From Messes to Miracles: Giving Your Life to God

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Today’s guest post is by Tammie Head, author of More: From Messes to Miracles, a new ebook coming soon to Vyrso. Head is the founder of Totally Captivated Ministries, and resides in Cypress, Texas with her husband, Erin, and their two daughters. 

 

Messy.

We’re all feeling it.

People everywhere are anguished inside for something more. Churched and non-churched alike. I’ve met them in malls, talked with them in nail salons, prayed with them in my church, encouraged them in my friendships, visited with them at speaking events, cried with them in my home and, honestly, I’ve been that person myself.

None of us have to stay this way though. God has a miraculous plan for our lives. If I know you like I think I do, you want it. So much so, the desire for it probably drives you crazy sometimes. We’re each longing for something more. What if we found the more in this season of Lent?

But I just have to ask:

Have you ever seen something so unbelievable you scratched your head in wonder? And your jaw dropped to the floor? That’s what God wants to do in your life. Would you like to know how to tap into his plans?

It starts by encountering his presence, by becoming his disciple.

When I was young, I struggled to understand what made life worth the living. Before God saved me, it seemed to me as if life wasn’t worth the effort, you know? Restless thoughts tirelessly entertained my mind. I longed for a different version of life and, furthermore, I longed for a different version of me. Deep in my soul’s fabric was an irksome sense of void and vacancy.

I used to think my upbringing was the initiator of my pining for something more. But then I grew up and discovered many of my friends felt it too. And their backgrounds were dazzling compared to mine. What I realized is all of us engaged with life as human garbage disposals looking for something, anything, to whet our appetites and satisfy us.

Some of us sought it in seemingly good ways—pursuing good deeds, being respectable, and passionately watching our every single p and q. Others sought it in rebellion—pushing the envelope, climbing out windows, and sailing the gusty winds. Neither avenue, respectable or not so respectable, was able to provide what we yearned for.

The truth is, everything sold us short. Finding lasting love. Amassing popularity, power, and control. Working our way up the corporate ladder. Making great money. Having gorgeous bodies. Accumulating loads of material possessions. Owning fabulous homes. Living however, wherever, and with whomever—getting our own way for a change. When our heads hit the pillow at night we each still knew:

Somethings missing.

Perhaps you can relate?

Later on in life, I discovered this need for more stems from the same empty well in all of us—even if our attempts to satisfy our emptiness play out differently in each of our lives. I think this emptiness was created in us by God and for God. I think the “more”we’re longing for is God.

So the question is, how do we find him?

We find him by living a life that is sold out to following hard after God. To discipleship. Like those we read of in the Scriptures. People like Abraham, David, the prophetess Anna, and John the Baptist.

But I’ve also learned a few things about this life of a disciple that I want us to talk about for a minute. These are the very things that keep us from living a life of following hard after God, a life of devoted discipleship:

1. Following God kills usand that scares us.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” In God’s economy, dying precedes all living. The Lord’s way is to push us up and out of our comfort zones all the way into his strong arms of a thousand dichotomies; rest and risk, safety and unknown, death and life, worship and warfare, wounds and healing, suffering and joy. Yet, what we must remember is that while he pushes us right into that spacious place where nothing is sure, we can also know that all will be well in our Father’s presence.

2. Many of us are in troubling situationswe feel stuck.

Struggles can have a crippling effect on us, leaving us empty and dry. We can’t see past our present disappointments, confusions, and despair. Does this sound familiar? Listen, I have good news for you. You don’t have to stay stuck. God can and wants to help.

To begin tapping into what God has for you starts by throwing down your crutches of self-reliance and giving God what he wants. He wants your life! What if this Lent season you gave up hesitating to obey? What if you opened his Word more, and inhaled it? Or what if you made more room in your life to soak in his abiding presence, and took the time to relax in his arms? What if you gave him full access to everything?

What if you gave him your whole heart?

I am asking God to do a mighty work in your life during this season of Lent—a now work, where you experience a hunger for his presence, his Holy Scriptures, and to walk with him like never before. You were made for more than mere survival. Why not give God your whole life? [Click to Tweet!]

The life of a sold-out, surrendered, on fire, obedient disciple of Christ.

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A Lent Devotion: Wrestling with God

A Lent Devotion: Wrestling with God

Today’s Lent guest post is by Daniel Hochhalter, author of Losers Like Us, an ebook that shows how our worst mistakes and greatest failures bring us to a place of teachability, egolessness, brokenness, and empathy. 

People often describe discipleship and the Christian life as a series of hills and valleys through which Jesus leads us. But to me, discipleship is more like a struggle, a wrestling match with God. And during Lent, as we wrestle with sin vs. redemption, I think of Jacob—the ultimate wrestler with God.

In Genesis 32, Jacob gets ready to meet his older brother Esau—who he tricked, years earlier, out of the birthright and blessing (Genesis 25, 27). Thinking Esau might still be a little peeved about that, maybe even peeved even to kill, Jacob spends a night alone in the wilderness, preparing himself.

Thus begins a series of strange events.

During the night—a detail both literal to the story and metaphorical to the spiritual journey— a mysterious man appears and for some odd reason, the two immediately start mixing it up (verse 24). This man turns out to be God (verses 28, 30).

Then it gets even weirder.

At daybreak (verse 25) —again, a detail literal to the story and metaphorical to the spiritual journey —God realizes that, incredibly, he cannot overpower Jacob. So he does what referees would call cheating: he cripples Jacob by wrenching his hip.

Yet even after this crippling, Jacob refuses to concede; instead, he demands: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (verse 26). And God does bless him: he changes his name and identity from Jacob, meaning “heel grabber,” to Israel, meaning “struggles with God” (verse 28).

Finally, when it’s all over, Jacob makes an amazing claim: “I have seen the face of God” (verse 30).

Like Jacob, my experience with God has been a throwdown. I demand explanations from God. And I don’t want clichés; I want real answers.

So I wrestle with him until he cripples me.

My divine crippling came in February 2008. After seven years of study in a British postgraduate program, I flew to England to defend my thesis—the final step toward the PhD degree I needed to teach college. While there were no guarantees, my supervisor deemed my thesis “ready to submit” and explained that by far the likeliest outcome was that it would pass, with some changes required.

At the appointed time, I walked into the examiners’ office.

An hour later, I staggered out with . . . nothing. My thesis was utterly rejected, with no grounds for appeal.

All that time, money, and effort —gone.

It was a long, somber flight home.

To this day, I am certain God led me into that program. But what kind of God would lead me into such a death-trap? Isn’t he loving enough to fight fair? Isn’t he strong enough to subdue me without cheating like that?

Seven years later, I still have few answers. However, those years have affirmed some key points in my understanding of discipleship.

First: Discipleship is messy and unpredictable because we can’t tame God; we never know what he will do.

Second: Sometimes discipleship involves believers mentoring each other, but other times it’s a long, solitary night of just one person, wrestling with God.

Third: In the wrestling match called discipleship, human motivations may vary, but God’s motivation is always the same—to give us a new identity and draw us closer to him.

Since my PhD disaster, out of my wrestling with God have come two unexpected new directions: a book (Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure) which I wrote about my own broken life, reflected in the lives of Jesus’ twelve disciples; and a new focus on encouraging other broken people.

Yes, I still limp. My PhD failure will limit me, at least in academia, for the rest of my life. Yet at the same time, God has blessed me: he has renamed me from Daniel the Failure to Daniel the Published Author—a new identity I still can hardly believe.

I can’t say the wrestling is over; I continue to mix it up with God, demanding answers for things too hard to understand. But I can say I’m amazed to discover how creatively determined God is to pursue intimacy with me, at all costs.

And that discovery is the heart of true discipleship.

During Lent, I urge you to wrestle with God. Shout out your rawest, angriest, most painful questions. Go for the headlock and yell: “I will not let you go unless you bless me!”

By baring your soul and laying everything on the altar—all your hopes and dreams, dead or alive—I truly believe that you, like Jacob, will be able to say, “I have seen the face of God.”

I may not see it fully yet, but I am getting a glimpse.

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A Lent Devotional: 40 Days to the Cross

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Today’s guest post is by Jessi Strong, the senior writer for Bible Study Magazine. She has also developed content for Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary, and is the author of 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers, a Lexham Press ebook.

I grew up in non-denominational community churches that placed little emphasis on a traditional liturgical calendar.  I discovered Advent somewhere along the way, but Lent was a total mystery, except for its connection to our neighbor Ernie, whose wife to give up cigarettes for a few weeks every spring. He hung out in the same spot in his driveway, leaning on the hood of his truck, but without his customary cigarette, he was crankier—yelling at the kids who veered their tricycles from the sidewalk onto his well-kept lawn (an offense that normally engendered no more than a grunt.)

When I went away to college, I learned a new vocabulary for celebrations of the faith: Tenebrae, Ash Wednesday, and Lent. These celebrations, so unlike my spiritual upbringing, were even more special because of their uniquness.  Lent was no longer just a game of abstaining from a favorite vice; it became a time of reflection and waiting.

The season of Lent marks a period of mourning for our sin and the fall of humanity—for the state of the world that necessitated the death of the son of God. Mirroring the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert, the church traditionally spends 40 days leading up to Easter in fasting and prayer.

My impatient nature is tempted to skip to the happy ending, but I’ve found that Lent’s intentional meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ made the celebration of his resurrection so much sweeter. I’m more deeply grateful for Christ’s saving act when I reflect not just on his love, but also on the price he paid. [Click to tweet!]

May you take time to reflect on the somber aspects of the Lenten season, and may you find the hope and joy of the resurrection all the more full.

If you’re looking for a Lent devotional reading, make sure to download a copy of 40 Days to the Cross on sale for $4.95 through February 28. This devotional will guide you through a time of confession, reading, and reflection during the 40 days leading to Easter. It even includes reflections from Basil of Caesarea, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and others.

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The Perfect Time for Prayer

The Perfect Time for Prayer

This guest post was written by David R. Smithauthor of Christianity. . . It’s Like ThisHe pastors First Baptist Church in Linden, Florida, where he lives with his wife, Jenn, and their son, Josiah. When he’s not preaching, he’s usually looking for great barbeque joints or golfing.

Today’s churches offer different prayer opportunities throughout the week. Some do Wednesday nights while others meet on Sunday evenings. A few even gather on Monday mornings for prayer. But there aren’t very many that offer prayer meetings at 3 a.m.

Yet one church group proved it could be the prime time to pray.


The Early Church’s Late Nights

There’s a fascinating story found in the 12th chapter of Acts that makes a great case for nocturnal prayer meetings. Here’s the skinny: King Herod (Agrippa I) has just killed James and tossed Peter in prison intending to do the same to him. However, Herod must wait until Passover has ended before carrying out his murderous plan. (Hey, you can’t go around killing people while celebrating the goodness of your God.)

But while Herod was waiting for the feast’s end, the very first church was “earnestly praying” for God to rescue him. Consequently, on the last night before Peter was to be killed, an angel of the Lord visits the former fisherman in his jail cell, wakes him from his sleep, and sets him free from his captors. Step by step, the angel led Peter past the guards, through the gates, and out of the prison into the city. Peter then made his way through the dark alleys of Jerusalem and eventually arrived at John Mark’s house where he found his spiritual family in prayer for him. . . in the middle of the night!  

There’s much more to this story, but let’s pause in the shadow of the early church long enough to be challenged by their example.

When Peter was imprisoned, the church didn’t turn to Facebook or Fox News to raise awareness. They didn’t petition the authorities or picket Herod’s palace. Rioting in the streets and protesting in the public sector would only have gotten them a matching jail cell (and death sentence).

No, the early church prayed. Earnestly. Through the night.

Granted, they were praying at night, partly because it was the safest time to gather. (This was in the days before it was wise to post prayer meetings on Twitter. #youwoulddie) But they were also praying that night because God hadn’t yet answered their request on behalf of Peter. This midnight prayer meeting was one last effort to bring Peter’s case before God.

As a result of their earnest “middle-of-the-night” prayer they received a miracle: Peter was rescued from prison.

 

Practicing Prayer

Hear me clearly: I’m not suggesting we discontinue prayer groups that happen during “regular business hours.” Nor am I saying that God can’t perform miracles in broad daylight. I’m merely suggesting that we do what the early church did: pray until God answers . . . even if that means we must pray through the night.

If you think it sounds crazy to pray late at night, consider our preferred method of dealing with trouble: worrying through the night. Yep, the early church willingly forfeited sleep to pray, like Jesus often did; today’s church mindlessly loses sleep to worry.

In the end, both churches lose sleep. . . but only one gets the miracle.

Take a moment to reflect on these questions.

1. When was the last time you prayed until God gave an answer?

2. What’s your first reaction to trouble: worry or prayer? Why?

3. How much more time could you devote to prayer if you cut your TV viewing and Internet surfing in half?

4. How would your life be different if you (and your church) prayed like the early church in Jerusalem?

So, what’s the perfect time for prayer? That’s simple: anytime. God invites us to speak with him about our lives (and those we love) at any given moment. [Click to tweet!]

Check out David R. Smith’s new ebook, Christianity. . . It’s Like This, for an uncomplicated look at what it means to be a Christ follower.

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Maintaining Spiritual Vitality: Wellness in Aging

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Today’s guest post is by John Dunlop, MD, the author of Wellness for the Glory of God and Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University and practices geriatrics in Connecticut.

Spiritual vitality is key.

After 40 years of practicing geriatrics I have seen a lot of believers grow older. Some have done it well; some have not. One lesson I have learned is that when we consider the six areas of potential wellness (physical, mental, social, financial, emotional, and spiritual), the one that is least likely to decline is the spiritual.

I have observed that when our spiritual lives remain vigorous we can continue to feel well. [Click to tweet] Our bodies begin to show wear and tear. Our minds begin to slip and our social networks deteriorates.  Finances don’t last forever and it gets harder to summon the emotional resilience that allows us to press on. But there is no compelling reason our spiritual lives must decline. In fact, I have seen spiritual growth in people approaching the century mark.

Spiritual vitality may be maintained as we continue to practice spiritual disciplines, see our characters transformed, find ways to serve, and grow in personal holiness. Let’s unpack these:

  • Spiritual disciplines

Our older years begin to slow down giving us more time to practice spiritual disciplines.  We can be more committed to prayer, studying the Bible, and savoring the beauty of God’s presence.

  • Character transformation

God is not finished with us and he will further develop our characters. His plans for us are perfect, but the means he uses may not be the ones we choose. Many of us are inspired to think of God being the potter while we are the clay, but the reality of being plopped down on a wheel, spun around at 500 RPM’s, and having our rough edges knocked off may not be our first choice. Yet who could we trust more to transform our characters than our loving heavenly father? Some of the fruit of the Spirit is late blooming; such traits as gentleness, patience, and self- control are more commonly developed in the elderly.

  • Spiritual service

Seniors are blessed with many opportunities to serve. We must remember that when Scripture says all believers have spiritual gifts there is no age limit specified. Elderly people are still uniquely equipped to serve the body of Christ. The nature of their service may change but the fact that they can make a significant impact on others does not. Their service may be more to pray and encourage others than the active things they did in earlier years, but these quieter ministries may have even more benefit to the kingdom of God. Leaving a legacy of spiritual vigor to your family is a frequent way of serving during the later years of life. It is wise to live near children and grandchildren to assure what you leave them is not just a financial blessing but a deep appreciation for God’s love and a desire to love and glorify him in return.

  • Personal holiness

Victory over sin is another area of potential growth for seniors. The temptations faced may not be the same ones they encountered in earlier years but there will still be temptation to sin at any age. Common sins in seniors are self-pity, worry, pride, anger, and being overly focused on self. Whatever our age, we need to look to God to keep our hearts pure before him.

Unfortunately many churches do not strategize how to make the most use of their seniors. Some set them aside in senior groups where they have limited exposure to younger people and no opportunity to minister to young adults. It is important to provide intergenerational relationships where all ages together can love and serve each other—”Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:12-13 ESV).

Our later years may face many losses, but with deliberate planning and a bit of perseverance, our spiritual lives can continue to grow and allow us to feel well—even as other areas of life may be in decline.

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Get both of John Dunlop’s wellness ebooks on Vyrso today for just $8.44!

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Dashing Dish: A Simple Recipe From Katie Farrell

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Today we have a treat for you—literally. Katie Farrell has shared with us one of her authentic Dashing Dish recipes! Enjoy this this tasty treat straight from the recipe book, Dashing Dish: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes for Clean Eating. If you havent read Katie’s guest post from yesterday, check out her simple four-step process for easy meal planning.

Mini Mexican Pizzas

Estimated time: 20 to 25 minutes

These mini pizzas make the perfect, well-balanced snack or meal! The refried beans serve as the “sauce” for these pizzas, which also make them high in fiber. They are also packed with protein, thanks to the ground turkey and cheese! They’re so tasty that you’ll never believe they’re actually good for you!

3 to 4 large whole-wheat tortillas, or enough to cut out 12 small circles (such as La Tortilla wraps)

1 1/2 cup lean ground turkey (or lean ground beef), cooked

1/2 cup salsa of choice

2 teaspoons dry taco seasoning

1/2 cup low-fat refried beans

1/2 cup low-fat shredded Mexican blend (or 2% cheddar cheese)

Optional toppings: salsa, sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, low-fat sour cream, chopped tomatoes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 12-count muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Start by laying each tortilla on a flat surface.  Using an empty can, glass cup, or cookie cutter, cut 3 to 4 medium circles out of each wrap. Press each wrap circle into muffin tin using your fingers. (Note: it doesn’t have to cover the entire side of the tin, it should just fit snug.)

In a small bowl, mix together the ground meat, salsa, taco seasoning, and refried beans. Stir until well combined. Scoop 1/8 cup of meat mixture into each wrap. Top with shredded cheese, dividing evenly between each pizza.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Wait for pizzas to cool and remove from muffin tin using a fork or knife. Pizzas should pop out with ease! Serve with a side of salsa, sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, low-fat sour cream, and/or chopped tomatoes.

Yields 12 servings (1 mini pizza per serving)

Nutritional information: 80 calories per serving; 3 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 8 grams protein

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Get 99 more simple and delicious recipes from Katie when you pre-order her book today for just $17.99! Enjoy innovative recipes that are gluten free, sugar free, and abundant in whole grains.

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4 Easy Steps for Healthy Meal Planning by Katie Farrell

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Today’s guest post is by Katie Farrell, one of our top 15 authors to watch in 2015, and the author two new ebooks, Dashing Dish: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes for Clean Eating and Devotions for a Healthier You. She is a registered nurse in Michigan, where she lives with her husband of five years.

I have found that meal planning is one of the best strategies for living a healthy lifestyle. The benefits to planning your meals every week will save you time, money, stress, and unwanted calories. If the thought of meal planning seems overwhelming to you, here are four tips to help you simplify the process:

Step 1: Plan and shop

Write out the meals and snacks you want for the week. You can use a calendar or just make a list. Make a grocery list for the ingredients you need and get to shopping!

Step 2: Prepare the food

Take everything out of the bags and organize groceries according to your recipes.

Step 3: Put everything together to make the recipe

Breakfast ideas: Many of the Dashing Dish breakfast recipes are quick and easy to make. For this reason, you don’t necessarily need to prepare your breakfasts ahead of time, but it never hurts to plan ahead! When planning ahead, you can make something such as protein muffins for the week and pack them in a ziplock bag for busy mornings, or make overnight oatmeal the night before.

Lunch ideas: Lunches can be easily be made ahead of time and put together in an assembly-line fashion. If you’re making salads or sandwiches, you can prepare for the entire week by making them all at once in a Tupperware container or by wrapping them individually in foil. You can also plan ahead by making a big batch of soup or chili and divide it into portions for the week.

Dinner ideas: You can either make a few different main dishes and a couple of side dishes, or you can just cook your meat and chop your vegetables ahead of time. This is helpful if your recipes call for cooked chicken—by preparing ahead of time, it will be ready to put right into your recipes for the week!

Step 4: Put everything away

After all the food is prepped and the recipes are made, I put everything in airtight containers and place it in the fridge. That way I have something to throw in a cooler if I am heading out for the day or to put in the microwave or oven to heat up and have a delicious dinner on the table in minutes! This whole process from start to finish takes anywhere from two to three hours. I typically pick a block of time on the weekend to get it done.

I hope this post helps show you how easy it can be to prepare meals for the week in just one day. It can take time to learn and get in the swing of things, but before you know it, it will become a part of your routine and you may even find yourself loving it!

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Get more tips on healthy, clean eating, and devotions for a healthier lifestyle in Katie’s new ebooks, Dashing Dish for $17.99 and Devotions for a Healthier You for $10.99. Pre-order both ebooks on Vyrso today!

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A Christmas Reflection: God with Us

Christmas Reflection

Today’s Christmas post is by Susie Larson, a radio host, national speaker and author of over 10 books. Some of her titles include, Your Beautiful Purpose, Blessings for the Morning, and The Mended Heart. Susie is madly in love with her husband of nearly 30 years, her 3 grown sons, her beautiful daughters-in-law, and her pit bull, Memphis. 

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’.) (Isaiah 7:14 NLT)

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I love the sights, sounds, and smells of the season. I love the chance to give gifts to those I love and to some I have never met. I love moments by the tree to count my blessings, to remember God’s faithfulness throughout the year.

For me, this holiday—celebrating Christ’s birth—represents God’s infinite potential to save our souls, to fill our cup, to connect us with loved ones, and to restore what’s been stolen.

I must confess, though, for many years, I dealt with Christmas-envy, which surfaced while walking through one “not-yet” season after another.  I noticed others’ blessings in light of what I seemed to lack. I longed for a breakthrough—for life not to feel so hard, and for God’s provision to match our need. But during that time, those things were hard to find. Bed rest, sickness, disease, and more medical debt than we could pay, left me feeling like a have-not, like the girl who pressed her nose up against the window and longingly watched others celebrate this happy time of year.

Many years ago when the holidays were upon us, I remember specifically thinking, “this will be the year. The winds of adversity have shifted and a new season is in our midst. This will be my Merry Christmas year.”

My husband sat on the living room floor and untangled Christmas lights. Our three little boys sang Christmas songs and excitedly pulled ornaments from the box. Our in-laws had given us their big, beautiful Christmas tree to replace our puny, Charlie Brown one. Music filled the air. Cookies baked in the oven. The children celebrated with glee.

I peeked into the living room when I noticed a funny look on my husband’s face. “Is everything all right?” I asked. He rubbed his nose, looked this way then that, and faintly said, “Um, yes. Everything’s fine. Everything is going to be fine.” I startled and said, “Oh no! What’s wrong?”

Well, it seems, that last spring, while doing a little spring cleaning, my dear husband threw away half of our large, beautiful Christmas tree. And a portion of our Charlie Brown tree. Leaving us with exactly two halves of two trees that didn’t belong together.

In a moment’s time, the cookies overcooked and burned, the cassette tape (dating me, I know) got swallowed up in the recorder, and my husband’s tree-building endeavor came to a screeching halt. My heart sank and I wondered why—for the life of us—we couldn’t pull off the kind of Christmas scene you see on the holiday commercials. Or why that impossible dream mattered so to me.

My sweet husband was determined to make this right. He said, “Not to worry, honey. I just need a few of my tools.” Bless his heart.

With my hands in the sudsy water, I scraped the burnt cookie remnants from our only cookie sheet. I listened to the sounds of an electric drill in the living room. I heard the skill saw fire up a time or two. And I wondered, Does anybody else’s living room resemble a construction site?

Nighttime came and I put the kids to bed. My hubby still hard at work, I kissed the top of his head and said, “It’s okay, honey. We don’t need a tree this year. Thanks for a valiant effort.”

I crawled in bed and fell fast asleep only to wake in the middle of the night to find Kev’s side of the bed still untouched.

I walked in to the living room and gasped. My husband sat on the floor in front of the most perfect, beautiful, medium-sized Christmas tree I had ever seen. He held the control to the lights like they were the control to a racecar. I put my hands on his shoulders and kissed the top of his head. Without turning around he whispered, “I was going to make it a rotating tree but figured I should stop while I’m ahead.”

I chuckled and crawled in his lap. Together we stared at our very own Christmas blessing. Suddenly overcome with emotion, I realized how much my life, our life together, resembled this tree. Kev sat in the mess of our living room and envisioned the finished product. He knew what he was after and was committed to seeing it through to the very end.

Our lives were a mess in so many ways. We were still buried in medical debt. I still battled sickness. Our house was still falling apart. But we had Immanuel—God—With—Us. He was with us in the mess, committed to our story, and would see it through to its beautiful conclusion.

Jesus came to earth wrapped in human skin, was born into poverty, and walked the earth for us. He came to us, to our mess, and to our need.  Though we love a good Christmas holiday celebration, what we need is salvation. Jesus came to save us. [Click to tweet!] And he’s redeeming our story one step a time.

No matter what life season you’re in this Christmas, may your capacity to know Jesus, trust his love, and embrace his nearness grow by leaps and bounds. God is with you. And it’s impossible for him to fail you.

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Advent Reflections: A Visit from Heaven

Ray Beeson, "A Visit from Heaven"

Today’s advent reflection is by Ray Beeson, the founder of Overcomers Ministries, a teaching ministry with a special emphasis on spiritual warfare and prayer. Ray teaches seminars on spiritual warfare, prayer, and Christ-like living. He is the author of numerous books, including Signed in His Blood.

2,000 years ago God visited this planet in a way unlike he had at any other time in history. He descended unseen in the shelter of a woman’s womb and would not fully reveal himself for another 30 years. When he did, people would come to know that heaven had indeed touched earth.

In the glare of Christmas lights and the busyness of the season, the story did not become reality until I realized that this tiny baby had come to visit me—and you. He was on a mission to help us do business with heaven, not so much in a corporate sense but with every individual personally. The miracle that God performed in Mary was to become our miracle as well. The glory of heaven living in her would soon become the Christ who would live in us by his spirit. God would strengthen man in his weakness, and the fear of death would be destroyed by the presence of the Prince of Peace. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion; he came to introduce us to a spectacular personal bond with God. [Click to tweet!]

The task was quite different than anyone could have conceived, and he did not come as a conquering king as some had expected. For a deity to suddenly step down from heaven onto earth without first revealing his character would have been a disaster—for God to stand in a place where the world could see and proclaim that he loved people would have been met with further rebellion.

How could God show up now after so many years of suffering and sorrow and simply proclaim that he loved them? It would be necessary to prove that love before the reestablishment of the relationship. And he would start that proof with the advent of a baby, a baby who would introduce us to God’s love and grow to be recognized as God’s son.

Most of us have difficulty believing that we are candidates for God’s love. But in this Advent season we are encouraged to remember that God loves us so much, and he wants to perform a miracle in us just like he did in Mary. Are we worthy? Hardly! Good enough? Not even close! That’s why he sent Jesus. Are we able to establish an acceptable righteousness? Far from it! That’s why he sent that tiny baby.

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Advent Reflections: Do We Know the God We Wait For?

Advent prayer

Today’s advent reflection is by Emily T. Wierenga, an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books, including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. You can find her on Twitter or Facebook.

We’re making cards from construction paper, gluing sparkly balls and pipe cleaner-bows, my hand cupping theirs as we trace out “Merry Christmas”—”Peace on Earth” playing over the speakers.

My sons are too little too know of Ferguson, of ISIS, of Ebola. They are three and five and their world consists of this oval kitchen table. It consists of mommy’s hands on theirs, strawberry milk in their sippy cups, and Christmas music and dancing in the living room. Their world smells like wood shavings from the logs daddy cuts to feed the stove; it smells like homemade bread and clean laundry.

But I know they see it all. They feel it all—a world waiting with bated breath for its Savior.

We feel it, don’t we? With every death. With every disappointment, every pink slip, every call from the hospital, every ache and every pain. This longing for home. For heaven. This need for a Savior.

And each year we put a word to it: Advent. But really, we’re waiting all year long, every day, for the return of a Christ whose birth we try to understand through crèches and candlelight services. For a Christ whose very life was a parable, whose Spirit dwells amongst us yet, do we know whom we wait for?

As my sons peer through the window, at the sunrise, at the sunset, I know their spirits are searching for the star: the one every wise man seeks, the one which leads us not 2,000 years into the past, but rather, into the now, into what it means to know the Christ child. This is eternal life, Scripture tells us—to know him. This, a life we can have right now. We wait for heaven, when in fact, heaven waits for us, here in this very moment, in the breath of Mary’s son.

The kingdom of heaven is here, in simple expressions of faith. In the grip of a small child’s hand. In the gasp of a beggar’s plea, in the prayer of a widow’s lips, in the tears of a lonely orphan. Oh, that we would see and respond, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

The image of Christ, our creator, in each of us. In the Michael Browns. In the lost ISIS sons. In the faces wracked with Ebola. In those behind prison bars. The Christ who looks nothing like the shiny-haired figurine in the movies or the paintings, and everything like the stranger we ignore.

I was standing in church, one Sunday, my palm lifted, the other wrapped around my three-year-old who perched on my swollen five-month womb. I stood in worship, tears rolling down my cheeks and the song was, “I Surrender All.”

And in the excavation, I see him—my eyes still closed. Jesus. And he looks like a man without a home, dressed in rags, torn and dirty, his hair matted, his beard long and scraggly, his eyes—kind. The son of God, as a homeless man. “Would you worship me if I looked like this?” he said to me.

Whom do we wait for, friends? A babe wrapped in a fuzzy cloth, lying in a manger? Or the son of God—who takes every preconceived notion about the Savior and tosses it from the synagogue in righteous anger?

Father, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This Advent season. Amen.

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