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The Best Gift Ever

The best Christmas present I received this year wasn’t one wrapped with pretty paper and a matching bow and found under the tree on Christmas morning. It wasn’t even one found in a decorative bag handed out at the office or given by a friend. The best present was one I received early Christmas Eve morning from the Lord Himself, as I studied the scriptures for that day.

That morning I followed the Spirit — starting at the first chapter of Luke with the announcement of the birth of John, on to the Mount of Transfiguration, then to the Mount of The Beatitudes and ending at the Cross. It was quite a journey, but it was also quite a gift.

In the first chapter of Luke, we are told that John will come in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah wasn’t just a prophet; he was the prophet noted for praying it would not rain, and it didn’t rain for three and a half years. He then prayed for rain and the sky poured forth. He was the prophet who turned the hearts of the Israelites back to God after challenging the prophets of Baal to a showdown between their god and his. Elijah was bold and prayerful, honest in his fears, and listened with a finely tuned ear to the voice of the Lord. He was one of two individuals mentioned in the Old Testament who never died, but was taken straight to heaven.

Focusing on John’s comparison to Elijah, the Lord brought to mind Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, so I followed the Spirit there. Whenever I read this passage in Mark, I am usually taken by the fact that Peter, not knowing what to do or say as he suddenly sees Jesus standing on the Mount with Moses and Elijah, offers to build three shrines as if they were all staying. For some reason Peter always wants to offer an answer before a question is even asked.

But that day, what struck me most wasn’t what Peter and the others saw, it was what they didn’t see. After God proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus only. One moment there were three of them: Moses, the giver of the Law; Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of the old scriptures; and Jesus, all standing together in community. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was just Jesus.

In the past, I have not given much thought to their departure as I always focused on their presence and Peter wanting to build shrines. But that morning, I keyed in on these words “no one with them anymore, except Jesus only.”  Except Jesus only. That phrase kept replaying in my mind, and suddenly I realized, it was as if God was showing them in the past the Law and the words of the Prophets were of prime importance. But now the time had come to listen and fully heed what Jesus says, Jesus only.

From there I felt drawn to Jesus’ words about the Law on the Mount of The Beatitudes, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Jesus was telling his followers He wasn’t coming to overthrow the Law or the words of the Prophets. Instead, if we look up the word fulfill, what Jesus was really saying is that He was coming to complete the Law and the words of the Prophets. In thinking about the fact that His mission was to complete the Law and to complete something means to finish it, suddenly the next phrase that crossed my mind was Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished.”

“It is finished.” I had never given much thought before to what “It” was or is. Was it His work? Yes. Was it His life? Yes, that too. But what if He was referring to the specific task assigned to Him, to fulfill the Law and the words of the Prophets? What if for a moment, we view it from that perspective? Maybe when He said, “It is finished,” He meant the time of the Law and the words of the Prophets in being a governing force has ended. Moses and Elijah are no longer on the Mount. Just Jesus only, with the Father instructing His disciples to “Listen to Him!”

What God gave me that morning was a vision for Jesus’ mission: the importance of His work in bringing the Law and the words of the Prophets to completion before ushering in His new and indwelling presence into the lives of His disciples. Then there would be no question as to whom they should listen to. “This is my Beloved Son,” He told them, “Listen to Him!” Jesus understood His task, the Father confirmed it, and He brought it to completion before putting in place A New Way of living in direct relationship with the Father.

Many of us don’t understand the importance of completing one initiative before starting another, but Jesus did. And I am eternally grateful. There is no confusion about who to follow. It’s always Jesus. Jesus only.

What a beautiful gift I received this Christmas.

Katie Harding serves as Associate Director of NorthStar Church Network and Founder/Director of NorthStar Women's Network.

Posted by Katie Harding with

An Advent Devotion: The God Who Sees

“What do you want me to know?” I asked.

I recently attended a conference with many other NorthStar women. One morning before breakfast, I sat on the edge of my bed in prayer and asked, “Father, what do you want me to know?” After a short time of complete stillness, He lovingly answered with, “I see you.” 

It was the first time the Lord ever said those words to me, but it was not to be the last. Throughout that day, God confirmed His word as various speakers made some type of reference to God seeing us. It was crazy! As I shared those words with a few friends, they continued to confirm the message as they heard it throughout the day, as well.  

Those three words, “I see you,” have been permeating my thoughts so much this Advent season as I am beginning to realize how foundational they are in this season of Advent.  

From the beginning of time, God has seen us. 
He saw Adam and Eve in the garden. 
He saw the Israelites in slavery. 
He saw Moses by the burning bush. 
He saw David shepherding his flock. 

On and on throughout Scripture, God sees His people.  

In the first chapter of Luke, God sees Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their newborn son, John. He also sees Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. God sees them as they are and more importantly, as they are yet to be.  

And God‘s view of them is so different from that of the world’s. 

The world looked upon barren Elizabeth with disgrace, yet God looked upon her with love. He saw her from the inside out. He saw her righteousness, her faithfulness and her obedience. Once Elizabeth discovered that God saw her, that was all that really mattered. When we realize God sees us in our place, we discover our true significance. 

The world looked upon Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptizer, as odd. He lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and wild honey, drank no wine, and was clothed with camel’s hair. 

Yet, God saw Him before he was even born, fulfilling his purpose as the forerunner of Christ, preparing people’s hearts and turning them back to the Lord. When we recognize that God sees us in our purpose, it fuels our focus and drives us forward.  

The world looked at Elizabeth’s relative, Mary, as young and ordinary, yet God saw her and called her blessed among women. Before He even came to her, He saw her potential to believe in the fulfillment of what would be spoken to her. He knew she was the one. When God sees us in our potential, nothing is impossible for Him to bring about. If only we would believe and step out in faith, as Mary did.  

Perhaps God’s reminder to us this Advent season is, “I see you.” 

I see you in your place. I see you in your purpose. And I see you in your potential. I see your successes, and I see your struggles. I see your joys and I see your sorrows. I see who you are and who you are yet to be – not from a distance, but up close and personal, because I am right there with you. Where you are, there I am also.  

I see you.

As we await the coming of the Christ child, let us remember our God as the God who sees.  

Katie Harding serves as Associate Director of NorthStar Church Network and Founder/Director of NorthStar Women's Network.

Posted by Katie Harding with

7 Ways to Stay Connected During the Holidays

With Demanding December already upon us, here are a few ideas to consider as we all strive to make our Season of Celebration less stressful and more meaningful. These would all work well in your neighborhood, with a few friends or with any small group. If you’re inviting neighbors, be sure to include those who may not proclaim faith in Jesus. I find this is an easy, non-threatening way for them to hear the gospel. Inevitably, those with The Good News will be sharing what God has been doing in their life at any of these gatherings. It would also be a natural, appropriate time to share an advent devotion or a gospel-centered story.
Book Exchange- Invite friends or neighbors to come and bring a copy of their favorite book to exchange. This might be a favorite childhood book, the latest novel they read, an invaluable travel book, or a book that has been life changing. We exchanged our books last year by implementing the “stealing game,” but you can decide how you want to distribute the gifts. By popular demand, our neighborhood ladies are doing this same get-together again this year. Provide light refreshments and if someone asks if they can bring something, let them!
Cookie Exchange- This is a great/terrible one for me as homemade cookies cause me to have absolutely-not-one-ounce of self-control. But I do this for my friends, of course! Send out invitations asking each guest to bring two dozen HOMEMADE cookies. (They can include bars, fudge, etc.) Provide containers for the guests to take two dozen cookies home. You can give prizes for the best-tasting cookie, the best-looking cookie and the best display of cookies, if you’d like. You might also like to provide a few savory snacks to eat during your get-together. 
Coffee Walk & Talk- Gather a few friends/neighbors and meet up at a local coffee shop. Grab your drinks and head outside for a bit of sunshine and a time of relaxing on a leisurely walk. Talk about your holiday plans, what God’s been teaching you this year, your expectations for the coming year, etc.
Christmas Caroling- This is STILL so much fun. While it’s not as popular as it used to be, we’ve done this for many years and our neighbors still enjoy opening their doors to carolers in their front yard attempting to sing! We bring the kids, the strollers, the husbands, and the dogs and have a fun time strolling the neighborhood and then finish the night with hot cocoa and cookies. Bring candy canes to pass out to those brave enough to open their doors and listen to you sing! 

Gift-Wrap Get-Together- Share the evening together AND cross a task off your to-do list! Invite friends/neighbors to bring their unwrapped gifts and wrapping supplies. Provide simple refreshments and enjoy each other’s company as you wrap your gifts and share your supplies.
Saturday Morning Breakfast- Pancakes and bacon are an easy way to feed a crowd. Whether it be a few friends or a neighborhood, gather for a Saturday morning in December. You’ll find most people are freer then and able to enjoy a fun morning with friends. 

Wait until January!!- January seems to slow us down and our calendars are usually less cluttered. If you can’t fit a get-together in December, wait until January and celebrate the new year together. Several of these ideas can be adapted and done any time.  

Posted by Michele Husfelt with

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