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Tuesday
Dec172013

Shepherds, Wise Men and Angels

Cathy Horning reminds us of a sad reality: in the midst of our holiday celebrations, some - either by choice or because of circumstances - are not celebrating. One way to Upgrade our Christmas celebration is to think of ways to incorporate others who need some comfort and joy.

"Since my childhood, a favorite Christmas tradition has been to arrange the Nativity Scene," Cathy says. "Each year, I set up the old wooden stable, placing baby Jesus in a manger filled with hay. Next, I added Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the magi. And, last of all, I carefully placed the angel to watch over them all."

We all have favorite holiday traditions, and Cathy captured one of our own family's favorites. But she also remembers some not-so-pleasant times.

Cathy continues ...

My least favorite part of Christmas was being lonely. Because our extended family lived thousands of miles away, our Christmas usually consisted only of my parents, my little brother and me. Most holidays, we opened our presents on Christmas Eve. You see, my father worked for the airlines, and airplanes did not stop flying to honor Jesus' birth.

Each Christmas morning, I waited impatiently until my mother finally gave me permission to run to the neighbor’s house. There, in a family full of children (ten to be exact), I ate yummy food, shared presents, and joined in their festivities. The noisy and fun-filled home made me long to have a large family of my own one day.

Many years later, I married into a huge extended family. Plus, God blessed me with a small tribe of my own. After my husband and I, with our four children, moved away from our loved ones, Christmas day became a lonely time once again.

Until the year, our family decided to host a Christmas Day Open House.

We invited those who were alone, or far from family, or estranged from loved ones to join us to celebrate Jesus birth. Thus began one of our families favorite Christmas traditions.

Of course, we were not the first to invite others to this holy celebration (Luke 2:6-18; Matthew 2:1-2).

Two thousand years ago, Mary gave birth to baby Jesus, in a lowly stable far from home. She and Joseph must have felt so lonely that first Christmas day. But, they were not alone!

God had already set in motion a party to celebrate the birth of His newborn Son.

An angel had invited shepherds to come and see the Holy Babe - while a star illuminated the sky to lead wise men, already seeking Jesus, to welcome and worship the Infant King. 

I believe, from the very first Christmas, God never intended Jesus birth to be celebrated alone. From poor shepherds to rich magi, God invited all to celebrate together the birth of His Son.

This Christmas, as you set out your Nativity Scene, is there someone feeling lonely who your family could invite to join you in the celebration of Jesus birth?

Here are a few people our family invited

  • A family far from their extended family
  • A single man or woman
  • Single parent families
  • Military families

Can you think of others? 

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:1-2).

When you think of the word "lonely," who in your circle of aquaintance instantly comes to mind? How can you reach out to "remember" that person this month?

Cathy Horning has been a women’s ministry leader, Bible Study teacher, speaker and writer for more than 20 years. She loves the Word of God. Nothing brings her greater joy than sharing with others how very precious, practical, and powerful the promises and truths in God's Word. Married for thirty years, Cathy has four grown children, eight grandchildren, and many spiritual sons and daughters. She loves long walks by the bay, a good book or movie, Starbucks ice tea, and especially family get-togethers. Read more by Cathy at her website.

Photo of lonely woman: Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saturday
Dec142013

God's Not the Silent Type

Cindi McMenamin wrote a number of books with titles starting with the word “when”—like When Women Walk Alone and When a Woman Overcomes Life's Hurts—but in this special UPGRADE Uplift post, she is asking another question: “Why?”

“Have you ever found yourself wondering,” Cindi says, Why doesn't God speak to me?”

Be honest... have you ever wondered that? I certainly have. Especially when I was seeking His will concerning a choice I needed to make. It can be frustrating.

Cindi continues …  

I once talked with a friend who wondered what she was doing wrong, because she had never “heard” God’s audible voice or “seen” bright lights indicating a clear direction from God.

But after I talked with her about the way God speaks to His loved ones, she began to recall that God had spoken to her—through the counsel she received in His Word, through circumstances that led her in a certain direction, through godly advice she received from a leader in her church. God had spoken to my friend. But she had never realized it was Him.

Many of us talk to the Lord and just want to hear Him talk back now and then. But sometimes we aren’t sure what to listen for.

In the more than 40 years since I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ, I have never experienced an encounter with Him in which there was an audible voice, a thundering from heaven, a burning bush or a rushing wind. It was usually a still, small voice that gave me an inner peace, a loving rebuke that changed my ways, the written Word of God that pierced my heart or a sense of calling and direction that wouldn’t let me be until I followed.

God speaks in various ways by the Holy Spirit to those in relationship with Him. And in my experience, I would have to say that He has spoken most clearly when I’ve been the most obedient, the most in need of comfort, and for the most part, taking the time to really listen.

Do you long to hear God speaking to you on a regular basis?

Then I recommend these three steps:

  • Look to His Word – God communicates through the Scriptures. Sometimes it’s a verse that pierces our hearts as we’re reading. Other times it might be a passage–or a few words from a verse–that comes to our mind in a particular situation. The more we know the Word of God, the more we’ll recognize God’s words of comfort, conviction, peace or guidance.
  • Look Around You – Sometimes it may seem like God isn’t there. But He often makes His presence known to us by what we experience on a daily basis. Look for His presence in the circumstances around you–the tender words from a friend that you needed to hear at just the right time, the “coincidence” that confirms what you’d been praying for, the situation at work that turned in your favor. The fact that nothing takes this all-knowing God by surprise affirms to me that He is already working in what you haven’t even handed to Him yet.
  • Listen for His Whispers – Sometimes we feel urged to do something and we can’t explain why. Through prayer and discernment, we can figure out if that is God’s whisper on our heart. Sometimes God speaks to us this way through prayer by nudging us to pray for something we wouldn’t otherwise have prayed for. God whispers encouragement. He whispers suggestions for acts of love toward someone in need. He whispers words to say at the proper time to heal another’s heart. When you hear these loving whispers, don't immediately dismiss them as distracting thoughts. Instead, thank Him for what He spoke to you.

There is no sure-fire formula for hearing God speak. He speaks in His own way and in His own time to the hearts that are prepared to hear Him. If we cultivate a heart to hear, we can be sure that His silence is not on account of our not listening.

When is the last time you knew God spoke to you? Is God whispering to your heart today?

BOOK GIVEAWAY! - Leave a comment here, or on theUpgrade Facebook page after the link to Cindi’s article, to be entered into the drawing for her new book, God’s Whispers to a Woman’s Heart.

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and the author of several books including When Women Walk Alone (more than 100,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life's Hurts and her newest, God's Whispers to a Woman's Heart. For more on Cindi’s books or ministry or for free resources to help strengthen your soul or marriage, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

Thursday
Dec122013

Holiday Hospitality: Reaching Out to Others

Diane Dean most certainly has the gift of hospitality. I asked her to share her heart concerning hospitality during the holidays.

“Hmmmmm,” she said. “I wonder if I have ever entertained an angel.”  (*Don't miss a special story at the end.)

Have you ever wondered that? I pretty much know who comes to my house, but I’ve often wondered if I’ve entertained an angel away from my home.

Diane continues …

Hebrews 13:2-3 says, "Do not forget or neglect or refuse to extend hospitality to strangers [in the brotherhood—being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are ill-treated, since you also are liable to bodily sufferings" (Amplified Bible).

When our children were young and my husband was a pastor, we would often have various groups in our home throughout the year. One of our favorites was the annual potluck with the "seniors" group from our church. They were called "The Live Wires" for good reason. 

They were a delightful group and we never knew what would happen. The ages ranged from 60 to 90+ years old. As we got to know them, we discovered that several of the women in the group had no relatives. They loved our children and were so appreciative of their attention.

At Christmas, we would bake cookies to take to those widows. We got all dressed up, went to their homes and sang a few carols. After several years, a couple of the ladies ended up in nursing homes. We continued the tradition, taking cookies. They enjoyed sharing their own goodies with the nurses and others who could eat sweets. 

We often found several of the nursing home "guests" sitting in the hallway in wheel chairs. As we walked by, some would reach out to touch our children. We learned that quite a few had no one to visit them so we would try and give a little attention to each.

Through the years, we have also looked for singles or couples who were alone for the holidays.  

We have included them in our family time when possible. Some have not shared our faith, but enjoyed being a part of our celebration and seeing our traditions. It was a pleasure for us.

We can also give to those who are struggling. We have anonymously left gifts on porches and had someone else deliver something to a friend in need. 

Even when we go through difficult times, there is always someone with a greater need. There is a sense of joy in reaching out to others and it gives a sense of gratitude for what we have.

If you invest in others, it can put your circumstances in perspective. Just think, you can make the difference in someone else's life! 

I have always felt that the Lord brings others into our lives for a reason. Our paths don't cross by accident. As you look around at those you know or those in need, consider what you can do to add value to their lives. The results will surprise you! 

Remember, God never made a “nobody,” and He didn't make us to be alone. It isn't always convenient or easy to reach out. It will costs us something in time or money. It will, however, be worth the effort.

Maybe I haven't reached out to an angel, but I hope in my feeble effort I have seen and loved people as God does.

Who are you going to reach out to this holiday season?

* "Once, an older couple called us out of the blue. We did not know them. They came from out of the country and said they were supposed to stay with someone else on the church staff. I don't know who gave them our phone number. The couple on the church staff was out of town on vacation. The visitors didn't have anywhere to stay. We gave them our bedroom for three nights and then they left.

When the church staff couple returned, we told them the story. They didn't know anything about our visitors. My husband Larry and I have always wondered about that visit! Were they angels?"

Diane Dean is a ministry wife, mother, grandmother, Bible teacher, seminar and retreat speaker, and designer for Diane Dean Interiors, LLC. Her blog, Diane's Traditions, is a potpourri of information from her personal experience and she welcomes questions.

Tuesday
Dec102013

Waiting with Purpose

Jamie Wood is a young woman with great spiritual insight. She has learned many of life's lessons through her experiences in ministry, but also through the "School of Waiting."

Can you feel the struggle in these words?

"Lord, I’m tired of waiting! What are you up to? Will it happen for me? Dare I hope for it?

Do you see me? I feel like the only one. I don’t want to start all over again. Lord?"

Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? I did as a young single woman when it seemed like God would never give me a husband or a ministry. I was frustrated with God's timetable, but God brought me wise counsel ... words of wisdom much like Jamie shares.

She continues ...

If you are a woman, if you are human, then any one or more of these thoughts must resonate with you. In my experience, waiting on the Lord has proven to be one of the most difficult aspects of my Christian journey. 

I know what Scripture says about the truth of who God is and the plan He has for my life, but living out the tension between faith and doubt has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion. I know God doesn’t work on my timetable, that His timing is perfect, but my challenge has been to learn to wait…not aimlessly or without hope, but with PURPOSE!

God most poignantly taught me to wait with purpose when I was 30 years old. I had hit a new decade and ... Still. No. Husband. Everything in me wanted to scream, “God don’t you see my lonely heart?”  “Do you care?”

I was also battling lies from the enemy to just settle, that my standards were too high. (Maybe someone reading this can relate to that?)

So, one day, as I was yet again talking to God about this area of my life, He brought to mind an acronym that helped me put waiting into perspective.  W - A - I - T.

W – Worship. And He has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many shall see and fear (revere and worship) and put their trust and confident reliance in the Lord" (Psalm 40:3). Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. When I worship God, I am saying that God has worth, that He is worthy.  

God reminded me through worship that He is the only One who can satisfy all my heart’s desires. To put it plainly, God is enough. 

Despite the brokenness in the world and the desires in my life that may or may not be met, I can go to God in worship and be reminded that He will be enough.

A – Attitude. "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me" (Psalm 138:8). God showed me that He promised to accomplish His purposes in my life. Since that was a promise, my attitude needed to reflect His faithfulness.

I – Intimacy. I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). God reminded me that as His daughter, He hears me. Often that’s all I need – to be reminded that I’m not alone.  He sees my desperate heart and hears my plea!

T – Trust. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13). Trust. A hard five-letter-word. 

I had to come face to face with a hard question: Do I trust God? When that is settled in your heart, you can wait with purpose. He will come through!

I hope this helps to encourage you to wait with purpose in whatever your heart is longing for.

And just in case anyone is curious, God brought along my husband shortly after this lesson and He used Craig’s List to do it! I posted a suitcase for sale and you got it, Jeff is the man I sold it to. Little did I know I’d be inheriting that suitcase back one day!

What are you waiting for today? Are you waiting with purpose - trusting God?

Jamie Wood was born into a Pastor’s family and desires to disciple women for Christ. She has served as a conference planner for Anne Graham Lotz at AnGeL Ministries, as the Women’s Spiritual Life Director at San Diego Christian College, and on staff in the Women’s Ministry Department of Shadow Mountain Community Church. She has traveled to 33 countries and loves teaching others how to study and apply God's Word. Jamie, her husband Jeff and their baby son, David, live in San Diego. 

 

Thursday
Dec052013

Faith Steps: Knowing God Is in Control

Kelly DeChant has always struck me as a woman of faith, but my respect for her increased when her faith was tried in the crucible of tough circumstances. Her strong testimony can help us Upgrade our faith!

“In 2007, yielding to the petition of our mortgage company to refinance one more time,” Kelly said, “we succumbed to their leading and entered into the refinance that would put us over the edge and change our lives forever.”

I remember when Kelly went through that scary time. My heart was heavy for my sweet friend and her husband. Though I’m sure there were many temptations to give in to fear, her faith in Jesus kept shining through!

Kelly continues …

With thousands of other families, we fell victim to unscrupulous business dealings—trusting in their professionalism versus realism—and entered into an area without researching, blindly signing our financial future away in one fell swoop. 

I learned important lessons and took faith steps as I asked myself three tough questions.

1. When faced with life-changing decisions, which will you choose—panic or prayer?

Was this is a surprise to God?  I think not! 

I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you, not for calamity but to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

When faced with the reality in 2008 that we were facing foreclosure of our home and the fact that we were well over $120,000 upside down, bankruptcy also loomed desperately in our future.

We had a choice to panic or pray! Panic would bring us fear, prayer brought us peace. Through that peace we sought wise counsel, and the solution was to sell the house before foreclosure took the house. God was still in control. 

2. Will you relinquish your plan for His purpose?

I could have never imagined leaving our little house where our children grew up to go to an unknown destination. It was not in our plan. But it was in His. Taking a deep breath and leaving our future in His hands, we prayerfully embarked on selling our little home in a short-sale transaction! Short is a relative term; there was nothing short about it! 

Within one week of our house being on the market, we had an investor willing to pay cash within $60,000 of what the house was worth at the time, and we felt hope. The process actually involved five different buyers over 12 months and two threats of foreclosure; but His plan was fulfilled as our home released through closed escrow. God was still in control.

3. Will you praise or pout? 

With our dreams of being long-time home owners dashed, and a subsequent move to a local mountain community, we chose to praise God in the midst of much uncertainty. Our new location lasted only two years before we were notified that this house was to be sold to lighten the homeowner’s load.

At this time, we had a huge decision to make. We again chose to pray versus pouting, and God shook us to a new level of release—this time, releasing possessions. Moving required down-sizing from a 2,700 square-foot location to a mere 670 square feet. Yet again, we embraced His leading and relinquished our control.

We sold most of our furniture, pictures and various household items to the impending buyer and thanked Him for it! God was still in control.

He is still in control today!

Leaning on Him and relinquishing control, we are certain that His purpose has guided us to His perfect plan for our lives! 

And it’s certainly easier to move now. Our load is so much lighter—in more ways than one! 

Panic, our plans and pouting … or praying, God’s purpose and praising Him. We all have a choice in our circumstances. And I’m so glad we chose Him!

When faced with tough circumstances, what is your tendency – panic, pouting, prayer or praise? Do you want God's plans, or are you still clinging to your own? How does Jeremiah 29:11 speak to you today?

Kelly DeChant serves as the Ministry Coordinator for Women’s Ministries at Shadow Mountain Community Church (SMCC) where her passion is to equip women for their life’s purpose through discipleship and mentoring. Kelly coordinates the Evangelistic Outreach events—Girls’ Day Out and Girls’ Nite Out—bringing the Gospel message to unsaved friends and family of the SMCC women. 

Graphic in text adapted: Image courtesy of phanlop88 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net