31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 28

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 23rd (Again)
“God with Us”

Matthew 1:20b – 21 (NLT) – [Angel to Joseph] “For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

This particular reading selection was so powerful for me that I couldn’t move past it too quickly.  It deserved two days of response.  It really deserves much more…

Ann Voskamp writes so beautifully on pages 234 – 235, “God can’t stay away.  This is the love story that has been coming for you since the beginning…He is the God who is so for us that He can’t stay away from us…the God who so likes us, the God who is so for us that He is the God who chooses to be with us…He disarms Himself of heaven so that you can take Him in arms on earth…He comes as a baby because He’s done with the barriers.  He comes vulnerable because He knows the only way to intimacy with you is through vulnerability with you.  You can’t get to intimacy except through the door of vulnerability…What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us?” [Emphasis mine]

“He comes as a baby because He’s done with barriers.”  Do you hear that?  Say it out loud to yourself, “God is done with barriers!”  He wants nothing less than all of us.  And He brings nothing less than all of Himself to us.  No more fig leaves of shame, no more hiding, no more running, no more pretending, no more fear, no more performing.  Only receiving.  Only believing.  Only resting.  Only abiding in Love.

From the moment in the Garden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, when sin entered in, He’s been coming for us.  He’s never taken His eye off the prize.  His desire has never waned and He’s never missed an opportunity to Love.  He holds back nothing from His beloved.  On page 233 Ann writes, “God always gives God…We can always have as much of God as we want.”

We on the other hand, have been too worried about the right and the wrong of it all when the Truth is the point is the Life and death of us all.  We’ve always misunderstood what was at stake.  Instead of looking for Him, we’ve been looking to be right, on our own terms.  The pursued has pursued everything except Life.

Advent, His coming, is Life.  To choose anything else is death.

In this season, in this moment He’s coming for you.  How much of the infinite God of Love do you want?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 27

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 23rd
“God with Us”

Matthew 1:18 – 21 (NLT)18This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  19Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.  20As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

In yesterday’s post I discussed how saying ‘Yes’ to God, may be simple, but isn’t always easy.  Making room for God doesn’t always mean a nice and tidy story.  Opening yourself up to the Divine and being willing for God to birth new and wonderful things in life can be extremely messy and painful.  And not just for you.

In this story of Mary the mother of Jesus, there’s a completely innocent bystander—Joseph.  She said ‘Yes’ to God after she’d already said ‘Yes’ to Joseph.  But this story isn’t just about God in Flesh coming through a woman for His people.  He had handpicked Joseph too.  He was coming for Joseph.

Remember those verses in this series that demonstrated just how God had very specifically chosen the lineage of Christ?  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Rahab, Ruth, David—this line of foreigners, liars, cheaters, prostitutes and adulterers.  Joseph was the end of the line before Jesus.  He was chosen by God to care for the one God was coming through.

Chosen by God, and he almost said no.

The verses above tell us that Joseph was a good man.  He was going to obey the Law and put away his pregnant-out-of-wedlock fiancée, but he wasn’t going to humiliate her before their entire community.  He was going to break things off quietly.  He was going to say no because that’s what right, proper religious folk in his day would do.  Proper religious people of God.

But then an angel appeared to him and gave him a different way of looking at things.  The angel reminded him of who he was, a man of royal blood, a son of David, a descendant of kings.  He spoke straight to the concern on Joseph’s mind—fear.  Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I believe if fear is the emotion the angel addressed it’s the emotion that was overwhelming Joseph.

Fear caused him to almost say no to Jesus, the God of his Salvation.  Fear always causes us to miss God with Us.  But God with Us, Perfect Love, casts aside all fear.  But we must say yes to Love, Himself.

What about us?  In this season of Advent, in this every single day-ness of Advent, can we lay aside our right, religious perspective and see how God might be birthing Life right here in new and unexpected ways?  Is the fear of punishment going to keep us from God with Us?  Is the wrongness of our circumstances going to cause us to remain blind to the Righteousness that comes for us in every moment?

All is grace.  Every moment is Advent.

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 26

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 22nd
“Be A Dwelling Space for God”

Luke 1:28, 38 (NLT)[To Mary] “Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’…Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.”

Ann Voskamp writes on page 221, “Mary—she opens her hands and she nods.  And the promises come true in the space of her surrender—the pod of the Most High God lodging within her willing yes.  Beneath her heart—in one yielded space—beats the thrumming love of God.  There is no need to produce or perform or perfect—simply become a place for God.  That is all.”

And by one woman’s surrendered yes to God the Word was conceived and made flesh and Salvation was birthed in this realm—this realm of time, space, bodies and souls.  This realm of the messy.  This realm of the fallen and the broken.  This realm desperate for saving.

Becoming a place for God was simple, it just took a one syllable word, but it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  With that one word, Mary didn’t just surrender her body to God (as if that weren’t enough), she surrendered her future, her reputation, her relationships and her name.

The favor of God on this precious, obedient young woman, looked like an opportunity to be rejected, shamed and abandoned for being pregnant outside of marriage.  As a mother of teenage girls I can’t imagine having the conversation with one of my girls that Mary must have had with her parents.  In her culture, the price for her yes could have been very high indeed.

Sometimes answering the invitation by God to make room for Him in our lives is simple, but it is rarely easy.  Sometimes making room for God brings conflict.  Sometimes it brings rejection.  Sometimes it brings misunderstanding.  But it always brings life and it always bears fruit.

Mary responded yes to the coming of God in the flesh.  She made room for Advent.  What about you, are you willing to simply make space for God when He comes for your heart?  Are you willing to be a vessel that births new life?  Even if it isn’t easy or convenient?

31 Days of Advent in October :: Day 25

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

Photo Credit: Sophie Pope

The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 21st
“The Preparations Are Already Done”

Matthew 3:3 (NLT)“The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, ‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!  Clear the road for him!’”

Ann Voskamp writes on page 211, “Rest happy and love this story of a coming King who prepares the downtrodden for Christmas by becoming the Way, who lays Himself down in the crèche, on the Cross, so we can lie down and rest.  You are unconditionally accepted and unbelievably wanted because you don’t merely know of Him; you are related to Him by blood…You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”

This, friends, is the beautiful truth of the Gospel, that because the Word became flesh, because Grace came TO us and laid Himself down FOR us, we can rest IN Him.  We are free to give up all pretense and performance and celebrate that the Good News really is Good News!  The Gift really is free and when we receive it, we really are free.

In this season of Advent can you simply receive the Gift?

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to simply receive a gift?  To say thank you and enjoy the gift for what it is without feeling compelled to do something in return requires humility.  For the most part, we don’t do humility well.

Often when someone gives me something, especially when it’s not my birthday or anniversary or Christmas, I struggle to receive it and appreciate it for what it is without somehow feeling the need to reciprocate the gift giving in some way.  Instead of enjoying the moment and appreciating that someone thought enough of me to give me something they thought would bless me, my mind will start thinking of ways to do something in return to prove how grateful I am.  When I do this I rob myself and the giver of the joy of the moment.

If we are not careful, we can do this with the Gospel as well.  When I turn receiving the Gift into a performance to show how much I appreciate the gift or how much I deserve the gift, I cheapen it.  I turn the Gift into a wage, into payment for a debt when I think I have to perform in order to demonstrate I was worth the effort.

Today, can you humbly receive the Gift of Messiah and rest in the Truth that He’s enough?

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.