What a Free Woman Looks Like: An Excerpt from Wild and Free

Wild and Free

Fully trusting in God’s goodness can be a challenge at times, and often the largest obstacle in having confidence in God’s plan for your life are your own thoughts and self-doubt. So how do we change our thinking and set ourselves free to enjoy all that God has in store for us? This is just one of the areas that the new release, Wild and Free, sets out to address. Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan is a liberty hymn for the modern Christian woman, who is held captive by the belief that she is too much, that she is not enough, and sometimes both. Enjoy the following excerpt from this new ebook, now available on Vyrso.

 

A woman who is free is unchained from her past and unafraid of her future, [Click to tweet!]  and because of this she can laugh at the days to come. She’s got an assured confidence; she doesn’t let circumstances shake her; she loves people but doesn’t live to please them. She is content with what she has, never striving to conjure up something more.

She is almost inexplicably light and unencumbered. Isn’t this the way we’d live if we really believed we were freed from our past, held in our present, and protected in our future?

So what does this free woman look like? We don’t have to look any further than Scripture to get an idea of God’s great hope for us.

She can laugh at the days to come; she is content; she abides; and she rests.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;

she can laugh at the days to come.

Proverbs 31:25

I have always had this underlying fear of the other shoe dropping. Sometimes it feels like life is just too good. I have almost everything I’ve always hoped for, prayed for. Isn’t this about when God comes in and cuts down the heroine at the knees, forcing her to trust Him and obey Him even more? I started living in demented fear of God rather than a holy awe.

Right after the birth of our second son, I began feeling a weakness and heaviness in my right leg. At first, I passed it off as a random oddity, but I became more and more obsessed as the days went on. I started med school on WebMD and began a month-long process of hypervigilance and self-diagnosis.

It didn’t help that my symptoms mimicked some very real and scary maladies. I was convinced my symptoms were nefarious, and I began to imagine all the ways God would grow my faith in the suffering caused by these terrible diseases.

What I realized after going to many specialists was that God was allowing me to suffer severe anxiety rather than a life-threatening illness. When my brain latched on to an anxious thought, my body would be flushed with adrenaline. When that adrenaline stayed at high enough levels over an extended period of time, my body experienced real physical symptoms. Every symptom was eventually tied back to anxiety.

Somehow, over a period of months, I was able to learn to speak truth to my physical feelings. I started to believe the doctors over the lies in my head. And almost like magic, my symptoms began to fade. But just a couple years later, I felt the all-too-familiar revving up of symptoms and worries. I began to experience an onslaught of anxiety expressed as physical symptoms. Instead of being able to name the physical feelings as manifestations of my mental anxieties, I began again to believe they were tied to unfortunate, terrifying, and most of the time terminal diseases.

Things worsened considerably, and eventually I couldn’t leave the couch and could barely lift my head off the pillow. My anxiety was presenting itself like it always had, mimicking symptoms of serious illnesses. I was so weak and so terribly convinced that God was preparing to take me from this precious life I’d built.

But in His goodness, He provided a way out of that miry pit. It took a round of antidepressants and antianxiety medication, as well as months of therapy, but by the end of the summer, I began to feel the fog lifting.

I didn’t trust in God’s goodness because I had inadvertently bought into some terrible theology. You see, in simple terms, theology is what we believe to be true about God. Somehow I picked up the belief that God would cause terrible things to happen to me, and He’d do it to teach me a lesson. So in a momentary brave assertion that I believed God to be true, I went on a search for what the goodness of God really means. Now, I believe that God allows the brokenness of this diseased world to play out sometimes, leaving us with things like multiple sclerosis and cancer. He doesn’t cause these awful things, but He allows them. That was a big shift in my mentality. If something so sad would befall me, His child, He would have holy sorrow but not be surprised and would make sure to use it for my good and for His glory. That was infinitely comforting and has allowed me to walk forward in freedom from the excruciating anxiety I lived with for many years.

If you don’t believe God is good, you’ll never be able to walk in wild freedom, because you’ll always be afraid of God. You won’t have a holy fear (awe) of God’s power and goodness, but you’ll just be plain afraid that He’s a capricious bully who is out to teach you a lesson.

Look at your life and see if you can look at the days to come and laugh. Do you believe that God wants good for you? Do you believe He is good? If there isn’t fruit of that belief in your life, it’s time to root out the poison that keeps you from experiencing life to the full. Ask God to show you His goodness. Take a careful look at Scripture to see how He points you to it. And then expect it.

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Don’t miss out on Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan, now on Vyrso.

4 New Christian Books to Add to Your Reading List

Reading is one of the best ways to pursue growth in your faith. A good devotional or Christian book won’t just affirm your current views or ideas, but present biblical ideas, concepts, and more to help you confront the walls you face in your faith and life, and inspire change and action.

2016 is set to be a year packed with some pretty exciting new Christian books, a few of which are already available to read! Here are four new releases that you won’t want to miss out on—get all four ebooks now and start reading.

4 New Christian Books to Add to your Reading List

 

Find balance with Alli Worthington’s Breaking Busy

When someone asks you how you’ve been, do you find yourself frequently replying with, “busy”? If you’re feeling stuck, scattered or stressed by how busy you are, Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy is a must-read.

With a forward by well-known author and speaker Christine Caine, Alli Worthington brings together research in social and positive psychology with what the Bible says to help readers know themselves, know God, and ultimately to find peace and purpose in a world where being “crazy busy” is the new normal. Each chapter in Breaking Busy covers topics such as finding connection in relationships, finding your value in God, and God’s calling for your life.

 

Dig into spiritual disciplines with Preston Yancey’s Out of the House of Bread

In Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, author Preston Yancey leads readers in a new direction of spirituality through the symbolism and experience of the spiritual disciplines made plain by the baking of bread. This book is way more than a “bake-along,” though it does start out with a tasty, bread recipe. Yancey says in the introduction, “Bit by bit we’ll . . . talk about how being present and focused in the making of this bread is a lot like being intent and focused in prayer.”

This book will lead you into the practice of spiritual disciplines that are meant to cultivate awareness of ourselves in relation to God, cultivate a relationship with God, and cultivate our relationships with other in community. Out of the House of Bread is well-structured, guiding readers through three parts, each intended for three weeks of study, of disciplines and thoughtful reflection.


Read true stories with a hopeful response in Reggie Dabb’s Just Keep Breathing

Dabb wrote this book in response to thousands of letters and messages he’s received over the 25 years he’s spent speaking in schools and at events, sharing his personal story and the inspirational message that “you can’t change your past, but you can change your future.” In Just Keep Breathing, he shares the real letters and messages of individuals and youths in crisis, and answers them. The result is an honest conversation between Dabbs and the author of each letter, exchanging real thoughts, hardships, and hopes. Dabb approaches each letter with the view that people in crisis don’t need “fixing,” but that their greater needs need to be listened to and valued.

 

Discover joy in a walk through the book of Philippians in David Jeremiah’s Count It All Joy

The apostle Paul wrote his most personal letter while abused and abandoned in a Roman prison. He wrote to believers who lived in the shadow of the Roman tyrant, Nero. And yet this letter, Philippians, is the one of the most joy-filled epistle in the Bible. Weaving together modern stories and historical detail, author David Jeremiah explores Philippians verse by verse, showing us what it means to be joyful in spite of circumstances. Whatever you are facing today, Count It All Joy will inspire you to find the joy that Jesus promises.

5 Biblical Truths on the Importance of the Body God Gave You

What Does God Say About Your Body?

In the Christian church, we spend a significant amount of time caring for our spiritual health. We focus on creating prayer habits, we engage in the church community, and are intentional about reading the Bible. It’s clear why these things matter. But does God care about how we care of our physical bodies, how healthy or in shape we are? Learn from Rick Warren in this excerpt from The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life.

The Christian family I grew up in attended church services every week. I have listened to thousands of sermons on what God has to say about our souls, our minds, our wills, and our emotions. But not once had I ever heard an entire sermon on God’s view of our bodies. The subject was completely ignored. This is why most people still have no theology of health. While our culture is obsessed with physical beauty and sexy bodies, many believers ignore their bodies as if they don’t matter. But they do.

God has a lot to say about the importance of the body he gave you. It is talked about through the Bible. But for the sake of brevity, let me show you just one chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:12 – 20:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! …

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Wow! This is definitely an in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is, no-holds-barred description of what God considers to be the right and wrong use of our bodies. In this and other passages of Scripture we learn five radical truths about our bodies that run counterculturally to everything you hear today.

1. My body belongs to God. It is his property, not mine. I don’t own it, God does. He created my body, and he expects me to use it the way he intended for it to be used. Now we naturally rebel against this idea. Our culture teaches us, “My body is mine to do whatever I want to with it.” But God says, “No, you’re wrong. It’s not your body, because you didn’t create it. I made it, and I loaned it to you to live in while I put you on earth, and I expect you to take care of my creation.”

The fact is, everything you can see on earth was created by God. He made it, and he owns it. What you think you own is really on loan. The Bible says, “The body … is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Today we make the same common mistake Greek philosophers did thousands of years ago. Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato believed in dualism,4 which included the idea that your mind (or spirit) is important, but your body isn’t important spiritually. They devalued the body. In fact, some Greek philosophers taught that your body is evil, so it really didn’t matter if you messed it up.

The Bible tells us the exact opposite. Your body is holy because God made it, and everything God makes has a purpose. We are to bring glory to God with our bodies, so we can’t compartmentalize our lives and think that we can divorce our bodies and live as if only our spirit matters. [Click to tweet!] God owns your body!

2. Jesus paid for my body when he died for me on the cross. As we saw earlier, 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20 tells us that our bodies have been bought!

Millions of TV viewers love watching American Pickers andPawn Stars because it’s fun to guess how much old items are worth. The owners often think something they own is more valuable than it really is. But the reality is that something is only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it! You may think your house is worth more, but it’s really only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it.

God has never made a person he didn’t love. If you want to know how valuable your life is to God, just look at the cross. With his arms outstretched, nailed to the cross, Jesus was saying, “This is how valuable you are to me. I love you this much! I’d rather die than live without you.” You are priceless.

Now, if you are worth dying for, don’t you think God wants you to take better care of yourself? If you bought a million-dollar race horse, would you feed it junk food and keep it up all night? Of course not! You would protect your investment. The fact is, Jesus has made an investment in you. He paid for your life with his life, and he expects you to take care of his investment.

3. God’s Spirit lives in my body. When you say yes to God, accepting by faith what Jesus did for you and trusting his grace and forgiveness to save you, then God puts his Spirit inside you as a guarantee of your salvation. The Bible says it like this: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

When God puts his Spirit inside you, your body becomes a temple of God, a residence for his love. So let me ask you this: If you saw someone vandalizing or damaging a temple dedicated to God, wouldn’t you consider that a crime? Of course! But you abuse and vandalize God’s temple, your body, when you deprive it of rest and sleep, overeat, put too much stress on it, and fail to take care of it.

4. God expects me to take care of my body. I am not the owner of my body, but I am the caretaker, or manager, of it. The word formanager in the Bible is steward. Taking care of my body is an issue of spiritual stewardship. In fact, God tells me that one day I will have to give an account for how well I managed everything he gave to me, including my body. I will stand before God and have to answer the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?”

In The Purpose Driven Life I explain how your life on earth is a test, a trust, and a temporary assignment. This life is preparation for our next life, which will last forever in eternity. God is testing you on earth to see what he can trust you with in eternity. He is watching how you use your time, your money, your talents, your opportunities, your mind, and yes, even your body. Are you making the most of what you’ve been given? God isn’t going to evaluate you on the basis of the bodies he gave to other people, but he will judge what you did with what you have been given.

5. God will resurrect my body after I die. God never wastes anything. He gets themaximum use out of all he creates. Right now you are living in the 1.0 version of your body. You will get the 2.0 version of your body in heaven. The Bible says, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

We don’t really know what our resurrected bodies will be like, but we do have a few clues. We know that after Jesus came from the grave, he walked around Jerusalem for forty days in a resurrected body. He was seen multiple times by many different groups of people, including one event where more than 500 people saw and talked with him. So we know that other people will still recognize you in the new 2.0 version of your body in heaven, but there will be one major difference: in heaven your body will be perfect, with no blemishes, no broken parts, no wounds, and no pain.

Did you notice the phrase by his power in that last Bible verse? This is what makes The Daniel Plan different from other approaches. It is built on trusting in God’s power to help you change, not merely your own willpower. Let’s be honest. Willpower works for a few weeks, or maybe a month or two at best. This is why New Year’s resolutions never last. Trying to change by willpower alone is exhausting. You can keep it up for a while, but it feels unnatural and stressful to force yourself to be different simply on the basis of willpower.

In The Daniel Plan you will learn the power of prayer, the power of faith, the power of letting God’s Spirit refocus your thoughts, the power of fellowship and community in a supportive small group, and most of all, the power of God’s Spirit inside you, helping you to make the changes God wants you to make and you want to make.

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Join Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hyman in The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life and learn how to optimize your health in the key areas of faith, food, fitness, focus, and friends.

Joy to the World

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Take time to reflect today with a guest post by Nancy Guthrie, an influential Christian author and teacher. She teaches the Bible through numerous Bible study books, at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences around the country and internationally.

In the 1700s, when Isaac Watts lived, most people sang psalms from the Bible set to music in their worship services.

Watts didn’t think that the psalms that had been arranged well for singing, so he set about the task of trying to do better. The song we sing today as “Joy to the World” is Isaac Watts’ rendering of Psalm 98.  Psalm 98 is about the coming of the Lord. But when we listen carefully to the words, we recognize immediately that it is not about the first coming of Jesus.

We sing, “Let earth receive her king!

But when he came the first time, earth did not receive her king. They crucified him. (Click to Tweet!)

We sing, “he rules the world with truth and grace.

But when he came the first time, he did not come to rule the world with truth and grace but as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

We sing, “and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness.

But when he came the first time, he did not make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness. Instead, he took upon himself the punishment for our unrighteousness.

Perhaps most significantly, at least for me, and for anyone who has experienced the pain of living life in a world that is broken to the core because of the curse of sin that came over all creation when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, we sing, “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

And we realize that while Christ accomplished everything necessary to put an end to the curse when he took the curse upon himself on the cross, we still live in a world profoundly impacted by the curse. We are experiencing the new creation as we are called from spiritual death to spiritual life. But his blessings do not yet flow far as the curse is found.

But when Christ comes again, all will be different.

Every knee will bow to him; there will be no more resistance to him. It won’t be just people who will celebrate his coming; the earth itself will celebrate.

The curse will finally be gone so that all of creation will be set free from decay to worship Christ. People from every tribe and nation will gladly crown him as King.

This is why there is so much joy in “Joy to the World”! It is not about the joy of Christ coming the first time, but anticipates the joy when Christ comes the second time—when the Kingdom he established at his first coming will be the reality we will live in forever.

When we understand what we’re saying when we sing this song, we realize that this song celebrates the essence of our Christian hope as believers. Our hope is not simply looking back to treasure Christ’s birth or seeing what Christ accomplished on the cross. (Click to Tweet!)

It is not only in our experience here and now of Christ changing us as we put our faith in him. Our greatest joy is centered on our future hope of the day when Christ will return in glory to this earth. On that day, all who are dead in Christ will be resurrected.

This is what we read in Revelation 21:1-5 about that day that “Joy to the World” celebrates:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

That day, described in Psalm 98 and sung about in “Joy to the World,” will be a great day! Because God fulfilled his promises to send Jesus the first time, we can sing, “Joy to the World” confidently and expectantly, sure that he will come again.”

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Nancy offers companionship and biblical insight to the grieving through Respite Retreats that she and her husband, David, host for couples who have faced the death of child, through the GriefShare video series, and through ebooks such as Holding on to Hope and Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow. She is also the host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible podcast” at The Gospel Coalition and is the editor of a collection of writing on the incarnation called, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. 

Interested in reading more by Nancy? Get her advent devotional, Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

 

A Christmas Reflection: Seeing Like a Little Child

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Take time today to reflect with a guest post by Tim Cameron, who currently serves as headmaster at Metro Christian Academy and as an elder at Believers Church.

Two years ago before Christmas, my wife and I downsized and moved back to our former home. It was a little house we had been using as a rental property.

Just a few doors down on the block was a residence poorly cared for. You can guess some of the low spots: grass never mowed, trees overgrown, tires in the front yard, and the house in a sad state of disrepair. To top it off, a few strings of Christmas lights were thrown haphazardly around trees and left turned on year-round. I confess, my comments to my wife were not the most edifying every time we drove by that house.

Over the course of a weekend when our four-year old grandson was staying with us, we repeatedly drove by this run down residence.

On one of those trips, my wife turned to our grandson and said, “What do you think about that house?” He immediately responded, “It’s beautiful.” Of course, he was only seeing the bright Christmas lights.

Similarly, we know very little about Jesus’ childhood.

The only incident chronicled in the gospels is of Jesus at twelve years of age. It’s the simple story of Jesus being left in Jerusalem during the Passover, and his parents finding him in the temple three days later among the leaders.

Luke 2:40 describes Jesus’s development from infancy to age twelve: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. And the grace of God was upon him” (MEV).

We know about Jesus’s childhood that He was similar to any growing boy in His natural maturing. He was completely human; however, He was completely God, one of the many majestic mysteries of the gospels.

I don’t think most of us fully appreciate Jesus’ humanity while here on earth. He had all the emotions, temptations, and physical feelings that we have. The point is, Jesus knows experientially what it is like to be a little child. (Click to Tweet!)

He was a baby, and a little child; He grew in stature and wisdom. He knows all the marvelous qualities of little children, firsthand.

Like my grandson, who saw only the beautiful strand of bright Christmas lights in the middle of a huge mess, Jesus looks into the messes we can make of our lives and sees the beauty and great possibilities remaining.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11, MEV).

Christmas is such a majestic time of the year. It is a time of wonder for little children and a poignant time for adults to contemplate our Lord’s birth and childhood. The beauty of Christmas always reminds me of what the beauty the kingdom of heaven must be like.  

However, we need to be mindful that the kingdom of heaven isn’t some ethereal land in the good old bye and bye.

The kingdom of heaven is within us (Luke 17:21). Whether it is the kingdom heaven to come or the kingdom of heaven within us, it will only be seen and experienced through the eyes of a little child. “Jesus called a little child to Him and set him in their midst, and said, Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2-3, MEV).

We must become like little children.

Jesus knows little children don’t judge one-another. They don’t see themselves better than other little children, unless they are taught to do so. Little children don’t gossip or criticize each other. They don’t ascribe worth to anyone based on the color of their skin or the square footage of their home.

Let’s reflect this Christmas on the wonder of Jesus’ birth!

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Get Tim’s ebook, The Forty-Day Word Fast, which focuses on several biblically-sound mechanisms to help you change your words and your life. Not only will your vocabulary change, your heart also will be transformed in just 40 days!

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Focus on the true meaning of the season today with a reflective guest post by Jessica Thompson

O come, see Him loving you before He was ever even born. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

O come, see Him planning our rescue. (Genesis 3:15)

O come, see Him being born into brokenness, poverty, and bloodshed. (Matthew 1:18-25)

O come, see Him living in utter obscurity as a boy, teenager, man. (Luke 2)

O come, see Him changing the water into wine. Changing the ordinary into extraordinary, saving the best for last. (John 2:1-11)

O come, see Him confounding those that thought they had it all together. (John 10)

O come, see Him loving the damaged. See Him as Friend of Sinners. (Matthew 9:10)

O come, see Him drawing near to women. (Luke 10:38-42)

O come, see Him welcoming children. (Luke 18:15-17)

O come, see Him longing to be in relationship with the outcast, the sick and the lonely. (Click to Tweet!) (Mark 1:40-45)

O come, see Him weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. (John 11:1-44)

O come, see Him praying, asking for the cup to pass, and finally surrendering to the forever plan. (Matthew 26:36-46)

O come, see Him riding into the city on a donkey, receiving the praise of those that are about to turn on Him. (Luke 19:28-40)

O come, see Him being questioned, mocked, beaten. (Luke 22:63-23:25)

O come, see Him taking upon himself every single sin you and I have ever committed. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

O come, see Him experiencing the separation from the Father you and I deserve. (Matthew 27:46)

O come, see Him taking care of his mother while he breathed His last breath. (John 19:25-27)

O come, see Him crying out the three words of good news that changed everything: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

O come, see Him defeating death, conquering hell, sealing Satan’s fate. (Click to Tweet!) (I Peter 3:18-22) 

O come, see Him calling out Mary Magdalene’s name and healing her broken heart. (John 20:11-18)

O come, see Him lovingly teaching his disciples and loving them through their fears. (Luke 24:14-49)

O come, see Him interceding for you and me at the right hand of the Father. (Romans 8:34)

O come, see Him sympathizing with us in our weaknesses, and being touched by our infirmities. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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Jessica Thompson is co-author of Give Them GraceCounting the Days Lighting the Candles: A Christmas Advent Devotional and the author of Everyday Grace, Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for Families. Her heart is to see women, families, and children freed from the bondage of moralism.

More than You Ever Wished For . . .

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Spend time reflecting with an excerpt from Mornings with Jesus 2016: Daily Encouragement for Your Soul, published by Zondervan

Discover today’s devotional, written specifically for the Advent season by author Susanna Foth Aughtmon.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)

Recently we watched an old video of a Christmas that took place nine years ago.

Our boys were so small and sweet. Our oldest son, Jack, will be fourteen this year.

He couldn’t take his eyes off his five-year-old self. In the video, he was so excited about each present he opened he could barely contain himself. He was especially thrilled with an art kit he had received. He looked straight into the camera and said, “Hey! I think I wished for that!” I heard myself, off camera, laugh and say, “You did wish for that, Jack! How fun that you got it!”

More often than not, we don’t expect the things we wish for. We are not sure they will come to pass. We are incredibly surprised when the things we wish for come true, just like Jack was when he got the art kit he wanted so much.

But what is even better than getting what we wish for is when our hopes and dreams are surpassed and we receive more than we ever thought possible.

As Christ followers, we get far more than we ever asked or hoped or wished or dreamed for. (Click to Tweet!)

When we asked Jesus to save us from our sins, He didn’t stop there.

He is an over-the-top gift-giver.

He didn’t just save us, He offered us forgiveness, mercy, restoration, grace, healing, freedom, hope, joy, peace, a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a clean heart, and the list goes on . . . and on . . . and on. He does more in us and for us than we could ever begin to wish for.

FAITH STEP: Thank Jesus for five different ways that He has exceeded your expectations in your life.

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Interested in getting encouragement like this daily in 2016? Get Zondervan’s Mornings with Jesus 2016: Daily Encouragement for Your Soul today!

 

The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt among Us

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Reflect today with an excerpt from Jefferson Bethke’s new ebook It’s Not What You Think, published by Thomas Nelson, an ebook that presents God’s truths from the Old and the New Testaments as the challenging and compelling story that it is—a grand narrative with God at the center. 

[After the destruction of the temple] until the last sentence of the Old Testament, the Israelites are left wondering, when will God return to dwell with them?

He promised he’d come back and be with his people.

His very presence in their midst.

Can you imagine the hundreds of years of longing, aching, and praying for this to happen? With every year that passed, the expectation that God would do a new thing, a big thing, a monumental thing got larger and larger.

And then it happens. Just not the way they expected.

The Gospel of John, while the Jewish people are still waiting for the glory of Yahweh to return to his temple, says the first three words are

In the beginning. . . . .

Any faithful Jew would have immediately recognized the book’s introduction as the same introduction to Genesis—the book of beginnings and creation, when God sealed the earth with his presence. John is invoking the Genesis language to get his readers ready for a new story about another beginning, or a new beginning, in the same way you’d know what I was invoking if I might start a speech with, “I have a dream, that one day.”

Skip down a few verses from that first verse and we see one of our most famous Christmas verses. In the beginning there is this “Word” being, John says. And this Word being is somehow like God, with God, and is God. You’ve probably quoted John 1:14 right before sipping on hot chocolate and turning on Kenny G’s Christmas album; it’s a classic advent verse:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

But the Greek word translated as “dwelt” in that verse is eske­nosen, which can literally mean “to fix a tent.”

John is saying loud and clear that Jesus himself is pitching his tent (that is, his holy tabernacle) among us. His body is now the place where heaven and earth crash together. The temple system has reached its fulfillment and was always a signpost pointing to the great temple Jesus. The glory of God has returned to his temple, and it looks like a Jewish rabbi in Judea. How strange is that?

So John, in just a few verses, is purposely saying things to draw strong echoes.

Jesus is the new genesis, the beginning of a new creation; and God himself is pitching his tent with usto be with his people. (Click to Tweet!)

What if we believed that?

Growing up I believed that Jesus was very far away. That he was standing up in heaven with his arms crossed waiting for me to get it right. Or even if he did show me grace, I imagined it with rolling eyes saying, “Ugh, not the same mistake for the twenty thousandth time.”

But John’s words say otherwise. God really does want to dwell with me. He really wants to pitch his tent in my life. And when I continually fall, he says, “Hey, I’m in this for the long haul.”

———

Bethke is the author of New York Times bestseller, Jesus > Religion. Bethke’s message connects at a heart level with an audience ranging from atheists to nationally-recognized religious leaders.

The Gift of Small Moments: A Perfect Plan

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. You’ll hear from a variety of authors with original posts and featured excerpts from Christmas-focused ebooks.

Spend time reflecting with an excerpt from Daily Guideposts 2016: A Spirit-Lifting Devotional, published by Zondervan. This annual devotional gives you 365 days of inspiration to help you grow in your faith—discover a devotional today that was written specifically for the Advent season by author Bill Giovannetti.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”—Jeremiah 23:5 (ESV)

An eager crew unloaded a trailer full of Christmas trees and decorations. The annual ritual of decorating our church had begun. The biggest boxes contained about ten trees of different sizes. Each box was labeled: Tree 1, box 1 of 3; Tree 1, box 2 of 3; and so on. But we hit a snag.

There were at least two trees labeled Tree 1, and neither was complete. Other labels were wrong too. Some made no sense. Whoever had put away the trees the previous year hadn’t labeled them correctly.

What should have been a simple task collapsed into a complex riddle. One volunteer said it felt like “sorting jumbled pieces from multiple puzzles without a box top.”

I was frustrated. I believed we’d let down our volunteers.

In that same moment, I felt God’s gentle nudge: Think of what it took to set up Christ’s birth. The painstakingly detailed prophecies. The astonishingly clear promises. The growing profile of this coming Savior painted by Old Testament sages over a span of two thousand years. Every piece was in its place. Every detail arranged perfectly.

The providence of God never shone more brightly than on the day the Savior was born. (Click to Tweet!)

Tiny Bethlehem. The humble manger. Caesar’s census. The virgin shall conceive. The birth of Christ was no afterthought. It was the outworking of a grace-filled plan from the ages of eternity past.

We might have jumbled Christmas, I thought, but God doesn’t. And He didn’t jumble the details of my life either. Not even the frustrations. Or the sorrows. God’s saving plan rises above it all.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the meticulously coordinated, ages-long countdown to that first Christmas Day. May I abide every day in the certainty of Your perfect plan.

———

Interested in finding daily inspiration in 2016? Get Zondervan’s Daily Guideposts 2016: A Spirit-Lifting Devotional today!

God With Us, Always

This advent season, check the Vyrso blog each weekday for advent reflections that will inspire and encourage you to reflect on the true reason for Christmas. 

Take time to reflect today with a guest post by Deidra Riggs, an influential blogger at her own blog, JumpingTandem, as well as DaySpring’s (in)courage and TheHighCalling.org, for which she is managing editor.

On Sundays, I make my way to a little church on a downtown corner.

Well, the church itself isn’t little. Back in the 1960s, long before I lived here, our downtown community was bustling with workers and commerce and servicemen and their families. The church on the corner was bustling too, back then. But, the army base eventually shut down, a mall was built in the suburbs, and the people and churches moved away from the city.

Back then, the people who met in the church on the corner watched as their numbers dwindled. They said farewell to friends whose families had been re-assigned to army bases in different parts of the country. Slowly, the downtown church, designed to seat thousands on a Sunday morning, found its membership dwarfed to a couple hundred people each week.

Watching the changes in the community, and the changes in the pews, the congregation began to wonder if God would have them do something different.

Should they move to the suburbs? Should they look for a smaller building? Should they throw in the towel?

Maintaining a building built for thousands was becoming increasingly difficult with the passage of time and the ever-dwindling numbers on the membership roster. And so, the congregation and the pastor asked God for direction. Over time, they came to believe God wanted them to stay right where they were, ministering on that particular downtown corner to that particular community.

And so, they stayed.

Over the years since that decision, things have changed in that little downtown church.

What was once a church where everyone looked a lot alike, slowly became a church where people from different countries and cultures, races and ethnicities gathered to meet throughout the week.

Four different congregations grew beneath the roof of that little downtown church on the corner and, these days, on Sunday mornings, multiple languages can be heard in the hallways as the different congregations share space and learn the meaning of grace.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. Figuring out how to live together, without stepping on toes and ruffling feathers has been a challenge of faith and love. But, every third Sunday, members from all of the congregations worship together in the sanctuary and then gather in Fellowship Hall to eat and strengthen fledgling friendships.

It’s still a small church. We still struggle to meet the budget, and our building is desperately in need of a major overhaul—from the mechanicals to the orange carpet in the sanctuary. But, for the most part, we’ve stopped worrying about the numbers. Because what God is doing in this little downtown church is nothing short of miraculous.

And so, on Sundays, I make my way to a little church on a downtown corner. I sit near the back, in the English-speaking service, behind Martha and Betty, and not too far from Brandon and Janet and Calvin. Across the aisle from me sit Ruth and Alan and Ethel. And, on a good day, Zach is there, too. Mark and Brooke make their way down the aisle, their young daughter, Maliah in arms. Soon Monique and Casey will arrive, with baby Serena in her baby carrier. Slowly, the people make their way to this little church on the downtown corner.

Our church isn’t one of the fancy ones.

We don’t have a groovy stage or a slick order of worship. Most Sundays, someone chimes in from the congregation with something like, “Hey, are you going to have an offering today?” or “There’s no potluck this weekend. It’s next week.”

Sometimes, in the winter, the boiler fails and keeps us wrapped in our coats through the service and sometimes, in the summer, the air conditioner breaks, leading us to open up the doors wide and hold our arms so that our elbows don’t touch our bodies while we fan ourselves with our printed bulletins. Often, those of us in the congregation cringe politely as the guys in the sound booth try to eliminate the squealing feedback from one of the singers’ microphones.

But, we gather here on Sundays because we’ve learned that what the bible says is true: Where two or more are gathered together, expectantly anticipating God’s presence, God is right there with us. (Click to Tweet!)

He doesn’t “show up.”

He is always there.

Always, here.

The question is, can we see him?

At first glance, it might be difficult to recognize him. We might get distracted by the empty seats, or the squealing feedback from the microphones up front.

But, look closely, and you will see him, right here in our midst.

He is with us in the hallways and the sanctuary and the fellowship hall.

He breaks bread with us and speaks to us in the language we know best.

He is from Haiti and Burma, China and Sudan, and he is from Michigan and Nebraska and California, and wherever you are from.

He wears three-piece suits or a longyi or a pair of Wranglers over cowboy boots.

And, he has taught us to anticipate his arrival; to expect his presence with us. He is Emmanuel, even on a downtown corner, and he invites us to worship him, to adore him, to find our rest and our hope in him. (Click to Tweet!)

———

Get Diedra’s ebook Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are today! Not only is she an accomplished blogger, but she had also been a speaker for TEDx and organized her own women’s retreat, hosting speakers like Lisa-Jo Baker, Holley Gerth, and many more, learn more about her at DeirdraRiggs.com.

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