Bringing You Good News of Great Joy (And a FREE Gift!)

Super-Short Devotional Video and FREE Artwork of Joy to the World Lyrics

In this third week of Advent I’m praying you are able to experience joy! Regardless of your circumstances, I pray you feel Christ with you in the midst of whatever is going on in your life right now. Because I know if you do, He will make it possible for you to find hope, peace, and joy. And I’ve made a little (about 40 seconds) video to help you prepare your heart to receive your King! I hope you enjoy it. And if you haven’t yet finished your shopping (like me!) then today’s free gift may come in handy for you. Or you might like it for yourself as a reminder to prepare room in your heart (and schedule) for the coming King!

Want a quick and easy gift for someone (or yourself)? I’ve created a decorative print featuring the lyrics to Joy to the World. I’ve even included simple step-by-step instructions to print, trim, and matte on cardstock to pop into a standard 8×10 frame! Easy-peasy!

Optimized_JoyToTheWorldFreebie

To get it, just click the button below and I’ll email you the artwork and instructions instantly!

Send me that artwork, please!

I’m meditating on Luke 2:10 this week as I contemplate the joy of preparing for our Savior. I hope you’ll share the graphic/verse below with your friends on social media! You may also want to share the video and freebie as well! The more the merrier!

If you aren’t already following me on Facebook or Twitter, just click the links or buttons above the post and like/follow my page. There you’ll see various different versions of these graphics to make it easy for you to share. You can also use the share buttons below the post! And if you’re not on social media, you can share by emailing the post to your friends!

Thanks for helping spreading joy this season!

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How about you? What helps or hinders your experiencing joy? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Behold the Glory of the One and Only Immanuel

Freebies Galore! Scripture Memory Verse Cards, Advent Coloring Page & Additional Study Resources!

With all the Christmas activity, I thought we might just take a few minutes to stop and reflect on the reason for our celebrations. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the gift-buying, party-hosting, and all the extra cooking, cleaning, and busyness that sweeps into our lives at this time of year and miss the miracle in the manager. The theme of Week 2 is Peace. And as it coincides with the week to choose my next memory verse for this year, I chose to focus on John 1:14. This verse beautifully expresses how we are made at peace with God.

Advent Week 2: Peace John 1:14

And I thought since it was such a beautiful day here today, I’d just step out on the porch and chat with you about what God brought to mind as I reflected on the words in this verse.

As I told you in the video, I’ve made several different freebies for you this week.

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Freebies Galore!

Digging in Deeper to John 1:14

If you like to meditate on the Word through studying and listening to sermons and more intellectual pursuits, you’ll enjoy the additional resources I’ve curated for you in this PDF resource guide, Digging in Deeper to John 1:14.

In it, you’ll find links to a couple of sermons on this verse by C.H. Spurgeon as well as some of the online word-study and cross reference tools I use.  Just click on the image or button below to request this PDF and it will be sent instantly to you. You can print it out, but you’ll probably want to view it on your computer or smartphone so the links will be live. Then,  you can click on the links and open the resource.

Send me that Resource Guide, please!

Advent Coloring Page

If you like more of an experiential form of meditating on the Scripture, you might want to get the Advent coloring page I made of John 1:14. As you color in the words and pictures, feel your stress melting away and be aware of Immanuel this Advent season.

I WANT THAT COLORING PAGE!

Scripture Memory Verse Cards

If you’re participating in the 2015 Scripture Memory Team and want the 3 x 5 printables to make a memory verse spiral or just to have memory verse cards you can place around your house, get this freebie. Click the button or image below and I’ll instantly email you a PDF with all 23 verse cards we’ve been working on so far this year.

Click Here to Get Your Printable Verses

 

Whatever freebie(s) you choose, I hope you spend some time reflecting on the amazing fact that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us! Meditate on his glory as you wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ! (see John 1:14 and Titus 2:11-14)

How about you? What helps you meditate on the Word so you can behold the glory of God and experience his truth and grace? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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A Hopeful Start to the Advent Season

FREE Stress-Busting Scripture Coloring Page

It is fitting the Advent season begins with the theme of hope. As we prepare our hearts for the arrival of Christ, hope is central to that preparation. Biblical hope is not like worldly wishful thinking. Rather it is the confident expectation that God will fulfill his promises. It is not dampened by circumstances or dependent upon our actions. Our hope is grounded in the nature and character of God.

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By the way, I’ve made a special Advent Coloring Page for you. Use it to melt away stress and meditate on the hope of Advent.

 

I WANT THAT COLORING PAGE!

God’s Word Gives Us Hope

The Scriptures reveal we can be certain God will bring to pass all he has promised. Paul wrote of this very thing to the church in Rome.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4, NIV

The more we are in the Scriptures the deeper our faith will grow. As we see how he was faithful to fulfill his prophecies related to the first Advent, we can be encouraged that his faithfulness need not be doubted when it comes to the second Advent of Christ.

The Holy Spirit Is a Source of Hope

In addition to the Holy Scriptures, we have something even more personal and intimate and powerful to give us hope. He has given us His Spirit as the guarantee of our full redemption and salvation. The Creator and Sustainer is our Redeemer and Savior.

We are not saved by our works but by His. And in saving us, He makes us new creations and teaches us how to reflect his truth and grace to others. He places His Spirit in us and inclines our hearts to be imitators of Him.

Based on a photo by Alvesgaspar via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

How We Respond

We respond in faith to His grace and mercy. We can face uncertain times because of our certain hope Christ will come again and bring to fruition the fullness of His restoration.

Biblical hope naturally leads to peace, joy, and love. And over the next few weeks, we will explore each of these themes as we prepare our hearts to receive our Lord.

My Advent Prayer for You

So as you embark on your Advent journey, I pray the words of Paul over you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

A Stress-Busting Gift

If you need a break from the gift-buying, cleaning, cooking, and all the other holiday activities, grab this free Advent coloring page I made for you.

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As your crayons, colored pencils, or markers glide over the page, meditate on the words of that prayer and let the Holy Spirit fill you with hope, peace, joy, and love this Advent season!

To get your coloring page, just click on the image or button below and I’ll email it to you instantly! And once you’ve finished your work of art, please post a picture of it. You can post a photo on Twitter and tag it with @LauraNaiser. Or post it on my Making It Real Ministries Facebook page.

 

I WANT THAT COLORING PAGE!

How about you? How do you experience hope with regard to God’s promises? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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How Grace Differs From Mercy and A New Resource to Share

Insight into Christ's "upside down" kingdom...

Dr. Pam and Keith Harrison

This is a guest post by Dr. Pamela Harrison. She and her husband, Keith, are the co-founders of High Seas Ministries, a ministry dedicated to serving guests and crew members of the cruise ship industry. She teaches the complete Bible as presented in The 10-Day Bible Companion on ships and for groups on land. They are passionate about presenting God’s Word in a way that anyone can understand it and share it with others! For more on the Harrisons and the ministry, visit www.highseasministries.org, or send an email to pam@highseasministries.org.

Yesterday, many of us celebrated Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year.  The season of Advent—that glorious anticipation of hope, love, joy, and peace—begins next Sunday.  Soon we will push ourselves to the limit to meet all the requirements placed on us by others—and ourselves—at this busy time of the year.  But, for now…let’s stop.  Just for a moment. And consider this amazing, “upside-down” kingdom of Christ as the Bible describes it.

So began the "upside down" kingdom of the long awaited King of Glory!

A Very Different Kind of Kingdom

We get an early hint that God’s kingdom is not like man’s when we read of Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob in Genesis 33:4:

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

Once Jacob finally got away from his Uncle Laban, he faced another challenge—his twin brother Esau, the same one he had deceived out of his first-born child status and blessing. He certainly had no reason to expect Esau to be anything but angry and bent on revenge, even after twenty years had passed, so he sent gifts ahead with his servants to ‘soften him up’.

Jacob soon discovered, however, that it was not Esau who would be given gifts in this situation, but Jacob himself, for Esau had forgiven him and greeted his younger brother with affection. Jacob, who deserved justice, received not just mercy, but grace.

In the 21st century—as in Jacob’s time—most people want to see justice done, especially justice for everyone else. When a wrong is done, we want to see that wrong avenged—someone must pay!

We see justice as “getting what you deserve.” Mercy, on the other hand, comes by throwing ourselves at the feet of judgment and pleading for the opposite of justice—“not getting what we deserve.”

What, then, is grace?

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Take a Moment to Delight in God and His Creation

3 Important Truths God Reminded Me Of While On Our Vacation

We just returned from Hawaii. And as I mentioned in a recent post, much of the trip tested my ability to push past my fears. But when I wasn’t trembling in terror, I found myself delighting in God and the beauty and diversity of his creation.

Matt snapped the picture below as he flew over the island of Kauai in a helicopter. These remote areas are inaccessible to humans. Yet, clearly they abound in the gorgeous flowers, trees, waterfalls, and rock formations found in the inhabited parts of the island.

That God created such detailed exquisiteness in places no human eye would ever behold fascinated me and reminded me of the truth articulated in Colossians 1:16, specifically that God created all things for himself.  I meditated on the truth and grace wrapped up in that concept and three lessons emerged.

Colossians 1:16, ESV

If you read (or at least skim) all the way through the rest of this post you will:

  • Slow down for a few minutes and revel in God’s presence and grandness.
  • Gain perspective on your own view of God and his ability to help you handle whatever comes your way.
  • Remember the unexhaustableness of his grace and mercy.
  • Receive the FREE GIFT I made for you.

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How I Made Peace with the Mystery of Suffering

Free download of 10 Scriptures to help you stay afloat in hard times!

Back around Palm Sunday, I sent my subscribers a link to a Holy Week post I wrote in 2014. That post caught a friend off guard because it revealed a shift in my thinking since she and I had been in Bible study together a decade ago. So, she called me up to discuss how I had arrived at this new  perspective. We talked with great affection and respect for probably more than an hour. It was a highlight of my week. Why? Because we were mutually wrestling with a profound mystery and pressing one another to think deeply on the matter. This post is a brief summary of what I shared with her about how I’ve made peace with the mystery of suffering.

Isaiah 43:2, NIV

Based on a photo by Glen Orchy via CC 2.0

When my friend and I were in Bible study together, I was comfortably entrenched on the “free will” side of the debate of why bad things happen. Back then, I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which God would want me or anyone else to suffer. So, if something painful or unjust happened, I was willing to tread dangerously close to denying God’s sovereignty to avoid accepting that God could allow, or heaven forbid, cause the pain.

In that Palm Sunday post, I explained how I had moved to a more middle ground with regard to the extremes of either “God causes everything” or “everything is the natural consequence of sin.” Over the years, both my study of Scripture and my life experiences taught me that just because I can’t see a good reason for God to allow or cause something to happen, doesn’t mean he couldn’t have one. And as my knowledge of and trust in God has grown, so too has my willingness to accept and make peace with the mystery of suffering.

Focus on What You Can Know

I’ve heard that when law enforcement officers train to spot counterfeit bills, they spend most of their time studying the real ones. They do look at some examples of fakes, but the majority of their effort is spent getting to know the characteristics of the genuine bills. It would be impossible to learn all of the traits of the endless varieties of counterfeits. There will always be another imaginative criminal who develops some new method. However, the authentic currency has a clearly revealed makeup. Once they are certain of the characteristics of the true bills, it becomes easy to spot an impostor.

The same goes for my approach to this conundrum of what is the source of the painful, unjust experiences in life. The more I know about God’s character, the less I need worry about the various possible causes of suffering. I focus on what I can know rather than what I can’t.

What I Don’t Know and Will Never Know

Did God cause a particular situation?  I don’t know. I will never know for sure.

I can spend a whole lot of emotional, spiritual, and physical energy debating and wrestling with something about which I’m never going to reach a certain conclusion. Or, I can devote that energy toward getting to know the revealed truth of God.

The more I grow in my understanding of God, the less I need to answer those unanswerable questions. God has not revealed why specific things happen in my life. However, God has revealed much about who he is and how he relates with his creation.

What I Do Know

What he has revealed doesn’t solve the mystery of why specific things happen and what or who causes them to happen in our lives. But what he has revealed through Jesus Christ and the Scriptures gives me something far more steadying to grip when the rug gets pulled out from under me.

Here are few of the things I know for sure:

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Will You Build on Solid Rock or Shifting Sand?

2015 Scripture Memory Verse 9

I sure wish it was as easy as hearing the words to make them effective in our lives. If it were I’d be rocking a beach-ready body right now given all the diet and exercise books I’ve read over the years. Unfortunately, I actually have to put into practice what those books tell me if I want the outcome they promise. And it is exactly the same when it comes to the words of Jesus. We can read and even memorize the Bible, but if we don’t put the words into effect in our lives, they won’t change us. However, unlike the diet books, I don’t have to depend on my willpower to put into practice the words of Jesus.

Matthew 7:24, NIV

When he talked about his followers producing results in keeping with his commands, Jesus usually tied fruitful obedience to being in relationship with him. I first noticed that connection when I studied John 15. There, he used the analogy of a grapevine and its branches to illustrate how the power to produce results (fruit) comes from the branch remaining in the vine. And I noticed it again in the context of today’s memory verse: Matthew 7:24.

The Wise and Foolish Builders

Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount with another great analogy. This time, he compared one who not only heard his words but put them into practice to a wise man who built his house on a foundation of solid rock. He contrasted this wise person with the foolish person who built upon the shifting sand instead.

If one looks only at these verses (Matthew 7:24-27), it may seem as though putting the words into action is all about outward obedience. But we know that can’t be Jesus’ point here because the entire sermon stressed that right actions without right relationship are powerless to transform and save us.

Outward Obedience Isn’t Enough

Throughout his sermon, he contrasted the lives of the scribes and Pharisees (religious leaders of his day) with the lives of true citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Those listening probably thought none were more fastidiously obedient than the Pharisees. They devoted their entire lives to the study and practice of the Law. And these leaders weren’t just grading their own papers; they were all up in everyone else’s business, too.

The Pharisees compared the actions of others with their own meticulous obedience. And these men assessed not only how well people put into practice God’s instructions in the Scripture, but also whether they complied with all the add-ons the religious leaders had piled on over the years.

Jesus’ words likely shocked those listening to him. He said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, NIV) How could anyone do better than those guys? Is there no hope?

But Jesus had in mind a different righteousness. Rather than self-righteousness that resulted from one’s outward compliance, Jesus called for a righteousness dependent on him.

Instead of willpower, we need Spirit power. Instead of pride and self-confidence, we need humility and a recognition we can not, on our own, be obedient. We must be in relationship with Christ if we are to live as his disciples.

Relationship Required

Our putting into effect his words is all about our being in relationship with him. Transformation happens in the relationship. And it happens from the inside out: first our hearts are changed, then our actions change.

Notice what Jesus said just before the analogy of the two builders; read Matthew 7:15-23. The fruit we produce matters, but not because it earns us a ticket to heaven. The actions matter because they reveal the state of our heart!

The relationship, not the actions, are of primary importance. We can do all kinds of religious and/or good actions and yet not know Jesus. Those actions are powerless to transform our hearts into the hearts of citizens of his kingdom. On the other hand, knowing Jesus can’t help but result in changes in our actions.

Knowing Jesus is different than knowing about him. Knowing Jesus means we depend on his righteousness not ours to save us, and it involves fellowshipping with and learning from him how to be his disciples.

When we build our house on the rock, we build a faith on the rock solid foundation of knowing Jesus. We are on secure ground when we recognize our inability to be righteous apart from his righteousness. When the rains come, the streams rise, and the wind blows against us, we will stand, not in our strength but in his!

However, if we place our hope on the shifting sands of our own righteousness a great and tragic crash is the only possible outcome. Our strength of will is no match for the storm of sin.

A heart changed by the grace and mercy of God produces a will surrendered to Jesus’ will. And when our will is surrendered to his, we live as he calls us to live—not in our power but in his.

How about you? What Scripture verses are you working on and what helps you with your memory work? I would love to hear your ideas! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Freebie Download

 


I’ve been using a little 3×5 index card spiral to work on my memory verses. As I’ve said before, I struggle with memorizing Scriptures. So, I’m trying lots of different things to help me get the words fixed in my brain. I’ve found visual cues help jog my memory. So I’ve pasted the graphics I made for the memory verse blog posts into my little spiral. Picturing the various graphics with their bolded words or banners and such, helps me when I get stuck.

You may or may not be working on the same verses, but I thought I’d share my memory verse cards with you in case you find it helpful.

Click Here to Get Your Printable Verses

Then print the two pages out and cut into the individual cards. I’ve sized them to fit on a 3×5 index card. And I’ve also included the image of Psalm 119:11 which I used on the cover of my spiral.

How God Got My Attention with a Fruitless Fig Tree

Here in Texas, you do NOT want someone to say you are “all hat and no cattle.” In the same way, those of us who profess to follow Christ never want him to declare we are all leaves and no figs! Earlier this week, as I read the Gospel accounts of Holy Week, the puzzling account of Jesus cursing a fig tree captured my attention (Matthew 21:12-22 and Mark 11:12-24). I’ve read these passages before, scratched my head in confusion, and moved on to the more straight-forward parts of the story. This time, I couldn’t let go of this odd scene. I felt God encouraging me to linger, listen, and learn.

A Fig Tree

Modified version of a photo by Ian Scott / CC BY

A Fruitless Fig Tree

After Sunday’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, with the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” still ringing in his ears, Jesus retreated to Bethany for the night. Early the next morning, a hungry Jesus trekked back to Jerusalem. I suspect the pain in his empty stomach mixed with the pain in his heart over the scene he witnessed the previous day in his Father’s house.

In the distance, he spotted a fig tree full of leaves. Good sign. Many leaves means much fruit when it comes to fig trees. Breakfast, coming up!

But where there should have been much fruit, Jesus found only leaves. Mark’s account disclosed it wasn’t the season for figs. So, at first, I wondered why Jesus would be disappointed and angry because the tree had no produce. But then I learned

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Take Heart! Trouble is Inevitable but in Christ so is Peace

2015 Scripture Memory Team Verse 6

It is inevitable that we will have struggles and difficulty in this world. It is a fallen world. But God does not leave us to flounder and fail. He has stepped in and made a way for us to overcome the impact and influence of the world around us and the sinful nature within us. When we accept his way, he gives us a new heart. The words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his crucifixion convey this hope. We just need to take hold of it. That is why I’ve chosen John 16:33 as my next memory verse.

John 16:33, NIV

I want to experience God’s peace in the midst of pain, his calm in the midst of crisis, and his love in the midst of loneliness.

Unfortunately, my natural reaction when the waves of this world crash upon my shores, is to try to withstand the onslaught in my own strength. I won’t overcome the world in my strength, and God doesn’t ask me to. Etching these words into my brain will help me remember that.

I will experience peace when I am in him. When I walk in relationship with him and let him into my life, peace is the natural outcome.

This seems foolish to those who haven’t experienced it. But I’ve experienced it and know it is true. Jesus offers us a new heart. One able to bear up under whatever this world throws at us. Take heart! Take the new heart he offers.

We overcome because he has overcome on our behalf and we are in him. And in him, we have a peace the world can never provide.

Want to join me in committing two verses a month to memory? Join the Scripture Memory Team! You can jump in at anytime and do as much or as little as you like. I’d just love to have you accompany me on the journey.

 

Click Here to Get Your Printable Verses

How about you? How is your Scripture memory work coming along? What verse are you working on this week? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Refuge and Strength in Times of Trouble

2015 Scripture Memory Verse 3

I was wondering whether to keep these Scripture Memory posts going. I wasn’t seeing the engagement in the comments, so I thought maybe this wasn’t of interest to anyone except me. However, in several conversations, I’ve found out that there are more of you out there who are enjoying the posts even though you don’t comment on the blog. So, I am going to keep doing them. It helps hold me accountable to accomplishing my goal of memorizing twenty-four verses this year. Feel free to jump in and join me at any time!

Verse 3

I must admit, my second verse 2 was more of a challenge for me. I will need to keep working on it while I start working on this next verse.

I have selected Psalm 46:1 from the New International Version for my third verse. Here it is:

Psalm 46:1, NIV

This has been a busy and somewhat stressful last couple of weeks. We’ve launched our Spring semester of Bible study at my church. And as the registrar and part of the leadership team, the start up is a busy time. And I’m excitedly preparing for an upcoming retreat with the women from St. Richard’s Episcopal Church in Round Rock, Texas. I will be joining them out in the beautiful Hill Country at Wellspring Retreat Center and teaching them how to replace their buttons (that people push) with healthy boundaries. I’ve also had my heart and mind full of prayers for several friends who are going through difficult times in their lives.

It is so easy to let my focus shift to the times of trouble and the unrelenting stress and fear. But, God calls us to focus on him and let him be our ever-present help in those times. Memorizing and meditating on this verse will help ground me in his strength. It will keep my focus where it needs to be.

What helps you?

Do you have a verse that helps you when you feel stressed, afraid, or overwhelmed? I’d love for you to share it in the comments below. It may be exactly what someone needs to hear! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Have a great week in the Word! And if you’d like a copy of the chalkboard printables I’m using to help me memorize my verses, just click the image or button below and I’ll email them to you.

Click Here to Get Your Printable Verses