Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-common Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Medal in What Matters: A Bride-To-Be’s Perspective on “Stuff,” Living Generously, and Holiday Giving

My walk-in guest closet had become a black hole of catch-all, and the time had come to face it. The less “stuff” I have to move after my wedding, the better!

Most of the boxes stacked there centered on my childhood, so maybe that’s why I had put off going through them. Don’t ask me why tossing childhood memorabilia is so hard for me, but it just is.

As I opened a heavy cardboard box, I found myself facing my high school Bible quizzing trophies. I had worked hard to earn them and been so proud of them! However, they’ve been boxed up for years, and I never plan to set them out on a bookshelf again.

Maybe you have your own trophies or keepsakes, and if you’re not ready to part with them yet, that’s okay! Tangible motivation has its time and place. But cleaning out my closet reminded me of a truth or two I don’t want to forget.

Realize what matters in the long run.

What matters more than the medals themselves is what they represent. I spent my high school years memorizing chapters and books of God’s Word. Today, I can’t quote the Bible like I used to, but I believe that these Scriptures will not return to me “void” (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV) but that the Holy Spirit will bring to my “remembrance” those promises just when I need them (John 14:26).

These medals will ultimately deteriorate (faster now that I’m contributing them to the trash), but those Bible verses will resound in my memory.  As Isaiah 40:8 says,

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (NKJV).

Choose wisely what we treasure.

As a visual society, we often focus on the tangible. We see our cars, our houses, our vacation (or wedding) plans, and our Christmas gifts under the tree. While those things have their place—and I’m certainly grateful for them—they’re just a shell compared to what’s more important: the spiritual conditions of our hearts.

What do we truly treasure? Oftentimes, we can find the answer by watching how we spend our time and money. That’s some self-examination we all need to do. As we consider our answers, let’s remember Jesus’ words:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV).

Live generously and enjoy God’s blessings today.

Yes, the holidays are upon us, and most of us enjoy giving and receiving presents. There’s nothing wrong with sharing and enjoying gifts, as long as those “things” don’t claim a higher place in our hearts than they should. Regardless of our financial status, we should keep our trust in God alone and enjoy what He has given us. I like how Timothy poses this challenge to his readers:

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17 NKJV).

Wow! God gives us all things “richly” to enjoy. Really, that’s no surprise, considering He has also called us to live abundantly (John 10:10 NKVJ).

Paychecks aside, consider how we can bless others this Christmas. Sometimes, the best gift is our time or simple ways we can express thoughtfulness and God’s love.

This holiday season and every day, let’s medal in what really matters: living for God with everything we have.

~ Kristen

Special thanks to Ashley L. Jones for hosting this post on her website. Click over to BigSisterKnows.com for more godly encouragement.

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4 Ways to Love God with Gusto (Part 2 of 2)

In September, my church hosted a 5K to raise money and awareness for foster care. For those not familiar with running terms, that’s a little over 3 miles.

Running didn’t come naturally to me, but now, it’s a lifestyle I’ve learned to enjoy. My fiancé, though athletic, hates running. But to his credit, he ran the race with me, adopted my pace, and even smiled for photos. He got out his comfort zone, and it meant so much to me.

Last time, I shared on BigSisterKnows.com how we can love God volitionally, which involves a choice or act of the will. In my case, my fiancé chose to run even though he didn’t want to. In addition, he invested time and physical energy to show up and finish.

This example, though perhaps cheesy, brings me to another way we can love God: with all our strength.

Loving God through Our Actions

As author Gary Chapman explains in his book The Five Love Languages, physical touch is one of the primary ways people express and receive love. Although we can’t physically “touch” God, we can still love him through our actions.

In Scripture, we see examples of believers performing acts of service again and again.

  • The Shunammite woman and her husband built an upper room for the Prophet Elisha so that he had a place to stay when he visited them (2 Kings 4).
  • Martha opened her home to Jesus and served him dinner (Luke 10). For all the bad rap she gets for being too busy to simply listen like her sister Mary, Martha deserves credit for her hospitality and generosity.
  • A widow gave everything she had to the temple treasury (Mark 12).

Of course, Jesus himself modeled service to others time and time again through miracles, washing his disciples’ feet, and ultimately dying on the cross.

No matter our situation, we all have varying degrees of physical ability. Some people can travel for mission trips or volunteer locally. Others serve behind-the-scenes doing preparation work no one seems to notice. For someone with limited physical ability, this action might look like a hand-written note of encouragement or even a whispered prayer.

The bottom line is that when we act to help others, we please God. When we love “the least” of the people who cross our paths, we’re loving him too (Matthew 25:31-40).

Click over to BigSisterKnows.com to read one more way we can love God with everything we have.

I’m grateful to my friend and author Ashley L. Jones for inviting me to share this two-part series on her beautiful blog.

~ Kristen

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Cover Reveal & Black Friday Book Deals

Here’s some bookish news I’m so thankful for and excited to share with you! Together with my publisher Write Integrity Press, I’m proud to present the official cover for The Reactionary, the final book in The Rogues trilogy, scheduled to release February 19, 2019. Click here to learn more about this thrilling conclusion to Portia’s story.

Rock star graphic artist Kelli Sorg has faithfully worked with me on all three covers for this series, and I’m so happy with the how they turned out! The minimalism, symbolism, and striking colors were exactly what I had in mind. I hope you love them as much (or nearly as much) as I do!

Black Friday Book Sale

I’m also thrilled to announce that Write Integrity Press in hosting its first ever Black Friday Kindle sale. Snag The Revisionary and The Revolutionary on Kindle for just $.99 from November 23-26! Plus, you can fill up your reading queue with some other outstanding Christian fiction and non-fiction titles by my fellow authors.

I don’t know about you, but the type of sale that doesn’t involve me dealing with crazy crowds but making purchases from my cozy home is essentially perfection. Did you know you can also gift Kindle books? Simply select the book and choose the “Buy for others” option.

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving and happy reading!

~ Kristen

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4 Ways to Love God with Gusto (Part 1 of 2)

Thanks to author Ashley L. Jones for hosting this week’s post on her blog at BigSisterKnows.com. Check out her site for more godly encouragement.

One of my favorite books is called I Dare You by William Danforth, and in it, he challenges his readers to live what he calls “the four-square life.” Following Jesus’ example in Luke 2:52, he dares us to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially.

And Jesus increased in wisdom (mentally) and stature (physically), and in favor with God (spiritually) and men (socially). (NKJV, parenthesis added)

The other day, I was reading Mark 12:30 and realized that we are not only to grow in those key areas of our lives, but we’re also supposed to love God with four related areas.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (emotional/volitional), with all your soul (wholehearted), with all your mind (mental), and with all your strength (physical).’ This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30 NKJV, parenthesis added)

Coincidence? I don’t think so! God wants us to live for him and love him with all that we are. What does that look like? Let’s dive a little deeper into these four areas and see what Scripture has to say.

Love God Volitionally

When we typically think of our “heart,” we usually think about our emotions. Although our emotions are part of the idea here, “heart” goes far beyond them to include the will.[i]

In other words, love is more than a feeling but a choice, and we must exercise that choice in our relationship with God. He didn’t make us mindless robots, pre-programmed to love him. Instead, he gave us the privilege of deciding to love him and made it possible by loving us first.

In the educational world, we call that “modeling.” It means showing someone how to do something before expecting them to try. God modeled perfect love when he gave his own Son to mend the broken relationship between us and God, caused by man’s first and all consequential disobedience. By doing so, he offers restoration and the ability to love him back, “because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).

Wow! So how do we reciprocate? We can love God volitionally when we:

  • Choose to accept his salvation made possible through Christ’s sacrifice (John 3:16).
  • Choose to praise him when circumstances don’t go our way (I Thessalonians 5:18).
  • Choose holiness over what the world tells us is acceptable (I Thessalonians 4:3-7).
  • Choose an attitude of truth over how we feel at the time (Philippians 4:4-7).

Love God Wholeheartedly

The second way to love God is with our “soul.” Wait, aren’t the heart and soul similar? Isn’t “heart and soul” an expression to mean “all of me”? Or what’s the difference? I’m no Bible scholar, so I did some digging.

When I graduated from high school, my aunt gifted me with a copy of Strong’s exhaustive concordance which has been a priceless reference for me. Strong’s reveals that “soul” comes from the Greek word “psuche,” from which we get our modern word “psyche.” According to dictionary.com, the word’s origin literally means “breath” or “to breathe, blow, hence, live.”

Okay, stay with me. Strong’s further clarifies that the related Hebrew word means “heart (+ily), life, mind, soul …”

I paused on the word heartily, because it instantly reminded me of Colossians 3:23.

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men …” (NKJV)

In other words, we’re supposed to love God with everything we’ve got, or, as my friend and author Ashley L. Jones often reminds us, with gusto!

Can you think of some ways we can do that? What might loving God with gusto look like for you on an everyday basis?

~ Kristen

 

[i] Faith Bible Ministries Blog does an excellent job of breaking down the biblical meaning of heart if you’d like more information.

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Choose Life’s Travel Companions Wisely

My friend and colleague Maria and I traveled to Italy in September.

The last few months have redefined epic adventure in my dictionary. From travel hacking Italy with a colleague to a surprise engagement trip in the mountains of North Carolina, I’ve been overwhelmed with God’s blessings and the people He’s placed in my life.

However, there’s a difference between amazing people and iron-sharpening people. I’m grateful mine qualify as both, but as we’re choosing friends to do life with, we should consider some important questions.

Do they point you to Christ?

I went on a North Carolina hiking trip in October with my fiance James and friends Devon and Conrad.

There are plenty of people in this world who model ingenuity, bravery, kindness, and adventure. From the world’s standpoint, they personify the ideal. These charismatic people attract a crowd, and although they can be generous and inspirational, they’re missing the main thing.

Without a personal relationship with God, a person with everything the world has to offer has nothing of lasting worth.

Do the people in your tribe encourage you to have a closer walk with God? Do they keep you accountable and ask you to do the same for them?  Beyond that, do they pray for you and with you (James 5:16)?

We need to surround ourselves with Spirit-filled friends who strengthen our faith and won’t let us settle for status quo.

To read the complete post, visit DailyPS.com.

Who’s in your tribe? Do they build you up and make you better? Most importantly, do they point you to Jesus Christ?

~ Kristen

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My Personal Testimony: Life is a Gift

Photo credit: Maria Constantine, thepotentialofyouth.com

Special thanks to Phyllis for inviting me to give my testimony on her blog Songs of Salvation! When she asked if I’d share, I realized that although you, my friends, get to know me through my stories and posts, I haven’t actually spelled out how and when God started working in my life. Today, my hope is that my testimony encourages you, wherever you are in your spiritual walk.

My testimony

I am truly grateful for my godly heritage and growing up in a Christian home, though an imperfect one. Regardless, my family’s faith wasn’t enough. I needed to make it mine.

One Sunday, something the pastor said must have made sense to my five-year-old mind. After coming home from church, I crawled onto the couch next to my parents and told them I wanted to get saved. They led me in a simple prayer, and I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my life. That day, I started my walk as God’s child, but like any new believer, I had much to learn (and for that matter, still do).

A crisis moment came shortly after I received my driver’s license. I was driving my brother and me to our young adult Wednesday church group when another car ran a red light and crashed into us. Although we walked away with only minor injuries, my car was totaled, and I was angry. Why would God let this happen to me? The ensuing drama (the other driver’s word versus mine) and the long phone calls with insurance agents were torture to my sixteen-year-old self.

But God had spared my life. The same day as my accident, another accident almost identical in nature resulted in the deaths of all drivers. Perhaps it was a wake-up call that life wasn’t about my plans. I needed to see it as a stewardship, a gift from God.

Looking back over college and the start of my career, I can see God’s hand opening and closing doors. Sometimes, I begged for a new opportunity or an answer to prayer, and God seemed stubbornly silent. Other times, His response felt as if He had opened the windows of heaven and poured down a blessing. What I’ve learned and continue to learn is that regardless of how or if God answers my prayer, He has my best interests at heart and I can trust Him.

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31 which says,

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (KJV).

In my own strength, I get tired and weary. But when I wait upon the Lord, He provides the strength to run the path set before me.

The bottom line: No matter what you may be facing now, if you’re God’s child, you’re not alone. He can and will give you exactly what you need: His presence in every situation.

~ Kristen

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