Here is today’s Advent Calendar Piece (A generic “seed” shape to represent a mustard seed…)

December 17th | Faith

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: Even before the New Covenant was given, righteousness came from faith.  Regardless of Biblical time period,  Covenants in force at the time, and the revelation of God that man had available to him, there has only ever been one way to please God: Faith.  Faith has two parts: believing that what God says is true and acting on that truth. Faith is very powerful: a small amount can cause great changes.

Noah had faith that God would judge the world; he built the ark. Abraham had faith he would have descendants through Isaac; he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, trusting God would raise him back to life! By faith Moses put the Passover lamb’s blood on the doorposts; by faith Joshua had the courage to lead Israel into Canaan. By faith King David sang that he would have an eternal throne through Messiah. What do all these people have in common, other than faith? God considered them all to be righteous. Notice how they showed their faith by their actions! They weren’t perfect, but God did great things through them because they believed and obeyed Him.

The New and Final Covenant was going to hinge entirely upon justification by God’s Grace through our faith.  The entire Old Testament supported this “Grand Finale” of Faith that started with the heroes described in Hebrews 11 and culminated in Jesus Christ.

Bible Study Question: Read Habakkuk 2:4; what promise did God make about faith?

Today’s Main Idea: There are six theological terms that are commonly used when talking about living by faith:

  • Salvation means to be delivered or exempted from sin and its due penalty.
  • Justification means to be declared “in the right”, put in good standing with God.  Only the righteous may be in good standing with God; The only way an unrighteous person may be justified is through the righteousness of Another.  To be “just” and “righteous” is synonymous.
  • Sanctification means to be set apart/made holy.  To be “sanctified” and “holy” is synonymous.
  • Glorification means to share in God’s ultimate triumph through His manifest excellence and fulfilled purpose in our lives.  It refers specifically to receiving new “Resurrection” bodies that never die, get sick, or sin.  I could do with one of those today 😉
  • Holiness is a state of separation, distance, from corruption or commonness; being designated for a unique, divine purpose (“Holy, Holy, Holy”, while most likely a Trinitarian reference and the numerological connotation of Divinity, to this scientists’ mind also conveys DEGREES of separation: i.e. an untraversible  distance between created beings and their Creator.  We may be made holy, But God is Holy^3, so far separated from everything impure or inadequate that there is no way Man can call Him into question or claim to know His thoughts apart from His revelation of them–A.M.).
  • Righteousness is a state of being above accusation, blameless: to act righteously means to do the right thing at the right time with the right motive.  In Christianity, the righteousness of Jesus covers up our unrighteousness and enables us to be declared ‘just’.

At first glance, it seems spurious for unrighteous people to be justified, given righteousness, just because God appears to “wave a magic wand” over us and declare it.  It seems like people could take advantage of this system, saying they believe in Jesus and then living as they please thereafter, declared righteous while living unrighteously. It may seem hypocritical and contrived to some.

Our struggle to understand the grounds on which justification is…well, justified…causes us to come up with extreme theological positions.  Some say our behavior has no bearing on our salvation whereas others base salvation entirely upon it.  This is why an understanding of faith is key to sorting out these terms in a balanced way without over-constraining the Scriptures to support our preferred theological positions.

God expects faith because in it our motives are made clear.  He can tell the difference between someone who takes Him seriously and someone who merely thinks what He says is true conceptually (in an allegorical, relativistic, figurative sense conducive for the time being…until it is too difficult, requires too much, or goes against popular opinion, in which case we re-interpret it, condition it, or ignore it and then attach “God” to whatever idea we make up that best suits us).  People who take God seriously act on what He says; this is Faith.  They have accepted God on His own terms.  People who have a mental assent toward God applaud Him in theory but do not obey Him in practice; this is unbelief.  They have rejected God on their own terms.

We are fallible creatures in a fallen world: we are going to act unrighteously and make mistakes, even after we accept Jesus as our Savior.  When we have faith however, God sees it.  It stands out in our humanness like gold ensconced in rock.  It requires digging out, refining, shaping, and implementing but it is the raw material God likes to work with best.  Ultimately, it is all we really have to offer Him (so it works out well that it is the only thing He is pleased by!)

Faith is necessary because we are caught between two worlds: the old (current earth) and new (future earth).  We haven’t received the promise in full: we merely have a preview of it inside us.  We have the spiritual “stuff” but not the physical “stuff” (except in miraculous moments when the reality of the coming physical kingdom of Jesus is made manifest by the Holy Spirit in the present).  We have been born again spiritually, but we are waiting for new bodies that cannot sin.  Our hearts are changed, but our mindsets, habits, and physical brokenness remain.

Here is how those theological concepts above relate to this “preview” situation, and how the faith we have in Christ demonstrates itself as a result (read Romans 8 for a better explanation!  I am merely using these terms as examples of how our beliefs should affect the way we live):

  • Salvation.  Now: deliverance from Sin; the more we spend time in God’s presence, the less sin is able to enslave us.  Future: deliverance from apocalyptic judgment (God’s wrath) and eternal damnation (the second death).  Faith: we 100% believe God is going to deliver us from judgment; therefore, in the present, we no longer live in fear of God’s wrath or of death.  We don’t need to earn brownie points “just to make sure”.  We don’t hide from our mortality and the subject of the afterlife.  We can face our future without uncertainty or fear.  Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are saved.
  • Justification.   Now & Future: we are in right standing with God; we are highly favored.  We have a priority line of communication open to God. Faith: we 100% believe that we have a privileged relationship with God; therefore, in the present, we can come to Him with boldness with all our requests and concerns.  While our sins may grieve us, we recognize we are not under any condemnation or shame; we do not beat ourselves up or try to earn forgiveness by being extra-religious; instead, we repentantly turn to God for His help and forgiveness **in confidence** that He will give it because we are in good standing with Him through Christ. Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are justified.
  • Glorification.  Now: God displays His great strength through our weaknesses; others recognize that God is helping us and is accomplishing His agenda through us.   Future:  We will shine like the sons and daughters of God Jesus made us to be, in our resurrection bodies, displaying God’s creative brilliance in the diverse and splendorous ways He has equipped us to function.  No harps on clouds!  We will be living adventure after adventure!  Faith: we 100% believe God will make Himself known to others through us, so we quickly confess any impediments or hindrances to Him and trust He will give us Grace to overcome them and use them for greater good than we could have imagined.  We also believe that what we do in this life affects our VOCATION in the next life; therefore, we do not tire of doing good and we do not become obsessed with the temporal benefits of our current situation.  We look forward to receiving resurrection bodies and seeing Christ as He is!  Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are glorified.
  • Sanctification/Holiness.  Now: we are set apart to do good works for those outside the faith to see; we function within the church to build one another up and take care of each others’ needs.  We are commanded not to be bound in covenant to those who are in opposition to God.  We are called to separate ourselves from sinful practices.  Future: We will be “light years” beyond our current status as fallen creatures; we will no longer have anything dark or corruptible in our natures.  We will be able to carry out our tasks without any internal impediment to the joy of performing them.  Faith: we 100% believe God has separated us from everything that would steal, kill, and destroy the purpose He has for us; therefore we no longer want to rejoin the futility of popular cultural practices or buy into the false promise of freedom through sin.  We don’t take pleasure in coarse conversation or gossip: we want to remove everything that displeases the Holy Spirit.  We are willing to get rid of anything that desensitizes us to or distracts us from hearing God’s voice; we long for Him to put His instructions on our heart so that we may be about our Father’s business.  Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are holy.
  • Righteousness.  Now: we have been declared righteous because we are “in Christ”; we have the Spirit of righteousness within us.  As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, more of our behavior becomes “righteous” (right action at the right time for the right reasons).  Future: without sin, we will not have any cause to do wrong; righteousness will be regular practice.  Faith: we 100% believe we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus; therefore, we do not give up when we sin, but trust God to change us so that His righteousness will shine through us.  We look forward to the day when this will no longer be a struggle, when what God has declared us to be will take full, tangible form.  We do not let accusing thoughts attack us or undermine us; our position is determined by Christ, not our behavior. Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are righteous.

All of these theological terms and explanations make faith seem incredibly complicated, but it isn’t.  Faith is as easy as falling off a log… IF we truly believe.  If we really believe in the foundational truths of the Bible, all the above corollaries will follow.  The behavior, though imperfect at times, will follow.  IF we believe.

Application: Paul explained that before we put our faith in Christ, we need to hear about Him first.  If we want our faith in God to grow, then we need to spend time listening to His word.  This Christmas, let’s take time to immerse ourselves in the Bible; even if it’s your first time buying a Bible, why not get one for yourself and a loved one this Christmas?  (I recommend The New Believer’s Bible in the New Living Translation.)  Christmas is the very best time to grow our faith as we see how God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us!  Jesus Himself proved that God’s Word is true.  We can trust it, and as we do, we will grow in faith and please God.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us the ability to have faith. I am so glad I don’t have to please you by being the best at something, or by following a strict legal code. Help my faith to grow so I can please you even more. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.”

Family Activity: Push mustard seeds in a wad of wet paper towel in a container. Every day, add water to the paper towel to keep it moist. Decorate some plant pots, write out Hebrews 11: 6 on them, and fill them with soil. When the seeds sprout, plant them in the pots and think how much your faith has grown since you first heard about Jesus.

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many options below.  Thanks!


Here is today’s Calendar Piece:

December 16th | A New Heart that Loves God

Please read these Bible verses first!

Bible Background: So far we have discovered God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. In today’s reading, God told Jeremiah there would be a New Covenant for His people. This New Covenant would get rid of their sin, cleanse their hearts, put God’s Laws and Spirit in them so they would have the ability to obey Him and do His will.  The real issue with the Old (Mosaic) Covenenat wasn’t that it was bad, but that people were not able to keep it.  The reason?  Man’s incurably sick (perverted/skewed/wicked) heart!

Bible Study Question: Read Hebrews 10:11-18. Why are animal sacrifices no longer needed under the New Covenant and what does this have to do with our hearts?

Today’s Main Idea: The heart we are talking about represents the “inside person”, the place where our emotions and thoughts come from. Not many people today are willing to accept that human hearts are sick! They say that people are mostly good even if we’re not “perfect”. This is not true, for several reasons. If people were mostly good, human history wouldn’t have so many terrible events in it (and no, we can’t blame it all on religion: plenty of atrocities have been caused by atheistic governments). People cheat, steal, and lie on a regular basis from company paper clips to unreported revenue on taxes. Those who act nicely to others often hide unkind thoughts on the inside.

God doesn’t just judge us on our “outside” actions alone, but our “inside” thoughts too! Most of us are more selfish, greedy, and angry than we would like to admit.  Don’t believe me?  How would you like your thoughts broadcast beyond your control to those around you for a week?  A day?  No, thank you.  We like to keep our thoughts to ourselves for good reason: no matter how we may justify them to ourselves, they are not easily justified to anyone else!

God’s solution to our problem is Jesus. It was out of His perfect heart that perfect obedience to the Father flowed. Sin is the antithesis of love: if we love God, we will obey Him. When Jesus’ love-filled words (from the abundance of His pure heart) fill our minds, our sick hearts are challenged and we see just how far off the mark we have been; we see our sinful, unloving behavior.   This conviction doesn’t condemn us, rather we feel relief that we know how we are supposed to act; we see clearly how we have been harming ourselves and others and want to stop.   The only thing we lack is the power to make that change happen by ourselves.

The success of the New Covenant in truly changing people from the inside out–sometimes miraculously with an instant deliverance from entrenched sins, but more often over long periods of  time as we learn to trust God–is based on one word: Spirit.  He is the Person of God who makes internal change possible: He can re-write what is on our “hearts” so we will love God properly.

Application: It can be depressing to think how skewed we are from what is right.  We try hard, do our best…and we still fall short!  It is tempting to want our behavior to be accepted as it is, to get frustrated at how difficult it is to change, and to be angry at God for expecting us to be able to do things we can’t do yet (or so we think).  All these objections underline the main problem: we aren’t ready or willing to change.  We are still immature, waiting for our feelings to motivate us rather than receiving His Grace to change now.

When God shows us an area of our life that needs to change, He gives us the strength and resource to do it.  As always, there is a step of faith involved; we put aside immature objections and with God’s help, set our thinking straight and follow with action.  When we set our minds–our “hearts”–toward doing the will of God, those foot-stamping objections miraculously fade away and we grow maturer, another “inch” taller toward the nature and stature of our “Big Brother”, Jesus.

Our actions reveal what we truly believe, what has been deposited in our hearts, NOT who we are.  A kind word can help us to be brave and make good choices if we receive it; a negative word can cause us to doubt ourselves and fall to temptation if we give in to it.  Our beliefs are incredibly affected by what we see and hear and choose to listen to.  If we want to keep our beliefs in check, we need to be careful what we are watching, listening to, and the company we are keeping.  Are the people we lean on like Jesus?  Are the things we are watching or reading causing us to doubt the Bible or compromise our convictions?  This Christmas, let’s monitor our beliefs THROUGH our behavior and bring errant ideas into subjection to Christ.  Proper behavior will follow with God’s help.

When we realize how much we need to change, it can be “dis-HEARTening”.  We often connect our self-worth to our performance.  This Christmas, when you are confronted by your own impatience, unforgiveness, unrealistic expectations, or lack of self-control, remember that Jesus loves you very much: you are very valuable to Him.  He corrects us because He loves us and wants what is best for us.  Let’s be patient with ourselves and others’ failings this Christmas as we learn to exercise the new heart we have been given to love God and one another.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for sending Jesus to be my example of a pure heart overflowing with goodness. Please heal my heart and forgive me for its wickedness. Write your laws on my heart and give me the strength of your Holy Spirit so I can obey them. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity:  Make a Heart-Journal. Help each child assemble 7 pieces of lined paper for each day of the week. Hep each child to decorate a construction-paper cover with hearts. Write “MY HEART JOURNAL” on the front of each cover and staple them together with the paper.  As a family, keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings each day for the next week: negative thoughts as well as positive ones. In the margin next to each entry, write down the kind of heart you had at the time (“forgiving” or “angry”, etc.). Also keep a record of ideas that influenced you and what you watched, read, or listened to.  At the end of the week, see if you can notice any trends between what went into your hearts and what came out, and if your hearts are “healthy” overall.

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s fiery Calendar Piece:

December 15th | A Light to the Nations

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: Many Jews thought (and still think) that Messiah’s main task is to set the Jews free from their Gentile enemies, but Isaiah pointed out that the Messiah would guide the Gentiles to God, as a light in the darkness. Anyone who claims to be the Messiah, God’s (symbol of) Covenant to the people, must also bring the Gentiles closer to God.

The Jews in Jesus’ day were members of the Israelite tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi: descendants of the exiles of the southern kingdom of Judah that had returned to their homeland centuries before.  Jesus rarely interacted with Gentiles: when He did, it was exceptional and the results are noted in the Gospels.  Despite the narrow focus of His earthly ministry, Jesus did take the time to heal Gentiles who responded to Him in faith; He also went out of His way to speak with a Samaritan woman, who was not Jewish.

Jesus came at a pivotal time in human history. Trade routes, shipping routes, and roads had been established; common languages had been developed–Greek and Aramaic–so that barriers between people groups were removed; the Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah had been scattered all over the world (the “Diaspora”) and with them, a knowledge of the Scriptures; these three elements–infrastructure, language, and the Diaspora–combined to make the perfect conditions for spreading the good news about Jesus to these scattered Jews and the Gentile peoples around them. God waited for the perfect time in human history to send His Son, so that all the Gentiles in the world would have an opportunity to hear about Him.

Bible Study Questions: For many years the Gentiles lived in ignorance about God. What was one result of this (see Matthew 6:31-33)? How did the Gentiles respond to the news about Jesus, the Jewish Messiah (Acts 13:45-48)?

Today’s Main Idea: Before His resurrection, Jesus was duty bound to extend salvation to the Jews because they were the covenant people of God.  After His resurrection (and ascension), Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples to preach to Jews AND Gentiles.  Jesus made this clear in visions to Peter and to Paul (formerly Saul), and the Holy Spirit confirmed it by giving Gentile believers the same radical, spiritual experiences that had been given to Jewish believers.  The Gentiles were now “in” on God’s plan of redemption.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is key to understanding how this was possible.  The principle involved is this: ethnicity, legal status, and religious requirements only apply to the living, not to those who have died!  Because He died and rose again, Jesus secured freedom from ancestry, the Law, and the old system of priesthood.  I say “secured” because God set up a spiritual “mechanism”, by His Grace through our faith, that Jesus’ freedom could be ours.

When we believe in Jesus and are baptized into His death, we are reborn to a new spiritual life that is not defined by ethnicity, social standing, or gender (Galatians 3:28-29).  We are spiritually “born again” apart from everything that defined and limited us; since we are born of the Spirit, we are empowered by the Spirit to be obedient to His law written on our heart (more on that tomorrow).  This is good news to Jew and Gentile alike!

Application:  The Gentiles were worried about where their material provision would come from; they also thought their prayers were more effective by repeating them over and over.  They assumed they were on their own, “making it” on their own, even as they made up their own idols and superstitions.  Materialism and superstition both connect to the same problem: a lack of relationship with God and an improper understanding of who He is.

This Christmas we need to get to know the Father.  When we focus on what He is really like, we will no longer approach Him superstitiously or drudge through life believing “God helps those who help themselves”. Let’s ask God for His help and guidance this Christmas.  Let’s trust He will provide for us and take care of us as we give Him our cares and worries and allow Him to direct us.  We no longer have the excuse that past Gentiles had: Jesus is our Light and He has shown us what the Father is really like.  We can come before Him boldly with our requests and troubles.

There is a further step to take!  We all need God’s light in us this Christmas, but He expects us to do something with it: shineWhen we know something of God’s love and care for us, then we have a great gift worth giving!  Jesus told us to let our good deeds shine before others so that they will become open to the Father’s love.  Focusing on material things makes us dim and dull; let’s take our eyes off the things that do not matter and focus on what matters to God: people!  Beyond buying and wrapping presents for others, let’s gift others with smiles, hugs, words of affirmation, a helping hand and undeserved kindness.  God’s Light is the best gift worth giving this Christmas!

Prayer: Father God, thank You for sending Jesus at the right time to be my light. Help me to open my eyes to Your light by taking my focus off what I want. Give me the creativity and thoughtfulness to come up with ways to share Your goodness with others so they can see You clearly through me. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity: Christmas List! Using some pretty Christmas paper and a colorful pen or pencil, write out a Christmas list…but not for toys! Write “Christmas Deeds” on the top of the page. This list will include kind and helpful deeds you can do for the people you know. Leave gaps between the items on the list; after you have done each good deed, write a good thing that happened as a result in the gap.  For smaller or special needs children, print out a small (2″x2″) image of each person on the list and glue it to the paper; draw or print clip-art images (2″ x 2″) pertaining to good deeds that your child is able to do and cut them down to size .  Have your child pick an activity and “match” it to the face of a person on the list.  Help your child to accomplish that task and help them strike it off the list with a pen when they are done.  Everyone can shine God’s light, young and old!

ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site.  These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them.  Discretion is advised!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share it with a friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s Calendar Piece, Aaron, symbolic of priesthood in general:

December 14th | A Priest Forever

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: The Hebrew name “Melchizedek” comes from two Hebrew words: Melek, which means “king” and Tsedeq which
means “righteousness”. Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness”! Melchizedek was also King of Salem. Salem is from the Hebrew for “Peace”. David said that the Messiah (the King) would be a priest like this Melchizedek. There was no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Melchizedek’s time: He was priest over all people, hinting that this would be the future state of priesthood for the Messiah.  Priest AND King.  Who could possibly fit that bill?

While some people like to think of Melchizedek as a pre-incarnate appearing of Christ (as with “the Angel of the Lord” sightings in Scripture), Melchizedek is traditionally considered to be Shem (Noah’s son) who during the time of Abraham was still living at several hundred years old (Stone, Perry.  The Melchisedec Priesthood. [Online Digital.] November 16 2012).  The lack of ancestry mentioned for Melchizedek in Genesis does not necessarily mean there was none (in fact, its absence indicates that the ancestry is presumed or already known).  We are given a “snapshot” of Melchizedek in Genesis; he becomes a perfect analogy to Jesus because there are no details given about him that would distract from that picture or prediction of the Christ.

(FYI: The longevity of the post-diluvian patriarchs fits the decay curve that we typically see in genetic “bottlenecking”: it is currently thought that the ante-diluvian humans had an ability to produce Telomerase in a way that prevented the Telomere reduction we see occurring in humans today.  It could be that the genetic encoding for such Telomerase production was obscured or deleted by a genetic mutation which, through the limited genetic pool of the eight occupants of the Ark, bred long life-spans out of the general population.  The implications of this are tremendous: not only were there people in Abraham’s day living to be over 400 years old, they may have been the Neanderthal peoples we see living independently of modern humans and with all the sophistication of their contemporaries.  Neanderthal or not, the post-diluvian patriarchs were likely the historical sources of pagan myth and legend, forming the basis for mythologies that in many ways confirm the Genesis account.  Imagine outliving your grandchildren and great-grandchildren for multiple generations: you would wonder why they were all dying off before you!  They spread out from your camp in search of greater resources, leaving you alone with other “extreme-old-timers”.  It stands to reason that several generations removed from you, your descendants would begin to make customs of ancestral worship even though you preferred to live apart from them and worship differently.  They would see your longevity as confirmation of a demi-god status.  One person who could have been regarded as such, Shem, went against the grain as priest of God Most High, King of the place that later became Jerusalem. Fascinating!)

Melchizedek (perhaps Shem) represents something of ancient Man and his understanding of a God who judges sin, provides atonement, and preserves the righteous; Melchizedek is a figure of the old, primeval order of Elohim-worship.  The baton of authentic worship of the One, True God was handed to Abraham: The King of Salem acknowledged him as the progenitor of the next spiritual “generation” of monotheistic worship which had all but dwindled in the time between Shem and his seventh-great grandson.  The ability to worship God in spirit and truth was ultimately provided by Abraham’s descendant, Jesus: a priest forever according to the order of his foreshadower, Melchizadek.

Bible Study Question: Read Hebrews 7 and 8. How is Jesus like Melchizedek?

Today’s Main Idea: There were two types of priesthood in the Old Testament. The first was Melchizedek’s priesthood: in His day there were no Jews, He was priest over everybody. The second priesthood came over 400 years later, when God gave the Law to Israel. He picked the tribe of Levi to be His priests; Aaron (Moses’ brother) was the first High Priest. Today there is a third priesthood—like Melchizedek’s—where Jews and Gentiles alike offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving through Jesus our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus is our “Melchizedek”! Melchizedek was both a king and a priest: Jesus is our King of Righteousness and Great High Priest over all, Jew or Gentile!  Because we are in His Kingdom, we are priests under Him! (Reuben, Dick.  Our Great High Priest.  [MP3.] 1995).

Application:  In recent years there has been outrage against Catholic priests and other clerics who have used their positions of influence to exploit their parishioners.  It is terrible when anyone abuses another, but there is something extra-awful about a person in an official, spiritual capacity causing harm.  I am not trying to make a case against any person in a pastoral occupation, except to point out that there is an extra expectation and responsibility associated with his position of influence.  Have you ever thought that this may apply to us?  The Bible makes it clear that WE are priests in Jesus’ kingdom; we have been given authority and God expects us to use it for good.

Too often, we consider ourselves merely to be beneficiaries of God’s Grace when in fact, we are supposed to be stewards of it (1 Peter 4:10)!  God poured His grace on us for a reason, not only to save us, but to equip us to do the good works He prepared for us from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).  You and I are not lay people, if we follow Jesus: we are priests administering His Grace to a broken world.  We are missionaries, we are intercessors, we are influencers, and we are preservers.  All of us who believe.  Not because we are paid by a church or a congregation but because we have been commissioned by our Great High Priest, Jesus.

This Christmas, realize that if you follow this Great High Priest Jesus, you are not merely a participant; you are an officiating celebrant.  You offer praises like sweet incense that change the spiritual landscape around you so that when others walk into your home, there will be an air of God’s peace about you.  You speak words of spirit and life that penetrate the hardest of hearts and minds so that when your family members return home, they take a seed of truth along with them.    You intervene, prayerfully “standing in the gap” between your loved ones and death, offering the incense of God’s Word before Him–reminding Him of His promises and asserting your faith in them–as you pray for your loved ones this Christmas; physically, you “head them off at the pass” by redirecting foul conversation and steering loved ones away from making poor life choices, encouraging them to do well.  You are Salt.  You are Light.  You are the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, that His kingdom may come and His will be done in your home, in your Christmas celebrations, as it is in Heaven.  What an awesome privilege and opportunity you and I both have this Christmas!  Let’s not just bask in God’s glory this Christmas; let’s administer it to everything that has lost its shine and yet doesn’t realize it.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us physical symbols so we can understand spiritual things. Melchizedek helps us to understand that Jesus is our Great High Priest AND our King. Help me to be a good priest in Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity: Altar Box. Take an old tissue box and cover it with Gold (see Exodus 30:1-6). Make “Incense Paper” by spraying perfume on a notepad; write a lovely thought about God or something to thank Him for and put it into your Altar Box. This is your sacrifice of Praise, a sweet smell to God! You can read them on a rainy day or whenever you don’t exactly feel up to your priestly duties!

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

Here is today’s calendar piece, a crown symbolizing King David:

December 13th | The Everlasting Throne

Please read these Bible verses first.

Bible Background: God made a covenant (“solemn agreement”) with King David that his descendants would be on the throne for ever! Solomon, David’s heir, broke God’s covenant by disobeying the Law. God broke Israel into two Kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. Only seventeen kings, descendants of David, reigned over the Kingdom of Judah. After this, the King of Babylon defeated Israel and Judah.  Jeconiah (aka Jehoiachin), David’s 16th great-grandson through Solomon, was cursed by God so that none of his descendants would sit on the throne; he was the king who lost his throne to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  He was also the 10th great-grandfather of Joseph, Jesus’ legal father.  Another of David’s sons, Nathan, was the 38th great-grandfather of Mary, Jesus’ Mother.  Jesus’ legal right or claim to David’s throne came through Joseph from Solomon, son of David; Jesus’ physical right or claim to David’s throne came from Mary from Nathan, son of David.  (Pierce, Larry and Sarfati, Jonathan.  Adam to Christ.  [JPEG.] September 1 2000)

Bible Study Question: “Messiah” (Hebrew: Mashiyach) and “Christ” (Greek: Christos) both mean “Anointed”. What kind of person is typically anointed (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 13). Read Acts 2:27-36. How did God provide for a King to reign on David’s throne forever?

Today’s Main Idea: The Pharisees were religious teachers. They knew that the Messiah would be a descendant from King David, but they didn’t want to acknowledge a key factor: Messiah would be much greater than King David. David referred to his descendant as “my Lord”. Messiah wouldn’t simply be a man; he would be the greatest King that ever lived, seated at the right hand of the Father…a place of honor and equality. The Pharisees realized that Jesus was saying that King David’s descendant, the Messiah, would be as great as God Himself, reigning forever.

Jesus’ adoptive (or step-) father was under a curse; as descendants of Jeconiah, Joseph’s children were not permitted on the throne of David.  However, Jesus bypassed the curse because he was not a physical descendant of Joseph’s, but of Mary’s.  Jesus bought his earthly father honor by redeeming him from his ancestor’s curse: what a wonderfully intimate picture of Jesus redeeming all of us from the curse of our disobedience.  Because of Jesus, we all have the right to rule and reign with Him!

Jesus, through Joseph and Mary, secured the throne from His physical ancestor David: He fulfilled the prophecy that David’s throne would be everlasting.  After Jesus died and was resurrected, He ascended into heaven where He has been seen–in visions–to be seated at God’s right hand, far above all “rule, power, and authority”.  Because Jesus is alive forever, He is King forever: there is no need for any other king to fill David’s everlasting throne.

Application:  Sometimes we can become so engrossed in our theology that we miss the point of it entirely.  The Pharisees knew the prophesies about Messiah, but they did not want to understand them.  They focused on the bits they liked best–about God destroying Israel’s enemies–and ignored the parts that talked about Messiah’s need to lay down his life as a ransom for many.  Most of all, they did not want the prophecies to apply to this “Man” Jesus!  He didn’t follow their myopic interpretations of Scripture; He gave them no religious covering to hide their sins under, no place of power to “lord it” over other people.  He was a threat to their administration, their worldview, their vision.  They did not want to submit to Him as King or as God!  Jesus violated their understanding of a Messiah who would give them everything they wanted…at the expense of everybody else!

We can do the same thing at Christmas.  We know the Christmas Story well enough, but have we missed the point?  We prefer to focus on shepherds and angels, wise men and stars…all the details that require no change to our worldview, our interpretations, or our beliefs.  Could it be that we are content to keep Jesus in the manger for fear that He might “grow up” to be our King?  This Christmas, let’s not just focus on the bits of the Christmas Story that we feel comfortable with, but the parts that are challenging.  If God came near to us as “Immanuel”, how should we respond to Him?  Jesus came as the Descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…and David!  He is the Source of Righteousness, Forgiveness, Redemption, and AUTHORITY.  He has the right to rule all of us who claim to believe in Him.  He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Let’s not just set up glowing nativities and send religious Christmas cards: let’s worship Him in Spirit and truth and surrender our lives to His good plan for us.

Prayer: Father God, help me to live in the light that I serve an eternal King on an everlasting throne: I invite you to rule and reign in me.  Help me to not jump to conclusions like the Pharisees; cure me of any selfishness or blindness in my interpretation of the Bible.  In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity: An Eternal Throne. What do you think God’s throne in heaven looks like? Help your children to decorate a chair at home to look like this throne. Use sheets, feathers, shiny objects…use your imagination! Make a crown out of paper and write “Son of David” on it and place it on the throne.  Remind your children that Jesus is our King!

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Here is today’s Calendar…another row completed!  Half-way to Christmas Eve!

December 12th | The Promised Land

Please read these Bible verses first!

Bible Background: The “Promised Land” is the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants, the land called Canaan. It represented God’s place of rest for His people; a place where there would be no suffering or hard work. Moses wasn’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land because he abused his power in anger (Numbers 20). Joshua was Moses’ apprentice since his youth and a mighty warrior. The River Jordan is a place of change; whenever it is mentioned in the Bible, you can be sure God is about to change something significant (Reuben, Dick.  Our Great High Priest.  [MP3.] 1995).

Bible Study Question: God’s promise of the Promised Land has a double meaning. The first meaning is the physical land of Canaan. Read John 14:1-3 and Hebrews 4:6-10: what else does the Promised Land represent?

Today’s Main Idea: Moses couldn’t convince the first generation of the liberated Hebrews to trust God; he died in the wilderness with them, never setting foot in Canaan. In a similar way, the Law can’t force us have faith in God and enter His place of rest. God had to kill off the disbelief in His people to raise a new generation with a new spirit (attitude) that was determined to inherit God’s promises. Sometimes we have to go through our own wilderness until everything that is disbelieving, discontented, suspecting, and self-destructive dies off in us and we are finally prepared to live life God’s way.  We can go to church all our lives and still be Prodigal at heart!  It takes so much for us to be willing to trust Him, truly trust Him, in a way that forever shapes and changes our attitudes as well as our behavior.  Think how much bolder and more accurate our prayers would be if we truly trusted God and took Him at His Word; we could see more miracles and answered prayers if we would approach God in belief–not just for the things He can do–but in a revelatory acknowledgment of His care, provision, and good plans for us.  What a load of care we would lay at His feet!  What difficulties we would overcome in His Name!  A Promised Land “on this side of the Jordan”, in the land of the living, that would certainly be!

Jesus is a lot like Joshua:

  1. He was raised under the Mosaic Law in much the same way that Joshua was trained by Moses.
  2. Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan at the beginning of His ministry at the same spot that Joshua had to lead Israel through the Jordan in order to get them to the Promised Land (Stone, Perry.  The Melchisedec Priesthood. [Online Digital.] November 16 2012) !
  3. In fact, the name Jesus is Aramaic; since Jesus was a Jew, his Hebrew name was also Joshua!

Jesus is preparing our place of Rest; we have to enter it by faith in Him.

Application:  Jesus is associated with Peace at Christmas.  The angels heralded it.  We sing about it…”All is calm, all is bright“…yet for many of us, we never enter into His rest, into that state of inner peace that is a preview of eternal peace.  Ironically, Christmas can be the most stressful and least peaceful time of all!  A lot of our restlessness centers around two things; (1) worry and (2) complaining.  These things plagued the unbelieving generation of Hebrews wandering (and ultimately buried) in the wilderness.

If we want to experience God’s peace this Christmas, we need to trust Him.  We need to trust He will give us the words and inspire the actions to endure conflicts with a godly attitude that promotes His peace.  We need to trust Him if He puts limits on our consciences to what we can buy, what we can eat, and how to celebrate so we can have a peace about what we are doing.  We need to trust that if we keep Him first, this Christmas will be a meaningful one even if it isn’t as lavish as we would have liked, even if nothing went to plan, because He IS our peace.

Trusting God in practical terms does mean obeying Him, but it also means refusing to worry and refusing to complain.  Let’s ask God for what we need…with thanksgiving!   Let’s give Him our worries…with praise!  Let’s invite Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to make Himself manifest in our lives this Christmas by submitting our restless souls to the government that rests upon His shoulders, and trust that He will make good on every promise as He brings Divine change into our lives.  He will deliver us into His Rest.

Prayer:  Father God, please help me to trust You with all my heart. Please remove the parts of me that won’t obey You. Give me the courage and strength you gave Joshua and Jesus to accomplish mighty things. Help me to enter Your promised rest. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.

Family Activity: Desert Diorama. Arrange damp sand and rocks in a small tray to make a desert scene. Cut Q-Tips ™ in half to make Hebrews with cotton heads and stick bodies. Color their heads to make faces with markers. Use markers and construction paper to make clothes for your Q-Tip™ Hebrews/Israelites. Leave the bottom third of the stick untouched so you can poke your Q-Tip™ into the sand. Act out some of the scenes from the Exodus.

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Here is today’s large Calendar piece:

December 11th | The Guardian

Please read these Bible verses first

Bible Background: The Law reveals God’s perfect character and was given in accordance with a covenant with Israel. The Mosaic Covenant, as it is called, was a system of blessing and cursing based on the Law.  Yet God’s promise to Abraham—resulting in righteousness through faith—wasn’t removed 430 years later with the Law. The Law was a catalyst, accelerating God’s plan of redemption by emphasizing our need for God’s intervention and describing with patterns how He planned to go about it.  God’s plan was always to secure our righteousness through Abraham’s Descendant, Jesus.

Bible Study Question: What choice have all of us made according to Isaiah 53:6? Compare it to Galatians 3:13: Who paid the price?

Today’s Main Idea:  The Mosaic Covenant was a system of blessings and curses that was based on obeying or disobeying the Law, respectively.  It helped the Israelites to recognize that there is no way we can carry out God’s expectations on our own.  The essence of the Law is actually Love, not harshness.  If Man could love God with all his resource and faculty and love his fellow man as himself, he would break no laws.  But Man, being selfish and sinful, could not love God or his neighbor that much; the Law exposed our tragic flaw so we would have no justifiable, self-reliant excuse to deny God’s gift of forgiveness.  In essence, the Law is like a mirror, helping us to see our dirty faces but powerless to clean them.  It is like a Guardian that can take us to school but cannot make us learn.  The Law cannot fix us: it can only show us that we are broken.  The purpose of the Law was not to create a rigid system of self-improvement but to induce a cry for mercy and compassion to a God eager to supply His resource to fix our brokenness.

Application: Paul explains to Timothy that the Law of Moses is still useful if we use it properly: not to create specialized teachings that cause arguments, but to expose sin.  In an age of moral relativism, the Law still stands as the living, active Word of God to define what is right and what is wrong.  It protects us from outside forces that seek to redefine what is harmful as beneficial and what is enslaving as liberating.  Once our idea of right and wrong is perverted, we will even reject God because He will no longer meet our criteria for what we think is good.  The Law is essential to keeping our moral compass pointing North and our horizon level: without it we quickly crash-and-burn.

Part of the ministry of Jesus was to explain a correct interpretation and application of the Law of Moses.  Over the centuries, religious leaders had come to depend more on the letter of the law than its meaning (just like today with burglars suing the victims of their theft for faulty premises).  They abused the language of the law and constrained it to their definitions and interpretations.  Jesus came to set the Law free from their well-intentioned, but misguided teachings.  The teachers of religious law were always quoting each other, but Jesus, the God Who Is Love, expounded The Law with authority because only He could understand it without twisting it.  He didn’t come to abolish the Law–which is what some thought He was doing since He didn’t support their interpretations of it–but to fulfill it prophetically AND to explain its true meaning.

Confusion comes because the Law contains many ordinances and decrees that are specific to Israel’s geography and history.  If the Law is still valid, still present with us, are we supposed to keep commands such as not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk (which teaches us compassion and respect) and not wearing fabrics woven of two different types of thread (which teaches us to avoid syncretism at all cost)?  When we get caught on these details we prove that we have not graduated beyond the error of the religious teachers in Jesus’ day; we have become hung up on the letter of the law and are no longer to apply its principles to our everyday life.  Jesus took the Law of Moses and applied it to the major moral issues of His time: adultery, divorce, greed, and pride.  He reinforced honoring the literal legal code but also emphasized the weightier matters of the law like justice and mercy.  Yes, stoning was a requirement for adultery, rebellion and blasphemy;  Jesus demonstrated that it was not truly just for sinners to deal out retribution for the very sins they were guilty of.  Jesus didn’t ignore the Law of Moses; He understood it so perfectly that He “check-mated” others with it.  There were paradoxes and anomalies with sinners executing righteous judgments and proper interpretations of Scripture: Jesus, as God, came to sort out our confusion and help us to refocus on what truly matters, what He really expects of us (which is very little: humility and faith).

If we want to get technical, the fact is that many of the Mosaic ordinances are redundant–not invalid–because of what Jesus has accomplished and how times have changed.  All the laws regarding atonement, for example, are no longer required to be put into practice because we have already been atoned for by Jesus.  The laws regarding separation are redundant because Jesus united Jews and Gentiles together through His redemptive work on the Cross.  The nuances of temple worship are no longer effective because there is no Temple and because we have been united with God’s Spirit; He is with us all the time (i.e. not in the Holy of Holies).  These “loose-ends of the Law” are not sufficient grounds to negate or ignore it: they still instruct us today if we will look at the Law through eyes of Love, the Royal and Liberating Principle which according to Jesus sums up all the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus instructed His apostles to go into the world to preach the good news and make more disciples, being careful to instruct us in everything He commanded (Matt 28:20).  He said we would receive the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (John 14:17).   With the Holy Spirit’s help we are supposed to look at the Law–as interpreted by Jesus, not our own human weirdness (!)–as the Word of God, as Scripture, and allow Him to speak through it to challenge our lovelessness, our selfishness, and our independence from God.  What we are not supposed to do when we see our sin is to try to cleanse or change ourselves by our own human effort; we submit to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for conviction, direction, and transformation, all of which is entirely dependent on God’s Grace exercised through our faith in Jesus.  There is no law against the Holy Spirit’s instruction.

This Christmas rejoice in the fact that Jesus came to be with us, as one born under the legal code (Galatians 4:4-7); He fulfilled it, removed it as an impediment to our relationship with God, and gave us the means to stand apart from the Law (not in opposition to it) by Grace through faith.  If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, the Law is no longer our guardian because we have already submitted to its truth in Christ.  If we are still trying to live independently of God however, the Law instructs us that our behavior is deserving of the very eventuality that Jesus came at Christmastime to prevent.  Make this Christmas season the most blessed yet by submitting to Jesus’ teaching.  His truth will bring Love, Joy, and Peace to your life this Holiday Season!

Prayer: Father God, help me to submit to the truth of your Word.  Thank you that Jesus took the curse of my disobedience upon Himself and that in Him, mercy triumphs over the judgment your Law says I deserve. If I believe in Jesus, You will declare me to be righteous like Abraham; I am so grateful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Family Activity: Law Mirror. You can buy a small craft mirror or smooth some aluminum foil over a piece of card. Decorate your mirror with a frame of “treasures”; Christmas sequins, beads, etc. Using a permanent marker, write out the verses of James 1:23-24 on your mirror. Place it in the bathroom so you can “dress” your heart as you get ready in the morning.

If you enjoyed today’s ADVENT post, please share using one of the many features below.  Thanks!

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