Advent 2019 – Week 4

Introduction:  During this year’s Advent season, I am writing a weekly blog post with a story from the Bible, followed by a few thoughts and questions to contemplate / think about during the week.  May this be a blessing to you throughout your time leading up to Christmas.

Here is the link to Week 1:  Advent 2019 – Week 1
Here is the link to Week 2:  Advent 2019 – Week 2
Here is the link to Week 3:  Advent 2019 – Week 3

Week 3 Readings:

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
(Matthew 1:20-23 NIV)

20 One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
(Luke 17:20-21 NIV)

The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that Messiah would come; they thought He would come as a political and religious ruler to throw off the oppression of the Romans and re-establish His reign over the nation of Israel.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the angel told Joseph that the baby in Mary’s womb was indeed God Himself, coming in the form of a baby, both fully God and fully human.

Think of this for a moment – God, the Creator, coming to inhabit His creation.

And yet, fast forward 30 years, when Jesus is in the midst of His ministry here on earth, the Luke passage above tells us that the Pharisees ignored the possibility that Jesus could be Messiah, and asked when God’s kingdom would be ushered in.

Jesus confounded them by telling them not to look for visible signs of the Kingdom (what they were expecting to see); rather, Jesus said that the Kingdom was already in their midst.  When the King is present, the Kingdom is with Him!

Some thoughts to ponder this week:

  • What are your expectations about God and His interaction in your life?  Do you expect Him to show up or handle matters in a certain way?  If your expectations are not met, does that change your relationship with God?
  • What do you believe about God’s Presence?  Is He “out there”, or is He “right here”?
  • If the Kingdom of God is already present (because Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us), what implications does that have to live our lives on a day-to-day basis?


Advent 2019 – Week 3

Introduction:  During this year’s Advent season, I am writing a weekly blog post with a story from the Bible, followed by a few thoughts and questions to contemplate / think about during the week.  May this be a blessing to you throughout your time leading up to Christmas.

Here is the link to Week 1:  Advent 2019 – Week 1
Here is the link to Week 2:  Advent 2019 – Week 2

Week 3 Reading:  Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
(Matthew 1:18-25 NLT)

Let’s spend some time this week with Joseph, the step-father of Jesus.

Verse 19 tells us Joseph was a righteous man – he had integrity and virtue, and purposed to live his life so as to honor God in all ways.   The idea here is that God was nodding with pleasure and agreement about the way Joseph was living his life.

We see this kindness and character in Joseph when he found out Mary was pregnant.  Rather than publicly shaming her, he chose to break off their engagement quietly.  He knew she would have enough humiliation without his heaping disgrace on her as well.

While Joseph had one plan, God had another.  The angel appeared and told Joseph to take Mary to be his wife.  Instead of quietly walking away from the disgrace, God asked Joseph to join Mary as an innocent man, bearing under the disgrace and looks and murmurs on everyday life as step-father to God Incarnate, God with us.

And what was Joseph’s response?  When he woke up from the dream, he obeyed and took Mary as his wife, and kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

Some thoughts to ponder this week:

  • Sometimes God asks us to stand in the gap for others, to share their burden… sometimes that’s messy and we get dirt on us in the process, as Joseph did for Mary.  Are you willing to do so, or are you more concerned about how other people see you and what they say about you?
  • When God speaks to you (through His Word, through dreams, or otherwise), what is your response?  To tell others about the encounter, or to obey?
  • Even after Joseph took Mary as his wife, he kept Mary a virgin until after Jesus was born.  What does a life of integrity and righteousness look like in your life, when no one else is looking or watching?  What is holding you back from living that life?


Advent 2019 – Week 2

Introduction:  During this year’s Advent season, I am writing a weekly blog post with a story from the Bible, followed by a few thoughts and questions to contemplate / think about during the week.  May this be a blessing to you throughout your time leading up to Christmas.

Here is the link to Week 1:  Advent 2019 – Week 1


Week 2 Reading:  Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

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

35 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 the Son of God. 36 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. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
(Luke 1:26-38 NIV)

As we ponder the encounter between Mary and the angel, we see Emmanuel – God with us – at a whole new level.  As a young, engaged woman, the angel tells her that she is going to have a baby, and not just any baby – she is going to have the Son of God living inside her.

In her child-like faith, she doesn’t understand how this can be.  When the angel explains that it’s an outrageous miracle from God, she humbly submits herself  and accepts her assignment, knowing full well that it will not be understood by most everyone, and she will likely be unjustly labeled and condemned for what others don’t understand.

In her humble response to the angel, Mary said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Martin Luther, in his writings on this passage, beautifully paraphrases Mary’s words to be, “I am only the workshop in which God operates.”

Some thoughts to ponder this week:

  • Mary was asked to do something completely out of character for her, and she chose to submit to the Lord.  Has there been a time in your life when God has asked you to do something that was shocking, completely outrageous by the world’s values?  Did you submit to His leading?  How hard was it to submit?  What was the outcome?
  • Mary had Christ living in her, both physically and spiritually.  As followers of Christ, we have Christ living spiritually in us.  Mary endured the shame of being labeled an unwed mother, and she knew the pain would carry over to the child living in her as well.  As a carrier of Christ in you, have you endured the pain of association with Christ, of being falsely accused of things that are not true?  How have you handled that pain and rejection?
  • God’s grace was at work in Mary long before she was given this assignment of carrying Christ in her.  Her humble offer to be God’s workshop in which He operates exemplifies God’s grace coupled with Mary’s faith in God’s goodness.  Can you and I offer ourselves as God’s workshop in which He operates, and let God form Christ in us?
  • The old hymn “O To be Like Thee” captures the essence of letting God make us more like Jesus.  Here is the first verse and chorus (emphases mine):

Verse 1:
O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer;
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

Here is the link to all the verses and the tune if you’re interested: O To Be Like Thee


Advent 2019 – Week 1

Introduction:  During this year’s Advent season, I am writing a weekly blog post with a story from the Bible, followed by a few thoughts and questions to contemplate / think about during the week.  May this be a blessing to you throughout your time leading up to Christmas.  Feel free to share your comments.

Week 1 Reading:  Luke 1:5-25

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
(Luke 1:5-25 NIV)

In ancient times, being childless was often considered a social disgrace and a sign of God’s judgment on the couple.  Elizabeth and Zechariah were very familiar with waiting.  As the years passed, their hopes of ever having their dream fulfilled dimmed, flickered, then died.  While their hope of having a child went away, their devotion to the Lord did not.  As we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see that this social stigma was a wrong assumption about them, as they had lived and were living righteously in the sight of God (Luke 1:6).

After Elizabeth became pregnant, she went into seclusion for five months, praising God and rejoicing in God’s grace and love (vv. 24-25).

Some thoughts to ponder this week:

  • How would you describe your response to waiting?  Doing everything humanly possible to change your situation?  Give up, resigned to the idea that your situation is permanent?  Or looking forward to see what God will do during this time?
  • What does your response to waiting reveal about your relationship to God?
  • What is the one thing you are waiting for?  What value might there be in seeking solitude (as Elizabeth did) and sit with God during this waiting period?  Where, in your busy schedule, can you intentionally carve out some blocks of time for you and God to have some quiet and solitude together?


Christmas 2018

This year’s Christmas posting is a bit late, as the time leading up to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the days after Christmas have been filled with reflections on Jesus’ birth and much travel to spend precious time with family and friends.

Last year’s Christmas theme was laser-focused on one word, one thought, and one Person – “Emmanuel” – God with us – God coming to earth in human form – fully God and fully human – in Jesus.

This year’s Christmas theme has been an interesting journey, filled with a variety of seemingly unrelated topics and things, yet somehow all interconnected:

  • The Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2
  • A full moon this Christmas season
  • A book about experiencing God through desert and mountain landscapes
  • An old Christmas hymn

As I read the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2, one verse seemed to jump out at me this year:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
(Luke 2:8 NIV)

Away from Bethlehem, away from the sounds of the city, out in the middle of nowhere, some shepherds were in the hillsides with their sheep, keeping an eye on them overnight from anyone or anything that would harm them or separate them from the flock.  Luke makes no mention of any issues with the shepherds or the sheep that particular night – probably a quiet evening as the sheep calmly grazed or bedded down on the hillside for the evening.

As I ventured outside in the evenings preceding Christmas, I was reminded of what it may have been like that first Christmas night – peace and quiet, a cloudless sky, a full moon giving sight to everyone and everything, the shepherds wrapped up, breathing in the cold, crisp air of the evening, a myriad of stars dotting the sky.

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the city are fun and exciting, but the peace that comes from the wide-open spaces transcends understanding and is a healing balm to our souls.  In the open landscape of the wilderness, we experience the vastness of God, inexpressible with words or even thoughts.  In the wilderness and mountains, we come to know the presence of God without all our trappings that we think we need to survive and prosper – truly, being in God’s Presence is enough.  Author Belden Lane expresses this thought well around one aspect of our relating to God – through prayer:

“The desert practice of contemplative prayer abandons, on principle, all experiences of God or the self.  It simply insists that being present before God, in a silence beyond words, is an end in itself.” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p. 12)

I am also reminded that this Christmas is the 200th anniversary of the traditional Christmas hymn “Silent Night”.  Much like the Christmas Story in Luke Chapter 2, the hymn was a culmination of both planning and what seemed like at the time an unfortunate circumstance – a request for a new hymn, and a malfunctioning pipe organ.  Rather than being led by the majestic reverberations of the church organ, this beloved hymn was led with a few simple chords strummed quietly on a guitar.

All four of these seemingly unrelated topics came together – the shepherds in the field in the Christmas story of Luke 2, the full moonlit night, the experience of God in the wide open spaces, and the simple lyrics of Silent Night – all are a reminder of the quiet, unassuming circumstances when our Lord made His way into the world, as a defenseless, helpless baby born to humble parents.

And yet, this was only the beginning of the story – about the Creator entering His creation and showing us how to live as He intended, giving us hope and purpose.

May we never lose sight of God entering into the everyday, both on that first Christmas, and today, right where we are.

May we carry that same reality into 2019.

Merry (Belated) Christmas,



Christmas in a Word

Christmas is a yearly struggle for me for a lot of reasons.  For the past several years, I have found a way to way to reduce that struggle by focusing on some aspect of the Christmas narrative that captures the true essence and meaning of Christmas.

This year, I have been completely captivated by the telling of the Christmas story in a single word.

It’s a simple word, consisting of four letters.  It’s not a profane word, but it is a common word. You and I use this word in our everyday speech.

Are you ready for the word?




And the context of this word?

God’s name, from Matthew 1:23: Emmanuel, God WITH us.

Stop and meditate on this for a bit.

The same God who created the universe now enters His creation.

  • The Incarnate takes on flesh, bone, and blood
  • The Immortal enters time and space.
  • The King becomes a pauper.
  • The One hoped-for becomes the living hope for all humanity.

As one author has said,
“In this season of Advent, presence is the central move of God.”
(Casey Tygrett)

The focal point, the theme of God’s sixty-six love letters to us, what we know as the Bible, is none other than Emmanuel, God with us.

  • Not just ancient history
  • Not just a future promise and a hope
  • But also a present living Reality here in our midst

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Here is a poem that describes this amazing event of Emmanuel, God With Us:
 “First Coming”

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

-Madeleine L’Engle, from The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle


To love someone is to be in their presence, to be with them, and allow ourselves to be loved and be present with them in return.

As you step through the rest of this Christmas season, may your hearts be captivated by the “with-ness” of Emmanuel, God with us, our Living Reality.

May you carve out some time to experience and enjoy the warm embrace of Christ with you.


Merry Christ-mas!

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.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
(Luke 2:11 NIV)

A promise kept, and yet to come.

Merry Christ-mas!