Advent: Preparing our Hearts for Christmas

The word “advent” means “coming” in Latin. In Christianity, there are two advents, or two “comings” we celebrate: the first coming of Christ in the flesh as a baby to redeem the world, and then His second coming when He will return to judge the world and set up His kingdom.

We have put together 25 days of readings that tell the story of Jesus from Creation through to His birth for you to read each day of the month leading up to Christmas this year. It is truly exciting to see how, from the very beginning, God wove His plan of salvation through Scripture. The readings cover the beginning of sin and the need for a Savior, the promise of God to redeem us from sin, the inclusion of people outside of the Jewish race in the plan of salvation, God’s covenant to redeem his people continuing through generations despite man’s forgetfulness and sin, Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, and finally, the arrival of Emmanuel on what we celebrate as Christmas Day.

Each day, read the passages from Scripture, and, if you would like to, write a short journal response to what you have read. Feel free to share anything you find that you love on our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/groups/firstbaptistnavarrewomen/

“Here’s an Advent illustration for kids — and those of us who used to be kids and remember what it was like. Suppose you and your mom get separated in the grocery store, and you start to get scared and panic and don’t know which way to go, and you run to the end of an aisle, and just before you start to cry, you see a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looks just like your mom. It makes you really happy and you feel hope. But which is better? The happiness of seeing the shadow, or having your mom step around the corner and it’s really her?

That’s the way it is when Jesus comes to be our High Priest. That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.”
― John Piper

*****

12/1 – “The Light in Creation” – Genesis 1-2, John 1:1-4, 17:5,24; Colossians 1:16,17 and Psalm 150

12/2 – “The First Sin” – Genesis 3, John 1:8-10; Isaiah 59:2, 53:6

12/3 – “Inside the Ark” – Genesis 5 – 9:17, Romans 6:23, Joshua 23:14

12/4 – “The Call to Abram” – Genesis 12:1-7, Hebrews 11:8, Matthew 1:1

12/5 – “Isaac and the Lamb” – Genesis 22:1-19; Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19

12/6 – “Jacob’s Ladder” – Genesis 27:41- Genesis 28:22

12/7 – “Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors” – Genesis 37-50 (focus on 50:18-21), Romans 8:28

12/8 – “Moses and the Ten Commandments” – Exodus 1-15; Exodus 20; 32:15-18; Psalm 119:11; Galatians 3:19

12/9 – “Canaan, the Promised Land of Blessings” – Numbers 13-14:38; 24:17: Psalm 103:2

12/10 – “Ruth and Boaz” – Ruth 1-4, Matthew 1:5

12/11 – “King David” – 1 Samuel 16-17

12/12 – “Josiah Finds the Law” – 2 Kings 22-23:25; Psalm 119:105

12/13 – “Prophecy of Shoot from the Stump of Jesse” – Isaiah 11:1-5,10; John1:14; 1 Samuel 16:1-3, Revelation 5:5

12/14 – “Prophecy of the Lion and Lamb Resting Together” -Isaiah 11:6-10; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:1-7; Philippians 2:9-11

12/15 – “Prophecy of the Prince of Peace” – Isaiah 2:2-4; 9:2-7; John 14:27

12/16 – “Prophecy of a Gentle Shepherd” – Isaiah 40:9-11; Psalm 23; John 10:27; John 10:11-16

12/17 – “Prophecy of the Suffering Servant” – Isaiah 53; John 19:11-18; John 10:15; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22; Romans 5:9-10; 1 Peter 1:1;19

12/18 – “Prophecy of the New Covenant” – Jeremiah 31:31-34; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Hebrews 8-10

12/19 – “Prophecy of Bethlehem” – Micah 5:2-4; Luke 2:1-7

12/20 – “The Exile” – 2 Kings 17:1-23; 25:1-17; Daniel 3; Isaiah 43:2; Jeremiah 1:8

12/21 – “The Return to the Land” – Ezra 1; Nehemiah 6:15-16; Malachi 3:1; Revelation 22:20

12/22 – “The Star” – Matthew 2:1-2; Numbers 24:17; Revelation 22:16; 2 Peter 1:19

12/23 – “The Light of the World” – Luke 1:26-56; 2:21-33; John 1:4-9; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Isaiah 42:6; John 8:12; Revelation 21:23-24; Isaiah 60:1, 3

12/24 – “Angels Proclaiming the Coming of Christ” – Luke 2:8-14, Hebrews 1:1-14, Psalm 91:11

12/25 – “The Birth of Jesus” – Luke 2, 19:10; John 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 8:9

*Verses taken from The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas by Dean Meador Lambert)

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Thanksgiving

Confession: I am a perfectionist. I like to do things well, and I like to feel like a success. I like it when things in my life look a certain way. Unfortunately, I am not perfect, and I don’t live with perfect people. My husband does not mind piles of dishes in the sink for days or unopened mail on the counter. My three-year-old is still hazy on the definition of the word “obey” and has a stubbornness that I can already tell is going to be a stumbling block in his own walk with God. I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Pinterest and I have a tenuous relationship, which is always a disappointing reality check. When I begin to see the dishes pile up, the projects gathering dust and send my son to time-out for the umpteenth time, I start to get overwhelmed by the imperfection of my life. I get discouraged that I can’t seem to take care of everything the way it should be taken care of, and worry that my sinfulness is going to irreparably damage my children.

As I was brainstorming what to write to celebrate Thanksgiving this month, I read verse after verse about thanksgiving and praise and gratitude. They were all good, familiar verses that are pretty standard this time of year. But I couldn’t get excited about any of them. I was getting frustrated, struggling to find a truly poignant way to write about such a traditional subject. As I went about my chores, I prayed that God would give me the words, and in my frustration, I said, “I’m just too overwhelmed to even think about being thankful.” Well, there it is. When I am overwhelmed with life, it is hard to be genuinely thankful.

This year, I think the lesson to be learned is one on perspective. One of the things those psalms of thanksgiving have in common is that the one giving thanks is always elevating God above his own circumstances. The Israelites are known throughout Scripture for constantly failing to follow the commands of the Lord, for getting distracted by their surroundings and being led astray by their sinful nature, and yet in His grace and unfailing love, He continually pulls them out of the pit and provides a way out for them.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.” Psalm 40:1-2

I am just like the Israelites, focusing so much on my circumstances that I can’t see a reason to be thankful in the life He’s given me. I need a shift in my perspective. Can I pull my focus away from the imperfections of my life long enough to give thanks for who God is? Because even in my messy life, His love is constant. He is faithful when I am faithless, and He answers me when I cry to Him out of weakness and discouragement. In Psalm 138, David is thanking God for His care and attention while Israel was in captivity. Their lives were hard, full of abuse and physical labor, yet God had not forgotten them. David prays,

I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
On the day I called, You answered me;
You made me bold with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord,
When they have heard the words of Your mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,
For great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand will save me.
The Lord will accomplish what concerns me;
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

I need to remember this. I need to remember that God is ever-sovereign, the King of all Creation and the lover of my soul even on my worst days. How can I keep myself from getting lost in the temporal issues of my life, so I can see God’s everlasting kindness?

The Apostle Paul gives us some clear direction in changing our perspective: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). When my focus is on the things above, I remember the attributes of God. I remember that He is good and faithful and compassionate, strong and abundantly patient. My circumstances don’t change when I thank God for who He is; my perception of those circumstances does. When I seek Him through His Word and in prayer, I can see what is eternal. I don’t have to give thanks because it’s tradition. I don’t have to give thanks because it’s Thanksgiving and that’s what all the decorations at the store are telling me to do. I don’t even have to give thanks because people at church do. If I can get my mind off my messy kitchen, misbehaving child, off my Pinterest-fails and just generally shift my focus off myself, maybe I will see more plainly how “out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another (John 1:16).” I’ll have my mind clear to see the truth of who God is and how faithful He has been to me. Then I will be free to truly give thanks.

Love, Katie

Slippery Slope

“We go down chutes and up ladders!”  Any friend of mine who’s brought her kids to the park with my children and me has heard me yell these simple but loaded words to my kids. And while at the park one day, a friend just recently said, “It’s hard being a parent.”  Yup.  The context of our conversation was that doing laundry and changing diapers aren’t hard.  They’re just annoying, and often times, gross tasks (where did that stain come from?!).  Even trying to appease the ever-rotating taste buds of my breakfast table of four isn’t hard; it’s trying (“No, I only like orange cheese”).

No, I’m talking about parenting.  The repeated correcting, rebuking, and teaching of the moral reason why we do things and why we don’t do things.  Especially in the face of a world that does do a lot of things we don’t do.

Still with me?

Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid.”

Is it really that big of a deal if kids climb up the slide?  Many parents would say “no.”  For me, absolutely, categorically, yes!  I have a laundry list as long as my arm with all the reason that I believe it’s wrong.  Not because it’s not fun, but for moral and safety reasons that I believe translate into other areas of life.  People say “kids are kids” Nope, try again.  People say, “they’re just kids.”  Again, no.

My four children were gifts God gave me.  He said, “here, take care of these small humans.  Don’t break them.  And teach them.  Teach them who I am.  Teach them to love me.  Teach them to obey me!”

Whoa.  That’s quite a P.S. on the ‘congrats on the new baby’ card!  But it’s true.  Every.  Single.  Day.  God commands me to be the mother my children need.  He wants me to teach them to know they are sinners.  They need to know they are helpless in their sin without the Blood of Christ.  They need to know that because they are redeemed in Him, they have a job to do in our fallen world.

So what does this have to do with not climbing up a slide?  Our job is to do the right thing in Him.  We aren’t to obey rules because they are fun, but because we are commanded to obey authority.

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Romans 13:1-2  NASB

The first authority our children meet are us.  But eventually (*blinks back tears*) they must leave us and go out as young adults into the world.  They’ll be met with an onslaught of rules, some of which make no sense, yet are rules nonetheless.  Their obedience to God will set them apart and make them, as John says, Children of the Light.

We can all agree that in a world of darkness, we could use a lot more light.  Well, hate to break it to ya’, but that starts with us, fellow moms.  Daily we must consistently pour God’s truth into the hearts of the small humans He’s entrusted to us for only a few short years. And you know what? All that parenting is probably going to pay off when years later, we like the big humans they’ve become.

Love, Bri

prov3128

All at the Right Time

During Bible Study a few weeks ago, a simple but honest question was asked: Why didn’t Jesus’ family recognize Him as the Messiah? I’m sure it’s something many have wondered. For those who believe, Jesus’ ministry clearly established Him as the Son of God, the promised Messiah. How could anyone not believe, especially his own family? In fact, his family didn’t only disbelieve, they were offended by him and called him crazy, eventually chasing him out of his hometown (Matt 13:53-58, Mark 3:21).

This isn’t an easy question to answer without making a lot of assumptions. And if we’re honest, we ask this question for more personal reasons. Behind the curiosity about this first century family, we are wondering about our own hearts and families. Why didn’t I believe in Jesus the first time I heard about him? Why doesn’t my family member, who has certainly heard the Gospel, believe?

A Time for Jesus

I’m sure there are many theories out there regarding the family’s unbelief, but I want to look at an often-overlooked aspect of Jesus’ ministry – the timing. And I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer; I don’t know why Jesus came when He did. I don’t know why He was born so many thousands of years ago, I don’t know why God didn’t bring Jesus on scene immediate after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. But I do know there was a specific time designated for Jesus to begin His ministry and a time for Him to die on the cross. Before He started teaching, preaching and healing, Jesus had to be baptized by John the Baptist (Mark 1:14-15), tempted in the desert by Satan, and John the Baptist had to be arrested. God, in His sovereign plan, set a time for Jesus to come as the Redeemer (Galatians 4:4-5, 1 Timothy 5:5-6, Titus 1:2-3). As his teaching ministry progressed, he began nearing a different appointed time in his life- the time of his crucifixion. The course of His ministry took Him places other than Judea until the appropriate time, as the Jewish leaders there wanted Him dead (John 7:1-9). The apostle Paul makes it most clear, “for while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB). We start to see in these verses that God’s plan is not random; it is intentional. There was a right time for Jesus.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:4-5, NASB

Moment of Salvation

Perhaps we also need to consider that there is a right time for us to believe. If we believe God is sovereign in His plan for mankind, not just “seeing” how things play out, but actually authoring the story, we must accept that, just like Jesus fulfilling the role of sacrificial lamb, our own salvation was not a random act. In fact, He “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This doesn’t mean He looked ahead and saw that we would choose Him and then so chose us as I often hear it explained. No, this is an acknowledgement of God’s total sovereignty over every aspect of His creation, including their salvation. We were selectively, intentionally given life, pulled out of the deadness of our sins by a merciful God (Ephesians 2:4-5). Our eyes are opened, we are able to understand the message of Jesus, according to God’s sovereignty. Some of us are granted this grace, and others are still hidden behind the veil, blind to the Truth (John 6:65, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

So this is where I believe we can understand a little more clearly the situation of belief and unbelief in Jesus’ family. If we are believers, we can all point to what we call a “moment of salvation” – the specific time where we realized we believed and were changed. For me, that came at the age of 14. For others, maybe it was earlier in life or much later. At least two of Jesus’ brothers (James and Jude) came to saving faith after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). For the Apostle Paul, it came after he’d lived many years persecuting Christians, yet he says that God set him apart in his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:13-16). God certainly could have made us all believe while we were tiny children, but I believe these examples show us that He has a reason for His timing, even if we don’t understand. Paul’s history as an oppressor of the early Christians gave Him a deep humility in the face of his own sin, which he passionately preached to other believers. James and Jude were able to speak with great conviction about living out our faith and of the dangers of being led astray by false teachers. What did your life before Christ do to prepare you for your life as a believer? As for Jesus’ family, maybe the question isn’t “why didn’t they recognize Jesus as the Messiah,” but “how did they glorify God once they did?”

Hopefully, these things can give you some rest in regard to your own lost friends and family. We don’t know the right time of their salvation; keep praying for them and sharing the good news of Jesus!

Love,Katie

A word from Jonah…

 “You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas, and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.” Jonah 2:3, CSB

My son received a new Bible for Christmas last year, and we have been reading it non-stop. One of his favorite stories is Jonah and the Whale, which he requests daily with unrestrained glee. As I’ve read this story so many times in the last months, I’ve been thinking of why a story like Jonah’s is included in the Bible. What does this story hold for me?

Jonah’s story is simple: God told Jonah to go preach His message of repentance in Nineveh. Instead of obeying, Jonah fled and tried to hide from the Lord. While on his getaway boat, God caused a great storm to come upon them, and the sailors threw Jonah into the sea to appease the God from whom Jonah hid. Jonah sank in the deep, and the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow him. Jonah stayed in the dark, smelly, cavernous belly of that fish for three days. While he was in the belly of the whale, Jonah cried to the Lord, acknowledging His hand in Jonah’s circumstances. He didn’t complain about how uncomfortable he was or ask for God to change his surroundings.

“But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
and I will fulfill all my vows.
For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” Jonah 2:9, NLT

Jonah recognizes God as sovereign over his life, offers him prayers of thanksgiving and remembers that salvation comes from the Lord. It’s only after Jonah reaches this point of clarity about who God is that God commands the fish to spit Jonah out. Once back on dry land, God gives Jonah the same command a second time: Go and give my message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. This time, Jonah obeys.

I wonder how many times the circumstances in my life have been because of my disobedience. It’s easy to immediately complain when things don’t go my way or to ask God why he’s putting me through the struggle, but it’s rare that I take the time to consider how my own sin has consequences. Jonah shows us that when we disobey and try to hide from God we shouldn’t be surprised if He makes us sit in the belly of a whale for a few days, until we get our hearts right. It’ll stink and be uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s what it takes to remind us of the power and sovereignty and worthiness of the God we serve. When our hearts are set aright, God brings us back up to try again, to obey.  Maybe my first prayer should be one of supplication, that the Lord would help me obey Him in all things, so that my times in the belly of the whale may be few and far between.

Love, Katie

Storms

Storms.  We’ve all got ‘em.  Right now you can’t turn on anything without hearing about a hurricane threatening to wreak havoc in its path.  But even when we’re not in hurricane season we experience storms.

Being married to Flint from G.I. Joe, I didn’t exactly get to choose where we live since Uncle Sam makes those decisions.  So as this crazy hurricane comes barreling to my state, I become exasperated, “Why are we here?!  This isn’t my home!  I shouldn’t have to deal with this!”

What I’m forgetting is that I am supposed to be here.  I recall the actual storm that I survived (slightly less wind and rain) when Flint told me it was time to move.  I said “Nope, not doing it” for totally embarrassing reasons.  Cue the wind.  And the rain.   And then it poured.  For a long time.  That was a storm I pray I never have to endure again because it was a storm of my own choosing.  What was I thinking?!  Did I really think that God endorsed my behavior and disrespect to my husband?!  My storm raged as long as my disobedience did.

29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” – Matthew 14:29-33

Matthew tells us the story when Jesus’ disciples were on a boat in a storm while Jesus walked on the water to them.  Excitedly, Peter asks to join Jesus and walks out on the water.  But – here’s our moment where it gets relevant –  when Peter is out with Jesus, his faith wanes and he begins to sink into the crashing waves.  We all know the rest.  “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” Jesus says as he saves Peter and they board the boat.

We know God sent Christ to be the sacrifice for our sins.  We accept His un-repayable gift. We tell God we love Him and we want to follow Him.  But then when it’s time to step out onto the water, to obey, we’re too scared He’s not going to be there with us. Where’s that faith we’re called to have?

The answer lies in us.  The other part of my storm was that I wasn’t exactly communicating with God the way I should have while I had my relocation temper tantrum.  I wasn’t reading His Word.  I wasn’t talking to Him.  How can I expect to hear Him and have faith that He’s there if I ignore Him?

I’d have a fit if Flint never told me he loved me.  How would I know?  The same goes for my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I need to speak to Him.  He’s always ready to show me He’s there.  He always has been.

Love, Bri