Advent is a season of preparation that has a two fold purpose. Advent begins with Evening Prayer I of the Sunday falling on or closest to 30 November and ends before evening prayer I of Christmas. We prepare ourselves not only for the coming joy of our celebration of the birth of the Christ child; we also prepare ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ.
For Catholics, Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. The seasons of that year have always led me on a journey with Christ each year, and I gain so much in the consistency of the seasons and readings. We begin with Advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, then celebrate the Christmas Octave and season, Epiphany, and then soon begins Lent, in preparation for Easter. Then, after the Easter season ends with Pentecost, we have the bulk of Ordinary Time until the end of the liturgical year, and Advent again.
The readings at Mass or Protestant Worship Service reflect these times in the life of Christ. They take us through his birth, baptism, ministry, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. I find Advent and Lent especially to be times that help me prepare to meet Jesus in deeper and more profound ways.
Many Christian denominations celebrate Advent, perhaps in ways a little different from those of us who observe a liturgical calendar and cycle. But the focus, the point, is to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.Hosea 14:2
“BROKE” was the street name Grady answered to and those five letters were proudly emblazoned on his license plates. Though not intended in a spiritual sense, the moniker fit the middle-aged gambler, adulterer, and deceiver. He was broken, bankrupt, and far from God. However, all that changed one evening when he was convicted by God’s Spirit in a hotel room. He told his wife, “I think I’m getting saved!” That evening he confessed sins he thought he’d take with him to the grave and came to Jesus for forgiveness. For the next thirty years, the man who didn’t think he’d live to see forty lived and served God as a changed believer in Jesus. His license plates changed too—from “BROKE” to “REPENT.”
Repent. That’s what Grady did and that’s what God called Israel to do in Hosea 14:1–2. “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. . . . Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.’ ” Big or small, few or many, our sins separate us from God. But the gap can be closed by turning from sin to God and receiving the forgiveness He’s graciously provided through the death of Jesus. Whether you’re a struggling believer in Christ or one whose life looks like Grady’s did, your forgiveness is only a prayer away.
In Hebrews 11, we find the definition of faith—the only word explicitly defined in the Bible.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Here, we see a relationship between faith and hope. Faith is here and now; hope is for the future. Faith is a material thing—something so real that it is called a substance. It is in our hearts. On the basis of faith, we can have a legitimate hope for the future. But hope that is not based on legitimate faith is just wishful thinking.
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto… salvation.” (Romans 10:9–10)
In the New Testament, believe is a word of motion. It is not a static thing or an intellectual position. It is something in your heart that leads you to something new. Faith is a verb of motion: by faith we believe unto righteousness and salvation. You can have intellectual faith and never be changed. You can embrace all the doctrines of the Bible with your intellect but remain completely the same. But when you have faith in your heart, it leads to salvation.
Faith is in the present; hope is in the future. Biblical faith is in the heart; hope is in the mind. Paul spoke about both with an interesting picture:
“But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
Two items of armor are mentioned in this verse. Faith is a breastplate, which protects the heart, and hope is the helmet, which protects the head. Faith is in the heart; hope is in the mind.
Thank You, Lord, that You are faithful—You give me hope. I proclaim that I am putting on faith, the breastplate that protects my heart, and hope, the helmet that protects my mind. I shall hold fast my confession without wavering. Amen.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14
Thanksgiving is an annual reminder of America’s Christian roots. It goes back to the Pilgrims, who gave thanks to God. Were they thankful for the abundance of their crops? No. There wasno abundance. The average meal that winter consisted of five hard kernels of corn on the plate. Period. Just about 50 percent of all of the Pilgrims died in that first winter of 1621.
They had landed in early December of 1620, and it was the fall of 1621. Half of them are gone. There was virtually not a family left who had not lost a husband or a wife or a child. They had little food. Many were still sick. But they were men and women of the Book. They believed the Word of God.
There is nothing Americans cherish more than their freedom; and the origins of that freedom can be traced directly back to the Pilgrims. Religious freedom (the right of a people to own and read the Bible, to worship according to conscience, to form their own church); political freedom (the right of a people to frame their own constitution and form their own government); even economic freedom (the right to own one’s own property and keep the fruit of one’s labors)—all these freedoms in America began with the Pilgrims.
Question to ponder: Can you make a list today of 100 things you are thankful to God for?
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light. —Ephesians 5:8
Before a [person] can be filled with the Spirit he must be sure he wants to be…. Let us imagine that we are talking to an inquirer, some eager young Christian, let us say, who has sought us out to learn about the Spirit-filled life.
As gently as possible, considering the pointed nature of the questions, we would probe his soul somewhat as follows: “Are you sure you want to be filled with a Spirit who, though He is like Jesus in His gentleness and love, will nevertheless demand to be Lord of your life? Are you willing to let your personality be taken over by another, even if that other be the Spirit of God Himself?”
If the Spirit takes charge of your life He will expect unquestioning obedience in everything. He will not tolerate in you the self-sins even though they are permitted and excused by most Christians. By the self-sins I mean self-love, self-pity, self-seeking, self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement, self-defense. POM131-132
Self-denial consists in the voluntary renunciation of every thing which is inconsistent with the glory of God and highest good of our fellow men. DTC139
May Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and may Your godly people shout for joy.—Psalm 132:9
The second piece of armor with which we are to defend ourselves against the tactics of the Devil is the breastplate of righteousness.
A soldier’s breastplate generally extended from the base of the neck to the upper part of the thighs so it would cover many important parts of the body, in particular the heart. Some commentators think that the word breastplate suggests that this piece of equipment covered only the front of the chest and thus gave no protection for the back. They deduce from this that a Christian should face the Devil and never turn his back on him, or else he will expose a part that is unguarded. It is an interesting idea, but it must not be given too much credence, for the soldier’s breastplate often covered his back as well as his front.
What spiritual lesson can we draw from the “breastplate of righteousness”? Most commentators believe that because the soldier’s breastplate primarily covered his heart, the spiritual application of this is that in Christ we have all the protection we need against negative or desolating feelings—the heart being seen as the focal point of the emotions.
What an exciting thought: by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, we have the spiritual resources to deal with all those debilitating feelings that tend to bring us down into despair—unworthiness, inadequacy, fear, and so on. When I mentioned this to a friend who asked me what I thought the breastplate of righteousness was for, he said: “It sounds too good to be true.” I replied: “It’s too good not to be true.”
Gracious Lord and Master, how can I sufficiently thank You for providing a defense against this most difficult of problems—emotional distress. Show me how to apply Your truth to this part of my personality. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Then the man replied, “The woman You gave to be with me—she gave me [some fruit] from the tree, and I ate.”—Genesis 3:12
Adam and Eve did everything they could to avoid taking responsibility for their sin. Adam blamed his wife: “She gave me of the tree.” He even pointed an accusing finger at God, saying it was “the woman, whom You gave me.” Eve blamed the serpent saying: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” God ignored their excuses and announced the judgment they would face as consequences for their disobedience.
One of the dirges of mankind is that we refuse to take responsibility for our actions. We want to blame others for our problems: Our parents did not raise us well; our friends let us down; our pastor was not a good enough preacher; our children are rebellious; our employer is not sensitive enough; our spouse is not understanding; there is not enough time in the day . . . the excuses are plentiful! Yet forgiveness and restoration cannot happen until we accept full responsibility for our actions.
An obvious indication that we have not genuinely repented is that we make excuses for our sinful behavior. Nowhere in Scripture does God excuse one person’s sin because of someone else’s actions. If we make a habit of blaming others for our failures, we will not reach a point of honest repentance. God will hold us accountable for our own actions, not others (2 Cor. 5:10). Strive always to acknowledge and take responsibility for your own sins. It will free you to receive God’s forgiveness and to press on to spiritual maturity.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Psalm 100:4
Are you feeling poorly today? Try a dose of gratitude. It’s a nontoxic medication developed in the heavenly pharmaceutical factories and dispensed freely to everyone on earth. It counters the plague of pain, the scourge of the sour spirit, and the disease of despondency. You can self-prescribe it at any time, and it’s impossible to overdose on it. Gratitude comes in several forms:
A shot in the arm: Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. Psalm 100:4
A booster shot: In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Tablet form: And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
And infusion: Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20
A merry soul is good medicine, so let the Great Physician treat the symptoms of your soul with His prized formula of gratitude and thanksgiving today!
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.Johnson Oatman
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Revelation 21:4
Doctors diagnosed four-year-old Solomon with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-degenerating disease. A year later, doctors discussed wheelchairs with the family. But Solomon protested that he didn’t want to have to use one. Family and friends prayed for him and raised funds for a professionally trained service dog to help keep him out of that wheelchair for as long as possible. Tails for Life, the organization that trained my service dog, Callie, is currently preparing Waffles to serve Solomon.
Though Solomon accepts his treatment, often bursting out in song to praise God, some days are harder. On one of those difficult days, Solomon hugged his mom and said, “I’m happy there’s no Duchenne’s in heaven.”
The degenerating effects of sickness affect all people on this side of eternity. Like Solomon, however, we have an enduring hope that can strengthen our resolve on those inevitable tough days. God gives us the promise of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). Our Creator and Sustainer will “dwell” among us by making His home with us (v. 3). He will “wipe every tear” from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4). When the wait feels “too hard” or “too long,” we can experience peace because God’s promise will be fulfilled.
When we don’t know how to pray for someone, the prayers recorded in the Bible are a good place to start. Philippians 1:9-11
Sometimes we don’t know how to pray. That can happen when others ask us to pray for them but they feel uncomfortable sharing personal details. Or maybe we’ve lost touch with a person on our prayer list, so we aren’t sure about the best way to intercede on his or her behalf. We can also be confused about our own requests, especially when circumstances are complicated.
Whenever we’re unsure, we can seek God’s guidance from the prayers recorded in Scripture. Although we often tend to focus on practical concerns involving our circumstances, the Lord’s priority is spiritual health. That’s what we see in Paul’s petition for the Christians at Philippi. He prayed that their love for each other would increasingly overflow and that they’d “keep on growing in knowledge and understanding”; his prayer was also that they would grasp what really mattered in order to “live pure and blameless lives” (Phil. 1:9-10 NLT).
These are good guidelines for requests because they deal with emotions and judgments, both of which can lead us astray unless guided by godly discernment and wisdom. We all need the Lord’s help in these areas, so let’s not hesitate to ask Him for it