The Marvelous and Miraculous Birth of Jesus

The Marvelous and Miraculous Birth of Jesus

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.

True Humility

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

Holiday Recipes!

Holiday Recipes!

Happy Holidays!

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.

Breakfast Souffle

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.

Enjoy!

Author | Savannah Ugan

Let All the Earth Rejoice

Let All the Earth Rejoice

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

Barren to Beautiful

Barren to Beautiful

“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.

Prayer

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

Rest at His Feet

Rest at His Feet

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.  

Luke 10:38-42

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.

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Remember God this Christmas, and let Him fill you with His perfect peace.

Author | Sam Forbes

The Promise of Immanuel

The Promise of Immanuel

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.

Prayer:

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

The Chosen One

The Chosen One

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

God's Compassionate Response

God's Compassionate Response

This week on the blog we have talked about God compassion for the hurting.

If you go back and read the past two posts (which you should because they are great), they will give you an idea of the essence of God’s compassion. He weeps for our hurts and is driven to respond to them with warmth and care.  

But all of us at points in our lives may think that’s not how God responds, if He even responds at all.

You might think, well if God’s heart is compassionate, why doesn’t he do something about what I’m going through right now? Or what my parents are going through? Or why won’t he heal my sick friend?  

If God is compassionate, why does he let trials and illness and hurt to persist? What’s he waiting for? What’s he doing? Doesn’t he know we’re struggling and why won’t he do something about it?

That’s exactly the response Martha and Mary had in the story we looked at two days ago, about Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus.

In the story, Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that Lazarus is dying. Jesus had a strong relationship with these three siblings and cared for them deeply.

For most of us, when we hear a loved one is sick and near death, our response is to drop everything to go visit them. But that’s not exactly what Jesus did. Let’s look at the text:  

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was.” John 11:5

What’s that? Jesus stayed longer? Mary and Martha had the same thought.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32

So why did Jesus wait then?

My thought is that Jesus has a bigger picture view, a greater amount of healing, restoration and life in store for those who are hurting than they can understand or even imagine.

He knows exactly what He is doing the whole time, so He is not afraid to let pain persist longer than we want it to to achieve the greater, deeper work of healing—healing of our wounded hearts not just bodies and healing of the way we view God.  

Imagine if Jesus had gone and healed Lazarus before He died. Then those involved would not have witnessed the full resurrection power of God. Jesus would have also bypassed an opportunity to increase Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ faith.  

Halfway through the story of Lazarus, when Martha shares with Jesus how she wished He had come sooner, she also says she knows that God will do whatever Jesus asked.

Jesus responds by saying “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25

There are a few things I want to unpack in this. First, Jesus is our hope. He is himself resurrection and life. Jesus is God’s compassionate response to every terrible thing that happens in this world.

A reinterpretation of the line “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die,” could be “the one who hopes in Jesus as God’s compassionate response to their trials and sorrows will find the peace, hope and joy they are seeking, even when their circumstances are terrible, even when those circumstances don’t change.”

Second, Jesus asks us to believe and trust Him enough that we would take steps of faith to see the healing and life Jesus wants to happen actually happen, even if those steps seem stupid.

Continuing with the story of Lazarus, Jesus, Martha and Mary are standing at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus looks at Martha and asks her to take a step of faith — ”Take away the stone,” He says.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” John 11:39

In other words, she says “Jesus that’s a silly idea. He’s already dead. I’m going to look stupid or crazy with grief doing that because all I can imagine happening is the foul odor of death escaping the tomb.”

Jesus then reminds her to believe and trust in who He is.

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

God has a history of increasing His children’s faith by asking them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. I think of Moses raising his staff to show He believed God could part the Red Sea. Or Noah who built a boat when no rain was in sight because He believed God was going to send the flood He said He was going to send.

God wants us to believe and trust Him. God may allow pain or sorrow to persist, so that you can, not just know, but experience and understand a part of who He is and so He can heal you even more deeply than you ever thought possible.   

Author | Lindsey Conway

Abundance & Giving

Abundance & Giving

When people ask me what I do at Wesley I usually give them a little smile and brace myself for their reaction before I reply, “I do fundraising for Wesley.” For most people, fundraising sounds like selling wrapping paper and cookies, sending out letters, and a poster board full of numbers waiting to be crossed off. And so I will continue to brace myself for people to run away or quickly change subjects when I tell them that my job is … fundraising.

If people don’t run away or change the subject, I actually get excited at the idea of sharing with them what I do. Fundraising for me doesn’t primarily consist of making cold calls and I don’t have to sell anything at all. On an average day, fundraising for Wesley looks like telling other people what God is doing at Wesley through email updates or thank you notes and then praying God gets them excited about what is going on here.

Fundraising was a scary word for me too, until I started to understand that the way I think about money and the way God thinks about money are two very different mindsets. The first thing I had to learn about money is that for God, 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4. Don’t leave me yet, haha, I’ll tell you what I mean…

In both Proverbs and Luke, we see examples of God giving abundantly to people as they give generously to others.

“If you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give-- large or small-- will be used to measure what is given back to you.”

- Luke 6:38

According to Luke, when we give we will get back even more - to the point of overflowing. In math that would be like 4-2=28. Is your mind exploding? If your mind is exploding that probably means you are starting to grasp God’s mindset about money.

The second thing I had to learn about money is the way God responds to our generosity. Paul often talks about God overwhelming us with grace when we give from our hearts:

“Let giving flow from your heart, not from a sense of religious duty. Let it spring up freely from the joy of giving—all because God loves hilarious generosity! Yes, God is more than ready to overwhelm you with every form of grace, so that you will have more than enough of everything—every moment and in every way. He will make you overflow with abundance in every good thing you do.”

- 2 Corinthians 9:7-8 TPT

Paul is confident in the Corinthian church because he has seen their love for God and their love for people. When we love God and we love other people, we cannot help but share what we have with the people around us. I love that God’s response to us giving joyfully is to overwhelm us with grace. When we give God what we have, he fills us with what we need -- things we couldn’t buy or earn for ourselves. Fundraising, to me, looks like giving people opportunities to give from their hearts and be overwhelmed by God’s grace.

The third thing I had to learn about money is that God uses the smallest generous gesture to create a movement of abundant blessing and worship. Paul explains the effect generosity has on others:

“This generous God who supplies abundant seed for the farmer, which becomes bread for our meals, is even more extravagant toward you. First he supplies every need, plus more. Then he multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity will grow. You will be abundantly enriched in every way as you give generously on every occasion, for when we take your gifts to those in need, it causes many to give thanks to God.”

- 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 TPT

I love this illustration. God’s provision for one person, the farmer, leads many to give thanks to God. This leads me to believe that when God blesses me, whether it’s with time or money or food, I can choose to share my blessings with others and know people will be led to give thanks to God. Maybe that person is my roommate, then maybe that my roommate in turn blesses a student at UGA, maybe that person will bless their roommate, and maybe eventually God will get thanks from a ton of people I have never known and will never know. How cool is that?!

I also love that in the illustration, God blesses the farmer with seeds -- seeds are tiny. In 2018, coins and one dollar bills have become tiny. We can take for granted the power a few coins, a few dollars, or our venmo balances can have when they all come together. When a group of people come together and share the blessings God has given each person, we are able to see and celebrate the extravagant way God has provided.

Because my job is overseeing fundraising for Wesley, I get to see students, parents, and alumni investing not only their money but also their hearts into what God is doing. I am encouraged when I see students giving to Wesley because I am seeing God provide for Wesley. I am encouraged because this gift means that God is moving in that student’s heart, because a gift comes from an overflow of God’s blessings. And I am encouraged because seeing God celebrated by that student, by me, and by every student that gets to be a part of Wesley.

I want to invite you to invest in what God is doing at Wesley. Ask God how you can partner with what he is doing here at Wesley and in Athens. Ask God to show you how he is blessing you right now. Ask God in what ways he wants you to give generously, however that looks for you! Then go out and bless people and keep your eyes peeled -- God is ready to bless you abundantly in return.

Author | Kimberly Klaer

Compassion | An Expression of Love

Compassion | An Expression of Love

The story I want to dive into is one of compassion. It is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. I encourage you to read through the whole chapter on your own, it’s pretty amazing. While the resurrection itself is a miracle we could talk about for days on end, I want look specifically at the compassion of Jesus. It’s groundbreaking.

I’ve had my own journey of understanding compassion. Growing up I always felt like it was this amazing, powerful thing, but whenever someone talked about compassion, I was left unsatisfied with my definition. Most people describe compassion as pity, and while that is true, I think there is a much deeper meaning that more fully encompasses the word. I recently learned that the word compassion also means, “to have the bowels yearning”. It is a deep, deep groaning of something within you that says, “This is not how it is supposed to be”. It is from this posture that I think Jesus treated people who were hurting.

We see Jesus express compassion is verses 33-35 when it says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” The crazy thing is that Jesus was not deeply moved and weeping because Lazarus was dead, he knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead in a few moments. We see that earlier in the story in verse 4 Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus was deeply moved and weeping because he came face to face with the hurt of this world that God never intended to be there. It was as if Jesus felt a deep, deep yearning for the world to be restored.

The story does’t stop there. Compassion lead Jesus to do something, to be with people. If we skip to the end of the story, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The Latin word for compassion actually means, “co-suffering”. While that can seem like a heavy thing, compassion actually isn’t heavy at all. While Wikipedia can be a little unpredictable at times, I think they hit the nail on the head with this one. Wikipedia says that sympathy is different from compassion, “in that the former responds to suffering with sorrow and concern while the latter responds with warmth and care.” 

The key word from that quotation is respond. Compassion is not a feeling that you sit in until you don’t feel it anymore. Compassion is the signal for hope to be ushered into the room. It’s powerful. It’s filled with hope because we get to call on the name of Jesus and he gets to move and heal and make new.

Compassion is also a gift. It is an expression of love to let our hearts soften and feel deeply with those who are hurting, and it is an expression of love to allow that compassion to move us to respond with Jesus. To respond with hope. 

Author | Kennedy Browning

God is Compassionate

God is Compassionate

“The Lord, the Lord God, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” – Exodus 34:6

When God reveals Himself to Moses, the first thing God says is that He is compassionate. The thing most central to His character is that He has compassion and mercy toward us.

We don’t serve an angry God. We’re not trying to earn His compassion by good works. He freely gives us what we need even though we don’t deserve it. This is who God is.

Think of the person you love most on this earth. You probably have deep compassion for them when they’re going through a hard time. You feel their pain, and you wish you could help them out. God’s love and compassion for you is infinitely greater than the compassion you feel for anyone on this earth. AND He is God, so He can actually act out of His compassion for us and help us.

God’s compassion for His kids is a deeply rooted love and concern for our well-being. It’s His feeling towards us. Sometimes when we’re going through tough circumstances, we think that God is indifferent towards us. Yeah we know God loves us, but He couldn’t possibly care about this thing I’m going through. Wrong. Actually, indifference is an antonym of compassion. The things that hurt you cause God pain too. He hates to see his kids suffer.

Knowing that God is never indifferent toward your suffering should change the way you pray. You’re not trying to convince God of how terrible your situation is. You don’t need to give Him a list of reasons of why you deserve His help. You already have his full attention. God is gracious by nature, and it gives Him great joy to give to us. So, come before Him with confidence that He wants you to be living in the fullness that He has for you.

Do you realize that when you talk to God, it’s a conversation in relationship with Him? You’re not just leaving Him a voicemail and hoping He might possibly listen to it. He’s sitting face to face with you, listening and speaking out of love. He responds to your prayers. He wants you to partner with Him and ask for His help because that’s who He is. Your prayers change things because you’re in relationship with God. You’re not a peasant presenting your requests to an angry king. You’re a worthy child talking to your loving Father about what you need.

My favorite way to relate to God is to see Him as Father. He is the most perfect Father and I’m His little girl. To receive God’s compassion, I think it’s so important to understand the Father heart of God. God as Father to me means that He is constant. There is nothing I can do for Him to love me any more or less. He is always there. Ready to listen. He is perfectly patient. He is strong, yet gentle and kind. He is comforter, provider, & protector.

So when you come before God, imagine yourself as a little kid sitting with Abba Father. Know that He always has deep compassion for you, He absolutely adores you, and He loves to provide for you in times of need.

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

Author | Sam Forbes

Testimony | Thankfulness

Testimony | Thankfulness

This year has been a process with God for me. It has meant long nights of me just praying and asking God if there was any way to get to where I was going faster than I was going. It means I have had to learn that hard does not always mean bad. I have learned that if people really care that means they are going to say things that are not easy to hear, and they are going to hold your hand while you make the first step toward healing.

Circumstances are not something I can control, though I definitely have tried. Thankfulness for the present, to me, acknowledges that there will only ever be the moment that we are in right now. We can plan and plan for things, but in all actuality, we have no idea if these plans will ever come to fruition, and that is actually out of the kindness of God’s heart for us. This season, I am taking time to acknowledge the goodness in front of me, because I know I will never have another time like right now.

I am thankful for the process. This season has been one of healing and making redemption personal in my life. This process is hard, and there is merit to the saying “sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.” Embracing what this process has looked like has propelled me deeper into what healing looks like for me. Healing has not happened all at once, far from it, but I know it is out of the kindness of God’s heart that it is a step-by-step process.

I am thankful that life does not have to be heavy all the time. There are moments that call for heaviness with God, and those moments are necessary. However, God is so much fun, and joy radiates from the Spirit of God. In the midst of the process, I have had moments with God that are marked by laughter.

I am thankful for the community God has given me to support me during this time. God raises up armies around us in the midst of a battle. I know God cares for me, and He has shown that to me, in that I do not have to fight this battle by myself. God has given me people that care deeply, love boldly, and pursue relentlessly. In this community, it’s hard to feel anything but supported.

I am thankful for the brokenness in my story. In brokenness, there is restoration. God paid everything to be able to shine a light into our brokenness. The heart of the Father for me in this season is that of a perfect God who looked at the darkest parts of my mess and decided to choose me anyway. God does this every day.

I am thankful for the Father’s heart. The Father’s heart is far better than I ever imagined, and I am only beginning to grasp that I will never grasp how good God is to me. The Father wants to clothe us in beauty and righteousness. The Father is always looking for an opportunity to restore, even before something is taken away from us. God has always and will always be for us. We do not have to make ourselves right for God to be for us. God is for us; therefore, God makes us right before himself.

I am thankful that God is an active protector to me. I have always been taught that God is for me, but until this season, I did not realize how God takes an active stance in protecting me. God does not passively stand over me, defending me from a battle He cannot do anything about. God stands over me in a offensive stance while looking for an opportunity to advance our position. I have a part to play in that I move with God, but I am not fighting for myself by myself.

Thankfulness for the season that I am in has been hard at times, but I am deeply convinced of God’s goodness after experiencing this year. God’s plans are so much better than I ever imagined and He is more for me than I think I will ever know. God has shown the depths of his goodness toward me, in that when I could not be kind to myself, he reached into my pit and pulled me out.

Author | Cristina Rosiles

Testimony | Thankfulness

Testimony | Thankfulness

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV.

For me, it is helpful to have a dedicated time for giving thanks carved out in the calendar. I confess that too often, I miss this important piece of conversation with God in my day to day. Thanksgiving is a celebration of harvest. The things I’m most thankful for this year, the ways that God has brought harvest in my life, are family, health, and provision.

I’m thankful for family.

I’m thankful that I get to see my sister today for the first time since August. I’m thankful that I get to spend the week laughing and playing games with both of my parents. I’m thankful that I can still celebrate with both of my grandparents, and that one whole side of our family will be together, even if just for a while.

I’m thankful for health.

I am thankful to be well. I’m thankful for a recent good report from my doctor. I am thankful that the people I love are healthy. I’m thankful that though my family and I have been through scary seasons with health, this isn’t one of them, and we get to celebrate that.

I’m thankful for provision.

I’m thankful that God meets my financial needs. I’m thankful that no bill has gone unpaid and no meal has been missed. I’m thankful for small miracles in my family’s finances that remind us that God is in the details. I’m thankful that even when I can’t see a way, He always has one.

My prayer is that no matter the season you’re in, you will be able to celebrate and give thanks for specific things. If you’re in the midst of spring, celebrate the ways you are reaping a harvest in your life. If you’re in the middle of winter, celebrate the harvest that has been and the harvest that will be. Even if they are hard to see, there are always things to be thankful for. Thankfulness in all seasons is a posture of the heart, one we have the opportunity to learn and practice at this time of year.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV.

Author | Kalli Drake

Testimony | Thankfulness

Testimony | Thankfulness

This time of year has been a struggle for me since high school. Something about the darker skies and the colder weather makes me less enthusiastic about each day.

As I started to notice my decline in hope, I began praying for ways I can equip myself to live well despite my changing environment.  Thankfulness was the strategy the Lord put on my heart. I choose to look at the good God has done rather than the things that I don’t enjoy happening around me.  Now I wake up in the mornings and thank God for my warm bed with far too many pillows and blankets. I get up and thank God as I let my dog out and start to feel my excitement for life bubble up again.  I continue throughout my day thanking God for my car, my job, my food, and realize how natural it becomes to thank God for almost everything.  I acknowledged my gratitude for the freedom of religion we have here over dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  I felt appreciative of the efforts my friends made to be intentional with me or my roommates made to make our house feel like home. 

Thankfulness is many things, but for now I’m learning how thankfulness is a choice. Thankfulness can be a state of mind that enhances our day to day life if we make it that. This mindset overcomes any environment and makes even the coldest, darkest days beautiful.

Author | Savannah Ugan

The Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden.

Revival. It is the word that sparks something in God's children. With heavenly revival, our hearts cry out for those who don't know Him. We want all of His creation to be overcome with His glory. We think of congregations trembling during worship. We think of mass salvation and healing breaking out in the most ordinary places. We think of people experiencing the Lord's glory so thick that they are on the ground worshiping Him.

It is a beautiful picture and nothing to be ashamed of.

A revival dream is something given by God, and He is proud of His children for believing big. However, as we ask for the Holy Spirit's mass power in the world, we must not forget the mission of the Lord. It has always been the Lord's desire to capture our hearts. He wants to have them divinely interlocked with the depths of His character, and as He paints on the hearts of our lives, He is giving us power. As we transform, the revival process begins. He wants us to be sure of Him, because when the light falls in escalated power, darkness will try to counterfeit. We will have to be able to discern the difference. This ability to discern will keep us closely connected to His holy ground and we will walk on it, while treading on the head of the serpent.

"If you say, 'The Lord is my refuge,'

and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,

no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

you will trample the great lion and the serpent."

Psalm 91: 9-13

The light will become brighter, and the darkness, darker. The victory is ours, but we are still living in the reality that there are beasts outside of the garden of our heart. They have one purpose; to enter and destroy.

"The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."

Romans 13:12

___________________________

Lately, I have been getting an image from the Holy Spirit for His Church. I see a wave crashing over us before a wild fire sparks and illuminates the darkness outside of the believer and the body. He is saying that He wants to heal before His power falls in the fullness that we will be prepared to steward. In other words, we aren't quite ready yet. If we aren't walking in a position of spiritual and emotional health, then how will we be able to walk as an army of righteousness? How can we defeat the intensified schemes of the enemy? Of course, there will always need to be further healing and strength to take place, thus never leaving humanity with a "perfect" moment. However, I think the Lord is more concerned with the condition of our hearts at the moment.

It is an increase of strength before power.

In the same vision, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me so sweetly about the luscious garden in the depth of my own heart. It begins with an overwhelming feeling that I have been journeying through a thick forest, like a soldier fighting in a battle. I have open wounds, dirt smudges on my face, a limp in my step, and am desperately seeking to quench my thirst. As I see an open field, after running through the forest, I run to the center. I frantically look for a place to hide beneath the blades of tall grass and rest.

As I begin to feel secure, I instantly close my eyes and see a tall iron gate with a lock. I feel as though I have seen this place before. It is so intricately designed with its inner workings curling in different ways and shinning with sparkling jewels. It shows its initial beauty and what lies beyond at a quick first glance. But as I observe more, I notice that it is firmly designed to be a mechanism of safety. All kinds of flowers, species of butterflies, and birds are full of life, growing out of the gate's entrance. The sweet aroma of the garden spills into the field and into the forest in the distance. Lavender, honey, rose, and cinnamon call out. Roaming travelers and wild beasts of the wilderness are allured, but this place is protected.

Looking in, bewildered at the beauty, I know that the Lord's presence is hovering around the garden. I can hear the slightest whisper,

Come rest with me here for a while.

He sees that I am tired from fighting beasts that aren't my own to fight. He sees that I am striving to build relationships with other travelers in order to survive.

He looks at me with mercy. Tears are in His eyes.

"How do I enter?" I cry out. "I have no key!"

This is yours, my beloved. Speak out, and I will open the gates. Surrender your will with mine. It is perfect and it is good. I know just what you need. Get out of the dirt, it is not where you belong.

I fall to my knees and open my hands.

"Lord, can we enter together? Forgive me for leaving this place untended. Forgive me for fighting others' battles before my own. Forgive me for my lack of faith that you weren't real, that you weren't listening. Forgive me for my lack of trust that you were fighting to uplift me and not wanting me to fall. Forgive me for not believing that you protected this place within me. Would you allow me to enter as I walk with you in its depths?"

I open my eyes and there is a key fastened into the lock. A twist and a turn, and I enter my Holy place. I walk along the path asking the Holy Spirit where to go. As He leads, I see where foxes have entered and stolen fruit. I see the places where gold is interwoven in the trees. I see where roses have died and sunflowers have begun to sprout. I see fallen branches. I see fallen trees. The shrubbery is so thick that some of the wildflowers are being choked. There is glistening water. It hits a display of rocks, and creates a stream of life. It is small, but it is alive.

A lot has happened here. My heart sinks. How beautiful this could have been, how beautiful it still is. I wasn't expecting this. I thought I was supposed to fight. I thought I was strong. I thought He had called me out to the forest time and time again.

The tears begin to fall.

"I'm sorry. I am so sorry."

He smiles and leads me to where the stream becomes more deep and full. We drink. He tells me about Himself. He tells me about our relationship. He tells me about where I am called to stay in the garden and what I am to do in the forest. He tells me to wait. He tells me about this world. Then we move from the stream to a sea of brittle thorns, and he hands me some gloves.

We will start here. Then we will move forward.

"This is not what I expected," I sigh.

He begins to reveal His heart…

My daughter, do not lose hope. This is for your good. You are strong, you are called to go out, and you are my warrior. But do not forget that I am your General, and I have been here the whole time restructuring your orders. This is to strengthen and cultivate even more beauty.

"How did this get here? What did I do?"

I see all, and I want you to know that you had control of the gates the entire journey. When you were out fighting the beasts of the wilderness and when you were striving to find others to help heal your wounds, the prideful position of your heart weakened the iron and your enemies were able to enter. There were even times when you opened the gate yourself to travelers who came in and couldn't drink, because this wasn't their garden. So, they tried to survive on your fruits and make refuge under your blossoming trees. Others tried to enter with a sword and try to cut back the ivy, but ended in entanglements of poison themselves.

This is where you have hardened your heart.

I know you don't remember everything. But I knew this would happen, so I decided to stay and protect its inner most layers. Now, we will go together and I will show you what happened. We will get on our knees and remove the weeds and thorns you see.

There are places where you are overflowing with fountains of life.

Let's delight in the beauty together in every place. Let's enhance it. Even those sweet flowers that are growing over the gates aren't properly contained and will attract the beasts of the field if not protected. We won't hide them, but we will cut them back, because they also attract travelers that will add value to you and you will learn from them. I will allow some to enter, and it will be good.

In deeper places, there are trees in this garden that are black and dead without life that need to be removed completely so that other luscious trees can begin their growth. We will walk together and I will show you how they began to sprout. Some of this isn't your fault, because you were unaware. Other times, you were. Dead seed was spread. Even before you entered, poisonous roots lived under the soil, because of what you inherited. It is okay, my darling. My desire is to rip it all out and plant new seeds. This is a lifetime of walking with me. We are cultivating your garden to look more like Heaven. That is the way I desired it to be.

"How long?"

I am time. You will know in your spirit when it is time to go outside of the gates. I will be speaking to you about how you can conquer what is dwelling outside of your own heart. What you do with me, will give you the ability to do what you have always wanted to do. You will go out. And then you will come back and be with me some more.

Trust me. This process will not always be easy. We are going to refrain from saving others in the forest. We are going to let go, be still, and trust each other. My heart's desire is to cultivate the garden within every traveler that you care for. I am not deserting them. I am God of all.

I am overcome.

"And what will happen when I leave this place? Where will you go? How do I protect my heart?"

Do you trust that when you go out, I will continue to water and cultivate this deep and sacred place? Do you trust that the travelers I allow to enter will help you relish in its beauty and keep it contained? Do you trust that I will send angels and my servants in this place as it grows to remind you of my power and to let beauty grow again in fruitless places? Don't you know that I will never leave you here or in the forest alone?

I am always moving in the world with this very special place in mind. It is my heart to protect it and keep it beautiful.

"Yes, Lord, yes. I believe. I trust."

So, I sit. I stay. I rest. I let Him comfort me. And most importantly, I kneel, because I trust that this place is where He has called me to remain for a while.

I will not survive in the forest alone. I will not survive in the forest depending on others' strength, emotional fulfillment, and experience. A warrior can only truly be strong when he is abiding and is being protected by the Father.

__________________________

As those who are warriors with the Spirit, we often pray for God to search our hearts and cleanse us because we have a deep desire to know and be more like Him. If we are being honest, it is our heart cry. We ask Him to come and heal the open wounds in our hearts. We ask Him to cut off anything that isn't holy. We ask Him to give us joy, hope, peace, rest, contentment, perseverance, and faith.

On our journey, we ask for all of these beautiful inner desires, however, are we really willing to open our gates and let him continue the process of cultivation so that the virtues are intertwined with our daily thought life and conversations with others? He has what it takes to make His sweet aroma beckon forth within every place and season of life His people enter. But are we willing to surrender, even if His way of making us more beautiful means something different than we originally expected?

Healing, beauty, and power begin with trust.

When you have asked Him to come into the garden of your heart, have you surrendered to how He may choose to cultivate the soil? Are you able to trust Him enough to open your gates and expose the inner most parts of you?

Sometimes, we open our gates up to Him only halfway and let others walk completely through. Other times, we lock our gates inhibiting any life from entering.

Both tendencies are unwise and threaten our ability to feel fully loved by God. The hindrance is the false security in human independence and codependence. We go out into the forest, without the armor of God, and want to tear down the beasts of the world and the beasts threatening our loved ones' gardens. Or, we are at the forefront of our garden letting anyone and everything into its beautiful mess.

Thank you Jesus, for giving us grace and showing us mercy.

The Lord is teaching us through this journey. He is wanting us to become dependent on Him as the general, the gardener, and the gate. His Spirit gives us direction, His Son is invited into the garden to deliver and heal, and His power is able to open and close our hearts if we let Him.

"These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." Revelation 3:7-8

As you spend time in that place of stewardship, He will give you even more access to His gifts and power because He knows the intentions of your heart. That is relationship. Stay with Him. Give yourself grace when you have opened the gate too quickly. Give yourself grace for when you ran out to the forest unclothed. And always know that He makes everything right with what was done wrong.

He delights in this time with you. So forget your pride. Humble yourself to the Almighty and let Him heal you. He will use you in the midst of it, but His power will be more perfect and complete as you surrender.

In our weakness, He is made perfect.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

Let Him tell you when to go out into the forest.

When He does, His promise is Isaiah 61, and it will be healthy.

I have anointed you to heal. I am healing you in the process. I am doing this with my people and you need protection around you. Abide in love.

You will proclaim good news to the poor.

You will bind up the broken hearted.

You will bring freedom to captives.

You will release darkness from prisoners.

You will comfort all who mourn.

You will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.

They will have an oil of joy instead of mourning.

Together, you will be called oaks of righteousness.

Together, you will display His splendor.

"Their descendants will be known among the nations

and their offspring among the peoples.

All who see them will acknowledge

that they are a people the Lord has blessed."

Isaiah 61: 9

As we go back to the garden time and time again, He will do this, and we will stand strong together as an army in the forest stronger than ever before.

But the water must come first, because revival begins in the secret garden.

Author | Emily Helton

Love fiercely. Love deeply. Love unconditionally.

Love fiercely. Love deeply. Love unconditionally.

A father is gracious and kind. A father is willing and ready to help whenever is needed. A father is not reluctant to love. A father does not withhold good things from his children. And God is the greatest father of all. That is why his heart for the oppressed extends farther than many of us are able to understand.

When I think about a time when someone in the Bible was oppressed, my mind is brought to the story of the Good Samaritan. However, he was not the one who was oppressed. It was the man that he helped that was oppressed. But before we talk about the Good Samaritan, let's talk more about the other characters in this story. Let's talk about, who my Bible calls, a priest and a Temple assistant. Other Bibles may refer to them simply as religious people. Either way, they were people who were supposed to represent the church and show love to people. Sadly, that is not what happened.

When we meet this man, we see him traveling from place to place and in the midst of that, he is attacked. He is beaten. His clothes are stripped from him. He is left nearly dead by the side of the road. He is clearly not in good shape. The next thing we see is a priest walking by. Great, right? Someone who would be willing to stop and help this man. Wrong. The priest passes to the other side of the road to avoid the man all together. Next, we see the Temple assistant. Great! Another person who would be willing to help, right? Wrong, yet again. This man investigates the situation and chooses to walk away. Why is this? Why did these men blatantly choose to leave someone in need? Why did they feel as if it were not their job?

This is so relatable to what I feel like we, as a society, express every day. We see people in need and have the means to help them, but we think it's not our job. We see someone who may need a little assistance and we think that it may be an inconvenience to us, or someone else will do it. The lack of love that we typically show is so easy to justify. However, I am here to tell you that is NOT God's heart. God's heart would not turn away.

"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." Proverbs 14:31 (MSG)

Now let's talk about the Good Samaritan. My Bible calls him a "despised Samaritan". This tells me that his feelings were not sad. They were not full of pity for the hurting man. They were not at all wary. They were angry. He was disgusted by the way that the other men had reacted and responded to a situation like this. And in turn, his disgust sprung him into action. From then, we see him taking care of the man's wounds, bandaging them up and putting healing oils on them. He then puts the man on his own donkey and takes him to a nearby inn and continued to take care of him. Next, we see what happens the next day. I think this is my favorite part. The Samaritan had to leave, but he gave the innkeeper money and told him to continue to take care of the man. Then, he said if his bill was more than what he gave, he would pay when he came back through that town. Y’all! This man wasn't making a one and done kind of sacrifice. He was committed fully to this man's restoration. I know that is what God wants our hearts to look like for the oppressed. How do I know that? Because we are an oppressed people and that is exactly what His heart looks like for us. He doesn't forgive us and then leave us to take on life alone.

For most of us, when we find Jesus, we are broken, hurt, unworthy, and have nothing to give, but God gives us everything He has to restore, refresh, and renew us and bring us into His loving grace and mercy. God is our father and he made the greatest sacrifice for us. He sent his only son to die on the cross for us, even when we were not deserving.

In turn, it is our job to love, serve, and give to those that we encounter who are in need. This could be someone who needs a meal or clothes for the winter. It could be someone who needs a shoulder to cry on. It could look like any kind of sacrifice. All in all, it stems from love. The love that we receive from Jesus should be easily turned into love for others. Whatever the cost. Whatever the sacrifice. We should be willing and ready to exemplify the Father's heart for the oppressed in any and every situation.

My prayer for you today is that you would be willing to buy a meal for someone you see that might not have dinner or you would be willing to listen to someone who is different than you talk about the struggles they have faced. I pray you would be willing to make a committed sacrifice to make a difference in someone's life. And I challenge you to go out of your comfort zone and refuse to walk away from people when they need you. You are so loved. So, I challenge you today to love fiercely. To love deeply. And to love unconditionally.

Author | Morgan Attebery

God’s Heart for the Oppressed

God’s Heart for the Oppressed

“O Lord, You hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

-Psalm 10:17-18

To know God’s heart is to know compassion for oppressed people. Throughout scripture, He moves mountains and splits seas for the oppressed. Jesus proclaims several times throughout the gospels that He did not come for the well, but for the sick. He did not come to be served, but to serve.

What does this mean for oppressed populations of our culture?

When everyone from your next-door neighbor to the media to the greater structures of our society seems to hold you back, God promises that He hears you. He promises that He will strengthen your heart. And ultimately, He promises justice.

In one of my favorite undergrad classes, New Testament Theology (shout out to Dr. Foster), we discussed how the word for righteousness in the Bible (used more than 500 times) may more accurately translate to justice. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology promotes the same theory The Greek word, Dikaiosune, is used in classic verses like Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosune, for they shall be satisfied.”

And John 16:8,

“And He, when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and dikaiosune and judgment.”

What does this mean for the privileged populations of our culture?

God commands His people to be bearers of justice. If we are to claim His kingdom, if we are to pray for revival, if we are to ask for heaven on earth, we must seek justice for the oppressed. We must open our hearts to those who look, speak, and live differently than us.

If God’s heart is for them, then my heart should be for them. And God desperately wants to bring every last one into the fold.

We can try to throw everything on the table: gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, etc. Jesus wiped the slate clean for all. He leveled the playing field for all. He is running for the hearts of all people.

At the end of the day, can I say the same?

Prayer:

Lord, search my heart and root out prejudice. Forgive my inaction and indifference. Replace it with eternal light and love for all people. Teach me to seek justice - where I am oppressed and where I am privileged. Amen.

Author | Claire Jordan