Favorite Books of 2016

This has been another great year of reading!  I love books and I especially love the encouragement I receive from the Lord by reading the books He has written through these wonderful authors.

Check out my favorite books of 2016:

Come With Me:  Discovering the Beauty of Following Where He Leads   by: Suzanne Eller

As a woman who hungers for Jesus, Suzanne shares with us her journey of following Jesus wherever He leads.  That means doing things and going places we never believed or thought we would go.  It means surrendering and giving Him control.  It means walking deeper and deeper with Him.  It means living a life sold out for the Savior.  Do you say yes to Him?  My prayer is that you do!

The Circle Maker:  Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears   by: Mark Batterson

I did an online Bible study of this book on my blog this past August and absolutely LOVED it!  Get out your highlighter because you will be lighting this book up!  Mark Batterson teaches us how to circle our dreams/hopes in prayer.  He give us three circles:  dream big, pray hard, and think long.  And he encourages us to keep on circling our dreams in prayer.  Don’t give up just because God has not answered your prayer.  Keep praying and keep circling!  This book will change your prayer life.

Wait and See:  Finding Peace in God’s Pauses and Plans   by: Wendy Pope

I just finished reading this book as part of an online Bible study by Proverbs 31 Ministries.  I really enjoyed this book as I am in a waiting phase myself (waiting for someone to want to publish my book).  Wendy draws her insight from David’s story.  I love how she looks at his life and helps us to see that waiting is not a bad thing.  Sometimes God uses our waiting phase to grow us and shape us for that next phase of our journey.  If you feel like you are waiting on God, read this book.  It will encourage you so much!

I Know His Name:  Discovering Power in the Names of God   by: Wendy Blight

One of my favorite things to do is to really dig into Scripture.  These days when I’m reading a verse, I find myself trying to find out as much as I can about that verse.  In this book, Wendy Blight digs into knowing the names of God:  Elohim (The One who created you), El Roi (The One who sees you), Jehovah Nissi:  (The One who stands guard over you), and Jehovah Rapha (The One who heals you).  This is a book I LOVED because I yearn to know more about God and all of the many names of Him.  I also loved it because it wasn’t just a book to read, but more like a Bible study with questions and Scripture to look up at the end of each chapter.  A great ready and a great study!

The Purpose Driven Life  by:  Rick Warren

I know what you’re going to say….Vanessa, this book was written in 2002 and you’re just now reading it?  It’s crazy, I know!  This fall, my community group tackled this book.  I am so glad I finally read it, because it was amazing.  Rick Warren does a beautiful job of describing the five purposes for our lives:  you were formed for God’s pleasure, you were formed for God’s family, you were created to become like Christ, you were shaped for serving God, and you were made for a mission.  If you are searching for your purpose and want to know more about God and what He desires for you, then read this book!

Fear Fighting:  Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears  by: Kelly Balarie

This book has not released yet (it will be available on Amazon on January 3rd), but I am on the book launch team so I’ve begun reading it.  I cannot say enough good things about this book.  Kelly has dealt with fear in her life and she writes about how she found the courage through God to conquer it.  Kelly cheers you on and wants you to be a part of the fear fighting team.  No more listening to the lies Satan feeds us!  Stand on the name of Jesus and proclaim freedom from your fears.  You will finish this book and will have hope that you, too, can be an overcomer.  Go buy this book next week!

My prayer for you in 2017 is that you have a hunger and a thirst to know God more.  You can first find Him in the Scriptures.  He is there and speaks directly to us.  And you can also search for Him in books that He has used other Christians to write.  God is amazing and speaks to us in many different ways.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.   Jeremiah 29:13

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Family Advent Bags

family advent bagsWe are in the season of Advent!  Christians around the world are celebrating this season by preparing their hearts for the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating the glorious birthday of our Lord.

At church each Sunday in Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath.  There are five candles:  three purple (which represent hope, love, and peace), one pink (which represents joy), and one white (which is the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day).

Sometimes the only place we talk about Advent is at church.  So what can you do to celebrate Advent every day with your family at home?

One great way is through a Family Advent Bag.  This year I gave the families of my church one of these bags.  This bag was filled with many fun things families could do together to keep their focus on Jesus.  I found some of the ideas for the bag on this YouTube video by Shawn Howell:  How to Make Advent To Go Bags for Families and others I created myself.

The bag included the following items.  For a printable list, click here: Family Advent Bag List

Family Advent Calendar:  Each day, between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day, is filled with activities your family can do.  These activities include things like: random act of kindness, taking a trip to look at Christmas lights, baking a birthday cake for Jesus and much more.  (The calendar I created is for 2016, but can easily be done for this year by just following the date and not the day of the week).  To see the calendar I created (for 2016), click here: Advent Calendar for Families
Advent Wreath Magnet:  The most simple Advent wreath I found was magnetic!  Families can stick it on their fridge and place new candles on it every Sunday.  I bought these wreaths on the Living Grace website:  Advent Wreath Magnet
Advent Devotions:  I created four Advent devotions for families to use each Sunday in conjunction with the Advent wreath magnet.  They will read together the devotion and place a candle on the wreath each week.
Christmas Morning Envelope:  I wrote a letter for families to open first thing on Christmas morning.  Before they open any presents, they should open the envelope and read the letter together.  To see a copy of the letter, click here: Christmas Morning Envelope
Craft Ornament:  I included an Oriental Trading Nativity craft in each bag.  To find one for your family, visit their website:  Oriental Trading
Glow Stick:   Inside each bag I put one glow stick.  I told families to break this stick on Christmas Eve and sing Silent Night with their family.  This is a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world.
Sticky Notes:  I put a pack of sticky notes in each bag for families to use to write encouraging words to each other.
Christmas Prayer Cube:  Living Grace makes a wooden Christmas prayer cube that I bought and put in the bags.  On each colored side of the cube is written a prayer.  Families can roll the cube and read the prayer together before meals.  To see the cube go to this site:  Christmas Prayer Cube
Faith 5 Bookmark:  I wanted to give families a simple idea for a family devotion and I found a bookmark that highlighted a great way to do one.  Faith 5 lists these steps for a family devotion:  share highs and lows, read a Bible verse or story, talk about the Bible verse or story and how it can relate to your highs and lows, pray for one another’s highs and lows, and bless each other.  To see their website and to get a copy of the bookmark, click here:  Faith 5 Bookmark
Jesus’ Birthday Cake:  I have no idea where I got this recipe, but it was given to me back at the beginning of my ministry career.   Each layer of this cake represents something.  To see a copy of this recipe click here:  Jesus Birthday Cake

This Family Advent Bag has been a hit with the kids and their parents at our church!  I love hearing the stories of how their family is excited to celebrate Advent!  Feel free to use the printables from this post to create your own Family Advent bag.

Want more ideas for your family Christmas?  Check out my post on 30 Ideas for a Christ-Centered Family Christmas!

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Telling the Good News: My Takeaways from The Belong Tour

img_8720This weekend I was able to attend the Belong Tour in Atlanta with women from my church.  Words cannot describe how excited I was to be going to this event.  For one, I was ready to worship.  As a Children’s Minister I don’t get to go to worship very much, so here was a chance for me to worship the Lord along with many women.  Singing to the Lord is one of my favorite things to do and I was ready to sing!

Second, I was ready to hear from the Lord from this amazing line-up of speakers:  Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequest, Patsy Clairmont, Nichole Nordeman, Angela Davis, and Sharon Irving.  I look up to these women and knew that I was going to get some awesome God-spoken words from them.  I was ready to hear these women speak!

But as I walked out of the door after Friday night’s session, all I could feel was disappointment.  Where was Jesus?  He was mentioned very little.  Where were the worship songs?  We sang more secular songs than worship ones.  Why did we not pray?  I was praying in my seat, though!  Why did they choose not to speak the Word of God that night?  There was no mention of any Scripture.

More questions rang through my head…What did I sign up for?  Did I misunderstand the meaning of The Belong Tour?  Did I come with too high expectations? Did anyone else feel the same way I did?  Where are you, Lord?

I prayed many times that night and on Saturday morning before we returned for another day of The Belong Tour.  I asked God to be present.  I asked God to take away my negative attitude so I could see Him in this event.  I asked God to give me an open mind.  I asked God to bring good from this event.

And friends….God did all those things and more.

I am writing this post because I want to share with you all the great things I did get out of The Belong Tour, even though it was not at all what I thought it would be.

  1.  Fellowship    On our way to the event we picked up a friend and when she got in the car she yelled, “Party!!!”.  That’s what it felt like for me that weekend.  A big party with my church friends.  I got to spend a weekend in beautiful fellowship with the ladies from our church…which is something I don’t get to do often.  One great thing about this conference was that we were able to get younger women from our church to attend, so it was awesome to see the merging of older women (who really aren’t old) and younger women.  I enjoyed our talks, our prayers, and just being with them.  They were a refreshment to my soul.
  2. Laughter     The amount of time I spent laughing this weekend was crazy!  Every time we got in the car someone would say something that started the non-stop laughter.  There were times I could not stop laughing.  These women brought joy and happiness into my life this weekend.
  3. Love    My church friends showed love to everyone this weekend. From the hugs, high fives, encouraging words, and prayers, I definitely felt the love.  And most importantly I felt the love of Jesus showered upon me by these precious women of God.
  4. Confirmation of God’s calling   This was the most important takeaway that I received this weekend.  I felt God confirming my calling to teach, write, and speak the Word of God to others, especially women.  He confirmed this by giving me this verse from Psalm 40:9-10

“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” 

When I read that, tears welled in my eyes.  God does not want me to keep Him hidden.  He wants me to speak boldly of Him to “the great congregation”.  God wants me to live a life that leads others to Him.  He wants me to share the love of Jesus by telling them what amazing things He has done for me and for others.

I do NOT want to be a woman who conceals Jesus and hides Him away in my heart.  When I speak in front of others, write on my blog or in books, or stand to teach about Jesus, I want God to get the glory.  I want others to know who Jesus is.  I want them to see how awesome, powerful, mighty, faithful, loving, compassionate, and holy is the Lord our God.  I want “the great congregation” to see Jesus in and through me.

On our way to the hotel Friday night, after one of my own prayers to the Lord about where He was in all of that, we got off our exit and in a HUGE, bright billboard on that exit was the word, “JESUS”.  He was there.  He’s always there…even in events where I felt there should have been more of Him presented.  He never fails to show up.  He has been and will always be present with us.

I believe that no matter what happens to you, what expectations you have that are not met, or things turn out totally different that what you thought, that “God works all things for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).

Friends, may we be reminded today of the words of Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go on your way.” (Luke 10:2-3).

The name of Jesus needs to be shared.  His name needs to be made known so that all can have eternal salvation.

Are you ready to be one of the laborers?

Here am I Lord, send me.

The Children’s Ministry Magazine Interview

I have been quiet these past few months here on my blog.  I have been busy writing in my book.  I am excited to say I have finished writing ALL chapters!  Now it’s on to editing and adding/taking out anything the Lord wants.  After that, the fun begins of trying to find someone to publish it.  But, I’m leaving all that in God’s hands.  I trust He will lead me to someone out there who will take an interest in my book and want to publish it.  I’m excited to see where that will lead.

But…I also have some other cool news!  The Children’s Ministry Magazine at Group Publishing has featured me in their magazine!  Every issue they have a Viewpoint page where they feature a Children’s Minister.  Thviewpointey ask them questions about themselves and also questions about children’s ministry.  For the May/June issue they decided to feature me!  I am so honored by this and wanted to share this article with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Jennifer Hooks and Christine Yount Jones for asking me to be a part of the Viewpoint page in this issue.

I promise I will be back to blogging consistently soon!  One major change I see coming is the merging of my two blogs (this one and KidMin Days).  I will be using this blog address to write about faith, family, and ministry.  I hope you will stay tuned for more!

21 Days of Seeking the Lord

I have declared 2016 to be a year of obedience for me.  It’s a year where I want to focus on obeying the Lord in all that He asks of me.  I want to allow my heart to follow the Lord wherever He leads and not allow my mind to take the controls and push me off the clear path which He shows me.  I want to follow Christ and not get distracted by everything the world throws my way.

It has started off ok.  I’ve actually listened to most of the little nudgings from the Holy Spirit.  Some things are small and some take a little more faith and trust.  Some are a lot easier to do than others, too.  Step by step I am trying my best to stay on the path He has chosen for me.  It’s not easy and I really want to be better at this.

I am currently listening to a sermon series called “Habit” by Louie Giglio.  (To hear this series, go to this link:  http://passioncitychurch.com/watch/).  In the first sermon in this series titled “The Pinata and the Iceberg”, Louie talks about how he wants this year for us to be a year of seeking the Lord.  And that requires good spiritual disciplines or habits.  It means that we need to have a deep relationship with Jesus so that we can hear the Lord speaking to us.

Louie challenges us to do a 21-day fast.  This should be a fast from whatever is keeping us from hearing from God and having that deep relationship with Him. Anything that we are doing more of than listening to the Lord is a distraction and not a good habit.

About a year and a half ago, I heard God tell me to write my story.  So, I started writing a book about the fears I have had over the last 15 years of serving God in the ministry.  It has been awesome to write about how God has worked through my life and helped me realize that I should not fear.

And now you are probably saying…“What’s your problem? Shouldn’t you be done by now?”  And the answer is yes!  My problem, though, is that I get easily distracted.  I put other things ahead of writing that book, which is what I know I am supposed to be doing. However, I think of other things to do during the free time I have.  Those are my distractions.

And I have had enough of them.

I am ready to finish writing that book.

I want to have a deeper relationship with God.  I want to hear from the Lord so that I can obey Him and do all that He asks of me (like finishing writing that book).  I want God to use me in whatever way He wants.  It’s Your will, Your way, Lord.

I love this verse from Hosea 10:12:

Sow for  yourselves righteousness, reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.

It is TIME!  It’s time to seek the Lord!

I am ready, Lord.  May these next 21 days draw me closer to you so that I can be the woman you created me to be.  I desire to hear from you, God.  Open my ears and heart so that I can listen.

Do you want to hear from God?  Do you desire that deep relationship with Him?

Join me and do a 21-Day Fast.  I can promise that at the end of those 21 days, you will come out with a heart on fire for the Lord and an understanding of the calling He has for you.

Using Love Letters in your Children’s Ministry…Plus a Great Giveaway!

I am a mother of two daughters and I am also a Children’s Minister.  These two very important roles in my life have something in common:  sharing God’s Word with children.  In doing this, I’m always looking for resources that will help tell the stories from the Bible in fun and creative ways so that children truly grasp the love of Jesus.

One amazing resource I have found is a book called “Love Letters from God“.  This book is written by Glenys Nellist (a writer friend and a fellow United Methodist Children’s Ministry leader).  This book contains 18 Bible stories followed by 18 lift-the-flap letters from God. When I first received this book, I read it to my own children, inserting their names into the letter from God.  Then, my youngest daughter wanted to read one of the stories.  When it came time to read the letter from God, she inserted my name in there.  It was a precious and powerful moment to hear my name spoken in that letter, especially hearing my own daughter read that letter to me from God.  A wonderful book to share both with my children and the children at church.

Now, a new book in the Love Letters series has been released for toddlers & preschoolers called “Little Love Letters from God“. This board book is filled with 8 stories from the Bible along with a letter from God.  It’s a perfect book for your little one and they will especially love lifting the flap to hear the letter from God.

I’m excited to share that Zonderkidz is giving away a copy of Little Love Letters from God here on my blog!  To be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the U.S. (no PO Boxes though).  The winner will be announced on January 12th here on my blog.  This is a great book so if you are a parent or Children’s Minister, you will love a copy of it!

**I was having issues with Rafflecopter so here’s a new way to enter this giveaway.  You may do one of these things to enter:

1.  Subscribe to receive my blog via e-mail.  Just enter your e-mail address in the subscription box on the side of the home page

OR

2.  Leave a comment on this blog post along with your e-mail address.

OR

3.  Send me an email at:  vanessamyers99@gmail.com saying you want to be entered into the giveaway.

If you are a Children’s Minister, how can you use Love Letters from God in your ministry?  Below is a guest post from the author, Glenys Nellist, on the best way to do this:

Five Ways to Use Love Letters in your Children’s Ministry

There is nothing quite as wonderful as reading your very own words to a group of children.

It was Sunday morning. Here I was, in a lovely little church, holding my first book, Love Letters from God. I was ready to read the story of The Lions Who Lost Their Lunch to a group of expectant youngsters who trooped out to the front for the Children’s Message. Actually, it wasn’t just little ones who came forward—a whole bunch of smiling teenagers accompanied them, and plopped onto the carpet at my feet (another reason to love this little village church).

And after I read, there came the best part…. I handed out little love letters, copied from the book, one for each child. It was the pastor’s innovative idea. She was using one story per week from Love Letters from God for her Children’s Message series. She even made a bulletin board to explain to parents how it would work, and gave folders to each child where they could keep their precious letters from God.

They are precious, because each one begins: Dear ___________, and the child writes their own name on the liCrucifixion Letter (2)ne—just as if God was speaking directly to them.

There is power in God’s Word. There is power in God’s words. Who knows what God will do in the heart of a little one as they read and absorb God’s message to them?

Here are 5 ways that you might use Love Letters from God in your children’s ministry:

  1. Read one Bible story per week as part of an 18 week Children’s Message or Sermon series—during worship, Sunday school or mid-week.
  1. After reading, hand out that story’s letter to each child, so they can insert their own name and keep it in a special folder or envelope. (Contact Author Glenys Nellist to obtain copyright permission.)
  1. Ask children to write their own letters to God—you will be moved by their contents.
  1. Make use of the 8 free, downloadable Color-a-Story sheets that are available from the book. Here’s In the Very Beginning. (Contact Author Glenys Nellist for 7 more.)
  1. Use Little Love Letters from God, the newly released, board book version for toddlers, in your church nursery or preschool for an eight week Bible story series.

Thanks for reading, and for sharing God’s wonderful love with our children!

GlenysGlenys

 

 

The Critics Report

What makes you think you can do that?  You aren’t good enough.  You’ll never measure up to be like them.  That is the dumbest dream I’ve ever heard.  You aren’t doing it the right way.  You need to do this and that.  I think you’re wrong.  

Have yonewspapersu ever heard these words spoken to you?

You have decided to share your heart with someone. You are excited to share what God has laid on your heart.  You just know that everyone else will be excited too. But, the response you get is not what you were expecting. Just when you are at a high and are ready to pursue your dream, someone comes along and knocks you out of the clouds and down you go. Your confidence and belief in yourself has gone from 100% to nothing. When people criticize you, it makes you feel like a report has just come out in the newspaper about you.

Extra!  Extra!  Read all about what Vanessa wants to do!

Your name made the front page headlines.  Listed there are all the critical things anyone has to say about what you are doing or what you plan to do.  Everyone who gets the paper can read it and they will all think the same way as the friend whom you shared your heart with.

Why do people like to criticize?  Why are people so mean and hurtful?  Why can’t they just be happy and supportive? I wish I had the answer for that one.

Even the disciples were criticized for what they were doing for the Lord.  In Acts 11:1-2 it says:

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

The disciples were doing great things.  They were sharing the love of Jesus with others and telling them all about salvation and what Jesus did for us.  But yet there were some believers who did not like what they were doing…at all.  They didn’t want certain people to hear the message of Jesus.  They thought it was sinful to go into the house of uncircumcised men and eat with them.

All I have to say to that is…good grief!

When people are critical, though, this has caused me to be more aware of my own criticisms of others.  I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of criticisms.  I know what it feels like to be hurt by their words, wounded by the critical words that come out of their mouth.  I know how I can let that one person’s words stop me in my tracks and keep me from pursuing what I feel God wants me to do.  I don’t like it, either.

Now I have learned to be more careful of my own words toward others.  Even when I don’t like what someone else is doing or think they aren’t doing it the best way or the way I would do it, I try to think before I speak.  Sometimes I have to think fast as I’ll let words slip that are hurtful. And that’s when I have to back up and apologize.  I remember the feelings I have when someone is critical of me and that prevents me from speaking hurtful words.  I don’t want others to feel that way.  It’s not a good feeling.

Criticism is hard, especially when it comes from sharing your heart with someone whom you thought would be supportive of you.  Don’t let your confidence get shaken.  Stand firm and continue to do what God has called you to do. And remember this key verse found in Hebrews:

confidence