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)

They Can’t All Be Correct

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

My home group has been journeying through the book of Acts for almost three months. Tonight we’ll be discussing Paul’s final recorded journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest. Soon the narrative will draw to a close. I never fail to feel sad when I reach the end of a study. Even though Paul died many centuries ago, I’ll miss him.

Paul gets a hard time. People like to take what he wrote and what he was recorded as saying completely out of context. They spin his words for their own agendas. It frustrates me to no end to see the Bible abused this way. It is so, so important to take the time, to put in the effort, to consider and understand the context of a passage within the chapter, the book or letter or poem as a whole, the overarching salvation narrative and the historical timeline. This is the only way, guided by the Holy Spirit, to rightly handle the text.

Consider one of my favorite scenes from Acts:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

– Acts 17:16-31 (NKJV)

Yes, Paul had a temper. He was an intense guy. He was a very flawed human being, something he declared over and over again. He made mistakes. He knew exactly what sort of person he was and exactly from what God had saved him.

Yet there is nothing offensive in his sermon. He is respectful, learned and passionate. He speaks to his audience in terms they will readily understand. He seeks out whatever common ground he can find and builds on it. I imagine him as the sort of guy that would be willing to sit down with anyone who wanted to talk about faith and God, probably over a good kosher burger.

But he never says that their way is right.

He never says that the road they are on will lead them to salvation.

We would do well to emulate Paul in this way. He never compromised the message. He was not wishy-washy. He did not go into pagan temples and participate in idolatrous rights in order to “connect” with people. He did not preach some mushy, gushy, “all you need is love,” fake, flimsy gospel. He spoke and wrote the truth. It got him run out of towns, separated from friends, whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and eventually (according to tradition) beheaded.

I have no doubt that he stands today among that great and unseen cloud of witnesses and shouts, “It was worth it! The Lord is worth it!”

They can’t all be correct. We do the unbelieving world great disservice when we refuse to reveal the Unknown God to them. When we spout the political correctness of relativism. When we refuse to face reality. When we fall prey to inconsistencies of logic and cognitive dissonance.

There is One way, One truth and One life. Period.

Let us be moved. Not to disdain, superiority or prejudice. Not to unkindness or brutality. Let us be moved, as Paul was moved, to take the Light of Christ boldly into the dark. Let us allow the Lord to break our hearts for the lost, for those who grope about wildly for what He freely and openly offers. Let us be strong and committed. Let us declare truth.

For that is real love.

My journey to faith. (15)