31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 24

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 20th
“When All the Miracles Begin”

Luke 1:6-7, 13-14, 17 (NLT)6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old… 13 But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,… 17 ‘He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.’”

We know from the next several verses that Zechariah questions the angel and asks for evidence that this will happen…in other words he doubts what the angel says.  The sign that the angel gives Zechariah is that he is mute until his son, John–the promise of the goodness of God to this righteous couple–is born.

Why is it so hard sometimes to believe God wants to be good to us?  Why is it easier to believe that life has always been hard and ugly and it always will be?  Why do we allow our circumstances to dictate our view of God instead of the Truth?

Honestly, I know why it was hard for Zechariah to believe the angel.  God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the Most High God, YHWH had been silent for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS.  There had not been one true prophet, there had not been one deliverer, there had not been one angelic appearance in four centuries.  There had only been one long, hard, dry silence.

But the silence was a statement.  And people like you and me didn’t know what to think about it.  So instead of remembering all the faithfulness of God and His calls to return to Him and His desire to love them, they chose to believe a lie.  The lie that God had abandoned them; the lie that God is not good; the lie that His mercies fail; the lie that He is not longsuffering; the lie that He did not love them.

Sometimes Love lets us reap the consequences of our choices.  While God did not speak during those four hundred years, He continued to communicate His faithfulness and Love – the sun rose and set every day; rain came and watered the earth; crops grew; herds reproduced; babies were born; all of creation sang His praise and pointed the eyes of God’s people upward from where their help would come.

And in the inner spaces of the Temple at the end of the silence, an angel declared and a righteous man forgot.  He forgot Love.

I’ve often read the story of how Zechariah was mute and thought it was the punishment of God for His unbelief.  But as I reconsider it, I wonder if his muteness wasn’t a gift.  A gift that kept him from talking himself out of the miracle.

Have you ever talked yourself into misery?  Have you ever rehearsed your doubt out loud so long that nothing could convince you otherwise?

In the centuries of silence, in the barrenness of a land, in the fruitlessness of a womb and in the muteness of a tongue God was still declaring Advent – Your Messiah Is Coming!  And it reverberated throughout the universe loud enough for all to hear.

What about you?  Are you in a dry or barren season?  Are the echoes of your own doubt all you can hear?  What if you could take a deep breath, pray for the grace to receive and just simply ask God what He’s speaking to your heart right in the middle of your desert?  Are you willing to hear what He has to say?    I bet it sounds like Advent.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 23

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 19th
“Watching for Him Who Is Enough”

Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.”

I love the title of this reading selection, “Watching for Him Who Is Enough.”  Habakkuk lived during the reign of King Josiah in Judah.  King Josiah was the last “good” king of Judah.  He loved God, obeyed Him and sought to restore Judah to a nation that served the living God.  But King Josiah could only uphold righteousness, he couldn’t change anyone’s heart.  So the people of Judah followed their own hearts and not God’s.

The prophet Habakkuk was deeply troubled by the wickedness of Judah and cried out to God in this little three chapter book.  In the verse above Habakkuk states that he will stand on his watchtower looking and waiting for the Lord to respond.  He knows that His God will respond, so he climbs to his post in expectancy of an answer that only His God could give.

A little further in Habakkuk 2:4b (NASB) reads, “But the righteous will live by his faith.”  Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) gives us some perspective on what faith means, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Habakkuk’s faith assured Him that his cries to God would not go unanswered.  He knew His righteous God and he expectantly waited for Him to respond.  And that was enough for Habakkuk.

In Habakkuk’s lifetime the spiritual condition of Judah declined greatly and so did its physical condition.  Famine swept through the land and the threat of enemy attack shook Habakkuk to the core.  And Habakkuk didn’t even live to see just how bad things eventually got for Judah—three sieges and 70 years of captivity in Babylon.

But right in the middle of it, Habakkuk put his trust in the Unseen God and prayed, “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.  The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places,” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

Habakkuk knew that no matter what terrible circumstances he found himself in, His God was faithful and His God was enough.  He was so convinced of God’s goodness and love that he was able to praise God in the middle of all of it.  Circumstances may or may not change, God does not.  He is always faithful.  He is always enough.

What about you?  Is faith in the God who comes for your heart enough?  Is He enough even if your circumstances never change?  What if they even appear to get worse?  Is it possible that the roar of your circumstances is the sound of an infinite God coming for you? Is the thunder of the storm the sound of His voice echoing through eternity, “I love you”?  How will you respond?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 22

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 18th
“Come to the King”

Esther 4:16 (NLT)  “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”

God is not mentioned by name in the book of Esther, but can His presence be denied?  Esther was one of the last books to be accepted and approved and included in the canon of Scripture.  Many argued that to be included in God’s holy book, then a book should at least mention His name once.  Why are we always trying to make things fit?  Why do we continually look for reasons NOT to believe?

Is it really easier for us to believe that an entire nation of people were saved by coincidence than it is to believe in a Sovereign God Who rules and reigns from On High?

On page 180 Ann writes, “Esther hears the Mordecai message, and it does something to her…Esther puts herself in the place of those outside the gate and makes herself the bridge to the King.  And the woman given gifts for such a time as this—she risks her position for the people.  If I perish, I perish.”

Esther was in a particular time and place for the purposes of God.  She may have been a queen, but few would be willing to follow the path she took to get there—she had no father or mother, she was raised with relatives in exile in enemy territory, and she was kept under guard in the royal palace, and then endured the long process of the king’s selection of a new queen.  Her life was not her own.  She was not free in a physical sense, but she had a choice.

Esther decided to risk her life to go before the king.  Even as queen she was not given free access to him—she had to wait to be summoned.  Approaching the king without an invitation was an offense punishable by death.  By going to him Esther was accepting the very real possibility that she could die for her actions.

What a picture of Advent, the coming Messiah who would face death to become our bridge back to God.  She offered herself for those who had no access.  She submitted herself to possible death.  She approached the king to save her people.

The line that continued to carry forth the coming Messiah was preserved.

The Word made flesh arrived in His earth suit over four hundred years later.  And this Deliverer didn’t just spare our lives, He gave us new ones.  He didn’t just go to the King on our behalf He gave US full access to Him, too.  We no longer have to send representatives to God on our behalf, Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can “…draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”

We no longer have to wait for God to extend favor, He already has.  We just need to receive it and live like it’s true EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just when we feel like it’s true.  We ARE the beloved of God.

And those days when we choose to live less loved?  Don’t worry, it’s still the season of Advent.  He’s still coming not just for a piece of our heart, He’s coming for all of it.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 21

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 17th
“Lifting Up the Little and Small”

Micah 5:2 (NLT)“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.”

Messiah specializes in showing up in the little and the small – in a small, infant frame; through the smallness of a womb; in a little town; in a tiny manger.  And today He still seems to enjoy arriving in the lives of the little and the small.

Several years ago our oldest daughter, Liv Loo, the precious girl with the “make-stuff” bag , developed a bone disease that caused the entire head of her right femur to die.  As the bone died it crumbled in the joint and the cartilage collapsed around it.  She had multiple surgeries that left her with a terrible limp the summer before she entered into middle school.  She has since had surgery that corrected the limp, but those years were long, slow, and hard.

Every day as she got out of the car and I watched her limp into school my heart broke for her.  Being different in middle school can be devastating.  I remember well.  There are still memories from those years that make my throat tight, my chest heavy and my eyes water.  A friend recently said to me, “Once we leave middle school, I think we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from middle school.”

I knew things were hard for Liv Loo, but she never said a word.  Years later she shared about the loneliness and the whispers and the rejection.  But every day she got out of that car and bravely entered the fray.  Our Make Stuff Girl is made of strong stuff.

One day towards the end of the school year I got a call from her guidance counselor.  She shared with me through tears how another little girl in Liv’s class had back surgery a few weeks before.  Once the girl returned to school she needed help every day getting from class to class because she still couldn’t carry her own backpack.  Our Liv Loo, our little Make Stuff Girl, volunteered to help her friend every day get from class to class.  Their guidance counselor said she cried every time she saw them because watching little Liv, who struggled daily with her own burdens, take care of her friend was so precious and beautiful.

The small and the weak taking care of the small and the weak.  In the middle of those middle years, in the middle of crippling disease and a world made small by difference, Messiah came for the hearts of two broken, hurting girls.

In our smallness His coming is made more beautiful.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 20

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 16th
“The Gift of the Storm”

Jonah 3:2 (NLT) [The Lord said,] “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

I think we are all familiar with the story of Jonah.  The prophet God told to go to Nineveh, but quickly said no and ran the opposite way, got on a boat, found himself in a storm, and then found himself in a big fish.

On page 163 under “A Moment for Reflection” Ann asks, “When have you found yourself running from God?  How did He draw you back to Himself?”

I mentioned in a couple of posts early on in this series (Day 4 and Day 5) that my view of the Gospel was that it was a system for behavior management and that as long as I never made mistakes then God wasn’t going to be angry with me.

Let me translate that for you, I lived in fear that the God of all the universe was going to be angry with me if I wasn’t perfect.  I made the Gospel dependent on what I do, not what Jesus did and who I was because of it.

So my version of running from God wasn’t open rebellion (I didn’t literally run in the opposite direction like Jonah), it was hiding my true self.  I lived with a sense of not being accepted, of never measuring up to God’s perfect standard.  So when I would sense Him near instead of throwing wide my arms and receiving Love my insecurities and fear took over and I hid.  I had no idea that God wanted to be my Father, my Provider, my Protector, my Lover–I had taken on those roles for myself.  So in His presence, and in front of the whole world, I hid behind the masks of “Responsible Girl”, “Self-sufficient Girl” and “Good Girl.”

He just wanted me, all of me – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Not the fake mask version.

How did He finally draw me close?  He allowed the storms of life that brought me to the place where I no longer had the will or the energy to hold up those masks.  He brought me to brokenness and led me to surrender.  I fought Him every step of the way, but He wanted me 100% fully dependent on Him and absolutely nothing else.  He wanted me to finally see that JESUS IS ENOUGH.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a storm or even felt like you were in the belly of a fish and wondered what you did wrong and why you were being punished?  Would you be willing to consider the storm a little differently?  What if it’s not the anger of God you hear in the storm?  What if it’s simply the sound of God coming for your heart?  What if it’s the sound of Him fighting for you?

What if the storm is Advent too?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 19

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 15th
“Adore Him”

I Kings 18:21 (NLT)“Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, ‘How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!’ But the people were completely silent.”

In the verse above, given the choice of following the Living God and following a dead god, the people have no response.  They stand silent before the choices.  And in their silence they make a choice.  When we choose not to choose the Living God, we choose the imitation.  When I choose not to choose the Living God, I choose the imitation.  In silence I choose a less than life, I choose death.

When I choose silence I reject Love Himself, I reject full acceptance, I reject the gift of Life.  I say no to the One who said yes for me.

On page 150 in today’s reading selection Ann writes, “Jesus, the Gift, comes to give you freely through His passion what every other god forces you to get through your performance…Kneel here and behold only Him—the only place where you can receive the gift of acceptance, so the gods of acceptance have no hold on you.”

That day in I Samuel 18 God wasn’t asking His people to perform, He was simply asking them to believe.  To live like He was True, the One True God.  And He’s still asking the same question, “What do you believe?”

Do I believe that Jesus is the Gift?  Do I receive His gift of acceptance and live free from performance?  When I hear the echoes of Him coming for my heart do I choose to simply be the beloved of God, or do I feel compelled to perform for Him, to prove my value and worth?

Do I receive the Christ Who came for me as the Gift or do I treat Him as a debtor that needs to be repaid?

One of Ann’s questions under “A Moment for Reflection” on page 152 reads, “What emotions are evoked in you when you realize that God doesn’t expect you to perform for Him—that He has already given you everything?”

My honest response to that question is that I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I struggle to find words.  Right this very minute I am weeping over all the years I misunderstood the Gospel and jumped through hoop after hoop after hoop because I thought that’s what God expected of me.  I am weeping over all the ways I silently chose the gods of acceptance when I was already fully accepted by Love Himself.  Weeping over all the years I chose performance over worship.

But I am also weeping over how the Living God resurrects the dead and works all things together for my good, even a life time of performance.  I am celebrating that the Gospel really is Too Good To Be True, except that it is TRUE!

Today, in this moment of Advent, of His coming for you (and me) right this second, can you fully receive the Gift and simply respond in worship?  In this moment of decision, can you break the silence and choose the Living God?

How will you respond to Him?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 18

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 14th
“Light to Warm Us”

Isaiah 9:2 (NLT) “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”

I love Ann Voskamp’s words from page 140 of today’s reading selection:

“It’s Christmas that dawns on you, and you only really believe in Christmas when you really live it.  When you light a dark world and the unexpected places with a brave flame of joy; when you warm the cold, hopeless places with the daring joy that God is with us, God is for us, God is in us; when you are a wick to light hope in the dark – then you believe in Christmas.  When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone.  When you get Christmas, people get hope from you—they don’t lose it.

Unless you keep passing on the miracle of hope, you live like Christmas is a myth.”

The last line particularly resonates with me because the longer I live the more I am convinced that our behavior follows what we truly believe.  I may say I believe something, but if my behavior reflects something else entirely then I am only lying to myself…I may even be able to deceive a few around me, but the One who searches the heart, He knows the truth.  And He knows this Gospel He’s given is so much more than behavior management; it’s Life and it’s freedom.

If I am living like Christmas is a myth, if I am not passing on the miracle of hope, then I truly don’t believe at my core that the Messiah Himself came for me. I am not living as the beloved of God.  I may want to believe, I may like the idea of it, I may even be able to pretend I believe, but until I fully believe I am only living in the shadow of truth, not in Truth Himself.

The Truth is that Love came down and gave us the Way back to our true Love.  The Light of the world pierced my darkness and exchanged my existence for abundant Life on a cross.  When I truly believe the Truth and choose to abide in Love then passing on the miracle of hope is simply bearing eternal fruit.

Passing on the miracle of hope isn’t a call to action it’s a call to belief.  What do you believe?  Does the gospel of Love, all things made new, resurrection Life seem too good to be true?  Does it seem too risky to believe that there is only One Way, only One Truth?

In this season of Advent, in the anticipation of His coming for you—the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Savior—what do you believe?