Friday, December 30, 2011

A 365 Day Global Prayer Journey - Preparation Phase

Welcome to the start of an adventurous journey - a journey around the world. Whether this is your first time to pray for the world through a resource like Operation World, or whether you've made this journey many times, my prayer is that we will approach this trip with fresh eyes of faith and hearts ready to see God move.

As Moses begged for God's presence as he led the people through the wilderness, and as Ezra fasted and prayed for God's protection over the journey from Babylon back to Jerusalem, my prayer is for the Lord's presence on this journey. Truly, I want our prayer to be, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here." (Exodus 33:15).

That's why this morning, I spent time with God seeking Him about this venture, and praying for this group of people seeking to worship Him through prayer for the nations. The bad dreams I had last night were a fresh reminder that the enemy doesn't see prayer as unimportant. Indeed, he wants to stop us before we even get started. As one of my friends from church likes to say, "He doesn't know who he's messing with - we're King's Kids." Yes, indeed.

I'm a strong believer in God's sovereignty, and so I don't think it's any accident that in my Bible reading I started Joshua this morning. It's a great book about a great journey with a lot of warfare. I drew my prayers for our prayer team from this passage today. Please join me in praying over our trip from the outset from Joshua 1-3:

Lord, You have called us to a great journey. You told Joshua to get everyone ready to cross the Jordan. I'm praying that You will prepare me, prepare us, for this global journey. The enemy is already nipping at our heels, Lord, but You have promised to never leave us or forsake us. We don't know everything that is on the other side of this, Lord, but we know that we are claiming it all in Your name. Help us be strong, persevere, and maintain courage when things get hard. Help us to be obedient to the call - and Lord, help me be fully obedient to You. We know that our prayers are only heard through the blood of Christ, but we also know that sin hinders prayers. In those areas where my obedience is lacking, please convict me and guide me to deeper obedience so that my prayers are not hindered and I can effectively fulfill the calling You have given me to lead this precious group.

Lord, when Joshua's spies went into Jericho they found Rahab, a woman who knew that You had given the land to Israel. God, I pray today for you to raise up a host of people who truly believe that You have given the world to Your Son and that our part is to be faithful to the Great Commandment and Great Commission. I pray for people of faith to join us on this journey.

Lord, like Joshua, many of us have "never been this way before". Let us keep our eyes on the cross - our "ark of the covenant" - and follow Jesus. There are hosts of people in our circles of influence - our families and churches and workplaces - as well as random people who find this open blog and open group - who are watching to see what happens. Give us faith to step into the water, to stand like the priests in the river, and see You do mighty things that will inspire faith in others to venture into the arena of prayer for the nations.

In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.

Housekeeping notes:
- I will generally use either New American Standard or English Standard versions when a literal translation is important, and NIV 1984 or New Living translations for devotional or reflective purposes when it does not affect the literal meaning of the passage. Keeping in mind that it was the original languages that were inspired, and all translations have strengths and weaknesses, I will occasionally use a variety of translations to help us gain a sense of a passage.
- When an in-depth word study is needed, I use the following primary sources:
* The Word Study Concordance (an updated version of The Englishman's Greek Concordance), edited by George V. Wigram and Ralph D. Winter
* The New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, edited by George V. Wigram
* The Septuagint with Apocrypha, edited by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, with the accompanying concordance, New Light From the Ancient Greek Bible, edited by George Morrish
* The Complete Word Study Dictionary and Concordance, Old & New Testaments edited by Spiros Zodhiates
* Word study tools and further resources available at and

About me:
Since many of those participating in this journey are new to this blog and I haven't previously known you I thought you might like a brief summary of who I am.

I am blessed first and foremost to be a worshipper of Jesus Christ. Although I grew up in church and a Christian family, I let the enemy's lies hold me captive until I was in my mid-20s. After several dark years which included an abusive relationship and divorce, God began to break through the darkness with His marvelous light. He guided me into marriage with an incredibly sweet man whom I've been privileged to share life with for 17 years. Jesus drew me to Himself with cords of love (Hosea 11:4) in such a way that I can't pinpoint when I fully committed my life to Him. Once I was His, He began opening my eyes to the world outside my doors - a big world that needs Him. Over time, He allowed me to return to school and obtain a master's degree in International Development with an emphasis in Global Civilization from William Carey International University. That's where this blog came from - the program challenged me to intentionally use my spiritual gifts in a missional way. Once I finished the program God gave me a season of rest and has now called me to this amazing and exciting assignment.

My husband and I live in the South/Midwest where I work at a major university and he works in the transportation industry. We attend church at Calvary Chapel. Our ministry passions include international students/immigrants (my husband's heart is for Hispanics; God has given me a heart for Muslim women, but we love to meet people from anywhere!), missions mobilization, hosting missionaries in our home, and feeding the hungry and helping widows & orphans in the poorest parts of the world, in sustainable ways that maintain dignity and facilitate development while communicating the Gospel. We believe that the Gospel message is clearest when it is wrapped in arms of love, love that in the words of Mother Teresa's order's missions vow, leads to "awakening their response to His great love."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A 365 Day Global Prayer Journey - Praying through Operation World in 2012

At the end of his challenging and convicting book Radical, pastor David Platt challenges the church in America to commit to a five-pronged experiment for the next year:
  • To pray for the entire world
  • To read through the entire Word
  • To commit our lives to multiplying community
  • To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose
  • To give our time in another context                            (Source:
Whether you've read Radical or not (and I do recommend it!), chances are if you have been a Christian very long and have sat under sound teaching, you've been challenged to at least a couple of these areas. Some of these areas will be profoundly personal and unique to your current situation; I do encourage you to find a Bible reading plan that works for you (download a Bible app or get daily emails if you are so inclined); seek God for the church He would have you commit to; for the places He wants you to give your money; and the context in which He would have you serve that is not native to you.

But today, I want to talk about a radical new adventure regarding the first challenge: Praying for the whole world

Does the thought of praying for the whole world in a year overwhelm you? Like many of us, you may have had failed starts. You might own a copy of a book, follow a website, or subscribe to a prayer group and find yourself falling behind and getting discouraged about effectively praying for the world. Or, you may look at all the facts and figures and issues and prayer emphases and just get overwhelmed by the "forest" and not know how to pray for the "trees". Let's face it: Operation World is a really, really big book. It can be hard to digest.

Let me encourage you today: You are not alone! We all struggle with feeling overwhelmed at the needs around us, and when God opens our eyes to His global purposes we sometimes get even more overwhelmed. However, I'm fully convinced that pressing through is worth it. I'm equally convinced based on Scripture that there is power in united prayer and that we are placed within the body of Christ in part to help each other perservere in the things God calls us to do.

And that's where I hope an idea I believe God has placed on my heart will connect with your desire to pray.

I would like to invite you to join me in praying through Operation World in 2012. Not just on our own, but together, through this blog. Interested? Read on for more about what this prayer journey will look like.

The Goal: Mobilize the church to pray through Operation World as a tool to get God's heart for sharing the good news of Jesus to every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group - resulting in a global band of worshippers glorifying God now and for eternity.

What we'll do: Every day as the Lord wills, I'll write a blog post and make it "live" at 12:01 a.m. Central time. That way it will be available for almost anyone during their morning quiet times. For those participants who are on the other side of the world, it will hit later in the day, but still on the same date. Anyone will thus be able to access the page at least once during the given date. (This means, of course, I will always have to be one day ahead of you all, but I'm sure God will count my prayers with yours for each day :) ).

Each blog post will break down a section of Operation World into a manageable chunk. There are a few single-prayer-day smaller countries, but for the most part OW spreads out countries over at least 2 days, often most. (Days 1-11, for example, are "The World", followed by continents.) I'll simply share how the Lord is leading me to pray that day for that particular section of OW, and you can share your prayers in the comments as the Lord leads.

Additionally, as God guides and time allows, I will include devotional thoughts and Biblical prayer suggestions. I also hope to include information about missions and God's global work, especially to help bridge the gap between the "missions lingo" that is often used in excellent works like OW, but which can feel like a foreign language even to faithful churchgoers. We may discuss some larger questions like contextualization and Bible translation as those issues come up in the prayer guide that OW has provided.

What you'll get from me is a straightforward approach to praying through OW. Through this blog I'll invite you into a portion of my quiet time. The prayers I write here will be the prayers I pray for a given day's section of OW. If my schedule prevents me from blogging or even praying for the OW section for a given day, I'll be honest about that. If I ask you to watch a video or journal about something, you can be sure that I've done that first. We truly are on this journey together.

What you'll need:
A copy of Operation World, 2010 edition. There really is no way around this one. It would be wrong, plus a serious violation of copyright, for me to post here every OW prayer request for each day. While I will refer to them in the post, and quote as needed to make a point, the daily posts will always be a tool to support your praying through OW. This will not take the place of the book. (Don't worry if you don't have one yet - the first 11 days are for "The World" in general, so you can easily order today and have the book by the time we hit specific countries.) I use the paperback edition, so my page numbers will reflect that source.

A Bible. You'll find that I'll frequently use Scripture references in prayers, because I love to pray Scripture. I encourage you to have a Bible handy for your own prayer time.

A method of accessing the daily posts. If you're like me, by January 10 you'll forget to come here and check the blog, so I encourage you to set up a system that works for you. A few ideas:
- Make the blog your home page
- "Follow" the blog through your Google/Gmail account
- Join the Facebook group A 365 Day Global Prayer Journey - Praying through Operation World in 2012. (I'll post each blog onto that page, but it will not be at midnight when this blog auto-posts. So if you have an early quiet time, you won't want to depend on the FB page.)
- Set up the blog in your RSS feed within your email account.
- Request that I add you to the list of individuals who receive an email when I upload a new blog post (very limited number of slots, so please request this only if no other option works for you on a daily basis).

Suggestions: If you have a particular passion for an issue, missions organization, etc., feel free to incorporate that into your prayers. For example, if you have a desire to pray for the persecuted church, then when you pray each day, just incorporate any information you have about the persecuted into your daily prayer. When we pray for Afghanistan, pray for the persecuted church there. If you have names from Voice of the Martyrs, pray for them when we pray for their country. In this way your global prayer time is maximized and you begin to see themes that God consistently puts on your heart.

Feel free to personalize each day's prayer points. If you know someone from India, and want to pray for him or her when we pray for India, feel free to do that! Anything that can make the big task of praying for the world manageable can be a helpful tool. Just remember when posting comments that we don't all have equal passions for every region or issue -- I believe that God "spreads out" pieces of His heart for the world, because the burden would be too great for one person, one prayer group, one church, or even one country, to bear alone. He needs the whole church, taking the whole Gospel, to the whole world -- but often that is accomplished one little piece at a time. So don't feel guilty if one person posts passionate prayers for Nepal, while you struggle to remember where it is located. In time, God will let you see what part of His heart He has given you, and how you fit into the cause of His global purposes.

Please always keep in mind that the blog and Facebook page are both PUBLIC, not secret. Therefore, use wisdom when sharing your prayers - we don't want to put anyone at risk by posting full names and specific locations.

Most importantly, there is NO condemnation here! If you miss a day, or two, or a week or a month, you can always jump back in. The goal is to make the task manageable and see what God does when we do this prayer journey together.

Further resources: Here are some great optional resources that may fuel your prayers.
Prayers for the Faithful - Scripture-based prayers for missionaries
Praying God's Word - A good resource to help you learn to pray Scripture, through personal application and practice
Operation World Partners for Prayer - Other sites that partner with Operation World to facilitate prayer for the nations

Okay, ready? Me neither!! I'm taking a deep breath because I've never blogged 365 days in a row before. While I'm just finishing praying through OW for the first time this year, I've never shared those prayers on a consistent basis with others. Trust me, I'm just as nervous as you ... and just as excited. I trust God is going to do great things through this group over the next year. I look forward to getting to know you if the Lord leads you to comment.

I feel led to pray John 1:5 as the focal verse for this year's prayer journey:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We'll learn about some dark things this year. Remember, the light of Christ has already come, and as His followers we have that light to take to the world. We'll be doing that in part through our prayers. The darkness will never overcome the light!

Ready ... Set ... PRAY!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christ Candle of Advent

On Christmas morning we light all 4 advent candles and then the Christ candle. Here are the Scriptures for today (in addition to the John 1 passage already posted) - and Merry Christmas!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. - (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. - (Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV)

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." - (Luke 1:68-79 ESV)

Merry Christmas! John 1:1-18

(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (4) In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (5) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (6) There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (7) He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. (8) He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. (9) The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (10) He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (11) He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (12) But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") (16) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (17) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (18) No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. - (John 1:1-18 ESV)

This is absolutely my favorite "Christmas story" in the Bible ... the reminder that Jesus was the Word made flesh, showing the glory of God, bringing grace and truth. He came for the world, and the darkness will never overcome the light He brings.

Merry Christmas indeed, in whatever language you need to say it (

St. Augustine's Christmas Poem
Let the just rejoice, for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and inform rejoice, for their Savior is born.
Let the captives rejoice, for their redeemer is born.
Let the slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, for their liberator is born.
Let all Christians rejoice, for Jesus Christ is born.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Luke 2:1-20

Enjoy the familiar story once again. (Sometimes, it just has to be the KJV ... :) )

(1) And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (2) ([And] this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) (3) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. (4) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) (5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. (6) And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (7) And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (8) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (10) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (15) And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. (16) And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (17) And when they had seen [it], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. (18) And all they that heard [it] wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (19) But Mary kept all these things, and pondered [them] in her heart. (20) And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. - (Luke 2:1-20 KJV)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Matthew 2:10

And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. - Matthew 2:10

Christmas can be a hard season for people. Studies consistently show that depression and general gloomy feelings spike this time of year. The first Christmas was no easier ... Mary and Joseph had endured a long journey following a season of facing questions about a pregnancy people simply would not have been able to understand. The shepherds were among the poorest of their society and lived on the outskirts of town. The magi had traveled a long way and weren't exactly sure where their destination would lead - except they knew it would end at the feet of a king. But the destination of all the characters in the Nativity was One person: Jesus, the child sent from God.

Don't you love the magi? The text makes it very clear that they were extremely happy to see Jesus. The superlatives in the Greek indicate tremendous joy -- the word for great is megas which as you can imagine is where we get our word "mega". They were filled with "mega" joy ... and they showed it by rejoicing exceedingly.

This overwhelming joy was visible and would likely be quite out of character for an eastern "wise man". It reminds me of David's "undignified" dancing when the ark of the covenant was finally returned to Jerusalem:
David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. ... When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel--I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." - (2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20-22 NIV)
Despite their long journey, the magi rejoiced. Like David, they didn't try to be dignified. Their joy overflowed in their worship.

As we head into Christmas weekend, you may feel like the past few weeks have been an overwhelming journey. Or, like the shepherds, you may feel like you live on the outskirts of the real happenings. Perhaps you are like Mary and Joseph, facing questions that no one but God can fully answer.

It doesn't matter. When you focus on Jesus, the King, there is joy -- joy based on nothing more than His presence. He has come. Whatever challenges you have faced or will face, Immanuel, God with us, has come. This is Christmas. This is unspeakable joy. This is a truth worthy of "undignified" expressions of worship. Let's join the magi at the feet of the Christ-child this Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Today's Advent Pasage: Matthew 20:28

"...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life a ransom for many."  -Matthew 20:28

One result of the human condition is that we are incredibly slow to "get it." When God is trying to break through our preconceptions, our culture, our backgrounds, our assumptions - in short, our "stuff" - we can be pretty thick-headed.

It's a relief to know that Jesus didn't choose for His apostles the 12 people on the planet who had managed to avoid this limitation of our flesh. Instead, He spent time with them breaking down their ideas of who Messiah would be and what He would do. Even after they believed in Him, Scripture indicates that they persisted in the common assumption of the day that Messiah would bring political transformation and an earthly kingdom.

The context of today's verse is Jesus teaching His chosen 12 that servanthood, not power, is the heart of the ministry He modeled, the ministry He called them to. Jesus' teaching turned their thinking upside down. Other passages make clear that He is coming again and His righteous judgment will bring political transformation. He will reign on earth. But our focus is bringing glimpses of His kingdom to bear on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus wants us to know that we do that not by power and authority, but by serving.

As Jesus lay in the manger, the King of the world, God looked down and saw His Servant, His chosen one in whom He delighted. The One who most deserved to be served, would instead become a servant - a servant who would suffer in order to save.

One of my favorite Christmas albums is "Like Christmas All Year Round" by Dennis Jernigan. If you haven't heard it I highly recommend it; it ties the birth of Christ with His suffering and Lordship in such a wonderful way. One of the songs speaks to this aspect of Jesus' purpose. I've posted a video of a church doing this song, and the words are below. May God speak to you through this music.

Little Child in a Manger Lay
Little Child in a manger lay
Born a Lamb to die
Born to take all our sins away
Born to be crucified
Heaven gave us a Son that day
Hear His Father cry
Sent to bear both the cross and the grave
The sinner's perfect supply

Jesus my Savior
My Lord and my King
Born but to suffer my shame
Blessing and honor and glory I bring
Worthy the Lamb who was slain!

Man of sorrows, this little child
Lord of all the earth
Innocent, yet He was defiled
Born to bring second birth.
What gift can I lay before my King
For ending my heart's strife?
I give to You all I have to bring
I lay before You my life

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isa. 42:1, 3

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. ... a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. - (Isaiah 42:1, 3 ESV)

The prophecies of Messiah, completely fulfilled in Jesus, reveal much to us about the nature and character of God's chosen One. This passage reminds us that Jesus was fully anointed by the Holy Spirit. Want to know what a Spirit-filled life looks like? Look to Jesus.

His mercy is also apparent. Gentle and sensitive enough to care not break off a reed that has been bruised, or put out even the faintest wick, Jesus knows those who are His. He knows our weaknesses and frailties and sees the depths of our hearts. He nurtures us when others dismiss us. Jesus was walking proof of James 2:13b: "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

And yet judgment will come - it must, for Him to faithfully bring forth justice to the nations. This is where the first and second advents converge. While He came first to suffer and save, He is coming again to gather those who have believed in Him and the judge the world righteously. Justice is only delayed, not denied, for He is faithful.

This is the Lord whose birth we celebrate. This is our king and our God.

O Come, let us adore Him!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 61:1-2

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; - (Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV)

Jesus read this description of Messiah's purpose in coming when He spoke in the temple (Luke 4). He announced "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Thus, we know that Jesus' ministry from God was about all these things:
- Bringing good news
- Binding up the brokenhearted
- Setting captives free
- Removing binding changes
- Proclaiming God's favor instead of judgment
- Proclaiming God's vengeance over evil and injustice
- Comforting the mourners

Wrapped up in the idea of Christmas is the concept that Jesus came to minister to the whole person. The example we see in His ministry shows us someone who cared about bodies, souls, and spirits. He met spiritual, physical and emotional needs. As His body we are called to do the same. The modern word for it is "missional" - we are to always be on mission. Another way to put it is simply - being the church.

Earlier today I read a comment on a blog that I follow from time to time ( The blog post is very much written as humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but the first comment gripped me as a great example of being the church, being missional. This church did it on Christmas Day, but the reality is that this is to be the lifestyle of who we are all the time. I'm including this comment because it's too good not to share. As we reflect on Jesus' mission in coming to earth, let's remember that He didn't reach everyone in all places while He was here. He trained leaders who taught new believers who became the church who has been charged, for the last 2000 years, with the job of finishing the task - being on mission with God until all have heard.

Until the day that we celebrate around the throne with believers from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group (Rev. 7:9), Christmas should always bring with it the reminder that we are to be missional. Jesus showed us what that looks like.

We cancelled services 7 years ago (the last time Christmas fell on Sunday) and received a huge backlash. We're by far the largest church around, so it was in the paper and (sadly) lots of other local pastors took the opportunity to public bash us. Instead, our senior minister encouraged everyone to go out and "be the church" in the community. Some people volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens (kinda think Jesus would have rather seen that anyway).

Others went out to eat as an excuse to bless the wait staff who had to work. Lots of reports (anonymously) of people ordering a cup of coffee and leaving HUGE tips (like $50 or more). One very well off family got to know a young man who was their waiter. He was working 2 jobs to put himself through college and didn't have a car to go home for Christmas. So they gave him their car. They developed a friendship with him and "adopted" him while he was away at school and paid for some of his tuition. He's a minister in his hometown now. A little girl baked brownies and went down to the university campus to hand them out to students who were in town. Most were international students, one was a Muslim young man who casually asked her why she was doing it. Expecting, "school fund raiser" or something similar, he got in reply, "well, Jesus would do this." The little girl invited him to church. He'd been secretly wrestling with his faith and so he came. He was baptized last Easter, because of a little girl and her brownies.

But the best story was one of the local ministers who had criticized our church's decision to cancel. He hadn't said anything publicly, but to his friends had talked about how we must not really love Jesus. Christmas morning, his son started having seizures and was rushed to children's hospital. While they waited, someone anonymously brought a huge spread of food to the ICU waiting room so everyone there could have Christmas dinner. He didn't know where it came from. Months later, he was at a pastor's conference and our pastor was speaking about "canceling Christmas" and what all the people did to love our city. When he talked about setting up a buffet in the ICU waiting room at Children's, this pastor said he began to cry uncontrollably. He spoke to our congregation via video last week and shared that story. His church is doing the same this year.

I dont't think there is anything wrong with having services, but I for one am glad that we don't. That attitude of "being the church" has continued, we even sometimes cancel random services to do the same and this has become our mantra, "If we closed our doors today, would anyone notice?" We want the answer to be yes, because of what God is doing through us to serve the people He loves.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: 2 Corinthians 9:15

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:15

Amen, and amen. Born a child, and yet a king. Long-expected, born to deliver. What a gift!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love

Last week in a nearby town, a depressed, suicidal man encountered a 19-year-old boy home on college break and killed him, then turned the gun on himself. One man's failings resulted in the death of another family's son. The family who lost a son is a Christian family, and I'm certain that if they encountered someone who was depressed or in need they would gladly help them out. I'm also sure that, like any of us, they would defend their home to whatever degree they needed in order to protect their children.

That's why the love of God is so overwhelmingly amazing. An old hymn reminds us, "Love
is the theme, eternal theme." Today's Advent emphasis captures the heart of God. Sometimes we have a tendency to see God as having reluctantly given up His Son. We apply to Him the feelings that we think we would feel if someone else's failings resulted in the death of our child.

We forget so easily that His love for us prompted Him to voluntarily send His only Son. He had created a perfect world. We used our free will to believe a lie and our sin messed up that world. And God fixed it anyway - because love is His eternal theme. It lies at the heart of who He is; 1 John tells us "God is love".

God didn't protect Jesus from us. The worst of humanity was seen as Jesus was rejected, spat upon, beaten, mocked, and ultimately crucified. At any point He could have stopped it. But He endured the cross even as He despised its shame (Hebrews 12:3). Adrian Rodgers spoke well when he said "The cross didn't change God's heart; it revealed it."

When God looked down upon the scene in the manger, He saw more than His Son. He saw His love for the world made tangible, so that we would be able to be restored to relationship with Him. He saw the ultimate glory of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation gathered around the throne, worshipping together for eternity.

He loved ... and so He gave.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. - (John 3:16-17 ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. - (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. - (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." The voice of your watchmen--they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. - (Isaiah 52:7-10 ESV)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." - (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

Today's Advent Passage: Matthew 1:20-21

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

I would have to place Joseph's dream high on my list of top significant dreams in the history of the world.

Joseph, we are told, was a righteous man who wanted to do the right thing. Legally bound to marry a young girl named Mary, her pregnancy would have been reason for her to be subject to public shame. Yet Joseph didn't want to shame her - in fact, he was trying to make the divorce as quiet as possible.

But he considered things - he turned them over in his mind - and God gave him an answer in a dream. An angel of the Lord spoke into the situation and brought clarity, peace, and direction. And Joseph listened.

What a beautiful example of surrender. We don't have to understand all the whys and hows and wherefores. We don't have to have every question answered. We simply have to know that we've heard from the Lord.

This Advent season, commit anew to considering your problems in the context of relationship to God. Stay in prayer and in the Word of God, and let Him bring clarity, peace, and direction to your circumstances. Then surrender.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Philippians 2:5-8

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

On the day of Jesus' birth, something miraculous and mysterious happened: God became a man. The Apostle John puts it this way: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul tried to capture this miracle and mystery by saying, "For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19).

However this marvelous event occurred, Paul tells the Philippians that it holds an example for us. Jesus didn't cling to His equality with God. He willingly gave up His divine privileges. He willingly took the position of a slave - completely focused on the will of His Master ... His Father. He humbled Himself fully and completely, to the point of death on a cross.

This, Paul tells us, should be our attitude. Holding loosely any benefits or privileges. Not focusing on position. Seeing ourselves as His servant. Fully obeying God, whatever the cost.

Tomorrow our church will have its annual Christmas pageant. Cute kids will demonstrate the familiar nativity story. My prayer for myself and all who see this is that when we see the baby Jesus lying in the manger, we will ponder that "in Him all the fullness of God" was dwelling, and yet He willingly set aside His divine privileges and took on human flesh. "A human baby bearing undiminished deity", the song below says.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Matthew 1:21

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21

It's hard to add anything to this beautiful picture. Joseph, hearing from the angel to marry Mary, because the child is conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being given the name for the child. Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua, translated into English Joshua, means Yahweh Saves.

Yahweh - God Himself, and God alone - saves.

This is the Gospel. Yes, this alone is Christmas. Without any decorations, plays, music, lights, meals, guests, or gifts, this one verse holds the heart of Christmas.

May we keep that focus through these next 10 days.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Luke 1:31-33

"You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."

Jesus, born to die so He could save, was also born to reign. The angel's words to Mary remind us that although His first coming was not marked by obvious power and authority, wrapped up in those swaddling clothes was a baby who would reign over an unending kingdom. We have glimpses of this kingdom now, wherever hearts and actions are fully submitted to His reign. One day, when He comes again, Scripture tells us every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. But as the song says, "Still the greatest joy remains for those who gladly choose Him now."

Come, now is the time to worship.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 53

Whether today's passage, prophesying the suffering of the Messiah who would come, is new or old to you, its words are powerful. I've included them from the New Living Translation for a fresh look at this amazing Scripture. Sometimes reading a familiar passage in a new version can awaken my heart in new ways. Today's passage continues the thought of yesterday's - Jesus Messiah came to die.

Praise God today for the child, born of a virgin, born to die, whose death became an intercession for rebels ... rebels like you and me.

Isa 53:1-12 NLT  [1] Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm? [2] My servant grew up in the LORD's presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. [3] He was despised and rejected-- a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. [4] Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! [5] But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [6] All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. [7] He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. [8] Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. [9] He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. [10] But it was the LORD's good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD's good plan will prosper in his hands. [11] When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. [12] I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 52:13-15

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15 NASB)

Jesus, the Messiah. Born to reign - but first, to suffer and die. Born to be high and lifted up and greatly exalted -- but only after having His appearance marred more than any man.

The myrrh in the wise men's gifts is in many ways the odd element. The gold and frankincense, gifts fit for a king, make sense. But myrrh was a spice used in burial rituals. Why present this to a newborn child, especially one worshipped by the wise men as the promised King of the Jews?

It's a reminder tucked into the middle of the joyous birth story that Jesus' first advent, his first coming, would be marked by His death. Indeed, on the cross Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh - a fitting framing of his life, beginning and ending with the idea that His death was God's plan all along ... as was His resurrection and ultimate eternal reign.

The blood shed when He was marred more than any man is for the nations. Like the sacrificial offerings of the Old covenant, Jesus' blood sprinkles those who draw close enough to the cross to experience its redemptive power. And when we are sprinkled with His blood, then we see and understand more than we could ever be told in mere words -- we begin to see the beauty in the presence of myrrh at the manger.

(from We Three Kings)
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Monday, December 12, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Numbers 24:17

"A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel." Numbers 24:17

Jesus, born of the tribe of David, to be not only Savior and Lord, but king. King of the Jews, King of the World. This prophecy is a reminder of His ultimate lordship. Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

The Third Sunday of Advent is definitely my favorite. On this day, we light the candle that is differently colored than the others (ours is rose while the others are purple, but traditions vary). I like to call it the Mary candle, after the first passage of the readings for this Sunday (see below).

I think the reason that I enjoy it so much is that so often, we forget that Christmas truly is a season of joy. We get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent, moving from event to event and task to task as if they were ends in themselves. Inevitably, a newspaper article will remind me that this is a season when depression spikes - often because of financial stress, family problems, and loneliness. Even those who don't fall into depression face disappointment in a less-than-picture perfect holiday. The truth is, when we make Christmas about gifts, parties, and an ideal coming-together of traditions and circumstances we will always be disappointed. Especially Christians - because God is far to faithful to let us find joy anywhere but in Jesus, especially at this time of the year.

Let's face it - the first Christmas was pretty messy. There is nothing joyful about a scandalous pregnancy, a long journey in the 9th month, the failure to find lodging, and childbirth in a place where animals were kept. God didn't pick a picture-perfect circumstance for His Son's birth.

That's why I love Mary's words in the Magnificat, Mary's Song. " spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant." Mary knew that God could have found women from more elite families, but He had chosen her. She rejoiced despite her circumstances, in God her Savior. That is true joy, and that is the heart of Christmas.

The passages for this week remind us that joy wasn't just intended for Mary and those who walked with Jesus on this earth. Joy - a fruit of the Spirit - comes as we learn to have the mind of Christ. As we learn to see things as He does, then we will find joy where He does, as we see righteousness and praise springing up among all the nations.

"Joy to the World" is not just a great Christmas song - it's what He offers to all who embrace the truth that "He comes to make the blessing known/far as the curse is found." In all the dark corners of the world, He offers the hope of blessing instead of curse. The more we become part of that, the more we will experience "joy, unspeakable joy".
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. ... And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."  (Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 ESV)

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. ... For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

Today's Advent Passage: Galatians 4:4-5

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.(Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Any expectant mother cannot wait for those last few weeks of pregnancy to be over and the baby to finally arrive. I'm sure that Mary, "great with child" as Luke 2 tells us, was no different.

The birth of Jesus didn't just fulfill Mary's natural yearnings for the baby to be born, however. Paul tells us in this passage that Jesus' birth marked a significant point on the kingdom calendar; it signified that the "fullness of time" had come. The time for prophecies about the Messiah, the season of anticipatory waiting, the preparation phase - these were essential, but not ultimate. Finally, one day God saw that it was time. The fullness of time - the completion of an earlier period or season of time - had finally arived.

And so, Jesus was born. Born to redeem - the crucial and essential element of our faith. If that was all, it would be enough. Yet Paul tells us there was more. Redemption wasn't the ultimate purpose - relationship was. God sent Jesus to redeem us so we could be adopted as sons. Adopted by Him. Restored to the relationship which He intended at creation - and even more, because instead of just being with us as He was with Adam, He is now in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate the fullness of time that spoke the word and sent forth Jesus into the world, let us also celebrate the relationship He gives us with the Father.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Today's Advent Passage (1 Peter 2:7)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." (1 Peter 2:7, NASB)

When our family chose to start Advent traditions, we were very intentional about our Scripture selection. We wanted the traditional passages of Jesus' birth, and the key prophecies, but we also wanted passages that connected Jesus' birth to the Gospel. Christmas is only the beginning of the story, and so we wanted reminders throughout the season that the Christmas story wasn't complete until the empty tomb. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy of Messiah - not just the birth prophecies.

Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, reminding his congregation that Jesus was rejected by the "leaders". Encouraging them to godly, intentional living in the midst of an unbelieving society, Peter underscores that not everyone will believe. But to those of us who believe, He is precious.

Jesus is the chief cornerstone. The church is built on Him - no other foundation. He is precious, truly. Whether accepted as an innocent and truly perfect baby, or rejected by men, for those who believe He becomes the foundation that we need - for our lives, for our families, for our church, for our world.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Hebrews 1:1-2

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

There had been no prophetic word from heaven for 400 years. No prophet was anointed by God. Israel experienced a "famine of hearing the word of the Lord."

Then an angel appeared to Zechariah, prophesying the forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist. Once again, God's eternal words greeted human ears. No wonder Israel turned out in droves to hear John speak. All the legalistic burdens of the Pharisees couldn't hold them back. They were starved for the Word of God.

And they hadn't heard the best part yet.

Soon, Messiah would be born in a humble manger. Soon, a baby's cry would pierce the night and few would realize that this very child was, in fact, a Word from God. THE Word from God. The Word made flesh, the Apostle John would call Him.

This is the miracle and mystery of the incarnation. When we embrace this, all we can do is bow down in awe.

"Hail, hail the Word made flesh; the babe the son of Mary" (What Child is This?).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Psalm 2:8

"Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession."

In Psalm 2, God is speaking to His Son. His Son, the one born in the manger. His Son, the one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. His Son, born to die. His Son, whose resurrection was God's stamp of acceptance that His death truly paid the price for our sins. His Son, to Whom has been given all the nations as an inheritance.

As Abraham Kuyper said, "There is no square inch of earth over which the Lord Jesus does not cry, 'Mine.'" There are no God-forsaken places. Not here, not there, not anywhere.

Hallelujah. That makes for a very merry Christmas indeed, as we commit afresh to telling His story where it is old, and where it is new.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 49:6

he says:  "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."  - Isaiah 49:6

One of the beautiful things about Advent to me is the reminder that God is the God of the world - no one has a corner on Him! This prophecy of Messiah specifically connects His coming with the cause of global missions -- and when you think of what it meant for Immanuel, God with us, to come to earth, it is easy to understand why God says it would be too light a thing to do all that for only one people group.

The babe in the manger, the Lord of the earth, came as a light for the nations.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Galatians 3:16

'And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed'...He does not say, 'and to seeds', as referring to many, but rather to one, and to your seed', that is, Christ.

Jesus fulfilled the promise God gave Abraham to be the seed through whom the entire world would be blessed. During Advent we remember the promise that was anticipated for 2000 years - and the fulfillment that came in the manger when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Zechariah 2:10-11

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. - (Zechariah 2:10-11 ESV)

The babe in the manger is LORD.

The heart of Christmas is this realization: Something incredible, unique, dynamic, and world-changing happened when Jesus was born. The witness of the New Testament is that Jesus fulfilled the promise of God to come dwell with His people.The LORD, Yahweh, has come down. Advent reminds us that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

And He is for all of us. Zechariah's prophecy saw many nations joining themselves to the Lord. In the Revelation Jesus gave to John, he saw even more: People from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Every single people group on earth will be represented around the throne. No exceptions, no limitations. On that beautiful day around the throne, there will be no unreached people groups. None.

Jesus Himself linked His second advent, His second coming, to this truth: And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV) If we long for His return, as Scripture says we should, then we should long to be involved in the one thing that will be required to hasten His return -- reaching those "nations" (the word refers to people groups, what we might consider tribes or clans rather than political nations) -- those people groups who have never heard.

On the day Jesus was born in the manger, God send angels to herald the news to shepherds in the field. Today, He sends His people - the church - to herald the news to those who have never heard. What is that message? God Himself has made a way for relationship to Him. He has entered the world He created, taken on human flesh, so that He could bear the death penalty for the sins we committed against a holy God. Jesus, full of grace and truth, revealed God's heart of love and mercy toward mankind.

Hallelujah, what a message! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

As we light the candle for the second Sunday of Advent tonight, we remember the Peace that Jesus came to bring to the world. This peace is not like the world's peace - not what we would expect. Remarkably, He Himself became our peace. In some way that is beyond our human understanding, this baby in the manger became peace for us between sinful humanity and a holy God.

In his remarkable story, Peace Child, Don Richardson presents the saga of living among the Sawi people of New Guinea. In an effort to share the Gospel with this people group that valued treachery and deceit, he sought to find a cultural "key" that would unlock the beauty of the Gospel message. Everything was a dead end -- they even saw Judas as the hero of the crucifixion story -- until the day he learned about the Sawi concept of Peace Child.

For the Sawi, the only thing that could stop treachery and deceit between clans was to exchange a child. The clans would meet, and one clan leader would present the other with a child, who would be raised among the other clan. As long as the Peace Child remained alive, the two clans would have to maintain peace.

Richardson immediately saw the connection to Truth. He couldn't wait to get the leaders together. When he did, he told the about Jesus, the Peace Child that God sent to mankind. The Peace Child who lives forever. The Peace Child who was God incarnate. Immediately these Sawi leaders understood that Judas, instead of being the hero, had committed the ultimate sin in their eyes - he rejected the Peace Child.

Today, as you read the Scriptures below and light your Peace candle, remember Jesus who came, not to give a superficial or temporary peace, but to bring the ultimate Peace - peace between man and God. Eagerly anticipate the day when He comes again, bringing the perfect peace on earth for which we all long. And then pray those words He taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" - and ask Him to give us a glimpse of His kingdom by raising up leaders who will seek peace in some of the broken places of earth today.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; (Micah 5:2-5 ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." ... After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 ESV)

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. - (Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV)

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" - (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. - (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 11:1-2

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. - (Isaiah 11:1-2 ESV)

Jesus' life is the perfect example of a Spirit-filled life. As we celebrate His birth, let us commit to reading through the Gospels in the upcoming months to be reminded again what a Spirit-filled life looks like.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Luke 1:35

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. (Luke 1:34-35 ESV)

We can always trust God when He asks us to surrender.

Mary's surrender was to become the virgin mother of the Son of God. Our surrender will not be as dramatic, but we can always trust God.

His character is Holy. The fruit that is borne when He comes upon us and overshadows us will always be Holy.

Let us then say with Mary, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. - (Luke 1:38 ESV)

Praise God for the miracle of the virgin birth, a miracle beyond comprehension. Take a moment to be awed once again by the idea of a holy God wrapped in human flesh.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. - (Micah 5:2 ESV)

Matthew 2:5-6 records that this was fulfilled in Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. Reflect on what it says about God that He chose the city of one of the smallest clans of the tribe of Judah to be the location for His Son to be born.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

Think about the names given to the child that was born to us - Jesus. Spend some time reflecting on the purpose and power of these names. As you see references to "baby Jesus", remember all that was wrapped up in that tiny package. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19).