Tag Archives: Christmas worship

Why I love Advent–Which Starts Sunday! (And a free Advent devotional book for you.)

The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead. They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trappings were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false god.

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My first Christmas tree

It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree. Perhaps this is one reason I dearly love Advent worship. The process to shedding the beliefs of my childhood and learning to celebrate at Christmas has been long and confusing, but the search has also been pure gold. Since I wasn’t raised with traditions around the holiday, my heart hungered to understand why people did what they did, what God thought about it, and what was right for me.

 

The Advent devotional readings became one of my favorite things, and I’m always on the look-out for a good devotional book—one that makes me think about worshiping Jesus and celebrating not only His birth, but what He came to do.

When I wrote Soul Scents: Flourish, which is a thirteen-week devotional book about my journey out of spiritual, emotional, and mental abuse, I didn’t expect a month’s worth of writing to center of Advent worship, but it’s what God placed in my heart to write. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Captivity of heart, mind, and emotions is the result of abuse and my heart has fought for years to fight out of the captivity connected to my Christmas worship.

Advent cover smallThis fall, as I worked on my Christmas novella series, Tinseled Tidings,  the Lord prompted me to pull out the weeks of Advent worship and off them free on my website. I am pleased to do this. I like to think of it as giving a Christmas gift to all who will receive it! (You can get yours by visiting for free at my website.)*

As I wrote these devotions I found myself typing, “I was created to celebrate. The trappings of Christmas are simply an expression of this need to worship, to sing, to dance. What I really seek is complete freedom to be who I am, to praise my God in abandon, to enjoy every ounce of beauty I can find, without majoring on minors or intense self-evaluation of the rightness of every choice.

From the beginning of my life the enemy tried to steal this identity from me. Children of celebration don’t do well with strife, but I was surrounded by it from day one. They need free expression and movement and beauty. As a child, religion created within me a mistrust of the aesthetics. The culture I was raised in didn’t give much credence to the arts. In the early years movies were considered evil. Dance classes a sin. And much of art inappropriate. Beautiful spaces were not particularly appreciated. There was a prevailing attitude in the church of my childhood that poverty was more acceptable than riches. Too much emphasis on outward adornment was also suspect. As a religious culture, there was a scarcity in our ability to celebrate, to embrace the abundance of the gifts God offered us. Christmas was but a tiny piece of a prevailing attitude that found suspect anything that included too much celebration, too much joy, too much beauty—too much abundance of any type.”

As the words flew from my fingers I grasped something big. I wrote, “It isn’t just Christmas the enemy has tried to steal from me. It is life!

The right to be who I am and breathe my own air the unique way He created me to do it!
You see, I am a child of dance and song. I am a child of celebration. From the beginning the enemy has sought to steal this from me. He has tried to exploit my desire to please God by turning it into striving instead of joyful surrender and praising advancement. He tried to twist the deep parts of my personality, the “old soul” that is me to make me melancholy instead of simply reflective and insightful. He tried to poison my sanguine temperament with hopelessness.

But he has lost his battles. His schemes are crushed into the ground. Where he sowed pain and despair my Jesus came in and poured His healing blood and turned all that evil had planted into seeds of faith. My Jesus watered those seeds with the showers of blessings and storms of trial and the every-single-day-new-hope of His Light. The seeds are bursting forth in blossoms, and the garden of my heart where He dwells is fragrant with grace. The turtledoves have arrived and coo their love song there in my garden heart. The garden my Lord planted for His enjoyment. Here there is hope. There is dance and song and celebration. For I am His child, created for joy.”

As I share those words** with you today, passion rises, jumps, screams out of my body asking, “how about you?” Where has the enemy stolen your joy? Taken away your worship? Lied to you, forcing you into a box of unending self-examination and rules or held you back from enjoying abundance?

My friend we are FREE.

Remember the truth of the beautiful carol, “In His name all oppression shall cease!” and join with worshipers of the ages singing:

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim! ***

May God meet you in joy and freedom this Advent season. I hope you’ll download my *free* Advent devotion and let me be a part of that.

From my heart to yours!

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*If you prefer to read on Kindle instead of downloading the free pdf, Selections for Advent is available on Kindle for 99 cents.

**Taken from week 2 of Soul Scents: Flourish Selections for Advent

***O Holy Night’s original verse by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847, translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893)

 

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?

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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.

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.

Christmas Communion

The Word of the Lord is worth more than gold, even more than much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey straight from the comb. ~ Psalm 19:10 NLV

“Come sit under the Christmas tree with Me.”18269-large

Perhaps above all else it was these words of beautiful intimacy, whispered to my friend and shared with me, that made me hunger for whatever it was I missed by not embracing Christmas. They played in my thoughts, year after year, as I wondered what celebrating Christmas truly meant. My friend told me that when she responded to His sweet voice and joined him next to the tree bedecked in twinkle lights, He shared His heart with her as she recorded His thoughts in her journal. She read part of it to me, the part that wasn’t quite so intimate. It was early in my journey to believe God speaks to me, before I was able to trust it is His voice I listen to.

Oh how I longed to hear and record His voice as she had!

How I longed for Him to be that near, that relational, that sweet to me!

My friend and I were traveling when this happened, sharing a hotel room. As I slipped into sleep, I told Jesus how I longed for intimacy with Him. That night I dreamed Jesus stood at the foot of our separate beds. He said that when He saw me, He saw the things He saw in my friend, a beautiful pink heart, one healthy with grace and love, one designed for intimacy. He told me I was loved no less than He loved her, that I was precious to Him too.

Then He held two white rocks in front of me. He said that on each was written a special name, one of them was the name He’d given her, the other the name He’d given me. The white signified how pure and clean we were, washed by His blood and saved by His grace. Each name was intimate. Special. Something He treasured in each of us. He didn’t tell me our names. It’s a kingdom secret I look forward to knowing in eternity.

I’d longed for a pretty Christmas tree to decorate as a child, but the longing that grew with my friend’s story was at a whole new level. I wanted every ounce of intimacy and worship He had for me.

“Come to the tree,” I hear today.

2d6f00940e456a368404153933242329Only in this moment I sense a different tree. It is cleared of branches and needles. It is shaped like a cross.

When I finished Soul Scents: Bloom, it was late. My family slept quietly, and I delighted in the white space to be alone with God. Instead of going to bed, I slipped into my recliner and pulled out my journal. I wanted to celebrate the moment with Jesus. As I wrote to Him, I sensed Him say, “I celebrate with you! Grab a glass of wine.”

I opened the refrigerator. There were two options, but I sensed He wanted me to pour the mead, which is wine made from honey. One time during a prayer gathering the woman praying for me told me that she saw God’s anointing upon my words, that what came from me would pour out like honey, sweet and healing for those who listened. Receiving that promise in faith, I poured from that bottle to celebrate with my Jesus. It got a little weird when I felt He asked me to pour two glasses. After all, I didn’t really expect Him to drink it, since we are together in spirit rather than flesh. I decided to have our little celebration outside, on the deck I so often thank Him for. I suspected He would ask me to pour the second glass on the ground, like a drink offering before Him. I remembered something about David doing that in Scripture.

What I’m about to share, I share in brief, holding back the words I believe were specifically for me and sharing only those words I believe He speaks to all of us. In reality I was writing in my journal, pausing and praying, never seeing His face. In my spirit I sensed His position in heaven, surrounded by friends who dined with Him there, but I never saw anything.

I offer this experience to you with a bit of embellishment, told as a story, in hopes you can read as though you are the heroine. As you digest the following portion, imagine yourself as the “I.”

Hear His heart for you.

Ponder His request.

Receive His love.

I sit in the night breeze, chilled though it is summer. The dim light illuminates the two glasses of mead on the glass table before me. The flowers I planted in pots around the deck are colorless shapes, shadows in the darkness, but their beauty is still present in my heart. I scan the sky for stars and moon and watch the tree limbs stir as they reach toward heaven.

The glasses of honey wine call to me. Am I crazy? Did He really ask me to pour two glasses? “It is hard to trust this is Your voice, Jesus, telling me to do this strange thing. But Your voice, Your words are desired by me. More than gold. They are sweeter even than honey. I do want intimacy with you more than I want anything.” I stare at the goblets, side-by-side. “Won’t You speak and show me what to do with these glasses of mead?”

“Take. Drink. This is our communion. This sharing together.”

I sense His voice rising from my heart, I don’t hear with my ears, but the words are sweet, so sweet. Just to know He speaks is beyond joy.

“This sharing together is our celebration. Take up your cross and follow Me. Receive from My hand both blessing and sacrifice. Trust Me in each.”

“What are we celebrating, Lord?”

“My sacrifice and yours. Your surrender. My victory upon the cross. My resurrection Spirit within you. This moment of victory in your journey. Take up the glass and lift it to heaven!”

I close my eyes and lift my glass, shutting out the deck, the flowers, the night. I hold my glass and listen for His voice, sensing He no longer whispers to my heart, but speaks out loud in heaven, inviting His friends there to listen.

“I toast you. Here is My partner and my bride. She bears many scars, but each is lovely to Me. I see no fault in her. I am highly pleased! Raise your glass, my sister, my bride. Believe in our marriage, our oneness, our unity! You fear failure. Obscurity. Lack of impact. Poverty. How can that be when you are married to the One who is highly exalted above all powers? Raise your glass, for I am King. I have conquered sin and death. I am victorious and joyful and full of delight—and I delight in you!”

My voice comes quickly, eager to praise Him, the worthy One who declares me valuable, who claims me as His bride. “Praise You Jesus! King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Praise You for Your kindness and mercy. Your patience and long suffering. Your sacrifice on my behalf. Your healing unconditional love! Praise You, Jesus!”

Surely they hear me in the heavens. Surely heaven’s hosts, seated in His banquet hall, rise from their seats, praise on their lips! “Glory to Jesus! All glory to the Lamb of God who was slain, who bore humanity’s iniquities and presents them whole and clean before the Father! Glory to Jesus! The Lamb slain who rose again! The baby who became Savior of the world!” Their words are an exultant roar. “All praise to King Jesus!”

The moment becomes private again, the banquet hall fading, the deck filling my vision. The two glasses before me.

“Drink now, my daughter.” His voice is tender in my ear. “Receive the joy. Receiving the anointing. The smaller portion the suffering. The greater the blessing. Both a gift of my hand. Recall this night in the years to come, how I married the suffering and the blessing and called both good. For each brief moment of suffering, you reap great harvest. Others will see the glory of My kingdom because of your surrender to this. Believe. Do not doubt. The mead is sweet, is it not?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“The cup of suffering and the cup of blessing are both sweet when poured by My hand. Fear not the future. Trust My sweet presence will abide with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I tremble. Is it the cool in the air or the magnitude of my surrender to this difficult request? To drink of not only blessing, but suffering. “Every drop You pour I will drink.” My voice barely a whisper. “If You but protect me from all else and hold me in Your sweet presence in sunshine and in rain.”

I pick up the first cup, the cup with less wine, and I drink of suffering. “I surrender again to Your plan, Jesus, the sweetness of honey wine upon my lips. Let the meditations of my heart be pure and holy and a blessing to You, my Husband. My Lord. My King.”

Reaching for the second cup, the one full of blessing, I drink easily, savoring each sip, awash with His presence.

It’s as if He is right there next to me, the breeze like a tender finger brushing my cheek. I can almost see Him place a finger beneath my chin and lift my gaze to His. “Rest My dear one.” Oh the sweetness of His voice! “Trust that I am in control and all I ordain will come to pass. I will never leave or forsake you. Where could you flee from My presence? No matter where you go, I am there. I am one with my beloved. We can never be separated. Whether you dwell in joy or sorrow My presence will comfort and heal you. I hold you to My heart always. My heart beats for you, and I sustain your heart and enable it to beat for Me. Our love affair has just begun. It will grow through the ages of the earth and through the age of eternity. You will know what it means to be truly loved.”

Ah, sweet friend. Come to the tree. The rough, scratchy tree with the three nail holes. It is here our Savior taught us how to pick up our cross and walk through suffering to eternal victory.

Ah, precious friend. Come to the tree. The tree that sparkles with tiny lights and joyful declaration just as the sky glistened with the light of the heavenly hosts declaring, “Glory to God on the highest! Peace on who God’s favor rests!” Enjoy the celebration. The blessings! The magical wonder of an eternal King who came as a baby.

Both are the same tree. Blessing and suffering together. Both necessary for the greatest gift of all. Both are the tree of intimacy.

Lord Jesus, I come.

Oh sweet friend, do you feel it? The sweetness of surrender? The depths of His love?

Much love,

Paula another test (401x192) (2)

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.