5 "Get Ready Gracefully" Choices before Christmas

Choices are especially important during the holidays so we can enjoy them and not "stress out" or fall apart. There are five choices I make that encourage and energize me. I hope they'll help you "Get Ready Gracefully," too.

(1) Get Busy Earlier Rather Than Later. Make a List of all that you will need to do, under topics, right after Thanksgiving (or even before!)

Send your Christmas cards out early ... even packages, if you have them ready! It will give you an idea of whether you need to buy more cards (or gifts).

You might begin a menu list, so you can watch for food sales. Make a list of events for a special Christmas calendar. If you're going to take a family photo, plan for that now... again, shop around for the best prices.

(2) Get Creative with New Takes on Old Decorations. Traditions are important, and there are some things you'll want to keep from year to year, but try a new "spin" on things. It doesn't have to be expensive, especially in these tight financial times. Maybe add a new color into your decor, or cover your front door with wrapping paper, or stack some empty wrapped boxes in a corner, or even create a special theme for one corner of the room (Elf on a shelf, snowmen, Nativity collection, etc.).

If you get your theme and your "new take" on tradition clearly in mind, it will be easier to look for things to fill out "the look" without spending lots of cash ~ especially when the stores start slashing prices.

One of the most precious ideas I read about is so simple ... and yet it helps to focus on the "reason for the season." Using a small constructed manger (or a basket or crate to represent one), create a "selfless service" manger. Place some straw for "hay" (or even colored yarn, raffia, strips of paper, etc., in a separate basket. Every time a family member performs an act of selfless service for someone, or goes beyond what is expected of them, they can place a piece of "hay" in the manger. On Christmas eve, discuss what has happened over the month, getting the manger ready, and then place a baby doll representing Jesus into the manger. One mom who did this said her six-year-old was upset that they didn't give Jesus a nice enough bed with all the "pieces of hay," and said, "We need to do better next year."

(3) Get Serious about Gift-Giving Choices. You can exhaust yourself quickly (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially) and get time-challenged, too, when it comes to gift-giving. It's wise to create a list FIRST of those you intend to give to, and list possible gifts that come to mind. Leave spaces for new ideas. If these people have "wish lists," it's easier (check Amazon, or simply ask the person!) ... you don't want people to dictate their wants to you, but you do want to get a gift they will appreciate.

Don't feel like you need to give people "ka-zillion" gifts! Some families give each person only three gifts: something needed, something wanted, and something that will encourage them spiritually, mentally, or in some other area of growth. (Keep in mind that some people don't get any gifts. You may be blessed indeed!)

Some good ideas for gifts: Something homemade from your garden produce or herbs, homemade jellies/jams/pickles/jarred cookie mixes ... a family cookbook ... a certificate to teach someone something, or a coupon for a special craft class ... A "my favorite things" basket ... a family treasure someone wanted, that you are willing to now pass down ... a CD or DVD of an older relative (interview them) ... or something to experience together (movies, an amusement park, a cooking class, etc.).

Don't forget organization gifts (clubs, ministry parties, parties at work, etc.) on your list of gift-giving. It's easier to shop for many of these things all at one time, especially if you come across a great deal! Check online for discounts and coupons, too.

And don't forget to plan in some ways to give of yourself ~ perhaps by volunteering at a shelter, or giving gifts to prisoners or orphans. Don't overlook the lonely at this time of year ~ the shut-ins, widows/widowers, people who are ill, people who struggle with relationships, etc.

(4) Get Help to Relieve Stress. You aren't alone in the struggle to get everything done. Everyone feels it. So why not ask for help? Ask someone (with an eye for style) to help you decorate your tree.... or if you won't stress out about it, ask your children to help! Ask/allow others to help you put up decorations. (Hint: Don't be a perfectionist, and you'll get more help! You can always "adjust" later.)

Another idea is to shop with a fun friend or family member (not the one you're buying for) so you can get instant input on your gift ideas. ("Do you think Grandpa Herman will like these orange socks?" will probably be met with rolling eyes ~ See? Instant input!)

If you have children at home, give them small, simple tasks that will help you accomplish bigger projects. Let them know how much you value their help.

(5) Get Real with Some Planned Diversions. Everyone experiences holiday stress, so get real. Plan time to relax. Schedule it in.

"Do nothing time" includes activities like reading a book, listening to music, spending time with a child or pet, going to a movie (one you want to see that maybe the family doesn't), cooking or baking (if you enjoy it... not because you have to), walking through the neighborhood, napping (30-45 minutes).

All of these are activities or attitudes of some sort ~ get busy, get creative, get serious, get help, get real. But the most important thing to remember is to Get Your Heart Prepared. Without a prepared heart, you will miss out on what God wants to say to you and do through you.

Here are five simple ways you can prepare your heart for Christmas, long before it comes:

  • Read the Christmas story and ask God to show you one thing you've never seen before (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20). Read it in a version you're not used to. (It's in the English Standard Version, here.) Make sure that everything is right between you and God... you know Him, you love Him, you obey Him ...
  • Sing Christmas carols in the car as you begin to shop. (Or learn an old Christmas hymn.)
  • As you see Christmas ornaments in stores, think about the meaning of your own Christmas-related ornaments.... their symbolism.
  • Relax with a book. Find a new Christmas-related (but fictional) story book (like the ones we read to children) or a novel to read during your "planned diversion" times. (I'm going to read Mary's Son: A Tale of Christmas.)
  • Write a prayer list ~ What do you want God to do in your heart this Christmas? In your family members' and friends' hearts? Compose your own "Christmas Prayers," or read these from others. And don't forget to pray for the military, far from home at Christmas.
Lots of ideas here ... lots of choices. Let's "Get Ready Gracefully" and make this the best Christmas season ever.


Let's Get Gratitudinal

Leadership specialist Michael Hyatt carries a rock with him, in his pocket, to remind him to be grateful for whatever is happening in his life. Whenever his hand touches the "gratitude rock," he thanks God for his immediate circumstances ~ whether good or bad. It's a wonderful idea. I have a little figurine on my desk that reminds me to be grateful, too.

I've read a lot of "Attitude of Gratitude" articles, and heard of lot of messages on the same topic, but what turned my heart around about gratitude was a book by my friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, titled, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy.

Nancy skipped all of the fluffy maxims about gratitude and went straight to the heart of the matter. In short, Gratitude is a lifestyle that is developed as we appreciate God's grace and goodness, and it's a lifestyle commitment that we must choose.

In a chapter titled "Going Gratitudinal," Nancy began with a story:

"The way the story goes, a Hungarian man went to the local rabbi and complained, 'Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?'

"The rabbi answered without hesitation, 'Take your goat into the room with you.'

"The man looked back at him as if he'd certainly misunderstood. But he hadn't. 'Do as I say,' the rabbi insisted, 'and come back in a week.'

"Seven days later, the man returned looking more distraught than before. 'We can't stand it! he said to the rabbi. 'That goat is filthy!'

"'Then go home and let the goat out,' the rabbi answered. 'Come back in a week.' It was a radiant Hungarian who returned to the rabbi the following week. His whole demeanor spelled relief and refreshment. 'How are you now?' the rabbi asked.

"'Life is beautiful,' the man answered. 'We enjoy every minute now that there's no longer any goat ~ only the nine of us.'" (1)

It's all about attitude, isn't it? We sometimes need a new mindset or perspective ~ an attitudinal change. Nancy coined the phrase "gratitudinal change" and encouraged her readers to live in the fullness of their relationship with God, unhindered by a lack of gratitude.

"... expressing true gratitude involves choices [emphasis mine] as practical as setting your clocks correctly, changing your vacuum bag or locking your doors at night," she wrote. "It is a regular maintenance plan, something that only happens when you do it on purpose, yet it's sure to save you all kinds of trouble down the line." (2)

Then Nancy makes several recommendations for growing gratitudinally, including:

  • Surrender Your Rights to God. (Establish each morning that God has full rights to your life, and trust Him with everything.)
  • Commit to a Set Season of Gratitude. (Focus on becoming a person filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, pray for transformation of an ungrateful heart, and count your blessings.)
  • Take Stock of Your Gratitude Accounts. (Are you saying thank you to the people in your life who bless you? Note: Handwritten thank you notes become keepsakes, blessing the receiver in days to come.)
  • Do It Together, as a Body-Building Exercise. (Take time as a family, Sunday school class, Bible study group, group of co-workers, or church to take time to express thankfulness together ~ "deliberate, targeted, Holy Spirit-directed expressions of gratitude.") (3)
It's also helpful to meditate on scriptures that speak to the need for gratitude and thanksgiving.

Here are a few scriptures that give some reasons for gratitude, plus the example of an apostle, and a comparison between one person who was thankful and others who needed a "gratitudinal adjustment":
  • Psalm 69:30 (Glorify/magnify God with thanksgiving.)
  • Psalm 75:1 (Give thanks for God's works, His "wondrous deeds.")
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Give thanks in all circumstances ~ there's that choice!)
  • Psalm 100:1-5 (Come into God's presence with thanksgiving and praise.)
  • Psalm 136:1-26 (The Psalmist gives thanks for a long list of things!)
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (Paul's example, in context of "giving", especially verses 11-12, 15)
  • Luke 17:15-19 (The gratitude of the healed lepers)
  • Colossians 2:6-7 (As you remember what you have in Christ, and how you have grown, let your self overflow with thankfulness today!)
And don't forget to sing your gratitude. It's more than the traditional Thanksgiving songs (see these Thanksgiving songs at cyberhymnal.com). Nancy's book also has a list of worship-focused "Hymns of Gratitude" such as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (my great Redeemer's praise).

When we focus on who God is and what He has done for us, how can we help but express our gratitude?

Gratitude is indeed a choice. It's one great way to enjoy your relationship with God, and certainly a way to bless others. Let's get Gratitudinal ~ not just at Thanksgiving ~ but every day!

(1) Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy (Moody Publishers, 2009), pp. 143-144
(2) Ibid., pp. 145-146
(3) Ibid., adapted from material on pages 146-157


Gratitude's Link to Humility

As I've watched various groups of protesters on television the past few weeks, I've noticed that there are some who seek the simplest things ... and others who are power-hungry and wish to bring America down.

But one of the themes that keeps jumping out at me is the ingratitude of people. It's as if they're shouting, "It's not fair ... life owes me!"

Don't misunderstand me. I know that times are tough, money is scarce, and it's hard to find jobs. As I write this, two dear friends are struggling, and it breaks my heart. I pray for them, and I'm asking God if there's some way I can meet some practical needs.

The truly poor or hurting need our help, but I also know that even those in poverty in the United States still have more than many around the world ~ maybe not more "things," but certainly more freedoms and opportunities. We are so blessed, and yet we seem so ungrateful ~ except, perhaps, on one day each November.

I re-read a favorite book this week ~ Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. One of the devotionals in the back of the book spoke about this topic of "Gratitude and Humility."

DeMoss wrote, "One of the fundamental qualities invariably found in a grateful person is humility. Gratitude is the overflow of a humble heart, just as surely as an ungrateful, complaining spirit flows out of a proud heart." (1)

James tells us that God opposes or "stiff-arms" the proud ~ He keeps them at a distance on purpose. Listen to these words: "But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble." (James 4:6).

But we have a choice, we can "humble ourselves" ~ and when we do, God draws near.

Humble people are so unlike the proud. Humble people aren't wrapped up in themselves. Life is all about Jesus, not us ~ and the humble recognize this. They also recognize that God's good gifts are all around us, and not because God owes us anything.

The truly humble person is "grateful for the least little kindness that is extended," (2) DeMoss said, because we deserve nothing.

I get upset with the Wall Street protesters, but the truth is, I whine a lot myself. I whine about circumstances, relationship problems, perceived lack, actual lack, and so much more. I gripe about stoplights that are too long. I whine that I don't have the money to replace some frustrating technology. My complaining spirit reveals a proud heart of entitlement and expectation. It shows up as anger, irritability, resentment, or "belly-aching." Like a temperamental toddler, I whine, "It's not fair!"

But when I pause to humble myself before the Lord, I realize how much He has already given me. In God's presence, and viewing life from His perspective, I see how blessed I am. Everything I need flows from time and the right heart attitude in His presence.

How about you, Friend? Do you find yourself complaining all the time? What is motivating this whine-y spirit?

Look around today and see what you already have (and I don't just mean "stuff"). See what you have in Christ. See what you have in light of eternity. See what you have that many others do not. Really "see."

Look inside and see the condition of your heart. Are there attitudes of expectation and entitlement? If you see those ugly twins, confess them as forms of pride, and surrender your heart to God. Then, with a truly humble heart, express your profound gratitude to God.

"Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise." (3)

Do those words express the cry of your heart? Every blessing you and I have today is because of the bountiful grace of God.

(1) Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy
(Moody Publishers, 2009), p. 183
(2) Ibid., p. 184
(3) Robert Robinson (1735-1790), "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh400.sht)


What America Can Learn from the Persecuted Church

November 13 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). The global persecuted Body of Christ has always been dear to my heart. I prayed for the Russian underground church back in the 1970s when I was in college, and God continues to lay the needs of His children around the world on my prayer list.

As an adult, I am grateful for ministries that continue to reach out to these struggling saints.

I was privileged to speak, last month, to Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.
The Orange County resident is an advocate for the millions of Christians around the world who are denied religious freedom and basic human rights. He and his co-author, David Hegg, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, Calif., wrote The Privilege of Persecution (and Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don't).(1) It's a book that every member of the Body of Christ in America~ especially church leaders ~ should read.

In their book, Moeller and Hegg want Christians to understand that they aren't wagging a finger at the American church ~ they love the American church ~ but they do have a message about ways the global suffering church is healthier than their Western counterparts.

Here are some excerpts from my interview with Dr. Moeller.

Dawn: I read and enjoyed your book, and I learned so much about ways the American church differs from the persecuted church. Why do you say the persecuted church has the "privilege of persecution" ~ your title for the book? That isn't a concept most Americans can understand, I would think.

Dr. Moeller: I didn't originate the title. It came from a Latin American pastor. After their church had suffered persecution, he said, "We're privileged to be persecuted." He shared with me Philippians 1:29 where Paul is writing to the Philippians who saw him persecuted in jail, and he wrote to them as followers of Jesus, saying, "For to you it has been given the privilege not only of trusting in Christ, but of suffering for Him as well."

That was a process I needed to investigate. What does that say to us here in America where we have it so comfortable in so many ways, and how can we understand suffering and persecution as a blessing from God ~ something God wants to use to build in us.

Dawn: In your book, you spoke of revival versus reformation. Why do you think the church in America needs reformation?

Dr. Moeller: Revival means something needs to be brought back to life. We see the power of the Holy Spirit moving across the world to revive churches, particularly in Egypt and the Middle East. Many of these churches are historical, 2,000-year-old churches that do need revival. They're dead inside, but they are being revived.

In America, our need is to be reformed. If you remember, the nature of the Reformation was to get back to the Word of God, to re-establish the authority of the Word of God; and unfortunately, in too many of our churches ~ and I say this as a member, a leader, a former pastor in American churches ~ too many of our congregations are looking for a self-help recipe. They are using the Bible to bolster some of their good ideas, more or less. I like to say, it's "fortune cookie Bible verses." We say, "Here's my point, and by the way, here's a Bible verse that goes along with it" ~ sort of like a fortune cookie ~ and "it helps me with my next point, which is this...."

I think that when we get back to what the Reformation did in Europe, to return the church to its roots, founded on the Word of God ~ if we do that in America, I think we will see revival. We will see renewal in our churches.

Dawn: In your book, you speak of the persecuted church's reverence for the things of God, especially the Word of God; and you say Westerners often treat the Bible like just another self-help book, rather than what God wants to do through His Word.

Dr. Moeller: There's nothing wrong with self-help, but I don't think that really is the focus that God wants us to have. The Bible is not about improving my life. God doesn't desire to improve my life; He needs to resurrect my life. We're not broken people looking to be healed as much as we are dead people looking to be revived. That's the message of the persecuted church. If they were looking for a better life, they would leave the church. They would leave Christianity.... it doesn't bless you materially or anything like that. There's a different dynamic going on there.

Dawn: You say, "We are rarely in the position to choose our trials, but we can choose how we react in the midst of them." What can we learn from the global church about this?

Dr. Moeller: The human tendency for revenge when someone takes advantage of us or persecutes us or harasses us can be overcome in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I get frustrated when somebody cuts me off on the freeway, and candidly, it kinds of boils in me that he did that to me; but then I have to step back and say, "Wait a minute." People I know, people I am friends with, have had their homes burned, have had their livelihoods taken away and their kids denied education. Sometimes they have been tortured and imprisoned. And they can forgive.

A friend of mine in Columbia was blinded in a horrific attack by a left-wing force that killed many of his friends. He was blinded almost completely ... and he struggled to put himself through school. He became an evangelist and he went back to evangelize in the prison ~ those "narco" guerrillas who had blinded him and murdered his friends. I asked him, "Alex, how could you do that?" He looked at me and said, "Carl, without forgiveness, there is no Christian life."

Dawn: That's powerful, and so true.

Dr. Moeller: Yes. That's when I realized, "Wow. That's a choice. That is a choice to do something that can only be empowered supernaturally." And my friend is right, of course, absolutely right. Jesus looked at [the thieves] while He was on the cross, and said, "Father, forgive them." Stephen said the same thing while he was being stoned.

Dawn: That concept is so hard in our country, where it's all about our rights.

Dr. Moeller: Absolutely, Dawn. It's been inspirational for me to hang with people and be friends of people like that. It empowers me in my daily choices, and it makes me a stronger Christian because of the inspiration from these brothers and sisters.

Dawn: You talk about choices in another area in your book, too ~ about how America has so many choices, and that this overabundance of choices even affects the church. How do we relate to God when we're distracted by so many choices in the West?

Dr. Moeller: That is, in essence, the story we told about the persecuted pastor who said, "We pray for you. We've learned to live under persecution. You've not yet learned to live under prosperity as a Christian body."

Prosperity is its own form of persecution, its own form of spiritual attack, and we have to recognize it as such. We can't embrace prosperity in the way our culture does, because then we're giving in to the enemy. It's a very subtle attack, but it's, nonetheless, an attack; and I do believe Christians, in a broad sense, face that attack internally. It's our responsibility to respond to it as the persecuted church responds to persecution externally. It's an internal process.

Dawn: And I would think that pastors and other authority figures in the church need to take the lead in that.

Dr. Moeller: Yes, and unfortunately, too many of our leaders succumb to the same value system that the world has; and I say that to my chagrin, because there's nothing like being among the persecuted who have nothing, but who give everything. We have all the material stuff, but we don't have the real joy.

Dawn: Big learning curve there.

Dr. Moeller: Yeah!

Dawn: I'm concerned about the younger generation, too. I think they're reacting to the church not always being relational and authentic. I see this in some of my younger friends. They want to serve God, but they don't want to commit to the church in any significant way. Maybe they're not seeing something relevant and authentic there. Maybe they're not seeing a strong sense of community. Dr. Moeller, what can the persecuted church teach us about reaching this generation?

Dr. Moeller: The culture we live in is so distracted and busy, and it fights against the things that God wants to do in our lives. Jesus, if you read the Gospels, is always asking His disciples to come away with Him. He needed to get away and pray ~ to get away from those distractions.

And I think one of the things we face in our culture, with our churches moving to look even more like the culture, is that our churches are places with distractions and interferences. I'm trying to be sensitive here, because I realize that we do live in a post-Christian culture, and especially in Southern California we do need to address the questions of "How do people come to God? and "Why would they come to church?" So I'm not opposing all of that.

But I think there are two things that I remember from my childhood that I think are desperately lacking in our churches today. I mentioned one: the primacy of the Word. I remember every Bible that I saw when I was growing up had the word "Holy" in front of the word "Bible." Now we have people's names ~ the "so-and-so Bible."

And the second thing is, when people came into church, they didn't come into a ministry center or the auditorium. They came into the "sanctuary" ~ the holy place ~ and there was a worshipful attitude. I'm not talking about musical style. You can definitely have upbeat music and drums and guitars. That's not what I'm saying. But you come in with an attitude of reverence, of coming into the inner sanctum of the presence of God. You come into a different thing than if you come into an "auditorium" ~ more like you would come into a Broadway show. The persecuted church, they don't come in to a show. They come in worship to meet God in the inner sanctum.

Dawn: We talk flippantly about having hope in America, but what is the hope that believers in the global church have?

Dr. Moeller: Wow. That's a great question. Their hope is Jesus Christ! They don't put their trust in materialism and earthly possessions. It used to be a lot easier for us as Americans to relate to that.

In times past, America was also a place where people had to struggle to make ends meet. My grandparents lived through The Great Depression, and much of what they experienced and told me about was "making do" with what they could, and their faith was real. They looked forward to the day when their every need would be met... their lives would be hidden in Christ for eternity. They didn't believe or hope that this life would be the answer to all their needs.

I think the persecuted church looks at it that way. They, generally speaking, don't hold out a lot of hope that somehow the Iranian government is going to completely turn around at the next election and that's going to be their salvation. It's when they finally come to see Jesus face to face ~ they have the Blessed Hope.

Dawn: You talked about simpler, smaller churches with a greater sense of community ~ and I'm not sure that is going to happen in America with all of our mega-churches ~ so what's the answer for us to be more like the persecuted church?

Dr. Moeller: I'm certainly not advocating for us to go out and do things to become persecuted, or to make people mad at us. That's not biblical. And I don't think we're advocating any particular size of church. But what we are advocating is a return to some of these basic ideas. Not to build the church off of marketing, but to build the church off the leading of the Holy Spirit, the primacy of God's Word, the preaching of God's Word and the authority of that, and the generosity that comes from being completely, 100 percent given over to Christ.

You don't need to have slick marketing campaigns to entice people to give, if people are sold out to the cause. When I was in one pastor's home in southern Mexico, he had nothing; but he gave us the equivalent of two thirds of his monthly salary, not thinking about where their food for that next week was going to come from. We didn't let him do that without making sure he had his resouces covered ~ but imagine for a second what it would be like for us in America to do that for a stranger: to bring a stranger into our home and spend two thirds of our take-home pay on a lavish banquet.

That's the kind of thing that we need to get back to in America. It' s not about the size of our churches. It's about the authenticity of our faith.

Dawn: We do need to remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in the global church ~ the persecuted church. You've given us much to think about, Dr. Moeller. Thank you.

Dr. Moeller: My pleasure.

[Note: Photo of the Bible in the pulpit is by Rev. Chris Fryou, Covington Presbyterian Church website, Waldheim, La.

(1) Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg, The privilege of Persecution (And Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don't), (Moody Publishers, 2011).


Kathi Macias, God's Warrior Scribe

Tomorrow, I want to share an interview with Dr. Carl Moeller of Open Doors about the Persecuted Church today and what it can teach us in America; but I don't want this year's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) to pass by (November 13) without praise for a precious, insightful series of books on this topic.

After I read Kathi Macias' first book in her "Extreme Devotion" series about the Persecuted Church, I told Kathi she had turned me into a fiction reader, because I sensed a greater purpose behind the powerful story.

Kathi is a fighter ~ this warrior scribe fights for things that matter. She fights for the injustice of sex trafficking (as in her new book, Deliver Me From Evil); and in this series of books (published by New Hope Publishers), she fights for our brothers and sisters in the Persecuted Church.

I want to invite you to read all three books, because they will scratch away any complacency in your heart and mind regarding the persecuted saints. You will feel the sobering pain of believers who, just like you and me, want to follow Christ ~ but probably unlike you and me, they pay a high cost to simply claim the name of Jesus.

No Greater Love (2010), based near Pretoria, South Africa, tells the story of forbidden romance, but much more. It's the story of martyrdom, forgiveness, and selfless love.

Red Ink (2010) ~ Golden Scroll Book Awards' 2011 Novel of the Year ~ is based loosely on the life of Christian magazine editor Li Ying, currently serving a prison sentence in China for her stand for and promotion of the Truth.

People of the Book (2011), set in Saudi Arabia, is the story of a young woman who discovers the truth about Isa (Jesus) and soon finds her faith put to the test.

Because we live in so much comfort, with so many distractions, American believers must make a special effort to think about and pray for believers around the world ~ not just on one special day, but as often as God brings them to mind.

They need our prayers, and God works through prayer!

As my friend Vernon Brewer, founder of World Help ~ another organization that touches the lives of suffering Christ-followers ~ said in a recent newsletter, "Although it is difficult for us to understand as Americans, religious freedom is a tremendous luxury that we often take for granted. Most of us have not been required to suffer greatly for our faith.

"Even so, we cannot forget these courageous believers who must rely on God's protection to survive every day."

On November 13, join hands with others to pray that these Christ-followers will stay strong in the midst of the enemy's attacks.

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us."
Romans 8:35, 37 NASB


Following God 'Yes by Yes'

I met Connie Cavanaugh at an AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) meeting. She is a friend of my friend, author Kathy Howard. I was attracted to her sweet smile and enthusiasm, but I sensed right away that she was a woman of depth and character. That assessment was confirmed as I read her book, Following God One Yes at a Time.

A long paragraph tucked into Chapter 7 summed up the book for me: "As I continued to follow God yes by yes," Cavanaugh said, "I found myself signing letters, emails, books, and cards with a new phrase that just popped into my head: Keep following God one yes at a time. It dawned on me that God had led me out of my decade of spiritual dryness one yes at a time. And He was continuing to lead me in my post-wilderness life one yes at a time.

"As I thought back to my early days of vibrant faith, I realized I had followed Him one yes at a time then, too," she said. "In fact, the only time He hadn't led me one yes at a time was during my wilderness time when I stopped saying yes to Him and lost my way. Maybe following Him one yes at a time was the answer for more than just my panic episodes. Maybe it was the answer for everything that tried to hold me back from living the dreams He had for me." (1)

Her words took me back to a True Woman Conference in Chicago in 2008 with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Women waved white hankies of surrender, saying or praying, "Yes, Lord," when He spoke to their hearts about some new commitment or an issue of sin.

The words "Yes, Lord!" were embroidered on every handkerchief the women received as they entered the conference, and they were a powerful tool for doing business with God. I waved mine several times. Saying "Yes, Lord" centers on trust in the sovereign God and our obedience to Him.

In Cavanaugh's book, she described some of the excuses we throw up to God as reasons for not obeying Him.

"You might think that what you have to use for Him isn't quite up to par," she said. "You think you're not godly enough, not spiritual enough, not serious enough, not sweet enough, not kind enough, not sure enough, not smart enough, not bold enough, not educated enough, or not experienced enough. All of those 'not enoughs' are barriers that hold you back from the dreams God has for you." (2)

And then she spoke of Jesus, whose power is perfected in weakness ~ the One who died to demonstrate His grace, and "... remember," she said, "faithfulness is simply saying yes with your feet. Don't worry about changing your image. Just say yes and let Him fine-tune you as you follow Him."

I needed these words as I wrote this post. God was asking me to be courageous and step out in a new work, and I kept tossing out excuses ~ some of the very ones Cavanaugh listed. I needed to hear her reminder that it's not a matter of my having or being enough. It's all about God's sufficiency. (2 Corinthians 3:5; 12:9)

The truth is, any shred of sufficiency we may think we have is truly all wrapped up in God's marvelous, never-failing sufficiency. All He wants us to do is to say yes in this moment ... and in the next ... and the next.

No matter our stories or the struggles in our individual journeys, the principle is the same ~ as we follow God, He reveals our next step, and then He supplies the resources (faith, peace, power, etc.) that we need for that and every step.

"If I had never said yes to God," Cavanaugh said, "I would still be barricaded behind my fear, unaware that on the other side of that self-made wall was a life of adventure, personal growth, renewed faith, and rewarding service."

What is holding you back from following God and His plan (dream/adventure) for your life? Saying "Yes, Lord" acknowledges that God is, indeed, your Lord ~ the One who has a right to direct your life.

I encourage you to yield your heart and say this ~ boldly or timidly, but say it! ~ "Yes, Lord!"
Focus your mind, and set your feet and hands toward that surrender as you follow God. Discover and pursue the dreams God has for you!

Connie Cavanaugh is a wife, mom, and "Gram" who speaks at conferences all over North America. She is the author of Following God One Yes at a Time and From Faking It to Finding Grace.

Learn more about Connie and her ministry at www.conniecavanaugh.com.

(1) Connie Cavanaugh, Following God One Yes at a Time: Overcoming the 6 Barriers That Hold You Back (Harvest House Publishers, 2011), p. 102
(2) Ibid., p. 103
(3) Ibid., p. 214