Advent Day 6: The Pursuit of You

Sin. It mucked things up. It is THE THING we wrestle with every day of our lives. It causes us such distress and harm. And inwardly we know, “This isn’t how things are supposed to be.”

Adam and Eve cave. They take a bite. And at the very beginning of humanity, sin enters in. And if we end the story here (as so many do)…we would miss the story of JESUS unfolding before our eyes. By stopping short, there is no hope. The lost believe this earthly world is the end.

Read Genesis 3: 8-13. The remainder of Scripture serves as a story of how God overcomes and rescues us from sin by sending His Son, JESUS, who is the face of God. And in the coming days, we will look at various accounts of Scripture that depict our fallenness of man and the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. A love for His people to partake in His glory (John 1:3). But not only to be partakers (observers, beneficiaries), but also to savor and enjoy Him through a personal encounter.

This is the purpose for Advent. To experience Jesus anew. To open our eyes to who He is and who we are. To realize that we were made to see and savor His glory. That is my prayer for all of you! I pray that you will relish, delight in, treasure, and love Jesus more!

As we look around, we should not be shocked at the sin we see far and wide. For without God, we all are lost. Sinners sin (Rom. 3:23). There is no good outside of God (Psalm 16:2, Romans 7:18). 

But then….

God shows up. And ahhhh…this might be my favorite verses in the Bible.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?

Genesis 3:8-9

God doesn’t leave. He doesn’t withdraw. He doesn’t throw His hands up in the air. Instead, he “passes over our sin” (Rom. 3:25) as a foretelling of someone who would take our place on the cross. Throughout the pages of Scripture…with every turn…we are seeing glimpses of JESUS.

We are seeing God calling us into a personal relationship. Not because of anything we have done or ever could do. Simply because He wants to. God desires to have an intimate, private, one-on-one kind of relationship with YOU! 

[Jesus said] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 2I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:20-26

May our love for JESUS grow so deep that it overflows by leaps and bounds to those around us so that they see JESUS too! I pray our love goes way beyond our half-hearted human capacities, enticing others to want to know what we have.

Are you spending time with God daily? Are you savoring in His love and glory? If not, what needs to change?

Advent Day 5: The Depravity of Man

Read Genesis 3:1-7. Our first real encounter with Eve occurs in the Garden of Eden. She is approached by a “serpent who is more crafty than any other beast in the field” (v.1).

Here’s what “Crafty” does NOT mean:

  • His favorite store was Michael’s
  • He had a huge Pinterest following
  • He knew how to knit like my grandmother

The Hebrew word for crafty is arum, meaning subtle, shrewd, sly, or sensible. We are given a depiction of Satan as someone who could pull the wool over your eyes. A smooth talker. A liar (John 8:44). One who doesn’t have your best interest in mind. 

Satan, a fallen angel (Jude 1:6), desires to have power and authority over God. Satan continues to lead this rebellion today and bring many with him. He desires to be fully exalted to the position that only belongs to God. In his attempt to deceive and tempt, He subtly asks Eve, “Did God actually say? (v. 3)”

Then doubt creeps in. Takes root. And grows. 

As I ponder this initial sin, I am reminded of the sin in my own life. How I am tempted to doubt God. Is God really good? Does He truly love me? Are His words true? Can I trust Him? Why is being a Christian so hard? Like Eve, it is tempting to look to the tangible things of this world for our hope and security. It is tantalizing to try to control our lil’ ole’ worlds. It is desirous to jump on the bandwagon of materialism for Christmas. But if I do, would God be pleased? Would the longings of my soul be satisfied?

When we try to fill our longings with anything other than God, we will come up empty-handed. The serpent’s promise to “be like god” (v. 5) is something we all wrestle with. We wrestle with control. We think God is holding out on us. If we could, we would run our lives differently.

  • If I made more money, I would be satisfied.
  • If my marriage was better, I would be happy.
  • If I didn’t wrestle with my weight, then I wouldn’t feel insecure.
  • If my health was better, I would feel complete.
  • If I had more free time, I could live my dream.
  • If I…….

It is important that we understand the doctrine of sin. Sin is what has caused the disruption in God’s original design. Sin and its consequences have resulted in a broken relationship with God. But thankfully, this story is not done! God does not abandon us here. He sends us Jesus to overcome sin and its consequences through the gift of salvation. Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of sin. This is why Christmas is such a big deal!

We have a tendency to minimize or side-step our own depravity. However, in doing so, we also are making little of what God has done for us. So, I challenge you today…reflect within. Search your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your sin. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Where do you seek satisfaction? 

Advent Day 4: Understanding God’s Authority

Read Genesis 2. God creates and places man in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. Then He gives Adam a command, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (v. 17-18). This command was for their good. Their protection. The boundaries of God are to keep us out of harm’s way.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see orders from the Lord. The Ten Commandments are given in Exodus 20:

  • I am the Lord thy God! Thou shalt have no other Gods but me!
  • Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain!
  • Thou shalt keep the Sabbath Day holy!
  • Thou shalt honor father and mother!
  • Thou shalt not kill!
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery!
  • Thou shalt not steal!
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor!
  • Do not let thyself lust after thy neighbor’s wife!
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor his farm, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.

All of these commands are summarized for us in the New Testament as Love God, Love Others (see Mark 12:30-31).

When God speaks, we listen. God speaks to us through His Word, which is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). As pertinent as His Word was 2,000 years ago when it was written…it holds the same authority to us today. It’s not a history textbook or romance novel or dry ink on a page.

Why Should I Obey the Word of God?

It is important for us to understand that we live in God’s universe. He has authority over us. It is His land. Our temporary bodies are residing here but for a moment, like a vapor (James 4:14). We don’t know what tomorrow will hold. We belong to God and as such, He has the final authority in our lives.

For example, as a citizen of the United States, I must obey the laws of the land. I must pay taxes. I must stop at red lights. Littering is a crime. Jaywalking is prohibited. Likewise, with a broader perspective, I am residing in God’s universe. I am His creation and I must abide by His rules.

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:10

But that being said, my heart affections must be stirred towards obedience. Because I am like Adam and Eve, my heart bucks at the word “rules” unless I gain a deeper understanding. Naturally, we don’t like anyone telling us what to do and when to do it. We want to do things our way. We want to call the shots.

But, if I know more about God and more about His nature…I am more likely to respond in obedience. Yesterday I was driving around town and came across a construction site unexpectedly. I was required to slow down and wait until the road crewman waved me through the oncoming traffic. I was inconvenienced at a crucial time and sat twiddling my thumbs on the roadway. However, as I got closer to the situation, I realized there was a large pothole that would have done severe damage to my car had I avoided the warning sign. I was grateful that I heeded the law.

The Bible is not merely words about God…it is the active word of God. The Word of God is God’s voice in print. And if we listen, we will hear Him speak. 

I must remind myself of who God is.

No one understands you like God does. He knows your deepest thoughts and concerns (Psalm 139:2). He knows your waking and your slumber (2 Kings 19:27). He knows the things that keep you up at night, and your biggest dreams and desires. It is He who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). And not a hair on your head goes unnoticed (Matthew 10:30). He keeps tracks of your tears (Psalm 56:8) and has not forgotten you (Psalm 105:8).

I must remind myself who I am.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

What lies are you currently believing about who God is and who you are?

Advent Day 3: And God Said

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Read Genesis 1 and follow along with the highlights…And God said, “Let there be light,”…And God saw that the light was good.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters”…And it was so.”

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place”..And it was so.

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth”… And it was so.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night”…And it was so.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures”…And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds”…And it was so.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…And God blessed them.

And it was so.

Behold, it was very good.

Let’s linger long in this passage of Scripture that we are often tempted to skim over. As I jump in, I am taken back by the awesomeness of our God. With words. Only words. Simple words. He created the heavens and the earth. When He speaks, things happen. God has power over all things at all times and in all ways. Theologians refer to this as God’s “omnipotence.”

Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”

God can accomplish anything He sets His mind to….which leaves me pretty much speechless. I can’t even find matching socks. But God created out of thin air the expanse of the heavens and earth and birds and fish and sea creatures and flowers and butterflies and elephants and hippopotamuses. Drop the mic. We cannot compare. God is great and worthy of our praise.

God is able to do anything (Eph. 3:20). Let’s stop putting limits on Him and doubting His abilities. 

But in these verses we also see great tension. God speaks…and it is good. What God does…is good. What God allows in my life…is for my good. And it is here in this raw spot of vulnerability that I struggle.

Do I believe that God is good and He is working all things together for my good (Rom. 8:28)? Do I seek His glory in the midst of my doubt and failures? Will I place my hope in God’s power and trust to see Him work in my unfavorable circumstances?

I don’t know about you, but I often doubt God’s unlimited power. There have been times that I prayed for God to do something and He didn’t come through as I had hoped. As a result, I don’t pray as often as I should. I resist taking everything to God. I try to guard my heart and do things my way. And I know I am not alone. There are a lot of us out there who attend church and say that God is all-powerful, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty…we only believe God can do some things. I wonder what would change if we start believing that God can move mountains right now?

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2

We have been given the expanse of creation as a reminder of God’s immeasurable power. So look around today. Remind yourself that God is able to do far more than you can imagine or think!

Does your life show that you believe in the power of God?

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Advent Day 2: The Story Revealed

There’s a story unfolding before our eyes as we open the pages of Scripture. God Divine designs a plan to reveal Himself to man. The God who always was and who always will be. Creator God. Almighty. Yes, indeed…it is He.

Most certainly, God is different than us. An infinite God we serve. He has no boundaries or limits. He is endless, vast, and immeasurable…not bound by mortal means. 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2

It is important for us to understand that our God is bigger than us. He is bigger than our problems, our pain, our suffering, and our doubts. There is nothing that is too difficult for God (Luke 18:27). No burden too big for Him to bear. Rather than run away from Him…run towards His arms of grace.

God dwells in a mode of being totally beyond us and wholly above us and infinitely removed from us yet when we think about God we are trying to think about someone unlike anything we know. God says, who am I like? or to whom will you compare me? The answer being, nobody; nobody’s like God, nothing’s like God. God is like Himself.

We dwell in matter and space and time and we are creatures. God is not material; he doesn’t dwell in matter. And he isn’t spacial; He doesn’t dwell in space. And he isn’t temporal; he doesn’t dwell in time. And he isn’t a creature; God is a Creator, not a creature. God was before any creature was and as I have said before, nothing adds anything to God and nothing can take anything away from him. — A.W. Tozer

God is greater than creation itself and lives independently from it. In other words, it was God’s choice to create man and make Himself known to us. Had He not revealed Himself to us, we would never know or understand what He is like. But because of His great love for us, He has revealed Himself to mankind.

We see God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as we behold creation. We recognize Him in our conscience. We read about Him in the Bible. And God continues to reveal Himself to us as we abide in Him.

Abiding means to stick close. To listen to His Word. John 15:4 says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” As we begin the Advent season…remember your story is part of something bigger. God’s story is being revealed through your life. Let’s get to know the STORY MAKER!

Do you believe God is big enough to handle your current day struggle?

Welcome to Advent!

Starry lights. Tangled tinsel. Glorious ornaments. Crowded malls and an Amazon hangover for sure. Welcome to the Christmas season as carols and favorite tunes are heard forevermore.

We have to dig deep to muddle through the crazies that could easily ensue. ‘Tis the season of Christmas…let’s not forget what it really is for. 

Today kicks-off the season of Advent. Take a moment to savor what it means. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the greatest arrival of all time. God in person. Deity comes. The birth of Jesus reveals God’s plan.

I want to encourage you to linger on this truth. God has come to earth to save mankind, inviting you to know Him intimately. To think that God Almighty loves us so is beyond our comprehension. 

God loves you on your worst day. He loves you when life gets messy. He loves you when all hope seems lost. He loves you when you stray. He loves you when you don’t deserve it…when you seek things other than Him. He loves you when you plot through life blasé or emphatically insist that things go your way.

We serve a God whose love was so great that He made a way for us to know Him. He came to earth as a babe….JESUS is His name. He knows you deeply and personally. He knows everything about you. 

“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:7

He knows your deepest hurts and pains. Your sorrows and your worries. He knows the sin you try to hide, or wallow in at night. He sees and hears you all the time. There is no escaping. And in the midst of all of this, He came…He came so you would know Him.

And so, this Advent season I encourage you to get to know Jesus. Seek Him. Pursue Him. May you discover His realness.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Ps. 19:1

How do you prepare for Advent? What sets this season apart?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankful for you!

Where Have all the Nice People Gone?

In a recent conversation, my teacher-friend mentioned how the school system has recognized the need to teach kindness to the kids. Over the years, it’s been forgotten and kids are not as kind. They make fun of others. Tear down. Have exclusive clubs. And the such. 

Kindness? Really? It’s not something that they already know? After reflection, I realized…you know what? They’re right! They know what it means but fall dreadfully short when it comes to living it out.

Shows like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood have been replaced with Fairly Odd Parents and the like. This generation has grown up watching intolerance, injustice, and acts of hatred left and right. They’ve seen us let fear take hold….and watched as we fret at night. But kindness…have they seen it modeled? Do they recognize it as a need right now?

  • Do the words we speak lift others up…or rather tear them down?
  • Do we put others in front of ourselves…or does selfishness abound?
  • Will we spread joy this holiday season…or grumble as we wait in the crowd?
  • Do we gossip, complain, whine, and moan…or do we spread good cheer?
  • Have we forgotten the meaning of respect to those in public service? Our teachers, policemen, firemen, and others who give their lives to better us.
  • Do we have a me-first attitude? Or do we remember the words of Jesus…”It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). 

As parents of the generation-rising, we have a responsibility. It is our job to instill an attitude of gratefulness and stop passing the buck around. If we want a world where kindness looms, then we need to reflect within. What do we show with our own lives? Would others say that we’re kind? 

How do you show kindness? What suggestions do you have to spread good cheer?

Be Present

As Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, I’ve been reminded of the importance of being present to those around. Available. Listening. Being slow to respond.

In our fast-paced, hyperactive, overloaded society, we often hop in our cars ready to “get’er done.” It’s a mentality that we all have shared. The moment we crawl out of bed, we have things racing through our heads.

The lunchboxes to pack.

The laundry to get done.

The groceries to shop.

The phone calls to return.

The bills to pay.

The errands to run.

It’s difficult to put aside the chase that occurs within. However, not long ago, during a summer book club, I personally was challenged to “Be present” more. To put aside Facebook, Instagram, and searching the web. To look in the eyes of the people around instead. To have meaningful conversations with those who are in my world. The people I see every day…at HEB, the neighborhood, and of course…in my own hood.

Our people need us. They really do. The children we raise and the husband we wed. The people we lock arms with to do ministry…they need us too. They need us to give them 100%. Is that what you do?

I wonder what would happen if we put our phones away. Stop obsessing with who’s who and Hollywood. Put aside politics and the daily news. And rather…start looking across the table. Listening to what is being said.

I wonder if deep, meaningful conversations would begin? Relationships strengthened. Marriages healed. Children would be known. Neighbors no longer ignored.

By doing so…we think of ourselves less…and more of those around.

This reminds me of a bible verse that you probably can recite from memory, “Love God, love others” (Mark 12:30-31)…but oh, how easily we forget.

What is your biggest challenge in loving others well? What does it look like to “Be Present” to you?

Day 35 – The Graduation Speech

Today we read Paul’s final benediction to the somewhat unpredictable Corinthian church. His closing remarks in 2 Cor. 13:11-14 remind me of ones you might hear at a graduation ceremony. Poignant. Succinct. Meaningful. If you recall over the past few chapters, Paul has addressed these city-dwellers with instructions on how to live life. These are real people with real problems and real jobs and real families and real churches. We often detach ourselves from the stories in the Bible, rather than stepping in to identify. Paul ends the book of Corinthians with clear instruction, which is applicable for us today:

Don’t store up head knowledge about Jesus…get out and live it too.

Rejoice.

Aim for restoration.

Comfort one another.

Agree with one another.

Live in peace.

There are 2 basic commandments in the New Testament. Love God and Love Others (Mark 12:30-31). Do you see it here? I think too often we stop short. We are satisfied in our endeavor to love God, never giving mind to the second command which is to love others well. Paul is pushing for spiritual maturity, which is manifested in loving others as ourselves. 

We can become comfortable in our pursuit of Jesus by going to church, attending a small group, skimming the Bible, hanging out with like-minded people…and start to think, “Hey, I’ve got this Christian thing down.” I can check the box. However, Paul is admonishing us not to settle for the status quo. Don’t stop. Get off the couch. Go ahead, and jump in. There’s more for you to do!

And then in v. 12, Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We even dismiss this verse as something that no longer applies. But bear with me for a moment: the holy kiss represents a deep warmth of community that is extremely rare to find. It signals deep affection, care, and concern…the kind that is in for the long-haul, through thick and thin. No cultural barriers. No social walls. No racial differences. No prejudices. The main point of the holy kiss is to remind us to have sincere devotion and affection towards one another. 

Paul is laboring for them to see that true Christian love is not merely shown in action or spoken in words…but it is genuinely felt in our heart. Our affection toward one another should be tender, warm, humble, pure, empathetic, and kind. There should be a precious sweetness when you meet another brother or sister in Christ.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

And last but not least, we get there by the grace, love and fellowship of Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit (v. 14).

We cling to the grace of Jesus, who took our place on the cross.

We focus on the love of God, who sent His son to die.

We commune with the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things.

What does it look like to love others as yourself? Is your brotherly love genuine?

P.S. This ends our study of 2 Corinthians. I hope you have enjoyed journeying with me along the way. Continue to dig deep. Stay focused. Gaze upward.

Love,

Sue

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