Guest Post by Nicole Rowell

For Unto us a Child is Born

Not wanting to show any disrespect to Thanksgiving, our family waited until Friday morning to “joyfully” carry dusty, overstuffed bins of questionable greenery and a formerly pre-lit Christmas tree (about which no one is bitter) from the basement to the family room. It wasn’t quite the same as Pa chopping down an evergreen and hoisting it over his shoulder for a snowy walk back to the little cabin in the woods, but by day’s end, Christmas merriment had exploded in our home.

In early evening, after the plastic bins were dragged back downstairs, I finally cozied up on the couch, my face aglow from the warm haze of my laptop. Not about to brave the Black Friday crowds in person, click by click my Christmas shopping was basically done. (Insert heartfelt poem about the glory of Amazon Prime).

“Christmas Vacation” silently played on the TV and I scrolled through a few Christmas-y Spotify playlists to brighten the air while dinner took shape. The duo nominated to hang the outdoor Christmas lights (requiring the 40-foot ladder) weren’t overly thrilled about their very special holiday task, so I tried to lessen the pain with food. Clark and Russ responded with glee.

By day’s end, even the dog proudly displayed her plaid Christmas collar.

Honestly, I went to bed ecstatic over the day’s accomplishments. The Checklist to Celebrating Christmas was more or less complete.

And yet, over the next few days, something unsettling nagged at my heart. My favorite morning ritual is to sit with God’s Word while it’s still dark and offer my heart and steps to Jesus for the day. This peaceful time is beautified every December by trees full of lights and memories, beautifully joining me in the stillness. A gentle, inaudible voice whispered to me as I gripped my coffee cup. “What about me?

Where do I come in your preparation? Do you even remember what all this is about?”

Now listen, I wanted to protest, I KNOW Jesus is the reason for the season. I’m not confused about why we’re doing all this decorating and shopping. I’m simply being efficient.

But in that moment, I realized I hadn’t given more than passing thought to Jesus himself.

The preparation of my home overshadowed the preparation of my heart.

Every year during advent, I ask God what glimpse of His character or aspect of this familiar Bible story He wants me to hold close. Having skipped that step in the rush to get ‘er done, I took a moment to ask and consider what God might have for me this season.

Immediately, my heart was drawn to images of Almighty God descending to earth wearing soft skin and a gummy smile.

A few days later, I found myself snuggling a friend’s infant baby boy. After his bottle, he slept peacefully in my arms and his details captivated my attention. I examined every feature: the tiny curled eyelashes, perfectly shaped miniature lips, fuzzy hair unsure of it’s color and cheeks destined for kissing. (He was also wearing a bowtie, as a teeny baby does.)

The fragility and helplessness that Jesus intentionally, humbly chose sank deep in my soul. The Savior that would later suffer and die a gruesome death entered the world exactly like this tiny boy in my arms. Jesus, with delicate eyelashes and tiny hands. Jesus, unable to feed himself or speak.

Overwhelmed with awe, my heart couldn’t make sense of such a collision of heaven and earth. It still can’t. But holding this sweet baby reminded me that this is not just a Bible story. Jesus, as a newborn, sent to miraculously bring hope and freedom to the world, was incredibly, touchably, real. He was held and cried and loved.

My heart re-oriented itself to preparation, to spending time this December in awe of Jesus. My eyes are fixed on noticing and gratefully responding to the Rescuer God sent packaged as a newborn.

Let every heart prepare Him room.
What will your heart preparation look like?

Have you intentionally made space to wonder with God what He might show you this Christmas season?

The angels said it best:
“I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12 (The Message)

 

~ Nicole Rowell

Joy In The Middle Of It

There is joy
in Your presence, God

 

but not always
with people…

 

And I don’t want
my joy stolen

 

by difficult people
I come into contact with

 

when Divine joy
is mine for the taking

 

So I choose this day
to find joy in YOUR presence

 

while in the presence
of unpleasantness
hostility
rudeness
unkindness
hatred
obnoxiousness…

 

And I choose to set my focus
on the beauty
and the joy
and the gift

 

of Your presence,

 

my always-there
and undeniably loving
God

 

Thank You
for never leaving me

 

to fend for myself

 

And by the way,
God

 

please help me not be the one
whose presence steals another’s joy

 

-Susie Stewart

 

 

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever.

-Psalm 16:11 (NLT)

 

You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
    As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
    and I know true joy and contentment.
– Psalm 16:11 (NOICE)

 

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
– Exodus 33:14 (NIV)

 

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from Your Spirit!
    I can never get away from Your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, You are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there Your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
     but even in darkness I cannot hide from You.
To You the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to You.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in Your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
– Psalm 139:7 (NLT)

 

Photo by Susie Stewart

Full of It

Lately

I feel like I’ve had my fill

of the evil all around

 

It seems that the earth

is full of it

 

And I cry out to God!

 

Because in the midst

of all that evil

I long for my pure and spotless

God

 

He reminds me

that He is here

 

and that the earth

is not only full of evil

 

but the earth

IS FULL OF HIS GLORY

 

And I wake from my heavy stupor

of being overwhelmed

with darkness

 

and wake up to glory

 

in me

around me

and in His Christ-changed people

 

And I

hope

 

in the midst of it all

 

knowing

the end

to the story

 

where all that evil

is swallowed

 

by the fierce jaws

of love

and purity

 

– Susie Stewart

 

 

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.

– Isaiah 6:3 (NIV)

 

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

– Romans 8:6 (NLT)

 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

– Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)

 

So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west And His glory from the rising of the sun. For He will come in like a narrow, rushing stream Which the breath of the Lord drives [overwhelming the enemy].

– Isaiah 59:19 (AMP)

 

Do not be overcome and conquered by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Romans 12:21 (AMP)

 

Photo by Susie Stewart

 

 

Refreshed

How refreshing

is Your forgiveness

 

How sweet

Your grace

 

How fierce

Your resolve

 

to save

and redeem

 

And how blessed am I

to receive this gift

 

of Light inside

my very being

 

where darkness

once ruled

 

And how blessed am I

to know

 

I am truly forgiven

by Perfection

 

and that I’m known

for the dust that I am

 

Yet loved beyond reason

 

Forgiveness takes the weight

from the accused

 

and Your forgiveness, Jesus,

took that burden hard

and painfully

 

on Your flesh back

 

so that I

could be refreshed

 

with redemption

 

~ Susie Stewart

 

 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

– Acts 3:19,20 (NIV)

 

 

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will He harbor His anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on His children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed,
    He remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him,
    and His righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep His covenant
    and remember to obey His precepts.

– Psalm 103:7-18 (NIV)

 

Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, who grants us every spiritual blessing in these heavenly realms where we live in the Anointed—not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done for us. God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world; He wanted us to live holy lives characterized by love, free from sin, and blameless before Him.  He destined us to be adopted as His children through the covenant Jesus the Anointed inaugurated in His sacrificial life. This was His pleasure and His will for us.  Ultimately God is the one worthy of praise for showing us His grace; He is merciful and marvelous, freely giving us these gifts in His Beloved.  Visualize this: His blood freely flowing down the cross, setting us free! We are forgiven for our sinful ways by the richness of His grace, which He has poured all over us.

– Ephesians 1:3-8 (VOICE)

 

 

Photo by Nicole Stewart

 

 

More and More and More…

The MORE of You

is beyond

and infinitely above

my grasp

 

The MORE of what You can

and will do

is immeasurable

and unimaginable

 

The MORE of what I

don’t expect

or don’t ask

of You

is unbelievable

 

To YOU

my unfathomable

beyond

and more

God,

 

I commit myself

to imagine

and ask

and believe

MORE

 

even though it is not

a speck

of enough vision

of You

and Your ways

 

I lean in to witness

the power of You

in me

and outside of me

for Your Divine glory

 

and MORE

 

– Susie Stewart

 

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

– Ephesians 3:20,21 (NIV)

 

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

– Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.

– Ephesians 3:20,21 (AMP)

 

Photo by Susie Stewart

That Name

Love has a Name

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know Him if you don’t love. This is how God showed His love for us: God sent His only Son into the world so we might live through Him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.  ~ 1 John 4:8-10 (MSG)

It’s Jesus

 

 

Hope has a Name

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  ~ Romans 15:13 (NLT)

It’s Jesus

 

 

Joy has a Name

You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
    As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
    and I know true joy and contentment.  ~ Psalm 16:11 (VOICE)

It’s Jesus

 

 

Peace has a Name

And now, dear friends, may the Lord of peace Himself grace you with peace always and in everything. May the Lord be present with all of you.  ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:16 (VOICE)

It’s Jesus

 

 

Faithfulness has a Name

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.  ~ 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)

It’s Jesus

 

 

And at that Name,

above all names,

every knee will bow

 

So you should know this Name

 

or never truly know

love

hope

joy

peace

or faithfulness

 

~ Susie Stewart

 

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

– Galatians 5:22,23 (NLT)

 

So when His name is called, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and below.

– Philippians 2:10 (VOICE)

 

 

 

 

Happily Ever After

When you were young

did you dream

of your Happily Ever After?

 

Did you imagine your life

would look different

than the reality that has unfolded?

 

Your road has been

so much bumpier

than you wanted, hasn’t it?

 

And happily ever after

seems only a dream…

 

It is true

that in this life

you will have many troubles

 

You are a survivor

in a broken world

wrought with battles unseen

 

But, friend, your joy in between

is unmistakeable

 

For the beautiful parts of your life

are attributed to Him

who created that beauty

 

And you walk in His presence

in the midst of the turmoil

and the disappointment

 

You trust His promises

and you cling to His robe

for dear life

 

He is the Rock

the Fortress

the Shelter you need

 

And you know

without a shred of doubt

 

that your happily ever after

is coming

 

and it will be eternally yours

forever

and

ever

 

– Susie Stewart

 

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

– Ephesians 1:11-14 (MSG)

 

 It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, He saved us from all that. It was all His doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with Him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.

– Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

 

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have Him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

– 1 Peter 1:3-7 (MSG)

 

Photo by Susie Stewart

High Hopes

Having hope is good

 

Having hope in the Lord

is best

 

And we NEED

His hope

 

We need Him

 

Those who hope in Jesus

are renewed over and over

in their situation

 

Focus is re-established

when it starts to wane

 

And sights are set on things above

on sovereign God

 

not on earthly circumstances

 

For His strength,

mighty and unwavering,

is yours

 

And not only that

but You will soar high with Him

 

From the sky you are given a bird’s eye perspective,

an overall look

 

at each small slice

and circumstance

of life here

 

knowing this season

is woven with care

 

in the tapestry,

the landscape,

of your existence

 

Your hope

does not walk tired

 

And you may run

but it is not away from God

 

You run toward Him!

 

The Author and the Finisher

of your faith

 

The One who establishes

and solidifies

 

your hope

 

– Susie Stewart

 

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and His understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
– Hebrews 12;2 (KJV)
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
-Psalm 25:5 (NIV)

Completely

Crush me, God,

with Your love

 

Drown me

in Your grace

 

Break me

with Your goodness

 

Smother me

in Your joy

 

 

Push me

in Your strength

 

Suffocate me

with Your peace

 

Do all this

until I am completely overwhelmed

 

with You

 

– Susie Stewart

 

 

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.

– Isaiah 64:8 (VOICE)

 

Power belongs to You, God,
     and with You, Lord, is unfailing love.

– Psalm 62:11,12 (NIV)

 

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.

– Psalm 73:26 (NLT)

 

I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 
-Ephesians 3:16-21- (NLT)
Photo by Susie Stewart

 

 

Trial Perspective

You are right in the middle of it,

and it is painful

 

It hurts

and it pulls downward

 

Your trial threatens

your heart

your mind

your faith

 

But friend

look UP

 

Recognize what is happening

 

This time

this moment

this circumstance

 

God wants to use it!

 

Please don’t miss that

 

Your growth

your strengthening

your unexplainable peace

 

is yours for the taking

 

Don’t turn your back

on the One who blessed you

with easier times

 

He is close

 

And His Spirit-help is there

for those who turn their eyes to Him

 

HE

is your strength

is your peace

is your joy

 

IS the One who feels the deepest

about your situation

 

He is kind, you see

 

Walk with HIM

when you need Him most

 

and KNOW

God-strength

in the middle of it all

 

– Susie Stewart

 

In his kindness God called you to share in His eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation.

– 1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)

 

If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!

– Proverbs 24:10 (NIV)

 

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.  If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.

– James 1:2-5 (VOICE)

 

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.

– Romans 8:28 (VOICE)

 

You will keep the peace, a perfect peace, for all who trust in You,
        for those who dedicate their hearts and minds to You.
     So trust in the Eternal One forever,
        for He is like a great Rock—strong, stable, trustworthy, and lasting.

– Isaiah 26:3,4 (VOICE)

 

Photo by Susie Stewart