Scriptures of Christmas - Gifts of Worship

by Sally Matheny

Dear Friends, you are in for a treat. My sweet friend, Nan Jones, is guest blogging for me today.
God first brought Nan into my life as the welcome wagon at my first writers’ conference. She didn’t even serve on the staff! She is just that genuine kind of person that pulls you in with her warm smile and compassionate heart. Within minutes of learning I was a nervous, greenhorn writer, Nan was already jotting down helpful websites for me and telling me of people I needed to meet while at the conference. During one short weekend, we developed a lasting friendship.
I love Nan's writing because, like her, it radiates her love for Christ.
May you find a blessing as you read. And I pray each of you experience joy and peace as you focus on God’s most precious and perfect gift of Jesus Christ.

by Nan Jones

The camels plodded along the stony trail. With every step, dust from the dry and thirsty land blurred the edges of their hooves. The night sky, vast and translucent, held the veil between heaven and earth. Stars, like sequins, glimmered. A silence wrapped the Magi in a holy hush - a knowing, a pondering of the faithfulness of their God.
Steady they went; the star in the east their compass. Its brilliant light-beams cascaded over the earth beckoning these men of wisdom and insight and worship to seek the Newborn King. Saddlebags draped over jewel-toned blankets, bulged with gifts fit for the long awaited Christ Child. Gifts befitting royalty. Gifts of worship.

From the crest of the hill overlooking the valley below, the Magi searched the heavens. And there it was! The sign! The cascading light-beams from the brilliant star touched the earth, pointing to the Messiah. Shouts of joy rang across the land as the men proclaimed their journey's end. Hearts raced with anticipation. Spirits leaped within from the overpowering Presence of God.

The men of wisdom bolted towards the Light, dismounted, and doubled over in awe. Tears streamed. Smiles beamed. And their knees fell hard against the earth as they bowed in worship before their King.

One by one the Magi unwrapped their gifts for Jesus. 
One by one the gifts reflected God's perfect plan.

Gold. The royalty of Jesus. A gift befitting the King of kings.

Frankincense. The priestly role of Jesus. The sweet aroma drifting from the altar of incense in the Tabernacle where prayer flowed to the Father. Resin harvested by stripping the bark from the tree in a process called striping. The resin flows from the wounds, hardens, and is deemed the tears of the tree.

Myrrh. The anointing oil for Jesus' death. Resin from a small, thorny tree. The tree is beaten repeatedly to cause the resin to bleed out. Myrrh was used to embalm the dead.

Like Mary, I ponder these things of God. I find myself awestruck at the intricacies of His plan of salvation - the complexities of design and purpose.  I wonder at the sweet aroma created by the prayers of the righteous before the Lord and the fact that the Magi must have realized the significance of their gift being harvested by stripes and tears. I am in awe that myrrh was chosen as the third gift - myrrh, whose very source is laden with thorns and must be beaten to release the fragrant liquid.

I think on Jesus and His touch upon my life.


"Lord, I cry out to You; 

Make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. 

Let my prayer be set before You as incense, 

the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." 

~ Psalm 141:2

As I seek the Christ Child this Christmas, dust from my dry and thirsty land blurs each step. But, I seek Him still. His Word is a lamp unto my feet, a brilliant light cascading from heaven pointing directly to Him. I cry out to Him, my prayers a sweet aroma, pleasing and acceptable to the Lord because He loves me. 

And because He loves me, I will worship Him.

I will worship and adore Him because He is the Lord.

Nan Jones
Nan Jones is an author/speaker who uses the words of her heart to assist fellow Christians in discovering the Presence of God in their darkest hour. Her devotional blog, Morning Glory, has become a place of community for Christians to find encouragement in God’s Word and comfort in His Presence.
Nan’s devotions have produced a far-reaching impact across the nation and globe due to her online presence. She has been published in three anthologies: Ultimate Christian Living, Diamonds in the Light: Exceptional Women Showcasing Their Gifts, and God's Word for God's People: 2013 Daily Devotional. She has also been published in the online inspirational sites Christian Devotions, and Inspire a Fire, and has been featured as a guest blogger on several sites.
She is thrilled to announce her debut book, "The Perils of a Pastor's Wife" which is slated to be released in early 2015 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
When Nan is not writing, she enjoys leading prayer retreats, bible studies or sharing God’s love as keynote speaker for special events. She is becoming known by her brand: "Even so, I walk in the Presence of the Lord."
You many visit Nan at her website or her blog, Morning Glory. For personal communication you may email Nan at nan@jubilantlight.com.


When There’s Nothing to Blog About

by Sally Matheny
When There's Nothing to Blog About
I started blogging in April 2011. A whopping fifteen viewers read my first post. At first, I didn’t want to blog, but writer friends said it would improve my writing. I’ve maintained a schedule of posting every Monday and I am learning a great deal in the process.

     I know experienced bloggers write out their posts weeks in advance.  For some reason, I’ve just not been able to do that. Most of the time, I’m observing and pondering throughout the week and begin writing my post one or two days before it is posted.
     Some weeks a topic emerges and the words flow easily. However, most weeks it’s several hours of hard labor trying to birth something worthy of reading. And occasionally, there comes a time when I think there's nothing to blog about, which seems silly. Surely, there is something of interest to write about! The challenge is writing it in such a way that benefits my readers.
A Sleigh Full of Writing Ideas

     Take this week for example. Its two weeks before Christmas. Christmas! There should be a sleigh full of ideas, right? Well, I started a post on Christmas traditions- whether to treasure, toss, or tweak them. Eh. It was boring. But I plugged on thinking I could perk it up later.
     It never fails during these struggling times of writing that I am paged.
     “Mom, I’m a little concerned.”
     I look up from my laptop at my nine-year-old redhead. I am thinking he must have seen a news report about hurricane victims or overheard someone’s unfavorable health prognosis.
      “What are you concerned about honey?” 
The Concerns of a Child's Life

     With his little furrowed brow he looks at me and states, “I’m concerned that I only have one gift under the tree and other people have more.”

     I close my laptop and focus my attention on his blue-blue eyes and his green-green heart.  We talk awhile about why we have Christmas and how we are always fair in our gift giving. Finally, I make the point of how crazy-focused he gets on his gifts when he sees them under the tree. I purposely do not put his gifts out until Christmas morning because he will drive me insane with questions. Mainly, “Can I open just one today?”
     We come to a point of understanding and he goes off to play. I go upstairs to continue working on the blog post. I get sidetracked looking up statistics on re-gifting. Did you know 78% of Americans think re-gifting is okay? While I ponder how to tie that in to my blog post on traditions, my husband comes in and sits down beside me.
Clank. Scrape. Clank. Scrape.

Life's Sweet Interruptions
     Looking up to see him licking the chocolate ice cream from his spoon, I inform him I am trying to work. Immediately I regret the comment as he gets up to leave. I beg him to stay and chat while he eats his ice cream. He does and then I turn back to my writing after he leaves.

     I’ve ventured now into writing remarks about people intentionally buying and wearing ugly, Christmas sweaters. This article is not going where I wanted it to go. Arrgghh.
     “Mom!” My nineteen year old, home from college for the holidays, is screaming in frustration. I pretend not to hear her.
     “Mom! I NEED you!”
     Closing the laptop once again, I venture downstairs. “Calm down. What is it?”
     “The red velvet cake I baked for Dad’s office party has broken in two, and half of it is in the pan and the other half is here, and I’m too tired to bake another one and so, here you go. Do whatever you want with it because I’m done.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

     Her hair is pulled up into a messy bee-bop with strands dangling in front of her flushed face. It’s good to see her back home in the kitchen, even if she is spazzing out a little.
     “Calm down. Let me see if I can fix it.”
     “Good luck,” she spurts slumping off to her room. Bless. She hasn't caught up with her sleep since exams last week.
     The cake appears to be in several pieces on the plate and one large piece is still in the cake pan. All I need to do is loosen the large piece, apply it to the cake and ice it. No one will ever know.
     Easier said than done. The cake stubbornly clings to the pan. Now, the cake looks like someone smashed it with a piƱata pole. Even if I “glued” it back together with icing, it would look a mess.
Savoring Life's Moments
     Wondering if anyone has ever made a red velvet cake trifle, I start to laugh. The rest of the family gathered in the kitchen.  I told my husband his cake would arrive late. I’d bake another one the next day. The redhead ecstatically ate what was now deemed the family cake.  The daughter was relieved she could go to bed. And I knew what I was going to write about.
     Life happens—to all of us. We all have good days, crazy days, and not-so-good days. One thing I have learned by blogging, is my readers are most encouraged by things that happen in real life. One of my most popular posts is Best of Intentions Hit the Ceiling. Evidently, people like learning from my mistakes. I guess it beats learning firsthand from their own.

     God provides teachable moments in every breath we take. We can choose to keep our heads down and continue plugging away at what we’re doing—thinking we’ll figure out how to fix it later. Or we can turn our attention to what God brings before us: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

     Tune in to what God is teaching. Stress less. Laugh more. Trust.  Love.  Forgive.
     While I’m learning from my own good, bad, and ugly moments, I want to be a source of encouragement for others in their life journeys. As long as we're living, there will always be something to blog about--it is just a matter of learning how best to share it.
     Got to go. I’m being paged.

     In the meantime, why don't you share with us what you blog about?



Christmas Pointers Waiting for Christmas

Waiting for Christmas
Christmas is a fun time of year, especially for children. There is an abundance of merry activities: parades, special programs, baking and decorating. 
Adults are walking children down toy aisles and making wish lists. Pointing to different toys they ask, “What about this? Do you like this?”
There are alot of Christmas pointers waiting for Christmas.

As far back as my memory will take me, I remember my mother reading stories to us each night, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The Christmas devotional stories came from a green, hardcover, Guideposts book. My sister and I loved those stories and they always seemed to draw our focus away from material things and towards Christ.

I recall my love for hearing the devotional readings prior to Christmas. But I must admit Christmas morning was a completely different matter.

The shiny bows and mysteriously shaped packages under the tree screamed for my attention. However, the gifts had to wait.  

First, we were not allowed to go to the living room until we woke Mama and Daddy up—which seemed to take forever.

Then, we could sit in front of the tree but not touch anything until Daddy got his coffee—, which seemed to take forever.

Next, we had to wait for Mama to put the sausage balls and cinnamon Danish rolls in the oven—, which seemed to take forever.

Finally, it was time for Mama to read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2. Many times my mind wandered away from the manger and over to the presents. Why could my excitement about the gifts not make those shepherds walk a little faster?  Let the wise men hurry and give their three gifts because I had already scanned my name more than that on tags under the tree.  

What? Time to pray? Alright! That meant presents were next!

We had another tradition. It wasn’t a free-for-all. We had to take turns opening gifts starting with the youngest, which was cool since that was I. I liked seeing what everyone else got, especially my sister, since she might share her toys with me. However, I always readied the next gift in my lap while everyone else opened their presents.

Shameful and sad, isn’t it? Alas, it was the mindset of a self-centered five year old. God bless my parents for hanging in there. I’m thankful they didn’t throw their hands up in discouragement and let us delve into a selfish frenzy.
As much as they enjoyed watching their children’s delight on Christmas morning, they had a deeper conviction. They knew something that I did not know until I was older—that the fulfillment in gifts is fleeting. Most of the toys would be discarded within a few years, some within a few months. Not one toy would last forever and even if it did, they knew the happiness it once brought would not. 

Christmas Pointers

The greatest gift they gave us was their consistent pointing to Jesus Christ.  All they could do was point the way. We had to make the choice.  

The angels told the shepherds the good news. However, the shepherds made the decision to go find the Messiah. The star pointed the way for the magi, but they had to choose to follow it.

Praise God, as I matured, my gaze gradually shifted from the gifts to the manger. God drew me to Him. He used my parents and others to point me in the right direction.

It is delightful giving gifts at Christmas, especially to children. In the midst of all the merriment, let's continue turning our focus on the best Gift.

My joy comes from God’s perfect gift, Jesus Christ.  It thrills my soul beyond measure to know Him.

How long will His love fulfill my life?


What about you? How do you point the way to Christ during the Christmas season?






The Best Christmas Tree Ever

Do You Want the Best Christmas Tree Ever?

     The first year of our marriage, we lived in a small apartment with a small, newlywed budget. Pinching pennies to buy our first house, our first Christmas tree was a $15.99 Blue Light Special from K-Mart. 

      We loved it and thought it was the best Christmas tree ever.

     It turned out to be a good thing the tree was only four feet tall. On December 23, we were surprised to learn we could move early into the house we were buying. 

     I would never have decorated our apartment for Christmas had I known we would be moving so soon! However, we didn’t have a lot of stuff, so packing up didn’t take too long. We packed vehicles and transported furniture and clothes to the new house about ten miles down the road. We had a family Christmas gathering to attend that night so everything seemed like a chaotic rush.


Gobble, Gobble! It’s a Blog Party—Let's Celebrate & Give Thanks!

Gobble, Gobble! It's a Blog Party!
Gobble, gobble! It’s a blog party!

All my friends at Write2Ignite are setting this time aside to celebrate and give thanks for all the good things concerning the 2014 Write2Ignite Writers' Conference.

Our goal is to be a blessing to writers and illustrators, especially those who yearn to create, with a Christian worldview, for children and young adults.

Every year the leadership team bathes every detail of the conference in prayer. Our fearless conference director, Jean Hall, exemplifies faith and patience. She urges us to be on our knees seeking God’s will for Write2Ignite. The leadership team works hard in preparation but ultimately trusts God to finalize all the details.

Here’s what we’re praising God for today:

· The date and place are set. March 28 – 29, 2014 at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.

· Bill Reeves, of Working Title Agency, and actor/writer Torry Martin have agreed to be our keynote speakers.

· We have a great line up of authors, editors, and agents. Many of these as well as professional writing instructors will be teaching awesome writers' workshops and meeting one-on-one with writers.

Teen Track & Adult Track Workshops at Write2Ignite!

· There are two tracks at the conference—one for adults and one for teens. We’re thankful for the three, fresh teen voices serving on the teen track team. (Yeah, they do plenty of running! J) Speaking of two tracks, this is a perfect time for parent-writers to plan a fun, road trip with their teen-writers. (Plus, if you homeschool, this is superb, high school English credit!)

· Sleep Inn in Travelers Rest, S.C. is offering another great discount for W2I conference attendees this year.

· Cecil Murphey has graciously donated scholarships this year. In fact, he’ll match up to fourteen scholarships if we can round up some more generous donors. Fourteen!

YOU are a blessing to us.

As you can see, we’ve a great deal to celebrate. Will you please join us in prayer for the conference and ask God to continue using it to encourage and train writers? You, dear friend, are a blessing to all of us at Write2Ignite.

If you’ve never attended the Write2Ignite Writers’ Conference, please pray about attending. This is an exceptional conference. Not only do you receive excellent writing instruction, your spirit is revived. You’re inspired and equipped to make a difference with what you write.

Even if you have never submitted any of your writing anywhere before, this conference may be just what you need. Writers of all skill levels attend. Be brave. Try something new in 2014!

If you have attended Write2Ignite before, share your experience with us by leaving a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

Also, continue celebrating this party at the following blogs:

 Go Tell Your Friends About the Blog Party!
Gobble, gobble. Or better yet--TWEET about it!


14 Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

by Sally Matheny
“I would like to order a cheeseburger and fries, please.”
“Would you like a Mega Shake to go with that?”
“No, thank you. Just a water, please.”
“Your bill is $3.14. Pull up.”

I drive to the first window and count out the correct change for the cashier. Handing him the money, I smile.
Not returning the smile, he takes the money. “Pull up to the next window,”  he says in monotone, closing the window with a slam.
I greet the next cashier with a smile.
He hands the order to me. “Cheeseburger, fries, and water.”
“Yes, thank—“
The window smacks shut. 
  Does this sound familiar? Not all food service personnel are like this, but overall the customer appreciation gauge has definitely nosedived. Are employees not taught proper customer service techniques or do employers assume they were taught at home? 

   Who is teaching today's children about gratitude?
  My senior English teacher in high school, Mrs. Ledford, not only taught us life lessons through literature, she also taught us about other delicacies in life.
  One I will never forget, was when we had to pretend there was a chicken breast on our desk. We were instructed where our napkin should be anchored and how to cut the chicken with a knife and fork.  Many finger-lickin’ teens found this a humorous but valuable lesson. After all, we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves when we went away to college. Mrs. Ledford yearned for us to put our best foot forward as well.


  She taught us the proper way to address our own high school graduation invitations. She instructed us not to burden our parents, but to do it ourselves. We had to practice writing thank you notes. She even had us write a thank you note to our parents. She conveyed the importance of expressing our gratitude to others.

  Not many teachers today invest in the kind of character training Mrs. Ledford did.  Who, then, will teach children about gratitude, rather than perpetuating a sense of entitlement? Hopefully, today’s youth will have the same role models I did—their parents.
  My parents were great at developing thankful hearts. As a young child, I didn’t have a whole lot of say-so in matters. Once when I needed a warm, winter coat, I received one with hideous purple fur--because it was on sale. My parents reminded me of how soft and warm it was. And that was that.
  As I grew older, my opinion was taken into consideration. However, price and quality were still the two determining factors, not brand names or popularity.
  I remember voicing my opinion about an ice cream cone once. It was a treat for our family to go to Spake’s Drive-In and get ice cream.  They had shakes, banana splits, and sundaes, but only two flavors of soft-serve ice cream cones. Chocolate and vanilla.

   My sister and I were always presented a choice of the soft-serve ice cream cones. One day I complained to my dad about not being able to get something different. I informed him (and not in the best way) of my desire for a nut sundae. I don’t remember what he said to me but I have never forgotten how my sister went home with an ice cream cone that day, and I didn’t.
  I learned gratitude.
  There were plenty of times when my parents treated me to special things, even spoiled me.  Those days were fully appreciated because I understood I was not entitled to anything. Either I earned it, or it was a gracious gift.
  Some days I don't do near as good a job as Mrs. Ledford or my parents, in teaching gratitude to my children. It’s so tempting to give my kids the desires of their hearts. I love to make them smile.
  However, giving them everything they want is only giving them temporary happiness. And a relentless sense of entitlement.  Research studies actually link gratitude to happiness and a sense of well being. Entitlement only produces disappointment.
  We can trace selfishness all the way back to Adam and Eve. Gratitude is not something we are born with, we have to learn it. The best way for children to learn gratitude is for parents to model it at home. 

14 Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude:

·        Say please and thank you more often to the spouse, the children, and to people we encounter each day (the cashier, the UPS man, and the fast food servers).
·         Develop our own sense of contentment by not rushing out to buy the latest technical gadget or handbag.
·         Criticize less. Complain less. Point out more good points than bad points in people, things, and circumstances.
·         Express thankfulness for non-material items like love and kindness. Be more attentive to these kinds of things and praise children often. Ex. “I like the way you play with the baby while I wash the dishes. Thank you.”

·         Don’t reward children for every little thing. Teach the principle of doing good because it is the right thing to do. We help others because it is what God desires, and we want to please God. Sometimes we work to earn money or rewards, and sometimes we volunteer.
·         Regularly have your children join you in doing kind deeds for others like baking bread for a sick neighbor or visiting the elderly.
·         Insist children write thank-you notes. Young children can draw a picture of the gift or dictate their note. Teach older ones thoughtful ways to make the note more personal.
·         Encourage generosity. Before birthdays and holidays, ask children to find several things they no longer play with and donate them to charities.
·         As tempting as it is, don’t step in and do your child’s chores for him. He will have a greater appreciation for someone else mowing a lawn on a hot, summer day if he just finished mowing a lawn himself.
·         Make it a practice to talk about the good things that happened each day. Perhaps keep a gratitude journal.

·         When something doesn’t turn out the way the child had hoped, talk about what good things came out of it. Teach children to find things to be thankful for in the midst of trials and disappointments.

·         Pray together. Finding contentment can only come with God’s help. Train young and old hearts with God’s Word.  A thankful heart to God will overflow into other areas of life.

·  When an item is desired, consider 
these responses: 
1. NO, and explain why. 
2. YES, and explain why. 
3. YES, but the child will have to figure
    out a way to obtain it. (Earn money
    or wait for a birthday)

·   When children begin illegitimate
  “I wannas” (I want this and I want that),
  say NO often, and stick to it. That way,
  when the time is right, the YES is much sweeter and appreciated.

  Parents want the best for their children. Overindulgence will only produce an unhappy person who thinks they deserve the best of everything and what everyone else has. Ultimately, this only contributes to an endless cycle of searching for the next best thing.

  Teaching our children how to be content and grateful will not provide them with a perfect life, but it will be a more joyful one. 

   What are some ideas you have for teaching gratitude to children?