Advent Love - Day 7

"But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.'  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." - Galatians 4:4-7

And this, too, is the good news of Christmas.

The baby in the manger whose birth we celebrate this weekend came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He came with great love to seek and to save all of us, who like sheep, had gone astray (Isaiah 53:6, 1 Peter 2:25).  And He still comes, every day, to each of us, with grace and mercy, love and compassion - still seeking us in those places where we're straying, still finding us when we lose our way and bringing us home again.

"I am the Good Shepherd," He said. "I know my sheep, and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for my sheep.  ...  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.  I and the Father are one." (John 10:14-15, 27-30)

So rest secure, children of God.  The baby whose birth we celebrate this weekend came down from heaven to rescue you, because He loves you that much - and you are his sons and his daughters, the ones who know Him, the ones who know His voice.  As we gather to worship today and tomorrow, may His peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).  And may you be filled with wonder and awe as you seek Him.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Advent Love - Day 6

"The LORD looked and was displeased
     that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
     He was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so His own arm worked salvation for Him
     and His own righteousness sustained Him.
The Redeemer will come to Zion,
     to those in Jacob who repent of their sins."
                                                 - Isaiah 59: 15b-16, 20

Two more days.  Two more days until Christmas!  Two more days until the waiting is over.  Two more days until we celebrate the greatest Gift ever given...

The picture painted in the chapter we read in Isaiah today is bleak: "So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us.  We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows...  We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away." (Isaiah 59:9, 11b)  But we have the advantage of looking back and knowing that God's plan was already in place.  Isaiah's words prophesied the coming of a Redeemer, who would come "to those who repent" - and come He did.

His cousin, John, was confirmed by all four gospels as the one Isaiah spoke of as "the voice of one calling, 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23), and on the day John was named, his father Zechariah prophesied over him: "you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God..." (Luke 1: 76-78a)  John preached a gospel of repentance, and the Redeemer came.

And the beauty of it is that He still comes.  Every time someone turns in repentance, they will find their Redeemer near.  Zechariah described Him as "the rising sun" who - because of God's tender mercy - "will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." (Luke 1:78b-79  He is the One we have waited for, all this Advent.  He is the One who shines brightly against the darkness, which can neither understand nor overcome Him.  He is the One who shines the light of His love and mercy and forgiveness and compassion into the darkest corners of our hearts and minds, and freely gives us grace.

There are so many places in the world that are still waiting for Him.  So many places and people crying out for justice... and for righteousness (right standing with God).  Reflect Him, these next two days.  Allow the One whose Spirit indwells you to shine forth through you, and bring light to the darkness.  Be hope, be peace, be joy, be love to the people around you, right where you are, no matter how tired or crabby or mean or uncaring they may appear to be.  There's no telling what kind of miracles could take place if you do.   The people Isaiah described included some who were growling like bears and some who were mourning like doves - and who knows but that the seemingly angry or desperately sad people you may encounter this Christmas season are simply looking for justice and righteousness and not finding it?  But you know the One they are searching for.  So do what you can to reflect His glory, and leave the rest to Him.  It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and He wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  So put your hope in Him for your friends and family and neighbors and even the strangers that you meet who still seem to be waiting for their Redeemer, and simply reflect His love to them as you celebrate your own salvation and the coming of our King, who came, and is here, and will come again.

Advent Love - Day 5

Please welcome today's guest blogger, Sara Harrison.   Sara is a stay-at-home mom with 3 girls -- 11, 8, and 5, and a one-year old boy.  She was an English major and loves talking books. She's a Presbyterian pastor's wife and loves talking theology.  She's also an INTJ and an Enneagram-5 and loves talking about life, the universe and everything, and how it all fits together (42).  She's also one of my very best friends (I've known her for half of our lives), a former roommate, and once referred to coffee (quite rightly) as "lifeblood."  Pour yourself a cup and get ready for some good conversation.  :)

You can follow Sara's writing on her blog at


Given that this is Love week, let's talk about the love of God for a few minutes. God loves you. I expect that if you're reading this, you know that. And God loved us all Soo--ooo much that he sent Jesus down as a baby to be born . . . upon a midnight clear . . . and laid in the sweet smelling hay . . . with the gentle beasts all around him . . . and we cast the scene in a sentimental soft light glow, and call that the love of God during this season. But you know what? The love of God is bigger and brighter than that. More difficult. More all-consuming. Less a 40 watt light bulb, and more of a nuclear explosion.

There's a great Old Testament word-- hesed. (It's one of my pastor-husband's favorite words to preach on.) It gets translated love, loving-kindness, mercy, faithfulness, covenant faithfulness. It's all those things and more. The Jesus Storybook Bible talks of it as God's "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love." It's God keeping his promises to us, and finding a way to rescue us from our sin because it's who he IS, and he can no more be unfaithful or unloving to us than we can make a square circle or smell blue. It would be a nonsensical impossibility.

And this is the love of God that is being called on and celebrated in the readings this morning. Psalms 146 and 147, two of the great praise psalms, remind us that hope and salvation are in God. That he is our faithful king, that he rescues all who call him . . . and that if we look to people for the sort of salvation and faithfulness that only come from God, we're going to be disappointed every time. But Yahweh lifts up the humble and heals the broken-hearted. It is with the knowledge and assurance of the hesed of God that the psalmist of Psalm 80 calls for rescue. And then we get to Zechariah, and I'm going to steal a little from tomorrow's reading, because the canticle of Zechariah is one of the great songs of the Bible.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
                                                                       - Luke 1:68-72 ESV

That showing mercy? That's hesed, there. But let's look just a second at just who God redeems and how and why. He redeems his people. He raised up a horn of salvation for us. He calls us and redeems us together. Now of course, there is no group that is not made up of individuals, but God doesn't leave us alone to be individuals. He puts us together with other people to . . . do hesed to each other. To love each other. Be faithful to each other. To help each other along the path of redemption.

Real love is hard. Loving real people with real problems is hard. That's one of the reasons that the soft-glow version of Christmas doesn't really do us much good. If we have a God who nicely loves people who don't actually have much in the way of problems that they need fixed, it doesn't help us in loving each other when we run facelong into the fact that really loving real people, in our church, in our marriages, with our children, in our communities, is rather horribly gritty most days. Loving my kindergartner when she's home sick with stomach flu . . . well, there's just not much you can do to romanticize that, or cast it in a 40 watt glow. But God, in his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up Love, becomes Incarnate. He detonates a bomb of mercy, grace, forgiveness and God-With-Us-ness into our world, because that's what it needs, and so that's what he's going to give.

God loves you. God loves me too. He loves my kids, more than I do. He loves the elderly lady in the pew across the aisle, and the uncooperative kid who just wants to lie on the floor during junior church. He meets us at the point of our brokenness and dwells with us and loves us, and heals us, and saves us. And by loving us this way, God teaches us how to love this way. He shows us that love starts with being present. Which he is. That is reason for praise.

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
                            - Psalm 146:10 ESV

-- Sara Harrison
cross-posted at Coffee Randoms

Advent Love - Day 4

Please welcome today's guest blogger, my friend and fellow staff member  - Arman Sheffey.  :)
Arman Sheffey is a introspective, yet fun-loving Jesus follower. He believes for the salvation of all those close to him and those that God places in his path in the coming days. Arman is a husband to a beautiful wife, Lariza, and a father to a wonderful daughter, Leila. He is an avid reader, writer and wild dreamer. He is also the Director of Torch Online, the online division of He currently prays that his discipline, passion, pride, and his faith reach levels that better glorify Jesus Christ.

Follow: @mrsheffey


"I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do.  But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight.  Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” ~2 Sam 7:1-17 NLT

As I read through the readings for our Advent devotional today, (, and meditate on the love of God I am brought to my own personal struggles, specifically with hope. I often feel like a man trapped in chapter one of a beautiful novel. I know that the story is to be one of triumph, that it is continually filled with victory and blessing. However, I recently find myself falling prey to the predatory thoughts of my present struggles being the plot for the whole story. It is amazing how my memory fails. It is amazing how I struggle to recall the Lord's past faithfulness in even more trying times. It is amazing how I tend to think that God is done working miracles and blessing me beyond belief. 

Then I go back to the readings for today and I encounter the most meaningful word in scripture to me personally: BUT. The Lord continually infuses this conjunction throughout His holy word to show that mid chapter, mid verse, mid-sentence…he has a history of turning things around.

In 2 Samuel 7:14, I read of the discipline a father gives and feel that this greatly characterizes my life right now. Not that my life is riddled with sin, but that I strongly feel the corrective hand of the Father on me. 

Then the Lord spoke to me with the first word of verse 15, But…

The story doesn't end with the correction. God speaks of the continual favor that rests with David, unlike his predecessor, Saul. This awoke a new sense of hope for me. So I continued to the next scripture.

"For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. " - 
Titus 3:3 NKJV
This once again had me remembering my past sins and searching within me for any of these in my present life. Then I reencountered His love in the following verse. 

"But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…" Titus 3:4-5a NKJV
God intervened into my past darkness and out of LOVE, He saved me. 

God intervenes…
God interrupts…
God intercedes…

He has a history of stepping in and changing the story, just when we think the final chapter has been written.

Joseph could have given up in the pit. He could have quit in the dungeon. Instead, Joseph remembered his God and waited on His Love to be shown.

Then he could declare to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20

"My flesh and my heart may fail, 
but God is the strength of my heart 
and my portion forever." - Psalm 73:26

The truth may be that you are failing. The truth may be that you are in a world of hurt. The truth may be that you have been too low for too long.


The truth does not end there. Keep reading the story that God is writing with your life. Don't quit in the first verse. His love will appear again and again. His love is present now in Christ Jesus and we celebrate that gift in the next few days. 

You might not be feeling like that love is real for you right now, but if you have accepted that free gift of grace through Jesus then it is no less true for you than for any of the other Gospel heroes of which we read. 

Let God finish telling you the story. 

Wait for the "But."

Advent Love - Day 3

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered.  "May it be to me as you have said." - Luke 1:38a

I think those might be some of the bravest words in Scripture.

I love this part of the Story.  Can you just imagine it?

Mary's going about her average, everyday life, when an angel comes to her.  The first thing angels typically say when they appear in Scripture is "do not be afraid!" (which should tell us something about angels right there) - but before he says that, the angel greets Mary, likely a 13/14-year-old girl, as "you who are highly favored.  The Lord is with you." - Luke 1:28

Mary's "a little (understandably) freaked out" (that's The Happy Paraphrase of "greatly troubled"), so then the angel says, "Don't be afraid" and calmly goes on to explain to her: "You're going to get pregnant and give birth to a son; you'll name Him Jesus and He'll be called 'Son of the Most High', and He's going to be the King forever."

In her shoes, I suspect I might have said something eloquent, like:  "Um.   ....what?!"

Mary just asks the practical question: "Ok....  But... how?"

So the angel explains (sort of) and sums it all up by reminding Mary that "nothing is impossible with God."

To which Mary responds, "I am the Lord's servant.  Let it be to me as you have said."

Which seems to me to be somewhere along the lines of:
"I'm not sure I get it, but ... okay.  Since He said so."

And it struck me, reading this story for the how-many-th time tonight, that Mary was highly favored because God knew she was exactly the kind of girl who would respond just that way.

And I wondered...

"Am I?"

Am I the kind of person that God knows would say "yes" in a heartbeat if He asked me to do something unusual, counter-cultural, alienating even?  Am I the kind of person who would, without really understanding the particulars of how it would all actually work out in the long run and without even really having time to grasp the magnitude of what He was asking, say "Yes!!  Whatever, whenever, as long as I'm with You!"?

I want to be.  And, God helping me, I can be.

All God "needed" (practically speaking) to send His Son into this world was one willing heart - one heart so devoted to Him that she said "yes," even when she didn't fully understand what she was saying yes to, even when it changed everything and turned her entire life upside down.  We can't even begin to grasp the cultural implications of Mary's "yes" that day - but they were tremendous.  She became an outcast, and the man she was engaged to seriously considered calling it off - quietly, but definitely.  But all God "needed" to protect Mary and His Son was one willing heart - one heart willing to believe a dream sent from heaven, telling him what to do.

Is my heart willing?  (Am I still enough to listen for His voice?)  Is yours?  (Are you?)

The greatest gift of love ever given was made possible, in part - by His design - by the willing hearts of a man and a woman who, because their love for God made His will their top priority, simply said "yes."  In spite of the consequences.

That blows my mind.

And it leaves me wondering - how much more could the love of God be shown forth as we, with willing hearts, follow Him even more boldly, daring to tell the greatest Story ever told - about how Love came, so faithfully, and rescued us?

"Praise the LORD, all you nations;
     extol Him, all you peoples.
For great is His love toward us,
     and the faithfulness of the LORD 
          endures forever.
Praise the LORD."
                                          - Psalm 117

Advent Love - Day 2

Please welcome today's guest blogger: Jake Winter.  Jake is a good friend from my church who loves the Lord and has put a lot of time into studying God's word.  I love talking about Scripture with Jake, and I'm glad you get to "listen in" on some of his thoughts today.  :)

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
   Why are You so far from saving me,
   so far from my cries of anguish? 
My God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, 
   by night, but I find no rest.

                                                   - Psalm 22:1-2

In these winter months, as the days are shorter, the nights are colder, and all that once seemed teeming with breath is now dead and lifeless, life can seem pretty dreary. Though we know in our heads that, in just a few short months, those first buds will appear on trees, robins will be frolicking on the now exposed grass as the scent of lily of the valley and apple blossoms drift through the air, when you look outside, get in your car, or gaze longingly at your bicycle, it seems nearly impossible to imagine.

Now imagine that winter lasting 400 years.

For 400 years, God was silent in Israel. The Jews knew God had promised Abraham a nation. They knew the scriptures, too. They knew other nations had once feared speaking behind closed doors against Israel, because God would expose those conversations to His prophets. Yet, for 400 years, there had been no prophets, and Israel was living under subjugation of other nations. Why had the God that had interacted with Israel so often in the past been silent? Had His love dried up? Had He truly forsaken Israel?

We know the story. He hadn't forsaken Israel. He sent His very Son to die on our behalf, the greatest gift of love the world has ever seen or will ever see again. God's silence over those 400 years served a very loving purpose -- it caused Israel to recognize their desperate situation and strain to hear the voice of the Lord. So when He spoke through the coming of John the Baptist, calling a nation to repent, people flocked to him. The promised one of Israel, the savior of the world, the greatest love offering ever made, was coming, and Israel was ready to hear.

Our God has called Himself the Alpha and the Omega because He is the same in the past as He is today. The same God who let Abraham wait a century to have his promised son, the same God who, out of His love for both Israel and David, had David wait decades before taking the throne of Israel, the same God who let Israel wait 400 years to meet her King, is the same God who may seem to be making you wait, too.

Does it seem like God has been silent, making you wait for something? Like Israel, He may be lovingly drawing you to the point of desperation, where you are straining to hear from Him. It is not an act of an angry God, it is not Him saying He's disappointed enough not to talk. It is His love for you, and His desire for your best, that brings about some of these seasons of waiting. David, the same man who wrote those verses from Psalm 22 quoted above, also wrote this:

I remain confident of this: 
   I will see the goodness of the LORD 
   in the land of the living. 
Wait for the LORD; 
   be strong and take heart 
   and wait for the LORD. 

                                       - Psalm 27:13-14

That is our God. 

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord. 

For He is good, and His love endures forever.

- Jake Winter

Advent Reflections: Love

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." - John 3:16

"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.'" - Revelation 12:10

"O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you." - Psalm 84: 12

I'm not sure there are more fitting verses for the first day of the last week of Advent, which is all about Love.  The love of God shown to us in the gift of His Son is ...well, adjective-defying, honestly.  You can use words like wonderful, great, amazing, humbling, beautiful, priceless, gracious, kind... but all of them fall short and only get at part of what it really is.  It's Love.  With a capital L.

Love that loves us too much to leave us where we are.  Love that intersects with our lives, exactly when and where and how we are.  Love that transforms.  Encourages.  Changes.  Renews.  Saves.

This week, the last week of Advent - one more week of waiting for our King - what if we were on the lookout for the ways in which Love can and would and does intersect with our lives?  Could it change our perspective on the things that happen to us, or on the opportunities that arise before us?

"The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever." - Revelation 11:15

It's one of those beautiful and mysterious "now & not yet" things - already true (because Jesus came) and still coming true (because He's coming back).  And here in the middle of it, as we're waiting, it's coming true every single day.

The way Love intersects with your life may not seem dramatic - but whenever Love interacts with us, there's going to be amazing consequences.

So look for Him this week, this come and coming King.  And know that you are loved.  Hallelujah!

Advent Joy - Day 7

As we turn the corner today, finishing up our study on Joy and entering the homestretch of Advent (can you believe it's only a week until Christmas Eve?) I am very happy to be hosting a number of guest bloggers to wrap up this series.  Each of these authors are dear friends with a deep love for the Lord and solid theology, and I'm looking forward to reading their thoughts and being inspired along with you!

Today, please welcome guest blogger Rachel Hanna!  Rachel is a dear sister in Christ, a kindred spirit, a talented artist, and a gifted teacher.  We've never actually met in person - Rachel lives in Australia, and we "met" several years ago in the comments section of a mutual friend's blog.  Since that first conversation, Rachel and I have corresponded often, and I am dreaming of the day we will finally get to sit down and talk for hours over coffee.  Rachel writes beautifully (it's one of her many talents) and I'm thrilled that she was willing to share her thoughts with us today!

grace and peace,


"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40

I love listening to Christian music, especially as I prepare for Christmas!  One of my favourites is a band called Newsboys who once sang “When it all comes down, everyone’s someone”.....

Ever noticed how insane the weeks leading up to Christmas are and how time suddenly becomes very valuable?  I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about!  Even those of us who struggle with being organised quickly develop the ability to prioritise!  Especially when it comes to what events we will attend, who we will spend money on and how much.  Where we may have been much more easygoing throughout the year, at Christmas we become very focused on the things and people that are most important.  I know I certainly do.  But in the madness, how many of us truly experience joy?  Sure, on Christmas day as we gather with loved ones, go to Church and share the season with those we value there are great moments; but in the lead up?

In Matthew 25:31 – 46 Jesus tells the story of the Sheep and the Goats.  He addresses the Sheep and tells them that “When I was hungry, you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me”..... and the list goes on.  The Sheep are amazed!  I know I would be – after all, what believer wouldn’t do that for Jesus?????  But then comes the twist.  They had no recollection of doing any of that for him.  Jesus explained “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  It’s funny that while Jesus is the King of Kings, he wasn’t born in a palace but a barn.  While He is the Prince of Peace, he didn’t feature regularly in the Judean Celebrity events pages but rubbed shoulders with lepers and prostitutes.  Yes he loved his family, but his heart and passion was for those society forgot and walked over.  Jesus always had time to care for those that others ignored.

In the final week before Christmas, I truly believe that we can experience incredible joy, if, as we go about our preparations we look for those we can love and bless – not because they have any special significance to us personally, but because they do to God!  A kind word, helping hand, unexpected gift will no doubt bless the mother struggling to control her kids in the supermarket; the refugee family next door or the elderly man sitting alone on his park bench.  The thing is, God also made sure that when we remember to care for “the least of these” we get a gift too and it brings a whole new dimension to the season.  Suddenly we are not only remembering Jesus’ gift to us, we are sharing in it, and the joy that comes from living our purpose is so much greater than we could have imagined.  Let’s not get too busy and focused to miss the chance to bless unexpectedly and even undeservedly! After all, to Jesus – “when it all comes down, everyone’s someone.” 

- Rachel Hanna

Advent Joy - Day 6

"Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." - Psalm 51:12

This verse tells us two things about joy:

1) it can be lost.
but 2) God can restore it.

How's your joy level, this Advent week?  I'll confess, there have been moments when mine's been just fine, but I only wish I could say it's been high all week.  I wish I could say that I've remembered (even as I've been blogging every day about it) that I'm supposed to be in a season of expectant hope, inexplicable peace, and vibrant joy - but I'll confess - there have moments in every day of this season when I've just lost sight of that.

Hope, peace, joy - it can be so easy for those three things to be crowded out by the immediate demands of the day.  Coworkers that drive us nuts.  Sugared-up kids who have forgotten the meaning of the words "obedience" and "respect."  Another day of the seemingly never-ending job-hunt that ends in unemployment (still).  Not enough money.  Not enough time.  Stress.  Errands.  Too many obligations....

Whatever it is that is stealing your joy - did you know you can tell it to stop?

You can.

All you need to do is pray the words of this psalm.  Ask the King of heaven and earth to restore to you the joy of your salvation.  To restore to you a little bit of perspective.  Yes, life was crazy today.  No, it didn't all get done.  But He loves you.  He saved you.  Your sin is forgiven.  You have been made new.

Breathe for a minute.  Think about that.

You need a willing spirit to sustain you.  A non-willing spirit will think about all the stuff that steals your joy, that stands in your way.  But a spirit willing to focus on the Lord, to remember the joy of salvation - that spirit will sustain you.  No matter what.

p.s.  I really loved the picture in Zechariah 8:4-8.  If you didn't get a chance to read it yet today, go do that now.  I love God's question: He's made a promise to His children, and He says, "it may seem marvelous to [you] - but will it seem marvelous to me?"

He knows what He's doing.  He has a plan.  And it's all going to work out well.

Faith says, "I believe it."  And hope waits for it.

Advent Joy - Day 5

"O my Strength, I sing praise to You;
     You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God."
                                                          - Psalm 59: 17

"We wait in hope for the LORD;
     He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
     for we trust in His holy Name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, 
          O LORD,
     even as we put our hope in You."
                                               - Psalm 33:20-22

"... the joy of the LORD is your strength."
                                       - Nehemiah 8:10

There's a beautiful connection between joy and strength.

Sometimes it takes all the strength you've got to choose joy in the midst of the worst circumstances you could have imagined - and sometimes, when you choose it, that joy goes deep and gives you the strength you need to get through those circumstances.

One of the things I so appreciate about the Psalms is their honesty.  There is no sugar-coating it or taming it down for David and his fellow poets.  When they lament, they lament - when they're angry, they're angry - and when they rejoice, they do it with abandon.

And one of the things that makes those abandoned moments of joy so glorious is that they exist in the context of lament, anger, confusion, betrayal, and a whole host of other emotions within the Psalms.  At the end of the day, even with all of that emotion (and very real circumstances that caused it!) - the Psalmists still say of God, "But I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble." (Psalm 59:16)  They choose to look past their situations and their feelings about their situations, and they remember Who God Is.  And they praise Him.

Because when you remember Who God Is - and all He's done, all He's promised, all He's able to do - you just can't help but praise Him.  And as you speak words of praise, the rest of you - your heart, soul, mind, emotions - will get in line with those words and agree - and you will find joy bubbling up in your soul.  And when joy meets that "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) in your soul - suddenly situations that seemed impossible aren't as overwhelming.  They may still be hard, and they may not go away for awhile - but God is your refuge, your strength, your shelter, your comforter, your healer, your provider, your redeemer....  and you're going to be okay.

So rejoice, friends.  "For unto you is born...a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

And that changes everything.

Advent Joy - Day 4

"Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!" - Philippians 4:4

Have you ever looked up the words "rejoice in the Lord" in the Bible?

Reading thru what comes up when you do was the sum total of my devotional time today, and it was pretty awesome.  Nothing more to say today.  

Just go to and type "rejoce in the Lord" in the search box.  Your day will become that much better.  :)

Advent Joy - Day 3

"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." - Rev. 3:19-20

I can't even begin to count the number of times I heard this verse quoted between the summer of 1988 and the spring of 1993.  I was part of a touring choir - (first Joy, Inc., and later Musicon Ministries) in Connecticut, for most of my junior high and high school years, and this verse was at the heart of almost every message given at the conclusion of the musicals we performed.  We sang the words of this verse, and to this day, they are deeply a part of my walk with God.  Earnestness marks my relationship with Him, as does repentance.

Even more so, tho, the picture painted in these verses is one of intimacy.  You have to open the door - the latch is on the inside - and when you do, Jesus will come in.  And then the image is: "dinner for two."  Just you and Jesus.

What do you do when it's just you and someone else for dinner?  You talk.  You eat.  You probably say things you wouldn't say if there were a dozen people there.  It's close, intimate, personal, and caring.

It's wonderful.

And you go home feeling so incredibly treasured.

If your quiet time hasn't felt like that lately... it might be time to amp it up, just a little bit.  I'm not saying that you should strive to make it something it isn't.  In any relationship, there are going to be times when you choose to act in a certain way because the foundation of your relationship implies you should - you're not going to feel all lovey-dovey all the time.  But Jesus loves you - more deeply and more truly than anyone else ever could - and you ought to feel incredibly treasured, just knowing that.

Rejoice, then - even if you have to choose to do it - knowing that He is the One you have waited for, all of Advent (and all your life).  He is here: Emmanuel, God with you - and He loves you.

Advent Joy - Day 2

"Therefore, this is what the LORD says: 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt.  And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.'  Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.'"  - Zechariah 1:16-17

What incredibly good news this must have been to God's people, when they'd been in exile from their country for 70 years.  Children who had been 10 years old when the enemy came and took them away from Jerusalem were 80 now, and had grandchildren, but they hadn't forgotten where they came from.  Their elders had continued to tell them the stories of all the great things God had done for His children over the years, and of His promise that they would not always be slaves in another land.  They had been waiting for deliverance for 70 years, and it was finally coming.  They were going home.

And how much better the news is for us, for this story is only a shadow of what is to come.  Sneak peek into Zechariah 2:

"'Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion.  For I am coming, and I will live among you', declares the LORD." - Zechariah 2:10

"I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will he leave it.  I will write on him the Name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new Name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." - Rev. 3:11-13

God freed his people and enabled them to rebuild his temple in Zechariah's day.
God sent Jesus to live among us, to teach us, to save us - and He sent His Spirit to live in us, to make us His temple.
And He is coming back, and all things will be new.

We are living in the middle of an incredible story, with an amazing ending - an ending which is really only a beginning.  And the One around Whom this whole story centers chose you.

Mark 3:13 tells of a time when Jesus "went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him."  I remember Rich Mullins saying in an interview once how wonderful he found that verse.  "Anybody can be used by God," he said, (and it's true - God can use anybody and anything to bring about His purposes) "...but to be wanted..."

God wants you.

It's the very reason Jesus was born.

So shout aloud for joy today - the King of heaven came for you, and there is no better thing we could celebrate.

Advent Reflections: Joy

"Sing to the LORD a new song,
     for He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm
     have worked salvation for Him.
The LORD has made His salvation known
     and revealed His righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered His love 
     and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
     the salvation of our God."
                                                 - Psalm 98:1-3

Halfway there!  Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and this week is all about Joy.

We have a LOT to celebrate in this season, friends:

"Praise the LORD, O my soul, 
     and forget not all His benefits - 
     who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
     who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
     who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
..... He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities ....."
                                                                                                     - Psalm 103: 2-5, 10

I love the picture painted in Amos 9:11-15.  After chapters of just judgment, here comes the promise: "'I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,'" says the LORD your God." (Amos 9:15)

Our God, who never changes and whose love is unfailing, is more than able to do exactly the same thing for you.  "...God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:13b-14)  He wants to take you out of the barren and exiled places of your life and plant you in new places within His kingdom - places you will find abundant life, and just the right environment for things like hope and peace and joy to grow.

So what will you do, during this Advent week of waiting with joy, to celebrate the coming of the King (who came and is here and will come again) - and to remember that you have much to celebrate?

Advent Peace - Day 7

"Blessed is he 
     whose transgressions are forgiven, 
     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man 
     whose sin the LORD does not count against him, 
     and in whose spirit is no deceit."
                                                        - Psalm 32:1-2

This means, children of God, that we're blessed.

If that thought doesn't fill you with peace, I'm not sure what else could.  We may be in the days Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 (and have been for generations), when there are wars and rumors of wars, and wickedness is increasing, but we have no reason to fear.  God's word says we're blessed.

So stand on that today, no matter what your circumstances may say to the contrary, and allow joy to rise up in your soul as you rest in His grace and experience His deep and abiding peace.

Advent Peace - Day 6

"I will listen to what God the LORD will say; He promises peace to His people, His saints - but let them not return to folly." - Psalm 85:8

"Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." - Psalm 34:14

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." - Psalm 4:8

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23

Reading thru the passages for today's Advent reading (which you can find here), I found myself thinking a lot, especially as I read Matthew 23 and Haggai 1, about how easy it can be to get wrapped up in our own "stuff" and forget about tending to the things of the Lord.  

I don't ever want Jesus to look me in the eye and call me a white-washed tomb - but the truth is, if I'm more concerned about getting all my stuff done and meeting the zillions of (even valid) expectations there are on me than I am about slowing down and spending time with Him, searching my heart and confessing my sin and allowing Him to teach me all that He knows I need to learn, then I'm running the risk of allowing things that don't honor Him to take root and grow: little attitudes, opinions that don't quite mesh with humility.  Lackidaisicalness.  Maybe not big moral failures, but little ones.  And those things matter.

The Bible teaches that God does not dwell in a temple (like the one Haggai called God's people to rebuild).  He dwells in the hearts of men. (Acts 17:23-25, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19-22)  We've got to tend to our hearts, daily, if we want to be men and women who dwell in advent peace.  God's word talks about peace in 2 ways: as something that grows in you, as a result of the Spirit of God living in you and producing that fruit in your life - and as something you pursue.  And you pursue it by cultivating an environment in your heart that allows it room.

If there's unconfessed sin in your life, or sin you've confessed but aren't doing anything to get out of, you're not likely to experience peace.  If you're walking the line somewhere, peace isn't going to follow you across it.  But if you're being honest before the Lord about the true state of your heart, confessing sin as He reveals it to you, doing the things He asks you to do, trusting in who He is and what He's done for you in Christ, believing that His grace is sufficient for you - peace will take root and flourish - even when everything around you is anything but peaceful.

Take some time today and really ask the Lord to tell you about the state of your heart.  And be at peace, for "once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel..." - Colossians 1:21-23a

Advent Peace - Day 5

"Commit your way to the LORD; 
     trust in Him and He will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, 
     the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him..."
                                                             - Psalm 37:5-7

"Wait for the LORD and keep His way..."
                                                   - Psalm 37: 34a

"Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
     there is a future for the man of peace."
                                                   - Psalm 37: 37

"The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
     He is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
     He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
     because they take refuge in Him."
                                                              - Psalm 37:39-40

I think it was sometime last week that my friend Chris posted a Scripture verse in his Facebook status and followed it with the words: "nothing to add."

I'm feeling a little that way this morning.  I love the way that God's Word can speak right into our lives with no interpretation needed from anyone else.  So I guess the only commentary I have on these verses today is: believe it, Church.

Commit your ways to God; live an upright life as best you can and trust His grace to cover you when you don't; be confident that the way He makes your righteousness shine is that He sees you thru Jesus, who IS your righteousness.  Take refuge with Him.  Run to Him.  Tell Him everything.  And be at peace.

He's got this - whatever it is.

He's got you.

And you are safe.

The good news of the gospel - the miracle of God's coming at Christmas - is that everything really is going to be okay.  So be at peace today, Church.  It doesn't matter what things look like.

He is with us.  (Matthew 1:18-23)  And that's all we need to know to be at peace.

Advent Peace - Day 4

"May Your unfailing love come to me, O LORD,
     Your salvation according to Your promise..."
                                                          - Psalm 119:41

Psalm 119, which is a love letter to the Lord about His Word, is probably one of my favorite psalms.  I love all the psalms - even the "I can't stand my enemy" and the "I'm in the depths of despair" psalms - because they're so honest, and they remind me that God wants my honesty, even when it's not pretty - but Psalm 119 has always given me a lot to think about.

"Loving law" might seem like a self-contradictory expression (whether you use "loving" as a verb or an adjective) - but it really isn't.  God gave us His word, His law, His commandments because He loves us, because He wants us to know His ways and desire to walk in them.  He also wanted us to understand on a very real level that we can't actually live in His ways on our own - that we need a Saviour, that we need Him to help us live the way we should.  And then He sent Jesus, who was the very Word of God, the source of all life (see John 1), to be that Saviour.  There's a mystery that I don't really comprehend in this connection between the One who created all things by speaking them into existence (see Genesis 1) and the words that He speaks throughout His Book, but I find it fascinating ... and beautiful.

There is only one verse in the entire psalm that does not say something about God's word, His precepts, His statutes, His commandments, His promise, His laws, His decrees.  (And no, I'm not going to tell you which one.)  The psalmist talks about how much he loves God's law, the freedom that comes from following His ways, his confidence in God's promises - and as I read along and come in agreement in my spirit with the words of this psalm, I am reminded of how essential knowing the Word of God is, and how important it is that His Word be woven into the very fabric of our lives.

His Word is reliable, true, constant, unchanging, faithful, life-giving, righteous, and good - and when we spend time in it/with Him, those attributes become ours as well.  We won't often find ourselves wondering about the ethics of a particular situation - we'll know right from wrong, and will choose the right path (or we'll know for sure that we didn't, and find ourselves convicted!).  When we meditate on His Word, memorizing it, speaking it aloud - we find ourselves living in His ways at a level that we just can't when we aren't spending time thinking on His words.  His Word breathes life into us - and we in turn are able to breathe light and life into those around us, with words of encouragement and hope, from a spirit that is so at peace because of our confidence in Him, and in the trustworthiness of His Word.

Do you have a favorite Scripture?  I'd love to hear it - and what you love about it.

Advent Peace - Day 3

"My feet stand on level ground;
     in the great assembly I will praise the LORD."
                                                         - Psalm 26:12

"Praise be to the LORD,
     for He has heard my cry for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield,
     my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
     and I will give thanks to Him in song."
                                          - Psalm 28: 6-7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7

Maybe it's because I read the chapter about active waiting in Steven Furtick's Sun Stand Still this morning (about doing what you know to do in the natural while trusting God to manage the supernatural end of things when you're praying for something to happen) - but those words from Psalm 26 leapt off the page at me this morning: "My feet stand on level ground..."

Do they?  Are you standing on level ground today?  Are you putting yourself around people who will encourage you?  Are you seeking counsel and wisdom for decisions you need to make?  Are you cultivating an atmosphere within your life where peace could actually gain a foothold and not go slipping and sliding off into oblivion?

It seems to me, especially re-reading those verses from Philippians, that peace - being a fruit of the Spirit and not something we can just stir up ourselves, but something He grows in us - needs someplace to grow.  It doesn't just happen.  What does Paul say?

1. Don't be anxious.  Okay, so that's what we need to quit doing.  No worrying.  None.  It isn't going to solve anything anyway.

2. In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  This is what we need to start doing, if we haven't been already.  Pray.  Ask.  Tell God what you need/want.

And how do we do that?

With thanksgiving "Thank You, God, for.... _____________."

And as we thank God for the good things He's already done for us, we cultivate an atmosphere in which peace can grow.  The ground on which we stand becomes level - faith, confidence, and trust become our foundation, and peace transcends.

I think I could probably stand to do a little more "ground leveling" today as I pray.  How about you?  What are you thankful for?

Advent Peace - Day 2

"The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, 
     a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know Your Name will trust in You, 
     for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You."
- Psalm 9:9-10

"Those who know Your Name..."

Names don't really seem to mean quite as much in our culture anymore, but there was a time when a person's name was pretty much synonymous with their reputation - and I think that's the context in which the psalmist is writing in these verses.  God had a reputation among His people - and among the nations - and it was a good one.  Anyone who knew His Name - His reputation - would of course trust Him - because  "You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You."

We love and serve a God whose reputation is flawless among us.  He is always good, always kind, always loving, always compassionate, always just, always.... (you fill in the word.  (Seriously.  In the comments.))  ;)

And because He is always who He is, He is trustworthy.  And you can't trust Him and not be at peace.  Sometimes trust is a choice.  Your emotions may be all over everywhere and your thoughts might be going a million miles an hour and there's just stuff you can't figure out or fix - but when you stop and breathe and remember who He is - and then make the conscious choice to trust Him in your current situation, peace will inevitably follow.  Your situation may not change right away - but you will.

So come on, church.  Let's encourage each other.  Finish the sentence, and let's put our trust and hope in God today, declaring that we are at peace, because we are confident in Him.

He is always _____________.

Advent Reflections: Peace

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests." - Luke 2:14

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent - the Sunday we begin a week-long celebration of peace.  Peace is so much more than just a lack of fighting.  Sure, we want that for our world - but the peace that the Bible talks about is so much deeper than that.  It's an absence of striving, a quiet confidence in God, even in the midst of great conflict.

So how do we find that peace, when everything around us is chaos?  Surprisingly, one of the quickest doorways to that inner quietness can be a little noisy: it's praise.

Try reading Psalm 148 out loud, with all of the depths of joy in your voice that are there in those words, and not feeling peaceful.  It's not possible!  When you're calling yourself and the entirety of creation into perspective, when you're declaring with your words (and remembering as you say them) that God is GOD - that He created the entire world and is worthy of praise, and that He has raised up a Saviour (for that's what Psalm 148: 14 means by the word "horn" (or "king" or "strong one")) for the people close to His heart (that's us) - you can't remain stuck in anxiety.  You can go back to it if you want to (but why would you?) - but you can't truly praise Him without cultivating peace and confidence.  Peace will pervade your soul as you fix your mind on Christ, remembering Who He is, and what He's done/is doing/will do.

Whatever your situation is this morning, remember the Greater Story that you are a part of, and be at peace:

"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.  ....  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death, a light has dawned.  ....  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace, there will be no end.  He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."  - Isaiah 9:1-9

No more gloom.  No more darkness.  Light.  Justice.  Righteousness.  Peace.   These are the hallmarks of the kingdom in which we now live.

So then:

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  Praise the LORD." - Psalm 150:6

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people." - Luke 1:68

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." - Ephesians 1:2

Advent Hope - Day 7

"Be at rest once more, O my soul,
     for the LORD has been good to you."
                                             - Psalm 116:7

Saturdays are my Sabbath day (hence the later posting - I slept in!), and while there are so many things I could say about the amazingness of the Sabbath, today I am simply thinking about the deep rest that comes to our souls simply from knowing the goodness of God to us, and celebrating it:

"I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy." (Psalm 116:1)

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." (Psalm 126: 3)

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing that is in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3)

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (Psalm 118:1)

"By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life." - Psalm 42:8

Wherever you are today, whatever's going on in your life, take some time to remember and celebrate the truth - that you are dearly loved by a God who moved heaven and earth to rescue you, and in Whom you can confidently hope.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God." - Psalm 42:11

"To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen." - Jude, v. 24-25

Advent Hope - Day 6

"I call on You, God, for you will answer me;
     give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of Your great love,
     You who save by your right hand
     those who take refuge in you from their foes."
                                                         - Psalm 17:6-7

If that's not a verse for Advent, I don't know what is.  Is there anything in life that shows the wonder of God's love for us more than the very fact that He sent His Son to rescue us?

Let's celebrate that today.  The words of this psalm reminded me of a Christmas hymn: Joy To The World. (You can download a pretty rockin' version of it here.)  Rejoice, with great hope, friends - the Saviour of the world knows you by name.  Doesn't it just fill you with wonder?  There are how many billions of people on the planet?  And yet He knows and cares about every detail of your life.  Emmanuel, God with us, has come - and "...because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Advent Hope - Day 5

"You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
       my God turns my darkness into light....
       He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him."
                                                       - Psalm 18:28, 30b

Have you ever had one of those days when absolutely nothing seems to go right?  I'm thankful that I haven't had one of those this week (yet!) but I've had plenty of them.  And it's in times like that when I'm aware that I need to cling to the truths of Scripture like those found in Psalm 18 - truths like "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1), or "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:37)  It's the days when everything's going well and there's nothing really to write home about that it's easier to forget that I'm still in the midst of a battle, and I still need Him to be my shield.

What if we took this Advent season to cultivate a deeper awareness of the hope that we always have?  Romans 5:1-5 says this: "Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."

I love the picture of hope Paul paints here.  It's joyful - not desperate.  I think it's totally okay to hope desperately - I mean, desperation drives us to God, right?  And the psalms are packed chock full of desperate prayers, so we know that it's okay with God when we come to Him in desperation, and that He'll answer when we do.  But what if we chose to hope joyfully - to pay attention daily to the fact that He is our hope - when things are going well?  I wonder if it would change/deepen the confidence with which we'll hope when things aren't going well at all...

So here's my question: what can you (or what are you) going to do to cultivate hope in your heart today?