True Peace


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
–John 3:16-19

The passage above, or at least the first verse, is without a doubt the most recognizable scripture in the New Testament. Today, as advent comes to a close, I pray that the Holy Spirit will allow us all to read these verses with fresh eyes.

As I discussed yesterday, we were all born into a battle that is waging inside of us and around us. We all need peace in one way or another, whether it’s in our minds, our bodies, our spirits, or our relationships. And we can only achieve real peace because Jesus came.

Let’s re-read the passage above, this time analyzing it as a description of the moment our battles changed forever. As we see in this verse, darkness is in the world and we all have the freedom to choose it. But in His deep love, God brought light to us in the form of Jesus. Holy light. Self-sacrificing light. Powerful light. Jesus’s birth forever changes our story if we simply believe in Him.

I had the privilege of ministering in Brazil last week alongside a group of hungry souls from around the world. While I was there, I saw a lot of darkness and I saw light’s powerful response. The first person I prayed for was a sweet little girl named Sophia. Through a translator, she asked for prayer for her thoughts. Her face said more. She was in a battle — fear, anxiety, heaviness, and grief, all had a tight grip on her. I invited Jesus to come. And He came. I asked for peace. And He gave it. I commanded every bad thought to leave. And they left. After that brief moment of prayer, Sophia’s whole demeanor changed. She came back two nights later to thank me and pray the sweetest, most heart-felt prayer over me. I can’t help but weep at God’s goodness when I think about her massive smile and bright eyes because they are testaments to the tender, life-changing love of Jesus.

See, true peace came in a person over 2000 years ago. And true peace can come to you in that same way today. Whatever battle you are experiencing, invite our loving savior into it:

“Lord Jesus, Thank you for coming into this world to enter into our battles. Please come and enter into my battle right now. I reject the works of darkness in my life and I welcome your light. I welcome your peace. Let me experience your true peace — in my spirit, in my mind, in my body, and in my relationships. Amen.” 

By Luke Zipp 

Advent, Week 4: Peace

Dancing-in-the-streets Joy


“You reveal the path of life to me;
In your presence is abundant joy;
At your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
–Psalm 16:11

The first milestone I remember of my oldest son, Jack, was when he was 4 months old. He was “swimming in his ocean” on a beach-themed play mat and grabbed ahold of a plastic ring hanging above his head. He had no idea he accomplished this (his brain couldn’t communicate yet with his fingers), but his palmar grasp reflex worked for the first time and I was over the moon.

Have you ever thought about how once upon a time, you too were a tiny human who had to literally learn everything from scratch? Like, it took Jack another 3 months after that to realize that the same fingers that could hold onto a plastic ring could also be used to pick up Cheerios; and eventually, he realized he could get those fingers to his mouth and actually eat the Cheerios. It’s just so fun to watch.

Jack is now 5 and we’ve shifted from teaching him basic motor skills to something far more difficult — how to feel. And to be honest, at 32, I’m no expert. I’m still learning how to recognize certain feelings, name them, know where they come from, how they affect me, and how to avoid allowing them to become a master.

Joy falls into the category of something I thought was a feeling that I just didn’t have. I’m not an overly expressive person by nature, so stories like King David dancing in the streets overflowing with joy never felt possible (or comfortable) for me.

But gosh, when it finally clicked that joy does not equal happiness, my heart changed. Joy is deeper than happy, more robust. It’s more than a fleeting moment of pleasure. Joy is something that’s rooted in our soul, a direct gift from the Holy Spirit. This was David’s kind of dancing-in-the-streets-joy and something I’ve had all along too.

And while it’s a gift from our Father, we won’t recognize joy in our lives if our hearts and minds aren’t open to receive it. Joy operates like much of what He gives us — it’s there for the taking, but we have to ask for it and cultivate it and grow in it. It’s a choice and a mental discipline, and why disciples like Paul had to remind the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” even in their times of hardship.

Because sometimes rejoicing is hard. Life is hard. Family is hard. Holidays can be hard. If we haven’t cultivated our gift of joy, if we haven’t chosen joy as a tool in our toolbelt, we will collapse under the weight of it all.

From prison, Paul writes:

“I have learned the secret of being content–whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:12-13

Nehemiah, the Old Testament leader, reminds his people:

 “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” –Nehemiah 8:10

We’re starting now to help Jack and his siblings know what joy is and how to recognize, acknowledge, and pursue it in their little lives. God loves them, Jesus died for them, and on that they can rest and live out a life discovering and sharing peace, love, and joy.

God, open our eyes to see the work you’re doing in our lives and in our hearts. Help us choose to actively seek the gifts you’ve given us through your Son and Holy Spirit. Thank you for the gift of joy that comes from knowing you.

By Katie White

Overflowing Joy


“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” –John 15:10-12

Loving each other brings joy, overflowing joy.  We all intuitively know it. So, we seek love our whole lives. But, often, what we seek is an inaccurate idea of love — which may explain the popularity of Hallmark Christmas movies. They’re predictable. The tree lighting, the cookie baking, the snow, the saving of the family business. They all neatly happen as expected, and so does love. In two hours, misunderstandings are cleared up, forgiveness is given, and a kiss is shared.

The problem is real life isn’t like that. Love is messy and unpredictable. Misunderstandings linger, forgiveness is withheld, and a kiss doesn’t always mean what we think it does. And so, joy eludes us.

Jesus knows this. His statements aren’t pie in the sky wishes. He doesn’t say to love as a Hallmark movie does but as he loves. How is that? He set aside his position and his glory to become an infant. He stepped into our mess in vulnerability, quietly growing in love. He walked among the crowds, clearing up misunderstandings about his Father, offering forgiveness, and even accepting a kiss of betrayal.

This is where true joy comes from — a messy, in the trenches love, a die to self but overflowing joy kind of love. But we won’t find it on our own; this joy is divine. It can only come from the Father as the Spirit fills us.

This Advent, as we walk among the crowds, let’s ask the Father to help us be vulnerable and step into the mess. Let’s seek to clear up misunderstandings, offer forgiveness, and give a holy kiss. Let’s love others the way that Jesus loves us. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find that true joy begins to bubble up and even overflow in our own souls.

By, Beth McDonald

Unbounding Joy


“My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus!” –Philippians 3:1

What a seemingly strange exhortation from Paul. “Don’t limit your joy!” Why would anyone limit their joy? Especially at Christmas.

And yet, we do. We often give into the what ifs, hedge our bets, and wait for the other shoe to drop. Why? Why can’t we enter into the moment and fully engage in joy?

Dr. Brene Brown says that “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

Joy. True joy makes us feel open and vulnerable, and fear slides into the seat right next to it. If we allow ourselves to enter into the joy, we can be exposed to the hurt. To its end. Because we all know that the joy will end. Obviously, it can’t last.

And yet, Paul tells us not to limit our joy. He wrote this letter from prison, facing what could have been imminent execution, so if anyone had reason to reset expectations, he did.

And yet, he didn’t. How? He lived in gratitude. Gratitude for the experience of knowing Jesus. Gratitude for a joy based in an eternal relationship that will never end. Gratitude for an incarnate God who arrives in the night. Who slips in beside us, always loving us, always with us.

This Advent, let’s not limit our joy. Let’s look for the coming of Jesus in our lives and give thanks. In the lonely moments of long, dark nights, in the big moments of angels singing, and in the small moments of a baby sleeping, this Advent, let’s rejoice.

By, Beth McDonald

Finding Your Star


When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” –Matthew 2:10-11

Since the beginning of our existence, man has been fascinated by stars. We’ve used them to find our way, wished upon them, and romanticized them in songs and literature. Beautiful and mysterious, we can never visit them in person, but they are powerful enough for us to see their light from millions of miles away.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Star of Bethlehem was the catalyst that ignited the nativity story. The magi, essentially astronomer-priests, saw a shining anomaly in the sky and realized it related to Jewish prophetic scripture. The star gave them purpose, a reason for a great pilgrimage (both physically and metaphorically) for the truth. Joy (actually “overjoy”) was experienced because everything fell into place, the prophecy was proven true, and the magi were able to worship the newborn king. Biblically, joy can be defined by an overwhelming sense of well-being in all circumstances. Both the provision of God as well as the obedience of the magi were required for this feeling to be created. Joy, then, was born out of a two-fold process: an act of God giving direction and man following through with His plan.

As told by the prophet, Jeremiah, we, as Christians, each have a divine plan for our lives:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” –Jeremiah 29:11.

Thus, to truly experience joy, we need to follow what God is telling us about ourselves. We all know the nativity story is about God’s plan of hope for the world with the birth of his son, Jesus. However, coming with Jesus’s arrival, was a new-found role for us to play. We, and not Jesus alone, are actors in this mission. Jesus himself asserts our active role during the Last Supper, before promising the Holy Spirit:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” –John 14:12.

So, how do we live or best lives? How do we achieve joy? In essence, to live for God’s Kingdom is to have a purpose and to have a purpose for God is to achieve joy. We all have different gifts and abilities (spiritual or otherwise) granted by God that can further His kingdom. Being attuned to what inspires us and what we are passionate about often connects seamlessly with what God has designed us for. It could be a heart for the poor and needy, for human trafficking in Baltimore, for the unborn, or for the unsaved in foreign lands. It could be artistic or athletic talent that creates a platform or means of expression for us. It could be an uncanny ability to communicate with others, a sense of humor, or leadership skills.

We all have something that God designed for us that draws us, calling us from afar for a distinct purpose, something shining in the distance. Our own star.

This holiday season and in the years to come, seek that star and you will find your joy.

By Mark Zipp

Advent, Week 3: Joy

Love Poured Out


See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. —1 John 3:1-2

My children have taught me so much about what it means to love even when it is seemingly impossible. Not that my kids are hard to love — but green snotty noses and ear-piercing tantrums certainly are. It’s been eye-opening to see how even when these “unlovable” attributes or behaviors present themselves, we have a God-given capacity to reach down deep in our reserves and respond in love, even if it’s not necessarily aligned with what we’re feeling inside.

It has also opened my eyes to what God must feel for us and how, even that, is only a mere glimpse into the reserves of love he has. His capacity for love far outshines ours; his ability to shower us with love far outweighs anything we could humanly muster. He doesn’t just love us through it or despite it, he actually loves us even when we are behaving in very unlovable ways.

We understand love in human terms, with human conditions and limitations and understanding. But love on God’s terms? Inconceivable. His “great love lavished on us” may not look the way we thought it would and his ways of loving are sometimes the opposite of what we hoped for, but it is a father’s love, nonetheless. It means he wipes our snotty noses and soothes our tantrums and sees past the mess and ugliness, straight into the heart of who we are—his children, loved and accepted, truly known and always cherished. And he does it so well, so flawlessly. Unlike me, God doesn’t have to apologize for his failures or his impatience or his inability to respond in love. He’s the parent we all wish we had had, and we all wish we could be.

And man, do I want to love like that… I want to imitate God in all the ways that matter, just as I want my children to imitate me in the areas of life where my faith directs my path. I want them to love God and others the way I try to; I want them to love their children well, in the ways that I hope to love them well.

Then it hits me that if that’s what I hope for my children, can we only imagine the height of God’s hopes for us as a father? How he watches us and says, “I hope my love for you shapes and guides the way you love as well!”? How God looks at us and says, “I hope my love lavished on you has changed you for the better!” the same way we hope for our children?

I want to be like him and love like him, in the same ways that I want my children to be like me and love like me because they know who is guiding my hand every step of the way.  I want them to resemble me as I grow in my resemblance of him. I hope they recognize through me that as we grow in our capacity to love, we take minuscule steps in becoming more and more like him. May we all accept, and then in turn model, God’s great love that’s poured out on us.

By Kara Cousino

A Greater Love


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
–Galatians 2:20

The pain of love can be so complicated. Some other pillars of our Christian faith inherently feel good — joy feels good, inner peace feels good. But love? Love often comes with layers of pain, the sweetness of it intertwined with the hurt. The things we do in love can feel like our heart is being ripped out…watching our children spread their wings and fly, a hero who lays down her life for another, releasing a loved one when their time has come to say goodbye.

Loving is sometimes agony.

Like driving a stake into your heart.

Or more accurately, like driving two nails straight through your wrists.

Christ’s love did not come without pain. Our earthly version of love that’s characterized by warm fuzzies and intoxicating happiness is a narrow view and it doesn’t tell the whole story. We assume people who love are “happy to” do what they do out of love; but Christ was not happy to die on the cross, he was simply willing to. Scripture doesn’t say he did it with a smile on his face, it says he did it in love despite the agony, the despair, the bloodstained sweat and tears.

Love — at least, Christ-like love — is something we can still learn so much about. Loving like Christ means going beyond the warmth and giddiness and ease, and being willing to walk straight into the pain. If we believe in the love that Christ gave, the kind that took his life and then asked us to follow in his footsteps, then we’ve got to be prepared for when our love — for Christ and others — comes with some pain, some loss, some sacrifice. It may hurt at times to love this way, but we do it for love, in love, and with love: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. It may not always feel as good as joy and peace and hope, but living love out loud is a vital part of our call to the cross.

He died out of love for us, and we die to ourselves out of love for him. This reciprocal and sacrificial call to love is the greatest gift we have to offer, and as we focus on how to truly love others and God well this Advent season, I hope we are challenged to embrace the ways that we, too, get to die to self and love as Christ did. May God open our eyes to the people and opportunities that are right in front of us this Christmas season!

By Kara Cousino

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