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Christmas peace

It’s been over 35 years since the traumatic Christmas Eve I wrote about below. Thank You, Father, for bringing Your peace to these strained relationships and for the assurance that my mother and stepfather are now home with You. Please bring Your peace – Your shalom – to families in conflict. Restore estranged relationships and help us to love others as You love us.

~ * ~ * ~

How fast the year has flown, I reflected as I took the photographs off the mantle to decorate it for Christmas. A charred mark on the paneling behind one of the photos instantly reminded of a Christmas when our home had been anything but peaceful.

My mother and stepfather were visiting. The relationship was strained, but we had been trying to keep the peace. On Christmas Eve the tension erupted into a bitter argument. The smell of burning wood stopped me from saying things I would have later regretted. A candle had tipped over on the mantle causing the paneling right near the thermostat to smolder. Trembling with fear of what might have been, I soaked the wall with water and later hid the damage with a photo. The damage in the relationship with my parents was not so easily hid.

Painful memories have a way of refusing to stay camouflaged. At Christmas we are forced to face the fact that all is not always “calm” and “bright” in our relationships with a brother or a sister, a parent or a child, an in-law or cousin. This season of joy can turn into one of misery as we have no choice but to spend time with people who go out of their way to avoid us the rest of the year.

When our homes are filled with conflict, what can we do to have “peace on earth, good will to men”?

1. Keep our eyes on the One whose birth we celebrate. The Gospel of John opens with the poignant words: “His life is the light that shines through the darkness–and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John l:5 TLB). The reality of that first Christmas was not just the angels’ song, but Herod’s decree that every baby boy two years old and under be slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16). The shadow of the cross was already hanging over the Holy Family as they fled to Egypt.

Jesus never promised us problem-free relationships, but He has promised to give us the wisdom to know how to love those who may be anything but lovable. Difficult relationships do not have to spoil the joy of Christmas if we follow Jesus’ example and respond with love and forgiveness.

2. Try not to put unrealistic demands on ourselves. Christmas Eve I typically am still racing to complete my “to-do” list and end up too tired to enjoy Christmas much less to cope with difficult family members. We need to learn when to make a good night’s sleep a priority so that we’re able to handle added emotional pressures.

3. Avoid having unrealistic expectations of others. It is unlikely that people who have been less than pleasant throughout the year will suddenly become nice just because it is Christmas. Yes, I believe God works miracles, but it is just as great a miracle to learn not to set ourselves up to be hurt through our unrealistic expectations.

I cannot remove that charred area of paneling without replacing the entire wall, but it can serve as a reminder that if I want peace in my family, it must begin with me. Truly, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 NIV). Because Christ came, we can be reconciled to one another.
___________

The above article was first published in the December 1986 issue of Decision. It has been reprinted by Our Family, Messenger of St. Anthony, Christian Standard, Sunday Digest, Family Forum, The Gem, and ASSISTnews.net.


To encourage you to write about a God who is real,
who is reachable, and who changes lives
CDs of two workshops I taught this spring at ECPA.

Only $6 each – including handouts!
Click here to order securely online. (Scroll down to #8 & #9.)

#8 CD – Writing Articles that Touch Lives
If we hope to touch lives through the articles we write, we need to know the Lord, know what His Word says and means, know ourselves, and know our audience. Practical pointers for writing powerful, life-changing articles. You’ll discover the Habakkuk 2:2 blueprint to effectively “Write His Answer” and learn how to pass the “So what?” test.

#9 CD – Hook ’em from the Get-Go; Hold ’em to the End
With other 1,000 sales to Christians periodicals, Marlene has developed a checklist to help you create, rewrite, and edit your articles so that you can be certain you’ll hook ’em from the get-go and hold ’em to the end. You’ll learn how to capture and how your reader’s attention and how to use a checklist to polish your articles until they shine.
 
Hot-off-the press!
The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017
Includes “Topics and Types” indexes
to help you find markets for your articles.
Retail – $22.99
Special price – $17.99
Click here to order securely online.

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christmas-gifts
Thanks to an unexpected home improvement – we discovered a leak in our bathroom and spent two weeks with contractors coming and going – I’m far from ready for Christmas even though I’ve had 356 days to prepare. What can we do if our doing is way past what needs to be done?

  • In the midst of the rush to get caught up choose not to miss reflecting daily on the miracle of the Word becoming flesh (John 1:14).
  • If you’ve not yet mailed your Christmas cards (I haven’t!), instead of just signing your name to a store-bought Christmas card, why not enclose a letter? Family and friends you rarely see will appreciate an update even though it’s a copy of a mass-produced letter. But more than just the “news,” ask Father how you can encourage them through sharing something He has taught you this year. Choose to be real.
  • Write a Christmas poem or story and post it on your blog.
  • Post Scripture promises to your social media pages.
  • Write a Letter to the Editor to address efforts to take Christ out of Christmas. Write an intelligent, well-informed response and avoid preaching.
  • Give books by your favorite authors to family and friends.
  • Give yourself the gift of Tyndale’s The One Year Study Bible.
  • cwmg-2017Another must-have gift for yourself – the hot-off-the-press Christian Writers MarketGuide 2017. I just received two boxes of the newly designed and much easier to use guide. Thanks, Steve Laube and Lin Johnson for your work on this needed resource. It retails for $22.99 but is available through the Write His Answer Ministries bookstore for only $17.99 plus $4.00 shipping. There is NO charge for shipping if your order for additional titles from the WHAM bookstore is $35 or more. Click here to order.
  • Plan now to make 2017 the year of growing your writing skills by saving May 17-20 for the Colorado Christian Writers Conference or July 26-29 for the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference. I’m praising God for how both conferences are coming together. Be watching for an update on the websites by the end of the year. Why not drop a hint that a conference would make a wonderful Christmas gift?pc-2017-cwcs

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the promise that “His life is the light that shines through the darkness – and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5 TLB). Help us to be bearers of His light through the words we write and lives we live.

New WHA cover
My gift to you: You’ll find several free chapters from Write His Answer, now in print 25 years, at http://bit.ly/2h1qgs2.

“This book changed the way I write. I plan to read it again.”  ~ Danni Andrew

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I confess! I should have changed the headline on the post I shared on my Facebook page Friday, but I didn’t know how to. I did not intend for it to be a political statement. But duh! How else could the headline be interpreted: “This video is the LAST thing Democrats want you to see right now – and it’s going viral.”

The headline did create attention. With 72 “shares” on my Facebook page alone, I can’t help but wonder how many would have read it had I created a more accurate headline like: “He’s not everything the media says he is. Another side of Trump.”

Posted on Allen B. West’s website, the video tells the story of a Puerto Rican boxer whose life was changed because of Donald Trump. I shared it not to rub salt in the very real wounds of those who are grieving over the results of Tuesday’s election. Rather I shared it to show another side of Mr. Trump that we have not seen covered by the media.

Our nation is deeply divided. Yes, I know that’s an understatement. Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and other minorities are genuinely fearful for their safety.  So are white evangelicals who are being accused of putting a bigot in office.

A dear black friend in my critique group was run off the road by a white man screaming “Trump.” She shared a link to the must-read blog below that I also posted on my Facebook page. Sadly there have been only two shares.

Christians bear the distinct responsibility to love and care for our neighbors,
even if we don’t fully understand them or agree with them.
DESIRINGGOD.ORG

The author, Anthony Bushnell, wrote: “One of the central teachings of Christianity is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40.) The Bible exhorts us to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15); it doesn’t lead with telling us to ‘judge whether they should be weeping,’ says pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. The same is true for those in fear. We don’t have to agree with the intensity of their fear in order to empathize with them. Compassion doesn’t require us to be convinced another person is entirely correct. It requires us to care about how he is feeling. Even if you think the danger won’t come to pass, the fear is certainly real….”

I witnessed this fear In July when I spoke in an African-American church in Baltimore after a beautiful black man was killed in Minnesota. I said that day, “The battle is not with people made of flesh and blood but with the principalities and powers seeking to divide our nation and the church.”

I have also experienced fear as a white woman when I’ve driven through the black inner-city neighborhood where my son and daughter-in-law used to live. The rioting in Portland and threats calling for the assassination of President-elect Donald Trump cause me much fear that our nation could descend into anarchy.

The shouting and name-calling coming from both sides is deafening our ears to really hear one another. Who is listening? Certainly the world is. No doubt their opinion of Americans has fallen. God is listening and, I’m just as certain that He is not pleased, especially with those who profess to be Christians. Hopefully we are not spitting out hateful and angry words, but our silence can be just as loud and divisive.

Friends, we are called to be reconcilers through and because of His amazing love. Father, let peace begin with me and my decision to listen and to love.

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cross-1448946__180

Father, I grieve
for my nation that I love
and for Your people who are caught up
in the angry rhetoric that is dividing our nation.
I grieve even more for those who choose
to ignore the issues, to remain silent,
and not to exercise their responsibility to vote.

Father, I plead with You
to help us discern what is most important.
Give us the courage to stand
for the sanctity of life,
for marriage between a man and a woman,
for the nation of Israel surrounded by enemies.

Father, help us to recognize
that we are not fighting against people
made of flesh and blood
but against principalities and powers
intent on fueling angry thoughts and words
into explosive actions to destroy our nation.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow,
help us to trust that You are able
to work all things together for good.
Bring our nation back to You.
Help Your scribes to live
and to write Your answer!

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assist

Reconciled One to Another, Ministry
in the Age of 
#Black Lives Matter

 

By Marlene Bagnull, Litt.D., Director, Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, Special to ASSIST News Service

 


LANGHORNE, PA (ANS – July 9, 2016)
 — With the breaking news of more bloodshed on our streets, this time in Dallas where five police officers were killed, two workshops at the August 3-6 Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference take on added urgency.

 

On Thursday, August 4, Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts will present a workshop specifically designed for pastors although all are welcome to attend. In “Reconciled One to Another – Ministry in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter” she will show how “the Body of Christ is most effective when all its parts are at its maximum potential.

 

As a result, we should be the greatest advocate for cultural and racial diversity and reconciliation in all of society. In the age of social media and digital publication, it is increasingly becoming the responsibility of the church to voice its role in social justice and political issues and to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise the Gospel but actively inserts a Christ-centric perspective into the global conversation.

 

This workshop will equip pastors and ministers with the necessary practical and spiritual tools to appropriately and effectively extend both their evangelism and ministry efforts beyond conventional boundaries – particularly as it relates to the intersectional issues of race and faith.”

 

Thursday afternoon Lewis-Giggetts will present a second workshop, “Reconciled,” that will focus on how to give voice to the Church’s role in social justice and political issues in a way that doesn’t compromise the Gospel but actively inserts a Christ-centric perspective into the global conversation.

 

Author and educator Lewis-Giggetts is the author of nine books including The Integrated Church: Strategies for Multicultural Ministry (Beacon Hill). Additionally, her writing on race and faith has been published in local, regional, and national print and online publications such as The GuardianUrbanFaith.comThe Chronicle for Higher EducationEbony.comMinistry MattersTheRoot.com, and more.

 

The Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference (GPCWC), now in its 33rd year of ministry, was one of the first Christian writers’ conferences to make it a priority to include a number of Black authors and editors on faculty. Yolanda Powell, author of Soul Food & Living Water: Spiritual Nourishment and Practical Help for the Black Family, says the conference is, “A not-to-miss gathering where writers and editors from multicultural and diverse backgrounds converge and connect in Christ.”

 

The theme of the conference, from Habakkuk 2:2, is “Write His Answer.” Through keynote addresses participants will be encouraged to “Transform Our Culture” by Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and chairman of The Christian Film & Television Commission (TM), and to discover how “prayer can move your author mountains and heal your life’s divides” by award-winning author Patricia Raybon. Other keynotes include “Be Prepared – Living and Writing His Answer in the Last Days,” “Guarding the Treasure,” “A Writer’s Dream,” “Write His Answer Right,” and “How Then Should We Live.”

 

A faculty of 55 authors, editors, and agents will teach 8 continuing sessions and 61 workshops including 6 workshops in the “Issues” track where participants will consider “America at the Crossroads,” “The Cross Is the Main Thing,” “What Would God Have Us Say,” “Stereotyping,” “Stand for Truth,” and “Reconciled.”

 

The conference is held on the campus of Cairn University in Langhorne, PA. For more information, please go to: http://philadelphia.writehisanswer.com.

 

Photo captions: 1) Dallas Police officers during the shootout. 2) Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts. 3) Patricia Raybon. 4) Dr. Ted Baehr. 5) Marlene Bagnull.

 

Note: GPCWC is directed by Marlene Bagnull, the author of five books including Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers that has been in print for 25 years. She gives Write His Answer seminars around the nation and also directs the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Visit her website at http://writehisanswer.com.

 

** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends that they can have a complimentary subscription to ANS by going to our website and signing up there.
 

Copyright © 2016 ASSIST News Service, All rights reserved.

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“He has sent me to proclaim freedom.”
LUKE 4:18 NIV

It was the first Independence Day. Rising to his feet in his hometown synagogue, Jesus was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.  He began to read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him” (Luke 4:18-19).

I can imagine how every eye was riveted on him as he added, “These Scriptures came true today!” (Luke 4:21).

There were no fireworks or hurrahs. Instead, people began to whisper among themselves.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” someone must have asked.

“But he’s so eloquent and wise.”

“I heard he’s been working miracles in Capernaum.”

“How can that be? We’ve known him all his life.”

“Yes, who does he think he is?”

“I solemnly declare to you,” Jesus said, “that no prophet is accepted in his own home town! For example, remember how Elijah the prophet used a miracle to help the widow of Zarephath—a foreigner from the land of Sidon. There were many Jewish widows needing help in those days of famine. . . . Or think of the prophet Elisha, who healed Naaman, a Syrian, rather than the many Jewish lepers needing help” (Luke 4:24-27).

His remarks infuriated them. As William Barclay says in his commentary The Gospel of Luke, “The Jews were so sure that they were God’s people that they utterly despised all others. . . . And here was this young Jesus, whom they all knew, preaching as if the gentiles were specially favoured by God” (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 48). They mobbed him and took him to the edge of the hill on which the city was built. They were ready to push him over the cliff, but Jesus freely “walked away through the crowd and left them” (Luke 4:30).

Mark’s account says Jesus “could hardly accept the fact that they wouldn’t believe in him” (6:6). I can feel his disappointment, but I also feel disappointed for the people of Nazareth. There is no record in the Gospels of Jesus ever returning to Nazareth. What a loss for those people! Because of their unbelief, only a few heard the Good News and experienced the healing, freeing, restoring of sight, lifting of burdens, and blessings that Jesus came to bring.

Just as people had a choice 2,000 years ago, they have a choice today. Christians who write also have a choice. We can accept or reject Jesus’ words. We can proclaim the message of freedom that cost Jesus his life, or we can water down the power of the Gospel and the Resurrection.

Water down the Gospel? That would never be our intent! Yet unless we are experiencing firsthand the implications of Jesus’ Independence Day proclamation, we will not be as effective as we could be in sharing it with our readers.

We need to ask ourselves if we really understand what Jesus meant by preaching “Good News to the poor.” Do we understand the significance of the word poor? Do we recognize that without him we are nothing? Do we daily admit our need for him and humbly put our complete trust in him? And do we take time to sit at his feet and learn more about the Good News he wants us to impart?

God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others” (2 Cor. 5:19).

Jesus said he came to “heal the brokenhearted.” If we are struggling with deep, unresolved hurts or if an unforgiving spirit has caused resentment and bitterness to get a foothold in our lives, then we need to allow God to heal our hearts. He never intended for us to go through life sapped of our energy and joy by experiences—perhaps some as far back as our childhoods—that we could not control and certainly cannot change. He wants to make us whole!

Jesus also said he came to “announce that captives shall be released.” Webster’s New Dictionary defines captive as “a person caught and held prisoner.” If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we’re frequently prisoners to negative thinking patterns,doubts, fears, and feelings of discouragement. Or we may be prisoners to bad habits. Are we asking him to set us free?

With his touch, Jesus healed many who were blind. I suspect that some of them knew more than just the joy of seeing the earth and sky, trees, and people. Undoubtedly, many eyes were opened to spiritual truths they had never seen before. What about us? Are we seeing things clearly, or is our vision blurred? Do we need him to touch us and heal us so we can see life from his perspective?

The first-century Israelites were people downtrodden by their oppressors. The Romans imposed heavy taxes and quickly quenched any flames—or even sparks—of political unrest. Today people are still oppressed by cruel governments and merciless economic systems. On a more personal level, many of us know the oppression of being weighed down by heavy emotional or financial burdens or being persecuted for the stand we take as Christians. Others may experience, in very real ways, the oppression of the Evil One. Are we trusting Jesus to give us victory?

Finally, Jesus proclaimed that God was “ready to give blessings to all who come to him.” Again we have to ask ourselves whether we wait long enough in his presence to receive all he has for us. Do we give him prime time each day, or do we squeeze him in only when it is convenient or when our needs are desperate?

Jesus’ first Independence Day proclamation is filled with promises for us today. As we claim and act on them, we will find our lives filled with new power. Then when we take up our pens to write, God’s truth—the truth that truly does set men free—will resound throughout the land.

RESPONDING TO GOD’S CALL TO WRITE

Prayerfully reflect on Luke 4:18-19, and ask the Lord to show you ways you can more fully experience and write about the following truths.
Good News for the poor
Healing for the brokenhearted
Freedom for the captives
Recovery of sight for the blind
Victory for the downtrodden
God’s blessings

 

From Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers by Marlene Bagnull. (c) 2014 Marlene Bagnull.

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child

Eagerly we awaited
our first grandbaby’s birth.
We praised God
as we held her in our arms
less than an hour after she arrived.
So tiny, so helpless, so dependent –
and so immediately loved.

How difficult it must have been
for Joseph and Mary’s parents
to wait several years
to hold Jesus in their arms
and not to even know
if Joseph and Mary
and their grandchild were safe.

Today countless little ones
will never be held in the arms
of their grandparents.
Separated by the ravages of war,
they will struggle to survive
in refugee camps or on the streets
or as child slaves, prostitutes, or soldiers.

 How can we best celebrate Jesus’ birth?
By remembering how He held children
in His arms and blessed them.
By not forgetting the plight
of children in crisis around the world,
and by giving sacrificially
even as He gave Himself for us all.

Marlene Bagnull

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