All posts from "December 2012"December 31, 2012
Hundreds of topics were discussed on the TCW blog this year: which ones made the top 3?
As with most other years, 2012 was marked by highs and lows, tears and transitions, triumphs and tragedies. Today's Christian Woman was no exception, and was there to provide readers with wisdom and encouragement on a variety of topics throughout the year. According to our readers, here are the top three themes from our blog in 2012: giving up worry, overthinking, and relational boundaries. We'll be sure to write more on these topics in the New Year!
1. “Giving Up Worry” by Ashley Moore
A coworker’s words recently led me to an unnerving discovery: I have a anxiety addiction. Here's what I--by God's grace--did about it.
2. “Is 'Overthinking' a Blessing or a Curse?” by Beatrice Rusu Schoenrock
How I turned my excitable stream of consciousness into a daily devotional practice.
3. “Danger: Being Too Nice Can Wreck You & Your Relationships” by Shaye Gordon
How to respond when being a good Christian girl goes bad
What topics would you like to see more of in 2013?
Download holiday music from worship leader and recording artist Lincoln Brewster.
‘Twas the Friday before Christmas, and all through the house, Christmas carols were playing—"Joy to the World" and more. On Friday, Dec. 21, TCW offers readers a free download of the title track from worship leader Lincoln Brewster’s debut holiday album, Joy to the World.
“With Joy To The World, we set out to do arrangements that hadn’t been done before, a record with a modern edge, capturing a new take,” Brewster said. “Being a worship pastor, it’s challenging to keep things fresh, but I think we got there.”
Raised in a small town in Alaska, Brewster started playing music at a young age, with the encouragement of his mother. Brewster’s upbringing was darkened by his stepfather’s violent behavior and alcohol addiction, but he and his mother were able to find solace in music together.
“My mom loved music and played with local bands,” Brewster says. “She was the one who inspired my love for singing and playing instruments.”
After surrendering his life to Christ at 19, Brewster turned down a mainstream record deal, married his high school sweetheart, and pursued a career dedicated to music and ministry. Now the senior worship leader at Bayside Church in California, Joy to the World is Brewster’s first holiday album, a contemporary recording that captures the spirit of the season with upbeat tracks including “Little Drummer Boy,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and an original song, “Shout for Joy.”
“I wanted to try—as often as possible—to make the music sound like what the lyrics were saying,” Brewster said.
The album expresses the joy of the holiday season with lots of energy from electric guitars and drums, and shines toward the middle with an instrumental song called “Miraculum,” featuring melodies from “Carol of the Bells,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “We Three Kings,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and “O Holy Night.”
“I’ve only recorded a few instrumental pieces in my career, but it’s one of the things I really love being able to do,” Brewster said. “I hope that ‘Miraculum’ will provide a musical setting that churches can grab onto and use in their own services during the holidays.”
Purchase the entire album at this link, and preview “Joy to the World” in the music video below:
*This week's Free Music Friday download has ended. Check back next year for more TCW free music downloads!
What the Incarnation means for believers and nonbelievers alike
Many characteristics of Jesus’ physical entry into our world move me. Like all naturally birthed human babies, he was discharged in great pain by his human mother and emerged, as each of us once did, a humble mystery: purplish skin, scrunch-faced from the pressures of birth, and probably screaming upon his arrival from the pain and shock of it. He was a real baby born of a real woman, in a real place—although certainly humbler than most—a real stable somewhere, redolent of manure and the steamy breath of domesticated animals, a temporary home unwillingly proffered and shared with chattel and food sources, creatures even humbler than humans.
Every Christmas season my husband reads aloud from an anthology called Treasury of Christmas Stories. I look forward to a poem called “Secret in the Barn” by Anne Wood, even though it exasperates my daughters whenever my husband reads it aloud because I cry so much. In it, the speaker, a little girl named Louise, has asked for a horse for Christmas, and she can’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve because of her anticipation that she might really be getting one.
I love the live current of Louise’s impatience for that horse. The electric energy of longing and remembered promises. The exciting evidence—the snorting, champing horse noises out in the barn—that what she longs for and what she gets are about to coincide, as they so infrequently do, in the amazing mystery of Christmas. In some sense, Louise longs for what we all long for, even if we have never been interested in horses. Something warm, noisy, lovable, alive. Something that belongs entirely to us. Something so far beyond our deepest fantasies it seems the product of longing itself.
It embarrasses me to say it, but I look forward to “Secret in the Barn” more than I do a reading of the real Christmas story, even Linus’s rendition of it (although that too makes me cry).
In the retrospection of my faith, Wood’s poem brings home to me what the season really means more emphatically than the words of the prophecy-examining Matthew or the orderly doctor Luke or even Jesus’ best friend John. It is this: that the best of all worlds, what we hardly dare hope for in our ignorance and benightedness and impatience, really did happen. On a specific day in the past. Through the writhing exertions of a genuine woman who submitted to God’s weird plan. In a real barn in the real town of Bethlehem. Witnessed by a confused but faithful husband and real donkeys and cattle and dazed shepherds and incandescent angels. “Secret in the Barn” reminds me of what happened and continues to happen in every believer since that day: the incarnation of God in human flesh.
That, for me, is the secret in the barn: the event that even those who don’t yet know it to be true nevertheless long for, as ardently as Louise longs for her horse. The secret in the barn is what nonbelievers unwittingly anticipate and instinctively begin to celebrate long in advance of its scheduled anniversary. It positively delights me that even atheists, believers of other faiths, and retailers, ignorant or unconscious of or even antagonistic toward the reason for the season, can’t help but commemorate the birth of God’s Son in their parties and presents and candles in the window. They peer out into the darkness, searching, like little hopeful Louise, for the impossible evidence of something they can’t clearly see. And their hearts beat faster when they hear, or think they hear, that faint whinny of hope.
Maybe something’s really out there, they unknowingly yearn as they stuff another holly garland into the shopping cart or pencil through their lists of how happiness might be achieved this year. Smelling the scents of Douglas fir and gingerbread baking in the oven, of fresh manure and hay and blood, they must unconsciously recognize the promise evident in all creation—as Paul tells us they do in Romans—and they must long for it. And for one long moment, anticipated long in advance of propriety and good taste, they join in the celebration of those who already know the secret. “O come, all ye faithful,” they hum along in the aisles of Costco. In that moment, ecstatic as we all are then, we don’t even notice that they’re there among us, the hungry ones who still long for what we have already secured for ourselves.
Adapted from The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent by Patty Kirk. Copyright © 2012 by Patty Kirk. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.
Remembering the reason for the season with a memorable verse from Isaiah.
"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Jesus’ resurrection is divine reassurance for those lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
When I first heard the news about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 27 individuals, including 20 elementary school students, dead, I was on my way to a Christianity Today staff Christmas luncheon. I didn't feel quite right celebrating at such a time as this until David Neff, CT’s former editor in chief, gave a brief message on the hope we have in Christ’s resurrection and everlasting love.
"Love is Christ's weapon against sin, death, and darkness," he said. Citing C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, he went on to say: "God's love is a sort of trickery against the forces of darkness, and is strong enough to reverse even death."
The truth of Christ's innocent death and the assurance of his proceeding resurrection gave me a renewed sense of hope for the victims and their families in Connecticut—hope for the children lost, hope for the shooter’s mother, slain at her son’s hand—even hope for the shooter himself. In the middle of the darkness, I was reminded that Jesus died for us even when we were his enemies—Romans 5:8 says so:
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So as I read reports of death in The New York Times, hear stories of parents who have lost their little ones, and think of the darkness that encompassed the shooter in Connecticut Friday morning, I am reminded: evil is very much in charge of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). This tragedy was assurance that prayer is as important as ever, and I will continue to pray for Jesus’ kingdom to come at all times, in all occasions (Ephesians 6:18).
Today, as my heart is breaking for those affected by this tragedy, I’ll pray in the names of the children lost, and for the peace and comfort of the mourning mothers, fathers, and families who lost loved ones in the tragedy. God’s love may not reverse these deaths on Earth, but only he can bring new life to those affected by such evil. Won't you join me?
For helpful resources on mothers and friends who have endured loss and suffering, read the following TCW articles: “When We Don’t Understand;” “A Safe Place When You’ve Lost a Child;” and “A Time to Mourn.” Also see these TCW downloadable resources: “Why Do Bad Things Happen,” and “Transformation in the Midst of Suffering.”
Tomorrow night marks the fourth Christmas concert I have attended at Eastview Elementary School—my niece, Rachel, has a speaking role. I have three nieces and two nephews, so for years, concert attendance has been a family tradition. I’ve sat in rows of folding chairs countless times, intermittently cheering and waving at my sweet babies from the audience.
I’d thought about skipping tomorrow night’s performance—it’s an hour drive out, on a work night, and sometimes the commute feels like too much.
But Saturday night I got a text from my sister that changed all that.
“Hi family—in light of Friday’s events, there will be a required sign-in for everyone before Rach’s Christmas concert, so getting in may take a few extra minutes.”
Getting that text from my sister gave me pause. It made me realize that my nieces and nephew, with all their bright innocence and trust in the goodness of the world—aren’t safe. They live in a small town in the Midwest during a time of heightened security, with the reality of lockdown drills and SWAT team invasions. Safety, in its simplest form, is an illusion. It’s a feeble attempt to create a feeling of control in a world that is completely out of control.
Even in 2012, we are still completely dependent on our heavenly father. Friday’s events remind us that we have to treat each day with our loved ones like it could be our last.
And so today I will return to the Word of God with trembling and a sense of urgency that I should feel each day. I will beg for God’s protection over my loved ones, and pray for the grieving families in Connecticut who have experienced the worst loss imaginable. And tomorrow night, I will sit amongst my family with my five-year-old nephew, Micah, on my lap. I will hug him tightly and tell him I love him, and together we’ll cheer for Rachel and her fellow second grade classmates.
I will refuse to let this commonplace event lose its luster. If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that every day I am able to celebrate the lives of my family members, I’m experiencing a miracle.
Connecticut, my heart and my prayers go out to you.
Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Today's Christian Woman, GiftedforLeadership.com, and ChristianBibleStudies.com, and is also a contributing writer to the TCW blog. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashgmoore.
God is asking us to come near to him, so what’s keeping us from taking time to recharge and allow God to speak to us?
Have you ever been to a place so amazing, you wished that someone you loved was with you? Maybe it was the beauty or the peacefulness or the fun, but you wanted so badly for them to experience what you were experiencing. You just knew how much they would love it, and how happy they’d be if they had come.
This is how I feel about my time with God. Moments spent in his presence, with his word, and with all of my attention. I have so much to learn from him, so many things he wants to show me, I can’t help but want this for everyone. It might sound strange because, granted, not every time I’m with him is a glorious event.
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with my sin, sometimes I’m hurting, and sometimes I just feel blah about everything. But I think you can recognize that this is like any good relationship. Our deepest bonds are with people who have walked with us through life, with its messiness and highs and lows. God wants to walk with us like this.
So it’s definitely not every time I’m alone with God that I feel an amazing rush. But many times I do. Many times over the years I’ve been brought to tears as God has so obviously shown me how he is working in my life. As I read and meditate on his Word, it is amazing how quickly it can snap me back into place, and align my heart with his heart. There are times I’ll pray about the smallest things, and he will answer me. Do you know how thrilling it is to realize that the God of the universe is reaching out to you? This is what I’m yearning for every woman to experience.
And it won’t happen by chance. It won’t even happen if you go to church every Sunday. Every great relationship takes time, commitment, sacrifice, and effort.
The apostle James reminds us: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8).
I hate to admit it, but at times my loyalty has been divided. It’s as though I can’t make a decision about who my heart belongs to. I can whine and complain about feeling distant from God, but I have only to look at my time management to figure out how it happened.
Running around on empty for so long is exhausting. And then I make that choice to be still before God, to submit myself to him. I stop the madness of my life for a while and “come near to God.” The amazing promise is that when I do this, he will come near to me. He isn’t hiding from us. When we come humbly before him, he is right there.
Picture that God has personally invited you to a great banquet. He has a seat held for you at his table, which is filled with every good thing you could imagine. He would be sitting across from you, and his table would hold everything your heart needed or desired to live for him. You could have your fill of wisdom, comfort, patience, endurance, peace, love, joy, or forgiveness.
It would make no sense for you not to show up.
It also wouldn’t make sense for you to crawl around on the floor picking up crumbs, when God has so clearly invited you to come and sit at his table. Crumbs will not leave you satisfied. And crawling around on the floor will leave you feeling unimportant and unloved.
Sit down with God. Let him love you and know you and change you and give you what you need.
I think deep inside, we all know this is what we need. Nothing is more important than cultivating that time alone with God. And I’m hoping to motivate you to run to his table right now. You won’t be disappointed.
Lisa Chan is a mother of five and co-founder (with her husband, Francis) of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California. Lisa recently produced a devotional DVD series called True Beauty, dedicated to helping women discover and create authentic conversations with God.
Advent continues with a free download of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” by this award-winning CCM artist.
Award-winning recording artist Francesca Battistelli loves the Christmas season. From candlelight Christmas Eve services to placing the baby Jesus in his nativity scene late on Christmas Eve, she holds tight to memories that remind her of the reason for the season.
“Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I am beyond excited about this album,” Battistelli says.
Her excitement for the holidays starts annually with her watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (“My husband thinks I’m crazy!”). Her energy is captured on the tracks recorded on her holiday album, Christmas.
Upbeat original songs “Marshmallow World” and “Christmas Is” are two tracks that stand out. The album also includes captivating arrangements of traditional songs including “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Her voice and music are reminiscent of Amy Grant, an artist she admires and enjoys covering during the holidays.
“My favorite Christmas song of all time is ‘Breath of Heaven’ by Amy Grant—I sing it as often as I can,” Battistelli says. “As a singer, when you sing your own songs, it’s great, but when you sing a song you just love that someone else has done, it’s transcending time.”
Purchase the entire album at this link, and listen to “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in the music video below:
*This week's Free Music Friday download period has ended. Check back next week for a track from Lincoln Brewster!
Childbirth is a beautiful thing—so why does labor have to hurt so badly?
As a 20-something woman with hopes of having children someday, pregnancy, at the moment, seems terrifying. From a scientific perspective, the words pain and contractions leap off the page at me mercilessly. My babysitting misadventures have often ended in burnt popcorn and kitchens full of smoke, and characters like Honey Boo Boo from shows like Toddlers and Tiaras make me cringe.
Quotes like, “Everything changes when they’re your own, honey,” do nothing to calm my spirit when I encounter a screaming child throwing a tantrum in the aisle of a grocery store. It’s because of these moments that I automatically classify most children as little terrors.
To deal with my irrational fears of child rearing, God has recently placed friends in my life who deal with children on a daily basis. A few are full-time nannies, some are preschool teachers, and my two roommates are elementary school music teachers. They all have seemingly endless supplies of patience and compassion. Though they often tell horror stories of children with short attention spans, ones who eat tissues and lint as snacks, and some who pick fights with others over who gets to line up for lunch first, my friends still go back to work each day with conviction that they are making the world a better place.
My fears often seem daunting, but I’ve also been reassured by several mothers that the joy of holding your child for the first time far surpasses any agony endured during the contractions of labor. This is a foreign concept to me, but as Kristyn Getty said in our interview about motherhood last month, “There’s something about becoming a mother that, at least for me, was overwhelming. There’s something about it that drives you to your knees.”
I can definitely relate to her honesty.
Because even though I’m not a mother (yet), whenever I hear stories from my friends of students who pick fights, disrespect their peers in the classroom, or join gangs, my heart breaks. It’s not just breaking for the students—it’s also breaking for the mothers who brought them into the world. What if, when their pregnancy tests showed positive, they weren’t ready to have a child? Just like I’m not ready right now?
At The Story Tour last week, author Randy Frazee and musical artists Nichole Nordeman, Matthew West, Jeremy Camp, Natalie Grant, and more took me (and thousands of other audience members) on a musical journey through the Bible. Part of the performance was a beautiful rendition of a song called “Be Born in Me”—a musical narrative describing Mary’s willingness to bear Jesus, even though it meant welcoming boatloads of shame and judgment from onlookers who knew she was pregnant out of wedlock.
This song gave me pause: as discussed in last week’s TCW article, “Venerate Mary?,” Mary is the mother of God, and “is a wonderful model for us because she shows us how we, as women, should follow God.”
This means that being a woman seeking after God’s heart does not mean my circumstances will always be what I pictured for myself (Isaiah 55:9). It’s not as though Mary asked to become pregnant with the Savior of the world—yet she was willing to be used in whatever way God chose to use her (Luke 1:38).
On the heels of the concert, I read Amy Simpson’s blog post, “Expecting Jesus This Advent.” After reading the article, I asked myself: Am I truly preparing my heart for the work the Spirit wants to do in me at this point in my life?
Maybe it’s okay that I’m not ready to have a child, but it’s not all right for me to see children as irritating and a threat to my individuality. Life’s not perfect, and instead of avoiding conflict and fearing the future, I’ve been learning the true meaning of surrender means accepting adversity in stride.
In choosing to surrender my plans and desires to God, I can trust he will continue to form me into the woman he created me to be. In time, I trust my plans will better align with his, and I may be blessed enough to play a small part of building his kingdom here on earth—fearlessly (Matthew 6:10).
I have therefore decided to make this Advent season a time of preparation—not necessarily to give birth to a child, but to welcome God into every compartment of my heart, and every aspect of my life, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. I probably won’t wake up in Uganda tomorrow with 12 adopted children like 22-year-old Katie Davis did, but then again, I just might—and I'm learning how to be okay with that.
What fears have you encountered in surrendering your plans to God?
It's Christmas time again with Steven Curtis Chapman—his holiday album, Joy, is featured on this week's Free Music Friday.
Joy is Steven Curtis Chapman’s fourth Christmas record, and is particularly meaningful to him as both an artist and father. After losing his youngest adopted daughter, Maria Sue, in a tragic accident at their home in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2008, Chapman says this project has given him “wind in his sails” and provided him the opportunity to “have fun and smile.”
“Many know that the last few years have been a difficult journey for my family and me following the loss of our daughter Maria,” Chapman said. “So many have prayed for us and encouraged us, and having the opportunity to write, record, and share this new music really feels like the beginning of a new season . . . a season of joy.”
The Christmas album features six holiday classics plus seven new, original Chapman songs, with the upbeat single, “Christmas Time Again,” offered today as TCW’s Free Music Friday track.
“'Christmas Time Again’ is one of the most fun songs I have recorded in-studio,” Chapman said. “It was actually one of the first songs I wrote for the Joy CD, and probably is responsible for the title just because it was such a joyful, fun song to write and record.”
Purchase the entire album at this link, and watch an acoustic performance of “Christmas Time Again” in the music video below:
This week's Free Music Friday period has ended. Check back next week for a track from Francesca Battistelli!
When Christ came to earth as a baby, he chose to enter into every aspect of our lives. Have you consciously let him into yours?
In November I bought an Advent calendar for my kids, in keeping with family tradition. Behind each window is a small piece of chocolate and a Scripture verse that tells a little of the Christmas story.
When all the windows are closed, the calendar depicts a lovely scene: Mary and Joseph and a few tidy shepherds huddle closely around a well-fed baby, cozy under a pile of blankets, surrounded by fresh hay. Two suspiciously medieval kings kneel before him, and a well-behaved sheep looks on. The group has artistically arranged itself in front of an elegant redbrick-and-stone stable that, while rustic, looks to have been cleaned recently. The night is clear and star-lit—all is calm, and all is bright.
If the savior of the world had to be born in ancient times, this is where he should have been born, right? After all, cleanliness is next to godliness—these are his kind of shepherds.
Or are they?
On the first Sunday in Advent, my family and I gathered around a wreath equipped with four candles and lit the first after reading Isaiah 60:2–3:
“Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.”
This is a passage about the kind of hope that erupts when God does something magnificent among mortals. The kind of hope that came to earth when Jesus fulfilled thousands of years of prophecy and expectation and placed himself at the mercy of a clumsy new mother and a poor carpenter, huddling for survival in a dirty barn.
God first mentioned his coming redeemer in the same breath as the curse on fallen humanity, when sin entered the world (Genesis 3:15). He spoke of his plan in a promise to Abram (later Abraham) nearly 2,000 years before Jesus’ birth (Genesis 12:3). And Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 9:1—7 had marinated for more than 700 years before they were fulfilled. In a sense, the first Advent lasted thousands of years. That’s a long time to wait. That’s a long time to expect a rescuer—and for those expectations to take on a life of their own.
The world of that first Advent was nothing like what our celebrations usually depict. Far from merry and bright, the world was decorated with oppression, desperation, and injustice. Most of the world had no knowledge of a coming Messiah, the gift God had promised to a world that had largely forgotten him almost as soon as Noah’s ark had come to rest on dry land. He was promised to arrive among a people who did remember God, but who were in no place to produce royalty—they, like so many others, were at the mercy of a brutal empire growing in power.
Those who were waiting for a Messiah expected someone much different from the vulnerable newborn who arrived that night in a tiny and dirty corner of the world, born captive under Rome’s fist and Herod’s thumb. He was born into poverty and absolute anonymity, on a night like any other, in a place honored only for its famous ancestor, King David, who, like his kingdom, was long dead. Far from treasured, Jesus narrowly escaped death alongside many other screaming babies murdered by a powerful but insecure man (King Herod—as told in Matthew 2:16).
Many people missed the Messiah because he didn’t fit their expectations. Their hopes, dreams, and desires distracted them from the real thing (Acts 13:27).They needed freedom from their oppressors. They were not prepared to receive someone who brought much, much more.
As my children open those chocolate-filled windows this Advent, I want to open my heart each day, to let God fill it with his presence and purpose. After all, he is not in the lights strung along the edge of my roof, the feasts and treats I will enjoy, the gifts I will give and receive. These are merely metaphors for God’s presence among us—an incredible gift given once and for all. Our preparations are, in a way, distractions from the gift we have with us every day. I might hope for a peaceful time with loved ones and memories to cherish, but most of all, I want to stay ready, to recognize the one who has given me so much more.
What are your expectations this Advent? Are you preparing for Christmas or preparing your heart for the work his Spirit will do in you this season? Are you waiting for Christmas to arrive, or are you expecting to see Christ? When the cookies burn and the candles drip, when your family gets on your nerves and the gifts don’t satisfy, will you be disappointed? Will your focus be on making memories or on remembering to watch for the presence of Christ in this world?
Will you miss Jesus this year because the season doesn’t meet your expectations?