Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love is Here

By Fiona, age 5

Advent Love

Hi, my name is Fiona. We are all counting up to the day Jesus comes. This week’s candle is Love. God’s son is coming. We celebrate Jesus’s birth but guess what! He is already here! But we just celebrate that Jesus came into our lives. God’s son died on the cross instead of us. He died for our sins because he loved us. He still does love us.

The End

Love Fiona

The Radiance of God’s Glory

By Jackie Bailey

Because of what he has suffered, God says…my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.  I will give him the honor of one who is mighty and great because he bore the sins of mankind. (Isaiah 53:11-12 NLT)

When I think about Christmas, I envision the birth of a sweet baby born in the humble surroundings of a picturesque stable in the quaint little town of Bethlehem.  I picture chubby cherubs heralding angelic joy surrounding the birth of the Savior.  That being said, I don’t often reflect on the real reason of Christmas–the rescue of humanity!  

This miraculous event we call Christmas was God’s dramatic rescue to reach down to us to restore all that was lost and broken in the Garden.  He sent His Son to all humanity to restore face-to-face intimacy with us, and to re-establish communion with all creation that had been wrecked and ruined in the Fall. The lengths that He went to in order to rescue us are astounding when you let it sink in that the God of the Universe descended upon a young girl and placed Himself inside her womb to birth the God-Man, who “became flesh and blood and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14 NIV.)  

Amazingly, this tiny baby was the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy of a Savior who would arrive among us, mere mortals, to extend mercy and grace, restoration and peace. All of Israel knew of Him and anticipated His coming, yet the long-awaited Messiah was born in obscurity. He entered a world that had no room for Him; not even a warm, clean place could be found to birth the Savior into the world that He, Himself, had created.   

What a dichotomy–from the beauty and magnificence of the Glory of Heaven to an impoverished, filthy stable.  What a contrast–the baby born into impoverished circumstances was the long-awaited answer, the Messiah, “the Son, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” (Heb. 1:3.)  

With the arrival of this Son, there was no longer a need for mediators, judges, priests and prophets to stand in the gap between God and man. This tiny baby offered Himself as “the door, the gate that whoever enters through Him will be saved.” (John 10:9) God’s desire to restore relationship with us was so profound, and the devastation and consequences of sin so intense, that this baby would sacrifice Himself to “take up our pain and bear our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us…it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him…our sins!  He took the punishment and that act made us whole.  Through his bruises we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:4-5 Msg.)   

So when I think about the Christmas season and what the birth of this tiny baby, Jesus, means to me and all of mankind, I contemplate the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His Sacred Being found in the Christ Child.   I envision a tiny Baby bursting forth at delivery: fists clenched, ready to fight for righteousness, bloody with the pain of mankind–and with a cry deep from His Holy belly he declares that the Kingdom of God has arrived and is among us, and he is ready to battle against all that was lost in the fall!

Third Sunday of Advent: Good News of Great Joy

I bring you good news of great joy!

Early on in Genesis, we see how the creation that God loved so fully fell so quickly. Just pages into the story we were in need of His total rescue. On the one hand, it seems like the Father was slow to act. He did not bring about deliverance for many long years. But in contrast to this seeming delay, we also see how quickly God pointed to a coming Son, the one who would restore the brokenness of our fall. God revealed glimpses of the promise to Abraham; he spoke of the anticipated redemption through His prophets. He did not leave His people without hope.

So, after those thousands of years waiting for the fulfillment of the promised Savior, who did the Father choose to reveal the miraculous news to? We might expect a special declaration to have been made to Cesar Augustus, ruler of the then-known world. Or at least it would be revealed to some locally significant leader, say Herod. After all, wouldn’t it be best for the most important people to know so that they could spread the news? But no, this joyous news was first proclaimed to shepherds living and working in nearby fields.

Notice that this was not some accidental delivery. The angel specifically says, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” The angel went on to give the shepherds specific instructions as to where they would find this Savior.

How incredible that our Father saw fit to entrust this wonderful news first with a group of people whom the rest of society did not even socialize with. A group of outsiders! Perhaps the shepherds were the most prepared to receive this unbelievable proclamation of good news. In looking back through God’s interaction with His people, he often chose shepherds after all. Moses was tending sheep when God met him at the burning bush. David was anointed king of Israel while watching his father’s flocks. How encouraging for those of us with “secular” occupations!

Notice the response of the shepherds to this celestial visitation. Once the angels departed, the shepherds went to Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Not if this thing has happened. They believed immediately and acted on this belief. These men who were poor in terms of the world’s riches had been entrusted with history’s greatest angelic declaration.

The great Joy, the long awaited Savior, the one that the prophets pointed to was here! And where were they told they would find Him? On his crib-throne in the fanciest home in Bethlehem? No, out in a barn. But even in this hour of Christ’s great humbling, His Father saw fit that Jesus’ birth be attended by a multitude of heavenly hosts.

The Son of God taking on flesh and bones, this arrival of Immanuel, marks that pivotal moment in history when men no longer walked in darkness. The Light of Life had come, that through Him all may believe.

Waiting for Restoration

finger paints

Every day my children move from one imaginative endeavor to the next, transforming junk mail and paint, or old blankets and empty boxes into works of art. The sheer pleasure they take in reimagining purpose for my discarded scraps deepens my love for the generous, joy-filled Creator whom they reflect.

When God first spoke life into existence, he didn’t do it all at once. Instead, he named each piece of his imagination into reality. He was especially thrilled with the people he created. God took dirt one day, and a rib bone the other, and he reimagined a purpose for them by making them a man and a woman in his own likeness. He transformed these insignificant materials with his very breath, and he graced them with an identity and a purpose.

But the tragedy of human history came when Eve and Adam failed to believe the good God who made them. He gave them all they needed in Eden, and told them they could have whatever they wanted except for the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He told them that eating this fruit would lead to death.

When the serpent, the great Enemy of God, questioned God’s command, he narrowed  Eve’s focus to what she could see, rocking her confidence in the invisible word of God.  “You won’t die!” he insinuated. “Your eyes will be open and you will be like God,” he enticed. That was exactly what Eve and Adam were supposed to do—it was the great desire of their lives to reflect the image of God.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. (Genesis 3:6 NLT)

They fell for what their eyes told them was true. “We see delicious fruit that will give us wisdom like God’s!” But it was a sham. Becoming like God could only happen God’s way—in a loving relationship with him built on trust and obedience. They could not forge an identity apart from God, and their attempt to do so indeed led to death.

The children of Eve and Adam have since lived in a broken, bloody, perpetually dying world. None of us are who we ought to be. This is what is wrong with our world. But God promised that one day he would bring humanity back to the relationship he meant for us to have with him and with each other. The world and its people would not remain broken forever.

Restoration.

All of creation has been waiting for it ever since the promise was made.

The birth of a baby, Jesus of Nazareth, was the first part of its fulfillment. But we are still waiting for the world to be restored to original glory and us along with it. We are still waiting to be restored to complete fellowship with God when our faith in the invisible will turn into truly seeing God as he is.

The skies remain empty—we do not yet see the promised Jesus returning as our King. We do not yet see a new heaven or a new earth. But we watch, we wait, and we hope. We will not be deceived again. We will keep holding tight to our faith that every word God says is true.

We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:20-21 NLT).

Our world is a mess, God, but we see signs of your restoration all around us. We sometimes see truth, justice, mercy and goodness in our world–and we taste heaven. But we want more. We want Jesus. Come again, Lord Jesus. We welcome you into our hearts, and our world, this Christmas. 

Second Sunday of Advent: Faith in the Invisible

InvisibleGrowing up, my favorite game was hide-and-seek, especially the hiding part. I remember one time, I discovered a hiding place so clever that at the end of the round, I was the only player left who could not be found. “We give up!” came the defeated cry of my opponents. Everyone had joined in on the futile search, and I was declared the triumphant winner. With pride I wriggled out of my hiding spot and allowed praise for my powers of invisibility to flow.

hidden

Kids like the idea of invisible powers, but as children become adults, it’s easy to put aside imagination and wonder, merely focusing on what can be seen with the eye. This, however, is not the call of faith. We read the following in Hebrews 11:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (ESV*)

Two thousand years ago, there were people who chose to have faith in things they could not prove with their eyes. Here are just a few acts of faith surrounding the birth of Christ:

  • Mary believed the angel who told her she would conceive a child without sexual intimacy.
  • Joseph believed the angel who told him that Mary had become pregnant through no act of infidelity.
  • The shepherds believed that the baby in the manger was God come to bring peace on earth.
  • The Magi followed a star in the sky, having faith that it would lead them to the promised King.
  • The wise men heeded the dream that told them King Herod would, indeed, try to kill Jesus.
  • When Jesus was presented in the temple at eight days old, Simeon had faith that the redemption of Israel had come.
  • Joseph, responding to the angel’s warning, escaped to Egypt with Mary and Jesus until Herod died.
Wild, crazy, radical faith. In spite of science and reason, all of these individuals embraced the word of God, even if it didn’t make sense or resulted in hardship. Faith runs deep throughout the Christmas story.

As we light the second candle of Advent, the same invitation of faith is extended to us. We choose to have faith that Jesus is God in human form. We choose to have faith that he came as a baby, became a man, died and rose for our sins, and is coming again. It is by faith that we enter the kingdom of God.

This year, I give thanks for the invisible gifts in my life. For Faith, for Hope, for Love. What are the invisible gifts in your life? What are the promises of God that you choose to have faith in this Christmas? Please share below.

Written by Heidi Sadler. © 2015, Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved. *The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2011

Two Huge Surprises

by Laura Loffredo

An amazing event occurred at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Zachariah the priest was visited by an Angel of the Lord with the startling news that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were finally to become parents in their old age.  Their baby son was to be named John and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and become a prophet in the spirit of Elijah proclaiming the glory of the coming Messiah.  This was heady news for the old priest.

Then another surprise came when an unexpected guest arrived on their doorstep. Out of the blue, Elizabeth’s cousin from several days’ journey appeared at their home.  Mary, a very young woman, was also with child.  Age-wise the two women were much like grandmother and granddaughter.  Incredibly, when the two women greeted, their unborn babes greeted also with baby John sharply saluting his Lord!  It confirms that we have souls from conception. It was clearly the servant saluting his master; the subject bowing to his King–from the womb! “At the sound of your greeting the babe leaped in my womb,” said Elizabeth to Mary.

Neither text nor e-mail informed Elizabeth of Mary’s motherhood.  The heads-up had been instantly relayed directly from the Holy Spirit Himself.  She was deeply touched to receive Mary, “The Mother of my Lord,” into her home.  Their son, John, was to become the divinely appointed Forerunner of the glorious King, preparing the way for Israel to repent and reconcile to God so they would be ready to receive Messiah with all their hearts.  

Mary came to visit because theologians believe her mother died when she was growing up so it prompted her to seek her favorite cousin to share the news of the angel’s visit.  Besides, Mary had learned that Elizabeth was already six months along.  Perhaps she wanted to be of assistance to her elderly cousin while in her advanced stages of pregnancy.  How enriching it must have been for those two dear ones to spend time together. We can only imagine how they must have harmonized day and night in praise to God, and spent joyous days cooking, talking, and giggling while Zachariah passed in their midst, smiling along, but nary a word of interruption!

In later years, the two cousins, Jesus and John, so close in age must have enjoyed being together in Jerusalem every year – playing games with the other children and then the two lively boys would  slip away to find some tree to climb.

At the River Jordon, John did not rely on what he had been told growing up regarding his cousin Jesus, but waited until the Holy Spirit confirmed it within him.  At which time he uttered the words with great confidence, “Behold, the Lamb of God” with not a doubt in his mind!  He loved his cousin and was thrilled to take a lesser place to Him. “He must increase, while I must decrease.”

Truly, love makes all the difference in a relationship; so let us love Jesus with our whole hearts as we approach the season and all it means to the world.

First Sunday of Advent: Hope with Flesh On

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

My family will light the first Advent candle before our dinner tonight, launching the season’s countdown to glory. We will track Mary’s journey to the stable each night in December, lighting candles in her wake until our dining room is ablaze in celebration of the Light of the World born in us.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;

Babies are waited for and birthed every day of the year. They are a miracle we take in stride as if there’s nothing preposterous about atoms turning into flesh with souls. Every baby birthed is the sign of Divinity at work, but only one baby born was Divinity himself. His human birth opened the door for our spiritual birth as children of God.

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Mighty God and Eternal Father in the form of the most vulnerable member of humanity? We hardly know how to see him as one of our own. Yet someone had to carry him around before he could sit up and crawl–and make the lame walk. His mother had to nurse him before he could feed himself–and thousands more with a few loaves of bread.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Child we anticipate at Christmas was one of the kids in the neighborhood, at home among us in every way possible. He was so much like us that many did not recognize his Divinity. But for all who look for him and welcome this Child as Immanuel, God with us, he becomes our greatest hope with flesh on.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

During this season of Advent, we will remember how our hopes were fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus. We will also renew our confident hope that he is coming again as promised. Join us here through the next few weeks as we look for him in the midst of our human lives like his–and get ready to welcome him again when he brings heaven to earth and is “God with us” forever!

References: Isaiah 9:2, 6; John 1:14; Romans 15:13 (New Living Translation)

Grace Kids: God always keeps his promises

promises

Since my children first began to make requests, and I had to start saying “no,” I have been careful to avoid the words, “I promise!”

“Mom, will you read to me?”
“I can’t right now.” The child looks disappointed. “But when I’m done with clean-up, I’ll read to you. I promise!”

“Let’s go on an ice cream date, Mama!”
“That sounds special! But dad is waiting for us at home.” More disappointment. “I’ll take you next weekend, though. I promise!”

I know how robust my kids’ memories are, and how flabby mine is. I know life happens and good ideas don’t always become reality. Children don’t forget promises. Adults usually do. We’ve all heard the complaints from children whose parent didn’t follow through: “But Mom! You promised!

Instead of saying, “Yes of course…I promise!” to my kids, I like to say, “Let’s do that after dinner. Will you please remind me if I forget?” or “I would love to do that, but I don’t know if it will work out. Let’s talk again tomorrow and see where we are at.”

But even though I am careful about making promises to my children, they still have big expectations of what I will do for them. I often disappoint them with careless words spoken in haste, or a weak memory that doesn’t come through in time.

This month we are teaching our Grace Kids that God ALWAYS keeps his promises.

God doesn’t need to be reminded of what he promised. And he doesn’t have to avoid making promises either. Whether it is a promise for today, or a promise we look forward to in our futures, we can be confident that he won’t ever forget what he said. He has every intention to fulfill his promises, and the power to do so, too!

If you are a parent like me who struggles to do what you say, let your weakness be a beacon of hope that points your children to their dependable, trustworthy, and kindhearted Father. When you fail to keep a promise, set it right by reminding your kids that though you will probably keep forgetting, God incredibly never will!

God, thank you that your words to me are never empty. Thank you for remembering what you tell me, and remembering what I ask you–even when I don’t remember that myself! I am so glad you remember me. Remind me of your promises, and give me eyes to see the ways you remember me and fulfill your words to me every day.

Grace Kids: Love as an Identity

God loves us and he wants us to love each other!

This is the theme for our children’s program in August. It is the truth we want sinking deep into our children’s hearts at Grace Bible Church, but it’s the truth we all need to hear again and again: God loves us–God loves you! God loves me! 

I used to think that being loved by God was the fuel I needed to love others. If I really grasped what it meant to be loved by God I would be motivated to love him back and love others, too. It was a sort of deal I had with God, a return on his investment in my life. “Look at the way you loved me by giving everything to me in Jesus. The least I could do in return is love whoever crosses my path today…”

But I have found this to be a heavy burden, one I am not fit to carry. I blunder it time and again. When I’m honest, I have to admit that my motivation to pay my debts flounders. Sometimes it seems like a great idea to give God all by serving others in love; sometimes I’d rather not think about it. What does it mean to love others anyway? Sometimes I simply forget.

There will always be obstacles that hinder our drive to do the good things we think we should do. But is that the purpose of God’s love for us? Is it meant to be a motivator?

Or is God’s love meant to be my identity?

I’m starting to understand that “beloved” is the foundation of who I am and all I am becoming. As I live my days loved by God, I am gaining the freedom I need to love others with kindness, warmth and generosity, without fear of what’s in it (or not!) for me. Being “beloved” of God is softening the hard edges of my soul and producing a care for others I didn’t know was possible. “We love because he first loved us,” writes John (1 John 4:19). This isn’t an obligatory love. It’s a love that comes out of who we are, something birthed–and sustained–by God’s Spirit in us.

Our children are growing taller each day and each day they are taking in truths–and not truths–that are shaping their identities. Would you join me in praying this month that our Grace kids would believe the truth that they are deeply loved by God? Would you pray that they would be marked by God’s love in a way that will make them a source of love in their families and the communities they are growing up in? Thank you for remembering our children and all the ways you speak blessing into their lives!

Psalm 90:17

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

In 2006 I travelled to Jordan with a group of friends.  I had the opportunity of standing atop Mt. Nebo, the highest portion of the mountain range opposite Jericho where Moses stood and surveyed the land of Canaan before he died and was buried in a secret place on that mountain.  I gave a short message, looking into the faces of my friends, including my wife and my parents.  I told them that we were on a spiritual journey, following in the footsteps of Moses himself.

“Not because we drove from Petra to Nebo, loosely following the route that Israel would have trekked through ancient Moab, but because we’ve been saved from the slavery of sin and guilt, are in a wilderness, and expect to enter a land promised to us—heaven itself.”

After peering through the clouds that hovered over the mountain range that day I asked the group to look down at the ground beneath their feet.  “As much as Moses stood here and saw the land of Canaan stretching out before him, from “Beersheba to Dan,” he also saw what you see right now, the earth he lived on, and would die on.  That land, on the other side of the Jordan, was still promised to him, but this land is where he would ie.  Only a person on a genuine and therefore divine, spiritual journey is able to reconcile those two truths.”

Our Jordanian guide had paid rapt attention, and was visibly moved.  He later told me this was the first time he had ever heard a touring pastor speak of the relationship of the two lands—Moab beneath Moses feet, the promised land before his eyes.  Most of the time, he told me, religious tourists stand on that spot, on tip toe, leaning forward, cameras on landscape settings, fully zoomed to capture pictures of the city of Jericho, the hills of Judea, and the northernmost tip of the Dead Sea.  They are not concerned about the land beneath their feet, but are wholly fixed on the land beyond.  I know Moses saw that land, too.  I think he must have looked down at some point, too, and seen that reddish, gravelly, loam of Moab beneath his feet.  It was land, but not the land he’d spent the past four decades travelling to.  He could see that Promised Land, but had been told it was not yet to be his.  His heart was over there; he’d spent the past 38 years assuming he’d die there, but the Lord who saved a baby in a wicker basket, a murderer from the law, and a nation from slavery would not save his leader from death outside the land of promise.  Moses’ feet would touch that land on another day, in another time, but on that day, he could only see where he would one day live.  He died there, in Moab, outside of the land, in the wilderness—along with his stubborn-hearted, troublesome, rebellious, law-breaking, idol worshiping, Moabite-loving people.

We all stand on this lump of clay called earth, and one day we will return to the dust from which we came—the earth will receive our bodies.  Our part in God’s great work will be suspended for a season, and then resumed when He awakens us.  There will be no immediately discernible difference between those who were blessed with simple longevity of physical life and those who chose to persevere in a life of following Jesus,  but upon a closer look you’ll be able to tell those who persevered:  Their hands and feet will bear all the marks, grime, and scars of a long wilderness journey, and their eyes will burn with a glow that comes from a lifetime of gazing intently into a distant, but Promised Land.

Father, show me Your favor today–as You already have in saving me in Christ, so continue to save me today from sin and all that would take my eyes off of You, and the wonderful promise of eternal life You have given me.  let my actions and words today be the kind that You can confirm as good and righteous, and able to be used by You for Your glory and for the blessing of those around me!  Amen.