Category Archives: Christian Living

Unfailing (Unlimited) Love

Have you ever personalized a Bible verse as your own?

Some verses we speak back to God in prayer, and others we cling to as promises.

In an effort to fill my mind and spirit with good things, I’m working to memorize Scripture verses. I have them on note cards that I see in the morning… (to read the rest of this post, click here. It was a guest post I shared on Janice L. Dick’s website.)

Warnings Against Over-Committing (Guest Post)

Warnings Against Over-Committing

by Steph Beth Nickel

Caution tape with text: "Warning: Meltdown Ahead"

Complete edit. Find and train sound room personnel. Recruit someone to clean the church.

These are just three of the things on my To Do list, a list that has to be completed before Thursday, July 20, when my husband and I fly to Jasper on vacation.

God calls us to serve one another, to use our gifts and abilities to honour him and bless our brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet, there are drawbacks to over-committing ourselves.

It has been years since I’ve succumbed to anger and frustration and had a meltdown. (Until God delivered me, it used to be a regular occurrence.) However, that’s exactly what happened this past Thursday evening.

My husband and I are waiting on an individual to do his part before we can do what needs to be done in one certain area of ministry.  Busy with a demanding job and a young family, he doesn’t seem to realize how heavily we’re depending on him.

After meeting with this man, my hubby came home and told me they hadn’t gotten anything done that they’d originally intended—and I lost it. I was absolutely, positively overwhelmed.

Being the mature, spiritual person I am, I immediately took my concerns to the Lord and felt His peace wash over me. Right?

No, not right.

I didn’t want to relinquish my anger and frustration. I wanted to stay mad.

Has this ever happened to you? You want to vent just a little longer.

Thankfully, the Lord wouldn’t let me. Even in the midst of my mini tirade, I came to realize just how frustrating it must be for church leaders who want to further God’s kingdom in their community but don’t have the support of those around them.

A tiny part of me was rejoicing that the Lord was teaching me something even when I seemed quite unteachable.

And yes, eventually I did begin to pray for the individuals whose actions I have no control over. I also made a revised list of what I need to accomplish in the next few days, those things I can do something about. I unclenched my fists and got on with things.

My To Do list wouldn’t be near so long if I hadn’t taken on so many commitments. I once heard a wise teacher say she never took on anything new without prayerfully deciding what she could set aside.

Even after my meltdown, I’m not ready to make this commitment. Still, I must carefully evaluate all I am doing and ask God what, if anything, He wants me to lay aside.

How about you? Are you over-committed? Have you asked the Lord which responsibilities He’s given you and which He’s calling you to set aside—at least for now?

If not, I encourage you to do so. You just may be able to forego the downside of being over-committed.

Tweetables

Seek to avoid over-committing. (Click to tweet)

Warning: meltdown ahead. (Click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: Serving Up God, by Colin MacDougall

Serving Up God: My Workplace as Ministry, by Colin MacDougall #bookreview #ChristianlivingServing Up God, by Colin MacDougall (WestBow Press, 2017)

This book is subtitled “My Workplace as Ministry,” and its memoir-style vignettes illustrate author Colin MacDougall’s premise that “Your purpose in life, simply put, is to live Christ where you are” [page xi].

With candour and gentle humour, chapters explore various facets of work and relationships: with customers, co-workers, and employees. It’s clear that the author doesn’t consider himself to have achieved perfection. As he “serves up God” in his business, as much as that impacts those around him, they in turn impact him – for the better.

Since most Christians spend far more time in the marketplace than in faith-based settings, books like this are a valuable resource on how to avoid a Monday morning disconnect from the Sunday morning worship.

The book begins with the idea that work is a gift given by God to be given back in worship, and that doing so involves seeing those around us as children of God: not judging, not trying to push people into their final identity as mature believers, but doing our best to help them move one step closer to God.

Employers and managers are encouraged to take time to know and pray for the employees in their charge, to lead by example, and to discipline fairly and always with the goal of helping employees reach their potential. Jesus is cited as the ultimate example of how to be a leader, as well as how to be a follower (in how He followed God the Father).

Favourite lines:

No matter how big or how small you may feel your job is, do it for the glory of God, and who knows the lives you will be able to impact. [page 6]

It’s important for me to recognize that, although I refer to my workplace as my ministry, it is really God’s ministry. I am quite fortunate to be along for the ride. [page 32]

This book is only 110 pages, but it’s filled with wisdom for Christians who want to live their faith on the job. Some sections apply specifically to managers/owners, but employees will find insights for co-worker and customer relationships as well.

Colin MacDougall has an extensive background in management, and at present he and his wife, Joanne, own a thriving cheesecake restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called Sweet Hereafter. Serving Up God is his first book. For more about the author and his book, visit servingupgod.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Treasured Release (Guest Post)

Treasured Release

by Steph Beth Nickel

This post was first written for Stephanie’s “Hunting Treasure” series of devotionals, which can be read (and heard) at HopeStreamRadio.

Do you have things or do things have you?

My mother-in-law was a perfect example of the former but definitely not the latter. After moving into a nursing home and before selling the house that had been her home for decades, Dave’s mom took one last look around.

My mother-in-law’s observation? “There’s nothing here for me anymore.”

Many people place great sentimental value on material possessions, even those not worth much monetarily. But not Dave’s mom.

Oh to hold things with such an open-handed grasp!

We’re in the process of decluttering our home, getting rid of those things we’re not using. The progress is slow going, but it’s very rewarding. We’re making room not only in our home but also in our heart and mind.

However, I have a not-so-secret stash. You won’t find it in the spare room or the basement, not even on my bookshelves. But if you knew where to look in cyberspace, you would be amazed—but not necessarily in a good way.

There is no way one person can possibly get through all the online course material I have stored up … at least not if that person wants to actually implement any of what she’s learning. I’m an e-course addict.

And what does the virtual weight of all these courses do to me?

It preoccupies my thoughts. It distracts me from my already overflowing To Do list. And, worst of all, it keeps me from focusing on that heavenly treasure I very much desire to store up. The treasure mentioned in Matthew 6:19-21.

Outstretched hand, with text: Hold things with open hands.

[image: Pixabay]

What are you clutching?

Money? Possessions? Reputation? Career? Relationships?

When my kids were little, we watched a Berenstain Bear video over and over and over. The one thing that has stuck with me over all these years is the song Sister Bear sang, “I Want It All.”

And although there are many things I’m quite content to do without, I am still eager to jump at almost every opportunity that sounds interesting. And even though I know I can never complete all the online courses—or read all those books on my aforementioned bookshelves—I’m still far too tight-fisted.

In a way, I want it all. How about you?

I can’t help but think of Jesus’s disciples.

In Matthew 4:18-19, we read that the Lord commanded Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, two fishermen, to follow Him, promising to make them fishers of men.

Their response?

In verse 20, it says, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (ESV*). (emphasis mine)

In the next verse, we read that Jesus also called James and John to follow Him.

Their response is recorded in verse 22. “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (ESV). Note the word immediately in this verse as well.

In Mark 2, Jesus came upon a tax collector named Levi. In verse 14 we read that Jesus simply said, “Follow me” (ESV).

And without apparent hesitation, Levi “rose and followed him” (ESV).

These men and others didn’t cling to their careers, what was familiar, their apparent source of security. Instead, they left it all behind to follow One they barely knew.

The things I cling to seem silly in light of the disciples’ example.

Maybe it’s time for some treasured release.

How about you? Are there things holding you back from following the Lord and His teachings as revealed in the Scriptures? Are you willing to leave them behind? Are you at least willing to be made willing?

Does this mean He wants you to turn your back on your job, your material possessions, your online courses? Not necessarily.

But if we’re so busy storing up treasure on Earth, we just may be missing out on what’s most important.

Tweetables

What are you clinging to? (click to tweet this)

Do you have things or do they have you? (click to tweet this)

Hold things with open hands. (click to tweet this)

*English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

New Worship Song from Matt Maher

I used to share a song every Wednesday, to go with my weekly devotionals. Worship music (and Bible reading!) are still a big part of life for me. Here’s the new song from Matt Maher, in case you haven’t heard it yet: “Your Love Defends Me.” I love how it reinforces the truth that God is the source of our security. (Download and streaming links are at mattmahermusic.com)

 

How Not to Pray (Guest Post)

How Not to Pray

by Steph Beth Nickel

This post was first written as a devotional for HopeStreamRadio.

Matthew 6:9-13 is a very familiar passage. Most of us know it well. It says, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (ESV*).

The preceding verses, verses 5-8 read this way: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (ESV).

Praying in Public, Motivated by a Desire to Be Seen and Admired

Where is our focus?

Prayer is about glorifying the Lord rather than ourselves.

Praying in Order to Receive a Reward

If we’re seeking the praise and admiration of others, God says that’s all the reward we will receive. Contrast that to praising Him and asking Him to send His kingdom and accomplish His will. That’s infinitely better than any reward we may receive from others.

Praying in Secret

Although we are to pray with and for one another, by and large, prayer is a personal matter, one between God and each individual. It’s a time to do business with the Lord as it were. A time to ask Him to meet our needs. A time to ask for forgiveness. A time to ask for the desire and the ability to forgive those who have wronged us.

Praying to our Father Who is in Secret

As I was reading these verses recently, the words “who is in secret” caught my attention like never before. Our Father is in secret. What does that mean exactly? Perhaps it means that there are few who even begin to know what He is like. Perhaps it means that only when we are alone with Him can we truly focus on who He is and not become distracted by our environment. Perhaps it means He chooses to meet with those who come apart. It’s interesting to think about these things—and to pray about them.

Image with text: "Pray... confident God hears." #prayer @StephBethNickel guest posting at janetsketchley.ca

Photo: Pixabay

Praying, Confident that He Sees (and Hears) Us

If we pray to impress others, if we pray all the while considering what they think of us, our focus will not be on God. And it’s likely our confidence will be in ourselves. However, if we shut ourselves away where others won’t see or hear us, it’s much more likely that our thoughts will be about Him, that our prayers will be for His ears and not the ears of others.

Praying, Confident He will Reward the Humble

It’s humbling to pray by ourselves. There are many passages throughout the Scriptures that stress the importance of humility. We must acknowledge God’s greatness and our inadequacy to ever earn His favour. Still, we can be confident of His love and His desire to meet our needs.

Praying without Rambling On

As a communicator (that’s a polite way to say I like to talk a lot), I am able to express myself with words—lots and lots of words. And yet, there have been many times I’ve thought about just how inadequate those words are. There is nothing I can say to impress the Lord or convince Him to do what He is not already willing to do. Even so, He invites me to pour out my heart to Him, to seek His intervention in my life and in the lives of those whose paths cross mine. But I must always remember that it’s not because of my many words that He acts. It’s because of His great love.

Praying, Confident that God Knows What We Need

The wonderful thing is that God knows everything we need—even better than we do. As we come to Him and ask Him to meet those needs, we can rest assured that He will do so—not always when and how we want. But He loves us and will always do what’s best.

Praying, Confident that He is Willing to Provide

It’s during those times when things aren’t going as we want that we must remember all of God’s promises are true. He will fulfill each and every one of them. As we come apart to seek His face, may we have confidence in this truth.

I encourage you to take some time to come apart and seek the Lord in prayer this day.

Tweetables

Pray in secret, confident God will reward the humble (click to tweet this).

Pray, knowing God is willing to provide your needs (click to tweet this).

*English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: The Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker

The Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker | #Christianliving #meditations #Christianity #faithThe Forgotten Way, by Ted Dekker (Outlaw Studios, 2015)

Most readers know Ted Dekker for his Christian fiction, but The Forgotten Way is a collection of 21 non-fiction meditations on “The path of Yeshua for power and peace in this life.”

With detailed reliance on Scripture, the author invites readers to discover and believe the Truth (about God and ourselves), the Life, and the Way. The readings focus on who God is, how He sees us, and how we can begin to believe His truth about ourselves instead of clinging to our temporal, human perspective. Beginning to believe this helps us live as His beloved children in this world without investing our identity solely in the world. This liberates us from a great deal of fear.

Readers are well advised to take time to read every Scripture end-note as flagged in the text, since they often have additional insights attached. There is a companion study guide, which includes the same Scriptures and a few application questions, but it’s more useful to see these quotations and notes in context of the specific portions of the meditations to which they refer.

The Forgotten Way stretched my thinking, and while I gained much, I’ll be following the author’s closing advice to go back and read the book again for a deeper understanding. There were a few minor points I didn’t entirely agree with, but that may be due to the particular words used. A second reading may help.

I did read carefully, and prayerfully, alert for anything that would lead me astray (although having heard Ted Dekker speak, I already respected him as one who seeks truth). Although the concepts are expressed in a different way than I was used to, there was no sense of treading dangerously. Instead, key points matched what I’d heard stated other ways by other teachers.

The individual study bundle comes with brief audio clips expanding on each day’s meditation, plus a few longer podcasts addressing key topics. I saved the longer ones for the end and haven’t yet listened to them.

The Forgotten Way is available for individual or group study. For more details or a taste of the contents, see theforgottenway.com/welcome. It’s not available in stores, and for those shopping outside the US, the shipping is quite expensive. I opted for the study pack, and while I didn’t feel the study guide book added a lot to the experience, I’ve valued the audio resources, and I’d recommend going for the study pack if possible.

Ted Dekker is a New York Times best-selling author of intense Christian fiction and more recently, historical fiction from the time of Christ. For more about the author, visit teddekker.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

The Journey Continues (Guest Post)

The Journey Continues

by Steph Beth Nickel

"Decluttering is like a weight loss program for your home, heart, and head." #clutter #Christianliving @StephBethNickel

Matthew 6:19-21 says, “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.” (ESV*)

During Lent I participated in Kathi Lipp’s clutter free challenge. It was easy to get rid of 10 items per day. In fact, as well as thousands of other items, I got rid of approximately 400 books and magazines—and if you came to my house, you’d never know it. It was amazing, but I still have a long way to go.

What are some of the things God has been teaching me along the way?

All glory belongs to Him. Although I knew this long before I began the challenge, I was reminded time and again that any success in this or any other area is evidence of His work in my life.

Naturally, I’m lazy—very lazy. But thankfully, God is teaching me to push past my tendency to procrastinate—especially in the areas of decluttering, organizing, and cleaning.

Habits that have taken over 50 years to develop don’t disappear overnight. Unless I continue to declutter and refuse to succumb to old patterns, I will slip back into my old ways. Every sinkful of dishes washed and every item dropped into the box to be taken to the thrift store is a small step to developing new habits.

Community is crucial for any success. There is a reason why God calls Jesus’s disciples “the body of Christ” and distributes different spiritual gifts as He sees fit. We are not meant to go it on our own. The clutter free Facebook group was a safe place to be 100 percent open and honest. We celebrated one another’s victories and encouraged one another when we were struggling. It soon became one of my favourite groups. I’m convinced many of these friendships will endure the test of time.

Self-realization is good. Knowing why we buy what we do and why we keep things we don’t use, don’t love, and wouldn’t replace should something happen to them is eye-opening. (These are the criteria Kathi Lipp uses when choosing whether to keep any given item.)

Like any other form of healthy living, living clutter free is a lifestyle choice. Some days I’ll win. Some days I’ll stumble. And some days it will be a challenge to do much of anything around the house. But that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means, should God give me tomorrow, I’ll have another opportunity to move toward a clutter free life.

Although I have a long way to go before our home is truly clutter free, I’ve discovered some amazing truths already. If you embark on this adventure, you may find these apply to you as well.

Tweetables

Clutter free living is a lifestyle choice. (click to tweet)

Decluttering is like a weight loss program for your home, heart, and head. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

 

 

 

 

*English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Good Friday

Crucifixion was shameful, degrading, and cruel beyond measure. It made a spectacle of the victim’s suffering and death.

The Lord Jesus endured this for us – by choice, a willing victim in our place, bearing what we could not in order to win the ultimate victory.

The New International Version* describes “…Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

At the Last Supper, John says that “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3. NIV*).

Jesus knew Who He was. And Whose He was. He could do what He did because He knew that none of the pain, none of the shame – none of it changed His identity.

As sons and daughters of our Father, our identity in Christ is equally secure and unaffected by shame, pain, fear, etc. Those things are very real, and they may distract us from remembering our true identity, but they don’t change the truth of who we are. Whose we are.

This takes the teeth out of fear for the future, and it changes how we look at yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No matter how much it hurts, no matter what happens… even if we lose our lives in this world (and everybody dies)… as the Apostle Paul wrote, “… I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV*)

Nothing can separate us from the strong love of Jesus. Nothing can take away all we are in Him.

We’re more than the temporal bodies we inhabit. If we’re alive in Christ, we’re spiritual beings who’ve been given eternal life. Treasured and beloved by the Creator of all.

God the Father invites us into His Word to discover who He says we are. The New Testament tells us who we are “in Christ.” Typing those words as a search at Biblegateway.com or another Bible site provides plenty to think about.

Then we have the choice: will we believe our Maker’s opinion of us, or stick with our own? Knowing how often I’m wrong about things, I choose to believe God. May we grow and keep grounded in the truth of who we are in God our heavenly Father.

Let Third Day’s song, “Carry My Cross,” help us remember.

 

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Surprised by Transformation (Guest Post)

Surprised by Transformation

by Steph Beth Nickel

Photo of butterfly, with the words "Transformation can come in the most surprising ways"

Be on the lookout. Transformation can come in ways you never expected.

And that’s exactly what has been happening to me this Lenten season.

While I don’t usually participate in the tradition of giving up something for Lent, this year I became aware of Kathi Lipp’s Clutter Free Bible Study and decided to jump onboard.

The challenge: get rid of 10 things per day for the 40 days of Lent.

Having wanted to declutter our home for years, I thought it was a great way to start.

I had no idea.

I knew I could get rid of most, if not all 400 items, by culling my books and magazines, which I did.

However, I have also kept going, aiming to get rid of 10 items per day not only until Easter but also beyond that, until our home is the way we want it, free of clutter.

You have to understand … I used to have a blog called “Confessions of a Horrible Housekeeper.” That wasn’t one of those cutesy titles created by someone who was actually just shy of receiving The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. No! Horrible was an accurate descriptor.

But that’s changing.

Not because it will make me a better person.

Not because others will think more highly of me.

Not to my credit.

It’s all about the Lord.

What does decluttering have to do with our spiritual life?

In the study, Kathi Lipp addresses the “whys” of clutter. Why do we surround ourselves with things we don’t need and/or love? Why do we hold onto things even when we’ve come to recognize them as clutter?

This is not a one-size-fits-all study. But when you discover yourself in the pages of Clutter Free, it’s powerful.

What are some of the advantages I’ve discovered so far?

I feel lighter emotionally, having gotten rid of so many items.

Because I’ve cleaned out my kitchen cupboards, I’ve found “forever homes” for items that have sat out for years. I’m also motivated to wash up the dishes as we dirty them, leaving our newly discovered counter free of clutter.

I’ve set a good example for my hubby and our daughter. No nagging necessary. They’ve both begun to address their own clutter and we’re enjoying the transformation together.

How do I know this was the right time to take this challenge?

For the sake of peace in our household, I decided years ago not to nag my family members about the condition of the house. Therefore, for the most part, I ignored the ever-increasing piles of stuff that surrounded us.

When I made an effort to tidy up, I became overwhelmed with the immensity of the task and would give up.

I was under the mistaken impression that something new and shiny would either make me happy or motivate me to do what I felt I should (thus, the accumulation of cookbooks and fitness equipment).

But no more.

I’ve found contentment in addressing the clutter in even a small corner of our home.

The Clutter Free Facebook group is a safe place to be open and honest. I’ve been encouraged and had the opportunity to encourage others.

I’ve let go of my defensive attitude. In the past I felt others were judging me because of the condition of our home—and I was determined to defend my choices even if they never knew about it.

Never before have I been so excited to get rid of things.

The most important changes are taking place within me, not the walls of our home.

 When has transformation surprised you? (Scroll down to share your comment.)

Tweetables

Transformation can come in surprising ways. (click to tweet)

As I declutter, the most important changes are taking place within me, not my home. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.