The Greatest Story ever Told

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. (Isaiah 6:7 NASB)

My favorite time of the year is Christmas. I anticipate its arrival with great enthusiasm. Every year as the season emerges, my adulthood mannerisms quickly shift to childlike behavior, as I watch my Mother prepare for a magnificent holiday time.

Family Gifts

Preparations are constructed months in advance for Christmas at Mother’s house with various individuals in the community offering helping hands. People dash in different directions, with a mission to find whatever gifts Mother is seeking for her kids and grandkids. Surprises always await her family.

 

Christmas Décor

Decorations are taken out of storage and arranged neatly throughout Mother’s home. Each room contains some type of Christmas décor displaying Mom’s most treasured adornments. Several trees are embellished with ornaments and placed in various quarters, adjacent to numerous Santa Clauses displayed. Then comes the moment my mother looks forward to the most. The walk through:  highlighting one special room.

The Manager Scene

A gentle voice exclaims, “Follow me.” Mother leads her family to a significant area in the middle of her home. The atrium. A room occupied by flowers throughout most of the year, is emptied out weeks before Christmas to display a beautiful manager scene for all to behold. As the family arrives, Mother stands in front of the exhibit with a smile on her face as she reflects on the true meaning of Christmas. While carols play in the background, Mother begins to convey an amazing story still impacting the world to this day.

In the same region, there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12 NASB)

Jesus left the comforts of Heaven to be born in a manger. The Lamb of God, rejected by many, gave His life on a cross for the redemption of all mankind. A Savior arose the third day, with a promise to return for His own. Jesus offers Salvation to all who will believe.

In the midst of all the rush of the Holiday season, let us gather our families together to disclose the true meaning of Christmas. May we never forget to remember the greatest story ever told.

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

 

About the Writer:
Shea is the mother of two and nana of five and enjoys both roles tremendously. She loves the opportunity to serve through various ministries at First Baptist Dallas as well as Entrusted Hope Ministry.  She also speaks to women’s groups, assists with biblical counseling when opportunities arise and is constantly working to develop women’s Bible studies. Shea received her bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain, Mississippi; her master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and began her doctoral work at Southwestern this past fall.

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Your Secret Weapon: An Attitude of Gratitude

Around Thanksgiving our focus shifts into reflection and recognizing all of the blessings in our lives. A newer trend of making a daily list of your personal blessings has emerged even on Facebook.  But did you know that “an attitude of gratitude” is a spiritual tool we have at our disposal for the war that is raging between good and evil in our lives?

Utilizing thankfulness in our lives does several things that aren’t  apparent initially.  If I’m being honest, the concept of thankfulness didn’t mean much more to me than a way to be polite in general.  I considered it equal to other commands given to me by my parents, just like saying “please” and chewing with my mouth closed.  But turns out it’s so much more than that!

Thankfulness is a weapon that combats our stressful situations. When we focus our prayers on thanking God for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon us instead of on our needs, we activate peace within our lives. Consider this verse:

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard our hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Did you catch that part about how when we pray with thanksgiving, a literal peace is given to us?  I can personally testify to that.  When I concentrate my conversations with the Lord on thankfulness I am at ease about the upcoming tasks of the day, whether they’re monumental in my life or mundane.  Being thankful demonstrates to God our faith by showing Him that no matter what is going on, we still trust Him.

Additionally, when we concentrate on thankfulness, it reminds us of His unwavering goodness in always taking care of us and meeting our needs.  My pastor has shared with us a great way to remind ourselves of how much we truly have for which to be thankful.  He uses a notepad and makes two columns. On one side he writes the date and the request he’s made to God and on the other he writes how God responded. What a great way to remind us of God’s actual involvement in our lives when we (I) get too busy to notice!  I consider it a huge relief that I don’t have to “drive”; I can sit in the back seat and look at the scenery.  The One who is much better equipped than I am is the “Driver.”

Satan does not want us to know we have this tool at our disposal.  He wants us to freak out, make rash decisions, and try to take control of our own life circumstances, only to fail miserably. He is the author of destruction and is focused only on tearing us down.  I don’t know about you, but that “ruffles my feathers” a bit. I for one am not going to let him do that!  My God is bigger than the boogie man and I choose to let Him fight my battles. My job is only to be thankful that He does, in fact, do just that!

So, next time, instead of frantically searching for a life raft when we are drowning, let’s start first by thanking God for the sea.

About the Writer:
Natalie is a stay-at-home mom to two boys.  Additionally, she occasionally works as an emergency room nurse and is studying to become a Nurse Practitioner.  She and her husband have been called into the medical mission field and are excited to see what the Lord has in store for their lives.

 

Thanksgiving

Each year my family sits around the table discussing for what we are thankful.  I never struggle with the answer, but I always wonder if my answer will change.  For the last three years, the thing I am most thankful for is one word . . . well maybe three words:  God is faithful. 

I am thankful for God’s faithfulness, his ever-constant presence in my life, his faithfulness despite my lack of the same.

Faithful means “loyal, consistent, steadfast.”  It also means “true to the facts or the original.”  What an amazing picture of who God is!

God is ever all of these…loyal, steadfast, true to the truth,  original, and never changing. But life has a way of making you feel like you are walking alone,  like you are the only one going through something.

It makes me think of that poem “Footprints in the Sand.”  You know the one and if not,  google it.  The situation it describes is  when we think we are alone, we are not. We need to be reminded there is only one set of footprints because God is carrying us.  I normally would call this poem “cheesy,”  (please do not be mad at me!)  Lately though, God has reminded me of this truth: when I am feeling unsure, He is sure of who I am.   When I am feeling lonely, He is there.  When I am feeling insecure, He provides security.

When I think I am alone and look to see only one set of footprints, it is because God is the one walking for us both, or better, that God in His steadfastness is always there.

God is faithful despite my lack of faithfulness.

God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  1 Corinthians 1:9

Our God is faithful and has called us into fellowship with His Son!  This means that in the midst of this life, I can stand on the truth God is faithful till the end and, in the meantime, He is calling me into fellowship with Christ.

In my insecurities, when I’m unsure and lonely, I am called to walk in God’s faithfulness through a relationship with His son Christ.

So, this year I am again thankful for God’s steadfast faithfulness.

About the Writer:
Liz, just a girl who spends her days teaching 6th graders the value of math and science while also displaying the love of Christ, and her evenings with her friends laughing and challenging the definition of community to be something much deeper. If you need her you can probably find her watching Dancing with the Stars while on Pinterest.

But the Nine – Where are They?

As Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee, He encountered ten lepers, crying out to Him for help. The Savior wasted no time in healing the individuals in need, for He loves His creation. Yet soon after the miracle took place, something very intriguing happened which caught the attention of Jesus.

While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19

Even though ten lepers were healed on this day, only one returned to offer thanks. Overtaken by the goodness of the Lord, the former leper glorified Jesus’ name in gratitude for his healing. However, immediately following his moment of thankfulness, Jesus paused to ask the man a question. “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they?”

Desperate cries were uttered by the lepers toward Jesus, in hopes for a miracle. Yet the minute the request was granted, nine of them continued on their way, without any regard to a Savior who had restored the men to good health.

As I read this passage, I was convicted by the following thought: I consistently cry out for Jesus to intervene in situations I am facing. Yet so often, I spend more time in my pleas to Him over what I “need,” than I do in expressing thankfulness to Him for all He has done.

Jesus tells us: In all things to give thanks!

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

About the Writer:
Shea is the mother of two and nana of five and enjoys both roles tremendously. She loves the opportunity to serve through various ministries at First Baptist Dallas as well as Entrusted Hope Ministry.  She also speaks to women’s groups, assists with biblical counseling when opportunities arise and is constantly working to develop women’s Bible studies. Shea received her bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain, Mississippi; her master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and began her doctoral work at Southwestern this past fall.

She Changes Like the Weather in Texas!

Good Grief!  I woke up this morning to find a winter wonderland (ice, not snow, my friends in the north!) in my Texas neighborhood.  Just two days before, I was sitting by the lake taking in the fresh air and watching the ducks and pelicans swim by.  Well you know what they say about Texas weather…if  you don’t like it, stick around a while and it will change for you.

Sitting by my fireplace and looking out the window, I began to think about all these sudden changes, how disconcerting and troubling they can be;  a to do list that is no longer applicable, a walkway I can no longer use, a car that sits in the garage, useless. If I sit here much longer, I may find myself depressed!

But if I look on the other side of the room, I see a different picture; my husband peacefully reading and sipping on warm coffee in front of the fireplace, a pot of hot soup simmering on the stove, and Ellie, the dog, grateful to be in her cozy bed under the desk. This is quite a different view from the same seat. Am I in the same house?

Changes in our lives can happen this suddenly, and depending on the direction we look we can find ourselves disconcerted and troubled, or we can choose to look across the room toward faith, believing that God has this change squarely in His control.  The wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what God is changing is my daily prayer.  It is this wisdom that gives us freedom to move and act in a peaceful and joy filled life.

Job 36:26-33 puts it this way:

How great is God—beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out.
He draws up the drops of water,
which distill as rain to the streams;
the clouds pour down their moisture
and abundant showers fall on mankind.
Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds,
how he thunders from his pavilion?
See how he scatters his lightning about him,
bathing the depths of the sea.
This is the way he governs the nations
and provides food in abundance.
He fills his hands with lightning
and commands it to strike its mark.
His thunder announces the coming storm;
even the cattle make known its approach.

So now I say, when change comes my way, bring it Lord! For when I see change, I see Your movement in my life, change that has been sifted through Your almighty hand.  And I need only to look in Your direction to see that it will be for good.

About the Writer:
Pam  is Director of Women’s Ministry of First Baptist Dallas, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, and grateful to be included in this great team of Yada Yada bloggers.

Why did I do that, Again?

“Why did I say that?” “Why did I eat that?” “Why did I do that, again?”

One of the clearest descriptions of the struggle for mastery of self is recorded in the Bible, in the letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Romans. Paul, an extremely disciplined and highly educated follower of the Law wrote:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do  . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing…For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15;18b-19;22-24)NIV.

 Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us hanging, but finishes with this:

Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:25a

Those of us who have placed our faith in the finished work of Christ know that we can do nothing to earn forgiveness for our sins. We understand that we can do nothing to create a new heart, free from the bondage of death and sin. These are gifts offered by the saving life of Christ, through acceptance of Him as our Savior and Lord. He lived a perfect life, died a sinless death, and bore our sinfulness that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

What many of us forget is that the story of redemption doesn’t stop with the death and burial of Christ. His resurrection, His ascension to the Father, and His promise to send the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, mean He didn’t leave us to figure out life on our own. In the book of John, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, and actually live inside of us, empowering us with the very life of Christ Himself.  (John 14-17)

We are free to be fully the selves God intended as we yield to His Holy Spirit in us, one choice, one moment at a time.

About the Writer:
Nan is so grateful to belong to God’s people. She loves getting to know all kinds of people and enjoys discovering new places, which is a good thing since she’s moved twenty five times. She has been married to Jim, a pastor, for 34 years, and together they have four grown kids, a son in love, and three grand puppies.

A Prisoner of Thought

The sweetest fruit I can think of is the cantaloupe. I’ve grown cantaloupes in my garden for several years, and eagerly anticipate cutting open a ripe one and savoring the sweetness straight off the vine. It takes several months to grow a cantaloupe vine from seed, but when the vine is full, it can produce many cantaloupes in a week. The hardest part is waiting until the fruit actually falls off the vine on its own, and then waiting until it is fully ripe to cut it open. But, when it’s ripe, the sweetness is worth every minute of the wait.

And so it is with self-control. Of all the examples of the fruit of the spirit, I would argue that it is the sweetest. Right. Go ahead and roll your eyes. Self control is not always fun, but hear me out.

At the core of each ripe cantaloupe is at least ½ cup of seeds. Those seeds can easily produce plants that will produce more fruit. The cantaloupe vines can also take over an entire garden and choke out every other plant in it. I’ve grown many cantaloupes the past two years. What I haven’t grown is cucumbers, because the cantaloupes choke the cucumbers out. Last year I managed to have a few cucumbers because I did a better of controlling the growth of the cantaloupe vines. Controlling those vines, like pruning tomatoes, ultimately brings considerably more produce.

Those vines are somewhat like words and actions in my mind. If I can control my impulses so that God can be in control of my words and actions, then I am bearing fruit. But where it all starts is the seed, and the seed represents our thoughts.  Paul wrote this to the Corinthians:

We are destroying speculations and and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

If I don’t hold my thoughts captive, they will imprison me! I used to think self-control started with my words. If I could just hold those back, then I would be fully representing God. But then I realized I speak volumes when I don’t say anything at all, and my body language can reflect my thoughts even when I do control my words. Having the discipline to hold the thought captive in the moment it comes across and shift it in that moment brings the most self-control and the most freedom.

I can’t count how many hours and nights I have spent thinking and worrying and letting my thoughts imprison me. I’m now committed to the freedom that Jesus gave me on the Cross, and the best way I know to do that is give Him control, one thought at a time. As Paul said,

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

About the Writer:
Wendy is a wife and mother who works full time in Risk Management.  Here at First Dallas she serves in Sunday school, helps coordinate Angel tree, and teaches at Discipleship University.  Her greatest joy comes from discovering how following Jesus can greatly impact her daily life and the lives of those she cares about in innumerable, practical ways.

Self Control – A Fruit of the Spirit

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23 

One of the greatest examples of self-control in the Bible was the period when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Jesus, fully human, had been fasting for forty days and nights as He arrived on the scene, where the enemy awaited. Satan wasted no time in enticing the Son of God to participate in three different temptation moments. Yet, even though Jesus was weak from abstaining from food for a period of time, He stood ready and willing to combat the enemy’s threats with the word of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”  

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,  and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;  and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:1-11 

Jesus always exercised self-control. His life was one of complete surrender, yielding every area of His being to the Spirit’s influence. As a result, the fruit of the Spirit was not only evident in His life, but implemented daily.

Numerous individuals today are attempting to workout self-control through their own concentrated effort. However, when a person sets out to accomplish such a task on her own, she will become distraught, quickly. In surrendering to the Spirit’s control, along with obedience, the Spirit is allowed to work unhindered—producing a harvest of fruit. Remember, self-control is a work of the Spirit and never manufactured through one’s own strength.

About the Writer:
Shea is the mother of two and Nana of four and enjoys both roles tremendously. She also loves the opportunity to serve through ministry and share through speaking and blogging. A member of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Shea serves with the church’s First Impressions ministry and teaches the Strong & Courageous Sunday School class for single moms. She also speaks to women’s groups, assists with biblical counseling when opportunities arise and is constantly working to develop women’s Bible studies. Shea received her bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain, Mississippi; her master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and will begin her doctoral work at Southwestern in family ministries in the fall.

 

Do you Suck. . . Energy?

I’m stuck in traffic. I know this will make me late. Hmmm. If I’m late to this activity, I may not get to work out today. Hmmm. . . grumble. . . grumble. Yes, I believe I even snarled to myself and contemplated ramming the cement median with my car to let off some steam. One of the only beneficial ways I have found to deal with my emotions is working out—partly why I chose that as a profession when it was instructing fitness classes or considering becoming an interpreter for the government (That would have required me to cut ties with my international friends, so that was quickly nixed). Before I did anything rash or took my internal snarling to the outside passers-by, God reminded me of our Mentoring Moms’ theme verse.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8
Unfortunately, recalling the verse alone was not working like a magic emotional tranquilizer dart. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but the Holy Spirit was prompting me to be self-controlled with the direction of my thoughts. He was prompting me to be self-controlled with my frustration. As I tried to think about all the things that make the United States comfortable, all I could think about was that I could be somewhere else at that moment, trekking in some remote village or strolling down a cobblestone, statue-lined street. However, even the thought that I might be carrying a heavy load for many miles and exposed to the elements seemed preferable to staring at the unmoving taillights in front of me amidst dingy construction traffic. 
The Holy Spirit did give me another option: prayer. Turn on praise music, pray for my family or my church, even ask God for help. Nope. I wasn’t having it. I could feel my sinfulness rising up in me moving me further away from God, not closer to Him.
So how did God rescue me? It wasn’t by my own self-control. God reminded me later that day through another person’s kindness, generosity, and compassion that my perception of who He was hadn’t changed who He actually is. He was still the same loving God — caring for me, helping me see things in a new light, placing gratitude back in my heart. He used another person, not even a Christ-follower, to remind me of His unchanging love and goodness.
Each person has the ability to suck energy when she turns her own (or other’s) eyes off the goodness of God and magnifies her own struggles. Likewise, one can reflect the life-giving Spirit of God and, in that, bring great encouragement to another. May the Holy Spirit continue to work in us so that we can be self-controlled with our emotions — blameless and like rays of sunshine in this dark, traffic-filled world.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. Philippians 2:12-15
About the Writer:
Lyndsay has been many things in her past, but no career, experience, or calling define her more than the desire to follow after Christ in response to His gracious work in her life. At present, she teaches movement classes and works as a wellness consultant in addition to loving her amazing husband and raising her daughter to know and love the Lord.

Just Say No

Admittedly, at the end of the day, the only thing that seems appealing is chocolate and TV.  But I also know that, if I submit to these temptations regularly, not only will I have wasted that amount of time (usually hours), but I also will have gained a considerable amount of weight while doing so! Just as I must have self-control in this area of my life, so must it be in all other areas of life.  The Lord put specific parameters on our lives for us to abide by so that we may have the most fulfilling life on this earth as possible and, practically speaking, so that we might be safe in the process.

But practicing self-control is HARD.  Saying “no” is HARD. And why is that? The reason is that when we give into temptation, it feels good for the first few minutes and is much easier than saying “no”. Eating that extra piece of delicious chocolate is satisfying. Saying “yes” to that guy feels exciting in the moment. But, as we’ve all figured out at this point, very soon after the excitement wears off, we realize how wrong we were, and we are left with a void to fill-the same void we had before.

When I was kid, I was very active, playing outside with my friends all day, no matter the heat.  When I would get thirsty, I went to the refrigerator and gulped down a Coke as fast as I could.  While the coldness of the Coke was refreshing and the zip of the carbonation exciting to my palate, it never completely satisfied my thirst. Have you ever noticed that? When you are really, really thirsty and you grab anything besides pure water, your thirst doesn’t seem to be quenched? In fact, although your stomach might be full of liquid, your tongue seems to scream for more.

How true is it also when we reach for anything outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ to satisfy us? Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

And consider this poignant verse from the book of Isaiah,

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Isaiah 55:2

Start reaching for Jesus Christ to fulfill your thirst and “just say ‘no’” to any other second-rate alternative.

About the Writer:
Natalie is a stay at home mom to a 2 year old and has another one on the way. She occasionally works as an emergency room nurse and is studying to become a Nurse Practitioner. She and her husband have been called into the medical mission field and are excited to see what the Lord has in store for their lives.