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.

Wonderful! Counselor!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 KJV

IMAG3018Do you hear the music? I can’t read this verse without Handel’s Messiah singing through my heart!

Hallelujah! (Pun intended. Get it?) The message cannot be held back or trampled down! Even without a background of Christmas celebration, the joyous worship, seeped in Scripture about Christ’s birth and passion is forever engraved upon my life (and no doubt the lives of countless others) through Handel’s great work, created under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

This book on freedom—a book that includes a set of Advent devotionals—isn’t complete without meditating on the first seven verses of Isaiah chapter nine.

Read the whole following passage slowly. I chose a version that might be less familiar so we can think about the words instead of blazing past them:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. The light will shine on those living in the land of dark shadows. . . . You will give them great joy. They will be glad before You. . . . For You will break the heavy load from their neck and shoulders. You will break the power of those who made it hard for them. . . . For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to His rule and His peace, upon the throne of David and over his nation. He will build it to last and keep it strong with what is right and fair and good from that time and forever. The work of the Lord of All will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7, NLV).*

The first phrase that jumps out at me is “land of dark shadows.” I don’t know about you, but some of my most painful seasons felt shadowed. It was almost like life played out in black and white instead of in color. But God “has rescued us and has drawn us to Himself from the dominion of darkness, and has transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, AMP). Because of His work on the cross, the heavy burdens of sin and condemnation are lifted from our shoulders, and He breaks the power—the control—of the evil that seeks to weigh us down and make life hard on us.

When we see God as He really is—the glorious One who is wonderful, our teacher and counselor, all-powerful, and full of peace, the God who gave so much to set us free, the God who is love—we learn to look to Him for identity, leadership, and strength. As we discover who we are in Him, mining Scripture for our identity instead of listening to the false voices, praying and seeking God’s perspective and learning His voice, we live more and more in the freedom He purchased for us at the cross.

We were taken out of the land of shadows.

Remember the despair? The depression? The feelings of self-loathing? He moved us “outta” that awful place and took us to a place full of light! The light shines all around us illuminating a beautiful, colorful landscape. In this Kingdom of Light, He tells us things like:**

I love you. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV).

You are my treasure. “Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6, NLT).

I gave my most precious Son to make you my own. “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, AMP).

You are free to live outside of bondage! “It was for this freedom that Christ set us free [completely liberating us]” (Galatians 5:1, AMP).

You are My precious child. “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5, NLT).

You are pure, righteous, holy. “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30, NLT).

I never condemn you, My child. “Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]” (Romans 8:1, AMP).

You are my masterpiece and through you we will do good works. Who you are and what you do is valuable to Me. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).

I’ve prepared a place for you to live with Me forever. “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2, NLT).

You are my beautiful bride. “[(The Bridegroom)] Behold, how beautiful you are, my darling, Behold, how beautiful you are! Your eyes are dove’s eyes” (Song of Solomon 1:15, AMP).***

Oh sweet friend! The birth of Jesus changed everything!

Let’s ponder our passage again in light of what you just read:

“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. . . .

The people who walk in [spiritual] darkness

Will see a great Light;

Those who live in the dark land,

The Light will shine on them. . . .

You will multiply their joy;

They will rejoice before You

Like the joy and jubilation of the harvest,

As men rejoice when they divide the spoil [of victory].

For You will break the yoke of Israel’s burden and the staff (goad) on their shoulders,

The rod of their oppressor . . .

For to us a Child shall be born, to us a Son shall be given;

And the government shall be upon His shoulder,

And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

There shall be no end to the increase of His government and of peace,

[He shall rule] on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness

From that time forward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this”

(Isaiah 9:1–7, AMP)

Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! And “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]” (2 Corinthians 3:17, AMP). Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is love, for God is love (1 John 4:8)!

Praise to Almighty God, Omnipotent Father! Praise to Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lord, who came as a vulnerable baby and died as a courageous God-man to set us free! Praise You Triune God, Lord of heaven and earth! You establish your kingdom of freedom and uphold it with righteousness and justice. You liberated me. In You I have true freedom. I am emancipated! I am loved and free to love!

* This prophecy was originally given to the nation of Israel. The New Testament makes it clear that when we accept Jesus we are adopted into the promises given God’s people. In quoting this passage I left out phrases I thought might distract you from the message of these verses. Most of the ellipses replace phrases that would make sense to someone in Israel when it was written, but that might not give you much clarity. It might be fun for you to look these Scriptures up in your Bible and think further about the passage in its completeness.

**I could go on and on about how wonderful God is and how wonderfully He loves us! I could write books about who God says you are and how He talks to you! Actually I guess I have. It’s the heartbeat of the first three books of the Soul Scents series.

***Scripture calls us the bride of Christ. One of my favorite places to discover His love for me is in the reading of the Song of Solomon as a statement of His love for me, personally. Have you read it lately?

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.

Glory to God in the Highest!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flockIMAG3149 by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. ~ Luke 2:8–14, KJV

 

It’s no accident that when I was in high school I was chosen as one-half of a two person performance based entirely upon Scripture. The script juxtaposed Jesus’ birth with His crucifixion. The other actress had a strong, powerful voice. My voice has always had a more gentle quality. She was given the dramatic lines “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”, while I was given the gentle wonderment surrounding the nativity. To this day I have huge selections from Luke’s account of the incarnation memorized. I love that even in the years I wasn’t able to celebrate the nativity, the Lord implanted worship and wonder around His birth.

My favorite part of the passages I memorized is, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Even as I type it today I hear the rise and fall of my voice, the wonder and passion I felt as I acted out this scene so long ago.

Isn’t the Lord sweet? I may not have heard the nativity, read from Scripture, around a glowing tree at Christmas, but He planted my love for the celebration of His birth deep within me as I rehearsed my lines—from Scripture. This worship, grounded in the truth of Scripture, couldn’t be denied me.

I invite you into that world I loved as a sixteen-year-old “actress.”

Pause a moment.

Reread the verses, only don’t glaze over them because you’ve heard them a million times. Read them like an audience is in front of you, and you are trying to convey the emotion and wonder of every phrase. Maybe you want to stand up right now and do this in the presence of your Lord.

Ask Him to make them alive in you as you do.

Ready?

Go!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Did your voice rise on the words “and the glory of the Lord shone round about them”? Maybe you emphasized the important parts. “And the glory of the Lord shone round about them.”

Did you feel the fear as you whispered, “And they were sore afraid.”

Does your voice take flight as you say, “Good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people”?

Are you breathless as the next line unfolds? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord!”

Now, if you’re like me, you’re practically shouting with the multitude of heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest!” Then your voice cracks a little at the wonder of the great ending, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

We rush over it. It’s too familiar. You’ve heard it in songs and at Christmas Eve services and even watched cartoon characters speak it on TV.

But my friend. Oh my friend! Jesus is come. Jesus is come. JESUS IS COME!

The great King of all the universe came to earth and brought light to the darkness, peace to the chaos, goodwill—favor—to men! For years the enemy had woven bondage, darkness, and lies over God’s most treasured creation.

Then Jesus.

Jesus!

His life revealed the very heart of God. He Himself was God and was in closest relationship with the Father (John 1). Those who saw Jesus saw the Father, for Jesus and the Father are one (John 14).

As Jesus revealed God to the world, nothing was as the enemy had said. It wasn’t about a wrathful, vengeful God piling rule upon rule on vile mankind.

God is the Father of the prodigal son running out to embrace His wayward child.

He is the businessman who sells all to purchase us, pearls of great price!

He is the compassionate healer who touches blind eyes and makes them see, who makes the lame walk.

He is the One who looks beneath the rule-giving and rule-keeping to the issues of the heart.

He is the One who sets captives free.

That God. That Jesus.

The God of love.

That’s who left heaven’s splendor to be born into a dusty, dirty world full of manure and poverty and despair.

No wonder the angels declared, “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!” (Luke 2:10–11, TLB).

Jesus, I lift my heart to worship with the angels giving glory to God for this great gift. Place the great joy of the good tidings deep within my heart that it might rise up to praise You. You are love. You are good. You are full of splendor. Mighty God come to earth. It’s unthinkable the extent You went to so that we could be saved from the darkness, rescued from the lies of the enemy, and shown immeasurable love. Thank You for the peace. Thank You for the freedom. Glory to God in the highest heaven! Praise You for the most joyful news ever announced. You came!

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.

Breaking Chains

You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons. ~ Isaiah 42:7 NLT

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No more let sins and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

~ “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts

One of the events I most look forward to during the Christmas season is the hanging of the lights at the intersection near my home. When a gentle breeze stirs the branches, they seem to dance in the rhythm of my heartbeat, singing that my Light has come. Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let every heart prepare Him room! No more let sin and sorrow grow! He came to make His blessings flow!*

My heart hasn’t always sung at the thought of Jesus’ birth. There was the whole not being allowed to celebrate Christmas thing, but there was more to it. Though I accepted Christ at a young age, my understanding of the magnitude of this event was severely limited as was my grasp of Christ’s death and resurrection. I knew Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth to save me from my sins and make sure that I could spend eternity with the Father. But I was in my thirties before I began to truly grasp His transforming grace. If you’ve read the Soul Scents collection, you know my story.

Christianity meant a ticket to heaven and a long, hard struggle to walk the straight and narrow until I got there. It meant trying very hard and failing often, living under the bondage of failure. I felt I couldn’t live up to what I thought were God’s expectations of me. I didn’t pray enough, read my Bible enough, or witness enough. Motherhood was especially debilitating. I knew I failed there. I should discipline better, be more patient, play with them more, spend more time on their academics, pray for them more often, teach them more skillfully, be a more organized housekeeper . . . the list was never ending. Often I approached God with my head hung in shame, condemnation rolling over me.

Then there was that whole shame around failing my mother. Condemnation was a beast to be slain.

Somewhere I missed the verse that told me that God didn’t send Jesus to the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17). Furthermore, the next verse, John 3:18 begins by saying that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned!

I used to think these scriptures simply meant I wouldn’t go to hell. While that is a very good thing, it is a limited understanding of why Christ came. It’s not just the condemnation of the final judgment that Christ did away with, but also the condemnation in my daily life.

Everything I’ve done in the past, am doing now, or will do in the future is cleansed by Jesus’ blood. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus.

And Jesus is perfect.

These concepts are especially hard for those of us who were victims of gas-lighting or other emotional, verbal, or religious abuse.

As the year draws to a close and with it this collection of devotions, my heart cry is for your freedom and mine. And friend, freedom comes from Jesus and His glorious grace.

Have you ever really noticed verse three of the beautiful hymn, “O Holy Night”? There is a powerful phrases that says, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”**

What oppresses you? What holds you back? Where are you chained? Where in your life is there slavery to lies instead of free living in truth and grace?

Maybe, like me, you need to let go of striving, performance, perfectionism.

Maybe, like me, you’ve taken on false identities, things the enemy said to you that you believed.

Maybe, like me, there are some people you have to forgive if you’re going to move forward. Maybe you have to admit how bad it really was before you can completely let it go.

Maybe, like me, your failures eat at you. Your inability to be all you wanted to be pulls you down.

Maybe, like me, there are rooms in your heart you’ve refused to enter for years that need Jesus.

Maybe, like me, your scars and wounds have whispered shame and unworthiness and have tried to shut you down.

Oh sweet friend. Chains come in every size.

Give Him permission to reveal them, cut them apart, untangle them.

If you’re like my husband and me, you’ll need Him to start with the really big, thick ones. In your surrendered state You will make big choices. Like drawing difficult boundaries or leaving bad theology or forgiving someone whose actions were unthinkable. Then He’ll cut more chains by asking you to do something weird. Like write a book series or buy your first Christmas tree. And while He’s working on those really big, visible chains, He’ll also be working on the tiny ones in your heart. These are like golden necklace chains. They aren’t bad, but instead of adorning you for His glory, they somehow got all twisted into tiny knots, so He gently rubs the spots, untwists the golden lines, careful not to waste a single thing He plans to use for your joy and His.

Hallelujah!

Jesus broke the bondage of our heavy, chained souls. He freed us from the curse of condemnation from within and without. He spread His blessings as far as the curse was found. He broke generational strongholds and patterns of dysfunction. He saved us from the voices. He saved us from ourselves.

It’s a done deal. It’s ongoing glory.

All the while He whispers that you are worthy of His every effort. He doesn’t leave things undone, but faithfully works, as long as it takes, to show you how to live in the healing and freedom He purchased for you at the cross. He calls you to leave the crap behind and stand in the fullness of who He created you to be. He invites you to warmer climates and clean, open spaces where you can run and laugh. He longs for you to embrace His favor. There is no greater worship than surrendering to His love, than embracing His favor, than becoming all He created you to be.

As you drive through the twinkling lights in your neighborhood this Christmas season, remember that your darkness is pierced, your light has come. May our hearts prepare Him room, singing, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, / Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found. . . .”

Joy to the world! Our Lord is come!

Precious Jesus, thank you for being the light that shines into the dark places, releasing me from sin and despair. You broke the slavery chains in my life. You continue to unravel knots and set me free. You placed me in a wide open space where the warmth of Your presence lights my way. I commit to worshiping You by embracing Your favor. By living as one who is loved, forgiven, and free to dance in joy. I give You all my “not good enoughs” and simply rest in the deep, penetrating grace of Jesus. I let those who’ve wronged me off the hook, handing them over to You for Your healing justice. Thank You, Father God, for the cross of Christ. I trust You to make my heart move with Jesus’ life rhythm. After all, He lives within me, and our hearts beat as One.

*Excerpts from “Joy to the World,” text by Isaac Watts

**Excerpt from “O Holy Night,” text by John S. Dwight

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.