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?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 17

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

I would like to pause here for just a minute in this 31 Day series on Advent to simply say how much I am enjoying this experience.  While each day my writing has been in response to a reading selection from Ann Voskamp’s new book, “The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas”, I don’t want anyone to miss the fact that the book itself is AMAZING and so worth reading.

Every day’s reading selection takes me on a journey of not only seeing how beautifully and clearly Christ has been coming for mankind since before the beginning, but He’s been coming for ME since before the beginning.  There aren’t adequate words to describe the overwhelming sense of God’s great Love for me, for all of us, as I sit down to read and write each day.

I didn’t want this series to appear in any way rote or mechanical or as just a writing exercise.  For me it’s been a beautiful experience as Jesus and I sit down each day to read and then create art together.

I also want to say thank you for joining me on this journey, whether you read one post or all the posts.  Traveling together is always more fun.

Amen.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 16

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 13th
“Looking on Hearts”

I Samuel 16:7b (NLT)“People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In the story of the prophet Samuel seeking out the son of Jesse to anoint as king, the Bible tells us that seven of Jesse’s sons appeared before Samuel and the Lord rejected them all as the next potential king.  Even though to the human eye they may all have seemed to be future-king-material, God said no.  Samuel had to ask Jesse if he had other sons before it was revealed that the youngest was not there.

David, the youngest son of Jesse, was overlooked and unseen, except by God.  God knew David wasn’t there.  In fact, God knew exactly where David was the whole time – he was out faithfully tending his father’s sheep.  It seems to me God could have sent Samuel straight to David and bypassed the whole parade of rejection of Jesse’s other seven sons.

But God was making a point.  God is always making a point.  He’s always speaking, He’s always wooing, He’s always calling, and He’s always coming.

That day God was coming for David.  He was calling him because even then, David was a man after God’s own heart.  Even in the everyday ordinariness of the pasture, God took notice.  God always takes notice.

Have you ever felt forgotten and unseen in the mundane, ordinary things of life, in your own version of sheep tending?  Have you ever felt like you were missing out on the party while you were busy doing laundry or changing diapers?  Have you ever wondered if there is anything more than the pasture you’re currently in?

God hasn’t missed a thing.  He sees you, right now in your holy ordinary and He’s coming for you.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 15

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 12th
“Every Little Thing Is Going to Be Okay”

Ruth 1:16b (NLT)“Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Yesterday’s post in response to the reading selection for December 11th in Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, talked about God coming for Rahab the prostitute.  Later in Scripture we find out that Rahab marries a man from the tribe of Judah named Salmon, a leader of the tribe.  To me one of the interesting things about Rahab and Salmon is their son, Boaz.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz becomes Ruth’s redeemer and husband.  This son of a former Jericho-ite and prostitute has mercy on a Moabite woman and saves her from a life of poverty, loneliness, abuse, slavery and even potentially death in a land of strangers.  Rahab the former prostitute became the mother-in-law of Ruth, the Moabitess.

And in that one act of mercy and love, the Sovereign God of all creation beckoned a daughter, an alien and a stranger, into His own family.  Love welcomed her in, enveloped her and transformed the life of this young widow.  She left behind a past of despair and death and entered the genealogy of the Redeemer who was still to come.

The genealogy of Jesus Christ was no accident.  The people, men and women, in his lineage were all humans (in every sense of the word) chosen at their specific points in time to carry forth the seed of the Christ, the coming Messiah.  And in every generation, in every life, in every moment God was proclaiming, “Jesus is Coming, Jesus is Coming!”

Can you hear it echoing in your heart even now?  He’s coming for you.  All of you – the good, the bad and the ugly.  In the middle of your own messy, painful Rahab or Ruth story, He sees, and He’s coming for you.  Absolutely nothing, not any person nor any circumstance, is beyond His reach.  Don’t give up, He’s still coming.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 14

Foster Bible Pictures 0084-1 Rahab Helping the...

Foster Bible Pictures 0084-1 Rahab Helping the Two Israelite Spies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 11th
“A Scarlet Lifeline of Hope”

Joshua 2:1,18 (NLT)1Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, ‘Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.’ So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night. …18‘When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house.’”

I love the story of Rahab, for several reasons.  While Scripture tells us that Joshua sent the spies to scout things out before the Israelites came in and conquered Jericho, I think God had other motivations for sending them.  I realize I am going out on a limb here, but I think God sent those two spies so that Rahab the prostitute and all of her family would be saved from the total destruction that was coming their way.

God looked down and saw a woman in a hopeless situation and right in the middle of her circumstances He showed up to rescue her.  He had already announced His coming to her:

Joshua 2: 9 – 11 (NLT)[Rahab told the spies] “’I know the Lord has given you this land,’ she told them. ‘We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. 10 For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. 11 No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.’”

She heard Him declare who He was through His mighty acts and she believed.  She simply believed and it gave her the courage to ask for mercy.  With those simple acts of faith a prostitute and her family were saved.  And a prostitute married into the family of Judah and became part of the genealogy of the still coming King, Jesus.

Many teachers and Bible scholars work hard to explain that either Rahab wasn’t really a prostitute or the Rahab listed in Jesus’ genealogy is not the same one as the prostitute in Joshua.  The idea of a prostitute, a dirty, unholy woman being in the lineage of Christ seems incomprehensible to some.

Why do we have to make things fit into our clean, nice, neat boxes marked “Christian” for us to believe they are God?  Life is hard.  People are messy.  Relationships often don’t make sense.  We are broken, some of us are just better at hiding it than others.

We are all the liar, cheater, and prostitute who needs Jesus.  Not only do we need Him, He wants us.  He desires relationship with us.  In fact, He’s died for it.

Do you hear Love calling your name and declaring Himself for you?  Announcing His coming for your heart, right this very minute?  Love is coming, believe it!

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 13

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 10th
“Covenant of Love”

Deuteronomy 5:29 (NASB)[The Lord said,] “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”

Page 89 of The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp writes, “The Ten Commandments are more than God saying, ‘Here is My Law for you’ –they are God saying, ‘Here is My love for you.’”

Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, has some interesting things to say about the Old Testament Law that give us perspective from this side of the Cross.  To boil it down, the Law was very good at pointing out that God’s people could not keep the standard (it was right there pointing the finger every time they made a mistake), but it was powerless to help them actually keep it.  In fact, in Romans it says that the Law provokes sin.  In other words, when I hear “Don’t” on some level I immediately want to “Do”.

Paul goes on to tell us that the problem wasn’t with the Law, it was in us.  With our old, pre-Christ, dead-to-God spirits, there was nothing available to us to help us keep God’s standards.  All we could ever do was try…and fail.

However, Believers, with our new, Christ in us, alive-to-God spirits, we have everything we need pertaining to life and godliness.  God has given us new hearts and has even written His Law ON our hearts.  Christ in us empowers us to live as children of the living God.  God has taken up residence in us to do what we never could apart from Him.

Prior to the crucifixion of Christ, God’s people had an external righteousness that depended on what they did.  Believers in Christ have the righteousness of Christ, not based on what we do, but who we are.

So why the Law?  If Christ in us the hope of glory is what God desired all along, why were there 2000 years of Law?  Why all the frustration of never being able to 100% measure up and meet the standard?

Because just like in the Garden it’s about God pursuing a relationship with mankind.  It’s a Love story and you can’t just skip to the end.  Just like us, He wants to be chosen.  Two thousand years of Law created a lot of longing and desire in mankind’s heart for not just a remedy, but a Savior and a relationship.  He wanted us to know for certain that apart from Him we could do nothing.

On page 92 Ann continues, “God gives the commandments to us—and God gives God to keep the commandments for us.  God gives us the love at the top of Sinai, and He staggeringly keeps our commitment to love at the top of Calvary.”

He’s been pursuing us, His beloved, since the beginning and even the Law proclaimed Advent.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 12

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 9th
“Never Undone”

Genesis 50:20 (NLT)“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

The words above were spoken by Joseph to his brothers toward the end of his story.  At the point where he could look back over his life and see how a beautiful tapestry had been woven out of a  lot of really ugly thread.

Where are you in your story right now?  Are you in a place others intend for harm?  Are you hated, persecuted, and misunderstood by those closest to you?  Are you misrepresented by others?  Has the presence of God in your life caused your own pride to swell?  Are you in bondage in some way, not free to move about on your own?  Have you been falsely accused?  Are you far from home, alone in a place where you don’t know the customs and don’t even speak the language?  Do you have a dream deep in your heart that’s buried under lots of rejection, confusion, fear and doubt?  Do you have a sense that there’s more to your story, but you feel so far removed from the main plot that it hurts too much to think about?

At one time or another we’ve all been able to identify with one of these situations, if not all of them.  That’s why I love the story of Joseph, it’s so RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.  Ultimately, Joseph delivered his entire family and preserved the clan that was going to spend about 400 years in slavery while they became a nation of people.  A nation of people God has used to demonstrate His Love to the world.

A nation of people who would welcome their Messiah and hail their God in the Flesh King…oh wait…that’s not how the story goes.  The delivered nation didn’t welcome their Deliverer.  The saved didn’t welcome their Savior.  Instead they become the haters, the persecutors and the misrepresenters.  They falsely accused and even followed through on their murderous plot –even Joseph’s brothers, or at least one of them, drew the line at murder.

But when it looked its darkest and the slain body of the Word made flesh was sealed in the tomb, the stone was rolled away and Salvation emerged – it came for all the haters, persecutors, misrepresenters, liars, and murderers – for me.

When things looked their worst, Love conquered sin and all things worked together for good.

Right now, wherever you are in your journey, all of it, every single bit, God intends for good, for you and others.

Can you trust Him?  Will you stop grasping for control and demanding rights?  Can you say, “Amen” and extend your arms to receive Love?

He intended it from the beginning.  He saw all of your days before there was one of them and He’s been coming for your heart in every single one – even in the hard and the ugly ones.  Every moment is Advent.