14 posts categorized "Advent"

Advent - A Season for Delighting

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Dear SUMite friends, it’s Ian from sunny Sydney here. I love that Lynn’s previous post involved Mary as I too seek to dig a little deeper on one aspect of her story.

Let’s quickly look at the scene once again. I’d encourage you to read it in its entirety, Luke 1:26-38. And as you read it, picture yourself in the scene. Stand alongside Mary, our teenage girl. Innocent and naïve. But one who is a committed believer in God. She has read all the stories of Abraham, Moses, the other Joseph and the like. These heroes of the faith are very dear to her. She knows God uses ordinary people to do great things.

All of a sudden and out of nowhere, Gabriel arrives. Picture this mighty esteemed angel. I do wonder what he looks like. Is he a giant with wings like the magnificent artwork of yesteryear or does he come in the appearance of a man? Interestingly, the first impression we have of Mary in response to his appearance is that “she is perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” No mention of her being terrified by his sudden appearing nor of any imposing presence but his words that she is the “favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Bearer of Good News

Gabriel informs Mary that she too will join the heroes of the Old Testament and be used by God for a great purpose. Luke in sharing this story contrasts Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words with those of Zechariah of a few verses earlier. Mary’s response is simply one of wonder and seeking to understand. Zechariah sought immediate proof to believe. He didn’t, so he was struck dumb.

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asks innocently. Gabriel explains the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and that she will carry for nine months the Son of God. Further, he validated his statement by providing the testimony of her cousin, Elizabeth, also being pregnant, as Lynn shared with us on Monday.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

This statement has been significant for me this year simply in acknowledging that all God sees is possibility. Let that sink in. We kinda put things into two buckets, don’t we? The possible bucket and the impossible one. Not God. There is only one bucket – possibility. I love that. Remember that when you get disheartened about your spouse ever coming to know Jesus.

Interestingly, one commentary I read recently mentioned how Gabriel, effectively waits for a response from Mary. Will she respond positively to God’s favor or not? In effect, this commentator indicates that Mary had a choice. Like we all do when God enters. We can choose to say yes, or reject Him.

Let’s face it, Mary as a teenage girl carrying a baby that is not her fiancé’s was set for a very difficult pregnancy. She would likely be rejected by Joseph and her family. But, as we know she responds affirmatively: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

What courage, what obedience. She chose to abandon her own will and to follow that of the Lord. I wish I had this young girl’s faith.

The Magnificat

Lynn shared with us how Mary went off to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Oh, and how we could spend lots of time reviewing that scene. But I want to conclude this post by reflecting on a favourite verse of many of us

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4 AMP)

Too often we hope that in believing God He will give us our desires. But this verse clearly shows there is a condition. And a significant one. God wants us to delight in Him.

This is what Mary did as expressed in the “Song of Mary” or “The Magnificat” as it has become known in the Biblical lectionary. Read it aloud for yourself: Luke 1:46-55. It is Mary’s hymn of praise. I suspect she sang this song many times during her pregnancy and through the years she mothered her son, Jesus.

This Christmas, let’s be intentional in simply praising our God. Sing those Christmas hymns with a little more gusto and passion. Because He is good, faithful and loves each one of us (including our unsaved spouses) like crazy. This is why we celebrate Christmas – God in loving us so much gave His son to be born to a young teenage girl, so that we could fall in love with Him and live a life to His glory.

Wishing all my SUMite family a most blessed Christmas. Be safe, be merry and delight in our most awesome God.


Advent - An Invitation to Go Deeper

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Photo courtesy of LiturgyTools.net

The Christmas season comes around every year and for many of us it’s kind of the same-old-same-old. Yes, the specialness of the season are the traditions of it and doing the same things every year.  We put up the same tree and decorations, listen to the same Christmas music, have the same family mealtimes, attend the various end of year gatherings and church services and so on.

The busyness of it and the stress of battling through all the shopping crowds, the cooking of all the food and keeping the house clean can serve to distract us. We consciously decide to stay positive and not allow the stress to affect us or the awkward family moments we often experience.

And before we know it, it’s over for another year. We collapse on our lounges having eaten too much and exhausted from the intensity of our family gatherings. For an introvert like myself I’m hankering to get back into my cave to recharge.

Waiting

Advent can simply be another tradition. We light the candles at the appropriate times, pick up an Advent-dedicated devotional and even perhaps follow the alternate lectionaries of Bible readings. Like any ‘practice’ we can simply go through the motions. I know I’m regularly guilty of doing exactly that.

I especially love Advent. However, I need to be very intentional to ensure it’s simply not another tradition that I ‘do’ because it makes me feel good. I don’t want to simply go through the motions.

Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting for an “arrival” (which is what the word, Advent means) of the Messiah. Waiting generally is uncomfortable, isn’t it? It’s uncomfortable because it means we’re not in control. I was only sitting on a plane today thinking we were about to take off when we’re advised that three passengers hadn’t checked in. Arggh. I just want to get home. So we wait. Fifteen minutes pass (which feels like an hour) and two of the three sheepishly head down the aisle sensing the boring eyes of every passenger they pass. We wait some more. Until finally a decision is made to go without the remaining one. I wonder how many of us spared a thought for the passenger left behind or in our hearts were simply glad to be on our way?

The Israelites were used to waiting. What 400 years before the arrival of Jesus? We SUMites are used to waiting too, aren’t’ we? Waiting for the many prayed prayers for the salvation of our dearly loved spouses to be answered. We should be experts at it, shouldn’t we?

Hopeful Expectation

We can choose to walk through Advent with hopeful expectation. Maybe Christmas will be difficult for whatever reason which makes us apprehensive. But we can keep our minds and hearts on the good news of Jesus. He is the liberator, the lover of our souls and we can choose to use these days to intentionally go deeper with Him.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[it.” (John 1:4-5 NIV)

Jesus is the light. And as these verses tell us He shines in the darkness. May I encourage you to take a few moments today or tomorrow or the next day to identify the places in your life where you might be struggling to find God. Where are the places of darkness? These can be scary places because we worry that Jesus won’t show up. So here’s what we’ll do:

  1. Once you’ve identified a dark place, invite Jesus into it. Picture Him walking into the room, holding your hand. Every time you sense darkness, invite Jesus to come into. Our friend, Martha, actually spends each morning siting in the dark communing with God awaiting the light of the morning sunrise. It’s a wonderful practice to mirror this exercise.
  2. Be assured that He is with you. Be assured that He hears all of our prayers, all those prayers we’ve prayed for the salvation of our spouses and loved ones. Encourage yourself with the words of Psalm 56:8 –

“You keep track of all my sorrows.

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.”

Spending moments of stillness where it’s just you and God are particularly special in this season. I’ve recently started using an App that Ransomed Heart have released. It’s simply called “One Minute Pause”. Go check it out – it’s free. Here’s the link to the Apple version but there is also an Android one, just search for it in the Android app store: - https://apps.apple.com/app/id1471913620

Come, let us adore Him, Jesus that is, this season. Let’s be intentional with hope in our hearts. Blessing, dear friends. I’ll be checking in midway during the month with a second post on Advent.

Perhaps in the meantime let’s share with each other what we’re hoping for this Christmas. I’m hoping for complete healing for my brother, John, who is walking through a stem cell transplant to keep lymphoma at bay. Unfortunately, he will be spending Christmas in a hospital isolation ward.


The Difference Between Zechariah and Mary

Emmanuel God With US spirituallunequalmarriage.com We are nearing the time and the town of Bethlehem. Last week in the comments Cindy, brought forward an interesting observation. And today as I’m reading the story of Christmas from the first chapter of Luke, my eyes are drawn again and again to the angel Gabriel and his proclamation of the birth of the Messiah given to Mary, a young woman living in Galilee.

Cindy pointed out the difference between Zechariah’s questioning of Gabriel in contrast to Mary’s question put to the angel. Zach’s question was a cloak of disbelief and Mary’s???? Well as Cindy shared last week, Mary, was asking out of curiosity about how the conception and birth would come about.

This is what I believe we can receive from these two contrasts that are very similar and both prominent in the telling of the birth of the Messiah.

It’s all about the heart!

My friends, it’s our inner core, who we truly are and what we believe, that God comprehends in perfect clarity.

People are sophisticated and very clever about cloaking their full truth from others, but God understands our entire “real” self, every moment of every day. What fascinates me is that Mary proclaimed her acceptance of Gabriel’s word from the LORD in her song for Elizabeth. And within this song exists another profound truth about the human and spiritual condition of people.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. — Luke 1:51

Our thought life is everything!

What we think matters because our thoughts birth things into our lives, good or wicked. And Mary is stating this fact upon receiving the news of the birth of her Savior. Wow!

We must purpose to capture all, ALL, negative, ugly, ungodly thoughts and images, taking them captive to Christ.

I'm convinced through my personal faith life of more than 30 years and through the many prayer sessions I lead, that it is possible for the demonic realm to tune into our thoughts. I’m not really sure when and how the Christian church came to the conclusion that the demons can't hear our thoughts, because nowhere in the Word that written. But I’ve had experiences in the past when in my mind thought things and I never spoke a word, yet I partnered with a lie through dark thoughts and the and I gave power to the ugly thought and it became real in my life.

Because our thought-life is critically important, it's not a coincidence that there are numerous scripture verses about our thoughts and mind.

Our thought-life creates atmospheres. They can be dark, gloom, doom, sad, and mad. Or they can create life, hope, love, peace and joy. The Holy Spirit dwells in a person’s heart who thinks upon these things. Let me give you an example. The atmosphere of worship is where the angels play in vibrant colors of green, bright purples, reds, and golds. But a dark atmosphere is shadowy, fearful, nasty, accusatory, angry and the demonic lurks.

Within the telling of the birth of Christ, smack in the middle of Mary’s declaration, I discovered the preeminent importance of our thoughts. It was true over 2,000 years ago and it’s true today. Capturing thoughts to Christ and having the mind of Christ is our daily pursuit.

Dwell upon God. Think about Him. Talk to Him. Talk to Jesus. Dance with the angelic. Live with the Holy Spirit. Ponder and let your thoughts drift toward heaven. Offer Him praise. Blast the worship music. Give Him thanks and think words that echo His character. You can change your atmosphere and those about you. One of my favorite things to do, is to walk into Walmart and change the atmosphere of the store!!

Say what??

It’s so cool!

Once again, the powerful truths that are hidden in the Christmas story are bringing hope, tools and truth to equip the Saints to slay the darkness and release the captives…

…and isn’t that why Jesus was born?

I leave you with the end of the conversation between the angel, Gabriel and Mary.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  

For no word from God will ever fail. —Luke 1:34-37


Advent - A Season of Waiting ...

 

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I received a call that I wasn’t expecting. From my sister. It was Saturday night, two weeks ago. She was relaying some information she’d received about our brother, John.

He had been admitted into hospital that afternoon, had an MRI that found he had a ‘mass’ in his head. Oh dear. Not at all what we wanted to hear.

And so the waiting began.

Over the next week John had a bunch of tests and scans. Lots of waiting for things to happen – John dubbed it “hospital time”. All confirmed there was only the one mass. Everything else was normal except that movement in both his right arm and right leg were slightly impaired. The mass was pressing on his brain impacting a signal to those limbs.

Finally, a biopsy was to be taken. But this was no simple biopsy as they had to get into his head. And therefore, there were risks involved. Because the mass was in an area of ‘high value real estate’ we were told.

The procedure went well and there were no complications. Praise God.

And then we waited. For the results.

Three days later a simple text message arrived. From John. “Diagnosed with B Cell lymphoma. Chemo starts Monday. Sorry for the curt message.”

My heart sunk.1

A Season to Wait

Advent commenced last Sunday (2 December). Advent is a time of waiting. The name Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” Beginning each year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent commemorates the birth of Jesus and also anticipates His return. As Ann Voskamp says we are “perpetual Advent people” waiting on Christ’s return. I’d add that we are also waiting on Jesus to do work in our heart regarding life’s circumstances.

We SUMites are used to waiting, aren’t we?

He doesn’t always immediately respond to our heart cry – “God help us!” So we wait. “He teaches us to stay in the waiting.” (Ruth Haley Barton) We sit with our longings: for good biopsy results, for our pre-believing spouses, and so on.

It’s important for us to not run away from our longings, to spend time with the Lord expressing our worries and fears. We see throughout the Scriptures, particularly in the OT and the Psalms how many times people cry out to God, whether it’s Rachel in her desire for children (Genesis 30) or David in his lament (for example, Psalm 6).

Light and Darkness

When we wait we often linger in darkness. The future is uncertain and dark. We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know what the diagnosis will be or if our spouses will choose Jesus. We typically associate negative connotations with the darkness, don’t we? But a lot of good things happen in the dark. Remember we were created in the darkness of the womb.

Lingering in uncertainty with our longings can also be a positive experience. Because we linger with God. Even if He feels distant we can claim the promises that He has given us in the Bible. “By His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)

Lighting candles is one of the symbols of Advent. It reflects Christ being the light of the world and coming through the darkness – “The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

During Advent we don’t just wait, we also anticipate. We anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. And we anticipate that He will come again to make all things new.

“Jesus Christ has come, and He is coming again. This is the heart of Advent.” (He Reads Truth)

The Branch Gives us Hope

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;


    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Advent is all about hope. In the who is coming.

We can believe in that hope. Because He did come 2,000 years ago on that Christmas morn, born in a food trough, son to a teenage mom and her husband.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has come to us. He is in us and we are in Him.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has told us He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). Even when our beloved doesn’t know Him. Even when the diagnosis isn’t good.

Often when we’re in a season of wilderness or a battle or even the 24 days of Advent our hope is in the end, the arrival, the victory. Time and time again we see in the Bible, most often the true ‘victory’ occurs during the wilderness, or struggle or suffering. This is where we discover that God wants more of us; He wants our hearts to know Him deeply and intimately. This can only come through time with Him. I've always loved the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist's parents, who lived in silence for 5 months of his gestation. During this period, Zechariah discovered the wonder of an intimate Father, and on John being born, as a result of his obedience in naming his son, Zechariah's tongue is freed and he opens by praising God (Luke 1:64)

Advent is counter cultural because it calls us to slow down from our busy schedules of Christmas parties and events to spend time waiting on Jesus, and leaning into Him as we discover and share the longings of our heart.  

I hope you are able to spend some time in the next few weeks reflecting on the hope of Advent. On Jesus. Allow His Words to “dwell in you richly.”

Wishing all of my SUMite friends a blessed Advent season full of childlike hope and anticipation.

Grace and peace,

1. Note: as a write this post, John is undergoing his first chemo treatment. We don't know what is going to happen this week, in the next weeks and months, but I have real comfort because John is in a great place with the Lord as he starts this challenging season. He wants to fall more in love with Him and discover all there is to life with Jesus. If you remember, we'd cherish any prayers you may utter for John. Thank you, my dear friends.


Advent - Jesus Came to Bring us Life!

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So here we all are. The week before Christmas with still lots to do. Work to finish off, shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, travelling and hosting just to name a few things. It’s exhausting just reading that list.

Besides all of this we may have the added stress of having family staying with us (we do) and/or going to stay with family. A quick tip, delegate things. Don’t try to do it all. Engage everyone in the doing. Yes, this can be a struggle and frankly I’m preaching this as much to myself as anyone. Because sometimes people don’t follow instructions well or try to take over.

Breathe, Ian, breathe.

Abundant Life

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)

We all know this verse. At Christmas both parts of the verse are very relevant. The enemy will do everything to wreck Christmas. But. But. Jesus came to give us life and an abundance of it. Oh, how easy it is for us to forget especially when the stress levels are rising.

For many of us Christmas can bring back many sad memories of loss and grief. And because it’s Christmas we tend to feel those emotions even stronger. May I encourage you not to try and block them out. Let those feelings come. And when they do picture Jesus standing with you. Holding you. Grieving and crying with you. Feeling those same emotions.

Hold onto the truth that our Lord was born on Christmas Day so we could have life! An abundant life! With Him.

He arrived in a world that was in chaos. A world that was desperate for the promised Messiah. After 400 years many would have given up.

He arrived in a war zone. The supernatural war was intense.

He arrived in a time when the Romans held an iron grip on society.

He arrived ... so you and I could have … life. In abundance.

Cherish Jesus this Christmas. Cherish your family and friends.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’ (Numbers 6:24-26 NKJV)

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS


Advent - God of Surprises

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I sat chatting with my publisher. We’d only just met face to face for the first time and here we sat, an Englishman and an Aussie, having a cup of tea (as in hot) in a café in a Nashville hotel. We were attending a Christian Writers Conference, he prospecting for new content and I hoping he’d give me an update on my manuscript that I’d sent through to his employer three months previous.

Unfortunately, Tony knew nothing about my manuscript. He was now a contractor to the business and so wasn’t involved in the day-to-day. I thought we’d end up having a nice chat about nothing in particular until he quickly changed the subject with the question: “Have you thought of writing non-fiction?” (for those of you who don’t know I write fiction).

My heart jumped a little. I’d come to the conference having played around with an idea for a non-fiction project to discuss with some of my writing friends and one in particular, our very own Dineen Miller. But I didn’t plan on pitching it, as this was a fiction conference so I naively thought who’s going to be interested in non-fiction? Well, Tony was.

Not being prepared, I babbled out an idea and it was clear to both Tony and I that all I had was a general concept. He kindly agreed to my suggestion of sending him a proposal in the next month.

As soon as I finished with Tony I sought out Dineen and with much excitement shared what happened.

I’ve attended two of these conferences now and both times the Lord has surprised me.

Mary

We’re all familiar with the story in Luke 1. Last week we looked at Gabriel surprising Zechariah with the news of a baby. In verses 26-38, Gabriel appears a second time to a poor Galilean peasant girl. Most commentators believe Mary was 13 or 14 years old. It was relatively common in those times for girls of this age to be married and pregnant and I’ve always loved the innocence of Mary’s question to Gabriel: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v34 ESV)

This was only the first of a lifetime of surprises for Mary. God turned this girl’s life upside down in an instant.

Mary and Elizabeth

The surprises continue. And we’re still in Chapter 1. Mary’s now pregnant and she visits her cousin, Elizabeth who is now almost six months pregnant.

“and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit ”” (v40-42 ESV)

The babe inside Elizabeth, ie, John, leaped when Mary greeted Elizabeth. The spiritual electricity is hot. The baby senses the presence of the Messiah. And then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit! Wow.

After this initial Holy Spirit-charged greeting, Mary, we’re told remained with Elizabeth for about three months. (v56) Here we have a 60-year-old woman, six months pregnant, with her fourteen-year-old cousin who was in her first trimester. Both women no doubt supported each other in very practical ways through their respective pregnancies. Just imagine some of their conversations! 

Can we presume Mary was present at the birth of John? Did she assist in the birth? Did she hear Zechariah speak his first words after being mute for nine months?

And then Mary went home. With a baby bump. Surprising her betrothed, their families and communities. I expect Mary would have been dreading that day of departure. 

How has God surprised you recently?

It didn’t take long for more surprises. Chapter 2 starts by telling us that the Romans are planning a census and everyone needed to go to their own towns to register. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem “the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David” (v4) only for Mary to soon go into labour then giving birth to Jesus in a barn because the inn was full due to the influx of people registering.

The Messiah! Born in a barn? Another surprise.

As we journey closer to Christmas, now only 14 days away, may we all be surprised by our Lord. May we all have expectant hearts as we keep our eyes on Him.

When was the last time the Lord surprised you? It would be lovely for us all to share in each other’s surprises by adding them in the comments. I trust this will fill us with even more hope as we wait upon the Lord in this season of Advent.

Grace and peace,


Advent - Sharing the Longing

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One Bible story that I keep coming back to each Advent season is the one that features Zechariah and Elizabeth. I hadn’t spent a lot of time reflecting upon it until a few years ago when I began to observe Advent.

Most of you will know their story is briefly told in Luke 1 before Mary’s story. I’d encourage you to read it again (v5-25) and as we’ve done in the past read it meditatively. Perhaps listen to it and put yourself into the story. Imagine you are Zechariah or Elizabeth or one of the crowd and see what the Spirit reveals to you.

Longing

This couple was probably in their late 50’s or early 60’s. He was a respected Jewish priest and would have been highly thought of within society. However, even though holding an elevated position in society they were probably looked down upon.

Why? Scripture tells us the reason: 

“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.” (v7)

Because child bearing and, particularly a son, were so significant in those times, Elizabeth was most likely not recognised and she would have carried great shame.

Besides the shame there would have been a deep deep longing. For a child. The preceding verse describes both as being blameless before the Lord. But still no child. Imagine their heartache, the number of answered prayers that had come from both of their mouths over perhaps forty-plus years.

We too experience a similar longing. For our spouses who don’t know the Lord yet. And the different life we might lead as a Christian couple. No more shying away, no more hiding in the background, no more missed opportunities, and no more sitting alone in church.

Astonishment and Doubt

Zechariah has an experience of a lifetime. He is fortunate to be the name drawn to have the honour of burning incense in to the temple of the Lord. This would have been a great day for him. 

And then he meets an angel. Not any angel. Gabriel, “who stands in the presence of God.” That angel. Many would have fainted I suspect … his presence would have been terrifying, bewildering and just weird.

The news Zechariah receives is astonishing. After all these years of waiting and longing, answered prayer, his dearest Elizabeth would bear … a son. And not just any son; but one that “will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

Hallelujah.

Zechariah is so astonished that he questions Gabriel. I think we all would under similar circumstances. And interestingly, Mary a few verses later, asks almost the identical question when Gabriel shares with her. (“Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” v34)

Doubt is part of the human condition. It is nothing to be ashamed of nor does it turn God away from us. He understands. Expressing our doubts to Him is okay. He wants us to share our doubts with Him. We only have to read the Psalms to see how David doubted.

Intercession by others

“And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.” (v10)

It’s easy to miss this verse. While Zechariah is in the temple, a multitude is praying. For him. Probably for Elizabeth. For their situation.

No doubt our couple had shared with many their sadness, their longing and yearning for a child. God doesn’t call us to journey alone. In seasons of doubt being able to share our situations can be beneficial not just to ourselves but those we share it with. When was the last time we shared our sadness about our situation with another? For most of the last twenty years, I wouldn’t say much at all unless directly asked. Recently, I mentioned it to someone in one of my prayer groups. And his first response was “that must be tough.” To which I nodded and said, “yep, it is.”

“Naming the ache of our yearnings is indeed faithful. It opens wide the gift of receiving and embracing the prayers of others.” (Enuma Okoro)

We’re blessed having this community where we can share our yearning and be praying for each other. Lynn, our ever faithful leader, a few weeks ago encouraged us to leave our spouses name in the comments so she could pray for each of us as couples. And I understand there is some wonderful sharing in the Facebook group.

If you are feeling particular sadness due to a longing in your heart or loneliness as Christmas approaches please share with us in the comments below so we can love over you with our prayers.

I had thought I’d write more on the next part of the story but I realise I’ve gone long enough so I'll leave it to next time.

Grace and peace, dear friends.


Advent - a Season to Remember and to Anticipate

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We got the call that our son and his wife had left for the hospital. Our excitement increased thinking the next time we hear from them they will share the wonderful news of becoming parents for the first time. And we’d be grandparents. Yay! We went to bed believing we’d wake to receive the news.

Morning came. Still in labour.

Lunchtime. Still going.

Staying focused on anything else was pretty difficult. The anticipation was thrilling. Words of encouragement for our son as he worried for the love of his life as she so bravely persevered.

Evening came. All was quiet.

We hoped and prayed for news and that they wouldn’t enter into a second night of labour.

Just after dinner, the text arrived. How our hearts jumped into our throats.

A son. A healthy boy. And mom is doing well after such a long pre-labour and labour. Oh, and new dad is coping too. Almost nine months they had waited for this moment. A moment they’ll never forget and cherish for as long as they live.

Such a blessing. Moses Maxwell. I am the grandfather of Moses! Ha.

Remembrance and Anticipation

Most of us have been there. For many, it’s a fairly recent experience. For others like me, it’s now twenty-plus years since our last children were born. But they are still moments that we can recall vividly.

I reflected often about my two birth experiences during my son and daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. I remembered as I anticipated the birth of their child.

Advent commences this Sunday (3 December). Advent is a time of waiting. The name Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” Beginning each year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent commemorates the birth of Jesus and also anticipates His return. As Ann Voskamp says we are “perpetual Advent people” waiting on Christ’s return.

During Advent we both remember and anticipate. We remember when Jesus became man and chose to live as one of us. We don’t just celebrate that He came, but also why He came.

We also anticipate His promised return. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus, His birth, but also that He will come again to make all things new.

“Jesus Christ has come, and He is coming again. This is the heart of Advent.” (He Reads Truth)

The Branch Gives us Hope

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;


    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Advent is all about hope. In the who is coming.

We can believe in that hope. Because He did come 2,000 years ago on that Christmas morn, born in a food trough, son to a teenage mom and her husband.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has come to us. He is in us and we are in Him.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has told us He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). Even when our beloved doesn’t know Him.

Christmas can be a tough season for we SUMites because we choose to celebrate Jesus and not Santa. We pop off to church on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, alone.

But remember Jesus understands loneliness. He understands being alone. He experienced it, himself. He understands rejection because He lived it.

He understands us. Really, truly! Because He has chosen each one of us.

Choose to remember Him when the enemy throws the darts of loneliness at you, when he tries to take away your joy in the One we celebrate.

I hope you are able to spend some time in the next few weeks reflecting on the hope of Advent. On Jesus. Allow His Words to “dwell in your richly.” Join me over these next four weeks as I share some more on this wonderful season of … remembering and anticipating.

Wishing all of my SUMite friends a blessed Advent season full of childlike hope and anticipation.

Grace and peace,


Fourth Week of Advent: Peace (and Christmas!)

Advent4Merry Christmas, SUMites! I’m finishing up my Advent series today, because Lynn and I will be taking next week off to have more time with our families. We love you and bless you with all the joy and gladness this season holds, dear friends. Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends and most importantly, ENJOY JESUS! He’s not only our Savior, but our very best friend and partner in this life and the one to come.

We are about to enter the fourth and final week of Advent this Sunday, my friends. I’ve included a picture of what my Advent wreath will look like this Sunday as I light all four candles. This last candle represents peace, and as the Word says, Jesus came to bring us peace. Not the peace the world offers, but His peace. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. — John 14:27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

He overcame the world to save us and bring order to a chaotic world.

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. — 1 Cor. 14:33

And His covenant of peace was made long ago.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isa 9:6

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. — Isa 54:10

This is the heart of our Father God and why He sent us His Son, Jesus, to establish His kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. And not only did He come to bring His peace, He came to dwell within us so that His peace would “live” in us. It’s part of what we receive with the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. — Gal 5:22-23

His peace resides in us. Even when we don’t “feel” that peace, we can pray for it to bubble up and fill us, my friends. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Phil 4:6-7

Peace is one of God’s greatest provisions that is intended to permeate every area from our personal lives to the entire world and every place in between. Our mind, heart, soul and spirit are part of that too. So often we forget to ask for it, to pray for it to well up and increase in us. During a very difficult time I learned to call on this peace and was absolutely stunned at how I could actually feel it rush in. The Spirit of God lives in us, my friends, and that Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is our Comforter. Call on Him to comfort you as much as you need!

Ornaments
Some of my favorite ornaments...

Now, the best for last. The Christ Candle. Every year I look for a candle that speaks to my heart. Usually white with some sort of design on it. I am especially enamored with Christmas trees since last Christmas and find myself drawn to them. I realized the tree is the most important part of my family traditions because it holds so much love. Nearly every ornament holds a meaning, has a story behind it, or marks a special date. And now that my girls are grown, I find those ornaments to be a precious reminder of all the love we have shared over the years. 

ChristCandleSo this year’s Christ Candle has a tree on it and will be lit on Christmas Eve and Day. For me, this candle represents the promise of hope and a future (Jer 29:11). He is the light of the world and the light of our lives. And He has even more for us for next year. I’m already praying over 2017, my friends. Praying for words and Scriptures for my family at home and here, our SUM family. He is faithful to His Word and watches over it!

SUMites, I bless you with precious moments that touch your heart, that will remind you of how God’s love is always present and will even form a new and precious memory for years to come. And I pray the glory and favor of the Lord will increase in your lives all through 2017. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). In the glorious name of Jesus, amen!

Merry Christmas!
Dineen


Third Week of Advent: Love

Advent3Hello, SUMites! We’re less than two weeks away from Christmas. Can you believe that? I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping…I think. How about you? And what’s on the menu for Christmas Day? What do I need to make? Who’s coming over? Need more lights up outside. I hope my mother loves her gift…

I bet your mind is filled with thoughts like these, one after another tumbling after each other like dominoes. It’s totally normal, right? We do this every year and we go into it all with the best intentions. Doesn’t always work out perfectly, but we hope for the best.

So what’s at the heart of all that? 

Love.

We love our families and friends. We want the very best for them. And we want to enjoy them during the celebrations too. Doesn’t take much in my book. So far my favorite gift for a friend cost $3.95. Can’t wait to see the surprised delight on her face when she opens it. For me it’s an act of love that says, “I get you. I love you. I think you’re special.”

As you can see I’ve lit our third candle on the Advent Wreath—just one more to go and then I’ll be lighting the Christ candle in the middle on Christmas. I love Christmas traditions. They remind me of my childhood and my children’s childhood. And I love remembering the love that infuses those memories too. Dancing around the kitchen as we baked cookies, making a snowman together, hugs and hot cocoa—more precious acts of love.

Love is the theme for this third week of Advent. As I sat and contemplated and prayed, another stream of Scriptures come to mind. I’ve shared in the past that I’ve known since I was a small child that “love makes the world go round.” I knew love was the biggest game changer in this world, just didn’t know the source.

Now I do and I still believe in love. And as the Bible says, God is love, so I believe in God. And I believe God. The first statement defines my faith, the second defines my relationship with Him.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. — 1 John 4:16-17 NLT

And God’s motivation has always been love, hasn’t it?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV

Not to condemn us, but to love us. Jesus walked this earth as the embodiment of God’s love and displayed it brilliantly. With just a look, a word, a thought—people’s lives were changed, healed, restored. He’s our greatest example of how to love.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” — Mark 10:21 NIV

My friends, He is faithful, true and loyal to the end, our Jesus. He is my inspiration. And my greatest prayer is for Him to help me love well every person He puts before me, whether at the healing rooms, at home, in a store or right her online. This my goal!

Let love be your highest goal! — 1 Cor. 14:1 NLT 

I love you, SUMites. You are fierce in your love, faith and faithfulness. You walk a path many will never understand. But God does. He gets you. He loves you. He’s thinks your super special. 

Merry Christmas, my friends. May the love of God be more real to you right now than ever before. May He fill the stockings of your heart with His overflowing gift of love. In the name of Jesus, amen!

Hugs!
Dineen


Second Week of Advent: JOY!

IMG_5524Hello, SUM Family! We’re moving closer and closer to Christmas, and like you, I want to be intentional in enjoying the details of Christmas. Yesterday morning I went into my prayer room to pray for my own family and our SUM family here. I continue to pray and declare Jeremiah 24:7 over our spouses and am praying the Scriptures written on the beams of this house over you. They are such good words!

JOY is also a very good word, my friends. And it’s the theme of the second week of Advent. As I searched for the word JOY in the Bible, I was struck by several verses that spoke of JOY. Then the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see a beautiful flow and connection in these Scriptures. 

And connection is so instrumental to our relationship with God. As you can see in my picture I’ve lit the second candle. I love taking a picture each week and sharing it with my daughters, which helps create a more intimate connection between us for Christmas as the days draw closer to their arrival. I love that we can share these traditions despite the 3,000 miles that separate us. It closes the gap.

And that is what Jesus did when He entered this world—closed the gap between God and His people and connected us together as His body, the church. What’s more, Jesus arrived with the declaration of great JOY!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. — Luke 2:10 

Jesus entered the world as joy and to bring us joy. Joy is the status quo in Heaven. Isn’t that an amazing thought? 

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. — Luke 15:7

Our intended state of being is meant to be joyful. Like He taught us to pray, “on earth as it is in Heaven,” Jesus came to give us His joy, the JOY of the Lord to strengthen and uphold us.

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. — Luke 24:51-53

And here’s the connection from the cradle to the cross, my friends. It is rich with God’s love and our Savior’s heart for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. — Hebrews 12:1-3 

As Jesus is our joy, we are His joy—the joy set before Him as He endured the cross. In other words, as our Savior suffered and died, He had us on His mind and heart. The very same very reason He entered this world as a helpless child to save us.

I pray this resonates deeper into your spirit than my words can convey. It is a full circle story of love and salvation that is almost incomprehensible in its brilliant perfection. We could spend a lifetime and beyond learning to understand it—and that’s exactly what we get to do!

My friends, as I shared, I went into prayer, seeking the Father’s heart for us now. I waited to hear Him yet only sensed to share this beautiful picture of JOY. But as I sat down to write, the Holy Spirit’s voice broke through and this is what I heard:

He who is faithful has said a good word.

Another Scripture search ensued as I knew I’d heard this before but couldn’t remember exactly where. The Scriptures I found are the very same verses that God has been showing me over the last year or so. I was surprised and delighted to see what He’d spoken to me at separate times come together in one profound word. So like the JOY of Christ’s birth and death…

SUMites, soak these in and apply them to our SALVATION word and promise and to any other promise God has given you.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. — 1 Thes. 5:25

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. — Heb 10:23

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. — Psalm 33:4

The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” — Jer 1:12

My friends, He is faithful to His Word. He watches diligently to perform it.

And what struck me most powerfully in this word to us, is that it is past tense. Our Lord has “said a good word.” In my spirit I sense that to mean “it is done.” Just like His journey from the cradle led to the cross and His words…

It is finished. 

It is done.

We can rejoice!

We have JOY!

Thank You, Lord Jesus, that we are the JOY set before you. That Your JOY is intended to be ours and our natural state of heart, mind, soul and spirit. We rejoice in You. We rejoice in the promises You have given us and have already fulfilled. Even the ones we are waiting to see fully manifest here on earth as You have said a good word in Heaven. In the name of Jesus, amen!

I love you, SUM family, so much. I am overcome by the Lord’s heart and love for us. I pray you are too.
Dineen


The Hope in Waiting … reflections on Advent

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Photo courtesy of 9comeback/FreeDigitalPhotos.nety/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s something both exciting and tremendously nerve-wracking when an author presses the send button on the email that whisks their latest manuscript off to a publisher. Exciting? The project we’ve been working on has now reached a point of completion. In my case that project had consumed a lot of my mind space for the past three years.

Nerve-wracking? Will they like it? Enough to publish it? What if they don’t? What will I do then?

It’s a moment that is soon forgotten.

And then we wait.

And wait some more.

A few months later an email arrives outlining your manuscript is still in the game. Being reviewed by some others. They liked it sufficiently to pass onto others. Great.

And then we wait.

And wait some more.

As I shared with a writing friend recently: the Lord's got it in His big capable hands. Waiting helps us lean on Him more. And that's what I've tried to do. Keep writing, keep hoping, keep knowing He's looking after the situation irrespective of whether I receive a positive response or not.

We are People who Wait

Authors wait a lot. It’s part of the fabric of being an author. I expect it’s one of the reasons self-publishing has become so popular: the author takes greater control over the end product and can manage the timeline.

We SUMites wait. We know all those feelings that come with waiting. The frustration, angst, discouragement, hopelessness. We know the drill because it’s part of our lives. We wait for our beloved to receive the revelation that Jesus is their Lord. For some of us we’ve waited a long time and may continue to.

Advent is a time of waiting. The name Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” Beginning each year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (last Sunday), Advent commemorates the birth of Jesus and also anticipates His return. As Ann Voskamp says we are “perpetual Advent people” waiting on Christ’s return.

The Branch Gives us Hope

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;


    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Advent is all about hope. In who is coming.

We can believe in that hope. Because He did come 2,000 years ago on that Christmas morn, born in a food trough, son to a teenage mom and her husband.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has come to us. He is in us and we are in Him.

We can believe in that hope. Because He has told us He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). Even when our beloved doesn’t know Him.

Christmas can be a tough season for we SUMites because we choose to celebrate Jesus and not Santa. We pop off to church on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, alone.

But remember Jesus understands loneliness. He understands being alone. He understands rejection. He understands our SUMite situations.

He understands us. Really, truly! Because He has chosen each one of us.

Choose to remember Him when the enemy throws the darts of loneliness at you, when he tries to take away your joy in the One we celebrate. Look for the Presence of Jesus in the small moments, in the interruptions, when out shopping, wrapping those presents and chatting with your neighbour.

I hope you are able to spend some time in the next few weeks reflecting on the hope of Advent. On Jesus. Allow His Words to “dwell in your richly.”

Wishing all of my SUMite friends a blessed Advent season full of childlike hope and anticipation.

Grace and peace,


Childlike in Anticipation - some reflections on Advent

Source: WikipediaI've always loved December. Living in Australia, it’s summer, the end of the school year so we always had our long summer break over December/January. It’s also my birthday month and … it’s Christmas.

I still recall those days approaching Christmas when the presents used to begin to pile up under the tree. Most of them were for dad, he’s a doctor and all his patients bought him presents. Every year. But my sister and two brothers were more excited by what Santa would put in the pillow slips that sat at the end of our beds.

We’d struggle to sleep we were that excited. But mom always warned us that Santa wouldn’t arrive until we were fast asleep.

And then when we woke, far too early for mom and dad, we’d have to wait until they arose before we could open all the goodies in those magical pillowslips.

We had to wait.

The anticipation. The excitement … was electric.

Advent

The season of Advent has commenced. Advent simply means: “coming” or “arrival” – of Jesus.

But as most of us know Jesus didn’t arrive without a long, long wait. Four hundred years in fact. That’s how long the Israelites had to wait.

The four-week season of Advent reflects a time of waiting. We don’t like to wait, do we? Especially if it’s for something important or critical, a test result, an answer to prayer, our pre-believing spouse to meet Jesus, and so on.

“While God rarely comes at our appointed time, he comes at the right time.” (Louis Giglio)

Waiting in the Busy

December is often a frantic month. Besides finishing end of year projects there is the added weight of present buying, parties to attend, gatherings with family and friends. All around us there are reminders of what is coming: the lights, the decorations, the music, the extra crowded malls and our own stress levels.

But what is the gift we are expecting? Or more precisely, who is the gift? Who is arriving?

Jesus.

Remember those days of childlike anticipation, the sense of wonder, on that day? Christmas Day.

A little challenge

In amongst the busyness of December find some time to sit in the Lord’s presence. Allow yourself to recall such days of anticipation, when you couldn’t help but smile. For hours at a time.

He’s coming. Jesus. For you. He’s especially chosen you. You who are holy and dearly loved.

To assist you, read the story of when Mary received a very special and unusual visitor, Gabriel, in Luke 1:26-38. Let go of everything else that’s going on around you. Really desire to hear from God and ask the Spirit to speak to you. Picture yourself in Mary’s place. Imagine the awesomeness of the situation, listen to Gabriel’s words and what they mean.

Write down what you heard, how you felt.

We’d love to hear some of your responses in the comments.

Perhaps do it a few times over the next four weeks. Allow “the words of Christ to dwell in you richly.”

Wishing all of my SUMite friends a joyful Advent season full of childlike wonder and anticipation.


Weekend Devotion — Advent

In my churches in Memphis and Zürich, we always had an advent wreath. I loved the lighting of the candles so much, that I adopted the tradition as my own. Each year, around Thanksgiving, I find the candles for our wreath. I'm a little behind this year and didn't realize the first Sunday of Advent hit the end of November, but I still would love to share this tradition with you.

Advent means "coming" or "arrival." So appropriate. And I just love the way each candle counts down the time to our Saviour's birthday. Both my girls were born in December, so it's a very special (and extremely busy) month. This tradition and an Advent Christmas tree quilt I created have helped my girls and I count down the days each December.

I've heard and read several interpretations of the wreath. Here are few of my favorite aspects:

  • The green of the wreath represents the eternal life we have in Christ.
  • The circular form of the wreath represents the unending love of God.
  • The purple of the outer candles represents the royalty of royalty.
    (Sometimes the third or fourth candle is pink.)
  • The white of the center candle represents Christ's purity.
    (This candle is optional, by the way, but my favorite.)
  • The flames represent the light of God coming into the world through his Son.

We'll play catch up this weekend and then the following weekends I'll post another picture of our wreath along with the meaning of each candle. I hope you'll join my family and me in this wonderful tradition that exemplifies Jesus as the reason for the season.

First Sunday of Advent
Color: Purple
Theme:
Hope
Suggested Scripture Readings:
Isaiah 60:2-3, Romans 15:13, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:19

Precious Lord, we thank You for sending your son Jesus to be a light in a world of darkness, a light that never goes out or burns away. Teach us to place our hope in You and to share it with those struggling in hopeless situations. In Christ's Name, Amen.



Second Sunday of Advent

Color: Purple
Theme: Love
Suggested Scripture Readings: 1John 4:7-19, John 3:16-17

Father, you sent us the greatest gift and representation of your eternal love when you sent your Son as a tiny baby for the sole purpose of his sacrificial death. Help us to be shining examples of your love in a hurting world. And let us never forget this sacrifice and the amazing depth of your love. We love you so much. In Christ's Holy Name, Amen!




Enjoy!
Praying and believing,
Dineen