created by those actions. Each time we do something in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness we offer a fragrant offering to God. And we help others learn how to be a little fragrant flower too, in a big world that can be pretty stinky.

Each one of us can choose what fragrance we exude. It might be a good idea to ask from time to time, What type of fragrance am I leaving behind? How am I affecting the world around me with the gifts God gave me? Am I exuding a spiritual aroma that is a fragrant offering to Christ?

Our lingering fragrance should be one of love and kindness, not anger and harshness. Patience and faithfulness, not intolerance and selfishness. And lifting people's spirits with joy and peace, not leaving them discouraged and broken. Our fragrance should be sowing seeds that point to the goodness of Christ.

When God created flowers, He intentionally created them to give off a sweet aroma. And He created us just the same. So, what fragrance are you wearing today?

Dear Lord, teach me how to smell like You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Sharing Grace: Recipes - Family Traditions - Gift Ideas by LeAnn Rice

Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World by Tom Davis

Visit Tracie’s blog today

Application Steps:
"Spritz" on a sweet fragrance today that is pleasing to Christ.

Consider how you can "scent the grasses" in your life with God's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.

Think about the spiritual fragrance you have been wearing lately, and the impact it has on others.

Do you think God is pleased with your lingering fragrance?

Power Verses:
2 Corinthians 2:15, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (NIV)

© 2009 Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

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Return to Me
Marybeth Whalen

"Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty." Zechariah 1:3 (NIV)

At first glance, this verse might seem like God is stand-offish and distant. Why do we have to make the first move? But actually, this verse depicts His great love for us. Like the prodigal's father, He waits patiently for our return. He doesn't find us, shake us and demand us to account for our whereabouts. Instead He scans the horizon for our return.

Hoping, but not forcing. Waiting, but not pressuring. Ultimately He gives us free will. We choose when and if we return. And when we do, He promises to return to us. He is a gentleman who doesn't force Himself upon us. God has to see us move of our own free will. That element of choice is intrinsic in His relationship to us.

Returning to God is a practice we will have to engage in over and over in life. The point is not how many times we return to Him, but that we make the effort to do so each time it is necessary. Perhaps you need to return to Him physically—recommitting to meeting with Him in church on a weekly basis. Perhaps you need to return to Him emotionally—determining to trust Him in a difficult time. Perhaps you need to return to Him spiritually—committing to regular prayer and time spent in His Word.

Whatever your return looks like, don't put it off any longer. And don't doubt that He will return to you. Don't believe lies that you are the exception or that you are asking too much of Him. His Word tells us differently. Hebrews 7:19 says, "…a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God" (NIV). God made the ultimate way for us to return—through His Son, whose death on the cross allowed us to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). By Him we draw near to God. Not because we are worthy, but because He is.

God wants us to return to Him. He stands waiting with open arms, at the ready to return to us. When He sees us coming, He runs to meet us. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20b, NIV).

Are you ready to make that first move today?

Dear Lord, I need to return to You. Thank You for making it my choice because You love me and want to be in a real relationship with me. I thank You for waiting for me with open arms. Today I am choosing to fall into those open arms again. Thank You that You gave Your Son so that I can always return to You without shame. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Visit Marybeth’s blog – Cheaper by the Half Dozen

Becoming a Woman of Influence Marybeth Whalen

Confessions of a Good Christian Girl: The Secrets Women Keep and the Grace that Saves Them by Tammy Maltby

Application Steps:
Using your Bible concordance, look up the word "return." Spend time today reading what God has to say about returning to Him. Write down some of your favorite verses in a journal.

Do You Know This Great Love?

Do you need to return to Him? How will that look for you? What is holding you back?

Power Verses:
James 4:8a, "Come near to God and he will come near to you." (NIV)

Joel 2:12-13, "'Even now', declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Marybeth Whalen. All rights reserved.

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Arise from the Wreckage
Micca Monda Campbell

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" Romans 8:28 (KJV)

Recently I had an ah-ha moment as I was reading Acts 9. At first, the familiar story seemed dull. You know how it is when you've read or heard the same story over and over. Then a new revelation merged from the content. In my minds-eye I began to see the word "rejection," although it was not in written form. Perhaps I saw what I was feeling that day—rejected.

I was at the part of the story where Saul, a murderer, had just been transformed into Paul, a disciple of Christ. Even though Paul was a changed person, many rejected him because of his past reputation as a murderer. This was only the beginning of Paul's trouble. Throughout his ministry, Paul not only experienced rejection, but great suffering and harassment too. For a changed man, his adversity seemed unfair.

Paul was devoted to serving Christ. He sacrificed his education, his life, and remained single so he could better serve the Lord. And yet, he was shipwrecked on several occasions, falsely accused, and thrown into prison more than once. Doesn't that seem odd for a man called of God? Wouldn't God's favor protect him from such adversity?

I thought about an illness that lingered with me all summer. It was so severe I was all but bed-ridden for months, unable to do life and ministry. I began to feel rejected by God. It didn't make sense. I was serving God in more ways than I could count. Then, without warning, strong winds blew in. Clouds hung overhead and it began to storm. Before I knew it I was "shipwrecked." You've been there, too.

Some of us have been rejected by family, friends, and co-workers. Others have been falsely accused. Some are imprisoned by finances, or blown around by the consequences of someone else's sin. It seems so unfair. You've tried to live right. You walk in obedience the best you can. You take God at His Word and trust in His promises. Shouldn't faith like this call for smooth sailing, instead of stormy, shipwrecking seas?

Isaiah reminds us that God's ways are not our ways. His thoughts and plans are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8; paraphrased). It's tough to figure God out when He doesn't play by our rules or have the same agenda we have. We forget that God sees a much bigger picture.

If we follow Paul's journey, we find God working through the rejection, the trials, the prison time, and the shipwrecks. God used these hardships to position Paul. Not for fame, but to increase the Kingdom of God. Paul witnessed to the Pharisees through his rejection and imprisonment. People saw God's power at work when Paul survived the storms, when the snake bite didn't kill him, and when the jail shook, opening the doors and loosing chains. The Lord used these difficulties so others would witness His power and believe.

Paul allowed God to use him as a vessel. He didn't sit on the sidelines, full of self-pity and doubt. Instead, as Acts 16:22-31 tells us, after being stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in the inner cell of a prison and his feet in stocks, Paul prayed and sang hymns to God. Others around him were listening. The power of God came in such a way, that the prison guard begged Paul to tell him, "What must I do to be saved?" He replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus" (NIV).

God doesn't waste our pain, our rejection or our "shipwrecks." He uses them to bring about His plan—to position us so that others can see His transforming power at work in our lives and believe in the living God.

If that's true, and it is, then our challenge is to rise from the wreckage, like Paul, so that our lives will give testimony that draws others to the Master. Today I will no longer sit on the sidelines of life full of self-pity. I choose to rise, pray and praise, so that God can position me to shine for His glory, and so that others will believe.

Dear Lord, forgive me for wallowing in self-pity and rejection. I trust that You see the bigger picture. I believe there is a purpose for my pain. Strengthen me to rise from my ashes so that others will see You are my help and my salvation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

Cultivating a Heart of Contentment CD by Micca Campbell

When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference by Carolyn Custis James

Visit Micca’s blog for more encouragement.

Application Steps:
God has called us to live by faith, not by sight. Even though we don't always understand our difficulties, they don't have to overwhelm us. Choosing to trust God helps restore a sense of hope and stability to our lives, and also allows us to rise from our ashes.

What will you choose to do today: will you wallow in self-pity or rise and praise the Lord?

Power Verses:
Nahum 1:7, "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him." (KJV)

Psalm 121:1-2, "I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." (NKJV)

© 2009 by Micca Campbell. All rights reserved.

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The Shelter
Melissa Taylor

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." Psalm 91:1 (NIV)

It happened again. My sweet ten year-old son came home from school deeply wounded. Some kids at school who were making fun of him and calling him names. My heart broke as I tried to comfort my worn down gift from God, my beloved son.

When Dylan was just one year-old, he had surgery on his head. This surgery left a scar that is visible. It really never bothered him much because he can't see it. He's always known it was there, but since it was out of sight, it was out of mind. Until someone else reminded him it was there, pointed out that it looked weird, and then a few others joined in. Their words pierced my son's heart and he needed a safe place to hide.

I prayed for Dylan and tried to explain why some people say things that are hurtful. I did all I could do to comfort him, but after all my efforts, he still came back to the same feelings of not fitting in. I will never forget how helpless I felt as a parent as I listened to him cry for hours begging God to take away the hurt.

My husband called Dylan upstairs to our bedroom. I noticed after a while how quiet it was in the house. Peace seemed to have settled over our home. I walked upstairs to make sure everything was alright and what I saw brought tears to my eyes. There they were, father and son, tucked into a fort, a shelter, that Jeff had built for Dylan. He called it Dylan's Den. It was equipped with blankets, pillows, a roof, and the arms of his father. Dylan was lying in his daddy's arms with the most peaceful and content look on his face. The man Dylan trusts most of all came to his rescue and provided a refuge, a place of protection for him. What a beautiful example of our Father's love. I will never forget it as long as I live.

When the world is cruel, we need to remember that we all have our Father's shelter that we can run to. There He waits, ready and willing for us to come into His arms to provide us with the security and protection we need. And as our key verse states, when we dwell in His shelter, we will find rest. God never promises that we will be free from trouble, but He does promise His help whenever we experience trouble.

Are you experiencing doubt, disappointment, fear, or trouble? Remember that God's arms are open wide. The security of His shelter is there for you.

Dear Lord, Thank you for being my shelter and refuge that I can always run to. Help me to seek shelter and refuge in You alone. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Melissa’s Blog for tips on how to comfort your hurting child, more power verses, and a chance to win a free book.

When Your Child is Hurting by Glynnis Whitwer

Have You Found Shelter in God’s Love?

Application Steps:
Find some time today to seek shelter in the arms of your Father. Tell Him all your are going through and then trust Him to take care of you.

When trouble comes your way, where do you seek shelter?

Do you trust God to protect you in all circumstances?

Isn't it a great feeling knowing that you have God as your refuge?

Power Verses:
Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (NIV)

Psalm 18:2, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." (NIV)

© 2009 by Melissa Taylor. All rights reserved.

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Light of the World
Melanie Chitwood

"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." 1 John 1:5 (NAS)

Everywhere I look this time of year, I see lights: flashy lights adorning the mall and streets, the steady glow of candlelight during our Christmas Eve service, and the dazzling lights of outside decorations. Of all the lights at Christmas, however, I am most drawn to the white, twinkly lights on our Christmas tree.

A tradition I've enjoyed for years is to sit in my favorite chair in the darkened living room with only the illumination of the Christmas trees lights. I let the trees' lights remind me of the brightest light of all, Jesus Christ.

The Bible includes numerous references to light. As you read these verses, think about how Christ has been a light this past year, or think about what kind of light you need this Christmas season. Let Christ's light chase away any darkness as you bathe in the splendor of His light.

As the creator of light, allow God to create light in your life. (Genesis 1:3)

When you are fearful, let His light make you brave. (Psalm 27:1)

If you need direction, His light will show you the way. (Psalm 119:105)

When you are in a difficult situation, God's light makes the rough places smooth. (Isaiah 42:16)

Do you feel ashamed or guilty? Accept Christ's light of forgiveness. (John 3:19)

Chase away the darkness of hopelessness, loneliness, despair, aimlessness, confusion, hurt, or anger as you follow Christ, the Light of life. (John 8:12)

Be a witness to Christ's light by the way you live your life. (Matthew 5:16)

Dear Lord, thank You for Your Light. Renew my hope, joy, and trust in You, as all the Christmas lights remind me that You are the Light of the world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Dear Jesus: Seeking His Light in Your Life by Sarah Young

Share on Melanie’s blog how God is your light

What a Husband Needs from His Wife by Melanie Chitwood

Application Steps:
This year start a tradition of sitting with your Bible bathed in the soft light of your Christmas tree's twinkly lights. While you do, think about the significance of Christ's light to you and your family this Christmas season. Use the verses in today's devotion in a private or family devotion time.

Are you sure you're a child of God? God promises you salvation and an eternal relationship with Him as you believe in His Son Jesus. If you would like to be sure of a relationship with Christ as your Friend, Savior and Light, you are only a prayer away. He loves you so much and longs for you to rest in the security of His love. Click here to learn more about having a relationship with Jesus.

Power Verses:
John 8:12, "'Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, 'I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.'" (NLT)

© 2009 by Melanie Chitwood. All rights reserved.

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Planning for the Presence of Jesus
Glynnis Whitwer

"But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Luke 10:40 (NIV)

I tend to consider myself a "Martha" type personality. And I don't mean Martha Stewart. That Martha was ready for Christmas in October, I'm sure.

No, I'm nothing like Martha Stewart. In fact, a few years ago I didn't even manage to decorate the tree. It had lights on it ONLY because it was a pre-lit tree! I managed to put a few gifts under it before Christmas because my dear children kept looking at me with big hopeful eyes, asking when I was going to wrap SOMETHING. But that was it. No cards. No Christmas concerts or caroling. No trip to see lights. Just a busy life made even busier.

For those who know the Luke 10 story of Martha and her sister Mary, that's the Martha I'm talking about. That Martha had the privilege of hosting Jesus in her home. But instead of sitting at His feet, like her sister Mary did, Martha worked and complained to Jesus that Mary wasn't helping her.

Let's put ourselves in that scene for a moment. Jesus has come to YOUR house. To visit YOU. And not only are you too busy to spend some time with Him, but the time you do have you spend complaining. You complain about "someone" not doing her job, and how you have to do all this work, and if only "someone" would help you then you could actually sit down and enjoy some time with Jesus and blah, blah, blah…

Martha wasted an amazing opportunity. And many times, so do I. She let the demands of every day overshadow the call of the divine. In fact, Jesus gently chided Martha, and affirmed Mary's choice to sit and spend time with Him in the middle of all the work that had to be done.

In verse 42 we read that Jesus told Martha her sister did what was "needed." So in Jesus' mind, whatever Martha was doing wasn't needed at that moment…whether it was to impress, pamper or comfort Him. Jesus just wanted Martha to sit down and spend time with Him.

Imagine if you had travelled far to visit the home of a friend. And in her desire to serve you, she never spends time with you. Do you know anyone like that? Don't you want to say, "Sit down. Relax. All this stuff doesn't matter. I came to spend time with you."

That's just what Jesus was saying to Martha. In other words,

Martha, thank you for caring about my needs. But, you don't have to worry so much. There's only one thing I want right now, and that's to spend time with you. Mary gets it. Come sit down next to your sister. The dishes will wait. But you won't have this time with Me very much longer.

Martha probably wasn't given much notice of Jesus' arrival, hence her rushing around. We, however, have been. Just as you would prepare for the arrival of a special guest to your home, I invite you to prepare for the presence of Jesus this Christmas.

Have you ever let the demands of the everyday pull you away from the divine? Have you ever chosen a good thing over the best thing? You're not alone. Today, I invite you to set aside all the preparations and distractions and sit in the presence of Jesus.

We don't have to do anything special to enjoy Jesus' company. We just have to quiet ourselves from the busyness of the day, take a deep breath, and allow Jesus to fill our hearts with His joy and peace. It can be sitting outside looking at the stars, listening to carols, or sipping a cup of coffee in front of a fire. Just sit down with nothing else to do and invite Jesus to join you.

When I think back about the scene recorded in Luke 10, between Martha and Mary, I can tell which sister had more peace in her life. And it wasn't Martha. This Christmas I definitely want to plan for the presence of Jesus – that's really all I need.

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your son Jesus. As I go through this Christmas and the upcoming year, please help me set priorities that are pleasing to You. Help me remember to plan to enjoy the presence of Jesus more than I plan for the details. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Worship: Nearing the Heart of God by Glynnis Whitwer

Visit Glynnis’ blog for more encouragement!

Pursuing the Christ: 31 Morning and Evening Devotions for Christmastime by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

For more encouragement on intentionally focusing on Christ during busy seasons, click here

Application Steps:
Spend some time in prayer, asking God to show you His priorities for you this day and over the next year. Write down one or two things God brings to mind.

In holiday seasons past, when have you experienced the presence of Jesus most? Be specific.
How does time alone with Jesus change you?

Power Verses:
Luke 10:41-42, "'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" (NIV)

Philippians 4:7, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

© 2009 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

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Making a List and Checking It Twice
Amy Carroll

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

My kids are planners. They are on the ball. They look ahead and dream...at least when it comes to Christmas time! The rough drafts of their Christmas wish lists began somewhere around last March, but the final copies are now complete. Their father and I find great delight in hearing about their lists throughout the year and anticipating how we'll make their wishes come true.

Did you know that our heavenly Father delights to hear our desires, too?

Somewhere along the line, I began to believe that it was "unspiritual" to pray for myself. My prayers for others were fervent, but I thought that God would be especially pleased with my unselfishness if I left myself off the list. Philippians 4:6 contradicts this notion, however. God encourages His children to ask. He delights to give to us just like we delight to give to our children and others. In fact, Matthew 7:11 says, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (NIV).

God's been teaching me that I should present my list to Him, but I'm also learning to ask carefully. We've all seen how ugly it can get at Christmas with greedy, self-indulgent children. They want it ALL, and they want it NOW. Loving parents choose gifts carefully, though. They would never give a gift to their child that was unsafe or could cause harm.

Our Father is the same way. He is the most extravagant gift-giver ever, but He gives with wisdom. His desire is to give gifts that help us, His children, to learn and grow. What are some of His great gifts? Salvation from sin, protection from evil, the indwelling Holy Spirit, wisdom, purity, holiness, true freedom...these are some of the gifts that He loves to hear requested by His sons and daughters.

There is one prayer that is always answered. It is the prayer for God's will to be done.

So, this Christmas let's make our lists long with our eyes fastened on praying for God's will. Here's a little peek at my "grown up Christmas list:" protection for my children, a greater love and desire to know Jesus, chances (and the courage) to share the glorious gospel of Jesus with others, blessings for the staff at my church, peace and love for my friends and their families, and wisdom to handle everyday life. I rejoice to know that I can lay that list at my Father's feet with confidence that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Dear Lord, I've left out my own personal requests for so long. I know that often it's because of pride or self-sufficiency. Sometimes it's just because I haven't trusted You enough. Please help me to come to You with everything—joys, hurts, anxiety and needs. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Amy’s blog

Intimacy with God: Your Daily Guide to Prayer by Tara Furman

P31 Woman magazine

Divine Prayers for Despairing Parents: Words to Pray When You Don't Know What to Say by Susanne Scheppmann

Application Steps:
Make your own "grown up Christmas list."

Pray, and give your list to Jesus.

Assess your list. Are these gifts that would be within God's will?

Read and reflect on this prayer written for you!

Power Verses:
I Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

Matthew 6:9-10, "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

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A Mary Moment
Wendy Pope

"Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, 'God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? … You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said.'" Luke 1:42-45 (NLT)

Have you ever said "yes" to God for what you believed was the assignment of a lifetime? When you said "yes" did you know you would never be the same again? I love the story of Mary - young, sweet, innocent Mary - who accepted the assignment of her lifetime.

I can only imagine what she was thinking when the angel Gabriel announced she would give birth to the Son of the Most High. Mary was also given details of how this son would be conceived. Without hesitation her response to this assignment of a lifetime was, "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38, NIV).

Mary did what most women do when something "big" happens, she ran to tell a gal pal. I wonder if she ran out of fear or excitement about what she had just experienced. Perhaps she ran to hide until she could get a handle on the situation. Or maybe she needed a hug from someone that loved her and could assure her that everything was going to be all right.

Scripture tells us she "hurried" on a 5-6 hour trip to Zechariah and Elizabeth's house – a place of refuge. When she arrived at their home, her cousin Elizabeth's words confirmed that Mary indeed had been chosen to give birth to the long awaited Messiah. "In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!'" (Luke 1:42-44, NIV).

This was Mary's moment. All that she believed of what the angel had spoken was affirmed. In response, Mary praised God, saying, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name" (Luke 1:46-49, NIV).

Has something like this ever happened to you? Has the Lord spoke to you through His Word and prayer and in your spirit you sensed Him telling you something that seemed outrageous? Has He asked you to say "yes" to an assignment that would change your life forever? You shook your head to loosen the cobwebs and push out anything possibly obstructing your hearing. You walked around bewildered for a couple days, wondering if you really heard right. You replayed the scenario in your mind to get a clearer picture of the experience, but still could not get a handle on it. Then out of the blue you received confirmation. God used a pastor, scripture, song, friend, family member, or a situation to confirm the word He spoke to your heart. If so, like Mary, have you responded with a song of praise to the Lord?

Is God speaking to you today about accepting a divine assignment? Is this devotion confirmation of your own "Mary moment"?

Or, maybe you are still waiting on your lifetime assignment. God gives each assignment in His perfect timing. Let's stay close to Him and His Word so we will be ready to say "yes" when He speaks.

Dear Lord, I celebrate with You the assignments you have for me, big and small. I reflect today on the "Mary moments" I've had. With fear, trembling, and excitement, I wait on the next one. You are a right-on-time God. Thank You for choosing me to be part of Your story. With each assignment, help me to respond like Mary by saying, "May it be to me as you have said." In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa TerKeurst

What to Do in the W.A.I.T.: Finding Contentment in God’s Pause and Plans CD by Wendy Pope

i am not, but i know I AM by Louie Giglio

Visit Wendy’s blog to share your “Mary moment,” we would love to hear about it!

Application Steps:
Take time to answer this question: Is God speaking to me today about accepting a divine assignment? Is this devotion confirmation of my own "Mary moment"?

Read the full account of Mary's moment in Luke 1:26-45. Read Mary's song of praise (46-55) aloud. Praise the Lord for your "Mary moments," and those yet to come.

Visit Wendy’s blog to inspire others with the story of your "Mary moment."

Do I recognize when God is calling me to a task? Have I said "yes" in the past? Did I follow through with it?

Am I ready to say to the Lord, "May it be to me as you have said"?

Power Verses:
Psalm 139:13, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." (NIV)

Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (NIV)

© 2009 by Wendy Pope. All rights reserved.

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While Shepherds Watched and Women Work
Karen Ehman

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." Luke 2:16-18 (NIV)

"Tell me about the shepherds again mommy. It is my favoritist part!" three-year-old Mitchell pleaded. It was a nightly December ritual; reading a Christmas book chosen from a basket perched underneath our tree. My mother began a tradition of giving us a nativity storybook each year. So we had many delightful volumes that illustrated the account of baby Jesus, the angels, shepherds and wise men.

Mitch’s favorite part was always the shepherds. Ever since his chubby little fingers could grasp the pasteboard pages of the books, he’d pause and quizzically stare at the portraits of these rough and tumble Middle Eastern men wandering in the wilderness, watching over their flocks by night. In fact when the grandkids put on a Christmas pageant for Grandma and Grandpa each year, he begged to be cast as a shepherd. The director of the play, his older sister, obliged, even if one year he insisted on the shepherd making his grand entrance riding atop a John Deer tractor!

Watching my son’s fascination with these customary characters prompted me to dig further into the lessons modern day moms can learn from the shepherds. After all, mothers have so much in common with them!

That first Christmas night, these humble and socially subservient men were busy going about their daily tasks. This included feeding and watering; prodding and protecting; nursing the injured and encouraging the timid. It also meant watching out for hungry predators that might hurt or kill their precious lambs. They had no idea when they heard the heavenly chorus that their lives were about to be changed forever. They may even have found the sudden interruption that night a strange inconvenience at first. After all, sheep need constant supervision. Taking their eyes off of them for even a moment might prove to be detrimental. Little did they know they were about to encounter a Person, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, who would better their lives for eternity and enable them to effectively shepherd as never before.

I think moms occasionally feel like modern-day, female shepherds. We certainly do our fair share of feeding, watering, prodding, protecting, nursing, encouraging and watching out for anything that might harm our own little lambs. And at times a mother’s job is also dirty, sometimes unpleasant one with very few "atta girls!" and little social recognition.

But God in His boundless wisdom is waiting to interrupt our own ordinary lives. We may not audibly hear the angelic chorus singing, but the message is still the same. Christ came to earth to seek and save the lost; to offer hope and new life for all those willing to suspend their daily duties and turn their hearts to Him. And God longs for us, like the shepherds, to tell others of the amazing story of the Holy Child.

So, in the midst of this busy week, will you stop? Put down the tinsel; discontinue the decorating; forgo the mending on the pageant costume and cease stirring the cookie batter. Turn down the yuletide carols and get completely alone and silent.

Can you hear the angels’ magnificent melody? Deep within their chorus God is calling out to us; humble, common you and me. He longs to interrupt our daily routine to introduce us to Someone extraordinary; the Christ-child who has a perfect place planned for ordinary women in His-story.

Will you pause, ponder, and then, like the shepherds, go tell others about this remarkable Babe? You’ll be helping to restate the timeless message:

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10b-11, NIV).

Dear Lord, may I pause and ponder the wonder of You sending the Christ-child to earth. May I lovingly tell others of Your perfect, sacrificial Son. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

The 3 Wise Women: A Christmas Reflection by Christian Ditchfield

For ideas to center your heart on Jesus and holiday traditions to teach your kids to do the same, and to enter to win a copy of her holiday book Homespun Memories for the Heart, visit Karen’s blog

A Life that Says Welcome by Karen Ehman

Application Steps:
What can you do at this hectic holiday time of year to pause and reflect on the real meaning of the season?

In what other manner do you think women going about their family tasks are like shepherds tending sheep?

How can you creatively use this season to tell others about the marvelous news of Jesus Christ?

Power Verses:
Acts 10:36 "You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." (NIV)

Romans 10:14-15, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’" (ESV)

© 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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Not the Same
Lynn Cowell

"When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate." Ezekiel 46:9 (NIV)

As soon as my eyes opened I knew it was going to be one of "those" days. You know the type. The saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" was created for days like this. I was sad, disappointed, frustrated and empty. I couldn't put my finger on why I felt this ball of emotions; I just knew I had to get out before everyone woke up and my feelings steered our day in the wrong direction.

I put on my tennis shoes, grabbed my keys and started out the front door. Though unsure of where I was going to run, I was certain of the length: far! Far enough for me to come back a different person. What I needed was to get alone with Jesus and have Him fill me and exchange my negative emotions with His peace, truth and life.

As I started my run, old thoughts poured into my head. You are not beautiful. You are not special. Your life doesn't count. After years of reading the Truth, studying the Truth and even teaching the Truth, it was hard to believe I still struggled with these dark thoughts. I guess I shouldn't have expected the enemy to lie down and give up. He knows my weaknesses and all my buttons to push.

As lies poured in, I retrieved scriptures stored in my mind and heart. He sees me as beautiful. He says He is wild about me. He is more than enough for me. He is all I need.

Mulling over these precious chunks of God's Word, tears began to pour. This is what I needed. I didn't need more words of affirmation from my husband. I didn't need another pat on the back from a friend. I needed a new outpouring of love from my Love. I needed to be reminded of who He says I am, to give up the old lies and replace them with His Truths.

When we come into His presence, He fills us. The Lord changes us so that we are not the same as we were when we came to Him. Ezekiel 46:9 represents this exchange of old for new. The people of Israel were told when they came into the temple area to worship, they were to enter through one gate and exit through the opposite gate. So the same should be true with us; we are "not to go back as we came, but more holy, and heavenly, and spiritual" (Matthew Henry). As we enter into our special times with God, we need to come out the "opposite gate," different than the way we went in.

After an hour of running, crying and praying to God, I returned home a different woman. Now, I was ready. Ready to be the wife and mom I needed to be. Ready to be God's vessel to pour out. Being in the Lord's presence restored me. I had been filled and changed.

Dear Lord, I need You today. Living this life sometimes drains me and leaves me empty. As I come through Your gates and into Your presence, change me. Pour Your life and heart into me so that as I leave through the "opposite gate," I am not the same woman as when I came in. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Pierced By the Word: 31 Meditations for Your Soul by John Piper

Visit Lynn’s blog

To read a gripping tale, based on a true story, of a photojournalist who came out of Africa different than he went in, pick up the She Reads winter novel selection Scared by Tom Davis.

Rain on Me: Devotions of Hope & Encouragement for Difficult Times by Holly Gerth

Application Steps:
Do you need help coming into the Lord's presence? Play worship music and let God's truth pour into your heart. As it does, respond to Him. Speak words of praise for who He is and what He means to you.

Here I am Again, Lord, a free devotion, will encourage you as well.

Be real with Jesus even when your feelings are negative. Honesty with Him and ourselves allows room for Him to take us out of our "pit" and move us closer to Himself.

Find a place where you can "run" when you need to be with Jesus. Maybe it is your bedroom, porch or going for a walk. Go there regularly to meet with Him.

What brings up old, negative thoughts? Harsh words with your husband? Rejection at work? Communication patterns in broken relationships? Begin to recognize these triggers so you can make a point to run to Jesus for truth each time they resurface.

Power Verses:
Titus 3:5-7, "…He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." (NIV)

Ephesians 4:21-22a, 23, "Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life…let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes." (NLT)

© 2009 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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A Gut Honest Look at Love
Lysa TerKeurst

"…if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV)

As the holidays approach, I have to be careful about developing an overly ideal view of love. Sometimes I'm guilty of setting the expectations so high of what a 'love filled' Christmas should be that it dooms me to feeling disappointed and grumpy. Ever been there?

Well, this year I am feeling challenged to look at love a little differently. I don't want to repeat a habit that I've had from the past where I expect unrealistic things from those I love. I used to hold out the little cup of my heart to my husband, "Will you fill my empty spaces? Will you do that one really romantic thing that makes me feel like I'm the most terrific and special woman in the world?"

Then I would hold it out to my children, "Will you fill up my empty spaces? Will you do something that makes me look really good as a mom so I'll feel a little more validated?"

Then I would hold it out to my friends, "Will you fill up my empty spaces? Will you provide something today that makes me feel more included and significant?"

Maybe Christmas is an odd time to consider such things.

Or, maybe this season celebrating Jesus is the perfect time to hit the reset button on my sometimes frail heart. Love is a tricky thing. Our hearts were created to crave it. But misplaced expectations from love can wreak havoc in a person's heart.

God proclaims in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that love never fails. And in the quietness of my heart that verse makes me squirm a bit. I see love failing all the time. Or do I?

If my only view of love is what it will give me, love from others will fail me every time. It's not that love fails. It's that other people were never meant to be my God. Even a great husband, wonderful children and a thriving ministry can never truly fill me up, right all my wrongs, and soothe those deep insecurities. Not at Christmas. Not at any other time of the year.

No, I can't read 1 Corinthians chapter 13 with eyes hungry to see what love should give me and then demand it from those around me. I should read those steadfast Scriptures with the realization that this is the kind of love God gives to me. And this is the kind of love I can choose to give to other people.

I can choose that my love will be patient. My love will be kind. My love won't keep a record of wrongs. (Ouch - that's a hard one, right?)

I can choose that my love will protect and persevere.

And I can choose to lay the cup of my heart at Jesus' feet and stop twirling, twirling, twirling...hoping- demanding- that those around me do things for me they were never meant to do.

Interestingly enough, when I read 1 Corinthians 13 again this morning I found an odd yet perfect verse toward the end of this chapter. "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me" (verse 11).

Yes indeed. How funny I never connected that verse about putting away childish things with 1 Corinthians 13 - known as the chapter of love. Oh how we have the propensity to grow in other areas while keeping such a childish, selfish view of love.

Love isn't what I have the opportunity to get from this world. Love is what I have the opportunity to give. And I guess there's no more appropriate time to remember this than Christmas.

Dear Lord, thank You for the ability to see love in the proper way. Help me to know how to be filled with Your love so I don't try to get others to fill my empty spaces. Lord, give me wisdom with each of my relationships. Make me a woman that properly lives the principals in 1 Corinthians 13. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Lysa’s blog for some great Bible verses and perspectives on God’s love for us

Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst. There are several chapters in this book on this very topic. Orders placed with Proverbs 31 Ministries today will be autographed by Lysa! Why not order one for yourself and one for a friend!

What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa TerKeurst

Application Steps:
Spend some time today asking God how you can get our cup filled with Him. For me, I have to spend time reading the Bible and writing out verses where God's love for me is clearly expressed. See some of those verses posted on my blog today by clicking here.

We need to learn to live the love in 1 Corinthians 13. But this doesn't mean we enable others to treat our love with disdain. Sometimes boundaries need to be drawn in relationships to keep things healthy. Choosing love doesn't mean letting others disrespect or abuse us.

Are there some relationships in your life that need some healthy boundary lines drawn? Are there some relationships where you need to get a pastor or Christian counselor involved? Pray and ask God to reveal to you how to properly live the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 with the people in your life.

Power Verses:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away." (NIV)

© 2009 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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Investing in Strengths
Glynnis Whitwer

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

My 18-year-old son stepped on the stage, grabbed a guitar and turned to lead worship for the church youth group. He looked so at ease that I grinned thinking how far my previously shy and distracted son had come. It made me glad once more I hadn't listened to his piano teacher when Joshua was in first grade.

Even back then, Josh's love for music and innate abilities were obvious. The child could hear a song once and sing back the melody line with ease. So when his school opened a music academy, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to invest in what we believed was a God-given gift. Piano was the natural choice since we had an unused piano at home. We registered our little boy for the class, bought the level one book, and began classes.

Week followed week, and Joshua struggled to sit still long enough to practice. It took ongoing involvement on my part to redirect his focus back to the keys and book. But we saw it as an investment and enjoyed the fruits of his labor when he learned the simple songs. It came as a surprise, then, when his piano teacher stopped to talk with me after his lesson one afternoon. Perhaps I should have noticed the stressed look on her face and anticipated her next words, but I didn't.

"Mrs. Whitwer," she said, "you are wasting your money."

She went on to explain that in her opinion, Josh was just too distracted for lessons and wasn't getting anything out of them. We happened to disagree. It was obvious though, she was not the teacher for our son. After that experience, we could have been discouraged and quit. But we knew God had placed something unique in our son, and just because other people didn't see it, didn't mean it wasn't there. God gave my husband and me the responsibility to build upon what He had already started. Not just so Josh would love music, but so Josh would be ready to fulfill whatever God's plans were for him.

We continued to invest in Josh's love for music. In the early elementary years he sang in our church's children's choir. When we lived in North Carolina for two years, he took a vocal class at a Christian music academy. When he was old enough to play in the school band, he started playing bass guitar in both the regular and jazz bands. In 7th grade he started playing bass on a youth worship band, and in 8th grade he learned electric guitar. Throughout those years we invested in occasional lessons, better equipment and lots of time with practice and concerts.

Only God knows where Josh will end up with his musical ability. He now leads a youth worship team at church, and has helped teach others beginning guitar so they can lead worship. I just know it's my job to invest in this strength for as long as I can, and not worry about the end result. And by investing in Josh's musical ability, it is my prayer that we have equipped him with other skills that will help him in the future, such as the disciplines of practice, perseverance, working with others, respect for authority, giving his best, and honoring God by using the abilities He has given.

Were we wasting our money back then? Absolutely not! We learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes it takes perseverance, creativity and patience when investing in a child's strength. Josh wasn't a musical prodigy, he occasionally forgot his guitar when going to band, and his dad and I had to remind him to practice. And yet the gift of music was inside my son waiting to be developed and used for God's glory. Helping to develop that skill was an act of obedience on our part.

What skills do you see waiting to be invested in and developed in your child, your spouse, or yourself?

There was an interesting ending to the piano lesson experience. At the final recital, about 25 kids took turns performing. Finally it was Joshua's turn. My little six-year-old walked up to the piano, sat down to play and carefully opened his music book. Not only did he play his piece beautifully, but he was the ONLY child who sang while accompanying himself – and he sang in perfect pitch.

All I could say was, "Praise God."

Dear Lord, thank You for placing seeds of ability in all of us. I know You see my potential, and You see potential in those I love. Help me to see with Your eyes, and to have the wisdom to know how to encourage others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
When Your Child is Hurting by Glynnis Whitwer. This is a great resource to help parents navigate the often challenging years of childhood.

Visit Glynnis’s blog where she shares more tips for investing in your child’s strengths.

Discover more about Your Child’s Personality

Mining for Gold in the Heart of Your Child by Renee Swope

Application Steps:
If you are parenting a child, identify one or two natural abilities he or she has. Consider how you can invest in those strengths.

How can you develop your own strengths and use them for God's glory?

Can you look back on your life and see early signs of natural talents that might have been overlooked by others?

What hinders parents from identifying and accepting their child's natural abilities?

Power Verses:
Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…" (NIV)

Job 10:8, "Your hands shaped me and made me." (NIV)

© 2009 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

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The Ultimate Gift
Gina Parcells, She Speaks! Graduate

"…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." 1 John 5:11b (NASB)

Christmas day at my house had become all about the presents. The décor, the shopping, the parties, the tree…it all culminated with those gifts when it should be culminating with the Gift. Something needed to change.

What can I do to see Jesus as a gift, and to help my family see Him as well? I wondered. A light bulb went on in my head, about the same time the light strand went out on my tree, and a plan was birthed.

Phase one: Baby Jesus was removed from the displayed nativity set. He was carefully boxed and wrapped in my fanciest paper, intentionally labeled with a specific name, and gingerly hidden under the myriad of gifts at the foot of our tree.

Phase two: During our family gift exchange on Christmas morning, the disguised gift was handed to my unsuspecting daughter, the named recipient, just one of her many gifts. It could have been an I-pod or a sweater or another book…after all, there was no host of angels announcing the valuable contents. But knowing what I knew, I watched with great anticipation as she opened it.

Phase three: A bewildered look came across her face. Haley didn't speak. I asked, "Haley, what did you get?"

"I got Jesus."

An entire family discussion ensued as we discussed the ultimate Gift in the midst of all of our other presents. We compared the gift of Jesus with other gifts that would wear out, that would be outgrown, and that would eventually lose appeal.

We began to ask and answer lots of questions such as:

What is a gift? What is the purpose of a gift? What can we know about the giver of the gift? Why might the giver choose to give a gift to you specifically?

Together, we came up with truths about God…that He gave us the Gift that we need, that we want, and that we could never afford to get for ourselves. He wrapped that Gift in a blanket and gave – voluntarily, sacrificially, and lovingly – to each one of us, the named recipients of His greatest Gift.

We've invited Jesus back into Christmas to take His place as the perfect Gift that never stops giving. I can hardly wait to experience today that same conversation this year as a new family member opens the box and announces, "I got Jesus!"

Dear Lord, too many times I have excluded You from my Christmas and been satisfied with presents and stuff. Let me not be content until I experience the gift of You in my heart. Cause me to see You as the ultimate Gift. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Immanuel: Praying the Names of God through the Christmas Season by Ann Spangler

Homespun Memories from the Heart by Karen Ehman, Kelly Hovermale and Trish Smith

Find more Christmas family traditions with P31 radio show A Cup of Christmas COCOA

Application Steps:
Try wrapping up your nativity baby Jesus for a family member or a friend, and discuss the Gift He is during your gift exchange.

Print and store this page with your nativity set as a reminder next year to value Jesus as a gift.

Have You Received the Ultimate Gift?

How can I help my family view Jesus as a Gift?

Power Verses:
Isaiah 9:6, "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (NASB)

John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (NASB)

Romans 6:23b, "… the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NASB)

© 2009 by Gina Parcells. All rights reserved.

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Christmas Excuses
Karen Ehman

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families..." Psalm 68:5-6a (NIV)

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" The loudspeaker blared out the joyful lyrics of the familiar holiday song that snowy afternoon on Christmas Eve. Everywhere I glanced, people were searching for last-minute gift purchases, holiday baking ingredients or that one final string of twinkle lights that would make their Christmas Martha Stewart'ish, HGTV approved, and downright Norman Rockwell perfect.

However, as I stood in line paying for the ingredients for my assigned Cheesy Potato side dish for our extended family gathering, a lump formed in my throat. Soon the lump made its way north as my lips quivered and hot tears fell onto my wind-chapped cheeks.

How can everyone be so happy? Why is the world going on as if nothing happened? My friend Julie died last night leaving behind a husband and eight children who need her. Doesn't anyone care? I wanted to scream. And I wanted Christmas to be promptly cancelled that year. I had no holiday cheer in me and I thought the rest of the world should follow suit and just 'humbug' the whole celebration.

Our family made it through that holiday. My young children, although sad about their friends' mother's death, perked up Christmas morning, eager to open their gifts. My husband and I carried on with our normal life and, over the next few months, tried to help lighten the load of our now widower friend. Several in our circle of friends made meals on a weekly basis. A college girl offered to clean their home. One of Julie's sons joined our homeschool for kindergarten a few days each week. Although we still experienced great heartache knowing our friend wasn't coming back, helping to lighten her husband's load and cheer the children made us feel useful and as if we were fulfilling the mission God had for us.

Ever since that year, our family has become even more aware of the fact that for many, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year. It is downright painful. Loneliness looms. Depressions darken. Even suicides soar. While scores of us delight in the yuletide season, drinking in deep the sights, sounds and smells, others meander about, numb from pain, despising the season.

A sweet neighbor of mine once told me, "Christmas is an excuse for making someone's life better." She was so right! Right in our midst, there are souls waiting to be encouraged and included at the holidays. If only we would cease our own sometimes self-centered hustle and bustle long enough to see!

After that sad season, we have made it our mission to reach out at the holidays more than we play the commercialized "gimmee game." Christmas is so not about getting. Its very essence is giving.

When our family has been intentional about being Jesus' hands and feet at the holidays, He has allowed us to brighten the lives of many and, in return, make our own season even sweeter. We've Christmas caroled to shut-ins, decorated homes and addressed Christmas cards for widows, shopped for the needy, baked for the brokenhearted, taken in foreign exchange students with no where to spend the day and often included the lonely in our normal Christmas activities as if they were part of our family….

Because really, they are. Maybe it is your family God wants to set a lonely soul in this year.
Vow this Christmas to use the season as an excuse to make someone's life better.

As a result, your life too will be immeasurably blessed.

Dear Lord, at this time when You sent Christ to earth, may I too reach out to make someone's life richer, fuller and far less lonely. I want to be Your hands and feet. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

For a chance to win a Christmas goodie basket-in-a-box giveaway for you and a copy of P31 She Speaks' grad Jennifer Silvera's book Believe: A Young Widow's Journey Through Brokenness and Back for a grieving friend visit Karen’s blog

A Life that Says Welcome by Karen Ehman

Through a Season of Grief: Devotions for Your Journey from Mourning to Joy by Bill Dunn and Kathy Leonard

Application Steps:
Gather the family. Solicit responses to the following questions, "Who do you know that might be lonely at Christmas this year? Now, what creative way could we help to combat their loneliness and make them feel loved?"

List the action steps you will take to make the idea a reality. Mark the calendar to ensure it happens.

Has there ever been a holiday season where you were gloomy or feeling alone? Did anyone do something to make you feel loved and included?

How can reaching out to the lonely be a reflection of God reaching down from heaven to us on that very first Christmas?

Power Verses:
Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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Re-gifting Christmas
Susanne Scheppmann

"Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" Luke 2:10-11 (NKJ)

My extended family no longer buys presents for each individual person. At our large family gathering, we have a "white elephant" gift exchange. Instead of a separate gift for each person, we just bring one present each, usually something from around our house that is no longer wanted or needed. Many times a white elephant gift turns out to be a re-gift. The idea of re-gifting appeals to me, especially when sanctioned by the family!

This year I have pondered how to re-gift the joy found in the Christmas story that Jesus gives - "a great joy which will be to all people." I believe the best way is to display our joy in all circumstances, good and bad. We may not enjoy the situations we find ourselves in, but we can have joy. Our joy can issue forth from the fact that Jesus came to earth as an infant, ministered, died on the cross and resurrected from the grave. He did this as a gift for all of us.

Will you decide with me to re-gift the promise of Christmas joy when days become stressful because of holiday schedules? Let's give joy when we can't purchase the "perfect" gift because of budget restraints. Let's share Jesus' joy and offer to help our neighbors, our churches, and our communities.

The wonderful thing about re-gifting the joy of the season is that you still get to keep your joy! Let the world know the truth about Christmas. It's not about the Christmas tree, the food, the festivities or the gifts - it's about Jesus being born as the world's Savior. It's about what the angels declared over 2000 years ago, "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11, NKJ).

It's a gift we should give year round to everyone in this stress-filled world, because, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, NIV).

Will you re-gift the joy found in the true meaning of Christmas both now and throughout this coming year?

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of joy this Christmas season. Teach me to re-gift this joy to the people who You bring across my path. Also, remind me to re-gift Your joy every day, not only at the Christmas season. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know This Joy?

Birds in My Mustard Tree by Susanne Scheppmann

A Recipe for Christmas Joy (E-Book) by Marybeth Whalen

Read about sharing Jesus’ joy with The Blessing of Christmas in our Everyday Life encouragement

Application Steps:

Leave the Christmas nativity set in a prominent place in your home all year. Doubtless, people will mention it. Share the meaning of Christmas, Jesus the Savior of the World.

Do I display the joy of Jesus?

Why do I hesitate to share my faith in Jesus?

How can I "re-gift" Christmas each day?

Power Verses:
Philemon 1:6, "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." (NIV)

Isaiah 49:13, "Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones." (NIV)

1 Thessalonians 2:8, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." (NIV)

© 2009 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.

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Where was God?
Lysa TerKeurst

"But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" Acts 7:55-56 (NIV)

Sometimes things happen in life that are so horrible our minds have a hard time processing them. Even our souls don't know quite where to place the horrific. So, we pull out our trite Christian answers and hope they are good enough to keep the honest questions at bay.

But somewhere deep inside us a question bumps around our heart. A question so honest we Christians feel we couldn't ever possibly ask it. Where was God?

Where was God when the students were shot?

Where was God when my sister's 18 year-old friend had a headache one day and died suddenly the next?

Where was God when my friend's baby wrapped the umbilical cord about his leg and he died days before he would have otherwise been delivered perfectly healthy?

Where was God when that precious girl was taken, and found a few days later in the trash dump?

Like I said, things so hard we can hardly process them. Sometimes we'd rather make an excuse for God than be brave enough to actually go to God and ask. I've been guilty of this. I've tried to make excuses for God. And I hated the feeling of faking my way through with plastic answers just to gloss over something my God is certainly big enough to answer Himself.

For years, I asked God to help me wrestle with this hard question. And finally an answer came tucked away in Acts 7:54-60, the stoning of Stephen.

It's easy to read the words of the story and miss the reality of what's really happening. Stephen is being brutally murdered. Stephen is living the horrific we can't process. Yet, in the midst of his most desperate moment, Stephen is absolutely not alone.

While I hate - absolutely hate - what is being done to Stephen's body, his soul is experiencing something completely separate. And what I discovered when I dared peak inside the horrific was a miracle that makes me weep with relief.

God was there. Jesus was there. And my Jesus wasn't just sitting by observing. No, He was standing. And please forgive me for daring to make an assumption here but because I know Jesus, I have a picture in my mind of what He must have looked like in this moment. With tears streaming down His face, full of the purest compassion ever known, Jesus makes sure Stephen sees Him. Locks His eyes on his.

And from what I can tell, Stephen never took his eyes off of Jesus.

In the midst of chaos and screaming and the most vicious of acts, Stephen's soul talks with Jesus. His body falls as Stephen cries out forgiveness for all who dare to hear. And with that, a merciful sleep takes Stephen away.

I know this is hard to process.

I know just reading these passages doesn't answer every question.

And might I encourage you to wrestle with this and pray about this and ask God the bold questions that knock around your soul? I'll be posting a little more on this topic on my blog today and I'd love to process this with you further. But, let me assure you I won't be offering cookie cutter answers. These are hard questions with no easy answers.

I don't understand why Stephen had to die this way.

I am still horrified by all of the events I listed above.

And while I don't have all the answers, there is one thing I know for certain. I do know where God was. He wasn't too busy. He wasn't cold and heartless. He wasn't caught off guard.

He was there. And I'm convinced with holy tears dripping in the midst, He is grieved over how sin has broken this world. And He walks to the edge of eternity and reminds us He will avenge, He will redeem, He will make all things right.

Especially those we can't possibly understand right now.

Dear Lord, it is so hard to understand the horrific events that happen. Thank You for this reminder in Stephen's story. Even though we may never have answers on this side of eternity we can still stand on the truth that You are good even when life isn't. But Lord Jesus, please pour out Your loving comfort and reassurances. Our hearts need Your touch in those deep hurting places. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Lysa’s blog for more on this tough topic

Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst. Lysa wrote a chapter in this book called “Deep Grief” which equips women to process the harder issues in life for themselves and to better understand how to help a friend through tough times as well.

And, releasing this month is Lysa’s 6 week DVD teaching series that is perfect for personal or group studies. Each session is 15- 20 minutes in length. Participant’s guides are also available. You can order yours today by clicking here.

Application Steps:
Read a couple of chapters in Psalms today and ask God to tenderly speak through His Word. Write down each description of God. Then pray a prayer inserting your name and what God promises to be for you personally.

Is there a person in your sphere of influence who has been wrestling with some tough questions?

Why not forward this devotion to them and take time to talk and pray about it together?

Power Verses:
John 11:32-33, "When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled." (NIV)

John 11:35, "Jesus wept." (NIV)

© 2009 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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Divine Delays
Zoe Elmore

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

My schedule was tight and I was out of make-up, so I planned to pick up my favorite foundation at the local mall, leaving room to still arrive on time for my friend's annual Christmas tea. As I prepared to leave, the Lord whispered to my heart, Don't go to the mall; go to the make-up store near your home.

But Lord, I argued, I have my friend's Christmas tea and the mall is on the way. What You're asking me to do isn't convenient. I will have to go out of my way and I will be late for the tea. And You know how important punctuality is to me!

After more mental arguing, I reluctantly obeyed and went into the corner make-up store.

I knew the young woman working. She's not only pleasant, but quick and efficient with her customers. Lord, maybe this inconvenience won't interrupt my schedule too much after all. As I entered the store, the familiar woman greeted me and offered to help with my purchase. I told her what I needed and added that I was in quite a hurry to be on time for my Christmas tea.

Quickly and efficiently she found the needed product and walked me to the register to check out.

This was easier than I thought, I said to myself as she handed me my purchase. Then it happened ... the reason I had been led to go out of my way.

"I know you're in a hurry, and I will only keep you one more moment." The young woman shared. "I'd like to ask that you pray for me and my struggling marriage as you drive to your Christmas tea. I don't think my marriage can be saved."

In that moment I sensed the Lord, This is why I wanted to interrupt your busy schedule.

I placed my purchase on the counter, held her hands and prayed. As the Lord guided my words, the young woman began to sob, her tears landing softly on my hands. When I said "Amen," she hugged me tightly and whispered, "Of all the people I've asked to pray for me, you're the first one to stop and do so. Thank you. I've been very discouraged, and had thought no one would ever respond to my request. In fact, I had given up all hope that God even heard my cries for help."

I reminded her of Psalm 145:18-19, "The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them" (NIV).

She thanked me for my time, adding that she would begin to dig into God's Word for more strength and encouragement. The store began to fill with customers. There was one more hug and an exchange of phone numbers as I left for the tea.

Since that day we have talked and prayed together on several occasions and we plan to continue into the New Year. Each time she and I talk, it's a reminder that when I listen and obey the Lord's promptings, I experience the joy of His presence in a powerful way.

God's divine delay taught me that being used by the Lord for His glory in the life of others far outweighs arriving on time.

Dear Lord, thank You for loving me enough to use me for Your purposes and glory. Teach me to listen and obey without reservation or hesitation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Apples of Gold: A Six-Week Nurturing Program for Women by Betty Huizenga

Visit Zoe’s blog - Called by a New Name

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

Desperate Prayers, Divine Answers, a free online article from P31 Woman magazine

Application Steps:
Examine your relationship with the Lord; are you allowing the business of this season to crowd out His small quiet voice?

Are you listening to and obeying the Lord's promptings in your life?

Are you refusing to listen and obey because it might inconvenience you?

Power Verses:
Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (NIV)

Luke 12:6-7, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows." (ESV)

© 2009 by Zoe Elmore. All rights reserved.

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What Hope Looks Like
T. Suzanne Eller

"Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them." Mark 10:16 (NLT)

I love visiting other countries to serve in missions work. But there are many times I've left a beautiful country overwhelmed by the needs of its people. People standing in line for medical care. Children on a street corner selling candy, or worse – their bodies - so they could eat a meal. I've wept on the plane home, hiding my tears from other passengers behind the thin airline blanket.

Recently, however, I returned from a missions trip to Ecuador with Compassion International. Our travels to this country left me filled with hope! There are 52,000 children that are ministered to in 200 Compassion International projects across Ecuador.

I met Eric, a little guy who is 13, but looks seven. He was born with a syndrome that affects his motor skills, as well as his ability to communicate. Eric wasn't given a lot of hope. His mother has two other little boys, ten and six. Their home is nestled in a concrete cave honed out of rock and cinder block. I had to bend to enter the dark two-room habitat. Along one wall there is a small refrigerator, rusted by the years. A couple of cook pots sit by an open fireplace darkened by soot. Eric proudly showed me how he washes his clothes, beating his red shirt with a brush and suds.

Little Eric has had surgeries that allow him to run in his own makeshift fashion. His inability to communicate with words would lead you to believe he's not educated, but he is very intelligent. He and his brothers eat nutritious meals and receive schooling. And it's all because of Compassion International.

Later I met Jonathon, who became a Compassion International child at the age of five. He remembers proudly showing his first letter from his sponsor to his classroom. He held it high for the other children to see. "Jesus sent me someone who loves me," he said.

Next July, Jonathon will graduate from a university with a degree in physics. He wept as he tried to explain what Compassion International, and his sponsor, have done for him. A person he has never met gave him health, hope, and the opportunity to change the lives of many children. He plans to go back to his former project area as a teacher.

I often pray and ask Jesus how to spend my time, my finances, and my talents. But the funny thing is, I don't pray over the everyday expenditures that have very little lasting impact. I weigh them. I think about them. But pray about it? I don't. I believe I will start praying about my everyday expenditures, and asking God to reveal to me opportunities to invest in the things that really matter.

As I boarded the plane for home, I declined the offered blanket. I didn't need to hide my tears - not this time. Instead I praised God for a renewed vision of hope: a child who wasn't supposed to live who can now run and read; a little girl waving her hand in the air to be called upon in class to quote a scripture; a young man wiping away tears as he expressed his desire to educate little ones facing the odds he once faced and overcame. I settled back in my seat and smiled, reveling in the beautiful pictures of God's hope in action.

Dear God, You love the hungry, the poor, the hurting. Thank You for the opportunity to be Your hands and feet, whether in my own community, or around the world. I pray that I will invest my heart and life in those things that burn on Your heart. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Learn about sponsoring a child through Compassion International

Visit Suzie’s blog where she shares pictures of her trip to Ecuador and answers your questions about Compassion International and missions.

Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most by Dr. Wess Stafford,

God sees you too! Find hope with the free devotion When Self-Rescue is Not an Option

Application Steps:
Pray: Ask God to reveal a need.

Prepare: How can you respond with one tangible action, small or large? Is it your time? Your talents? Your finances?

Proceed: Take action today!

Childhood—we get only one pass at it, and yet it dictates the quality of the rest of our lives. Dr. Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International

Power Verses:
Deuteronomy 15:10, "Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do." (NLT)

Matthew 25:37b-40, "'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (ESV)

© 2009 by T. Suzanne Eller. All rights reserved.

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