An Advent Journey


Gentle Reader,

Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four weeks leading up to the Christmas celebration. This is my favorite time of year. I love pausing to dwell again on the miracle of the Incarnation. I love the music, the lights, the cold weather, the ugly sweaters. I love shopping for gifts. I love filling my husband’s stocking. I love watching the kid’s program at church. The pint-sized actors are always distracted by itchy dresses and tight bowties.

It’s the best.

Last year I spent the month of December in the hospital and then confined to a chair as I recovered from surgery. Depressing. This year I’m determined to wring every ounce of joy out of every day. A new Advent devotional, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Ashteriah Ciuciu, will play a large role in that pursuit.

Ashertiah and I connected through Five Minute Friday. Her words have always blessed and encouraged me, so when she invited me to read and review her new book, I was only too happy to do so.

From my Amazon review:

Far more than an Advent devotional, the reflections on the names and titles of God are useful in worship year-round. I appreciate how Asheritah connects the Christmas story with the rest of the salvation narrative; Jesus began His Incarnation as a baby, but He did not remain one. A special favorite of mine is the section dwelling on Jesus as our Great High Priest. How blessed we are that He chose to come here and offer Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf!

The book is set up in an easy-to-follow fashion. Asheritah provides a “how to” introduction for using the four main chapters (plus a bonus fifth). Designed to follow the weeks of Advent, the chapters open with a family participation guide, filled with Scripture passages to read as that week’s candle is lit, questions to discuss and Christmas songs to sing. (Parents can tailor the observance to the age and maturity of their little ones). The individual reflections within the chapters end with a challenge, a prayer and notes for further study. Each week is concluded with suggestions for activities to put the lessons into practice; again, these can be tailored to the abilities of children in the family.

Having not grown up celebrating Advent, I have been at a loss as an adult as to how to observe the days leading up to Christmas. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed both the worshipful and practical aspects of this book. Asheritah encourages us to pause and reflect on the meaning of the season while gently reminding us that our reflections should lead to action. A truly wonderful resource!

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is available in electronic and paperback formats here. You won’t regret the purchase!

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Dwell

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

Got to enjoy some time chatting with my fellow writers, but I confess to being distracted.

I’m worried that I’m going to forget underwear.

Headed out for a ladies retreat tomorrow evening. I’ve packed my clothes. Checked more than once to make sure that the underwear is present and accounted for. It’s right where I left it.


Kate asks us to: dwell.


“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.'”

– Psalm 91:1-2 (NKJV)

Dwell is defined as, “to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; to live or continue in a given condition or state; to linger over, emphasize, or ponder in thought, speech, or writing.”

Live. Stay. Emphasize. Ponder. Linger.

In the secret place.

One of my favorite hymns is Rock of Ages. Often when I’m feeling anxious, snippets of lyrics float to the forefront of my mind. Let me hide myself in Thee. Helpless, look to Thee for grace. Wash me, Savior, or I die.

God invites us to dwell in Him. Not just with Him. In Him. Tucked safely in His lap, our ears pressed against His chest so that gradually all sound but that of His lion’s heart fade away. The tears run from flood to trickle. Breaths, staggered and shallow at first, turn slow and deep. The knots in our souls unwind, untangle.

God dwells in us (John 15:4). The moment of salvation finds Him taking up residence. The King comes to sit upon His rightful throne. He promises that we will never again be alone. Never without resources. Never without a defender. Never without guidance.

This reality stabs me with the peculiar ache that arises from the inexplicable gentleness with which He convicts and disciplines those within whom He dwells. Paul David Tripp says it best – when we willfully sin, it’s not because we don’t know it’s wrong. It’s because we don’t care.

God, His Holy Spirit, dwells within me. Earth-shaking. Paradigm-shifting.

And yet still I rebel.

Tender, how tender, is His voice. He does not sugarcoat. Nor does He attack. He simply tells it like it is. Me, the wayward sheep. Me, the cranky child. God, the Lord of all.

Let me hide myself in Thee.


My journey to faith. (15)

Get Low

Along the Way @

I originally wrote this post for the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog, where it was scheduled to appear on June 29, 2015. Unfortunately, there appears to be some sort of problem with the blog; the last published article is dated June 25, 2015. At this point I have no idea what is happening, though I pray that whatever issues have arisen will be resolved quickly.

Gentle Reader,

A few weeks ago the Holy Spirit drew me to the Book of Ezra. (I knew it was the Spirit because, well, it’s Ezra. I’m honest enough to say that this Old Testament book hasn’t been on the top of my “must read” list). As I continue to live with chronic health problems, I’m learning more and more that when God places a Scripture on my heart, it’s a time to drop everything and get alone with Him and my Bible. He never fails to bring me the exact word of encouragement or conviction that I need for that moment.

He also never fails to surprise me.

Ezra comes onto the ancient timeline at a critical point. The Jewish exiles in Babylon have been released to return to Jerusalem by the decree of Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4). The king commands the people to give those who choose to travel home whatever they need, whether it’s gold or silver or livestock. He also returns all the precious articles of the Temple, the ones that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen (1:7-11).

Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (probably another name for Zerubbabel), they set out.

Utter destruction and chaos await them.

The saga is told across Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. We get an intimate peek into this part of history though letters to kings, narratives about opposition and bravery (Ezra 3:3 is a great example of this), descriptions of construction, and encouragement from God through His prophets. The colors splash across the four books to form a beautiful and unique portrait of a humbled people, a people who strive to work together and restore their city.

There are many things that could easily grab my attention in the story of Ezra, but my soul is arrested by a single word.


Beginning in Ezra 2:43, the names of the Nethinim, the “given ones,” are listed. They were a distinct group of men whose lives were given over to service in the Temple. Their focus was on the behind-the-scenes, often laborious tasks that kept the Temple functioning and enabled the priests to perform their duties. This term and office first applied to the Levites who were not of the line of Aaron, but eventually non-Jewish captives, taken in conquest and given to the Levites, came to fill this role.

Okay, did you catch that?


This grips me. God specifically chose the people of Israel to be His nation, and part of their task was to be a light to the world (the origins of this are found all the way back in Genesis 12:1-3). They were not to bar anyone who sought God from joining their company (Exodus 12:48-49). These captives, these non-Jewish men, got an up-close-and-personal view of what it meant to worship the Lord. They knew how the Temple worked. No doubt they asked questions and learned about what it all meant. Along the way, they came to embrace the true God (Nehemiah 10:28).

Centuries before Christ and long before Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, we see God reaching out to gather to Himself all who would follow Him. We see the truth that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a). No caveats about ethnicity, class, gender or any other kind of background.

Yet this is not all that causes me to dwell on this single word.

The Nethinim were not the superstars. They weren’t the ones leading worship. They didn’t get to bless the people. They were the support team. In our terms, they were the ones who cleaned the toilets and kept the chairs in good repair. They mopped floors, fixed windows, repaired broken doors. They unclogged stinking toilets and made runs to the trash heap. They had the dirty jobs.

They lived out the words of the psalmist, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). 

Does this encourage you? I hope it does! The Temple system would not have worked without the Nethinim. Neither can our churches, the Body of Christ around the world, work without those who do the thankless tasks. There really isn’t any such thing as a non-vital role.

Ah, but there’s more!

In learning about the Nethinim, it occurred to me that these men understood what it meant to be humble. You can’t exactly be scrubbing floors all day and have your nose in the air. They never knew what it was to receive the applause. Yet I doubt that they were self-loathing. We tend to assume that humility means just that, hating oneself, but it doesn’t. Humility is acknowledging and accepting reality. It is to have a correct estimation of self and abilities. For a Christian, humility extends to accepting the relation of self to God and knowing that He is King.

One of the Greek New Testament words for humility is tapeinos, a terms that carries within its definition the phrase “not rising far from the ground.” This is what the Nethinim experienced on a daily basis both in a literal and a figurative sense. Their jobs brought them low. They spent time cleaning and scrubbing and serving, all for the Lord.

Tapienos is a term used in descriptions of Christ.

Let that settle on you.

Christ got low.

All of this comes together in one simple sentence: I must get low. We see this in Scripture time and time again; God is always higher, always the ruler. “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must serve as the Nethinim served, content to do whatever job is placed before us, seeing it as a way of worshiping and serving the Lord. We can know that He honors whatever is done in wholehearted obedience to His command.

If you are like me, a modern-day Nethinim who doesn’t have the spotlight, I encourage you to revel in your status. You have been chosen for the tough jobs, the jobs that God alone sees – and that is special. That is honorable. Whatever your hand finds to do in service to Him and others, do it with joy. Know that He smiles upon your efforts.

Do it with a heart of worship. Do it out of a desire to praise the King.

Do it because you are a “given one,” consecrated and set apart to His service.

For this is not about our glory or gain. It’s all about Him.

My journey to faith. (15)