Advent Day Eight:The Law of the Heart

“The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the LORD is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:14-20)

Moses delivered the commandments from Mount Sinai.  The Israelites spent forty years led by the pillars of fire and cloud, learning to live as people of God.  They witnessed the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of quail and Manna, and the issuing of water from a rock.  “He dwelt among them” and provided a prophet to reveal and interpret his will. 

When they came to the edge of Canaan, it would seem that they had sufficient time to mature and develop self-discipline.  But, just like middle school students who can quickly generate classroom rules for “others” to follow–knowing what to do and doing it are two different things.  Human impulses are strong, and the moment self-interest is threatened, or opportunities for advancement and power emerge, the rules are easily forgotten or “bent.”  Unless the “law” is written on the heart, compliance is unpredictable.

The promise of blessing or the threat of curse is never enough.  By the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees had made the law so complicated that ordinary Jews had difficulty pleasing God.  Jesus revealed the futility of self-righteousness by shining a light on attitudes and corrupted thoughts.  Adultery was a lustful thought, murder was anger, Sabbath laws were redefined.  It was impossible to reach God by keeping the law.  That was why he had to reach out to us.

 “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

“LORD, it is impossible to keep the law on our own.  We fall under the curse because of our own failings.  Thank you for reaching out to us when we were incapable of reaching out to you.  Write your law on our hearts and help us to love.”  Amen.

Mindi Oaten’s painting “Our Just Judge” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. Feathers represent the Holy Spirit.

Advent Day 7: Remember My Name

“I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites:  ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.’. . . I will be with you.  And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you:  When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:12, 14)

“Go tell it on the mountain.  Over the hills and everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

The mountain became a meeting place between God and humanity.  It was at the base of Mount Sinai that Moses saw the burning bush and received the call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land.  God identified himself as  Yahweh (YHWH)—“I AM”.  It signifies that he is eternal, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining.  The name was so holy that His people would not speak it.  When they encountered it in the written form, they pronounced it as LORD—Almighty God, (Adonai).  The Law and Prophets (Old Testament) use this 6,828 times. 

It was on this mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments, and Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John just before his crucifixion.  In a moment of revelation, the disciples stepped into the spiritual realm and saw Jesus, not merely as their earthly rabbi, but as the great “I AM”.   As he conversed with Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophet), God confirmed him as the promised Messiah.  The voice in the burning bush had become man.  “We beheld his glory.  The glory as of the only begotten of the Father.  Full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  It is significant that John wrote this prologue—after all, he was an eyewitness to the revelation on the mountain.  The Prophet Nahum proclaimed: “Look! On the mountains the feet of one who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!” (Nahum 1:15)

Without the link between YWHW and Jesus, Christmas is just a children’s story.  It has no meaning or effect.  But taken as God in flesh among us, it becomes the greatest event in human history.  Just think!  God lived here!

“LORD, it is beyond comprehension that you would love the world so much that you took on flesh and visited us.  Thank you for this amazing gift.”  Amen.

Mindi Oaten’s paintings “Our Living Hope” and “Master of Truth” are from God’s Garden of Grace collection.

Advent Day Six: Crossing the Red Sea

“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.  The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”  (Exodus 15:1-2).

There are events that change the course of history.  Time has been divided into B.C. and A.D. because of the birth of Jesus.  Regardless of nation, faith or politics, we all live in 2020. 

For the Jews, the exodus out of Egypt is just as significant.  It was the birth of the nation.  The crossing of the Red Sea is mentioned 87 times in scripture.  It is used as a rallying cry for God’s people when they are facing insurmountable odds. 

To be released from captivity only to be trapped against the Red Sea must have been terrifying.  They couldn’t swim across, there were too many of them to take a boat, and they couldn’t turn back.  The Egyptians were in hot pursuit. 

Moses was instructed to stretch out his hand over the sea and the waters parted, giving a temporary dry path for over a million people to cross.  They were instructed to take twelve rocks from the bottom of the sea to the other side. 

Jesus showed his divinity when he spoke a word and calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the sea. “Silence!He commanded. “Be still!” And the wind died down, and it was perfectly calm. “Why are you so afraid?” He asked the disciples. “Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40) .

When the Israelites were safely through the waters, they built an altar from the 12 stones they had gathered as a reminder of God’s act of deliverance.  For Christians, the cross is our symbol of remembrance.  The angels proclaimed: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). 

“Holy God, we cannot rescue ourselves from death.  You alone have the power to take us through those waters.  Keeping the cross before us, we rely on your promise to lead us to the other side.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Commander” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection.

Advent Day Five: The Egypt Effect

Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid, I will provide for you and your children.” (Genesis 50:19-21)

God can be at work in our greatest tragedies.  These defining moments get our attention and cause us to realign our priorities.  People of faith look for the deeper meaning.  Sometimes the explanation is never found this side of heaven, but often, when we look back, God’s involvement is evident.

Joseph spent decades in Egypt, having been sold by his brothers into slavery. To an outsider, it may have seemed like he had been abandoned,  yet his captivity proved to be the means by which  the children of Israel were saved from starvation and annihilation.  God blessed Joseph and raised him to prominence in Pharaoh’s court, placing him charge of filling the granaries with wheat in the time of abundance.  Because Joseph was in the right place at the right time,  provisions were available for his family during the famine.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to hide Jesus from Herod after the visitation of the wisemen.  Following the pattern of his ancestors, he was called out of Egypt, back to Israel at just the right time.  There he grew up safely in Nazareth as God prepared him for his epic mission. 

If you are in a situation that seems far from perfect, be certain that God can use circumstances to further his plan.  “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. “ (Romans 8:28).  Wisdom teaches us not to second guess the providence of God—in his time it will all make sense.

“Lord, I don’t always see you the circumstances of my life.  Rather than panicing and trying to figure it out, help me to trust in your guidance.  Give me patience to persevere, knowing that you are working out your own good purpose.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “Our Instruction and Wisdom”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection.

Advent Day Four: The Prodigal

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.  And they wept. . . Jacob said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.  For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” (Genesis 33:4, 10)

The story of the prodigal son is a picture of God’s unconditional love.  It offers comfort not only to the repentant, but also to those waiting for their loved ones to return.  The original prodigal was Jacob.

As a young man, he had tricked his brother Esau into giving away both his birthright and the blessing of the first born.  The rift caused by this deception forced Jacob to flee the country.  Years later, when life in his father-in-law’s home became intolerable, Jacob was faced with a decision:  Do I stay here or return home to Canaan? He wrestled with God before plotting his return.  He hoped to win his brother’s favor with gifts.  But Esau met his brother with open arms, choosing reconciliation over retribution.  The prodigal had returned.

From the moment Adam and Eve walked away from God, he began planning the reunion.  But rather than waiting for the sinner to return, God took the initiative, offering himself as the gift:

 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is thirsty come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)

Alienation from God has never been his choice; it is ours.  Advent is a reminder that “God so loved the world” that he came. . .   pursuing us as a grieving father searching for his child.  The light of the Christmas star is God’s invitation to come back to him.  The throne room of heaven has become a barn.  Nobles are exchanged for shepherds.  Sinners are transformed into saints.

“Lord, we have an ache that reminds us when we are far from home.  Open our eyes and ears to your grace so freely extended in the manger.  Let this be a time of reconciliation and forgiveness.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “Brings down the Proud” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. Two flowers from one bulb represent Jacob and Esau.

Advent Day Three: The Test

The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”  And he said, “Here I am.”  He Said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:11-12)

Sometimes life goes sideways: family problems, financial challenges, career setbacks, natural disasters, or health scares can derail five-year plans in an instant.  This is particularly upsetting when you are trusting the LORD to lead.  We’re tempted to say, “God what did I do wrong?”, even though we know that he takes no pleasure in our pain. 

Abraham must have felt this way when the angel of the Lord told him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering.  Child sacrifice was a common practice in pagan worship; but the living God was supposed to be different.  When Isaac asked, “Where’s the sacrifice?” his father responded, “The Lord will provide.”  This was not only a test of Abraham’s faith, but also of God’s love. 

Taking risks when there is no safety net may seem foolish, but in our vulnerability, we are open to God’s intervention.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.” Abraham’s willingness to lay it all on the altar made him a friend of God, who was prepared to give his only son as a sacrifice for the whole world.  When we see the babe in the manager, it’s easy to forget that it was the moment of no return.  Just as Abraham began the ascent of Mount Moriah with Isaac, Jesus begins the ascent to Mount Calvary with the annunciation of his birth to Mary.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

 “When life brings us to the edge, Lord, you are there. None of the sacrifices we make can compare with the offering you made of your only son on our behalf.  The God of the universe became one with us in the incarnation.  Thank you for being our substitute.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Anointed Deliverer”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection.  Hyssop was used to apply the blood to the doorpost at Passover.  Oil represents the Holy Spirit.

Advent Day Two: The Covenant

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”(Genesis 12:1-3)

Trusting God is an act of faith.  Believing that he loves you and has a purpose for your life is often lost in the anxiety and disappointment of daily living.  In those moments, it’s good to reflect on words of encouragement you received in the past.  Though your path may deviate from your original goal, people of faith know that God can transform even our worse mistakes into opportunities for grace.

God called Abram as a young man out of Ur of the Chaldees.  Along the way he married Sarai, cared for his herds, and became a wealthy man.  But God wanted to establish a covenant with Abram that would ultimately prepare the way for Jesus.  It seemed implausible that a childless man would become the father of many nations, or a wandering nomad could establish a permanent home, but the promise was guaranteed.

Needing to help God along, he fathered Ishmael through a surrogate, and lied about his wife so he could live in Egypt during a time of famine.  Where was God in all these missteps?  Waiting for Abram to trust him.

In his time, God gave Abraham and Sarah one son—Isaac.  From him came Esau and Jacob, and through Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel.  The king of Egypt released Sarai and sent them back to Canaan.  There they remained until the time of Joseph, when God preserved his people for four hundred years in Egypt.

Through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ was born many centuries later.  God takes the long view.  Where does he want to take you?

“Oh Lord, we forget that you have a purpose for our lives in the midst of daily living.  We confess that we often fall short of your plan.  Realign our priorities and set right our missteps during Advent so that we can receive your blessings.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Shepherd Who Reigns” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The flowers are Star of Bethlehem.

Advent Day One: The Opening Act

 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9)

Advent began in the garden of Eden with God’s beloved, Adam and Eve.  Imagine his delight in creating the universe in a moment, with the breath of his Word and the dance of the Spirit.  The fireworks of light were the artist’s palette that he swirled into stars and planets.  Time stood still as he crafted a home for his creatures amidst a feast of colour, sound, taste, scent and touch.   From the beginning he had you in mind; like a bridegroom preparing for his bride.  But it all went terribly wrong when we exchanged our innocence for sovereignty, testing the limits of his love.  No longer able to see his face or walk with him in the garden, humanity began a tragic alienation that corrupted the earth and replaced the divine center with self-interest. 

Yet a seed remains of the original beauty, truth and goodness, reminding us that we were created for so much more.  We pause in those moments of transcendent joy, to feel God’s presence and wait for his return.  Thus begins our advent journey.

“Oh Lord, we give you thanks for the beauty we see in creation.  Your love is evident in the natural world and in the relationships we hold most dear.  Prepare our hearts for your coming during this time of advent. Walk with us as we ponder the changes in our life this past year.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Promised Seed”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The apple represents sin and the seed is Jesus.  The flowers are God’s grace.

Advent – Monday Day 2

By Elaine Knudtson

“O Come to the Altar” (sung by Elevation Worship)

come fred morgan
“Come Unto Me” by Fred Morgan

Prepare to Receive

We prepare to receive Christ through self-examination and confession.  We are invited in today’s scripture to “come now, let us settle the matter.”  To activate His presence in our lives, we must be willing to let Him cleanse and forgive.

The Invitation

Dear Lord, I confess that it is difficult to let you examine my heart and show me where I need to let go of sin and negative attitudes and fears.  It is easier to hide them from you and myself.  Give me the courage to be open and give you time to do your work.


18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;


Part of preparation for Christmas is cleaning the house, decorating, and baking.  Traditions are passed on from generation to generation in families and we add layers of expectations each year as we seek to create those perfect moments for our loved ones.  There is inertia that takes hold and we may dread getting started because we remember the amount of work involved in getting ready.  However, once we start, the momentum carries you forward and before you know it, you’re into the rhythm of the season.

The same principle applies to “settling the matter” with God.  We have a nagging awareness that we are lacking something in our spiritual diet.  We can ignore it, hide it, put it off, pretend it doesn’t need to be dealt with, but we know it won’t go away on its own.  We cannot forgive ourselves.  Jesus waits for us to “come.”

Points to Ponder

  • What would I hear Christ say to me if I gave Him a moment to reveal my sins and weaknesses?
  • How would it feel to be freed from those burdens?
  • What is my first step in preparing to receive?


We give thanks to you, O Lord, for waiting patiently for us to turn to you with our sins.  As we prepare for your coming, help us to make time to be open to your spirit.  Thank you that you are eager to forgive and cleanse us.