Does the Season of ADVENT Mean Anything to You?

THE MEANING OF ADVENT – WILL IT CHANGE YOUR CHRISTMAS?

Searching for meaning this Christmas? It seems many more Christians are adopting Advent as a part of their holiday tradition. Are you one of them? What does Advent mean to you, and how does it play a part of your Christmas? For years when my children were young, they delighted in lighting candles in an advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas. You know, candles are exciting to kids. Who would be chosen to light, and who would have the honor of extinguishing the candles at the end? We would take a few minutes to read scripture, sometimes a short story or devotional passage, and perhaps we would even sing a familiar Carol. I hear many people say Advent has a calming spiritual influence, helping them prepare for the reason we celebrate. In the hustle-bustle of shopping, baking, and giving, it does offer a dose of peace in the midst of a sometimes crushing, modern day chaos.

WHAT DOES ADVENT MEAN?

If we research the word Advent, we learn it comes from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” In the calendar of the Christian church, it is a preparation time, a spiritual mindset of preparing to receive THE gift, Jesus coming to earth now over two thousand years ago. Without a purposeful time set aside to think about these things, the birth of Christ can easily get buried under the shopping trips, stacks of wrapping paper, card sending, along with keeping up with the rest of life’s duties.

As you study of the image of Mary and Joseph, reality comes into focus. Caesar Augustus mandated a census to register all citizens for tax purposes. Because Joseph was from the lineage of David, he had to go to Bethlehem to make that happen. Here was Mary, about to give birth, and there were no planes, trains, highways, or SUV’s to take them there. Miles of rugged terrain had to be traveled with only a donkey, a pregnant mom, and a weary husband doing his best. That, my readers, is reality. Jesus was coming to earth. His arrival had been announced and his pregnancy was deemed supernatural by assigned angels. Fulfillment of prophecy from hundreds of years earlier was happening. This Christ child was coming to Bethlehem as was foretold.

MEANING OF ADVENT: EXPECTATIONS – REALITY

HALLMARK MOVIES AND HOME LIFE

Sometimes our expectations of Christmas find us scratching our heads and holding disapointed hearts. The PERFECT glossy images of Christmases in magazines and Hallmark movies are often not what’s going on in our real lives. I can think of those moments in my own life when the shiny baubles of promised joy evaporated in a heartbeat. For instance, the December when my six-year-old daughter learned Santa Claus embodied the spirit of love but wasn’t a real man, broke her heart. I might add she was also a bit angry about the whole scene.

Why had we allowed this imaginery Santa into her life? (Who knew my baby girl was such a pragmatist?) I could recall when my mother explained the Santa concept connecting it to the spiritual meaning, but it seemed to make sense. Perhaps my mom did a better job of explaining the relationship between Santa and the birth of Jesus Christ. No trauma for this six-year-old. I tried to refocus my disappointed child’s attention on the beauty of Christmas and God’s love poured down on us. However, at that moment, she just wanted to know why we had deceived her.

MEANING OF ADVENT: CONTRASTING CHRISTMAS JOY WITH LIFE LOSSES

Considering the contrast between expectations and realities, I remember my first Christmas as a single-mom without my family intact. My childhood sweetheart and marriage partner of 22 years had chosen another life for himself. I was not a part of it. Our German Shepherd dog was 14 and having ailments which led to him cross over the “Rainbow Bridge” … right before Christmas. There were way too many critical losses, despite my efforts to pull off a happy Christmas with my then-teen children.

HUMAN DISAPPOINTMENT – JEALOUSY

Then, I have an example from my own childhood. One year, my big brother received a German Shepherd puppy, a most adorable pup. I received a beautiful doll, one of my favorite gifts at that age. However, inside my head, all I wanted was the puppy. True confession. I know. I should’ve been a grateful child. So many years later, I recall, I was not.

ADVENT PREPARES US FOR THE NEVER-DISAPPOINTING CHRISTMAS GIFT

As I have journeyed through many years of life, there is ONE TRUTH I can say will never let you down, leave you disappointed, or fall short of expectations. This season of Advent, prepare. Let your heart examine and prepare for the greatest gift of all. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came over two thousand years ago to deliver hope to a weary world. How could a tiny, helpless human laying in a manger possibly produce such hope, you ask. He came in a humble stable by the Creator God’s design, on purpose, He came to walk among us as a part of mankind — God in flesh, yet supernaturally perfect, not sinful. He didn’t come as a King, or a mighty warrior, yet He changed the world. Today over two billion people follow Christ worldwide. How can this be true? He was just a baby born of poor parents and laid on straw in an animal feeder. Jesus grew up to tell his Father God’s story of unconditional love and forgiveneness provided by this gift of Immanuel — “God with us,” Jesus Christ.

PRAYING FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS TO BE BLESSED

Praying for your Christmas to be joyfilled as you prepare. Place your trust in this great gift sent to Earth over 2,000 years ago. Sending my love and prayers from my home to yours. Joan

Enjoy this beautiful Christmas song celebrating the reason for the season — GOD IS WITH US!

In the Day of Trouble

The image of the flag of United States of America on the cracked dry ground

In the Day of Trouble

My heart is in anguish at the brokenness of my beautiful homeland. Once generally agreed-upon foundational truths, morals, and laws are no longer embraced, and are, at least, marginalized. Even being “patriotic” toward our America, or recognizing our history as one of the most generous of all the world nations, is disputed by many. America was never perfect, of course. It always had flaws, some egregious, but now we are expected to feel shame for the very fabric of our history.

A Nation Divided

However, I don’t. Instead, I feel sadness for how young minds are being taught to hate America despite the “light” it has been, and the causes it has fought for over its history. As Abe Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Our government cannot function because it is so polarized. Ideologues cannot compromise for the good of the people. Oh, no.

I believe we are “reaping the whirlwind” for removing God from the marketplace of ideas. We’ve lost core beliefs which people once agreed upon. Why? Many have turned their back on God, but have put humans in His place. Biblical truths are replaced with new cultural ideologies by those who are opposed to Christianity. We are expected to have “tolerance” for everything except biblical values and beliefs.

Finding Hope in God

What can we do when division and hatred overwhelm? I take comfort in the lessons gleaned from scripture. In Isaiah 37, we learn of a certain King Hezekiah who became aware of his enemy, King of Assyria. Oh, that one was a God hater, for sure. He wanted Hezekiah to believe God would not help him, and Jerusalem would be overtaken by enemy forces. To be honest, Hezekiah was also a bit complicit in this downfall because of his own rebellion. He was humbled in his difficult situation, and should have been.

However, his first reaction was not only humble, but wise. He went to the house of the Lord to seek God. Then, he sent some representatives to Isaiah, a prophet who personally heard from God. Hezekiah used a perfect word picture about the calamitous situation. “This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them,” Isaiah 37:3 (NIV). That is dreadful, is it not? Either the mother or the baby, or both may be lost! Hezekiah knew things were grim.

Good News

But some good news came back from the Lord: “Do not be afraid of what you have heard,” Isaiah 37:6 (NIV). Even after that the enemies attempted to persuade Hezekiah to doubt God. They said God would ignore their pleas. Hezekiah did what Believers in America should do at this juncture in American history. He took all the evidence (a letter), spread it out before the Lord, and prayed as earnestly as he knew how. He declared, “…You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth,” Isaiah 37:16 (NIV). “Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear.”

Though there were some years of resulting consequences for Hezekiah’s earlier rebellion, God did answer his cries. God was determined to preserve the remnant out of Jerusalem. “For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake,” Isaiah 37:35 (NIV).

Pray

I encourage you to pray with me over our nation. Pray to the One True God to have mercy even though America has turned its back on God as a collective. As we humble ourselves like Hezekiah, we can have hope, hope that God will spare the remnant of believers in America, though many have rejected Him. America was once a light to the world, “a city set on a hill” for others to see as a beacon of hope for the world. In Matthew 5:14-16, scripture tells us, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” I pray for a return; I pray for America to be a light again.

Here is an older song by Chris Machen called “Bow the Knee.” It’s beautiful and the lyrics are a perfect fit. Listen and enjoy as you lay out your heart’s concerns before our God. Yes. “You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.” We ask in humility for you to forgive our nation, to heal our land, to pour your spirit out in revival so those who hate you cannot stand. We will glorify you and give you the praise. Amen.

FALL GIVEAWAY of books

For younger to older readers …

Today, I have a fun surprise to share with you … I’ve teamed up with 60+fantastic authors to give away a huge collection of Middle Grade & Young Adult books to 2 lucky winners!

Oh, and did I mention the Grand Prize winner gets a BRAND NEW eReader? 😁You can win my historical fiction novel His Gift (pictured on the first row), plus books from many other genres. There are some good reads in this compilation of 60 books. Gifts perhaps? Donate what you don’t want and still have a chance at a new eReader!

bit.ly/MiddleGradeYAFic-Sep21

ENJOY!

Joan

FaceTime

Redeemer hugging unhappy man, faith in God, spiritual protection, eternity

FaceTime with God?

One frustrating day, I felt no peace. I knew I needed some quality quiet time. Then, I cried out, “I need FaceTime with Jesus!” It made me laugh, but at the same time, I recognized the bold truth I had spoken.

During Covid, I couldn’t wait to FaceTime or Zoom with our kids and their families. I needed that personal face-to-face time with my loves. Though the digital presence of our precious ones wasn’t nearly as wonderful as in-person hugs, it was still refreshing to my lonely heart.

IN PERSON WITH JESUS?

Today we don’t have the privilege of running up to Jesus for a physical hug, or even falling on our knees to worship in his physical presence. But, God assures us in Deuteronomy 31:6, we can be strong because He never leaves us. He explained to his disciples about the all-important Gift he would leave when he went back to Heaven–the Holy Spirit of God would dwell within us here on Earth. (Acts 1)

JACOBNEED FOR TIMEOUT WITH GOD

In Genesis 32, there is a most intriguing scripture passage about Jacob. If you remember Jacob, he was a conniver, always seeking to make himself top-dog, so to speak. He even cheated his brother out of his inheritance through his lies and deceit. Well, God placed dear Jacob in a situation–a situation where Jacob was alone, where God finally had his full attention. In verses 21-32, Jacob wrestles with “someone” all through the night.

With whom did Jacob wrestle? In verse 28, the wrestling man tells Jacob, “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” Then in verse 30, Jacob names the place where this occurred, Peniel (which means “face of God”). In his own words, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” God knew he had to have a face-to-face meeting with his boy Jacob in order to get his life turned around.

BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?

So how does this work in my life? In yours? We know Holy Spirit is available to us if we believe what Jesus said. All we have to do is ask for him to come into our lives. We know God has endowed His word with truths to direct our paths. Holy Spirit, one of the three persons of the Trinity of God, enlightens our minds as we study the inspired words. And … to “FaceTime” with Jesus, you need only pray and listen as you study His Word. Even if your only known words are, “Help!” God hears, draws near, and is with you. In James 4:8, one of my favorite verses, we are consoled: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

I pray your day is blessed as you make time to spiritually draw near to God. We all need Him to give us His peace which passes all human understanding in these days of much striving and contention.

Sending love and hugs … from me to you.

Galatians 6:9 “Don’t be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

[https://www.givehim15.com – a valuable prayer resource]

Biblegateway.com (NIV)

Oh, to Know Him …

Think of someone you love with your whole heart– someone you want to spend time with, someone who loves you too. This is a relationship where you are known, even with your foibles and imperfections, yet loved deeply. That’s how God, the Creator of all the Universes, feels about you. Yes, you. And, yes, me. How do I know? “The Bible tells me so.”

In the book of Genesis, Jacob, the twin brother of Esau, was a guy with a troubling track record. He was a self-absorbed schemer and swindler. He stole his brother’s inheritance by tricking his father as he was dying. Jacob knew there was a Jehovah God, Yahweh. Yet, there was a distance between Jacob and God. No wonder with Jacob’s deceitful heart. He always referred to God as the father of Abraham and Isaac (Jacob’s father). We could describe his view of God as formal, not intimate. I would go further to say I doubt in his early years, he “knew” God at all.

One night Jacob had a vivid dream (Genesis 28). As a child, you may have sung “Jacob’s Ladder” retelling this biblical account. He dreamed of a ladder with angels climbing up and down from Heaven. Then, during the dream, the Lord spoke to Jacob and made a promise to him about his future inheritance and the blessings to be poured out on his descendants. Jacob awakened, knowing the Lord had visited him. Yet, even after this encounter, he had the audacity to say he wasn’t sure whether or not to make Yahweh his God. He leveraged this tenuous relationship by vowing he would make God his God, IF God blessed him. That sounds a little like what we call “foxhole prayers,” those prayers of desperation. “If you let me live, God, I’ll become a Christian.” Jacob obviously did not have a connection to his father’s God. I would add, it’s also good that God Almighty is a patient God with much mercy for his petulant children.

Two decades later, Jacob had a second encounter with God, which changed the dynamics of their relationship. This time God was so personal and powerful that Jacob referred to the place as Penuel, which means “face of God.” Now instead of seeing God as an impersonal ruler, Jacob saw an affectionate Father. The Hebrew word for face is paneh —  presence. We don’t see God’s face in a physical way, but the Scripture tells us again and again that we can live in His presence. Later Jacob finds himself alone with God, and God takes him on — they wrestle! I can’t even imagine. There is much more to the story here, but I will add that God wanted Jacob to acknowledge his selfish heart. God had some big plans for Jacob, but first Jacob had to yield. God wanted Jacob to stop being a selfish conniver, and become transformed by God’s love, wisdom, and grace.

If you have ever had a loving, transparent relationship with another human being, whether it was a spouse, parent, or maybe even a child, you know it is a treasure. I remember fondly how I enjoyed sitting across the small kitchen table with my dad when I was an “adult child.” We had a connection. I understood how much he loved me, and he knew how much I loved him. I wanted to spend time with him, face to face. I enjoyed the pleasure of his company. I yearned to be with him whenever I could, and I miss him now.

The Bible shows us how God made you for a “face-to-face” relationship with Him. Wouldn’t you rather know the pleasure of spending time in the presence of God instead of just knowing about Him? Yield your dreams to the One who made you, and understands you best. Seek Him. Take time to listen and talk to the One who loves you beyond measure and is waiting for you to turn your face to His. He awaits the pleasure of YOUR company.

Choosing Peace

Photo by Becky D. McMillen, Baldwin, KS

Have you noticed how life sometimes runs on parallel tracks? Good things can take place in the midst of not-so-pleasant circumstances. When I saw this image, it reminded me of this facet of life on planet earth. In this photo, we see the beauty of two seasons, complementing each other in color and form. The delicate flowers of a redbud tree are accentuated with the flakes of a late spring snow, enhancing both snow and flowers.

If I imagined myself to be a redbud flower, I might not feel the positive vibes of a blast of cold invading my springtime. Imagine bursting forth in your best show of first blooms, to find yourself shivering under a pile of freezing fluff. Sort of sets you back.

In our daily humanity, we may recognize layers of goodness while being struck with a serious loss or disabling event. Laying in a hospital bed recovering from a painful surgery, I heard a simple praise song in my room. I was miserable, and only half-asleep, but the sweet voice sounded like an angel. A nurse had begun singing along with music I had playing on my cell phone. Her kindness and love deeply touched my heart.

When my dog experienced multiple health crises within a short out-of-state “vacation,” a kind veterinarian (our 5th appointment) spent thirty minutes reading all the health reports and deciding on a course of treatment. We were to leave for home the next morning. When we checked out, he had not charged me for anything except the medication. I felt tears well up in my eyes. It was not the money saved, though that was a blessing. It was his compassion. It felt like a hug from God.

I have found that people who are most successful in navigating pain, loss, and devastation don’t immediately jump up and down to embrace their dark trial. They will say, “It was hard.” However, they pass from grief to gratefulness when they recognize God’s provision along the journey. Yes, we may find a freezing jolt to our once-comfortable life, but in recognizing God’s mercy and grace to get us through, we find hope for the sorrows.

God’s peace is promised to us in Philippians 4:6-9. However, with every promise comes an expectation. True? We are told to not be anxious. How does that work, you ask? “I just lost … (fill in the blank), and I’m not supposed to feel the sad and awful reality?” Your husband (or wife) left you after years of marriage. You husband (or wife) died suddenly without any advance warning. You or a loved one receives a diagnosis of a fatal illness, or a health dysfunction without a remedy. Your child breaks off relationship. You know the list of tragedies goes on and on.

However, if you are one who has stepped over that line of faith as a believer in the Creator God of the Universe, He asks us to pray, to tell him what’s on our heart. He says in Philippians 4:6-7 to pray/petition WITH THANKSGIVING. Then comes the answer: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What a joy to let go of the spirit of heaviness, and release it to Father God, the One who loves you most. Not every woe in this life will have a “happy ever after” ending. In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Yield, and receive your peace. We know in Heaven there will be no more sorrow, no more tears. Everlasting joy!

The Consequences of Choice

man holding a sign
 Imageu by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Americans are familiar with choice. It’s second nature to people who have lived in a more or less free society, depending on the period of history. We often glide through our days not giving much thought to all the choices we make. Yet, if we were denied the right to decide, undoubtably, we would squeal. Unless our voices are arbitrarily silenced and we had no recourse, we would not be satisfied without this freedom. Yes, we do yearn to be the master of our destinies. We love the freedom to decide what, when and how we do something.

Our Master Designer, God Almighty, gave us that ability to choose … but with “guidelines.” Well actually, ONE guideline. If you examine Genesis, you discover God’s children were provided with everything they needed in a beautiful place without strife or want. God’s nature is to provide. Yet, the “children” chose to do the only thing God asked them not to do. I have to smile because having raised children, I’ve watched them determinedly attempt scaling all established barriers, even if they were meant for their good.

While visiting a more tropical region, I experienced an unusual and uninvited houseguest. One morning, we found a little creature I nicknamed “Larry the Lizard,” in our kitchen sink. Not being accustomed to wildlife in my work area, I freaked out! I refused to do anything in the kitchen until Larry was free again … outside. Lacking gloves or anything which would help remove this intruder, my husband resorted to a property management housecall. “HELP! WE HAVE A LIZARD STUCK IN THE SINK.”

The more I thought about that little guy sitting at the bottom of the glistening, yet perilous-for-a-lizard bowl, I imagined the surprise when he tumbled down its inescapable slope. Each time he tried to climb out, he slid back to the bottom. What led him to explore in the kitchen, I wondered? What enticed him inside to begin with? I had so many questions.

However, the Lord reminded me how similar we humans are. Wandering about on our own, exploring life’s sights and stimulating possibilities, can land us places the Lord never intended for us–situations with emotional, physical, or spiritual risk. Do we always align our choices with God’s Word? Are we even aware of the choices we make daily? Do we pray before we accidentally slide into some inescapable trap?

Have your choices ever taken you somewhere you didn’t want to be, a place where you couldn’t easily climb back into God’s will? Here is the good news. Unlike poor “Larry,” who did not have a happy end of life, we have a Father God who is waiting for us to come to Him for help. Even in our rebellion, God hears our cries. Yes, there may be unpleasant natural consequences for our wandering choices, but He is faithful to hear. In Isaiah 30:18-19 (TPT), we read, “For this reason the Lord is still waiting to show his favor to you so he can show you his marvelous love. He waits to be gracious to you. He sits on his throne ready to show mercy to you. How compassionate he will be when he hears your cries for help! He will answer you when he hears your voice!”

Your Father God is waiting for you to call to Him, even for rescue, if need be. He sent Jesus, His Son, who not only taught, but took the penalty for generations of rebellious choices, past, present, and future. He made a way for us to have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe, even though he is holy and we are not. With this amazing gift, we are forgiven. And, we are loved beyond measure.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (NIV).

Happy Easter!

2021

Readers, Readers, Readers

This is a great opportunity for readers of inspirational historical fiction! Check it out. There are many great books in this promo.

CLICK on THE BOOKSWEEPS link above to enter. ENJOY!

Have You Ever Been Loved by a Dog?

selective focus photography of white and tan shih tzu puppy carrying by smiling woman
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com
To Be Loved

I’ve been thinking a lot of about dogs lately. Some people have said the word dog is “god” spelled backwards. I agree with the spelling inversion, but the God of the Bible is Almighty, all powerful, Creator of the universe, and so much more. Dogs cannot compare to my awesome eternal God. But this I know: Dogs do in some small way capture the essence of God’s faithful forgiving nature–love personified. It’s one thing to own a pet, but to BE LOVED by one takes the human/animal relationship to a whole new level.

Attributes

Treat dogs kindly and they will return their love and loyalty without reservation. Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes and noticed the unconditional love flowing back? “If only they could speak,” I have often said. But honestly, they communicate quite well without our language. In my observation, a dog’s purpose and primary desire is to be near and to love. For this gift of love, I am grateful to God who had us in mind when He made all the creatures of the world.

Why do I spend time pondering the lives of canines? They are only one species of God’s great and wondrous creation. My life has been long and blessed with the abundance of unique animals I have known and loved: dogs, cats, horses, bunnies, and even a very funny goat “kid” we bought when the children were young. Perhaps my recent reflections are stirred because my present two “best doggies” are now old, with aging health issues. I must face the fact they won’t be with us for much longer.

A Time for Everything

Scripture tells us there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. I know how the breath of life draws a final conclusion to even the most vibrant and influential of lives, human or animal (and I do believe in the distinction). No matter how familiar my brain is with the seasons of life, death still shocks my system. It’s like a trick I must grapple with–every single time. “How can it be?” I ask, shaking myself to accept the reality that a living-breathing-vibrant being is no more.

Hope in Loss

Yet I have hope. Because of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the sting of death is diminished. Not eliminated, I add honestly. I still grieve the losses of those I love. For my human loves, I have the hope of heaven’s reunion with those who trusted Christ and have gone before me. For my furry friends, I have rich memories of the seasons in which we ran, laughed, cuddled, and exchanged love.

For now, I will hold my aging “puppies,” tell them how much they are loved, and thank God for such a gift–a tiny representation of His even greater love. Love has risks. Without love, life is empty. I choose to love, to endure the pain of loss, and cherish the days of laughter. Now, go hug a person or a pet today, and tell them how much they mean to you.