Advent Reflections: The Other Christmas Story

Kimberly headshot

Today’s Advent reflection is by Kimberly Smith, the president of Make Way Partners, an organization she co-founded with her husband to prevent and combat human trafficking. She is the author of Passport Through Darkness, her first book, focused on sharing rich and reflective stories from her experiences of finding God in all corners of the world, from human trafficking to daily life. Kimberly is passionate about helping others to discover the unique dream God has for their lives.

It was the Thursday night before Thanksgiving. Bright lights burned through the darkness in my lane.  I swerved hard right, barely escaping a head-on collision.

My car plowed into the lower half of a tall pine tree. The top half snapped off, slamming down upon my roof.  The force sprayed shattered window glass like bullets through the air. I banged my head on something in the crash, and confusion set in. I didn’t know where I was.  The other driver fled into the night.

One hour earlier I’d been laughing and sharing dinner and stories with the staff of Make Way Partners, the anti-trafficking organization I lead.  Suddenly, I’d become what John Eldredge described in Waking the Dead as, “confused and oriented times zero”, a military term implying that a soldier is so confused and disoriented he doesn’t know where—or who—he is.

Milton, my husband, was traveling. So, once I was found, Olivia, my adult daughter, spent the night with me. The morning after the crash, we drank coffee together, counting my cuts and bruises, and giving thanks for life, friends, and family.  As we chatted, something dawned on me—within the last four years I’ve brushed hard against death four times.

Firstly, as I was learning to drive a motorcycle before a trip to Sudan, the bike and I unintentionally summersaulted.  Fortunately, I broke my ankle rather than my neck. Secondly, on a plane flying over the bush in South Sudan our engine died in-flight, forcing our pilot to crash land our little three-seater. Thirdly, after motoring far from home on a blustery autumn day, my boat’s fuel pump gave out, leaving me stranded in white-capped open water. Wind blew me dangerously close to the damn just as its turbines kicked on, their tornadic force nearly sucking me under. And most recently, my tree-hugging car escapade. Olivia’s playful response was, “Mom, just don’t get on a train!”

When I called Milton to tell him about my crash he was in Chicago with Dr. Dan Allender. Dan said, “It’s almost as if something diabolical is after you two.”

Hmmm . . . almost indeed. I know evil is not pleased with me.

Milton calls Revelation 12, “The Other Christmas Passage”, the one that reminds us what sort of story we’ve fallen into. It poetically reminds us that satan fought God and lost.  He was kicked out of heaven, down to earth. It is here where the battle continues, only since satan cannot kill God, he comes after the children left behind who cling to Jesus.

I Peter 4:12-13 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised when the fiery trials come upon you. . .as though something strange were happening. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s suffering. . .”  In other words, “Remember there is a great battle—and be thankful that you’re caught smack dab in the middle of it!”

In the eternal scheme of things, none of us are really any different than the war-torn orphans of Sudan and South Sudan. We’re all children caught in the epic war between satan and God.

If you’re in the middle of a physical warzone, the bomber planes flying overhead constantly remind you of your reality, and it’s quite easy to remember evil’s intention against humanity. For us Westerners, though, I think it’s a little easier to forget, “The Other Christmas Passage”—Revelation 12.  We’ve come to expect comfort and security. We’re often surprised by evil, pain, and suffering—and we feel far from rejoicing about it.  Rather, we feel something more like doubt, anger, and resentment.

In the last ten years, Make Way Partners has made major advancements against the gates of hell—particularly the evil of human trafficking. Each of these victories has been won by remembering both God’s power and our role in the war against evil.

The Advent isn’t something that happened 2,000 years ago. It happens every second of every day and each member of the Body of Christ plays a vital role. [Click to Tweet!] “The Other Christmas Passage” helps us to see the Advent as current, ongoing, and relevant. Most of us are so busy living the AmericanDream, we’ve grown numb to evil’s ongoing assaults, both within and without.

This Advent I’m renewing my vow to remember the “Other Christmas passage.” The one where satan is so bitter in his loss, he continues to come after all children made in image of God.

 

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Advent Reflections: Remembering The Holy Spirit

Easter_Dove_230x230

Today’s advent reflection is by R.T. Kendall, former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for 25 years. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, Dr. Kendall was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Oxford University(DPhil). He’s authored more than 55 books, including Total Forgiveness, Holy Fire, Grace, and The Anointing.   

Do you have a bad memory? Do you ever read a book and say to your self, “I wish I could remember this point”? Do you ever hear a sermon and wish, “If only I could remember this”?

Consider the disciples of Jesus: they heard almost everything he said publicly for three years. They heard the Sermon on the Mount. They heard the parables.

They heard his dialogues with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They may have thought, “If only I could remember all these wonderful teachings.” Not to worry. Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26) (MEV). ​

​As we​ remember Christ’s first Advent and wait expectantly for his second coming, we must not forget that in his unshakable love for us, he granted full access to the Holy Spirit​ as our guide. If you fear you have forgotten what you heard, don’t worry! The Holy Spirit will remind you of what you were taught.

This is so relevant today.

People ask, “Why should I read my Bible? I don’t understand it. Why should I memorize scripture? Why should I listen to teaching—it’s often so boring.”

Even if you don’t understand the Bible and think you won’t remember it, you are taking in more than you realize. In an appropriate moment—possibly at a time you least expect—the Spirit will remind you of what you heard. There are two things we need to realize in this connection. First, the Holy Spirit promises to remind you of what you heard—read or learned. In other words, he will remind you of what is there. 

If you don’t take the time to read your Bible, how can the Holy Spirit remind you of what you have not read? This is why we all need a Bible reading plan that takes you through the entire Bible in a year. This is why we need good teaching and good preaching. As for memorizing Scripture, it’s, sadly, extremely rare these days. I am so thankful I was required to memorize Scripture while growing up. I will repeat: The Holy Spirit promises to remind you of what is there. If there is nothing there to be reminded of, whatever do you expect the Holy Spirit to do?

I believe a great move of the Holy Spirit is coming and I also believe it is coming soon. I believe it will be the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit since the Day of Pentecost. Those who know their Bibles will be the likely candidates to be sovereignly used of God. If so, how would you like to be right in the middle of it? I have a conviction that only those who take oil in their lamps—like the wise virgins in Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins—will enjoy this outpouring of the Spirit. Oil refers to the Spirit. The lamps refer to the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feetand a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). In other words, the Word and Spirit together.

The second thing we need to realize is this: Jesus’ word about the Holy Spirit reminding us of what we learned assumes that the Spirit is in us ungrieved, that the Dove has come down on us and remained. It is when the Holy Spirit is ungrieved and unquenched that we will remember what we have learned. But if I am angry, bitter, holding grudges, and having a lifestyle of pointing the finger, the dove lifts and leaves me to myself. Not absolutely, because the Spirit is with us forever. But the sense of his presence lifts—the anointing that makes things flow easily. This is why Jesus was so real to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost and also during the days immediately following that glorious day.

We need not expect Jesus to be real to us or be reminded of things we previously learned when we are in an agitated and bitter condition. But when we have totally forgiven those who have hurt us, have mistreated us, have lied to us, and have been grossly unfair, the dove comes down. Jesus is real. The Bible comes alive. And we find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten—sometimes ​the most obscure verses in the Bible and even those boring sermons we managed to sit through!

Jesus promised that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be “filled” (Matt. 5:6). As you go throughout this Christmas season, don’t forget that it is a spirit-filled event, and the Holy Spirit welcomes you to enter into a close relationship with him.

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Advent Reflections: 3 Ways to Say No to Stress and Exhaustion

DeRusha_Michelle

Today’s Advent reflection is by Michelle DeRusha, author of 10 Women Every Christian Should Know. This book offers an inspiring look at 10 women who shaped our faith, and for a limited time, you can get it for just $5.24 on Vyrso!

I’ll say it straight up: I dread the holidays. And I suspect some of you feel the same way. The shopping, wrapping, baking, traveling, decorating, socializing, and card-writing are simply too much on top of my regular, everyday responsibilities. The holiday season tips the scales of my precariously balanced life, and no matter how hard I try, it seems I inevitably succumb to harried exhaustion and resentment each December.

It probably goes without saying: harried exhaustion and resentment should not be the hallmarks of this holiest of seasons.

Several years ago, I heard Christian speaker and author Beth Moore talk for 60 minutes about a single word: treasure.

“Treasure,” Moore said, “gets lost in the same trash as our time.”

She had the audience—all 13,900 of us—repeat the phrase after her:

Treasure gets lost in the same trash as our time.

I’ve thought about Moore’s statement a lot since I first heard it. I’ve thought about the true treasures of this season—God, Jesus, hope, peace, love, and community—and how I often replace these treasures with busyness, consumerism, perfectionism, and materialism.

I allow both my time and my treasure to be overshadowed by “trash.”

I realize plenty of people revel in every bit of the holiday season. They bake, shop, wrap, tinsel the tree, and sip egg nog with glee. If this is you, I say go forth and be merry; embrace it all with gusto. But if you’re like me and feel burdened by the extras that typically accompany the holidays, I propose we make a pact together. Let’s not let the treasure of this season get lost in the same trash as our time. [Click to tweet!]

Moore’s statement suggests that if we want to treasure this holiday season, if we want to experience God and peace in these 4 weeks of Advent, we need to free up some space and time. And for me this means saying no.

3 Ways to “Say No”

Here’s my 3-part “Say No” plan for an exhaustion and resentment-free holiday season. Will you join me?

1. Say No to Overextending Yourself
Send gracious regrets to a party or two, and instead, stay in. Light a fire in the fireplace or candles on the coffee table. Read a book. Play Uno with your kids. Simply slow down and allow yourself an evening or an afternoon to rest and reflect during this busy season.

2. Say No to Perfectionism
Pick up cookies from the grocery store bakery instead of making 14 varieties of your own. Or perhaps this year, a simple wreath on the front door will suffice, instead of draping two dozen shrubs with blinking lights. Your holiday doesn’t need to look like a scene out of the Pottery Barn catalog.

3. Say No to Mindless Spending
Less time shopping the crowded malls and fussing over fancy gifts means more time to connect with loved ones in a meaningful way. Consider giving presence over presents; think of quality time spent with family and friends as a gift you can readily give.

The truth is, even if we enjoy all the extras that come with the holidays, there can be too much of a good thing. Saying no to a chore or even a festivity allows us to slow down and quiet our hearts and minds amid the hustle-bustle of the season. In doing so, I suspect we’ll discover not only a bit more time, but a wealth of unexpected treasures, too.

* * *

Get more powerful insights and advice from Michelle DeRusha in her inspiring book, 10 Women Every Christian Should Know—get it for just $5.24 on Vyrso today!

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Advent Reflections: Come and Be Still. . . I Am God With You

Advent Reflections: Come and Be Still. . . I Am God With You

Today’s Advent reflection is by Kyle Winkler, the founder of Kyle Winkler Ministries, a media and teaching ministry broadcasting on the Christian Television Network and various online outlets. Before launching his own ministry, Kyle served at Christ Fellowship, one of the nation’s 25 largest churches and as the vice president of an international apologetics ministry. He has a master of divinity in biblical studies from Regent University.

All too often what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year is anything but wonderful. As we consider how to juggle our holiday schedules and how to afford it all, the realities of the Christmas season often represent more stress than peace. Suddenly the message of Christmas becomes a rat race.

In order to survive the hustle and bustle of these times, it’s essential that we carve out time to simply be still in God’s presence. It’s not always easy to get away from all the noise to sit quietly at Jesus’s feet, but I have learned that it’s always worth it.

Let me elaborate.

One morning during a past Christmas season I found myself particularly tired and weary. I had just returned from a trip to India and was frantically trying to catch up after two weeks of being disconnected. I knew that I needed to spend my usual devotional time with the Lord, but this morning was especially difficult. I was in the middle of writing my latest book, and the writing process coupled with my mounting to-do list and other unfinished ministry projects nearly broke me.

I could barely mutter three words in prayer without having to reign in my thoughts as they danced around my growing list of worries. As I struggled to press through, suddenly the voice of Jesus broke through the chaos of my mind:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30, MEV).

Christ’s words that morning truly changed my outlook.

You see, at some point in my busy schedule I had forgotten that the presence of Jesus in me is the helper and the comforter. I had taken the tasks of ministry upon myself and made them difficult and burdensome. But Jesus’ words penetrated the chaos to say:

“Come to Me, Kyle. I will give you rest and refreshment for your soul.”

What began with weariness ended with rejuvenation. In his presence he poured the living water of his spirit upon me, quenched my thirst, and resurrected my passion for him.

Ultimately, isn’t this the message of Christmas? In a world filled with chaos, our God left the brilliance of heaven and became “God with us.” [Click to tweet!] There is perhaps nothing greater that you could reflect upon during these hectic days.

Like spending time with a friend, when you spend time with God, you also enjoy his personality, which will eventually rub off on you. Soon you’ll experience the benefits of his presence: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

Because of Christmas, God is here and offers you the benefits of his presence everyday. In whatever situation you find yourself, time with him will bring stillness to the chaos and silence to all the noise. You’ll experience the manifestation of his light to penetrate your darkest circumstances, his joy to replace your sorrow, and his peace to calm your worries.

As he said to me during my morning of weariness, he also says the same to you today:

“Come and be still. Everything’s going to be OK. Let’s do this together, for I am God with you.”

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Advent Reflections: Discovering Bethlehem

Lynn Austin

Today’s advent reflection is by Lynn Austinan eight-time Christy Award winner and an inaugural inductee into the Christy Award Hall of Fame, as well as a popular speaker at retreats, conventions, women’s groups, and book clubs. She lives with her husband in Michigan. 

The first time I visited Bethlehem more than 25 years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire, and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

Discovering Bethlehem
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem.  We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with God that is the true miracle of Bethlehem.

The year after visiting Bethlehem, I began looking for ways to recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Santa Claus has never been invited to our family Christmases, and we’ve always celebrated it as Jesus’ birthday, exchanging presents because God gave us the gift of His Son.  But year after year, the clutter and glitz had draped themselves over our celebrations, just like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries.

That year, I purchased a nice but inexpensive manger set. I wanted something that wasn’t a toy, but that my children could handle and touch. We placed it at their level and at the center of our holiday, and began the simple tradition of gathering together as a family to fill the empty stable while my husband read the story from the Bible. Our children divided all the people and sheep and camels among themselves, and when we got to their part in the Bible story, they added their figures to the stable. This simple tradition has become so beloved by all of us that we still do it the same way every year, even though our children are now adults. Our two children couldn’t wait to share the tradition with their spouses, generously dividing their sheep and wise men among the newest members of our family. One year, our daughter was living overseas and couldn’t make it home for the holiday, but we still held our family tradition while she participated via Skype and a web camera.

And it’s always in those moments, with this simple stable and inexpensive plaster figures and my precious loved ones gathered around me that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!

I pray this season that you, too, will take time to reflect on the simple truth of a Creator who came down to live among his creation. [Click to tweet!Take a few moments to reflect on the “clutter” that might be taking your time and energy and keeping you from appreciating what matters most about this time of year.

Although the gospel of John doesn’t describe the historical event of Jesus’ birth, it does describe its significance in John 1:9-12. “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And that’s worth celebrating.

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Advent Reflections: Becoming a Gospel Connoisseur

Advent Reflections: Becoming a Gospel Connoisseur

Today’s Advent reflection is by JR Vassar, the lead pastor at Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas. From 2005 to 2013, he served as the founding and lead pastor of Apostles Church in New York City. JR and his wife, Ginger, have three children. He is the author of the upcoming ebook, Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel, and Our Quest for Something More.

“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:16–19, ESV)

I’m a Protestant with a deep admiration of Mary. What a tremendous young woman she was, favored by the Lord to carry in her womb the son of God. At the visitation of the shepherds, Luke tells us that Mary treasured up all these things —the annunciation, the miraculous conception, the humble birth, and now this report of an angelic choir singing songs about this baby and his destiny to rescue and rule the world. It was a lot to take in.

She treasured these things, gathering them into her heart to be preserved for constant remembrance. Mary didn’t grasp all the realities that God was unfolding, but she tried to. Even when Jesus grew up and began his public ministry, Mary still couldn’t get her head around who he was and what his mission was. Mark’s Gospel indicates that Jesus’ family (it seems Mary is included in this) thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21, 31). It wasn’t until after his resurrection that Mary came to grips with who her son really was and what he had come to do. Mary never stopped pondering these realities about Jesus because they were inexhaustible. And so it must be with us.

I’m often guilty of “veteran pride.” I have been a Christ-follower for over 30 years, have a seminary degree, and spend multiple hours each week in the Scriptures preparing sermons. The gospel can become “old hat,” familiar, and I can easily lose sight of its boundless nature and its far-reaching implications for my life and this world. But the gospel is an inexhaustible treasure that must be pondered in our hearts so that its beauty and power stun us and thrill us.

In a sense we must become connoisseurs of the gospel, much like a connoisseur of coffee. The world of coffee is a vast world. There are certainly people who are Folgers people, content with an automatic drip machine. But there are others who scoff at freeze-dried coffee and pride themselves on savoring single-origin blends made with a pour over or AeroPress. Some people drink a cup of coffee and taste coffee, while others drink a cup of coffee and taste “an exotic bouquet of flavors comprised of blackberry, plum, fudge, and oak; conveying a viscous mouthfeel and silken finish” (this is an actual description of Buon Giorno coffee.) Some people “brew and drink” coffee and other people “extract flavors and detect all the subtle notes.” Some people ponder their coffee.

A gospel connoisseur is someone who ponders the person and work of Jesus and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, extracts the beautiful—and often subtle—notes. When we do so, our delight in the gospel increases and our life begins to take on new postures and patterns. When we detect the sovereign grace of God, faith rises and our fears fall. When we taste the humility of Christ, our own pride is decimated and a servant heart is awakened. When we savor the forgiveness of God, our bitterness dies and we extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us. [Click to tweet!] When we ponder the generosity of God, our hearts are set free to be generous.

This Advent season, follow in the footsteps of a teenage girl from Nazareth and ponder the inexhaustible realities of the gospel, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.

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Advent Reflections: the Arc of One Long, Single Story

Advent Reflections: the Arc of One Long, Single Story

Today’s advent post is written by Russ Ramsey (ThM, Covenant Theological Seminary) who serves as a pastor at Midtown Fellowship Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He writes for the Rabbit Room (www.rabbitroom.com), a website devoted to the discovery and celebration of truth and beauty.

“All the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

– Matthew 1:17 (ESV)

I love the narrative arc of scripture. Because I do, the older I get the more fascinated I become with the genealogies in the bible. They are there to tell us the Bible is more than a collection of stories; it is one story. It is the story of how God redeemed a wayward people and saved them from a ruin of their own making—and he did it through love and justice.

The story goes like this: Father Abraham had many sons. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation—the people to whom God would bind himself and from whom he would ultimately provide the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Gen 17:1-14, John 1:29.)

Against all odds, Abraham had Isaac. Isaac had sons who had sons who had sons of their own, and before you know it, Boaz (who married Ruth) begat Obed who begat Jesse who begat David who became the King of Israel.

God expanded the details of his covenant with Abraham by telling King David that his throne would be established forever and that from his line would come the Messiah, who would reign in power and righteousness at the right hand of God for all eternity (2 Sam 7:12-14).

But while Abraham’s descendants continued to grow in number, their faith in the one who promised to never leave them wavered and weakened until many abandoned God altogether.

Generations later, when all seemed lost, one of David’s descendants, King Hezekiah, discovered the word of God on a dusty old shelf in the temple (2 Chronicles 29-31), and he began to read. The people heard the word of God again and their faith was rekindled into obedience and worship. But the obedience did not last, and eventually God exiled his people to Babylon and Assyria. Though many would eventually return to their homeland, the line of Abraham had become almost unrecognizable (2 Kings 24:10-17).

Until once upon a time, there was a young woman named Mary, engaged to a young man named Joseph. They lived in an out-of-the-way town called Nazareth. Joseph was a descendant of the great King David, though for his part he was a common laborer—a blue-collar man of no reputation. Together these two were common in every way—working hard to build an ordinary life.

But their plans were interrupted in a moment when an angel of the Lord appeared to tell Mary that the thread of his redemptive promise to Abraham, Jacob, and David was going to run through her life. She was going to have a son who would be the savior of the world (Luke 1:26-38).

For all the unimaginable good this news brought, it also brought trouble for the young couple. Mary and Joseph would suffer suspicious looks from friends and relatives, questioning his character and her purity as her belly expanded (Matthew 1:18-19).

Ultimately, as the old cleric Simeon told the couple when they brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, the angel’s message to Mary would become like a sword that would pierce her soul (Luke 2:22-38). Jesus would be born so that he could die.

How did Simeon know all this? Though he was only meeting Jesus for the first time, Simeon knew the Messiah’s story. He had been waiting on this child for many years. He knew the line from which the Savior would come, and he knew the Christ would be a suffering servant (Isaiah 53). Mary’s deepest sorrows and greatest joys were wrapped up in the life of her son.

In the genealogies we see an amazing thread that runs through redemptive history—a strand God has sewn into the story of humanity. It is the true tall tale of promises made and promises kept. It is a storyline for which no one person can take any more credit than a man can take credit for his own birth.

The thread that runs through redemptive history tells the story of God’s fidelity to a wayward people. He has preserved the line of blessing that he promised Abraham he would trace on through into eternity.

Matthew’s genealogy tells us that the one in whom our righteousness rests, the one who represents us before the throne of God, the one who calls those who believe in him his Bride, comes precisely as God said he would.

Why does it matter that Obed begat Jesse? Because their lineage is part of an unbroken line God promised to draw from Abraham’s descendants to the Savior of the world.

When God made this promise, Abraham looked forward to its keeping in faith.

At this point in history, we now look back, also in faith.

Marvel at the precision of the miracle of the unbroken line in God’s redeeming plan, because there we see that the genealogies of Scripture are not just telling us Jesus’s story. They are telling us our own.

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Advent Reflections: Cultivating Joy in Your Family This Christmas

Advent Reflections: Cultivating Joy In Your Family This Christmas

Today’s advent reflection is by Becky Harling author of The 30-Day Praise Challenge and other ebooks aimed at helping people break free of the stress and anxiety of living in an applause-driven world.

“Do not be afraid.

I bring you good news of great joy”

Luke 2:10

The angel who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds declared that the birth of Christ was good news of great joy.  Yet, so often during the holidays, “joyful” is not the word someone might use to describe our homes. Tense, hurried, stressed or chaotic might be a better fit. Yet, God wants us to experience great joy.

But how do we experience great joy in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? And how do we encourage joy in our kids during one of the most demanding and draining times of the year? In search of the answers to these questions, I did a bit of research on joy.

I discovered that joy is primarily relational and that our brains have a joy center! Isn’t that amazing? The “joy center exists in the right orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain. It has executive control over the entire emotional system.” The joy center grows in infancy. Neurologists and psychologists teach us that when infants see delight in the eyes of their parents, the joy center of their brain is strengthened.  In other words, when babies see their parents’ eyes sparkle and light up in response to them, they know they are loved and their joy center develops. “If the joy center develops correctly, an individual can find the path back to joy, in spite of the most difficult trauma.” [1]

Even if your joy center didn’t develop properly in childhood, that part of your brain can be regenerated. In other words, not only can you as a parent develop your child’s joy center, you can strengthen your own joy muscle! Strengthening your joy muscle begins when you internalize the truth that you are the sparkle in your heavenly father’s eye. Friend, God, your heavenly father is madly in love with you! His Word teaches that he take great delight in you. He even sings and dances over you (Zephaniah 3:17). His eyes sparkle and light up when you come to spend time with him. It’s possible that you’ve never felt like anyone was particularly glad to see you. That’s not true of God. You are the sparkle in God’s eye. As you internalize that truth, you become better equipped to pass the “sparkle” on to your kids, your spouse, your friends, and neighbors. How do you go about internalizing that truth and passing it on to others during the holidays? I have a few suggestions.

Spend a few moments praising God each day. As you lift your focus to the sparkle in his eye, your cares won’t feel nearly as burdensome, and you’ll feel his love more deeply. Listen to Christmas music that is focused on praising Jesus Christ.  As you listen, remind yourself, that God’s eyes sparkle when he gets to spend time with you! He’s glad to be with you. Praise him that he designed you to experience joy and that you have the privilege of passing that on to your child.

Smile often. Smiling sends the message that you’re happy to see someone. When your kids wake up in the morning or come home from school allow them to see the sparkle in your eye. Communicate that you’re glad to see them and you’re happy to be with them.

Sing when you’re stressed. When you feel stressed out or tense start singing or turn on some music. Music often lightens our mood and helps us to enjoy God’s presence. Even if you can’t carry a tune, your efforts will release some of the stress.

Speak affirming words. Let your kids and those in your life know you’re proud of them and that you praise God for them. It’s easy when you’re stressed over busy schedules or tight finances to criticize. But scolding doesn’t strengthen anyone’s joy center. So, let it go and choose to affirm.

Shut off your cell phone for a few minutes each day to simply focus on your child. Our children often have to compete with phone calls, text messages, Facebook and Twitter. Strengthen their joy centers by allowing them to have your undivided attention for a few minutes each day. Your undivided attention speaks the powerful message, “I’m happy to be with you!”

Friend, I think we need more joy in our world, don’t you? As you look at the holiday season with all its demands, why not make it your goal to cultivate joy? Praise God that he is the joy giver and that you are the sparkle in his eye.  Seek to strengthen your joy center and your child’s.  Make it your goal to pass along the “sparkle” this Christmas and I think you’re going to find your home a much happier place!


[1] James  G. Friesen, E. James wilder, Anne M. Bierling, Rick Koepcke, and Maribeth Poole, Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You (Van Nuys, CA: Shepherd’s House, 2000), 12

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Advent Reflections: The Light of Christmas

Advent Reflections: The Light of Christmas

Today’s advent post is by Susan Fish, a writer, editor and mother of three living in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Her first book, Seeker of Stars, is a memoir of the magi, and imagines what kind of person would go off in search of a star.  We know well the passage in Isaiah that says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isaiah 9:2) and it is often quoted at Christmas as a prophecy about Jesus, the light of the world. I want to share with you a more obscure passage that you might not, at first, think has much to do with Christmas:

Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with firebrands, walk in the light of your fire and among the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:10-11)

What speaks to me in this passage is the sheer honesty of God’s servant who walks in darkness, trusting God, compared with those who try to bring light and comfort to themselves. There is nothing comfortable at all about walking in darkness. We notice every little sound. We fear what we can’t see, and we think we see things that aren’t there. We can stumble. We feel alone. We feel it must be better—it must be—to light a lamp for ourselves, to find ways of our own making to banish the darkness. But it won’t do. This passage says it can even make things worse to create false comfort for ourselves.

For many people this year, the Christmas season is hard. Maybe, like me, you’ve lost someone you loved dearly this last year. Or maybe you aren’t well yourself. Maybe you remember other, better Christmases. You walk in darkness.

This passage does not say that holly jolly Christmas celebrating is wrong. Christmas is indeed a joyful celebration of the birth of our Savior. It can be a wonderful time for family,  filled with beautiful music, delicious food and thoughtful gift-giving. My friend Ali calls herself the “Christmas Girl.” She’s a singer whose favorite time of year is Christmas. I’ve been to her Christmas concerts on many occasions. But Ali also makes sure to include a song called, “Get Me Through December” to acknowledge those who do walk in darkness, especially at this time of year when the contrast between what’s festive and what’s real can be so great.

If you are walking in darkness, this passage speaks to you. In it, God acknowledges your darkness and urges you to not give in to despair or to false, self-created brightness. Instead, God invites you to take one step forward in the darkness, trusting him. It’s in this context that the verse in Isaiah 9 sings out more joyously than ever—the light has come into the world and will break into our darkness again and again as we trust in him. [Click to tweet!]

If Christmas is a time of joy for you, be thankful. Appreciate the good gifts of Christmas, but do not lose sight of the fact that your joy ultimately rests in the one who broke into a dark time with great joy. Remember those who may be struggling—those who are lonely, sick, hungry, or in need—at this time. Find ways to offer the light to them, not denying their darkness but offering God’s true light. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas once again, may we put our trust completely in God and be both willing to step forward in the darkness and to anticipate the light.

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Advent Reflections: an Amazing Testimony of Thanksgiving

powerful-prayers-for-supernatural-results-how-to-pray-like-moses-elijah-sarah-and-other-biblical-heroes

Today’s advent guest post is by Mike Shreve, author of Powerful Prayers for Supernatural Results, 65 Promises From God for Your Child, and Truth Seekers. He has been involved in evangelism since 1971 and currently pastors The Sanctuary in Cleveland, Tennessee. 

Years ago, when speaking at a church in Florida, I heard a story that proved the power of a thankful heart. It was Sunday morning. I was passing through a side door leading to the platform when the pastor grabbed my arm, and said, “Come to my office! You’ve got to hear this!” At first I protested, explaining that I was supposed to be in the pulpit in about five minutes. He responded, “This is more important.” I just shook my head, stunned.

As I entered the pastor’s office he seated me across from a tall, distinguished-looking member of his congregation who began sharing one of the most amazing testimonies I have ever heard.

A few days prior, Dan Johansen had gone out fishing on Tampa Bay, which in itself was not a bad choice, but the whole journey was filled with a series of bad choices. Though he couldn’t swim, Dan didn’t take a life jacket and though he had only a one-engine boat, he didn’t take any oars. When Dan got out in deep waters, his propeller blades got caught in some vegetation floating just below the surface of the water, jammed, and shut down.

Leaning out of the boat to disengage the weeds, he lost his balance and fell into the water. Thrashing around, he desperately tried to stay afloat. One time, two times, three times, he sunk. The first two times he forced his way back up, spitting, coughing and gasping. When he went under the third time, his strength was gone. Slowly drifting deeper, Dan began preparing his mind for death.

Then unexpectedly, like a beam of light penetrating darkness, an intense thought entered his mind. In just a few moments, he was going to be face-to-face with God, the One he had served and loved for years. Strangely, instead of fear, he actually felt a kind of joyous anticipation. Then something remarkable happened. A loud voice boomed in his mind saying, “If you’re going to die, you need to be doing the will of God!” I quickly interjected, “How can you do God’s will in the middle of drowning to death?” He responded, “I thought that too, but then I heard that same voice quoting a scripture: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:8, emphasis added.)

Dan said, “I thought to myself, ‘I can do that! What better way to leave the world!’” As he began to thank God in his mind for every blessing and benefit throughout his life, he heard the voice speaking again: I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8, emphasis added.) He said, “I thought to myself, ‘What better position to die in!’” So with what little strength he had left, realizing he only had a few seconds left, he raised his hands above his head, preparing to meet God.

At that moment, the miracle happened.

Little did Dan realize, as he lifted his hands in worship one hand went just above the water. At precisely the same moment, a rescue boat just happened to be passing by. The rescue people saw his abandoned boat, and his hand sticking up through the water, and they rushed over and pulled him to safety. Dan lived to tell about it and it was a lesson he never forgot. Because he made a commitment to worship and to maintain a thankful heart even when he was drowning, God miraculously intervened in his behalf.

If it worked for a fisherman on Tampa Bay, surely it will work for you! You may feel like you are drowning mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, but there is an answer.  Decide that you are going to going to do everything you can to fulfill the will of God, and that you are going to “be thankful” unto God, and “bless his name” no matter what you are facing in life (Psalm 100:4). Determine that regardless of the pressure you are going through, you are still going to lift your hands in worship, “without wrath and without doubting” forgiving everyone and exiling unbelief from your heart.

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