Member of AWSA

  Info about AWSA

 

[See their Bios on the Partners Page by clicking on the Blogger box, above]

     PARTNERS:

Lina AbuJamra

Sue Badeau

Dianne Barker

Twila Belk

Gail Bones

Harriet Bouchillon

Mary Carver

Jeanne Cesena

Pamela Christian

Lisa Copen

Erin Davis

Diane Dean

Deb DeArmond

Kelly DeChant

Danna Demetre

Melissa Edgington

Debbi Eggleston

Pat Ennis

Morgan Farr

Pam Farrel

Sally Ferguson

Liz Cowen Furman

Gail Goolsby

Sheila Gregoire

Kate Hagen

Doreen Hanna

Holly Hanson

Becky Harling

Debbie Harris

Nali Hilderman

Cathy Horning

Kathy Howard

Mary James

Priscilla Jenson

Lane P. Jordan

Rebecca Jordan

Ellie Kay

Maria Keckler

Sylvia Lange

Debby Lennick

Peggy Leslie

Kathi Lipp

Kolleen Lucariello

Kathi Macias

Paula Marsteller

Melissa Mashburn

Dianne Matthews

Cindi McMenamin

Elaine W. Miller

Kathy Collard Miller

Lynn Mosher

Karen O'Connor

Yvonne Ortega

Arlene Pellicane

Ava Pennington

Laura Petherbridge

Gail Purath

Marcia Ramsland

Kaley Rhea

Rhonda Rhea

Vonda Rhodes

Cynthia Ruchti

Julie Sanders

Judy Scharfenberg

Deedra Scherm

Laurel Shaler

Joanie Shawhan

Stephanie Shott

Poppy Smith

Susan K. Stewart

Stacie Stoelting

Jill Swanson

Janet Thompson

Janice Thompson

Teri Thompson

Brittany Van Ryn

Elizabeth Van Tassel

Leslie Vernick

Laurie Wallin

Julie Watson

Joan C. Webb

Shonda Savage Whitworth

Cherri Williamson

Kathy C. Willis

Debbie W. Wilson

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Jamie Wood

And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson

 

Entries in Christmas (30)

Thursday
Dec212017

How Ready Are You to Celebrate Christmas?

Yvonne Ortega writes a lot about broken people, and to be sure, there are many broken people who struggle during the holiday season; but God desires to do beautiful things in their lives. In this Christmas UPGRADE, she asks us to examine our hearts before Christmas arrives.

“On a scale of 1–10, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest," Yvonne says, "how ready are you to celebrate Christmas?”

I (Dawn) am one of those "ready early" kinds of people at Christmas, because I want Christmas week to be as peaceful as possible. But having a ready heart is not the same as a ready home.

Yvonne continues . . .

I’ve had people tell me, “I’m all set for Christmas. I bought the gifts in August, decorated the house, trimmed an artificial tree, filled the Christmas stockings with small treats, and mailed the Christmas cards.”

Others have told me, “I’m ready as can be. I did everything over the Thanksgiving weekend. Now, I can sit back and enjoy the Christmas lights, programs, and parties.”

From an earthly perspective, the person appears to be ready. However, as Christians with a heavenly perspective, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Our readiness to celebrate his birth has nothing to do with Christmas decorations, a trimmed tree, gifts for family and friends, stockings filled with goodies, or Christmas cards.

These three steps will help you decide how ready you are to celebrate Christmas.

1. Have you forgiven family members, friends or co-workers who hurt you?

You don’t want anything standing between you and God.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).

Do you still feel unforgiven for past sins? Are you burdened with shame and guilt?

If you’ve confessed your sins, God forgave you. He didn’t make a mistake when he did that. You can do no less.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

2. How often do you read your Bible, pray, and go to church—especially during the Christmas season?

If you do these things, how do you do them?

Do you do them on the run with an eye on your watch?

Do you do them grudgingly or cheerfully?

My late mentor often said, "You make time for what’s important to you."

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (NIV). You show your love by how much time you spend with the Lord and get to know him.

Make time for the most important relationship in your life. It is one that will last for eternity.

3. How comfortable would you feel if your family, friends, and coworkers evaluated your trust in God?

Perhaps you’ve lost a job, a car, or a home. Maybe you received a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness or have a prodigal child in the family. You may have suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one. Any one of these situations can cause turmoil in your life.

It can also result in your questioning your faith and God’s character.

Rate your confidence in his promise in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

As I wrap up, I ask you the same question I did at the beginning:

“On a scale of 1–10, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest, how ready are you to celebrate Christmas?”

Yvonne Ortega is a licensed professional counselor, a bilingual professional speaker, and the author of Moving from Broken to Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward (paperback, Kindle), Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer (Kindle), and Moving from Broken to Beautiful through Forgiveness, all available at amazon.com/books. She not only survived but thrived after a domestic violence marriage, breast cancer and the loss of her only child. With honesty and humor, Yvonne uses personal examples and truths of the Bible to help women move from broken to beautiful. Find out more about Yvonne at her website.

Graphic of candle, courtesy of Pixabay.

Monday
Dec182017

We Rejoice with Them!

Kaley Faith Rhea tackles our "Bah, Humbugs" with a biblical perspective in this Christmas UPGRADE.

Kaley asks, "During the Christmas season, does there come a point when you feel like if you hear one more cheery chorus of 'Deck the Halls,' you know you’ll punch a wall?"

I (Dawn) can't identify with that. I could listen to Christmas songs all year long; but there are some Christmas cheer things that drive me up a wall.

Kaley continues . . .

Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe your “Bah!”s are not followed by “Humbug”s. Maybe you’re not that one friend who feels Christmas is “over-commercialized.”

  • But maybe this year you find yourself trying to force your way into Christmas cheer like it’s last year’s shrunken sweater.
  • Maybe your smiles and greetings feel a bit false, a bit stale.
  • You may even feel like, of all the Whatever-Your-Name-Is-es in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.

Read Philippians 4:4-7 with me:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always tended to read the “rejoice” of Philippians 4:4 as like a hands-in-the-air, celebrate-good-times-come-on, party kind of vibe. Like I could hear D.J. Paul screaming it into the mic as the crowd goes wild.

And don’t get me wrong, we can and absolutely should celebrate and revel in who Jesus is.

But I’ll be perfectly honest:

Life doesn’t feel like a party a hundred percent of the time.

Even at Christmas.

But the word we read as “rejoice” here is the Greek word chairo—which from what I can tell means to be cheerful, calmly happy or well-off. It’s the same word, actually, that’s used in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

When my four siblings and I were growing up, any time one of us got pouty because someone else got to have something or do something the rest of us didn’t, my parents would ask the same leading question: “What do we do when something nice happens to someone else?”

And each one of us knew exactly how we were supposed to answer in our rolly-eyed, sulky, child’s voices: “We rejoice with them.”

Usually with a distinct lack of rejoicing, heh.

I’m so grateful for that lesson, though. What I FEEL in my me-moments of selfishness or shortsightedness does not change what is true and does not change my call to be obedient. And what’s more amazing is how much happier I was, even in my childhood days, because of that lesson.

Starting with truth instead of starting with what I feel is a million times safer, a million times better, a million times reasonable-er.

Seems like it’s easy for me to feel like I have a responsibility to be falsely cheery through cheerless circumstances. To force a party smile on over a feeling of frustration.

It’s even more apparent around the holidays sometimes, I think—when there’s a lot of added pressure to paste on smiles for the camera and manufacture some cherished memories.

  • You are allowed to feel disappointed.
  • You are allowed to mourn.
  • You are allowed to not feel like celebrating all the time.

But in the Lord, you can rejoice.

Always.

Not falsely, but not necessarily with party poppers.

Read those verses one more time all the way through.

Rejoicing comes from a place of security. Of contentment. Of thanksgiving. Of perspective.

Of knowing that whatever you may be facing, Jesus is who Jesus is, and that means you are not facing it alone.

It leads to reasonableness—the ability to understand that what I’m feeling does not have to dictate how I respond. Even when there are setbacks and regrets and annoyances and disappointments. Even when my instincts are to punch a wall.

My friends, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He is your peace and safety.

So rejoice in the Lord!

I won’t say it again. Because Paul already did.

With all sincerity—rejoicing in the One for Whom we celebrate—Merry Christmas!

What makes you say "Bah, Humbug!" at Christmastime? How can you turn that around and "rejoice in the Lord"?

Kaley Faith Rhea is a co-author of the Christian rom-com novel, Turtles in the Road, with two more books in the works to release in 2018. She also co-hosts the TV show, That’s My Mom, for Christian Television Network’s KNLJ in mid-Missouri. Kaley lives in the St. Louis area.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of aaandrea at Pixabay.

Thursday
Dec142017

A Merry Heart on a Scrooge Budget 

Wendy Hamilton wrote a thought-provoking post that she originally was going to call "Why I Cancelled Christmas." This is a Christmas UPGRADE that may sound negative, but don't miss Wendy's tender, positive heart here.

"I have always loved Christmas," Wendy says. "The lights, the colors, the echoing tinkle of The Salvation Army bell for the Red Kettle campaign and the carols—the beautiful carols—are some of my favorite things"

Yes, I (Dawn) am a Christmas-lover too! The sights and sounds of the season feed my soul. But lately I've reconsidered many of the things I think are so important. My heart even resonates with some of Wendy's words.

Wendy continues . . .

I am one of those women who thinks about Christmas all year long.

I find items that will make the perfect gifts and squirrel those away until the season arrives, and gifts are wrapped and given.

Except this year.

This year, I realized that our family had reached a point where we didn’t really need stuff other than basic things consumed throughout the year.

Another toy, another piece of tech and another sparkly thing really wasn’t a need, nor would such a purchase prove useful or helpful in what God was calling our family to do in full-time ministry.

I stared at items in the store and most of it seemed like junk.

I bought nothing throughout the year.

I realized when October rolled around that when I put my treasure of my time, talent and financial resources where my heart wasin ministrywhat was left for Christmas gift buying and giving made me seem like Scrooge instead of a generous, merry-making Santa.

I cried.

There was simply no way to do what we had done in the past.

I couldn’t emotionally, spiritually, budget-wise, or any way commit to what I used to do, which was fast becoming the ghosts of Christmases past.

It was at that point that I knew I had to cancel Christmas.

One by one, family member by family member, I shared with them my heart. I told them that I loved them and loved Christmas. I confessed that Christmas gift giving would look different. I apologized.

I asked them to hear my heart and realize that the change in the value and number of gifts given had nothing to do with them. Our family simply could not spend as much money as we had in the past as my going into full-time ministry reduced our family income, and other life changes that year—my daughter’s wedding and another daughter going to college—had pulled resources from our budgets. 

I expected hurt feelings. I expected judging and condemnation.

None of that happened.   

One hundred percent of our family was on board with canceling Christmas. They saw what God was doing and they expressed that what really mattered to them was the presence of family, not presents. They expressed that they were thankful for us and grateful to God for whatever gifts were given, no matter what.

There were more affirming statements, but all that I feared was not what happened.

Instead, our family connected on a level beyond “stuff” and that, to me, is the stuff that makes for good relationships and stronger families.

God used my change in circumstances to give me a greater gift—His presence.

The Lord promised to supply what was needed for all my needs.

  • He gave me joy.
  • He gave me strength.
  • He also triggered some wonderful ideas to use what I already had and create one-of-a-kind gifts for the people in my life.
  • He showed me that when I utilize the resources He already gave me that what He gives is enough.

God’s relationship and His relational giving to me helped me see that connecting at Christmas was more relational and intentional.

Instead of gifts no one needs, we are investing in relational giving and participating in low-cost or no cost activities.

Some of those are: 

  • Creating a family game-a-thon (Winner gets annual bragging rights!)
  • Baking treats together
  • Checking out area Christmas lights
  • Volunteering as a family for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign
  • Caroling
  • Working on “old school” Christmas crafts like making snowflakes and stringing popcorn.

This year, if you are struggling with budgets or God is leading you to invest in something other than mountains of stuff no one really needs, instead of canceling Christmas, think relationally.

Relational giving is any gift that focuses on strengthening or building the relationship you have with a person you love. Relational giving allows you to give big love on a tiny budget. You get to show your heart, which is not two sizes too small, but full of a huge love for the people God gave you.

Some relational gifts are:

  1. Playing board games
  2. Volunteering as a family
  3. Watching a movie
  4. Seeing light displays
  5. Creating a Christmas Photo Scavenger Hunt

Instead of canceling Christmas, ask God to show you the relational gifts that allow you to really connect with the people He gave you to love.

What would show your family and friends you love them—beyond the typical gifts you've always given them?

Wendy Hamilton is the co-Founder of Inspired Life Ministries, a creative arts freedom ministry. She teaches writing to moms and teen girls through Inspired Moms and Inspired Teens.  She is a songwriter/writer for Valley Creek Church and serves with her husband, Mike, and their kids in a variety of ministry areas across multiple campuses within her church family. Her devotional for moms, 30 Verses to Heal a Mama’s Heart, is available on Amazon.com, Amazon Europe and other online and offline bookstores and retailers. You can find out more at 30Verses.com.

Monday
Dec112017

Open Your Gifts with a Personal Growth Retreat

With Christmas coming, we need fresh ways to think about what is important in life. My friend  Kathy Carlton Willis honed in on this when she started thinking about her birthday. In this special Christmas and Spiritual Life "almost 2018" UPGRADE post, she shares an interesting way she’s celebrating.

“Most people get gifts for their birthdays," Kathy says. "I'm choosing to look at my birthday ITSELF as a gift. I don’t want to waste it!”

I (Dawn) love it when people examine their lives so they can make the best possible choices going forward. Let’s see what Kathy plans to do with her birthday.

She continues . . .

On December 13th, I turn 55. That seems like a milestone. Double nickels.

It propels me to do a personal inventory of where I’ve been and where I’m going in life. Join me, if this is a process you’d like to undergo before we hit 2018.

Forty years ago, I started setting goals. Yes, even as a teen girl I sensed God’s direction in my life and wanted to make it count for something.

I knew I would fritter away the time unless I became intentional about how I spent my days.

I made big long-term goals, and divided those into smaller short-term goals. Then I split those into doable action steps, to keep me on track.

This birthday season (for me) or Christmas and end-of-year season (for you), let’s contemplate, celebrate, and motivate. I plan to inventory my life using these questions and intentions. You’re invited to have your own personal growth retreat, using my formula.

CONTEMPLATE

  • When I came to faith in Christ, what did I believe God had purposed for my life? Why did He leave me on earth rather than call me to His side? I plan to honor HIS plan.
  • What are some of the blessings from my years on earth? I will thank God for these.
  • What difficult moments did I go through? I know God will not waste any pain, struggle, heartache or disappointment I’ve gone through. I’m so glad they are behind me!
  • What are the personal growth moments I’ve experienced? I recognize how God used these to transform me.

CELEBRATE

  • What are some distinct highlights from my life journey? I will commemorate them.
  • What special people have come into my life (for a season or to stay)? I will delight in them.
  • What opportunities did God bring my way? I will express joy in them.
  • What victories over challenges did I experience? I will remember them.
  • What personal growth milestones have happened so far? I will observe and honor them.
  • What skills have I developed, through God’s gift in me? I will applaud them.
  • What answered prayers have I seen? I will rejoice in them.

MOTIVATE

  • Is God impressing on me any personal growth moments still to come?
  • How will I respond differently to crisis, attacks, or drama?
  • What goals are God setting before me?

Words for reflection:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT)

This Christmas season we celebrate the gift of Jesus as Savior. Because of Jesus, we rejoice in gifts such as peace, joy, and love.

May we also use this time of year as a gift to contemplate where we’ve been and let God motivate us to where we’re headed.   

Celebrate the Savior, the Season, and the Story yet to be told in you.

What direction is God impressing on your heart as you wrap up 2017 and enter 2018?

God’s Grin Gal, Kathy Carlton Willis, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a speaker and author with over a thousand articles online and in print, as well as her Bible study, Grin with GraceShe’s a bi-monthly columnist with CBN and a devotional writer for Todd Starnes. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Thursday
Dec072017

Christmas Doors — Invitations to Joy

In this Christmas UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to think about the doors we might open to others this holiday season.

I love to see all the pretty doors decorated at Christmas. They look so welcoming. They invite us to share together in joy.

So many are lonely, stressed, even in crisis during the holidays. We may feel caught up in our own holiday joy, but we can't ignore others who struggle to smile. Those who have no peace. Those who hurt and need encouragement.

I've thought about some of the doors we might open to those people. Here are five doors that I call "Invitations to Joy."

1. The Door of UNDERSTANDING

We show empathy and understanding when we learn to listen well.

James tells us to "be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak" (1:19, AMP).

Proverbs 1:5 says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning." When you listen to people, you encourage them to talk, and that is fertile ground for greater understanding.

As leadership coach Becky Harling wrote in her book How to Listen So People Will Talk, "People feel more loved and valued if we are actively and attentively listening to them."

Empathetic listening is a gift not just for the holidays, but for a lifetime of ministry to those the Lord brings into our lives.

2. The Door of COMMUNICATION

The second part of James 1:19 says, "slow to speak." We must be careful what we say, but we do need to speak up.

Good communication skills can be cultivated when our mouths are full of God's wisdom. Our words are to first be acceptable in His sight (Psalm 19:14). We can then wisely pray for others and minister to them with healing conversations.

Our words must be carefully chosen to encourage others. Speak words that will build up and "give grace" (Ephesians 4:29).

Speak words of affirmation and hope, not negative, critical and destructive words. Focus on what is worthy (Philippians 4:8) to share this Christmas!

3. The Door of SERVICE

Just as Jesus came to serve, he calls us to do the same. In Christ, we are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and that includes serving people.

God notes how we serve and help others (Hebrews 6:10). He praises a servant's heart.

We are to serve with humility in love. We are to use our spiritual gifts, received from the Holy Spirit, to serve others as "faithful stewards of God's grace."

There are so many opportunities to serve during the Christmas season—both in serving individuals and groups.

Serving others "opens a door" to their hearts.

Don't overlook your next-door neighbor's need, a good place to start. You might even be opening a door to sharing the Gospel; but be willing to serve, regardless.

4. The Door of HOSPITALITY

Paul instructs Christ-followers to "share with the Lord's people who are in need" and "practice hospitality".

Hospitality isn't just inviting someone into our homes. It is first a heart attitude, a disposition, of treating others in a warm and generous way.

But it is also a virtue that extends back to Old Testament times. New Testament Christians also depended on hospitality and offered it freely. Jesus and His disciples depended on hopitality as they served in ministry (Matthew 10:9-10).

Hospitality is a kingdom trait. We bring praise to God when we show kindness, especially to the needy and love others selflessly). Hospitality is an important aspect of our walk with God, and not just during the holidays (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).

5. The Door of LIFE

We cannot change a person, but we can speak to them about the door of life—and Jesus said He is that door (John 10:7). He is the only door by which a person can enter and receive eternal life (John 10:9; 3:16). As such, the Good Shepherd is the door to the sheepfold.

The Christmas season is an opportune time to share the Gospel. Be creative in how you share. Think of ways that would speak to specific individuals—that would help them see what God was offering when "baby Jesus" came. 

Jesus was a man on a mission. He came to "seek and to save the lost," and He has commissioned us to share this Good News with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about it.

Every Christmas Door is an invitation to joy.

  • The joy of being heard and understood
  • The joy of being encouraged
  • The joy of finding needs met
  • The joy of being welcomed
  • The joy of receiving life

How can you open doors to people this holiday season?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Neely Wang at Lightstock.