Raising Children Who Reveal Christ

JohnStudy1

 

I had a very difficult pregnancy, one characterized by the constant fear that I would lose the precious child I’d prayed for, that I’d grown to love so deeply, from the moment I knew she existed. One night in particular, everyone–myself, my husband, our doctor–was certain I had. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a strong, rapid, and continual trembling and rolling in my abdomen followed by significant bleeding, and my husband rushed me to the hospital. As I lay on that cold, hard table, all I could  pray was, “No. Please Lord, no.”

I went home that night with my sweet Ashley, still very much alive, but my prayers took on a desperation after that. A bit of bargaining*. “Lord, if you’ll just help me keep this baby to term, I’ll give her back to you.”

I remembered that promise often in the days and years ahead: When I was tired and table-rock-943215_1920-1tempted to forgo our nightly Bible reading. When I was frustrated and tempted to take the easy road, parenting wise. When my heart was breaking over something she’d endured and I was tempted to focus on fixing the situation rather than helping her grow in Christ.

All I can say is, 19 years later, as I see the young woman God’s molded our girl into, I’m oh-so-grateful for that promise and how God used it to help me raise a child who does her best to reveal Christ.

This is our focus this week in our For the Love Bible study, and my special guest author Candee Fick talks about what this looked like for John the Baptist’s parents and how we can follow their example.

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ
by Candee Fick

It’s not everyone who gets a supernatural birth announcement or a miraculous baby after years of infertility. Personally, I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have needed the baby-179378_640overly-dramatic beginning to give them the stamina and dedication to prepare their child for his destiny—to prepare the way for the Messiah. Every day they saw John’s face they had to remember that God was intimately involved in their lives, and then remember that John was born to tell others about the coming Christ.

Can you imagine the stories shared around the fire? John must have grown up surrounded by village tales of a heavenly voice in the Temple and a temporarily-speechless father not to mention an entire hill country wondering what he would grow up to become.

John’s life was the stuff of legends and the angel even said he would be great. Being told he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and go before the Lord in the power of Elijah could have led him to believe that he was something special.

And he was.

Except he wasn’t the greatest. Somewhere along the way, his parents not only raised John with the skills he would need to fulfill his personal mission of bringing the people of Israel desert-1197972_640back to God, they had to teach him to deflect the attention toward God. Huge crowds gathered to listen to John’s message of repentance, then one day John looked up from baptizing folks on the banks of the Jordan River and knew the time had come for his audience to follow Someone else instead. Between the Holy Spirit and the training he received from his parents, John obviously recognized the pivotal moment for what it was and transferred the crowd’s fickle attention with his announcement for them to “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

How did John’s parents raise a child who pointed others to Christ?

  • First, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a personal example of faith. Between their priestly lineage and the gift of prophecy at critical moments, John couldn’t help but be raised with a solid foundation of truth and the knowledge of God’s power through history.
  • Second, they obviously also set up some behavioral boundaries to keep him on the right path and not derail his future. The angel told them to keep him away from the wine and fermented drinks (a cultural sign that he was set apart for God’s work) while later in the first chapter of Luke it states that John lived in the wilderness before he began his public life.
  • Third, I have to believe that every time John did something great or had some amazing insight thanks to the Holy Spirit in his life, his parents pointed out how that was an example of God working in and through him. Always pointing John back to person-371015_640God so that he could in turn point others to God.

I’ve got a son who is gifted with some serious athletic talent. In fact, he lettered in four sports his senior year of high school and is now in college with a basketball scholarship. All that to say, it would have been very easy for him to get a big head and strut his stuff down the hallways.

While this isn’t on the scale of a John the Baptist, as a mother I have tried to constantly remind my son of the Gift-Giver and his responsibility to use those gifts in a way that points people back to God. I strive to keep the presence of God in the middle of our family through prayer, devotions, and natural testimonies of what God is doing in my own life. To identify examples of God’s hand at work in the lives of others. Ultimately, my hope is that my oldest son will use his platform as an athlete to be the right kind of example for younger boys to model as he deflects attention heavenward.

Consistently pointing back to Christ is a difficult lesson to learn and even harder to live. Yet aren’t we all called to do the same, to use our gifts for God’s glory and then become less so that God’s message can become more? Thanks to the influence of his parents, John learned to to do just that.

***

danceoverme-500x750-1Danielle Lefontaine, a fledgling actress raised to the lullaby of Broadway, searches for her long-lost brother and her place on the stage, but a jealous cast member and numerous fruitless leads threaten to drop the curtain on her dreams and shine a spotlight on her longing for a place to belong. Meanwhile, Alex Sheridan is living his dream except for someone to share it with. When Dani dances into his life, he hopes he’s found the missing piece to his heart but fears the bright lights of a bigger stage could steal her away.

Will the rhythm of dancing feet usher in their deepest desires or leave them stranded in the wings?

Find Dance Over Me on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

And for a funny, more lighthearted post by Candee, visit my alter ego’s blog to read how she lives in continual weather-confusion. (You can read that HERE.)

***

candee-fick_headshotCandee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.

Connect with Candee on her web site, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google+.

Let’s talk about this! If you’re parenting now, what are some ways you try to raise your children to point to and reveal Christ? What makes this hard? If your children are grown, what were some ways you did this while they were growing up? Can you see the results of your efforts now that they’re adults? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments below on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our Facebook Bible study group For the Love to discuss this further. Because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

john12-24versejpgAnd for those following our Bible study, here’s this week’s memory verse, one God intends for each of us to live out, daily, and to teach our children to do the same.

*Note: God’s will cannot be “bargained” nor does this post intend to support that or encourage one to even try. Rather, it shares a moment of heartache and terror and my human response, and how God later used that, because He truly can use it all–our successes and failures, our steps of obedience and our regrets and weaknesses.

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Will You Believe the God of the Impossible?

JohnStudy1We know intellectually that nothing is impossible with God, and yet, when trials hit or dreams are sparked, it can be hard to live in that knowledge. Maybe because, though we say it, we don’t really believe it?

Today, continuing with our For the Love study, my sweet friend Maria Morgan shares how, when facing the impossible, we can choose faith over doubt. Because, yeah, it is a choice, and in Christ, we have the power to make it.

The God of the Impossible: Will You Believe?

By

Maria I. Morgan

Painting by Ashley Slattery of AS Art  asartgallery.wordpress.com/

Painting by Ashley Slattery of AS Art
asartgallery.wordpress.com/

Our God is a God of the impossible. The words of His mouth brought the heaven and earth into existence. He made the lame walk, caused the blind to see, and brought the dead to life. This is the God we serve, and yet in our humanity we often choose doubt over faith.

When trials come, our natural default is to worry, instead of rest in the One who knows what is best for us. I’m guilty. I start considering all my options in a feeble attempt to fix things rather than trusting the Lord to use the situation to continue to mold and shape me into His image (Romans 8:29).

Rewind two thousand years to when a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. The circumstances were much different, but the response was similar. They were “… righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6; KJV).

A problem

But they had a problem – they didn’t have any children. Elizabeth was barren. And they were well beyond child-bearing age. Children were considered a blessing, so Zechariah and Elizabeth’s childless state was viewed as a curse. No doubt the couple had prayed repeatedly for a child. It was a humiliating and impossible situation from a human standpoint – one that only Almighty God could change.

While Zechariah reverently performed his priestly duties, the people prayed outside. Imagine Zechariah’s shock when angod-of-the-impossible angel of the Lord appeared in front of him. The angel spoke, “. . . Fear not, Zacarias*: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth* shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13 KJV).

How amazing! This was a direct answer to what was likely one of their deepest desires. While the people outside the temple were probably praying for the coming of the Messiah, the angel of the Lord was letting Zechariah know that he and Elizabeth would be the parents of John – the forerunner of Christ.

Questions & doubt

Although Zechariah had longed to hear this news, his logical mind couldn’t believe it. Questions plagued him as he responded to the angel with doubt: “. . . Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (Luke 1:18 KJV).

Sound familiar? When God’s answers defy human logic, we often choose unbelief over faith in the God of the impossible. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah was unable to speak until the birth of his son, John.

A few months later, the angel Gabriel visited a young Jewish virgin named Mary in Nazareth. She was afraid when the angel appeared to her. The message she heard from the angel was as unbelievable as what Zechariah had received. Mary would conceive and have a baby she was to name, Jesus. She didn’t understand. How could she have a baby when she was a virgin?

The angel’s explanation was unusual: “. . . The Holy Ghost* shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 KJV).

Questions & belief

Mary had to decide: would she believe God, or doubt His word? Her response is beautiful: “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38 KJV).

She believed God and embraced His plan.

You and I are faced with the same decision as Zechariah and Mary – will we trust God or will we doubt Him? Remember the God of the impossible is the same God you serve. Trust Him today!

Let’s talk about this! What difficulty are you facing today? What step will you take to trust God in your situation and obey with a “Yes, Lord” attitude? Join the conversation here or in our For the Love Facebook group, because we can all learn from and encourage one another! Then, make sure to come back Thursday to read an encouraging post from my sweet friend Susan Aken about something amazing God did in her life when her waiting ended.

Maria Morgan is an inspirational writer and speaker. She is the award-winning author of Louie’s BIG day! Regardless of the age of her audience, her goal is the same: to share God’s truth and make an eternal difference.

Visit her online at Maria Morgan.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

And check out her latest Bible study, Outrageously Fruitful:

How do we win the battle against selfishness? Outrageously Fruitful is an 11-week online Bible study that explores the characteristics the Spirit longs to develop within us. Traits like: love, joy, peace, and goodness. Let go and let God make your life outrageously fruitful! For more information and to register: www.mariaimorgan.com/its-time-bible-study

*Zacarias is the KJV spelling of Zechariah, Elisabeth is the KJV spelling of Elizabeth, and the Holy Ghost is how the KJV terms the Holy Spirit.

 

Dealing With Crisis

fearHe was about to die–to be executed on the emotional whim of a cruel and oppressive ruler. Talk about landing in a major crisis! One wrong move, one wrong word, and he and his friends, and all of his colleagues, would be slaughtered. More than simply slaughtered–torn “limb from limb.” And there seemed to be no way out, nowhere he could run, and nothing he could do to escape the impeding judgment. Judgment that fell on him not because of anything he’d done, but …

because God was about to work–in a mighty, jaw-dropping, praise-inducing way.

Let me provide some back story. It’s 605 BC in Babylon, and a young Jewish man named Daniel has been ripped from his homeland by a cruel, tyrannical king and taken captive in a foreign, pagan land where he was, basically, kept as a slave. Then, two years into his captivity, the king has a troubling dream. As was the custom at the time, he asks–well, demands–that his astrologers tell him the meaning of his dream. Not only did he want them to explain the meaning, but he wanted them to tell him what the dream was in the first place. (He was probably trying to prevent them from making up a random meaning.)

Obviously, they couldn’t do that, nor could their “gods” help them. Enraged, the king ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be executed. This included Daniel and his friends.

How would you respond upon learning you were about to be killed? Would you try to run? Turn hysteric? Sob uncontrollably? (I’m pretty sure those would be my responses.)

Not Daniel.

“When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. He asked Arioch, ‘Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?’ So Arioch told him all that had happened. Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them His mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:14-18).

When crisis hit, Daniel stayed calm and responded with “wisdom and discretion” (v. 14).

Next, he asked for more information (v. 15) So often, I react before receiving all necessary information. Sometimes I react on false information, and end up blundering things unnecessarily. But not Daniel. When a crisis hit, he stayed calm and gathered the facts.

Next, he asked for more time. 

I have a tendency to think everything must be dealt with right now when really I need to give myself time to process and evaluate the situation. True, there are times when I truly must act quickly, but rather than automatically assuming this is the case, I should find out how much time I truly do have. If I learn my time is short, say my boss demands an answer immediately, I can still ask for more time.

Finally, he turned to prayer. 

Verse 17 says Daniel told his friends to pray, which, in my opinion, implies Daniel prayed as well. In other words, when in prayer-1464046_1920a crisis, Daniel turned to God for help.

The result? God answered Daniel’s prayer, and God turned a crisis moment into a beautiful revelation of His grace, mercy, accessibility, attentiveness, and power: “That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then God praised the God of heaven” (v. 19). He tells the king the meaning of his dream, and this tyrannical, pagan king recognized (at least in the moment) that God truly does reign supreme: “The king said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret'” (Daniel 2:47 NLT) (You can read the entire account HERE.)

I heard something on the radio yesterday that really resonated. Pulling from Romans 8:28, the speaker said, “God is working in all things.” No matter how chaotic or Romans8-28jpghopeless things seem, God is working. My goal is to discover what it is He is doing and cooperate, because I know His plans are always good, wise, loving, and true.

 

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! How do you tend to respond to crisis? How do panic responses hurt us? When have you, though panicked, responded similarly to Daniel, as recorded in Daniel chapter 2, and what were the results? How might knowing God is working in all things reduce your stress or panic level?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

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Before you go, an FYI–my latest release, which reviewers have called emotionally gripping, amazing, and one of the best reads in all Christian fiction is currently on sale for $3.57! (Paperback version). That’s 78% off its regular price! Get it HERE. Read reviews of the novel HERE. Read the first three chapters for free HERE.

And for those living in the Atlanta or Nashville area, I’d love to see you! Join me for the following:

August 20th: Book signing (Atlanta)

Time: 2-4pm

Location: Sweet Spirit Parable Christian, located at 1205 Johnson Ferry Rd., Suite 119

Marietta, GA

Contact: 707-565-7722

August 24th: Christian Fiction Readers RetreatCFRR-logo-1024x731

Time: All day! Author talks, worship, massive give-aways, signings, and more!

Details HERE.

Joy in the What???

(To the tune of I’ve Got Joy.)

I found my joy, joy, joy, down in the trash. Where? Down in the trash. Where? Down in the trash. I found my joy, joy, joy, down in the trash, rotting my purpose away.

Ever feel like that? Like your joy is buried beneath a mound of gunk, irreparably tarnished?

When was the last time you rejoiced in something other than personal pleasure or your achievements? When you looked past your trials in search of a greater glory? The Bible tells us Jesus endured the brutality of the cross for the “joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). I believe God longs for us to approach our struggles and trials with the same long-term focus as we die to ourselves and surrender our lives to God’s bigger plan.

Ouch!

Join me at Internet Cafe Devotions as we talk about biblical joy and how to grab hold of it … even while standing in the garbage dump.

I’d love to hear from you. What helps you stay centered in Christ when everything else attempts to pull you in the other direction? What verses provide hope or encouragement?

Thrust in the Spotlight

Before I share another wonderful Reach Out to Live Out post, I’d love to tell you more about this campaign, how God sparked it, and how He reached out to me. In my teen and early adult years, I imagine many thought I was a lost cause. But not God. And through the consistent love of others, He showed me His unfathomable, unending, healing love. Visit Living Joyfully Free to listen to my interview with Lisa Buffaloe.

Further expanding on this idea of reaching out–wherever we’re at, at whatever phase we’re in, pop by Internet Cafe Devotions where I talk about our shelf-lives.

Today’s post comes from a fellow Jewels of Encouragement writer, Sherry Castelluccio. She didn’t want to go. Spend an evening with alcoholics and addicts? But God nudged her forward, pouring His love through her. (Because He didn’t see addicts. He saw hurting hearts desperately in need of a Savior. May He open our eyes to see the same. 🙂 )

Thrust in the Spotlight by Sherry Castelluccio

I was not exactly excited when we started God’s Helping Hands ministry at our church. The prospect of giving large quantities of food and clothing to low-income families made me uncomfortable. Most of these people were drug addicts or alcoholics or both. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown or even a sad case of snobbery that caused my trepidation. Home was safe; church with people who were vastly different from me, not so much. I knew that God wanted to use me. The only way to do that was to humble myself and allow Him to work through my bad attitude. One day I finally stepped outside of my comfort zone and I was never the same again.

My odyssey began at 9:30 on a Thursday morning. I arrived and greeted three volunteers who were swiftly filling plastic produce bags with whole loaves of bread, pastries, and desserts. I donned a pair of gloves and made myself useful. At about 11am the real food arrived. Two four wheel drive pickup trucks loaded to the ground with produce, meat, and more bread backed into our single door entrance. With the help of ten more volunteers we filled 60 paper bags of food to be distributed later that night. We would expect to give away every single bag plus about ten extras. As I rubbed my tired shoulders that first afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would see later that night.

Our guests seemed to arrive as grudgingly as I did. Their sour expressions and stiff body language revealed everything I felt inside. They were given a number and told that the bags would be distributed after the short sermon. If they chose not to attend church, they were welcome to come back in thirty minutes. Numbers were called and food was collected without incident. Little conversation was made and eye contact was rare. Eventually I was asked if I would like to participate in the worship part of the service. I consented despite my overwhelming stage fright. I had never sung in front of so many people in my life and knew this was a challenge I would have to face head-on. To say I was daunted was an understatement. After a few weeks I began to notice something extraordinary.

The change was gradual but obvious. I began to see life behind tired eyes. Stiff, stoic expressions slowly gave way to smiles and softened limbs. Crossed arms began to open and receive the hugs that were offered. Some were even returned. My heart began to thaw as I got to know these people and listen to their stories. Were they really so much different than I? At the core of every person lies an intense need to simply be loved. As I shared my gifts with this community I was humbled by their honesty, courage, and strength. I was moved to tears by our mutual acceptance of each other and the love that grows stronger all the time. Today I cannot imagine a week without a Thursday night church service. The prospect of rubbing shoulders with real, genuine people is too tempting to resist.

***

Sherry is a stay at home mom, associate pastor’s wife, and aspiring freelance author. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading and singing. She has been a volunteer contributor for online publications Jewels of Encouragement, Faithwriters, and the CypressTimes.com. Paid credits include the Antioch Press and EverydayChristian.com.

Sherry’s blog, Embattled Warrior (www.fightingvictorious.blogspot.com.) is taking a short hiatus but should be back up and running soon.

It’s easy to get stuck on the exterior–the scowls, crossed arms, hostile eyes–protective barriers erected by those who have been beaten down and deeply wounded. But God sees past the rough exterior to the hurting heart beneath. Today, I challenge you (and myself) to do the same.

Who might God be calling you to love today? Can you share a time when He shattered your initial perceptions by unveiling a deep need hidden behind what you thought was a hardened heart? Tell us about it.

I want to give a shout-out to our June donors:

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.

Do you have a reach out story to share? Or something you’d like to donate to a future gift basket? Send me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Take Me In

As God continues to open doors for me, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my need for Him. When human logic tells me to work harder, longer, faster, God’s Spirit draws me into His divine embrace. He tells me to come, to let His presence overshadow me, to let His will be done through me. Morning by morning, day after day, He reminds me this isn’t about me. It’s always been and always will be about Him.

Revelations 3:7 tell us: “This is the message from the One who is holy and true, the One who has the key of David. What He opens no one can close and what He closes, no one can open.”

It doesn’t matter how hard we work, how lofty our goals and how well-thought out our steps are. It’s about drawing near to God and letting Him work in and through us. If this post seems similar to some of my past devos, it’s because I believe God wants this message to resonate in you. In me. He wants us to get out of His way so He can change the world, heal hearts, touch lives, through us. This has become a daily, sometimes hourly, reminder for me. One I quickly forget once I turn to my to-do list, and therefore, need to be reminded of again.

Christian, if you are purchased by Christ, redeemed by His blood, He has opened a door for you. That’s why you are here. He’s got a great work for you to do, and He will give you everything you need to accomplish it.

I love Revelations 3:8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny Me.”

We have little strength in our own power. God knows this, but it’s not about us. He’s already got it covered. His Word tells us His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He doesn’t ask us to start a weight-lifting campaign. He asks us to abide. (John 15:1-4)

This week I’m setting aside extra time to sit at God’s feet, to let His thoughts fill me, His presence consume me. A funny thing is happening. My hunger for Him is growing. My passion to write is growing. My creativity is stirring like an overwhelming fountain. It’s a beautiful, empowering, inspiring thing. The more time I spend with Him, the more I realize my need for Him.

Stop and listen, prayerfully to the following song, and ask yourself, where am I right now? Am I abiding in the holy of holies, or am lingering in the outer court?

If your answer is the latter, will you let God take you deeper? Will you let Him draw you close, hold you close, and speak to your heart?

To understand the depth of this song and the significance not only of the holy of holies, but how it relates to Christ’s atoning work on the cross, read the following:

What Was the Significance of the Temple Being Torn in Two When Jesus Died?

Father, Unveil Our Hearts

(And make sure to visit me on Internet Cafe Devotions as I talk about the pain of unemployment and how God wants to love us through those types of struggles.)

The Big Let-Down

It’s the day after Christmas. Some will spend the day cherishing newly made memories. Others will nurse reopened wounds–wounds that took them by surprise when out of the blue, scar tissue ripped off, ushering in feelings buried deep within. And staring at the tinsel, the wrapping paper, the newly-opened gifts, they wonder if perhaps something’s wrong with them. Where’s their yuletide joy? Their Christmas spirit?

There are as many reasons behind the holiday blues as there are those who suffer from it. Anxiety regarding financial problems, loss of loved ones, relationship difficulties, and the onset of colder, darker weather can all trigger a downward spiral. Add to that the expectations of holiday euphoria, and many are left with a tragic let-down.

Christ came that we may have abundant life–free of guilt, shame, anxiety, and bitterness. The promise is there, but we have to grab hold of it.

Having trouble finding the “joy, joy, joy, down in your heart”?

Maybe it’s buried beneath a hefty mound of baggage. Now that all your presents are unwrapped, perhaps it’s time to do some unpacking.

Join me on Internet Cafe Devotions as we talk about seemingly random behavior in light of our bulging suitcases.

(Read the article here.)

Then tomorrow come back as I post the last of my top 20 blog post finds for 2011.