Tag Archives: christmas story

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.

Feeling Like Santa (6)

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 find this blog series here.

“I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.” Psalm 9:1-2, MSG

Our home burst at the seams with the boys home for winter break and Sarah and David’s belongs overflowing from their bedroom into our living room and garage. Seth and Stephen didn’t seem to mind sleeping on the couch. It was a rare treat, all of us being together. My earlier pain around our Christmas celebration was not completely gone, but it was lifting.

Then a friend shared how she, too, fought to find celebration within herself. Her family christmas-gifts1was going through financial hardship, and their move away from extended family added loneliness on top of the lack of money for Christmas. God orchestrated some really cool things, which included the generosity of my husband and several friends. The family was given a Christmas tree, and the rest of us pitched in to provide gift cards and presents. My joy was off the charts! I might not own a Christmas tree, and I might not feel free to celebrate as I wanted, but I could be a part of someone else’s joy!

How good God was to allow us to be a part of an abundant surprise for our friends! I praised and thanked Him for the ability to bless someone else when for so many years our financial struggles made us unable to do so. I felt God in that moment. I felt His joy, His great delight in blessing me and blessing them.

I’ve rarely felt that completely happy.

On December 20th, as I wrapped a mound of gifts for this precious family, my husband disappeared. It felt strange, and I worried. Then another friend shared her pain with me. My heart again felt heavy. Afraid of whatever prompted my husband to leave the house without telling me and afraid all the gifts for our friends had overloaded him with too much Christmas, old defense mechanisms kicked in. I felt my heart shutting down from my husband. The joy and delight of delivering gifts to my friends, drained away. I cried out to God as I drove to their house.

I sensed the Lord telling me to live my joy and to refuse to let it be stolen. I fought down the fear of a Christmas chasm between Jerry and me and called his cell as I drove. When I asked where he was he gave a vague answer. I chose to be real with him about what I was feeling and asked him to pray that I could be joyful as I delivered the gifts to our friends. My husband, the same man who used to get upset if we bought someone a Christmas gift, encouraged me to delight in the opportunity to bless.

The time with my friend was glorious. I’ll admit to a secret delight at being able to place gifts under a tree. Heck! I felt like Santa Claus! Their home had a new energy as evidence of the love of their new community poured out in gift after gift placed beneath a tree. The youngest of their five children pranced around the house, pulling out family mementos and asking her mom where they should be placed. In joy I left them to their decorating and drove home with a light heart.

Oh, God is good!

My husband arrived home shortly after I did. He asked the boys to unload the van and bring the contents inside. Bewildered expressions marked their faces . . .

Okay, so one more day, and I’ll tell the rest of the story, but let’s stop here. What’s hard for you this Christmas season? Is there something that steals your joy? Is God’s giving you an opportunity to discover joy someone different?

Dear Lord, Open my heart to all the ways You want me to discover joy this season.

I’ll share the end of this story tomorrow. Promise!

Until Then,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

Tossing and Turning (5)

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 find this series here.

O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven and earth. You are the God who keeps his kind promises to all those who obey you and who are anxious to do your will. ~ 2 Chronicles 6:14 TLB

Funny things happen.

imag0270Yesterday I told you about my friend’s vision of my husband bringing home a Christmas tree and how for many years this promise went unfulfilled. Each year we tried to figure out Christmas, and over time we fostered some good family times to look forward to those last two weeks of December, but still I felt stifled, like the opportunity to celebrate in freedom during my children’s formative years had passed me by. Here is the rest of the story.

Strange occurrences marked the days after Sam and I hung the cross in the upper window that year, and I prayed God would help me worship. It started when my daughter, Sarah, and her husband, David, asked if they could move in for a few months between apartments. My first response was to ask if they could wait until January. With the two oldest boys on break from college over the holidays, I simply didn’t know where to put everyone! But the reality was Sarah and David’s lease was up in November, and the boys would return home soon after. I finally shrugged off the worries about wall-to-wall stuff and the reality that there wouldn’t be enough beds. I told Jerry, “We’ll just pile up like puppies and enjoy the family being together.”

My husband just grinned at me. He loves being surrounded by his children.

The beauty of the season began to seep into me. Jerry took me on a date and seemed to actually enjoy the twinkle lights lining the river pathway where we walked. I liked having imag0271Sarah and David home for the little traditions of Sarah’s childhood. Cutting snowflakes out together was fun. David, and Seth’s girlfriend, Amanda, created exotic designs unlike those our original family had made. We hung them in the window, commenting on the unique artistry of each person.

Then Jerry began tossing and turning at night. We typically enjoy open communication, easily sharing our concerns with each other, but when I asked him if something was wrong that we could pray about together his no was sharp. Immediately, he softened his tone, explaining that at some point we would talk about what was bothering him, but that he needed some space to process.

Little did I know he was praying intently about God’s perspective on Christmas and its traditions.

One day my sweet husband asked, “Honey, has it hurt you that we haven’t celebrated Christmas like you wanted?”

“You don’t know?” Oh how I fought to keep sarcasm out of my voice!

“I know it’s not been what you wanted, but has it hurt you? I mean deeply hurt you.”

My tears answered his question.

“Are there ways you haven’t felt freedom to celebrate and worship the way you want?”

After the years and all of the discussions I couldn’t believe he was even asking.

“What specifically?”

Too vulnerable with a pain carried for too many years, I offered a vague answer and excused myself from the conversation. Then I hid and prayed through my emotions. The issue of how to celebrate Christmas had blocked our intimacy for years. I’d felt so alone. I was disappointed in myself for shutting down now that he was asking questions and trying to understand. Later that night when we were alone in bed, I apologized for how I handled the conversation and told Jerry I would answer any question he wanted to ask. I didn’t want anything to come between us and the intimacy we desired.

“It’s okay, honey.” He snuggled up to me, comforting me with his presence. “I got my answer.”

What I didn’t know then was how gently God was revealing His heart and mine to my husband.

How about you? Is there anywhere you feel God’s gentle nudge this Advent season? For Jerry and me the journey is to learn to celebrate, to let go of old teaching, to discover new freedom. Maybe it’s different for you. May He’s asking you to refocus your Christmas. Or to include someone new in your traditions. Or to let something go that you’ve held onto in your celebration. Maybe God is revealing His heart to you in a new way.

Change can be hard. But God’s plans are always good.

Father, Please open my heart to how you want me to worship and celebrate this Christmas.

The story continues tomorrow!

Blessings,

paula-another-test-401x192-2