Advent 2020 Day 8: A Living Hope

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Ponder the phrase, “a living hope”.  What does this look like?  Mary reflected a living hope when she answered the call to carry the Messiah with “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” (Luke 1: 38) Elizabeth showed a living hope when she responded to Zechariah’s encounter with the angel with “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.” (Luke 1:25) And, oh, the hope that abounded when Elizabeth and Mary met and the unborn John lept for joy in his mother’s womb! (Luke 1: 44-55) These women faced an uncertain future with joy and confidence because they had hope in God’s promise of salvation. They knew the stories of their faith, and they trusted that the Lord would continue to deliver, as he had always delivered in the past. They did not fear, but accepted the shake-up God had brought to their lives and stepped forward into the unknown with assurance. God would save.

Do you reflect a “living hope” in your life?  Do you live as one who has an “inheritance that cannot perish”?

Today, give thanks to God for the gift of salvation.  Then, ask God to show you one thing you can do today to share with someone the “living hope” we have in Christ Jesus.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

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Advent 2020 Day 7: Experiencing the Lord’s Goodness

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Like many people this year, I have spent the past couple of weeks looking for Christmas gifts online in an effort to avoid the so-called “shippageddon” that is set to ensue. The UPS driver has started delivering in a U-haul truck–seriously. I never know if I’m getting new neighbors or a package from Target. We live in a culture of consumption. It can be hard to find the balance between our wants and needs. Or maybe we just don’t want to. Maybe it’s easier to numb ourselves by looking at everything we could have than sitting and being still where we are. Society tells us more is better, and we buy it, quite literally. In a culture that focuses on always attaining bigger and better things, it’s easy to forget the good things God has already provided for us. Advent invites us into stillness. Like Paul, we are to pause where we are and to be content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. In the stillness, we have a choice. Do we focus on what we don’t have, or give thanks for what we do?

Even in the most difficult circumstances, God’s goodness can still be seen.

Today, make a list of all of the ways you see the goodness of God in your life right now.  Then, spend some time specifically thanking God for all of those things.

Pray that others will experience the Lord’s goodness today.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 6: Patience

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I remember when I was pregnant with our firstborn. It’s hard to believe it was over 14 years ago!! I was SO ready for him to be born. We had painted the nursery, stocked it with ridiculous amounts of baby stuff, secured the house, and installed the carseat. Finally the day arrived. We were ready to have this baby! Two days later, as I paced the floor all night with a wailing infant, I wondered why I had been in such a rush to get him here.

Just like waiting for the birth of a child, or a vacation, or a family celebration, it is tempting to rush through the season of Advent and jump headlong into the joy that is Christmas.  Yet, Advent is a time to practice patience.  In Advent, we anticipate and hope for God’s deliverance.  It is the season where we learn to wait and trust in God. As Jesus people, we are called to be a people who wait. In spite of our instant gratification culture, God tends to take the long way around. He reveals his plans slowly, according to his time. And they are always worth the wait.

Today, put aside all thoughts of Christmas.  Instead, ask God to reveal himself to you in a situation that requires time and trust.  Then, practice waiting patiently to see the manifestation of God’s divine glory.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 5: For Those Who Weep

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Christmas can be a painful time for those experiencing grief and loss.  The tragedies of this life do not take a holiday during December. My family knows this all too well. Two years ago this December, I was making Christmas cookies to send to school with my boys the next day. It was the final day before Christmas break, and I had a long list of tasks to accomplish, as well as work deadlines to meet. When the phone rang, I didn’t think much of it. My parents had been visiting my dad’s sister, when he’d had what we thought was a minor health issue. An ulcer, he was sure. No need to panic, he’d keep us posted. I finished the cookies, got the boys to bed, and was settling in when another call came. What was thought to be minor was not. My sister and I should come. Less than 24 hours later, we were gathered in an ICU room saying goodbye to one of the most important people in my life. Four days later we would celebrate Christmas in a kind of hazy, numb disbelief. What had happened?

My family’s story is not so unique. Tragedy comes daily in our world. So many experience loss over the holidays, and yet the carols keep playing, the lights keep shining, and the holiday rush keeps going. But here’s the good news. Jesus came to a people living in darkness bringing his light of hope. Jesus didn’t come in the midst of revels and feasts, but in a cold dark stable with two young people who were all on their own. There was no family nearby to celebrate the birth. There were no showers, no diaper cakes, not even a hot meal. Shortly after their child was born, these two young people, alone and completely unprepared for what God was doing, became political refugees, fleeing for their very lives into Egypt. Not only were they far from their families, they were far from their country and the traditions and religious practices that had governed their way of life. Things were a mess. And yet, God was with them–literally–in the child they worked so hard to protect. God is still with us today, even in the midst of our suffering and grief. God asks us to carry him to those who mourn, to those whose hearts are hurting while the world celebrates.

Pray today for those who are mourning.  Pray for those who are struggling with broken relationships.  Pray for those who have lost their homes or experienced crisis. Pray for those who are lonely.

Ask for God’s presence to be with all of those who grieve this Christmas and to fill them with hope.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 4: Hope

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Advent is a time of waiting and hope. There is anticipation in Advent.  We know that there is more to this life than what the world offers. We know the end of the story—Christ wins—Love is victorious; therein lies our hope. But the walk can be difficult. Life’s trials, pressures, and tragedies can stop us in our tracks. This year, particularly, has been difficult for millions of people around the world. It’s easy to lose hope in the face of so much suffering and uncertainty. And yet, as Jesus people, we are called to choose hope. More than that, we are called to carry the hope of Christ into a world that is fraught with situations in which hope seems to be gone. Jesus calls us to reach out to those who mourn, to those who hunger, to those who are imprisoned, to those who are vulnerable, to those who are alone and to bring them the good news that is Immanuel–God with us. How do people know that God is with them? We bring him to them. We bring hope.

The above image spoke to me, profoundly. One lone person (a woman, in my mind) standing at the edge of the ocean. An unlit lantern is at her feet, and she is watching the horizon over the waves that are rolling in an endless cycle at her feet. There is purpose to her waiting, for she has a light at the ready to point the way for whomever she is seeking beyond the shore. This, then, is what it means to be a Jesus follower. We search the horizon, light at the ready, to point the way for others.

Pray today that others find hope this Christmas season.  Pray that your family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors will see the Lord’s goodness afresh.

Pray, too, for hope for those walking in darkness.  Pray for the victims of violence and abuse.  Pray for those who are enslaved and neglected.  Pray for those who live in poverty.  Pray for those who are homeless and hungry.  Pray for those who live in war-torn nations.  Pray that the hope of Christ will shine in the darkest corners of the world, our communities and our homes this Christmas.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 3: Prayer for Feast in Peace

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I love the prayers of the ancient church leaders. There’s something profoundly meaningful and beautiful about praying the words that millions of saints have prayed for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. The words of those who have passed this way before remind us that we inhabit this space and time for just a moment, but in that moment we are connected by spiritual cords to the past and the future. There is a oneness of time that is celebrated in Advent. We yearn, as all those before us have yearned. We hope, as all those who come after us will hope. And we believe, as all those before us have believed and how we pray that those who come after us will believe. Today, think about the time and place in which you inhabit on this earth. Stretch out your thoughts and call to mind all those who have gone before you. Hold them in one hand, and with the other, take hold of those who will come after. See yourself perfectly centered between the past and the future, with the great I Am holding it all in balance.

Pray this prayer from the ancient Christian Church at Christmas.

Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.

Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood. Help all orthodox pastors, heads of churches, and theologians.

Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.

Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.

May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 2: God is Righteous

Jeremiah 33:14-16

 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah.  In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land.  In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.

The world is a place of injustice for many.  People are abused, neglected, enslaved and persecuted because of the color of their skin, their gender and even their beliefs. We have seen injustice play out this year in many different ways. Injustice is, unfortunately, a part of the human experience. And yet, God calls us to something different. In Micah, God tells us that what he desires for us, what he expects of us, is to love justice. This is not justice that is born of human laws, but justice that seeks, in all circumstances, what is right in the eyes of God.

In contrast to the world’s injustice, God is righteous.  God faithfully seeks to bring justice into the world because of his great love for us.  Time and again Scripture tells us that God comes to break chains, that he defends the poor, loves the outcast, and fights for those who are oppressed by the powers of this world. We are called to pursue justice as a response to God’s love. What can you do, this day, to pursue justice? Not in a legal sense, but to bring God’s righteousness to someone who is marginalized, forgotten, or oppressed.

Give thanks today that God always keeps his promises.  Pray for justice and righteousness in our world, our communities and our homes.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 1: Bearing the Light

This Sunday marked the first week of Advent. Like many, our celebrations this year were somewhat muted by the global pandemic that continues to impact everyone’s daily life. I don’t know about you, but 2020 has felt like a mighty river rolling through our lives at peak flood stage. I’ve felt overwhelmed at times, exhausted at trying to stay above water and just praying for some dry ground to appear. So how appropriate is it that we come to the close of this turbulent year in the midst of Advent. Advent has long been one of my favorite seasons. First and foremost, Advent is a season of hope. But it’s not the hope that comes after you blow out the candles on your birthday cake and eagerly anticipate the gift opening. Advent is the hope that comes when you see the small beacon of light from the lighthouse piercing the darkness just beyond the rugged shore. Advent is a hope born of yearning…the fierce belief in the idea that there is something amazing and profoundly better on the horizon. Advent is a season of twilight….we walk in the darkness, but the light is coming.

A few years ago, I developed a daily Advent devotional for a church we were serving. This year, I thought I would share it with you. Each day, there will be a small Scripture passage followed by some thoughts and a guided prayer. Whether you choose this study or another, I encourage you to find some time in the midst of the busyness of the holiday season to take a walk with God, anticipating the light that will break through the deepest night. We are all yearning for something. Let God meet you where you are and show you his promises for your life.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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Advent is the time when we prepare for the coming of Christ into the world.  It begins with an acknowledgement of the darkness that surrounds us—the grief, the injustice, the poverty and the oppression. Begin, then, by making a list of the darkness that surrounds your life right now. If you feel led, write down those things in a journal. Ask God to show you the light in each of these circumstances.

Christ is the light that enters into this darkness, bringing with him the gifts of justice, hope, peace and love.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be bearers of the Light.  We must clothe ourselves in God’s justice, hope, peace and love so that we might share these gifts with the world. How can you clothe yourself in God’s justice, hope, peace, and love today? What would that look like in your life? Where do you see each of these traits of God around you? Write those down, as well. Give God thanks for each of them.

This guide is designed to help you both experience and share the Light that is Christ with the world.

Today, pray that God will clear a space in your life to receive his gifts of justice, hope, peace and love.  Then, ask God to give you opportunities to share those gifts with others. Choose one concrete action you will take today to show someone else God’s justice, hope, peace, or love.

The 35th Anniversary Edition of the NIV Study Bible: A Review

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I have to confess, I have a special place in my heart for the NIV Study Bible. The teen study Bible was the first Bible I remember digging into. It carried me through high school and college. I even took it to seminary! The NIV is to me what the KJV was to my grandparents…it’s the Bible.

Zondervan recently released a fully revised 35th anniversary edition of the NIV Study Bible, and I was tickled to have the opportunity to review it as part of my participation in the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. I received a review copy free of charge from Bible Gateway, and while I was technically supposed to have posted a review by October 23….I’m only getting to it now. As Solomon said, there is a time to every purpose under heaven…so hopefully it’s better late than never.

Truthfully, I was all set to give this Bible away…I mean, how many Bibles can one girl have? But then I opened it up. And then I started flipping through it. It became abundantly clear to me that this was going to be my new daily study Bible. So, what do I love about this fully revised 35th anniversary edition Bible? In a nutshell, everything!

First…it’s SO comprehensive. There are notes on the text, notes on the historical context, notes on the theological context, timelines, genealogies, maps, comparisons, and….wait for it…beautifully rich FULL COLOR pictures! Take a look…

Introductory facts, stats, and contextual notes for every book of the Bible
Scholarly essays and full color photos discussing the historical and cultural context of Scripture
Commentary about key elements of Scripture and answers to those nagging little questions like, “Why was Paul such a chauvinist?”
Notes coded by color and symbol to highlight key understandings. A trowel denotes archaeological information, a seedling provides life application notes, and a character symbol shares notes about characters in Scripture
Charts, charts, and more charts…I LOVE charts

The wonderful thing about this Bible, for me, is that it is a combination of the three different Bibles I use in my personal study. (Yes, I know that sounds super nerdy.) I have a life application Bible, a historical and cultural Bible, and several general study Bibles. Now, I have all three of those in one place…and the print is fabulous, too.

One of the other things I really love about this Bible is that the commentary comes from a diverse group of people. There are many different voices represented in this Bible, and that is something that is always important to me.

https://store.faithgateway.com/collections/niv-study-bible-fully-revised?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=bookpromo

With Christmas coming, this would make a fantastic gift for any seasoned or burgeoning Bible scholar. Check it out at the Bible Gateway online store. Or, find it at these other fine retailers….

Christian Book

Target

Cokesbury

Lifeway

Barnes and Noble

Thanks for reading…more posts are coming with encouraging devotionals as we navigate this strange new normal. As always, I pray blessings and peace upon you and your families.

Sara

The Simple Faith Bible: A Review

Full disclosure…I love Bibles. I have half a dozen that I alternate between in my daily Bible study, as well as in my writings. Some have life applications. Others provide historical context. Still others provide key study notes from renowned Bible scholars. But the new NRSV Simple Faith Bible from Zondervan is different from all of these. That’s because it is a collection of teaching from former President, humanitarian, and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter.

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I received a copy of the NRSV Simple Faith Bible to review from Bible Gateway, as part of my participation in the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid (BG2) . This was a FREE review copy, and honestly, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Jimmy Carter has long been a hero of mine. For one, he showed me that you don’t have to be a Republican to be a Jesus follower. 😉 (I love you my Republican brothers and sisters in Christ!) But the other much more important witness he has provided is his lifelong commitment to serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. From Habitat for Humanity to working toward eradicating the guinea worm disease, Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center work to build God’s kingdom here on earth by “advancing human rights and alleviating human suffering”. For years, Jimmy has led a Sunday School class at the Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. The NRSV Simple Faith Bible includes some of those teachings, as well as notes, articles, prayers, and articles gathered from Jimmy Carter’s life of service.

There are key takeaways.

#NRSV SimpleFaithBible

There are life applications.

#NRSVSimpleFaithBible

There are prayers.

#NRSVSimpleFaithBible

There are devotionals.

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All of this comes in a comfort print that is easy to read, and Art Deco designs that enhance the simple beauty of the text. For more about the text features, please read the publisher notes below.

All in all, I LOVE this Bible! The NRSV has long been considered a highly accurate and scholarly translation. It was the preferred translation when I attended seminary, as it is vetted by an ecumenical group of Christian scholars and sticks very closely to the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts in which the Bible was first written. Jimmy Carter’s teachings and prayers reflect a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ and years of personal study and scholarship. His words, while simple and relatable, lead the reader into a deeper walk with God.

Publisher Notes

Former United States President Jimmy Carter’s contagious desire for peace, compassion, and wholeness permeate the notes of this Bible. His decades-long Sunday School teaching ministry, his public service, and his humanitarian engagement form the basis of the book introductions, thoughtful essays, pithy quotes, and honest prayers, calling you to a warmhearted, justice-filled life of faith.

Features

  • The text of the New Revised Standard Version (66-book Protestant canon), vetted by an ecumenical pool of Christian academics and renowned for its beautiful balance of scholarship and readability
  • Foreword by Jonathan Reckford, International CEO of Habitat for Humanity
  • Over 600 application-oriented notes, articles, reflections, and prayers gleaned from Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s extensive teaching ministry and public life of service

Blessings and Peace,

Sara