Category Archives: Christian Living

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.

Trust. Rejoice. Sing.

I’ve been working to memorize these verses, and thought I’d share them with you. There’s something about affirming God’s goodness, and ending with “He is good to me,” that makes me feel good. If you’d like to print this for your personal use, go ahead. Just right-click on the photo and click “save as.”

Psalm 13:5-6, NLT

Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

The Importance of Community (Guest Post)

The Importance of Community

by Steph Beth Nickel

We're created for communityAccountability Partner

My hubby and I are going to Jasper, Alberta this summer. Dave has been dreaming for decades about showing me his favourite place in the world.

Because he wants to hike when we’re there, Dave feels the need to improve his cardio endurance. So, earlier this week, he decided to get a gym membership. Mine has been dormant for quite a while despite my best intentions, but this will get us there every other day. At least that’s the plan.

Many people are more motivated to work out if someone else is counting on them. Accountability is a very good thing. I happen to enjoy exercise but keep putting it off if I’m not answerable to anyone.

The benefits of accountability and community aren’t restricted to fitness endeavours.

Christian Community

Just this week at our staff prayer meeting (I work as administrator at our church), we discussed the importance of coming together to pray, worship, and fellowship.

For good reason, in Hebrews 10:24-25, God instructs, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together . . .” (ESV)

These are among my favourite verses in Scripture. They overflow with a sense of community and our role within that community. Each of us has something of value to offer. It’s significant that the Bible refers to believers in Jesus Christ as not only members of the same family but also parts of the same body. We really do need one another. In fact, each one is indispensable.

We are to encourage, build up, and keep one another accountable.

One Anothers

In fact, the Bible overflows with “one another” statements:

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10 ESV). What an amazing community we’d have if we obeyed these directives!

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16 ESV). Harmony … such a sweet word!

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV).

We can only obey these commands and the numerous other “one anothers” throughout the Scriptures in the context of community.

Worth the Risk

Granted, there are risks involved. We’ve all been hurt by others. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit we’ve hurt others as well.

If larger groups are too difficult to face, we can seek out at least one other person who will support us and keep us accountable. We may then want to become part of a small group. Our Growth Group has been a real blessing, a safe place to “do life” with one another. And being part of a local fellowship gives us lots of opportunities to come alongside one another, to minister using our unique gifts and abilities, and to fulfill God’s plans for us.

Do you have a support system? Do you offer support to others? Are you part of a Christian community?

(Scroll down to share your comment.)

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.

The Grass is Always Greener—or is It? (Guest Post)

The Grass is Always Greener—or is It?

By Steph Beth Nickel

I had an epiphany recently.

I would have said, by and large, I was content—happy even. But then I took a closer look at my dreams and aspirations.

"The grass isn't always greener."

Work Life

I serve as church administrator. The hours are good. I have every Friday off. I enjoy interacting with the other staff members and those who call or pop into the office.

But part of me would enjoy earning enough money from writing that I wouldn’t need to work outside the home. Odd … because I’m an extrovert.

Ministry Life

I am involved with the Awana program at church. I love the kids and enjoy sharing the truths of Scripture with them.

But I would like to help develop a more active ladies’ ministry. Plus, I’d love to have the opportunity to once again speak to ladies’ groups at other churches and at workshops, seminars, and conferences. Years ago I spoke fairly regularly.

Writing Life

Most of my writing opportunities are in the area of nonfiction. And I’m honoured to be a contributor to HopeStreamRadio and to be working on a follow-up to Paralympian Deb Willows’s memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances.

But I have tried my hand at fiction and have gotten some great comments. The fact that I love to read novels is likely why I would like to write short stories, if not full-length fiction. Plus, I have an idea for a series I’d love to develop.

Spiritual Life

Having dreams and aspirations isn’t a bad thing, but it can get in the way of obeying Colossians 3:23, which says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV).

Whatever you do …

So whether I’m creating the bulletin, cleaning toilets (as co-custodian with my hubby, I do that too), or hitting the best-seller list (not really a dream of mine, but you get the picture), I ought to be doing it for God’s glory. [Tweet this: Do each task in a way that honours God.]

While both women’s and children’s ministry are important, for now, I’m involved with children. Not only should I do it “for the Lord,” I must remember that I can be instrumental in pointing boys and girls to Jesus and that’s an incredible privilege (Matthew 19:14).

I have a number of writing and editing projects on the go. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, I must buckle down and focus. I must also, more regularly, give thanks for these opportunities. I have this moment; the next isn’t guaranteed. If I am to write fiction, I will—someday.

How about you? Do you consider the different aspects of your life and wish they were different?

Just remember … the grass isn’t always greener [tweet this].

As believers in Jesus, may we commit Colossians 3:23 to memory and seek to live it out.

 

(Scroll down to share your comment.)

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.

Escaping Captivity (Guest Post)

Escaping Captivity

by Steph Beth Nickel

Because of Jesus... we can escape captivity.Many of us have read books or watched movies in which the main character is taken captive, books such as Janet’s own Heaven’s Prey.

While few (if any) of us have experienced this horror, we have all been held captive at some point. Some such occurrences seem almost too insignificant to mention: that bad dream that leaves us in a funk for the rest of the day for example. Some we seek to keep hidden: that bad habit we can’t seem to shake perhaps.

And what about that careless choice that makes us want to relive even a few seconds that would change the course of our lives for several days, months or even years to come?

Our Response to Captivity

Do we get tied up in knots? Do we obsess over negative feelings or less than stellar choices? Or do we actually believe Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).

Many Christians have memorized this verse and quote it often. But do we cling to this promise when we’re at a low point?

Do we quote this verse and others like it to reassure ourselves, to pull ourselves out of emotional captivity or simply as a declaration of truth?

Our Response to Truth

If we don’t instantly feel better, will we still cling to the truth?

If God doesn’t “fix” everything in the way we want Him to, as quickly as we want Him to, will we still believe?

Will we allow our captivity to keep us bound in knots, making us ineffective?

Or will we deliberately look for the good in every situation? Will we pray for those involved? Will we see it as one more step on the journey to spiritual maturity, to authentic freedom?

Our Response to Promises

Will we rejoice in the midst of everything? (See 1 Corinthians 5:18.)

How can we, as Christians, escape captivity? We can hold onto 1 Peter 5:6-8 with both hands. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (ESV).

And when we can’t hold on, we can trust that our great God will always, always, always hold onto us.

No matter what happens, whether because of our choices or the choices of others, we can trust God. Even in the midst of apparent captivity, we can live in the freedom there is to be found in a growing relationship with the Lord.

Tweetables:

Because of Jesus, we can escape captivity. (click to tweet)

God’s promises believed bring freedom. (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.

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