Tag Archives: advent devotions

Planted and Flourishing

In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care. ~ Isaiah 53:2–3, TLB

The verses. They sound like many of us, don’t they? Didn’t we feel the bitterest grief when those who should have loved us turned their backs? Haven’t we been despised? Felt unattractive? Been told we’re ugly?

And the soil of our lives. Oh my.

Many times it is dry and sterile ground.

Or maybe we only know the desert habitat.

Dry. Oh so dry.

But these verses describe the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Jesus.

Born in a lowly manger. Planted in the dry, sterile ground of Nazareth.

The thirty-year-old who had no place to lay his head.

The young man, cut down in the prime of His manhood, despised and rejected even as He saved.

He is a Savior acquainted with our grief.

Scripture says it was the “Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief” (Isaiah 53:10, TLB).

But the passage doesn’t end there.

The next word is, “However.”

What a big difference such a simple word can make!

“However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Therefore, I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great” (vv. 10–12).

After He suffered He was given many heirs, new life, a glorious role in a prospering plan, satisfaction, and honor.

There’s a however in our lives too.

This Jesus who flourished in such barren soil shows us how to do the same. He tells us to keep our eyes on Him and to watch how He did it. He let the shame fall away and surrendered to His Father’s plan. It led Him to glory, seated at the right hand of Almighty God (Hebrews 12).

In Isaiah, as God’s people surrender to His instruction, He gives this beautiful promise, “And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring” (58:11).

The Message says it this way:

“Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again” (vv. 10—12).

2013 Sarah's wedding

Don’t you love all those “re” words? Rebuild. Restore. Renovate. My friend, author and speaker Mary DeMuth, adds another “re” word. She says God will not only set us free, but will “re-story” our lives. “Many of us have hard stories,” writes Mary, “and those stories seem to be indelibly marked on us. And yet, Jesus intercedes. He restores and re-stories us, transforming our tale of woe into an epic of Whoa.”

Sounds like flourishing to me!

Father, take the rubble of my old life. Rebuild my foundations. Restore me. You’re the God who can fix anything, and I want to be known as one You’ve rebuilt, renovated, and re-storied. Bathe my life in sunlight. Make me like a well-watered garden, an ever-flowing spring. It’ll be even more grand, Lord, because of the parched places that tried to suck the life out of me. I can’t wait to see what You do in me!

Best Present Ever!

GOD is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace. ~ Psalm 145:9 MSG

Come.

Do you hear the Master calling?

There’s a twinkle in His eyes and a huge gift in His hands. Notice how the golden paper glistens with a metallic gleam? And don’t you just love the big, blood-red bow?

15326517_10210559749525017_764442304890124220_n

A present. Just in time for the holidays.

Your Best Friend is really excited about your gift. He’s done all the work—choosing carefully what you need most, going to great sacrifice to procure it for you. All that’s left is for you to open it. Won’t you focus on Him and unwrap His gift?

You pull the pretty velvet bow apart and lift the lid. You can’t see what’s inside, but you can smell it. It smells like lilacs and fresh cut grass and sunshine. You can feel the present, too. It’s solid as iron, soft as a baby’s cheek, and makes you warm all over. You can even hear your gift. One minute it swells with symphonic melody, the next it sings with the sweetness of a child. You can almost taste it on your tongue. It’s meat, potatoes, and vegetables—all that is solid and healthy—and it is also silky chocolate and all that is sweet.

“What is it?” You ask.

“It’s My grace.” He speaks with hushed voice, a tinge of emotion lacing His words.

You stare at the box. You’ve heard about grace before, but you’ve never really experienced it. Who knew that grace would have a smell, a feel, a taste?

He suggests you reach inside.

You pull out a G and frown.

Jesus chuckles. “G is for guilty no more. Too many times you heap condemnation upon yourself. You are overwhelmed with your many tasks and feel guilty that there’s dust on the mantel. But it goes deeper. You beat yourself up for faults and failures I’ve erased from your record. I’ve already forgotten them. There’s no need to be angry with yourself. I gave my life so you could live without condemnation. You are guilty no more. If you don’t believe me, read Romans 8:1. Read it a thousand times and tape it on your bathroom mirror. Live as you are, my dear: Free from condemnation.”

You have a big lump in your throat and since you can’t talk, you reach back into the box. The letter R is in your hand.

The Lord gently lifts your face to His. “R is for Rest in Me. Come to Me when you labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your soul.” *

“I try, but it is so hard to rest,” you say.

Jesus tilts his head. “Think about a nursing baby—how a mother cradles him in her arms, and he nuzzles to her breast. He is nourished, body and soul. Even as he was fed, he never takes his eyes off of his mother, gazing with complete satisfaction, trust, and peace. Rest in me as that baby rested. I will nourish you. I will lead and comfort you.”

Your eyes are glued to the Master, hungry to believe all He is saying, but there is hesitancy, a fear you don’t deserve to rest.

My child, did the baby do anything to earn love?”

You shake your head. “He could do nothing to help his mother.”

“In the same way, I don’t expect you to earn My love or the right to rest. I simply come and say, ‘Are you tired? Let me help you. Are you burdened? Let me carry it.’”

Little tears gather in your eyes as you listen to Him. It’s so much to absorb, and you haven’t even spelled out the whole word. You hesitate. The Lord reaches in the box and pulls out the next letter, A. With trembling fingers you reach for it, running your thumb down its long, sleek sides.

“Accept My unconditional love,” He says. ” I stand before you with My arms open wide, longing to enfold you in them, but too often you duck your head and walk away. You let shame, guilt, or feelings of inadequacy keep you from Me. Sometimes you push Me away in anger. But I have loved you with an everlasting love.** Nothing you’ve ever done has made Me regret loving you, and nothing can take My love away.

“When I died on Calvary, I made it possible for us to be in close relationship. I washed your every misstep away in the river of My blood. There is nothing to separate us.” ***

You’re weeping freely now. He’s right. The Christian life is about Jesus and the righteousness He gives. You keep making it about your performance, causing both your pride and your guilt to keep you from His arms. “I’m sorry,” you whisper.

Jesus puts an arm around you. “Take the next letter.”

You reach into the box and hand Him the C. He lays it across your heart. “C is for Christ in you, dearest. I am your hope of glory. You try so hard to be good. Trust Me, and let Me make you good. The good work I’ve begun in you will be completed. Stop striving. You are My masterpiece. Will I not finish it?” ****

The Lord reaches into the box for the last letter. You still weep silently, leaning your head against His shoulder. “E is for Empowered. I am the One who empowers you to be all I’ve created you to be. Spiritual maturity isn’t chasing after good works or achieving your dreams. It isn’t being perfect. It is knowing Me and letting your life flow from our relationship.

“Let Me empower you, dear one. I am the one who gives you the grace to accomplish all I ask of you.” *****

You nod. He hugs you and then kisses your cheek. You sit awhile, fingering each letter, His words echoing in your soul. Then you place those elegant, golden letters on your mantel, one-by-one:

G–Guilty no more

R–Rest in Christ

A–Accept His unconditional love

C–Christ, my hope of glory

E–Empowered by His Spirit

You linger next to them, breathing in the scent of grace. There could be no greater gift.

Sweet Jesus, thank You for the gift of grace. May I believe it. Taste it. Touch it. Inhale it. Linger in it. And may I know it so well it flows freely from me to others.

*Matthew 11:28, AMPC

**Jeremiah 31:3

***Romans 8:35

****Ephesians 2:10, NLT

*****Philippians 4:13

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Decking an Empty-Nest Hall

IMAG3162“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  ~ Matthew 1:23 NIV

I cradle my mug and light a candle. It’s one of those mornings when the quiet of the house closes in on me. After more than twenty years of homeschooling, the house ringing with noise and activity, I can’t get used to empty-nest halls.

Breakfast is the hardest. My husband left for work at 5:30 this morning, and the long hours stretch before me. I doubt he’ll be home before six tonight. My work is solitary.

Alone.

My days are too.

I watch the flame dip and bounce in the dim winter light. Pulling my prayer journal close, I take another sip of coffee, then write about how lonely I feel.

An ember of joy flickers as I sense His presence. “I don’t want you to think of it as being alone,” He whispers. “I AM always here.”

The house still feels too quiet, but the lack of sound is no longer deafening.

I am never alone.

The virgin gave birth to Emmanuel, God with me.

I plug in the twinkle lights and turn on a CD of favorite carols.

Quiet no longer means sad. He fills the empty places. In me. In the bedrooms no longer used and living rooms that stay clean. I’m not sure when I will come completely out the other side of empty nest doldrums, but it helps to remember there is one sweet presence who never moves out. In this quiet space I appreciate the freedom to be with Him without distraction.

Oh how tenderly He loves.

“Silent Night” plays in the background.

My heart is calm and quiet.

Whispers of gratitude emerge.

Emmanuel, my precious Jesus. Thank you that I am never alone. Fill the empty places with Your sweetness. My worship today is gentle, offered in whispered gratitude. For You. Because You are here.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Come and Behold Him

“Come and behold Him,child-476507_960_720

Born the King of angels.

O come let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.”*

Jesus, Creator of the universe. King of all time. The very Word of God come to earth as a helpless baby, dependent upon a young girl for nourishment. Hunted by cruel King Herod. Under the protection of a poor carpenter.

It’s preposterous.

Scripture says the angels watched in baffled amazement as God’s plan for the redemption of man unfolded. They couldn’t believe God would choose to become flesh and hang out with lowly man. To think the Holy One would allow those infinitely inferior to Him to birth Him, raise Him, and eventually kill Him seems outrageous. And yet that’s what our Lord did. He left the splendor and perfection of heaven to walk among us, teach us who God is, and save us from ourselves.

“Come,” the song says. “Come and adore the Lord! Behold the King of angels wrapped in cloth and born as man.”

And while something divine within swells and longs to shout in exultant worship, we sometimes feel ill qualified to offer adoration. All we give and think and say and do seems minuscule in comparison to what He deserves and who He is.

Maybe it’s that old performer, the one who had to be perfect, trying to hard to gain the approval she already has.

Maybe that’s why sometimes it is hard to come—to know how to adore.

What does adoration look like? How do I offer it to God?

As I grapple with these questions, the innocence of children rescues me. The face of my nephew at the age of two flashes onto the screen of my mind. He is grinning. His whole face is alight—brown eyes sparkling and smile free and full. His expression says, “I know you adore me, Auntie Paula, and I’m thrilled by it.”

What amazes me about this memory is how little I’d done to elicit such a delighted response from the tiny guy. I’d simply looked his way, gazed into his big eyes, and smiled at him.

Adoration.

Perhaps that is all the Lord asks as well. No contrived worship. No cooked up accolades. No forced exultation. No struggle to give Him all He deserves. No fussing and worrying and feeling inadequate.

Just a humble, honest acknowledgment of love.

Perhaps Jesus simply waits for us to glance His way, look Him full in the eyes, and smile.

Come.

Let us adore Him.

I love you, Jesus. Thank you for entering this world and saving it.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

* According to https://www.carols.org.uk, the text to the carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin (Adeste Fideles) and was intended to be a hymn. It is attributed to John Wade, an Englishman. The music to “O Come All Ye Faithful” was composed by fellow Englishman John Reading in the early 1700s. The tune was first published in a collection known as “Cantus Diversi” in 1751. In 1841 Rev. Frederick Oakley is reputed to have worked on the familiar translation of “O Come All Ye Faithful” which replaced the older Latin lyrics “Adeste Fideles.”

Child-like I Come

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  ~ Psalm 150:6 NIV

Little Ella’s big brown eyes shine as she raises her hands to God. A live porcelain doll, her head full of curls sways as she moves to the music, a contented smile gracing her tiny face. At three years old, Ella has no inhibition. She doesn’t notice us watching her.

We are not her audience.

Ella moves in praise to Jesus. The church people around her aren’t dancing. Here and there a solitary worshiper stands with hands raised, but most are simply quiet before the Lord, seated and meditative.

Ella is not mimicking the worship of others, nor is she held back by the more conservative expression of her elders. She simply follows the prompting in her heart.

An unexpected rush of tears comes as I watch. Ella’s worship, so genuine and innocent, paints a picture of adoration. There is no doubt in my mind that Ella loves her Creator and is showing Him through her little dance.

As I reflect on the advent season, I think often of Ella. Such an innocent act of praise is a rare jewel in a rushed and busy world. I’m learning some things from that little girl.

First, Ella worships God as if no one watches. She dances without wondering if the person next to her thinks she’s inappropriate or awkward. She is not stifled by self-awareness. Ella just follows her desire to praise, expressing her heart in freedom.

It’s an important lesson for me to learn. To make my choices based on my love for Jesus instead of the approval of men.

I will not live for men’s approval. I will live to bring joy to the heart of the One I love, the One who set me free. The One who loves me too.

Ella also comes to God in absolute joy and confidence. She didn’t doubt her worthiness to do such a thing. She doesn’t question if He likes her or her style of worship. Ella simply dances before God as the beloved daughter she is. The look of absolute joy in her face indicates that she feels His pleasure in her gift of praise.

I embrace this truth. In Him I am welcome. I am worthy. He likes me, and He likes every single offering I bring from my heart of love for Him.

I bring Him pleasure.

You, sweet, sweet friend, bring Him pleasure too.

In Him you are always welcome. Worthy.

He treasures your every offering of love.

Dearest Jesus, fill me to overflowing with Your love. I want to worship the Trinity in joy that cannot be held back. I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You welcome my attention and delight in my worship. Help me follow You, give to You, worship You without wondering what anyone else will think. You are worthy of every ounce of worship within me. Show me how to express the love inside. Make it swell within, overwhelming me with the wonder of You. Show me how to express adoration. Capture me, heart and soul, and give my praise dancing feet.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

The Healing Hush of Stillness

Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10 KJV

snow new deck

The hush that accompanies a heavy snow speaks quiet into my soul. The white blanket muffles the sounds, and even with the cold, I feel somehow insulated.

The snow changes everyday noises too. The ground underneath my feet now gives off a crunch instead of a clack or a thud. Even my car tires make a wonderful, squeaky sound as I pull into our cul-de-sac on a cold, snowy night.

There’s stillness in a freshly snowed-in world that I don’t experience at other times, and it makes me want to do calm things—like bake cinnamon rolls, read a good book, or take a leisurely walk to watch snowflakes fall.

When it snows at night, one of my favorite things to do is to brew myself a hot cup of herb tea, turn off all the lights, and watch the snowflakes out my window as they drift earthward in the glow of the lamplight.

God feels very close in these times. Perhaps the changes in routine, the slowing down for a snowy day, and the hushed, snow-muffled sounds help my heart quiet. I’m not sure. But I notice the Lord in the stillness.

There are many types of noise in life. A blaring radio and angry, honking rush hour traffic is noise. Busy schedules and long to-do lists are noise. Hateful words, unjust criticism is noise. But noise can also be found inside us. Worry and fear rattle around in our souls until they feel harried and loud instead of hushed and peaceful. Anger—whether at others or ourselves can make our hearts clang with rapid heartbeats and heated scenarios. Taking those outside voices of negativity and assault into my interior places—owning them. Perhaps that’s the worst kind of noise.

But Jesus says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

The world curses. There is pain. Disappointment,

The heart bruises. Broken relationship. Abuse. Verbal and emotional scarring.

It was part of Jesus’ crushing too.

And from the fragrance comes freedom.

He says we are worthy.

He says we are loved.

Though our sins and the sins of those who wounded us are many, He says, “Come, let’s talk this over, . . . no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow” (Isaiah 1:18, TLB).

Like the blanket of white which covers my yard, unmarred by a single footstep, He covers me.

I am as clean as freshly fallen snow.

I am untouched by noise of the enemy.

All is blanketed, hushed, as the presence of Jesus reminds me of the truth.

I am new. Safe. Pure. Enveloped in His feathery blanket of white.

So are you.

Sweet Jesus, let Your peace fall upon me, as pure and gentle as snowflakes. May I know You in this hushed moment. May I believe in my purified state.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Bursting with God-news!

I’m bursting with God-news;IMAG3151
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.

His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.

He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

~ Luke 1:46–55 MSG

Have you ever thought about Mary’s Magnificat, how it is both personal and corporate at the same time? She starts out by worshiping in wonderment that God chose her. Other versions of Mary’s song use phrases like: He took notice, He looked with loving care, He looked on me, one who is not important. Mary stands in wonder at that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords chose her.

Then Mary moves into praise that is both personal and corporate, for her son would also be her Savior. Mary worships the Messiah who came to scatter bluffing braggarts, knock tyrants off their high horses, and pull victims out of the mud. (Other versions say He scatters the proud and exalts the humble, that He brings down rulers and fills the hungry with good things.)

As I read this passage today it feels intensely personal.

He looked upon me.

Upon you.

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords took notice, looked upon us with loving care. We may think we are not important, that we are humble and lowly. Nobodies. But God chose us.

He chose us to be the recipients of His grace and mercy. He chose us to receive His light and life-giving truth. He chose us for truth that sets us free. He chose us. For us He comes, baring His arm and showing His strength. He fights for our freedom.

He won it at the cross.

And He fights for each of His beloved, showing them the freedom already won.

He stands firm against evil and teaches us how to do the same.

He invites our poor, hungry hearts to a banquet of His love.

He came so we could flourish.

I love Mary.

I imagine her—young and weary. She’s spent way too much time on a donkey and now she’s given birth—for the first time—in a dirty, stinky place. I’m sure it wasn’t what she expected when she sang out her Magnificat. But then the shepherds come. Shepherds. They are the class of people who don’t intimidate her, but certainly not who was expected to celebrate the birth of the King! But they have lovely, breathtaking news. When her son was born, the very sky opened wide revealing a multitude of angels singing and dancing and shouting about His birth. And they sent shepherds—shepherds!—to gaze upon her little boy.

Mary’s been through a lot. The accuser has been hard at work, heaping condemnation upon her. Instead of the honor she expected as one chosen to carry the King, she’s been called a harlot. And worse.

But the shepherds get it.

They see and honor her child.

Honor her.

They say her baby, her baby, is the Savior of the world.

In those weeks of unjust condemnation, in those months of ridicule and gossip and pointing fingers, those months when her body swelled and hurt, when her emotions were raw, when weariness overcame her, it’d taken all she had to believe the truth.

She wasn’t condemned.

She was honored.

Chosen.

Blessed.

And her son, her tiny baby sleeping in a trough meant for animals, was King, Savior of the world.

Nothing really made sense, but God was at work. In those brief moments of wonderment, when His Spirit gave direction and explanation, she saw it. She held onto it. She had to.

Life was much harder than she expected.

But it was also more glorious.

Angels.

Shepherds.

“Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself” (Luke 2:19, MSG).

Later the magi came. Then the wild flight to safety in Egypt. Finally to Nazareth, where the wagging of tongues continued.

But through it all, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19, NASB).

Friends, our freedom came at a cost for Jesus.

It comes at a cost for us.

Only our Lord knows what events will take place on our journey into the glory of His plans.

But He comes to us with promise.

Personal and corporate.

We believe the Scriptures, the promises that our Savior freed us us from the darkness and places us in His kingdom. Those promises are for all, corporately and individually. But He doesn’t stop there. He whispers truth as we read His Scripture. We hear wisdom in the words of those around us. Lines from songs jump out and grab our attention and play for years in our hearts. We learn His voice. Sometimes He whispers in the night or gives dreams or sends prayer warriors. We test everything to be certain it is from Him, and we cling to, ponder, treasure all of it in our hearts. When He comes with instructions—personal instruction—like it’s time to flee a tyrannical king or receive a personal blessing—like hints of the great callings of our life, we respond. Quickly. We believe.

Jesus, like Your mother, Mary, I am just me. Complicated and simple. Emotional sometimes. Afraid often. But capable of great movement as I surrender to Your Spirit. I treasure everything You’ve told me, every event You’ve orchestrated. You regarded my lowly estate and fought for my freedom. I am Your servant. Your bride. Your beloved. I have a bigger picture than Mary did. I know how Your life here on earth unfolded. I know that the cross, which pierced precious Mary’s heart, won the victory for my life. I know You purchased me so I could live in joyful intimacy with You. You won me for Yourself. I surrender to Your love. To Your sacrifice. I ponder all You’ve done for me, personally and corporately. Help me to listen to Your voice. Keep me from the lies of the deceiver, the voice of the accuser, and help me to know Your voice only. When You speak, let me be like Mary and say yes to all You ask. Help me move when You ask me to move. Help me surrender to the call of my life, the plans You had before the foundations of the world.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.