Advent, Christmas, Jesus, miracle, mystery, magic, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

The Magic of Christmas: Remembering the Miracle All Year Long

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. 



I know it sounds a little funny reading a Christmas after Christmas. Many people have put Christmas behind them. The tree and lights are stored away; the stockings are no longer hung. The Christmas cookies and leftovers have long disappeared and all the candy canes are on clearance.

The year is closing out, and now our minds are set on the new year, new beginnings, improving our lives and trying new things. We set lofty goals and resolutions as we send our kids back to school for a new semester (some with new shoes). The grocery store aisles are packed with red and pink hearts and even St. Patrick’s Day decor. The radio stations are back to playing their “normal” songs. The Baby in the manger lays forgotten in a closet until next year.

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #magic #mystery #miracle

Lasting Magic

Yet we don’t have to forget. What if Christmas kept going all year round? I’m not talking about the stress of Christmas – the shopping, wrapping, baking, and elf-hiding. It’s the magic, the mystery and the wonder that lasts through January, February and all year long.

I want to focus on a unique aspect of the Christmas Story, the Wise Men also called “Magi.” Who were these mysterious foreigners, and how did a single star lead them to Jesus?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

The Wise Men were magicians, sorcerers, and foreigners from the East. We know that they did not previously know or worship God. Yet, they came to Jesus.

They came to see The One whose power and majesty far outweighed any wisdom or magic trick they could concoct. They knew He was special, and they knew He was worth their time. These foreign magicians knew He was God Eternal, the Everlasting King.

The Wise Men saw all of this in a single star, which led them to bow before a tiny little Baby.

Lasting Mystery

Matthew, Jesus’ disciple and author of this book, originally wrote to a Jewish audience. He was very intentional on multiple occasions to demonstrate how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. 

In Jewish times, people who were Gentile (foreigner or non-Jews) were considered unclean and unholy. Why would Matthew make sure to document to a primarily Jewish audience, that these non-believers from another land came to worship Jesus?

And better yet, why would God call these men from far away when they were not His people? Why did foreign magicians have such a crucial role in the Christmas story?

God does not think the way we think. Or even the way we want Him to. God caused Gentile men, who did not know Him, to travel to the country of Israel, to the rundown town of Bethlehem in order to worship Him, as a baby.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:9, NIV

Lasting Majesty

Another significant person in the Christmas account actually lived 700 years before Jesus was even born: Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet of God to the people of Judah during the reigns of four different Jewish kings. In Isaiah 6, we read about an incredible encounter Isaiah has with Jesus on the throne.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.’

Isaiah 6:1-3, NIV

Isaiah later gets the famous message that we hear at every Christmas pageant and see on many Christmas cards.

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.

Isaiah 9:6, NIV

Isaiah saw the majesty of the Lord, both in His heavenly form on His throne, and in His human form, as a baby. Both are majestic, and both are holy.

As we look at the Baby in the manger, we can remember that God chose the unlikely foreigners to lead the way in worship. We can stare at the mystery and magic of His birth and remember that God’s ways are higher than our own. Even when we read Matthew’s recount of the story or Isaiah’s prophetic words, we rejoice, that the grace of God cuts through cultural barriers, and systems.

Lasting Trust

Most of us do not feel like Wise Men, but we might feel like outsiders. We can trust, that the Light of God will lead us to Jesus, no matter where we have come from.

We can trust that He is worthy of our time, worthy to be worshiped, no matter what the world looks like around us.

When we see that little Baby in the manger and when God’s ways don’t make sense, we can rejoice with the angels. We can declare, “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty,” because that is who He is.

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #magic #mystery #miracle

unsplash-logoNathan Anderson
Advent, Christmas, Jesus, gift, salvation, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

His Warmth: God’s Gift of Eternal Life through His Son

God sent His Son to warm our hearts. His warmth is all you need to have eternal life. This gift was given to all of us. Let God’s fire warm your life.



I love a good fire on a crisp cool night. The light of the fire dancing as waves of heat move over cool skin feels elemental and natural. The smell of smokey wood burning brings a flood of childhood memories washing over me.

God sent His Son to warm our hearts. His warmth is all you need to have eternal life. This gift was given to all of us. Let God's fire warm your life. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #gift #salvation

Memories

My grandparents loved to go camping. We spent lots of time living out of their little camper. When I was in Girl Scouts some of my fondest memories are of the Jamboree where we would tent camp near the lake in Louisburg, NC. Now we spend time by the fire pit listening to nature, eating s’mores, talking and just being.

So, a few weeks ago while sitting by the fire, we were listening to “old school” songs. I pulled out an old Colin Raye song “What if Jesus Came Back Like That.” I remember the first time I heard this song. Lying in my dorm room listening to the CD I had gotten for a cent from BMG. Colin Raye had won Entertainer of the Year and I had recently gotten into country music. I listened to this song over and over again, intent on hearing and learning all the words. Tears streamed down my face because this song spoke to my soul.

Seeing God’s Fire

This song tore me apart. What if Jesus came back as anything other than the King? What if the homeless person on Franklin Street was how He came back? Or if he came from a drug-infested hovel? Didn’t he come so humbly before? Why would he come back differently?

He came to town on a cold dark night
A single star was his only light
The baby born that silent night
A manger for his bed

What if Jesus comes back like that
Where will he find out hearts are at
Will he let us in or turn his back

Feeling the Warmth of God’s Love

As we race toward Christmas, I think we need to stop and consider the story. A young pregnant girl engaged to a man who wasn’t the father of her child. Talk about being out in the cold…

They were on a journey across rough roads to be counted for a government who held them in contempt. They finally made it to the little town of Bethlehem but found nowhere to stay. A stable full of animals was the best they could find. And it was in this situation that Jesus was born.

Mary wasn’t in a nice soft bed, attended to by nurses and doctors who were seeing to her every comfort. Smelly, dirty, cold conditions surrounded the newborn. God, our Father, allowed His only Son to be born into such humble conditions. But, His love for us through His Son kept everyone warm.

Spreading the Warmth of God’s Love

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:40, NKJV

God has given us clear instructions. He is in each of us and that is why we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Those who are in crisis need our help, not our condemnation. We need to pray for them and with them. Give joyfully of our resources to help others. And take it back to the old-school question: “What Would Jesus Do?”

Jesus came to bring fire to our spirit. To be a light in the world. He came to warm us from the coldness of separation from God. We need to take Him into our lives and love Him wholeheartedly.

It rises at one end of the heavens and runs its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy, making wise the simple…

Psalm 19:6-7, NIV

Dear God,

I am in awe of your love. Help me to pay attention to Your warmth. Let me share it with others. You were humble enough to have your Son born in a lowly stable. Let me see you in others and remember to love others as you would. 

love,

me

God sent His Son to warm our hearts. His warmth is all you need to have eternal life. This gift was given to all of us. Let God's fire warm your life. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #gift #salvation

unsplash-logoKarina Carvalho
Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Mary, God’s Calling, revolutionary, righteousness, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

Mother of Jesus: How Well Do We Really Know Mary?

Do we really know Mary? Yes, she is the mother of Jesus, the Messiah, but she is also called favored, and righteous. She sets the example of being a revolutionary, living full of God’s power, and being a world changer!



“Mary, did you know…?” Picture me rolling my eyes.

CAUTION: It’s possible that I’m about to ruin for you one of the most popular and beloved modern-day Christmas songs of all time. The song is soothing, melodic (thanks to Buddy Greene), and asks a seemingly pertinent question. What I’m wondering, however, is how intimately acquainted the songwriter, Mark Lowry, was with Mary’s story.

Do we really know Mary? Yes, she is the mother of Jesus but she is also called favored, and righteous. She sets the example of being a revolutionary. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #GodsCalling #revolutionary #righteousness #Mary

Mary: Favored

Did HE know that God sent the mighty messenger-angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), to a lowly peasant girl? Did Lowry realize that Gabriel, whose name means ‘God is great,’ was the same messenger who caused Daniel to fall on his face in terror (Daniel 8:17), and struck Zechariah dumb for questioning his message to him concerning John’s birth, (Luke 1:18-22)?

Yet, Mary, (while frightened when heralded by this magnificent angel,) was first confused that he called her favored. She was well-acquainted with her standing in Jewish society – she was poor, young, and an unmarried woman.

Favored? That word had never been used in reference to her before.

Mary: Righteous

Of course, there was the matter of becoming pregnant while remaining a virgin; Mary wondered how. Scot McKnight, author of The Real Mary, states that surely Mary was surprised at all of these happenings, but the “biggest surprise was that she consented to God’s plan.” Today, we have trouble grasping what she was agreeing to as an engaged Jewish girl. Her saying “Let it be to me according to your word,” would have ripped her world apart. Even today, imagine telling your fiancé that an angel told you God had impregnated you…and keeping a straight face!

Not only was she offering her reputation to be ruined and exposing herself to public humiliation, but her engagement to Joseph would most certainly have been reneged. Ultimately, she knew the Torah stated that she could face stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Life as Mary knew it would never be the same.

Most Protestants have cast Mary as the silent, docile, blue-clad mother of Jesus at Christmas. For the other eleven months of the year, we don’t have much to do with her because she was just some sweet girl God allowed to be the holy incubator for Jesus, right? Definitely, wrong; God isn’t in the business of giving anyone grunt work, (pardon the pun). And do we truly believe the Lord God would have chosen a random, small-town teen to be the mother of His pure and only Son?

In the NKJV, Gabriel calls her “highly favored one” and “blessed among women.” There is absolutely nothing random about those words. Because Mary was righteous, God chose to use her. Her faith in God gave her the courage to consent to His plan despite the suffering she would endure.

Mary: Revolutionary

Through the years, many of us have read or sung Mary’s Magnificat in a choir setting. Her Magnificat is found in Luke 1:47-55. Immediately after her cousin Elizabeth, saw her, she began praising God for what He had done in Mary! (And believe me, Mary hadn’t texted or emailed her beforehand). Afterward, Mary offered soaring praise to God her Savior. However, in occupied Israel, verses 52-54 could have been construed as sedition. Imagine, meek and mild Mary – a revolutionary!

Would it shock you to know that a level of concern remains in the modern world toward Mary’s song in places where dictators fear an uprising among their repressed people? In fact, in the 1980s, the Guatemalan government “banned any public reciting of Mary’s Magnificat because it was deemed politically subversive,” (McKnight). Isn’t that astonishing?

I believe we need a paradigm shift concerning our views of Mary.

Mary was gentle, but also brave… bold…

and apparently a revolutionary!

The Magnificat

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Luke 1:47-55, ESV

How dare she utter such provocative words: He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. Herod had murdered for less under his bloody reign. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. Reckless utterances! The rich were the rulers, the powerful. With a word or nod, they could end her life.

Mary: Full of His Power

You know that sick feeling you have for a friend when she opens her mouth and spews out something at the absolute worst moment? Imagine she was stopped for speeding. You were with her. Instead of being contrite, she was belligerent. And you wish you could have slapped your hand over her mouth and said, “Woman! For the love of all that is holy, stop talking!”

That’s how someone listening to Mary might have felt… only more so. Her people were powerless, had been powerless, didn’t know the meaning of having power. While they obeyed the Torah, they quaked before the evil of which Herod was capable.

But she knew a greater Power. Mary knew the mighty One of Israel and believed He had come to set them free. She could not remain silent! Her faith in the Father emboldened her to follow Him onto a path that promised darkness and pain, but also mercy and deliverance. Mary stepped out into the inky unknown, resting in the palm of His hand.

Does this sound like the wallflower girl whom so many mistakenly picture Mary mother of Jesus to be? I think not. Truthfully, I doubt if Joseph’s mother would have approved of Mary. She might not have been quiet or meek enough…but as Lynne Hybels titled her book in 2005, Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.

What about you… Are you a revolutionary Mary? Would you like to be?

Do we really know Mary? Yes, she is the mother of Jesus but she is also called favored, and righteous. She sets the example of being a revolutionary. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #GodsCalling #revolutionary #righteousness #Mary

Advent, Christmas, Jesus, holidays, rest, busy, busyness, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

Long to Return: Resting Our Hearts and Minds During the Holidays

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, December can be a restless month for many. We long to return our souls to rest. How can we calm our hearts in the midst of all the busyness?



It’s December, y’all!

Are you relishing in the cooler weather, holiday traditions, and pretty lights? Maybe you’re more like me with a rush of adrenaline accompanying this month and the feeling that no matter how you try to prepare for the busyness you still always feel caught off guard by it.

Either way, it’s here along with the hustle and bustle, Christmas cookies and school plays, family visits and visiting family. This time of year is supposed to be one of peace and joy. Yet so often it’s easy to be short-tempered and on edge with places to go and deadlines to meet that leave us always going to the next thing.

We want to slow down and enjoy this season and remember our Savior, but the to-do list is daunting. It appears nothing can be cut from it. Let’s face it. December is just plain busy and exhausting!

December can be a restless month for many. We long to return our souls to rest. How can we calm our hearts in the midst of all the busyness? Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #busy #rest #holidays #busyness

Return

You guys, I get it. December sneaks up on me every year. I know it’s coming, but somehow, I’m never ready. My husband works for a shipping company which means, of course, this is their busiest time of year. He’s always working, and we always miss him. Our daily schedule is at the mercy of his daily changing work schedule. The lack of consistency and family time wears on us all. Each year I think I’ll be better prepared, though each year I find myself blindsided, unable to breathe in the midst of the busy.

How do we balance keeping the obligations and traditions that are necessary and important while still finding rest in the middle of the business?

Speaking to Our Soul

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
When I was brought low, He saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Psalm 116:5-7, ESV

When I need to breathe again, I often go to this passage. Here, the psalmist speaks to himself. “Return, O my soul, to your rest.” As the psalmist did, I must also speak to my own soul. I must reach into my hurried heart and speak the reminder “return to your rest.”

Where does this rest come from? What provides rest to weary, busy souls?  The rest comes in remembering the Lord’s work.

Rest For the Restless Days

Before speaking to his own soul, the psalmist spoke to God’s work in his life. God is gracious and righteous. He is merciful and preserves the simple. When the psalmist sunk into the depths, God saved him. He reminds his soul of this. Yes, soul, “the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” That is where his soul finds rest…in the bountiful work of his God, his Savior.

Following the example in this passage, I speak to my own soul. “Soul, rest in His work. God has dealt bountifully with you. He is faithful. The Lord keeps His promises always. He saved you and called you Daughter. Return, O my worn and weary soul, to your rest. He will refresh you.”

This time of year, we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ. When we see the images of our Savior in the manger, that God-man in infant form, let us speak to our souls. Let us remind our busy minds and distracted hearts of the ways this child King has dealt bountifully with us.

As we sing Christmas carols of infinitely precious truths, let them be reminders to our souls of His gracious care of us.

While we are out and about going from one place to another to attend to our family’s holiday schedules, let us keep with the example of the psalmist and breathe, speaking truth to our souls and find rest in the restless days of December.

Dear one, return, you precious soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

December can be a restless month for many. We long to return our souls to rest. How can we calm our hearts in the midst of all the busyness? Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #busy #rest #holidays #busyness

unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt
Advent, Christmas, Jesus, pressure, holidays, rest, busy, season, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

Remembering Jesus: Overcoming the Pressure of the Holiday Season

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus, our Savior, and resting in His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. 



I can already feel the lies of the season…

Do all the things. Be all the things. Give all the things.

»Pressure«

Why in the world does this happen during the Christmas season? I know it’s all been said before, it’s all been penned, it’s all been discussed…

Busyness vs. Peace • Mantle vs. Manger • Presents vs. Presence.

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus, our Savior, and resting in His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #busy #rest #holidays #pressure

Expecting Gifts

Christmas isn’t about the things… We all say this, but we fall prey to the trap every year. We allow it. It creeps in with every Christmas song, movie, and commercial. With every dollar-spot stop at Target. Every ‘SALE! SALE! SALE!’

GIVE all the things…

I’m seriously contemplating -deep breath in- little to no gifts this year. GASP! As everyone screams, ‘Look away! Look away!’ The horror. The nerve.

The freedom…

Imagine, for just a moment, if the pressure of buying the perfect gift, or anything at all, was lifted from our shoulders. Imagine if Christmas was about the conversations, the number of hearts beating in the same room, about being around, not the presents.

What if the gift of the season was about experiencing each other, hearing each other, breaking bread together, grieving together, laughing together, living life together…

Giving what we have…giving ourselves. Our Creator provided us unique gifts to pour out on those we love. Baking, making, hospitably serving, singing, reading, smiling. Giving love, listening ears, open doors… Giving Jesus. Jesus – the most perfect gift.

God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.

1 Peter 4:10, TLB

Christmas Busy

Christmas is about spending time with loved ones…Yet we still fill our time with events, parties, and programs that take us away from intimate moments with the ones we love. ‘Tis the season to be busy. Christmas parades, Christmas programs, Christmas events…

Christmas is stamped at the beginning of these words, adding a new level of pressure to attend. We run ourselves ragged making sure to show our faces, our kids’ faces, our spouses’ faces at it all.

Please understand I’m not trying to close everyone off from societal traditions. I’m simply trying to spark inspiration in finding rest, seeking the warmth of hospitality, and taking pleasure in the calm.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NLT (ephasis added)

Yes, this verse refers to a time when governments practiced seasons of peace. However, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus offers peace to us all, at any moment. He offers us calm in our spirits, though there’s strife all around. He provides quietness through the hustle and bustle. Falling into Jesus brings rest, comfort, and a stillness that is unmatched in this world.

Overcoming Pressure

Christmas is about Jesus… But we fill the season with so much that Jesus isn’t. From the moment of conception to the moment of ascension, every bit of Christ’s life is what we cherish at Christmas, and all the other 364 days. Well, it should be.

For what Jesus accomplished in our place, we should be filled with overwhelming joy. He came to earth as the Son of God, died on the cross for all our sins, rose from the dead three days later, and gave us hope for eternal life with our Father. From that joy should spring forth immense generosity… supernatural generosity.

Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others.

2 Corinthians 8:2, TLB

The load is lifted from my chest, and I take a huge sigh of relief. It’s beautiful. Warm. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus. Rejoicing in His gift, being in His presence, and resting in His hope is what the days ahead are all about… it’s what life is about.

Sister, I pray we can join together in overcoming these lies of the holidays. That we can shift the ‘normal’ expectations and rest in Jesus. Rest in remembering Jesus.

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus, our Savior, and resting in His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Jesus #busy #rest #holidays #pressure

unsplash-logoeberhard grossgasteiger
Advent, Christmas, Messiah, gift, Jesus, tradition, anticipation, salvation, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry, nonprofit

The Messiah: Preparing Our Hearts During Advent

Before celebrating the arrival of the Messiah, we must prepare our hearts during Advent. Only by preparing, can we truly rejoice in the gift of the Messiah.



When I was a little girl Christmas meant visiting Santa in a large downtown department store. Whether it was cold and snowy, sunny or rainy, my lower-middle-class family also feasted on the magnificent Christmas scenes in display windows at the giant Sears store. Each window portrayed winter wonderlands or Santa’s workshops that captured our dreams and imagination. Afterward, dad would treat us to dinner at the now defunct Miller’s Diner. Of course, I loved presents, but the warmth of those memories linger longer and deeper in me than any tangible gift I opened in my childhood.

And Jesus? He was an afterthought. Mom was a Sunday church attender and dad did not attend at all.

Advent? That’s something the Catholics did…or something.

Before celebrating the arrival of the Messiah, we must prepare our hearts during Advent. Only by preparing, can we truly rejoice in the gift of the Messiah. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Messiah #Jesus #salvation

Arrival

Until several years ago, I’m embarrassed to admit, I continued to believe that Advent was “something the Catholics did” to commemorate the birth of Jesus.

The first Christmas season my husband and I were attending our current church, the pastor announced Advent services toward the end of November. My husband and I looked at each other quizzically. What had we stumbled into? Um. Was this a Cathobaptist Church?! We had some research to do!

As we discovered, Advent isn’t a magical word (or a Catholic word); it simply means “coming” or “arrival.” Our faith tradition had never acknowledged it, to our loss.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:9, ESV

Advent Preparation

I think where we might get confused is that we think of this season leading up to Christmas as one of mere celebration, but its origin was “primarily as a season of preparation – a time for prayer and self-reflection,” (Because of Bethlehem Study Guide by Max Lucado and Christine  M. Anderson).

I hear what you’re you’re thinking…Wow! Why don’t you just pour cold water on my Christmas?! Do you want me to take down the tree? Pull the lights down from the roof and take the cute snowmen off of my porch? What about the presents, are they to go, too??

Hold on…there’s more.

The Messiah: Celebration

I have found that when I make time to reflect and pray, the Holy Spirit reveals areas of my life where I am weak, where I am needy, where I have been hiding from Him. But I am not condemned! I have Emmanuel: God With Us, God With me. Therefore, Christmas is also a time of celebration and rejoicing!

Can we not hold these all together? Self-reflection, prayer, and celebration? I believe that we must.

In an Advent sermon in 1928, the then 22-year-old Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!

Are you troubled in your soul, poor, and imperfect? Rejoice! The Savior has come!

Before celebrating the arrival of the Messiah, we must prepare our hearts during Advent. Only by preparing, can we truly rejoice in the gift of the Messiah. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional | Christian Nonprofit #devotional #scripture #Advent #Christmas #Messiah #Jesus #salvation

unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt
Growth, Jesus, mountain, plateaus, refuge, relationship, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Everywhere: There is Nowhere We Can Go, Where He is Not

We can become comfortable on the plateau of faith, content in our relationship with Jesus. We must push through the up and down; run to Him everywhere, in everything, EVERY season!



Camp; A Wake-up Call

So, I just got back from a week at Young Life camp on Saranac Lake in New York. May I just say… Wow. Other than that, I have no idea where to begin unpacking the last 6 days. Every day consisted of crazy activities, great meals, laughs, singing until you lost your voice, and dancing until you couldn’t stand.

On the flyer, it says camp will be the best week of your life and that it’s worth every penny. But, there were definitely parts for me, as someone who is not a new believer, that just didn’t sit right or felt very elementary.

I think my main focus for writing this devotional, is going to be exploring why this week was so difficult for me despite all the amazing things happening around me. Where was God this past week? How can I discipline myself to go to God instead of myself? God is everywhere. How do I open my eyes?

We can become comfortable on the plateau of faith, content in our relationship with Jesus. We must run to Him everywhere, in everything, EVERY season! Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #growth #Jesus #mountain #plateaus #refuge #relationship

Out of the Depths

This morning was my first time at church in a while and we studied Psalm 130. Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord! Monday and Tuesday were the hardest days I think and I’m not really sure why. I had a mild panic attack on each of those days and overall I was quite frustrated with myself.

Why can’t I just enjoy myself? Why must my anxiety follow me everywhere? Something really cool happened in all those instances though. I was able to reach out to God within moments of feeling anxious or unsafe. As I spoke with my leader during our one on one, the only thing I really had to say was how grateful I am that God has opened my eyes to how much I’ve grown in Him; how far out of the depths I’ve come, but also how much farther I still have to go.

He is Everywhere

I believe that everyone grows in one way or another at a camp like Young Life. Relationships are built, beliefs are challenged, and our foundations are shaken by the hard truths of why we’re really there.

This past week I believe that my growth was in my friendship with Jesus. I’ve said yes to a life with Him and I’ve been saved in so many ways, but growth within that relationship has plateaued recently. I’ve come out of the valley, but I’ve been walking straight ever since. No ups, maybe some downs, but overall just a great sense of stagnation.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.

Psalm 34:8, MSG

It’s as if I’ve said that now that I’m getting better, now that I am no longer in the depths, I have no need for Christ. So I’ve tried to set Him on a shelf until I need Him again. Thank God for His constant reminders of how helpless we really are and desperate we really should be. We cannot contain Christ. He is everywhere.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been in a season lately where I just feel off. Now I feel that season is coming to an end and now I am in a time of transition and growth. There is a lot coming up in my life and I think instead of running to God with my fear of the changes, I’ve turned to any and everything else.

But this past week has opened my eyes to the fact that God will be with me through the change and it really is as simple as that. Christ is in everything. He is everywhere. We cannot outrun Him. My prayer for all of you is that you can find rest in whatever it is that challenges you because God is in your midst. There is nothing you’re going through that He isn’t a part of.

Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Psalm 139:7, CSB
Christ is in everything. He is everywhere. We cannot outrun Him. May we find rest in whatever challenges, because God is in our midst. He's a part of it all! Click To Tweet

We can become comfortable on the plateau of faith, content in our relationship with Jesus. We must run to Him everywhere, in everything, EVERY season! Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #growth #Jesus #mountain #plateaus #refuge #relationship

unsplash-logoMiryam León
compassion, suffering, example, God’s love, Jesus, love others, redeemed, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Suffering With: Compassion’s True Nature Revealed through Jesus

Today’s interpretation of ‘compassion’ doesn’t compare to God’s intended design. The true nature of ‘suffering with others’ was perfectly exemplified through the life and death of Jesus.



When I entered my initial internship for hospital chaplaincy, I believed I was equipped both theologically and emotionally to provide the care my patients would need. After all, I was an adult who had already raised a family, taught the Bible for twenty years, and had experienced, (and had therapy for), several painful life events.

Astonishing – how wrong we can be when we believe we’re so right.

Our interpretation of compassion doesn't compare to God's intended design. 'Suffering with others' was perfectly exemplified in the life and death of Jesus. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #compassion #GodsLove #redeemed #suffering

The World’s Compassion

Chaplaincy internship involved many spiritual books assigned to us, weekly theological reflections, group meetings/assessments with fellow interns, and a weekly one-on-one with our supervisor. It didn’t take long for most of us to ascertain that, while our theological training was imperative and our life experiences significant, how these aspects came together to minister care to a hurting soul was vital.

The word compassion is thrown around frequently in our culture. It seems the word is used to pull at our heartstrings and guilt us into performing a service. Or, to give to a cause in which someone, or an entity, believes we should. You know what I mean. I imagine your mailbox is full of the same appeals as mine.

Don’t you have any compassion for these-

  • starving children
  • wounded vets
  • people with cancer
  • lost people
  • dying people in (name the country)

And if you’re a television watcher…well, the visual is worse.

Inadequate Compassion

While I was in chaplaincy, I was seeing a wonderful Christian therapist. At times, I felt overwhelmed and deeply inadequate by the needs I faced each day. My heart, my own compassion, could not handle the onslaught of pain and suffering. I remember the day I expressed this to her, and she told me, “I believe we already have a Savior to handle the world’s pain. We don’t need another one.” Ouch.

But the truth is, like so many other words in our world, compassion has been co-opted to take on a new meaning. Rather than the way, God, our Father used it, or Jesus used it, today it is used more as ‘feeling sorry for.’ With this meaning, we can throw money at the above list, or even a little time, feel warm and fuzzy, then go on our merry way.

However, in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word is Racham, it is translated to ‘love deeply;’ it is used most often in Isaiah.

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18, NIV

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

Isaiah 49:15, NIV

Can we fathom this love?

Suffering With

The Greek word splanchnizomai, “to be moved as to one’s inwards”, is used most often when referencing Jesus’ compassion.

That one is a bit more difficult to grasp. Imagine your child with a raging fever and your willingness to take his/her place just to ease the pain and suffering.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:35-36, NIV

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:14, NIV

As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’

Luke 7:12-14, ESV

‘Pain-Avoiders’

Henri Nouwen describes it well in a book he co-wrote with two others.

The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which together mean “to suffer with.” Compassion means to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion into the condition of being human.

It is not surprising that compassion, understood as suffering with, often evokes in us a deep resistance and even protest…It is important for us to acknowledge this resistance and to recognize that suffering is not something we desire or to which we are attracted. On the contrary, it is something we want to avoid at all cost. Therefore, compassion is not among our most natural responses. We are pain-avoiders…

Henri Nouwen, et al, Compassion, A Reflection on the Christian Life  

Full Immersion

Dear friends, sisters, is it not much easier to remain at a safe distance from sufferers than to be in “full immersion” with them? Wouldn’t we rather tweet: “I’ll pray for you!” with an added heart emoji than go sit in silence with a depressed friend?

Let’s be painfully honest – it takes little effort to say, “Let me know if you need anything,” but to take the initiative to keep her kids one day a week? Seriously?

I find it much more challenging to experience the powerlessness of someone in grinding poverty than to go to my intellect and tell her about job opportunities. I prefer to inform her of the stage of grief she is in than to weep and mourn with a sister who is mourning.

Because truly? While the practical answers are necessary, they are not what Jesus meant by compassion.

Jesus’ Example

There was a time when I was very good at doling out useless offers and banal, spiritual phrases. Then cancer hit my family, (my dad, Gary,) and chronic illness, (me, mom.) Gary and I began hearing those words and good intentions coming our way. It didn’t take too many instances for God to reveal to me how insincere I had been.

When I had cancer three years ago, the same thing occurred with people I believed were close to me. While the experience was hurtful and disappointing, it helped me realize anew how little we understand suffering with each other. Even in the Body of Christ.

God, in Christ, loved us to such a degree that He stepped down to earth to redeem us. He was tempted and suffered in every way as we do, (Hebrews 4:15; Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus is our supreme example of compassion, suffering with. He will enable us to do the same with others if we will ask.

Let me warn you…it hurts.

…but the rewards are eternal.

Jesus is our supreme example of what compassion looks like: He stepped down to earth as a human, suffered as we do, then died and rose again to redeem us all. Click To Tweet

Our interpretation of compassion doesn't compare to God's intended design. 'Suffering with others' was perfectly exemplified in the life and death of Jesus. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #compassion #GodsLove #redeemed #suffering

unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt
Christmas, Jesus, miracle, worship, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Magic: Remembering the Miracle of Christmas All Year

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. 



I know it sounds a little funny reading a Christmas post at the end of January. Many people have put Christmas behind them. The tree and lights are stored away; the stockings are no longer hung. The Christmas cookies and leftovers have long disappeared and all the candy canes are on clearance.

It is 2019, and now our minds are set on the new year, new beginnings, improving our lives and trying new things. We set lofty goals and resolutions as we send our kids back to school for a new semester (some with new shoes). The grocery store aisles are packed with red and pink hearts and even St. Patrick’s Day decor. The radio stations are back to playing their “normal” songs. The Baby in the manger lays forgotten in a closet until next year.

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #encouragement #Christmas #Jesus #miracle #worship

Lasting Magic

Yet we don’t have to forget. What if Christmas kept going all year round? I’m not talking about the stress of Christmas – the shopping, wrapping, baking and elf-hiding. It’s the magic, the mystery and the wonder lasts through January, February and all year long.

I want to focus on a unique aspect of the Christmas Story, the Wise Men, also called “Magi.” Who were these mysterious foreigners, and how did a single star lead them to Jesus?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

The Wise Men were magicians, sorcerers and foreigners from the East. We know that they did not previously know or worship God. Yet, they came to Jesus.

They came to see The One whose power and majesty far outweighed any wisdom or magic trick they could concoct. They knew He was special, and they knew He was worth their time. These foreign magicians knew He was God Eternal, the Everlasting King.

The Wise Men saw all of this in a single star, which led them to bow before a tiny little Baby.

Lasting Mystery

Matthew, Jesus’ disciple and author of this book, originally wrote to a Jewish audience. He was very intentional on multiple occasions to demonstrate how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. 

In Jewish times, people who were Gentile (foreigner or non-Jews) were considered unclean and unholy. Why would Matthew make sure to document to a primarily Jewish audience, that these non-believers from another land came to worship Jesus?

And better yet, why would God call these men from far away when they were not His people? Why did foreign magicians have such a crucial role in the Christmas story?

God does not think the way we think. Or even the way we want Him to. God caused Gentile men, who did not know Him, to travel to the country of Israel, to the rundown town of Bethlehem in order to worship Him, as a baby.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:9, NIV

Lasting Majesty

Another significant person in the Christmas account actually lived 700 years before Jesus was even born: Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet of God to the people of Judah during the reigns of four different Jewish kings. In Isaiah 6, we read about an incredible encounter Isaiah has with Jesus on the throne.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah 6:1-3, NIV

Isaiah later gets the famous message that we hear at every Christmas pageant and see on many Christmas cards.

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.

Isaiah 9:6, NIV

Isaiah saw the majesty of the Lord, both in His heavenly form on His throne, and in His human form, as a baby. Both are majestic, and both are holy.

As we look at the Baby in the manger, we can remember that God chose the unlikely foreigners to lead the way in worship. We can stare at the mystery and magic of His birth and remember that God’s ways are higher than our own. Even when we read Matthew’s recount of the story or Isaiah’s prophetic words, we rejoice, that the grace of God cuts through cultural barriers, and systems.

Lasting Trust

Most of us do not feel like Wise Men, but we might feel like outsiders. We can trust, that the Light of God will lead us to Jesus, no matter where we have come from.

We can trust that He is worthy of our time, worthy to be worshiped, no matter what the world looks like around us.

When we see that little Baby in the manger and when God’s ways don’t make sense, we can rejoice with the angels. We can declare, “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty, ” because that is who He is.

We can trust, that the Light of God will lead us to Jesus, no matter where we have come from. We can trust that He is worthy of our time, worthy to be worshiped, no matter what the world looks like around us. Click To Tweet

Christmas does not end on December 26. The magic of Christmas, the miracle and mystery of Jesus can be celebrated every day, all year long. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional #devotional #scripture #encouragement #Christmas #Jesus #miracle #worship

unsplash-logoSimon Matzinger

busyness, Christmas, Jesus, pressure, Oh Lord Help Us, Christian, women, mentor, ministry

Pressure: Overcoming the Lies and Expectations of the Holidays

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus, our Savior, and resting in His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. 



I can already feel the lies of the season…

Do all the things. Be all the things. Give all the things.

»Pressure«

Why in the world does this happen during the Christmas season? I know it’s all been said before, it’s all been penned, it’s all been discussed…

Busyness vs. Peace • Mantle vs. Manger • Presents vs. Presence.

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus our Savior and resting is His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional

Expecting Gifts

Christmas isn’t about the things… We all say this, but we fall prey to the trap every year. We allow it. It creeps in with every Christmas song, movie, and commercial. With every dollar-spot stop at Target. Every ‘SALE! SALE! SALE!’

GIVE all the things…

I’m seriously contemplating -deep breath in- little to no gifts this year. GASP! As everyone screams, ‘Look away! Look away!’ The horror. The nerve.

The freedom…

Imagine, for just a moment, if the pressure of buying the perfect gift, or anything at all, was lifted from our shoulders. Imagine if Christmas was about the conversations, the number of hearts beating in the same room, about being around, not the presents.

What if the gift of the season was about experiencing each other, hearing each other, breaking bread together, grieving together, laughing together, living life together…

Giving what we have…giving ourselves. Our Creator provided us unique gifts to pour out on those we love. Baking, making, hospitably serving, singing, reading, smiling. Giving love, listening ears, open doors… Giving Jesus. Jesus – the most perfect gift.

God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.

1 Peter 4:10, TLB

Christmas Busy

Christmas is about spending time with loved ones…Yet we still fill our time with events, parties, and programs that take us away from intimate moments with the ones we love. ‘Tis the season to be busy. Christmas parades, Christmas programs, Christmas events…

Christmas is stamped at the beginning of these words, adding a new level of pressure to attend. We run ourselves ragged making sure to show our faces, our kids’ faces, our spouses’ faces at it all.

Please understand I’m not trying to close everyone off from societal traditions. I’m simply trying to spark inspiration in finding rest, seeking the warmth of hospitality, and taking pleasure in the calm.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NLT (ephasis added)

Yes, this verse refers to a time when governments practiced seasons of peace. However, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus offers peace to us all, at any moment. He offers us calm in our spirits, though there’s strife all around. He provides quietness through the hustle and bustle. Falling into Jesus brings rest, comfort, and a stillness that is unmatched in this world.

Overcoming Pressure

Christmas is about Jesus… But we fill the season with so much that Jesus isn’t. From the moment of conception to the moment of ascension, every bit of Christ’s life is what we cherish at Christmas, and all the other 364 days. Well, it should be.

For what Jesus accomplished in our place, we should be filled with overwhelming joy. He came to earth as the Son of God, died on the cross for all our sins, rose from the dead three days later, and gave us hope for eternal life with our Father. From that joy should spring forth immense generosity… supernatural generosity.

Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others.

2 Corinthians 8:2, TLB

The load is lifted from my chest, and I take a huge sigh of relief. It’s beautiful. Warm. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus. Rejoicing in His gift, being in His presence, and resting in His hope is what the days ahead are all about… it’s what life is about.

From the moment of conception to the moment of ascension, every bit of Christ's life is what we cherish at Christmas. We should be filled with such joy for what Jesus accomplished in our place that immense generosity flows from us. Click To Tweet

Sister, I pray we can join together in overcoming these lies of the holidays. That we can shift the ‘normal’ expectations and rest in Jesus. 

The pressure of the holidays can be suffocating. Remembering Jesus our Savior and resting is His presence allows us to overcome the lies and expectations. Women of Faith | Spiritual Growth | Scripture Study | Christian Mentoring | Daily Devotional

Mourad Saadi