" So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will you give him a snake instead? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11: 9-13
This piece of scripture comes from the gospel, Luke, when Jesus is teaching on prayer. He teaches them the Lord's Prayer and then begins to tell a parable of a man continuing to ask for bread from a friend. The friend in the end gives the man the bread, but "not because of friendship, yet because of (his) shameless audacity (or perseverance of his good name) he will surely get up and give you as much as you need" Luke 11:8
Often times we get so caught up in the motions and the ideologies we already know and we forget we have a role to play in how we receive things. Yes, God is good and will give us things freely, but there are also times when He wants us to actually ask before He gives. We are called to co-labor with Him and we are called to be in relationship with Him - so at times this means that we must put in the work to see what God is doing in a certain situation, what He is teaching us in a certain season, and how He is working to answer the cries of our hearts. And I don't mean striving - God does not want us to stress out, psychoanalyze, or beg Him to do good things for us. I just mean that He wants us to demonstrate our trust and faith in Him and to ask, seek, and knock with persistence in the times of waiting.
Waiting can be stressful, and honestly plain annoying at times. Trust me, I have had to do a lot of it this past year when it came to physical healing and understanding of what was happening with my health. But through the process of waiting and asking time and time again I began to learn the value of constantly humbling myself to lay my circumstance at the feet of Jesus and ask "one more time" for the thing I so desperately wanted. The crazy thing is, I haven't gotten that full healing quite yet, but I have made miles of progress - I have answers now, I have direction, I have new found energy, and most importantly I have hope that God is not finished in my healing process.
I don't know what your "one more time" situation is, I don't know how long you have been waiting for, and I don't know when or how God is going to answer your prayer, but I do know that God is sovereign and God is good. He is who He says He is, and Jesus tells us explicitly "ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and a door will be opened." So DO NOT GIVE UP! Keep asking, keep searching, and keep knocking. God will show up for you because He cannot turn back on His word: 2 Timothy 2:13 says "for He cannot deny Himself." He will give you as much as you need so long as you persist in His good name.
If you are not convinced quite yet, here is how I know this to be true.
"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
You then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts: We are human and our flesh is of this world, therefore we automatically gravitate towards self-edification. Yet even in our selfishness, we would never purposefully give to someone we care about something that would harm them when they ask for things. When we give gifts, we attempt to get our loved ones the things that would really make their day or things that they have been desperately wanting or needing at that point in time.
Heavenly Father: While not everyone has an ideal image of an earthly father, God is the perfect depiction of a GOOD Father and surpasses any idea we may have formed of what a father should be, both good and bad. And because He is that good, He will provide that much more for us. So, it is imperative we align our hearts to see Him as this GOOD, LOVING, FATHER as we are praying and asking for things. When we begin to align our hearts with this truth, our perspective on any situation changes. We stop seeing pain and start seeing hope and promise. We stop fearing vulnerability and start trusting the safe places in our lives. We understand that He wants to give us things simply because He loves us. We start realizing who we were always created to be and can begin to claim our identity in God - and when we begin fighting battles with the things that God has declared on our lives we will always be victorious. Remember, we are living FROM victory, not pleading to get to victory, so tap into the ways that God has prepared you to be victorious.
Give the Holy Spirit TO THOSE WHO ASK: How many times have you heard the Holy Spirit is your comforter, your helper, your confidant? If you have been hanging around the church for a little while then I imagine it's safe to bet you have heard this a time or two. These things are SO great! But, we often forget how much more He is to us. One of the most important things we sometimes overlook, is that Holy Spirit is God. Because of this and knowing who God is as Father, we know the Holy Spirit wants to give us things for our benefit. What is even cooler is that with the Holy Spirit inside of us, we now have access to multitudes of new things that He has to give us. We have power and authority in Jesus’ name through the Holy Spirit, and with that we can change things. But again, we have a part in this - He wants us to be in it with Him. We ask and He gives us the Holy Spirit to shift things and to help us understand things. When we ask Him, not only, is He so excited to spend time talking with us, but He is also extremely honored because of the faith we have demonstrated by implying we know He can and will do it for us. Just because we don't see God answering in the way that we expect DOES NOT mean that He isn't answering, so keep asking He may be preparing to release your answers through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives inside of you!
Author | Tori Kramer
I have this instinctual response to alter my personality, interests, and lifestyle when I meet someone I like. Maybe you can relate. I wish it were limited to only romantic interests because that would be a smaller problem to approach, but it also applies to family members, friends, coworkers, and leaders in my life. The transformation is loaded with good intentions to connect with someone I enjoy and is usually undetectable until it’s a little too late to revert to my most genuine self. I don’t mean to be fake or act like someone I’m not. At the root of my chameleon-like tendencies, I want to be worth something to someone.
The most compelling reason I am interning at Wesley is to learn to be who God says I am all the time no matter who is around or what environment I am in. I have been rewiring my mind to function from the belief that I am wanted when I am fully myself and that is infinitely better than striving to be desirable at the expense of who I was created by God to be. I’m learning what it means to allow God to define my worth. He has spoken and still speaks about the priceless value He has placed in me. When I’m not careful, I take for granted the cost He paid and the intentionality in His forming me. I start to see Him like I see my parents— someone who would say I’m beautiful when I’m ugly and amazing when I’m really not because they have to. While seeing God as Father is life-changing, the familiarity of knowing Him this way without the reverence of knowing Him as King can limit our ability to love the identities and callings He has given us. When the King speaks, reality aligns with His will. He is Father and the God of the living and the dead who calls things into being that were not (Romans 4:17). He is both Father of glory (Ephesians 1:17) and King of glory (Psalm 24:1).
My misconception of God is at the core of the problem I’m working to resolve which means I am once again being invited to know more of the heart of God. There is so much grace in our shortcomings. In His love, mercy, and gentleness, God says I am enough. As the Lion of Judah and Lamb that was slain, He assures me that I am not too little or too much. When I live from the belief that I am already worthy and wanted by the One who is truth, I no longer have to adapt my identity to complement that of those around me. I can connect with people without the pressure of pleasing them. Confidence in God’s declaration of my value is my safety bubble that protects me from feeling like a disappointment or someone not worth loving.
When I live to earn the affection of people, I am handicapping myself. My thoughts are consumed with trying to figure out what they want from me and how I can give it to them instead of having thoughts about what God has given me and how I can give it away to them. My interests fluctuate causing confusion and a lack of trust for those who know me the closest instead of having interests that reflect God-given passion for life. My wavering lifestyles take away the opportunity for people to know me and remove the opportunity to be consistently vulnerable with people I love. I limit my God-given gifts because I become preoccupied with being who they want instead of who God created me to be. The greatest irony of all is that the version of me people really want and need the most is the version of me that God has authored and is perfecting (Hebrews 12:2). I don’t have to live in agreement with the lie that people would want me more if I were different, less, or more.
Discovering our identities and what God says about us is a life-long, thrilling journey. As we know God more, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). We never stop developing into better versions of ourselves as we develop intimacy with God. Christ gave us the opportunity to be transformed, defying sociocultural norms, behaviors, and beliefs by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). Affirming the identity God gave you starts in the mind— in the pursuit of the knowledge of God. I could tell you every place in the Word I know where God talks about who He is to us and who we are to Him but I would rather just tell you there’s good stuff in Bible so go look for it. Tell me what you find and I’ll tell you what I’ve found.
Supplemental to knowing God as a way of discovering your identity, write out what you know about you. I keep a list on my phone of things about myself that are unique to me. Only a couple of friends have seen it, and it’s not really for show. It’s just a reminder that I am different and that’s fun. Write out your passions, dreams, goals, and fears. What makes you angry and what makes you get out of bed in the morning? The more you can flesh out those questions, the more you should notice patterns and staples of who God uniquely created you to be. Ask the people closest to you to share what they see in you and see what matches up between the different responses. You can even take assessments like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Enneagram to add to your self-awareness. Then lay all the verses, all the facts about yourself, all the truth you can find before God and ask Him what He says. I assure you it will be life-altering and kind every time, not just because He is your parent but because He is King and so much more. His word is truth and His truth will set you free. I hope this helps you find freedom from fighting to be wanted and striving for affection like it did for me. Even more so, I hope you are able to identify the misconceptions you have about God that are producing fruit in you that is less than the best for you. You deserve the best and God wants to give it to you. Ask Him what freedom He has for you this year as you know Him more.
Author | Savannah Ugan
I don’t typically love resolutions. I think a lot of my feelings towards them stem from knowing reality: will they stand against life? Most times, they don’t for me. I may get through a few months, but nothing quite lasts the longevity of the year. So, the past three years, I’ve prayed for a word or phrase to express what I want to walk into that year. As the New Year approached, I began to ask God what He wanted for me this next season, and as clear as day, I heard Him say, “It’s time to come out of hiding.”
I’m not gonna lie. No matter if it’s a resolution or a word from God, there’s a tinge of fear as I declare them over myself. I start to worry because I know how long a year can be and all the chaos that can be thrown in. And I know me. I know just how weak I can be and all the times I’ve tried and failed.
But you know what I tend to forget to weave into the equation between reality and the desires of God’s heart for me? I may somewhat know the tendencies of life. I may know the tendencies of me. But, do I know the tendencies of God? Do I actually breathe in the knowledge of God as I let out my proclamation of newness?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Adam and Eve lately. There’s a part of their story that is so interesting to me.
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, Where are you?
He said, I heard the sound of You [walking] in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And He said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Genesis 3:8-12 AMP
Adam and Eve knew God. They knew His tendencies. They knew His character. Yet, when they messed up, suddenly their perspective of His goodness shifted and the identity that covered them was tainted by their mistake. You see, God knew what they did, and yet He still walked in the garden to see them. I find it interesting that He asked, “Where are you?” Just at the sound of God, Adam feared what’s to come because he suddenly was all too aware of his mess and felt he wasn’t covered. So he hid. Where are you hiding because of what you think you are?
Sweet friends, where we position ourselves matters. Are we positioning ourselves to receive the goodness of God this year or are we hiding from Him out of fear and shame? It matters that we know who God is because if we know the kind of God He is, then we know that no matter the tinge of fear that new seasons and new years may bring, we’re covered in the blessings of God.
There’s a song by Bethel that just came out called Goodness of God. Jenn Johnson sings it, and she proclaims something so powerful in this song. She sings: “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me”. Do you believe that? I think if we really inhaled the truth of who God is and let out a deep sigh of knowing He’s with us every single step of this year, every moment we’ve walked, and every forward movement we make, then we wouldn’t feel inclined to hide. No matter the mistakes we make. No matter the chaos that life brings. No matter the expectations unmet. If we were to make every declaration of improvement linked to the knowledge of God, we would know we’re moving forward with every ounce of hope and promise woven in our steps. So even when forward brings messiness, we won’t hide in fear, we won’t hide in shame, we won’t run away in distrust of our identity, we will keep walking with God because the truth of who He is covers every inch of us.
As we listen to Him for what this next season holds, as we declare His heart over us this year, as we begin to step into newness, I beg you to ask yourself, “Where am I hiding?”
We weren’t made to be children who hide. We are destined to be captivated by His goodness.
“So why would I fear the future? For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.”
Author | Emily Goldin
Happy New Year, Wesley! The beginning of a new year always brings the feelings of anticipation, endless possibility, and excitement. I feel limitless and unhindered by the regular rhythms of life that tend to make me feel boxed in the rest of the year. It’s a blank slate, a clean start.
But the new year also makes me highly aware of the unknown that lies ahead and the decisions that are coming my way, whether I want to make them or not. Decisions big and small, life-changing and day-making—they’re all before me. And that can be pretty intimidating. Not only do our choices impact the trajectory of our lives in major ways, but they also reflect the things we value most and help show people who we are.
So the question that I asked myself as this new year rolled around was a simple one: What do I value?
Wesley has four core values— intimacy, community, mission, and fun. Every decision made for Wesley is in an attempt to live out these values. UGA proudly states its values in its logo of the Arch— wisdom, justice, and moderation. The company you work for probably has its own core values too—whether they’re posted on the wall when you walk through the door, or hidden in the hearts and minds of the employees. And when you’re a part of a school, company, or organization, knowing and understanding its values helps you learn what it stands for and where you fit in.
But the reality is that we all have our own individual values—the things deep within our own hearts that guide us. We may not know what they are, but they are there, influencing our decisions and interactions with others. The problem, however, is when other voices also begin influencing our actions and decisions. Those voices can be positive and affirming, like the voices of trusted friends and family, and Truth from the Word. But they can also be negative and condemning, such as voices from society, the critic in our own head, or the enemy— the Father of Lies.
When we live under a constant barrage of competing voices, things quickly become unclear, and it’s easy to forget who we are. But knowing our values gives us an indispensable tool when faced with a difficult choice. It allows us to voice what truly matters to us and make the decision that falls in line with that. Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead says, “living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk— we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.”
So what do you value? We can’t live into values that we can’t name. I spent some time this break reflecting on the things that matter most to me—the things that, when I’m making healthy decisions, my choices flow out of. Take a moment this break to think about what matters most to you. It can be anything from achievement, to faith, to excellence, to family, to humor, to wisdom, and everything in between. No value is better or more “worthy” than another. Be honest with yourself, and ask the Lord to speak into it. You can curate a long list of values, but eventually it should be whittled down to two or three values that all the others stem from. As it’s said, if you value everything, you don’t really value anything. Three questions Brown suggests you can ask yourself as you narrow them down are:
Does this define me?
Is this who I am at my best?
Is this a filter I use to make hard decisions?
And then once you have identified your own core values, begin to walk the talk. It isn’t always easy to make the choice that aligns with the values we profess— in fact, the one that aligns with our values is often the more difficult choice, the one that will stretch us and push us far outside our comfort zones. But making the tough choice that lives into our values shows the people that are impacted by our decisions that we value them, and it can show us that we value ourselves and our own integrity, too.
Celebrating the new year often leads to creating a list of resolutions, or actions that we will try and check off for the next twelve months. But most resolutions fail, simply because we make proclamations that, when faced with a challenge or difficult situation, we realize we don’t actually care about. Our actions are an outward reflection of something deeper within us— our values. So this new year, my resolution isn’t to pick actions I want to do, but to identify my values and then face each decision that comes my way head on, armed with a better understanding of my identity as a unique child of God and the values He has placed in my heart.
Let’s be courageous decision-makers in 2019.
Author | Erin Gilleland
When it comes to resolutions, I’ve always been a ‘go big or go home’ kind of person. Every year after all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped my mind starts to think about all the ways next year is going to be better because next year is going to be the year. The year I start working out more. The year I lose weight. The year I make all A’s. The year I finally do that thing I’ve always wanted to do but never have (i.e. jump in Herty Fountain). The year I get my life together and become the person I want to be.
I set the bar way too high. Many of us do. We think that there’s no point in making a resolution if it doesn’t change something, or make us better in some way. So we aim high. And we try for a couple of days, or a week, or maybe even make it all the way through Whole 30, but then we inevitably slip up.
Some people recover, and are able to keep a bad day from turning into dropping the resolution altogether. Not me. I’m a perfectionist by nature. The mantra of ‘do it right or don’t do it at all’ is one I constantly have to fight. So I usually wind up quitting. Every year I think it will be different, that maybe this year will finally be the year that I can push myself to be better, and so far it’s just been more of the same.
I’ve found myself looking back at years where I knew I hadn’t met my resolutions, and I only saw my failures. I started missing out on the growth that had occurred because it wasn’t what I wanted to see happen. This year, I’ve decided that I’ve lost too many years of my life to that disappointment.
Rather than fighting my perfectionism this year, I’m going to work on growing myself in contentment. For most of my life contentment has been a bad word for me. How can I possibly be content when I know that I can be/do/live/look so much better if I just try a little harder? Then God sat me down and showed me that I had long been confusing contentment with complacency.
Complacency says “it won’t get better than this, so I might as well be happy where I am.” Contentment says, “Even if things stay the same, I will be happy.” Aside from the wording, the difference in what contentment and complacency say is in where our joy lies. Complacency tells us that our joy lies in our circumstances. Contentment tells us that our joy lies outside of our circumstances and in the Lord.
So this year, my resolution is to learn to be content where I am. Rather than pushing myself to be better, I want to spend this year focusing on the things already in my life that bring me joy. I am going to lean into the Lord, invest in my relationships, and be present in the moments I am given.
I’m tired of striving for happiness like it’s always something that’s around the next corner. Happiness is something that can be found here and now through the joy God brings to our life. So this year, I’m going to do the things I’ve always wanted to, because I don’t have to be perfect to be happy, I just have to start.
A list of what contentment will look like for me in 2019:
Listen to more music that I like
Going to the places I like whether someone is with me or not
Take notice of the beauty and joy around me
Don’t forget to go outside- it’s nice out there
Get on the Chick-fil-A A-List because I eat there three times a week anyway
Draw/Paint/Write more without worrying about if it is good
Stop apologizing for texting back late and just text back when I can
Author | Sarah Savoie
Around this time of the year, I get caught up in what I like to call “the magic of new beginnings.” With the beginning of the new year comes a wind full of hope, and God only knows we could all use a little more hope in our lives. There is something captivating when I think of the start of the new year, I get excited just thinking of the amount of possibilities that will come with each new year and that the new year is a blank story, just begging for God to write a new, better story.
At the same time, there is one part of the new year that I generally have not been able to get behind: new year’s resolutions. To me, these resolutions have always been a vague attempt to fix a problem that has been there the entirety of the previous year. I have always thought, “You should not wait for an arbitrary date to start bettering yourself.” If you see a problem with the way you are living, don’t wait until next year to do something about it. Do it now. However, God has been changing my heart toward them this year. New year’s resolutions can be fiercely beautiful when you make them with God’s heart for you in mind.
It’s easier for me to look ahead at what can be done better or how I can be better (shout out to all my Enneagram 3s out there). It’s much harder for me to look at the here and now and how I can celebrate the person I am right now. One of my favorite Biblical characters is Peter. Peter was a bit of a loose cannon and made his decisions based on his emotions and what was convenient at the time. Yet, Jesus called out the greatness that he saw in Peter when Peter did not know what was inside of him.
“But you-who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.
Simon Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God!”
Jesus replied, “You are favored and privileged Simon, son of Jonah!
For you didn’t discover this on your own, but my Father in heaven has supernaturally revealed it to you.
I give you the name Peter, a stone.
And this truth of who I am will be the bedrock foundation on which I will build my church-my legislative assembly, and the power of death will not be able to overpower it!
I will give you the keys of heaven’s kingdom realm to forbid on earth that which is forbidden in heaven, and to release on earth that which is released in heaven.” –Matthew 16:15-19
The crazy thing is that the last mention of Peter before this is him asking Jesus to reveal the meaning of a parable and before then Peter trying to walk on water. Both times, Jesus rebuked Peter in some capacity for his lack of understanding and lack of faith. Directly after this story, Jesus even called Peter Satan. What a turnaround!! One minute Peter was the rock that Jesus would build his church upon and the next, he is Satan!
The common thread in all the stories about Peter is that he is looking at it from man’s viewpoint, not God’s. I am convinced that we can only move forward toward the identity, the calling, and the purpose that God has for us by looking at Jesus and hearing what He has to say about us. There are a lot of voices around you, telling us how we can be better, and as we make resolutions, we are too often consumed with the image that we portray to the world. The greatest concept to think about though is that God loves the you that you so desperately try to hide away behind an image.
God’s viewpoint is the only thing that can inspire change. God’s heart is the only thing that will motivate us to truly move from a place that we enjoy to a place that is better for our souls. One of my favorite verses in the entire Bible is 2 Corinthians 3:18 where Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” God transforms us. The only way we move from glory to glory is by looking at the one who defines glory.
Embracing that change is the best thing possible for you only happens when you realize the Father only has your best intentions. You will never know with 100% certainty that the best thing for you may be the scariest, but I’ve learned something in my 21 years of life: the voice of excitement inside of you is going to seem like a whisper compared to the agonizing yell of fear. Make the intentional choice to believe excitement over fear. God only calls out the best in you, even when you can’t see it. It is your responsibility to lean into the change that God is already doing.
God has never let you down, and he won’t start now. I am fully confident in that the best is ALWAYS yet to come with God, because that’s how God works. As you look into the new year and think of what resolutions to take on, I pray that your resolutions center around your relationship with God and the freedom that God is fighting for you to have. God has been championing your freedom from the dawn of time, make the choice to fight with him this year. The only way to figure out what’s best for your future is to look at the one who’s working on your behalf. The future, whether it’s the next year or the next four, can be the most terrifying or the most exciting concept possible. Lean into your fears and trust that God will hold your hand the entire way through them.
Author | Cristina Rosiles
The term resolution has never quite settled with me. I like the terms growth, enhancement, or development much, much better. Resolutions have unfortunately been associated with the New Year for me and many times add more pressure than freedom to my life. Maybe the term could be replaced with "expectations", because year after year I have made too many for myself that could honestly never be met. And like most people, they were heavily associated with my efforts within the physical world. While those resolutions or expectations were never wrong or innately sinful, the lens in which I viewed myself and my motivations for being "better" were very opposite of the freedom that I receive fully now.
Admittedly, many of my past resolutions were based off of self-declarative issues in my day-to-day life. I am a perfectionist naturally in many areas, especially when it comes to self-improvement. Through deep reflections the past few years and many many failed attempts to reach a self-satisfactory point, I have come to realize that the desire to be better stems from a greater seed within my makeup. It has always been the poisonous thought that I am simply not enough and will never be enough.
The truth is, God actually thinks very highly of me; even when He knows I can do better. And often times, I am actually doing great.
It may seem superficial, but a deep unsaid resolution I always intended on keeping without ever truly finding the success I desired was "being fit" or ultimately satisfied with my outward appearance. Wanting to look perfect stemmed from a young age and is actually deeply rooted in genetic makeup. Also, being an athlete all my life and experiencing collegiate athletics for a time didn't help this underground issue due to the constant comparison and judgment of others and myself. Even if most of my goals were associated performance on the field, there were always hidden desires to look a certain way. Some days, I would practice three times a day and still run afterwards because I had set a goal for myself and still wasn't satisfied.
I didn't realize how deeply rooted this reoccurring "resolution" or “expectation” became a part of my every day life until I walked away from collegiate athletics and found myself trying so hard to keep my physicality.
To be frank, it became dangerous. For an extended period of time, my body was not functioning correctly because of how much I was pushing myself. 6 a.m. runs, low carb diets, calorie trackers, health blogs, and no fat anything became a part of my life. Before I knew it, I was growing weaker and weaker and very unhealthy.
The crazy thing is, I didn't even notice… I couldn't even feel the pressure that I was adding to my life.
It took several years for me to understand the weight of what I put myself through. As I reflect now and ask God what caused me to do something like that, I don’t receive every answer. However, I see that He nursed me back to health and showed me some of my heart motivations for setting such high standards for myself. I saw that what I was being faithful to could not actually be faithful to me.
In current realization, the issues in which I based my expectations of self weren't even real issues. In other words, I wasn't actually out of shape, I was never actually unattractive, and people never really measured my relationship with them through my appearance or performance. Those are honestly hellish lies that kept me trapped in a cage and under intense pressure for so many years.
I have listened to those lies in other ways as well, only focusing on what I am not, and not seeing what I truly am.
Unfortunately, there are several ways that “not good enough” lie can take its ground in you. The lie can cause you to suffer for trying to make yourself better, because you may have trouble finding rest in a really big mess. The pressure may take root at that point, and it may cause you to make expectations that aren't worthy of your energy.
Those empty expectations will not give back to you and they will actually steal from you. Ultimately, they lead to an inability to comprehend who God is and His thoughts about your life. For me personally, the expectations placed on myself created a very religious experience for our relationship.
Some common expectations we place on ourselves, especially in the New Year:
"I want to have more control over my money, or I want to somehow make more money."
Pressure is added.
"I want to be more careful about self indulgence."
We limit ourselves extensively. Pressure is added. Temptations rise.
And lastly, "I want to exercise more."
We set high expectations. Expectations aren't met. Pressure is then added.
So often, we put all of our faith in these things, but how often do we put our faith in the areas God wants to see us grow?
Fortunately, God doesn't want pressure. He wants freedom. This freedom comes in prayer, repentance, faithfulness, obedience, and all consuming joy for who God actually is.
Again, nothing is wrong about any of these self-improvements. However, it is so important to look at the motivation behind your desire and remember to put your faith in what He wants for your life.
Instead of trying to control your income, recognize that if you belong to Christ and you are a son or daughter that will always be provided for. Ask God to be a part of your financial journey and freely give as you freely receive. Ask Him to show you the delights of blessing others and taking the time to take care of yourself once in a while. Ask for forgiveness for being a little careless before.
Maybe your growth in 2019 could be getting to know Jehovah Jirah, God as provider. Maybe you could step further into a deep trust that you are actually lacking nothing.
If you are more focused on self-indulgences whether it is food, entertainment, an addiction, or relationships, ask God to reveal Himself as everything to you. He is not just enough. He is everything. Ask Him for supernatural strength to avoid temptation. Dig into scripture, and ask Him to reveal how much His love masks all illusive commodities. Ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you, to give you peace, to give you love, and to give you grace.
Maybe your growth in 2019 could be understanding contentment in His presence. Maybe it could be being cleansed from an addiction, not because you tried a new formula, but because He healed you as you showed up to meet Him. Maybe your relationships will look different in 2019 as a result of Him giving you His love so that you could give untainted love to others.
It is the same with health or appearance. There will always be the next diet, the new workout equipment, another gym membership, and the temptation to always want something different. Ask God to forgive you for not seeing the magnificence that He created with the sculpt of your body, the pigment of your hair, the curve of your lips, and the twinkle in your eyes. Ask Him to make you humbly bewildered at what He has made.
Maybe your growth in 2019 could be understanding God as creator. Chances are if it is hard to see the splendor within yourself it is hard to see His splendor in other people and all around you. Maybe He wants to open your spiritual eyes a little more. Maybe 2019 could be the year that you take a walk versus running everyday, or savoring a piece of chocolate once in a while because you have the ability to savor. Maybe this year, you could wear a more natural you.
The truth is, even the few self improvements mentioned above cannot fix prolonged spiritual or emotional detachments.
Only the Father can do that. So that is why He doesn’t want us to focus on resolutions too much. He would much rather us be with Him first and enhancing, developing, and growing takes place naturally in freedom.
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33 NIV
"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4 NIV
In 2019, He wants you to rest in your mess and know Him more deeply.
What if you looked back at your life and thought it was actually a masterpiece and perfect in every way with God's sovereignty? What if you were able to forgive yourself and let go of the offenses done wrong to you and chase after justice and mercy with God for all people? What if you were able to walk in more degrees of freedom and hope when thinking about what God has promised in your life?
It is a perspective shift that makes all the difference.
I encourage you to try making some more attainable and self-lifting resolutions with God for yourself this year. Ask Him how He wants to grow with you in 2019.
In that freedom, your needs are provided for, your flesh is robed in righteousness and pure to the touch, and your view of yourself is filled with joy and grace. Remember, you are always moving forward with God, from glory to glory.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV
Author | Emily Helton
In Exodus 34, God introduces himself to Moses. He reveals that He is the god of compassion and mercy. He could have chosen other adjectives when describing Himself, so it’s no coincidence that these are the words He chose. Showing compassion and mercy is the forefront of who God is. He displayed it on the cross when He didn’t have to. Jesus shows it time and time again in the Gospels. We see that in Luke 8 when He shows compassion to a desperate woman.
Imagine you’ve suffered your entire life from an illness with no cure. You’ve spent everything you have trying to be healed and nothing has worked. You’d probably be pretty desperate right? So desperate, in fact, that you push your way to the front of a crowd just to touch the clothes of someone you’ve heard has the power to heal. That’s what the woman in Luke 8 did. After finding that worldly solutions could not heal her, she turned to her last option: a literal miracle. Imagine pushing your way through the crowd at the Tate bus stop at 12pm. Now imagine doing that as an outcast of society, being someone considered unclean because of a condition you didn’t ask for. That’s how worth it this woman believed God to be, and she didn’t even touch Jesus, she touched the hem of his clothes! Jesus saw that and had compassion on her.
She didn’t have to pray a special prayer, do a certain ritual, or impress God with her heart. All she did was take a risk, and God honored that risk with healing. In Luke 8:45, Jesus asks His disciples who touched Him, which seems like a silly question to the disciples considering He was surrounded by people. But He persists in finding out because He felt healing power go out of Him when the woman touched Him. A huge crowd was around Him and yet she stood out because of her faith. All this shows that our faith doesn’t go unnoticed by God. When we are willing to take a risk and take Him at his word, He shows us great compassion and responds to us.
Maybe you relate to the woman in this story because you’ve been sick. Maybe you relate because you feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. Either way, compassion and mercy is waiting for you. At the end of the story, Jesus tells the woman it is her faith that healed her, not her money, status, looks, heart, or history. Faith is the currency of heaven. It’s the thing that will set us apart from the world, and it’s the thing that connects us to God. Ask God to increase faith in you. Ask Him to take your heart to a place where you are willing to risk it all for the sake of simply knowing Him. As you lean into Him, you will experience the compassion and mercy he has for His children, for the ones who are willing to touch His hem.
Author | Emily Baker
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve had the hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus stuck in my head. If you’ve never heard it, go give it a listen – it’s by far one of my favorites.
But one part in particular has been standing out to me in this season. It says:
His word shall not fail you, He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell
Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
We’re quickly approaching the time where we usually make resolutions for the next year. Those goals of losing x number of pounds, of being more productive, etc. are probably popping into your head as we speak. As I’ve been thinking about this song, however, I’ve been convicted to think beyond the typical, tangible responses to the question of “what’s your resolution going to be for the next year?”
Life is busy. We get so caught up in things like school, work, relationships, or money that we often put God on the back-burner. He gets put up on a shelf in our mind, reserved for Wednesday nights or particular moments in our week but nothing more. That’s not the place He should hold in our lives, though, and He’s been reminding me of that fact over and over again lately.
God is a being full of glory and grace. He is deliverer and peace-giver. The lyrics of this song say that His words shall not fail, belief in Him brings peace. His presence dims the ever-present nagging of the world around us. Why would we not want to be with Him, think about Him, commune with Him?
A couple nights ago, I was talking to my dad about the Christmas song O Holy Night and its line that talks about falling to your knees in worship/rejoicing. He told me His resolution for 2019 was to build a relationship with God so intimate that falling to His knees was an immediate and direct response to entering God’s presence. I think that’s beautiful and something we should all consider as January comes up in a few days.
Now I’m not saying that tangible resolutions for the new year aren’t good or worth setting, but I think that it’s important to consider spiritual resolutions as well. I want to go beyond the physical and focus on my spiritual health. So, as I’ve been led to sing songs about His presence and thinking about my own relationship with God, I’ve been convicted to make 2019 the year of enjoying God and putting Him first.
Author | Emma Whitmer
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
If you were a storyteller and tasked to write a story about God coming to earth to save His people, you would probably have Him descend from the Heavens on a cloud or loudly announce His entrance by going to the biggest city and living in a Kingdom. That sounds like a fitting setting for a King and a Savior, right? How would you expect the Messiah to come? The one prophesied to save God's people. Maybe He is born into the royal family and inherits the throne. Most of us, if not all, wouldn't have sent Jesus to earth to be born to a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem in a manger since there was no room for them elsewhere. This is not how you would expect God to send His Son into this world. However, this is the magnificent story that God chose to tell.
Why did Jesus have to be born?
We are almost to Christmas. Which means many of you are reading the story of the birth of Jesus in church or on your own as we celebrate and remember Christ coming into our world. If you are anything like me, you are curious and ask a lot of questions. One question I am asking this December is why did Jesus come into the world this way? Why was he born to a virgin in Bethlehem?
John 1:14 says that the Word, the eternal God Himself, became flesh and dwelt among us. When this happened, the eternal God stepped out of eternity into time to become a man of flesh and blood. The Creator became His creation. He is both fully God and fully man.
Being born shows us Jesus's humanity. In order to save us from our sins, He needed to be like us in every way. He needed to live the human life perfectly from start to finish. Jesus being born makes Him more relatable. Sometimes, it is hard for us to relate to God. We can't see Him. He is our creator. He spoke everything into being. It is a lot easier to relate to a child. Jesus experienced everything we did. He cried, laughed, grew up, went to school, was tempted, needed food and shelter. We can come before Jesus and hand him our fears, failures, struggles, life experiences and temptations knowing He has lived the human life and can relate to us all!
Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; (Luke 1:34-36)
Being born to a virgin shows God's power and glory. It separates Jesus from all other humans. It shows He is not a product of this world but rather comes in from the outside - pure and clean. The virgin birth is a sign of His divinity - It is impossible. However, with God all things are possible. He is the God of miracles! Rob Kaple, Grace Midtown's pastor, put it this way on Sunday, "Advent tells us the story of the miraculous birth and the birth of the miraculous." Jesus's life begins with His supernatural conception and ends with His supernatural resurrection.
Jesus came down from the heavens and into the form of a helpless, crying, vulnerable human baby. Jesus, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8). Being born in a manger, into poverty, and in an unknown small town of Bethlehem, Jesus's birth points towards God's selflessness and overwhelming love for His people. Though He was rich, he became poor, so that you and me by His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The Birth of Jesus into our world is miraculous and profound in so many ways. God, the highest and holiest, came and entered this world through the humblest of doors.
God's love and intentional design
The Christmas story is a perfect picture of sacrifice, love, and humility. The story God decided to tell is so counter culture to the way we think the Son of God should arrive, but it lines up perfectly with God's character. He is selfless, intentional, and cares about every detail of our lives. The Christmas story fulfilled every prophecy in many intricate ways, such as having the current ruler of the land order everyone to their home town.
Another example of God's intentional design of this story is there being no room in the inn. That wasn't just bad luck. People needed a sign. The Angels told the shepherds that they would find the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. How many other babies in Bethlehem do you think were laying in a manger? God intentionally placed Jesus there so the Shepherds would know which baby was the Son of God.
He did all this so that Jesus could bridge the gap between God and His creation. Jesus was born to give life to those who had none and to be the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness but darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). As the lyrics of Hark the Harold says;
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the son of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King!"
Just as God was intentional and caring about Jesus's birth, he is intentional about your life as well. He knows and cares about every detail, every hardship, every interest you have, and has created you by design. Just as Jesus was born into this world for a purpose, you were made with specific purposes in mind. You were not born a mistake, you are not forgotten - God has a plan for you. His timing is perfect and true. He loves each of us so much that He sent Jesus into this world! The greatest gift of all - wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger.
Author | Kyle Pickett
I strongly believe in the power of good food. I want to use this space to share with you some of my favorite and super easy holidays recipes. Food provides opportunities for connecting with loved ones over cooking or eating. I want to challenge you not to let those opportunities pass you by.
As an HDFS major, I learned about a concept called "bids." A bid is when someone extends an invitation of any sort to you in attempt to bond. Most of the time it is natural but you can be intentional with bids. Try to acknowledge the bids your family and friends extend to you while you're on break. You don't have to say yes every time, but notice how often you're invited to watch a movie, get ready for a party together, or decorate for Christmas. Then see how graciously you can give bids out, including making at least one of these recipes together.
Homemade Thin Mints
Unwrap a bag of Andes mints and melt them in the microwave. Stir every thirty seconds and make sure it doesn't overcook! Then dip Ritz crackers in the melted mint chocolate on both sides. Set on parchment paper over a cookie sheet and leave in the freezer until they dry.
Hot Fudge Cake
Mix up a box butter recipe yellow cake (don't stress, the box cake tastes great and it's less work). Pour it into a 9 x 13 pan. As your cake bakes, melt a stick of butter in a pot. Add in a cup of sugar and half a cup of cocoa powder. Pour in 1/2 cup of milk and bring to a boil for two minutes. Turn off the stove and splash in some vanilla. Poke holes in the yellow cake once it is golden on top using a straw, fork, or the end of a wooden spoon. Pour your homemade hot fudge over the cake and allow it to soak in. Best served with vanilla ice cream.
The night before you want to serve this amazing breakfast, brown 1 1/2lb sausage and drain the meat. Beat 8 eggs and mix with 3 cups of milk, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of dry mustard. Cut up 3 slices of bread into little squares and combine with the egg mixtures. Add sausage and 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese. Put in a greased 9 x 13 pan and refrigerate covered overnight. The next morning, bake uncovered for an hour at 350.
Author | Savannah Ugan
The Bible is a history book (and so many other things) about God's relationship with His people. It's a story of a Father, Friend, and Lover longing to reestablish connection with His beloved. When I read through the Old Testament, I like to underline promises from God. In the book of Isaiah, God promises a savior called Immanuel, or God with Us (Isaiah 7:14). Christ's birth is the fulfillment of this promise; He is our Savior, our Immanuel.
During Christmas, we get the honor of celebrating and worshiping a God who desires relationship with us so much so that He came as fully human and fully God to restore that relationship. There are countless Christmas worship songs that we sing like O Holy Night, Little Drummer Boy, or All I Want for Christmas is You (not a worship song, but classic to the month of December). All jokes aside, when you think about worship, what comes to mind? What does worship actually mean? And what role does worship play in the Christmas story?
Worship is the act of showing something or someone complete adoration or deep respect whether through one's posture, acts, gifts, thoughts, words, or time. It's a heart position turned to action. Worship, or proskyneō in Greek, means to fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead. Matthew 2:11 uses proskyneō to describe how the wise men responded to the birth of Jesus:
"Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped [proskyneō] him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (CSB)
Can you imagine? Scholars, wealthy men-flat out on their face on a dirt floor, worshiping a child? Not only that, but presenting that same child with gifts of expensive perfumes and gold: gifts fit for a king?
I think it's noteworthy that these magi believed this child was something so much more than just a toddler of a carpenter. This child was worthy of their posture to change-their faces to the floor; this child was worthy of their acts and gifts-their presentations of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and this child was worthy of their time-their travels to Bethlehem. This child was worthy of their worship, because of who He was.
I think we often miss the fact that genuine worship cannot exist without relationship. When I say relationship, I mean an intimate knowledge or connection with the person or thing being worshiped. The wise men knew that Jesus was the son of God prophesied about in the Old Testament (see Matthew 2:2). So did the shepherds in Luke 2:
"8 That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified! 10 But the angel reassured them, saying, "Don't be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! 11 For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. 12 You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!" 13 Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing: 14 "Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven!
For there is peace and a good hope given to the sons of men." 15 When the choir of angels disappeared back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go! Let's hurry and find this Word that is born in Bethlehem and see for ourselves what the Lord has revealed to us." 16 So they ran into the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in a feeding trough. 17 Upon seeing this miraculous sign, the shepherds recounted what had just happened. 18 Everyone who heard the shepherds' story was astonished by what they were told." (TPT)
Both the wise men and shepherds had an intimate knowledge of who Jesus was that drove them to worship and praise. My hope and prayer for you this Christmas season is that you would dive head first into a relationship with a God who so lovingly desires to know you. And as you come to know Him, your heart would be transformed into a constant state of worship. If this season of your life has been particularly hard, know that His promise in Isaiah is still true today:
He is our Immanuel- our God with Us.
I want to take you back to Luke 2:19 (HCSB). This verse follows the account of the shepherds visiting baby Jesus:
"19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them."
This verse seems random in the midst of the story, but I think the author wrote it this way to make it stand out on purpose. The future trials and pain that Mary would face weren't negated, but easier to endure, because she remembered. Mary remembered God's promise that He was good and faithful, but most importantly that He was with her.
He is a God who never abandons, never gives you the cold shoulder, and never forgets you. He is worthy of our worship in the good and the bad seasons-always and forever.
"Now this is what the Lord says-
the One who created you,
and the One who formed you-
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
2 I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you."
(Isaiah 43:1-2, HCSB)
Author | Brooke DeLoach
“And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord...’” Luke 1:11-15 ESV
One of the things that I know that I know that I know about God is His incredible ability to bring beauty from things where there was once no beauty to be found. His promise to us in Romans 8:28 is that all things work together for our good, so there is hope to be found in even the most seemingly hopeless situations. We can see just how capable He is at fulfilling His promises in the very beginning of the Christmas story.
In Luke 1, an angel comes to Zechariah, who had been unable to have children with his wife Elizabeth. They were both definitively past child-bearing years with no hope for ever conceiving, but in response to their prayers, God sends the angel to bring them the good news that will have a child. That child would be John, who according to Jesus Himself was the greatest of all humankind (Matthew 11:11).
The angel goes on to prophesy to Zechariah all the great things that his son John would do for the kingdom of God. Not only were they to miraculously have a son, but a son who would bring so many people of Israel to God. Out of the barren womb of Elizabeth was born the man who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
“And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” Luke 1:28-32 ESV
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John, an angel came to Mary and told her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, even though she was unmarried and a virgin. What seemed impossible to Mary was not so for God. Out of the promise made to Mary came Jesus, the Savior of the world, the most beautiful gift God could ever give to His people, the One who would restore us to right standing with the Father.
In both of these miracles, God took brokenness and emptiness and redeemed it for His glory, but the beauty of what God has done goes far beyond the implausible birth of a child. From Mary’s empty womb to the empty Garden Tomb, God continuously shows us His ability to take what’s bare and make it beautiful. This is our Father, who is not bound by the laws of nature or science or circumstance, but only to His promises, through which He delivers us and provides for us.
There is no situation too broken, no circumstance too barren, no condition too empty to stop God from fulfilling His promise. This is why we celebrate this season. His promise to us is Himself, in whom lies eternal life. In any way we lack, it is not the end for us. He writes a beautiful story where because of His sacrifice, we are victorious.
Lord, thank you that every promise is yes and amen in You. I pray that You would teach me to put my hope in You and that I would not be discouraged by what I can see. Reveal Yourself to me as the provider of everything I desire and need. I place my trust in You, knowing that just as You did with Elizabeth and Mary, You will fulfill Your promises to me. Amen.
Author | Kalli Drake
Christmas is a busy time of the year. We busy ourselves with decorating, baking, shopping, and wrapping so the finished product is ready to be enjoyed on Christmas day.
But what does God say about all this?
I think He wants us to pause. Soak it in.
Each moment is special. Enjoy the process.
Don’t let the Christmas season be about rushing around and checking things off a list. Enjoy each moment you have. Look for God in everything you do. Find Him in the simple moments that bring you joy.
I think this story of Martha and Mary is the perfect depiction of this.
Jesus Visits Martha & Mary
“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’
But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
When you find yourself getting caught up in the material things of Christmas time, bring your focus back to God. Pause your busyness and just rest at His feet like Mary did.
So this is my little gift wrapping craft I did. I loved doing it because it was for my sister, and hopefully it will make her feel special. I invited God in while I was working on this, and He reminded me that just as the greenery adds something new & fresh to the gifts, He adds new life to every situation.
Remember God this Christmas, and let Him fill you with His perfect peace.
Author | Sam Forbes
I remember the first time I really started talking to God. I was 14. I would get up super early each day. It would be before the sun even broke through the morning sky, and I would write down everything that was on my heart. What I remember the most, is the essence of my prayers. They carried a thread that began to weave a greater story than I knew. And, it all started with hope in one thing:
That I wasn’t alone here.
I so desperately wanted to know that God was actually with me in this. That what I was going through was somehow seen and the prayers I prayed were somehow heard…that this road I was walking was somehow marked by God’s knowing and presence.
Eight and a half years later, I still feel the same tug of hope tucked in the moments of my life. Despite my life being marked by His faithfulness, I sometimes still wonder, are you with me in this, God?
One of the beautiful things about this season upon us is remembrance. The remembrance and celebration of redemption being born in Jesus. This time of year can bring moments of excitement and joy along with tinges of hard things and hopeless feelings mixed into our hearts. There can be questions fueled by “God, where were you?” or declarations of “God, thank you for all that you’ve done!”
So, wherever you are in this place, I want to remind you about the promise of Immanuel. The birth of God’s nearness.
Isaiah 7:10-14 says,
“Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah was written long before any of us were born, and he prophesied that God’s miracle sign for His people would be a child named “God with us.” The promise of this prophesy in Isaiah declares the heart of God. His presence is not distant, hope in Him isn’t frail, and miracles of redemption are His business.
Isaiah declares the prophesied promise, and the gospel is the promise come.
Matthew 1:20-25 says,
“But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
God was faithful to His promise, and His promise has always been His nearness. We actually get to experience the fullness of His nearness, strength in hope and miracles of redemption through being Children of God.
The seasons we go through tend to ask us to either praise God for His goodness or question Him for His followthrough. Too often, I look at previous seasons, see the blooms and kick my feet at the dirt I’m in now. What’s to come of this land, this place, this position? What beauty can come from this? Sometimes I ask that last question in awe and wonder and other times I ask it like this is bitter water and what redemption could truly make this sweet?
But remember Immanuel. Remember the promise of God. Remember the faithfulness of our King who stands by us and by His word to us.
He is near.
Who God is, is stronger than any circumstance, season, or experience we go through. So, who we know Him to be matters more than we know. When our seasons beg us to choose between praise or doubt, would we draw near to our ever present Redeemer.
He is with us. He is Immanuel.
And that is worth our every praise.
I want to challenge us. As we begin to reflect on this year and celebrate the beauty of our King being born, would we remember the nearness of God in the midst.
Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your son to us. Thank You for drawing near and for promising Yourself to us. You change everything, Jesus. You change everything. Where I doubt, where I fear, where I question Your nearness, align my heart with Your truth. Open my eyes to see where You’ve been; open my eyes to see where You are now. Soften my heart to receive what You have to say over me. You are with me, God. You were with me then; You are with me now. Give me the strength and boldness to walk out in faith what You’ve promised me. Amen.
Author | Emily Goldin
I love Harry Potter.
(Warning: there are spoilers in this blog. But seriously if you haven’t seen Harry Potter yet then get on with it already will ya?)
Bet that’s not what you expected to get out of a Christian blog. Just trying to keep you on your toes. But really, can you think of a better movie/book series? (ok, maybe Lord of the Rings. But that’s it.)
Anyways, most of you know the story. Harry Potter is this famous kid wizard who vanquished the most powerful dark wizard of the age as a mere infant. That makes Harry the “Chosen One” to the rest of the wizarding world. The books are all about the rest of his journey as he figures out this whole magic thing all the while on an inevitable collision course with Voldemort, the same dark wizard who murdered his family and tried to kill him.
I bring Harry Potter up because over the break I was watching the Order of the Phoenix and Harry’s uncle, Sirius Black, said something to Harry that really hit me. The Order of the Phoenix is all about Harry being confronted with Voldemort’s return. Harry has vivid dreams that seem to be connected to Voldemort and he learns that the dark wizard is actually controlling his mind to some degree. He eventually confides in Sirius that he feels torn inside and is angry all of the time and wants to know why this is happening to him. Harry asks Sirius, “What if I’m becoming bad?”.
The way Sirius responded is something that I want us to pay attention to: “I want you to listen to me very carefully Harry. You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to. You understand? Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and death eaters, we’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.”
Human beings are capable of great good and great evil. This isn’t difficult to see. Just read the news. And for most of us we want to be fully identified as good, as we should. But when we find ourselves doing things that are not kind, that are motivated by selfishness or that are downright evil we often fall into a pit of confusion and despair. We all of a sudden cannot stand ourselves because we feel like traitors. We feel torn inside.
I believe that we feel this way because there really is a struggle within us. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” There is both potential for great good and great evil within every follower of Jesus. There is both Holy Spirit and sin within us. This is the light and the dark that Sirius was calling out in Harry.
But then Sirius presents Harry with a powerful weapon: a choice. “What matters is the part we choose to act on.” Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Christ has set us free for the sake of freedom. Christ set you free from the bondage of sin so that you can choose freedom. God does not force people to stop sinning, He offers them a way out of sin by giving them the option to choose freedom. It’s freely offered, but you still have to choose.
Fast forward to the very end of the movie. After breaking into the Ministry of Magic and battling with the death eaters (they’re the bad guys in case you were wondering) Voldemort shows up. But before Voldemort can fight Harry, Dumbledore (the really powerful good wizard) shows up and battles him instead. It ends in a stalemate, but Harry is again torn apart on the inside and the dark wizard torments his thoughts. As Harry seems to be fighting this internal battle, writhing on the ground in pain, Dumbledore begins to speak to Harry very gently but confidently: “Harry, it isn’t how you are alike. It’s how you are not.”
Too many of us identify more with our sin than we identify as sons and daughters of God. And what’s wild is that doing that is in itself sinful! If you see yourself more for what’s wrong in you than what’s good in you, then you’re not seeing yourself the way God does. And that doesn’t honor God! “It isn’t how you are alike. It’s how you are not.” Harry felt more like Voldemort than he did like himself. I wonder how many of us feel like we are more evil than good? How many of us fixate on our sin instead of on Jesus? I believe God’s word to those of us is simple: I’ve given you a choice. There is light and dark within all of us, yes. The potential for both great good and great evil, yes. But we all have the ability to choose freedom. And it’s as simple as choosing not to identify with your sin and instead to identify as a friend of Jesus. When you do that you are free to choose freedom in your actions, words and thoughts.
Hebrews 4 talks about Jesus being our great high priest who is able to empathize with all of our temptations and trials. Just like Harry had horrible things happen to him throughout his life, we all have horrible things happen to us that make us doubt, worry and fall into sin. These things do not have to identify you. Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, God never looks at only your sin. He sees you as clean because you’re a new creation covered in the blood of Jesus. God doesn’t see you for what’s wrong, He sees you for what’s good! And if you’re open and willing, God will begin to show you how He sees you. And you will be set free from the sins and tragedies of your past!
Harry was saved as an infant from Voldemort by the sacrificial love of his mother. She laid down her life because she loved Harry more than life itself. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Then he went and did it. We are saved by the sacrificial love of Jesus. And just like Harry was given the choice to choose freedom because of his mother’s love, we have been given the same choice because the real Chosen One, Jesus Christ, loved us to the point of death. Jesus gave up His life over 2,000 years ago so that you can choose freedom in the Holy Spirit today.
Author | Adam Salway