Everlasting Covenant

Friday - Week 4

December 18, 2020

In the Old Testament, there was a season of time where a long awaited promise – a promise of a Savior, a promise of a salvation yet to come – seemed dormant and forgotten. There was a hush, a quiet from heaven for 400 years. For 400 years, there was no further prophetic word from God to His people concerning His promise of salvation. What would it look like? When would they see this word, this hope fulfilled? Life was lived, generations came and went, and I imagine some people wondered if God had forgotten about His promise. Or had they done something wrong? When might they see this promise fulfilled? What would it look like? God never forgot His Word concerning bringing hope and salvation to all people. He saw the end from the beginning and was ushering His promise to fulfillment. Then, on a seemingly normal day, and through ordinary people, the promise arrived. An angel visited a young girl named Mary and announced the promise God spoke hundreds of years earlier was being fulfilled. God began moving people and circumstances into place to show His Word would be fulfilled in full, exactly as He promised. Mary gave birth to this promise, and gave Him the name Jesus. On the night Jesus was born, God sent an angel to some shepherds in the field, filling the sky with the brightness of His glory and issuing a proclamation of awe and wonder and joy like the world had never heard, delivering this Good News that would bring great joy to all people: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born…” --Luke 2:10-11 What makes it so beautiful is that this time, when God spoke to His people, He sent this Good News to ordinary people. This time, the promise did not come through a prophet or preacher. It came through a young girl. It was announced to simple shepherds. He broke through every barrier, every assumption, every boundary, every limitation. He was speaking to the shepherds, just as He was to every person who would one day hear: “Listen carefully.” This message is for you. He made it clear that the Good News of salvation had arrived: Jesus, the Savior of the world was born, and this Good News was meant for all people. With the arrival of Jesus, God fulfilled the covenant promise made hundreds of years earlier. It was what it looked like for a long-awaited promise to be fulfilled. A Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, was born to save us from our sin, to bring hope, to set things right between God and humanity. I wonder what promise God has spoken into your heart that you have wondered if you would ever see realized. Perhaps it feels quiet, maybe forgotten by God. God never speaks a promise that He doesn’t also intend to fulfill. We can know this: God is the Promise-Keeper. He will fulfill every promise, every word, every covenant He has made. Even now, where we are today, the best is still yet to come. There is a promise yet to be fulfilled. We continue to look forward with hope-filled expectation for the day when Jesus, our Savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, returns again and fulfills His final promise. Jesus, we are waiting here for you. “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” -Andrea

Thursday - Week 4

December 17, 2020 • Jen

The birth of John the Baptist is a beautiful story because it shows, yet again, the mercy and kindness of God. An older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, incapable of conceiving a child were given a promise by God that they would have a son of their own. Zechariah means “God has remembered again." Once again God we see God keep His word.  John would grow up to be used by God in a mighty way. He would proclaim to the people around him that the Messiah was on His way. His love for Jesus was bold and radical, and, eventually, he would lose his life for his faith and conviction. Zechariah lost his ability to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but at the birth of his son he regained his speech and immediately began to sing a song of praise to God. He sang of God’s goodness in keeping the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Zechariah’s name does not just refer to the fact that God kept His promise to this childless couple, but it reminded everyone that God keeps all of His promises, including the promise of a Redeemer.  It may seem like a lot of time had passed since the beginning of the covenant of grace until the day Jesus came, but God is not slow in what He does. His timing is perfect, His plan well thought out and meticulously executed. This plan included the birth of John and the preaching he would do to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.  This is true for our lives as well. As we get close to celebrating the birth of Jesus, remember God is the great Promise Keeper. If He loved you enough to make and keep all the promises that would lead up to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, we can be confident He will keep all the promises He has made to us. Do you recount and rely on the promises of God? He promises to forgive our sins and never forsake us. He promises nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-32). He promises to cause all things in our lives to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He promises to give you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He promises to cause our faith to persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6), and He will never lose any who are His. He promises all of His people a resurrection unto life (John 3:16), and to come again and gather His people together to dwell in paradise forever. These promises are yours in Christ Jesus. You can count on them, because you can count on God (Psalm 33:4). Looking to Jesus, Jen

Wednesday - Week 4

December 16, 2020 • Kaitlyn

I love Christmas decorations: twinkly lights, poinsettias, garland twirled around a staircase. My mom has an incredible collection of nativity scenes from around the world she puts up all over her house every year. Each scene is made from different indigenous materials, reflects different cultures, and includes slightly different elements. But each scene includes Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus; and most of them depict these three important characters in the same way. Jesus is laying in some kind of little manger, Joseph is standing next to him, and Mary is kneeling over Jesus. That’s the image many of us have of Mary: quietly kneeling over her newborn, playing the role of the meek and mild mother. Mary’s song is anything but meek and mild. A young unmarried girl had been visited by an angel and given the most terrifying news: she would miraculously become pregnant. That she would bear the Messiah is amazing news, that she would likely face scorn and abandonment by her family and community is not. When Mary says, “I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word,” she said yes to a daunting assignment. Mary traveled to meet Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon seeing Elizabeth and hearing her exuberant greeting, “blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42), Mary responded with her own outburst of praise. She praised and rejoiced in God, declared that all generations would call her blessed, and described the character of the God who blessed her. He is mighty, holy, and merciful to those who fear Him. He has demonstrated His power by scattering the proud and arrogant, bringing the mighty down from their positions of power, and lifting up the lowly. He fed the hungry while sending those who hoard resources away empty-handed. He protected Israel, remembering His promise to Abraham and acting faithfully toward His people. Mary’s song is not a sweet Sunday school song. It is a powerful declaration of God’s character, a theological treatise full of Old Testament references, and a stunning proclamation of Jesus’ coming ministry. Many of the themes in Mary’s words reflect not only God’s past action but the work Jesus described at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18) and would fulfill throughout His life. Mary’s faithful “yes” to God’s plan in her life also required a faithful “no.” She said “yes” to the terrifying task of birthing the Savior of the world and “no” the forces of sin and evil in the world He came to defeat. She said “yes” to God’s plan for her life and “no” to the plan she made for herself. She said “yes” to the powerful, holy, and merciful God and “no” to pride, arrogance, corruption, and injustice. Mary’s song is a powerful picture of a faithful life. She knew Scripture well enough to describe its story, she knew God well enough to describe His character, and she knew His redemptive plan for creation well enough to say “yes” to her part in it. May we all strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the same. -Kaitlyn

Tuesday - Week 4

December 15, 2020 • Julie

Christmas is a strange time of the year, often filled with various emotions. There is much that is lovely and hope filled, especially for believers. However, it can also be a time when the pain we feel from the loss of loved ones is heightened, or we may feel deflated that our hopes and dreams for the year haven’t happened. 2020 has been a difficult year for many of us and it has definitely been different to how any of us had planned. In today’s reading, Mary’s plans for her future were altered, but her willingness to trust God took her whole life in a direction she never expected. The angel Gabriel made his second pregnancy announcement in Luke 1, this time to Mary. She was from Galilee in Nazareth and was engaged to a man named Joseph. Mary was likely to have been a teenager, going about her everyday life when suddenly an angel appeared and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary was understandably troubled and afraid. The familiarity of this story sometimes causes us to overlook the enormous shock this would have been. Gabriel reassured her not to be afraid, calling her by name, and repeating that she had “found favor with God!” Mary was told she would become pregnant with a son and she was to name Him Jesus. The Hebrew form of the name is Joshua – which means "Yahweh saves." This meaning is significant; just as Joshua lead God’s people into the Promised Land, so Jesus would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and lead His people to their eternal promised land of the new creation. Gabriel also told Mary that Jesus would be: Great. There is an interesting comparison here with the announcement of John’s birth where Gabriel said John would "be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15) whereas Jesus was simply described as great. There is no need to add to His greatness. He is great. He is God. John is a prophet, Jesus is Lord. The Son of the Most High. First century Jews used "Most High" out of reverence to avoid using God’s name. But in case of any doubt, Gabriel described Jesus as the Son of God. King. Jesus is from the line of David and will reign forever over the house of Jacob, God’s people! Holy. Set apart. All of these descriptions were to let Mary (and us) know that her son was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. He is the Promised Rescuer. The Messiah is coming. Jesus will redeem His people. This truly is good news! I love that Mary asked a practical question: how can this happen as I’ve not been intimate with a man? She realized there is an immediacy about Gabriel’s words, he didn't mention her getting married first and then becoming pregnant. The answer given to her was that the glory of the Lord would do it. This reflects the nature of Jesus; He is fully God and fully man. To help Mary see this was possible, her relative Elizabeth, considered too old and barren was already six months pregnant! The angel finished with the declaration “For nothing will be impossible with God.” How would you have responded to this news? You are young, engaged, and your reputation is at stake! If I was Mary I would have been asking for a few more assurances. Instead Mary’s answered “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” What an amazing reply. Her whole world had been turned upside down, all the plans she had for her future were in jeopardy. Even in her doubt, she reflected the words Jesus gave His disciples in the Lord’s prayer: “may your kingdom come, my your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Mary could respond with such faithfulness because of who she believed in. She knew God. She knew He was faithful, good, trustworthy, true, powerful, able, loving, merciful, and gracious. Mary found favor in God’s eyes, not because she was perfect, but because she was willing to be used for His plans and purposes. She trusted that God’s plans were better than her own. How willing are you to be obedient to God when He interrupts your plans? How willing are you to trust Him? It wasn’t always easy for Mary. Much that happened was good, for example, the shepherds reports of the angel choir when Jesus was born, the wise men coming to worship Jesus, and witnessing Jesus’ first miracle. However, there was also a lot that was painful and difficult, like having to flee to Egypt, seeing Jesus rejected in His home town, and worst of all, watching Jesus die so horrifically on the cross. Being obedient to God isn’t always easy, in fact it is often the more difficult path. What makes it possible is that God is with us! (See 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). While Mary had the blessing of Jesus physically with her, we have the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us. Are you willing to be obedient to God, even when it’s the more difficult path? This Christmas season, may we all be amazed by Emmanuel – God with us – and be thankful, willing servants of our amazing God. -Julie

Monday - Week 4

December 14, 2020 • Kelli

“This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.” -- Luke 1:25 I absolutely love a good comeback story. I am a forever champion of the underdog. Give me all the tissues because I will cry tears of joy alongside of you as you share your own story of Gods faithfulness in your life. Stories like this never get old to me. One of my favorite memories from the day my children and I moved into our new house is when I walked upstairs and found my son Ezra, in his new room pulling letters to change the message on his marquee box. He asked me how to spell "built" so my interest was naturally peeked at this point. He didn't let me see what he was spelling out until it was finished. When he called me into his new room, he proudly stood next to the window and pointed to his work of art which read, "God Built Us A House." Y'all. I cried. Right then and there. It was my eight-year-old son that connected the dots between our season of waiting and the promise fulfilled by God. As we continued to live in the home that reminded us of a disappointing season in our life, we prayed faith filled prayers as a family every single night. We knew the Lord would not leave us in that place and He had the perfect home for us when the timing was right. However, I was still so shocked, almost in disbelief when the day our house got a full price offer and this newly built home just a mile away from us went on the market. Same day. It's like I believed God could do it, but would He really do it for me? In Luke 1:6 we read about Zachariah and Elizabeth, a couple "righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly," who were very familiar with a long season of waiting. I have found myself asking the same question that Zachariah did in Luke 1:18 when he asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this?" Being that a real life angel was in his presence, I don't doubt he didn't believe this message of a son. Joy and gladness were on the away, but maybe, just maybe, he was afraid to hope again. Maybe he stopped praying those prayers. There was a consequence for his disbelief, but it did not keep God from fulfilling His promise. Whether he believed Him or not, God's good plan was not taken away from Zachariah. I'm so thankful that God is still faithful, even when we aren't. We serve a Promise Keeper. We see this all throughout the Bible, from beginning to end. The Lord kept His promise to Zachariah and Elizabeth, even in their old age, and He will keep His promise to you. God's promises will come to fruition on His terms and in His perfect timing, for our good. Not only did God bless Elizabeth with a baby of her own, He removed her disgrace (shame, loss of reputation or respect). This is a promise we have in Jesus today: through His death and resurrection, our sin and shame is removed. Shame keeps us away from God. We see this play out with Adam and Eve in the very first book of the Bible. His plan all along was to send us His Son, a real life hope for our desperate hearts. My prayer for you today is that you would not lose hope in the waiting. He is with you. He wipes away every tear. He will see you through. Jesus is our Hope when we feel hopeless. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.... -Kelli Week 4 Challenge: Before the busyness of Christmas takes over, commit to spending time each day this week with God. He is the reason we have something to celebrate this season! What better way to celebrate His coming than to spend time each day with Him, praising Him for His faithfulness, His covenant promises, and the gift of Jesus. Let your life be an expression of thankfulness for His faithfulness by committing to your relationship with Him.

Friday - Week 3

December 11, 2020 • Sara

We need a redo. A toddler time out. A fresh start on how we view and treat people. Let’s jump right in the deep end. You and I might disagree about abortion, about LGBTQ+ leadership in the church, about ways to resolve racial injustices, about politics. (I am not saying these or other topics are unimportant, and I am not belittling the hard, painful, necessary work of navigating tough issues.) What I am saying is this: Each person is made in the image of God, equally so. Each life is God breathed and inherently valuable. Each believer is saved by grace, and grace alone. I may not like what you say. I may not agree with what you post. Before I respond with contempt, before I belittle or berate you, I need to remind myself that my words are about to tarnish an image bearer of God. God’s redemption in our lives is our starting point to extend grace to others. Maybe I’ve let the world and the media make me cynical, but I know we can be decent, and I know we can be kind. We can agree to disagree on some things. Let’s look for the common ground. Let’s look for the good. We are equally made in the image of God. Our lives are equally valuable. "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. --1 Corinthians 11:23-26 When it gets complicated, overwhelming, heated – let’s get back to the basics: proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes. We can find unity in the new covenant because Jesus’ death on the cross was for all of us – every bit as much for you as it was for me. Believers, let’s remember that we agree on Jesus, and let’s encourage each other in our pursuit of Him. -Sara

Thursday - Week 3

December 10, 2020 • Kelli

And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. -- Hebrews 9:15 A little one-liner that had everyone laughing one Sunday was when my pastor started his sermon with: "Can we all agree that whenever we see the word "therefore," it is "there for" a reason?" I don't think this made us laugh because it was necessarily funny, but more of the realization that we tend to undervalue a significant teaching moment. This truth really stuck with me, and from that day forward, whenever I come across a conjunction or conjunctive adverb at the beginning of a verse  I make it a point to stop and take notice of what is being repeated or magnified, for my benefit and understanding. It's a word that will always bring together the work of God. What the Bible repeats, should be regarded as great importance! Let's not miss it! "And so he is the mediator....” What is a mediator? What is mediation? Who needs it? Unfortunately, I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about family law and the court system. I have spent my share of time with a mediator these past few years as I walked out a heartbreaking season of divorce. The purpose of a mediator is to attempt to resolve major conflict, while oftentimes resulting in compromises made by both parties in order to settle the dispute. We all have a Mediator, and His name is Jesus. This is a different kind of mediation and He's a different kind of mediator than what you may have experienced in our broken world. Jesus is not negotiating a middle ground or looking for a comprise that a holy God and a sinful human can agree to disagree on. Sin stands between us and God. Sin is a serious offense and we are the offenders. Without our Mediator, we are destined for eternal life in torment as salvation from our sins is impossible on our own. No amount of good works or head knowledge will ever make us righteous enough to stand before a holy God. The Christian life is not about the things we do, but the relationship we develop with Jesus. The breaking of bread that we find in Matthew 26:26 is a foreshadow of the beating, piercing, and breaking of Christ's body on the cross. He knew this sacrifice was necessary to fulfill the new covenant that would cover the sins of the world. Therefore, through the crucifixion, Jesus became the mediator between us and God. Jesus is the settlement, both the mediator and the mediation. He makes right of all of our wrongs. He is our covering, our defender, and without Him, we have no hope of eternal life with Him. But there is hope! "For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human" (1 Timothy 2:5). "God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we have direct and instant access to our heavenly Father. Jesus offers us forgiveness of our sins. What a gift! We are seen as worthy and valuable because of the price He paid to reconcile us to Him. His death on the cross was worth it all. He is our salvation! -Kelli

Wednesday - Week 3

December 9, 2020 • Julie

My children told me earlier this year that if you break a pinky promise (a promise made while your little finger wraps around another person’s little finger) then your little finger will fall off! This is a new development since I was young, but thankfully for them (and us!) it isn’t true. Covenants are formal agreements where one or both sides make promises about what they will do. In the Bible, God made covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, along with a few others. In these covenants God repeatedly committed to being their God, and they (and their descendants) would be His people. God’s covenant with Abraham was to establish him as the father of a great nation and that all nations would be blessed through his Seed. Through Moses God rescued His people from slavery. He entered into another covenant with them which formed structures of right and wrong for God’s people to live in the Promised Land. This established Abraham’s descendants as a great nation. The importance of obedience to God is detailed with blessings and curses, with the purpose being that His nation would be a witness to the other nations. Under King David, God made a covenant with David, promising he would have a king in his line whose throne would be forever, He will rule perfectly and all nations will be blessed through Him. Throughout the Old Testament, while God is continually faithful to His people, God’s people failed to live according to the covenant requirements and promises. God’s people were repeatedly unfaithful to Him. The prophet Jeremiah, quoted in Hebrews 8, predicted a new covenant not written on stone tablets but on the hearts and minds of God’s people, a transforming covenant. Ezekiel also saw the need for hearts to be transformed by God (see Ezekiel 11:18-20 & 36:25-28). A wholehearted people, who love Him with all of their being, has been God’s desire from the creation of Adam and Eve. The old covenant was good, but the law doesn’t have the power to transform hearts. Throughout the old covenant sacrifices had to be made over and over, priests and kings died, and new priests and kings replaced them, each sinful themselves. The law highlights our inability to be holy and our need of rescue by the promised Messiah. We cannot keep our side of the covenant, we deserve separation from God. Thankfully God breaks into history, in the person of Jesus, and everything is changed! It is not until Jesus that anyone perfectly kept and fulfilled the old covenant. Jesus established the new covenant at the Last Supper when He said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Jesus lived a perfect life according to the law, and died as our sacrifice. He rose three days later, defeating the power of sin and death. His once and for all sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the sacrificial system. Through His sacrifice He makes us holy. God intervenes in this way so we may have hearts transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who brings life. “For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16). We are now able to worship and serve God wholeheartedly, as we were created to. Our covenant with God is changed for the better through Jesus. As we couldn’t keep our side of the covenant, so God keeps it for us! He establishes a new covenant based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are rescued! We have been made adequate through Christ, He cleanses us and makes us holy. The new covenant is greater than the old one because it provides us with an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12) God remembers our sins no longer and it provides us with an “eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15). In Christ, our stone hearts are removed and replaced with hearts of flesh. We are brought from spiritual death to life through the gracious gift of Jesus. He is the eternal King. Through Him all the nations of the earth are blessed. Jesus rescues, redeems, and blesses us beyond measure. In return we are extremely thankful, wholehearted servants of the new covenant. You are our God, we are your people. “Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” -- Hebrews 13:20-21 -Julie

Tuesday - Week 3

December 8, 2020 • Brittany

Have you ever had someone make a promise that seemed impossible to keep, yet they followed through and kept their word? When I was a child, I can remember my dad would travel and promise to bring me back a specific item or take a picture in front of a certain place. More times than not, he would come back with the gift or photo and I would be enthralled. From an early age, my dad proved to be a trustworthy promise keeper. As I got older, I also experienced the crushing blow when a promise had been broken. I think we all know that sinking feeling of disappointment when we come to realize that what we thought was true of someone, well, isn’t. What I love about the passage we’re in today (Jeremiah 31:31-37) is that it is a timely reminder that no matter what promises are broken here on earth, we serve a God who is a trustworthy promise keeper. In Jeremiah we read about how the Lord made a new covenant, a binding promise, with His people. Now, in order to fully understand this new covenant you need to know a few things about Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who was known as the suffering prophet because his prophetic ministry wasn’t easy. Truth be told, most prophets’ jobs weren't easy because often times they brought news of God’s judgement to an unrepentant people. This was true for Jeremiah! Throughout the book we see Jeremiah keep giving out warnings, pleading with God’s people to repent. They continued to spiral into sin. At the end of the book we find the promise that we read in our studies today. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.” -- Jeremiah 31:33 Do you see that? In spite of sin, in spite of complete disregard of Jeremiah’s prophetic messages, God’s promise could not be broken. The passage says that a time was coming when God Almighty would make a new covenant! It tells us that our good and trustworthy God isn’t abandoning the redemptive plan He started. Instead, where many of us would find reason to quit and abandon ship, God doubled-down and made a new covenant with an unfaithful people. In Luke 22, when the disciples and Jesus participated in the last supper Jesus said to them, “This is my body which is given for you... This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Sisters, the Christ-child, born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died a horrible death, and rose from the grave so that you and I could receive this new covenant and forgiveness of sin. The blood of Jesus shed for you is the foretold new covenant in Jeremiah 31. It is the physical evidence that our God is a trustworthy Promise Keeper who will one day right every wrong. This redemptive covenant isn’t any ordinary promise: it’s a promise to redeem the hearts and minds of God’s people; it’s a promise to one day right every wrong and to forgive all our sins. This Advent season, as we expectantly look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, we also look to the day when that promise is fulfilled in His second coming. We proclaim over and over again that our God is a trustworthy Promise Keeper. Because we know we serve a God who keeps His promises, we can rest no matter what promises this world may break. Today, reread Jeremiah 31:33, and take a few moments to reflect on what this verse means to you and how being a follower of a trustworthy, promise-keeping God transforms your heart and mind during this holiday season. -Brittany

Monday - Week 3

December 7, 2020 • Kaitlyn

A couple of years ago, I realized that I was spending way too much time on social media. When I was sad or lonely or insecure, I would get on Twitter or Instagram, post something I knew would provide the affirmation I needed, and wait for the likes and comments to give me my daily hit of confidence. For Lent that year I gave up social media. I hoped this season away would not only break my addiction but would help me work on my desire for human affirmation. A couple weeks in, I was frustrated and drained. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I was constantly in a bad mood. After a discussion in one of my favorite classes, I walked home feeling like a total failure. That’s when it hit me: I had shifted all of my desire for affirmation from social media to my performance in class. I had put a rule in place I hoped would not only restrain my behavior but change my heart. That rule had no power to transform me, it could only reveal the deeply rooted nature of the sin in my heart. Paul reminded God’s people that the law was not able to fix them (Romans 8:3). It could reveal their sinfulness or restrain some of the effects of sin in their community, but it could not redeem or restore them. The law could not defeat sin, especially because of the sinful humans that imperfectly use and apply it. Many of the confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees were not due to their love of the law but their sinful use of it: to justify themselves, to oppress others, or to elevate themselves above God. In this season of Advent, we practice the waiting that the people of God have always practiced: waiting for the Messiah, and now, waiting for His return. The failure of the law to redeem set the stage for the Good News God's people always longed for. Christ took on human nature for the sake of redeeming it. Through His sacrificial death, we have hope—eternal hope and current hope that the Holy Spirit will work in us to produce faithfulness and holiness we could not achieve on our own. There’s nothing wrong with setting rules for yourself, as long as you know their limitations. After my realization in the middle of Lent that my rule wasn’t changing my heart, I added a new practice for the season. I continued my fast from social media, but I added some intentional time of prayer and meditation on Scripture. The fast revealed my sin, but I needed the Holy Spirit to do the work of rooting it out and restoring me. It doesn’t matter how good our rules are or how much strength we muster to follow them. Any attempt to live the Christian life apart from the Spirit will end in failure. This Advent, we can rehearse the first waiting of God’s people—for the coming Messiah and the freedom He brought us—while we practice the second waiting for His return and our complete restoration. -Kaitlyn _________________________________________________________________________________ Week 3 Challenge: In what ways has your life turned into all the ways you “follow the law”? Have you slipped into a legalistic mindset in any area of your life? This week, reflect on the ways God shows you His faithfulness regardless of your actions. How can you move forward and eliminate legalism or a works-based mentality from your life and your walk with God?

Friday - Week 2

December 4, 2020 • Lyli

My husband sat on the living room floor with my grandson and a pile of large building blocks. Our little man was trying to build a tower, but it kept falling over. He let out a groan of frustration, knocked over his work, and started to cry. I sat on the couch and quietly prayed as my husband gently explained that he would need a stronger foundation if he wanted to build something that would remain standing. That’s when the Holy Spirit nudged my stubborn heart. Sometimes I try to erect my own projects, and I fail to let the Lord have His way. David wanted to build a house for the Lord, but God had bigger plans. God always has bigger plans than we can ask, think, or imagine. It’s so incredibly hard to let go of the building pieces and trust Him with everything. God promised to bless David. He would have a great name, a beautiful inheritance, and a lasting dynasty of descendants. God called Israel His people and promised to father them forever. But none of it transpired like David thought it would take place. Friend, has your life turned out a little differently than you imagined? Are you holding a bunch of pieces wondering how God is going to make anything beautiful again? God always restores and redeems. David’s dynasty lasted forever. A babe was born in Bethlehem, and He is seated at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding on your behalf. Jesus is the King of Kings, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the Root from the stem of Jesse. Wherever we stand today, we can trust our God is sovereign. His words always prove true. His promises never fail. His favor will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Friend, the next time feel frustrated and want to cry your eyes out because you can’t fix things, remember these truths: God has seen you through every season. He has never left you alone to figure it out. God is presently at work in your situation. He has a plan. God will establish you if you trust Him and make Him your foundation. God has prepared an eternal home for you, and one day He will receive you with open arms. My sisters, let’s pick ourselves up off the floor and praise Him. He is faithful. Nothing can topple over God’s plan for our lives. His glorious design for us is built to last, and He will reign forevermore. -Lyli

Thursday - Week 2

December 3, 2020 • Sara

Hasn’t the world felt upside down in 2020? COVID is a disaster. Politics are contentious. People are on edge. Things feel uncertain. Plans are temporary. The rules of our day are ever changing. But, God. He is here. Stable. Steady. In these months of COVID, mask wearing has become a new part of our daily lives. We have often commented on how difficult it is to fully communicate with people without being able to see their faces. Our voices are muffled. Our smiles are blocked. In this season, when I think about the Old Testament experience of God, I repeatedly visualize a face mask. The Old Testament is sprinkled with accounts of God hiding His face from His people because of their disobedience. Sit on that for a moment; it’s heavy. God hid His face (removed His favor) from them, at times, because of their actions. God’s sovereign plan for redemption involved many generations of flawed people (Matthew 1:1-17). There’s murder, adultery, idolatry, and prostitution in the ancestry of Jesus. God made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:16 promising David's descendants would rule but also foretold the permanent kingdom to come with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus became the atonement for our sins. God established a permanent kingdom and an eternal covenant with humans. If we believe in Jesus, the Son of God who died on the cross to save us from our sins, we are saved by grace and the Holy Spirit lives in us. The world is a mess, but God has not forsaken us. “We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). God, be near. -Sara

Wednesday - Week 2

December 2, 2020 • Brittany

Rest is a complicated idea in 2020. There has been so much turmoil, with both solitude and crisis at every corner, that the idea of rest almost seems impossible. And yet, as we celebrate Advent, I cannot imagine a better passage to dive into today. If you haven’t read the passages on Sabbath yet, let me encourage you to take a few moments before reading this devotional to read or reread the Scripture for today (Exodus 31:12-17; Mark 2:23-3:6). John Ortberg says this about modern day Christians, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”[1] When I read the passages today, I see how God’s good design for holiness and rest directly combat this idea that Ortberg explains is so prevalent in our society. Scripture pleads with us to keep the Sabbath because it is holy for us, and yet most people I know really struggle with true, life-giving rest. I’m not sure what you think of when you read or hear the word “Sabbath” but during Jesus’s day, practicing Shabat – the Hebrew word for Sabbath – wasn’t just highly recommended, it was a part of their laws and customs. One day a week, God’s people practiced Sabbath and intentionally chose rest. They didn’t work. They didn’t cook. They obeyed a surplus of rules and laws that defined what they could and couldn’t do. As you would imagine, the Pharisees we read about in the Gospel of Mark (the rule-following religious leaders of the day) were really good at knowing the laws, and following them, but that knowledge and obedience didn’t translate to a changed heart. When Jesus and the disciples weren’t quite living up to the Pharisee’s expectations, they jumped at the chance to catch them and prove they weren't properly following the Law. But Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (as we read in our passage this week), didn’t come to destroy the Law, but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” And just a few verses later in chapter 12 it says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (sounds a lot like our passage in Mark doesn’t it?!). You see, the Sabbath isn’t some list of dogmatic do’s and don’ts. It’s not an old-timey ritual that church-going people perform. As the passage says in Mark, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” It is a posture that pursues true, life-giving rest that we can only find in Christ. It is the recognition and confession that we are finite creatures who rely on an infinite and holy God – a holy God who made Himself small, in the form of a tiny infant, to come and redeem all of humanity. The passages we read today show us our ultimate rest, our true and better Sabbath, is found in Christ alone. What does that mean for us during this Advent season? St. Augustine of Hippo famously said it this way, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[2] Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message that we must “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”[3] Sisters, like I mentioned above, 2020 has been quite the year. As we await the celebration of the birth of our Savior, let us posture our hearts to find rest in that baby in a manger. Let us learn the unforced rhythms of grace and rest in a sovereign and good God, because we know that the baby in the manger grew into a man who willingly laid down His life for the restoration of all humanity. When the world feels too heavy and when suffering draws near, we draw near to the true and better Sabbath. When crisis and heartache and brokenness surround us, the people of God expectantly look for His return. We celebrate Advent and we hope in spite of hardship, because we know we serve and unchanging God in the midst of an ever-changing world. During this Christmas season, let us remember that Christ, the foretold Messiah, came to redeem a broken world. In the God-child laying in a manger we find not only our salvation, but we find our Sabbath, our true rest. -Brittany

Tuesday - Week 2

December 1, 2020 • Crystal

Our reading today comes from Matthew 5, which is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is shifting into His public ministry and is preparing His disciples for all the ways they are to be set apart from the the scribes, Pharisees, and Gentiles. Jesus focuses on the disciple’s character in verses 1-12 (the Beatitudes), their influence in verses 13-16 (salt and light), and their righteousness in verses 17-48 (right relationship to God and right conduct). Jesus is quick to point out that He has not come to cancel the Law, but to fulfill it. In fact, He repeats Himself twice in verse 17 to help get His point across: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.” - Matthew 5:17 Have you ever read a book (especially non-fiction) and noticed that the writer seemed to repeat their key points several times over several chapters? Repetition is a literary device to help readers know when to pay attention because something significant is about to be said. It’s like a literary blinking arrow that says, “Hey! This is important! Get out the highlighter!” Maybe you’ve found yourself with a particularly catchy worship song in your head and you wonder why the lyrics are so easy to remember. Repetition in song lyrics helps even non-musical listeners find familiarity and creates an opportunity for the song to be easily imprinted on our minds.  In my marketing and communication background I’m very aware that repetition is key when it comes to awareness. It takes hearing or seeing the same message seven times before we can remember it (and in our busy, noisy world, that number can actually be larger). If you’re trying to spread the word about something you have that your audience needs (a book, your business, your new course, the book club you’re starting) plan to talk about it until you’re tired of hearing about it - and then watch as your audience FINALLY starts to pay attention. Jesus wanted no misunderstanding when it came to this point: He was not there to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Layman’s New Testament Commentary points out that, “the word translated “fulfill” can mean to accomplish, to complete, to finish, to bring to an end, to validate, to confirm, to establish, to uphold, or to bring out the intended meaning.” Jesus, in His teaching, further explained the intended meaning of the Law by addressing for His disciples the deeper matters, the root issues the Law was meant to deal with but that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were skimming over. Jesus is the covenant-fullfiller, not a promise-breaker. He is the only One who was ever meant to accomplish, complete, finish, validate, confirm, establish, and uphold the promises God made. We go on to read in chapter 5 that Jesus not only told His audience (twice) that He was not there to abolish the Law, but that heaven and earth will have to pass away before He removes even the tiniest point of punctuation from the Law.  Jesus not only came to fulfill the Law, but to do so in exactly the way God planned from the very beginning. You and I can rest knowing God is the perfect promise keeper. -Crystal

Monday - Week 2

November 30, 2020 • Angela

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ --Matthew 22:36-39 The very first verses I taught my girls were Matthew 22:37-39. If you want to know God’s will for your life in a nutshell, well there you go. Love God and love others, that pretty much sums it up.  I love how we are contrasting the Old Testaments commandments with the New Testament commandments. So many times we are tempted to see God in the Old Testament as cold, mean, and unapproachable, yet when you really get to the heart of the commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17 you’ll see they were all about loving God and loving others well.  When you look closer at the Old Testament commandments and the New Testament commandments you’ll see Jesus brought those rules, those commandments to life, literally. Jesus turned the world upside down by living out Matthew 22:37-39. He showed what it looked like to take God’s commandments seriously and put them into action. When He did, the world changed for the better.  People were set free, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. People’s lives were changed from the inside out. Those who once had no hope, found hope because of Christ. Jesus loved God with everything He had and everything He was, and because of this He was able to love His neighbors well.  This advent season as we think about which gifts to give the loved ones in our lives, let’s regift the love Jesus has given to us. Our world is in desperate need of believing, feeling, and experiencing God’s love right now, and this season is the perfect time to be generous with the never-ending, bottomless love of Christ.  As we get those last minute deals and hard to find gifts for our loved ones, let’s also make sure we are gifting what really matters--our love.  Giving away love costs us nothing and everything all at the same time.  Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind means loving Him with all of us and holding nothing back. It means delighting in Him for who He is. It means rejoicing in His amazing gift of salvation and choosing to live our lives in gratitude for what He has already done on our behalf.  Loving our neighbors means loving them the way we want to be loved. It means making the effort to bless them first, or going the extra mile if that is what they need. Loving them well might mean slowing down and really taking the time to talk to them to find out how they are doing. Or it might mean choosing to think the best of them and forgiving first, not keeping a record of wrongs. Loving our neighbors well might mean being sensitive to them by seeking to understand their life and what it feels like to be in their shoes. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means we hurt when they hurt, we mourn when they mourn, and we rejoice when they rejoice. It means we sacrifice when they are lacking and we do what we can with what we’ve been given. This Christmas, let's choose to love God and love our neighbors well by giving the gift of love to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. May the world know us by our love! Love God Greatly! -Angela ________________________________________________________________ Week 2 Challenge: This week, practice Sabbath. Take one day this week to be intentional to stop working, striving, creating, building, or organizing, and simply celebrate. Include your family or friends in this practice. Reflect on your experience. What does Jesus say about the Sabbath? How can you incorporate this spiritual discipline into your life each week?