This companion volume that functions beautifully on its own or as part of the church-wide experience offers four weeks of daily devotions on the character of God exampled in the Old Testament and then revealed through Jesus Christ. The reflections, ideal for use during Advent, include Scripture, reflections, personal stories and insights, daily challenges, and prayers.
About the Author
Rob Renfroe is Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UMC in Houston, Texas, leader of the popular men's Bible study Quest, attended by over 500 men, and the author of The Trouble with the Truth and A Way Through the Wilderness. He also is President of Good News—a national organization committed to the doctrinal integrity and spiritual renewal of The United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Peggy, are the parents of two adult sons.
Dr. Ed Robb is Senior Pastor at The Woodlands UMC in Houston, Texas. Serving the church for more than forty years, his vision and leadership have led the church to become one of the fastest growing churches in Methodism, with over 14,000 members. He is the author of The Wonder of Christmas, Under Wraps, and Mountaintop Moments. He and his wife, Beverly, have three adult children.
Andy Nixon is lead pastor of The Loft, a worshiping community for those who are discovering the relevance of the church and their place in it. In this role he heads up the worship team, preaches, and oversees daily operations of the ministry. He and his wife, Deborah, have two children.
Read an Excerpt
Under Wraps Devotional
The Gift We Never Expected
By Jessica LaGrone, Andy Nixon, Rob Renfroe, Ed Robb
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Talk about great expectations. God's people had waited and waited and waited some more for the coming of the promised Messiah. They had believed, hoped, and looked withexpectation for generations. And generation after generation, there was no sign of the awaited Savior.
The Israelites expected a king as described by Isaiah. On his shoulders would be the government—a kingdom. He would reign on a throne and uphold justice and righteousness in the land. Imagine generations of Israelites looking, expecting, and anticipating the coming of the King of kings. They had expectations of royalty riding in with horses and chariots.
Now, fast forward to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. The long-awaited King was coming. How does one receive a king? With grandeur, pomp, and circumstance? With feasts and parties? Shouldn't they be having planning meetings and preparing for his arrival?
No, parties and royal ceremonies would not be the way this King entered the world. Instead, this baby King came humbly and quietly in a small town without a royal parade. This King would lay low for years, waiting until the Spirit led him to proclaim his message. Not quite what God's people had expected.
Many of us have a problem with expectation adjustment. We have a hard time switching gears when what we thought was going to happen isn't what actually happens. Often we focus too much on our unmet expectations so that we miss out on the joy of many moments.
Sometimes we do this with God. We think he will show up at a certain time in a certain way in our lives, and what we think should happen doesn't. In these moments, we have to regroup and remember that God always shows up at just the right time and place. It doesn't always happen as we imagined, but the gift of God's presence in our lives has never beenabsent. When we look for a royal word from the sky, he often comes as a whisper in the quiet of the night.
We know from reading the Gospels that God's people had a hard time receiving Jesus as the Messiah because he was not what they thought he would be and the situation was not what they had planned or prepared for. Some regrouped and remembered that God shows up on his own time and in his own way. Others could not make the adjustment.
How will we receive the news of the awaited Prince of Peace this season? Can we allow God to enter into our lives in his own way? Can we expect to encounter him even if the situation isn't what we planned or prepared for?
In the Advent narrative God is like an expectant father ready to tell the whole world the good news of his Son's birth. This good news will change our hearts and our lives forever. With great expectation, let's invite God to show up and do a work in us this Advent.
How will you be open to encountering God, no matter how or when he shows up?CHAPTER 2
Where Is Your Heart?
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!"
"Let every heart prepare him room" we sing together in church or hum along with the Christmas music played in the stores for shoppers. Part of the work of waiting in Advent is to make space in your heart for the Christ child, to create margin in your life so there is space to receive and experience him as if for the first time.
Consider the expectant mother making preparations for her baby to arrive—the doctor visits, the nursery, the items in the dresser drawers, the diapers, the car seat, the stroller—all physical work to be done to welcome baby. Even still, in her heart she is pondering this life in her belly. She is wondering what he or she will be like. She is expecting to have her life radically shaken up by this little one. She expects to become a whole new version of herself. This new mom is making room in her life and in her heart for her precious child.
Advent brings us this kind of expectancy and work of preparation. We get ready for the celebration of Christ's birth with parties, concerts, baking, decorations, family traditions, and giving. All the while, in our hearts we clear away the things that have crowded out the space belonging to Jesus. We ponder what this newborn King means for our lives and our world.
Part of Mary's preparation was to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also pregnant with her own version of a miracle baby. She was older than Mary and spoke into Mary's life a word of hope and confirmation that God was indeed at work in both of them. With all the preparation that needed to occur for the arrival of their babies, they took some time just to be together, to wonder at this work of God, and to soak in the miracle of it all.
We may not feel an urgent need to run to a relative, but in this season we should take a moment to think about our "Elizabeths." Who are your trusted confidants to whom you run with great news or deep sadness? Give thanks to God for these people and consider how you might play the role of mentor and encourager to others. How can you celebrate together the amazing things God is doing in your lives?
Mary and Elizabeth were about to experience extreme life changes. Their babies were going shake up everything they ever thought about who they were, what they were about, and what God was doing in them and in the world. What if we approached Advent with the same expectancy?
Just like Mary, we are shaken up when Christ comes into our lives—everything changes! The birth of the Christ-child didn't just change Mary's life, it changed our lives too. God broke into the human world in a radical way in order to make radical changes in us. And just as Elizabeth's baby leaped in her womb when Mary arrived, so our hearts leap with joy during Advent in anticipation of all that God is doing.
How is your heart preparing room for the newborn King this Advent? How can you change the rhythm of the season from busyness to expectancy, watching and waiting to see the ways that God is at work in you?
How can you prepare and create room in your heart for more of Jesus?CHAPTER 3
The Image of the Invisible
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Often called The Christ Hymn, this passage of Scripture reveals so much about the expectant nature of God. God is not a distant, inactive being just sitting in heaven's living room and observing humans for fun. God looks with expectant eyes and a heart of love as he gives his precious Gift to the world.
The Son, the image of the invisible God, was there at the creation of the world—the world was created through him. And God waited until it was just the right time to send him into our world to be one of us. God must have been giddy with excitement knowing that, finally, we could see him with our own eyes. God would literally put on flesh to make "his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).
For so long, God's people had wanted to see God. They had asked for signs and kings and prophets. How they must have longed for Immanuel. And here he came through God's servant Mary, the sign for all the people of God's love, affection, and plan for their salvation.
Even now don't we beg God for signs and someone to say, "This is from God"? We search the Internet, ask our friends, and read endless books when all the while God says, "If you want to know where I am or what I am about, look to Jesus."
As we await the Christmas celebration this year, maybe instead of looking for joy or peace in parties and gifts, we can look more closely to Jesus. Maybe we should scour the words of Jesus, looking for the whisper of God that speaks deeply to our hearts the words we desperately need to hear.
God is giddy with excitement to bring you joy. God is over the moon to show you his plan to be with you forever. God is full of expectant joy for you to gaze on the invisible image of himself. God is thrilled to reveal himself to you.
What if we were as excited to receive Jesus as God was to send him to us? Are we receiving Jesus a little more every Christmas celebration, or have we outgrown the joy of the season? Advent brings with it the reminder that hope is alive and that love is real. No matter how much we outgrow the excitement of Christmas morning, we can't outgrow our need for more of Jesus in our lives.
As God looks on you with excitement this Advent season, may you share his excitement by receiving anew the gift of his only beloved Son.
Are you excited to receive this precious gift from God?CHAPTER 4
He Has Done Great Things
And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors."
Every mark on the timeline of our lives represents a period of life with its own special events and memories. Many of us associate songs with these periods in our lives. Maybe you remember the song that played when you first met your spouse or the song you sang as you held your newborn baby, or perhaps there are songs that take you back to high school or college.
Songs can move us, take us to a different space in our minds, and express thoughts for which we cannot find words. Sometimes the only appropriate action in a situation is to sing a song—either a song of joy and celebration or a song of grief, lament, and hope.
Throughout the Bible, we see God's people singing songs of praise for the great things God has done for them. The psalms are full of songs of praise as well as songs of lament. Songs help us share the thoughts of our hearts with God when words are hard to find.
The Gospel of Luke gives us songs from Zechariah, Simeon, the angels, and Mary. Mary's song not only marks a major event in her life—carrying and giving birth to the Son of God—it also declares a new reality for her and for generations to come. God's promise no longer is something that is coming; it's here and now!
The song of Mary is praise for what God has done in her, but it's also a declaration of what God will do generation after generation. The song names the activity of God and assumes a current reality of God's action. Every promise God has made is coming true. God is doing what he promised to do. The Messiah is coming to change everything, and we are the recipients of that good news. Mary invites us into her song as recipients of God's mercy.
As we spend this week considering that God is expectant, Mary's song reveals for us that God is actively involved in the lives of his beloved children. He expects to act. He is ready with mercy and his perfect provision. He loves to bless the humble and lift up the lowly. He honors his covenant and fulfills his promises.
What is happening in your life this Advent? What causes you to sing a song of praise for God's work in your life? Maybe you are among the lowly this season and need God to lift you up. Maybe you are among the hungry and need physical or spiritual food to sustain you. Maybe you have seen the promises of God fulfilled and are quick to praise God. Wherever you are and whatever your path this Advent, hear this promise from sweet Mary: "[God's] mercy extends to those who fear him, / from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50). This promise is for you and for me. We can sing in the midst of great trial or great joy because God will always lift up the lowly. He will always be in the business of doing great things in and through and for us.
Sing with Mary, Zechariah, and the heavenly hosts, praising God for all he has done. Ours is a song of hope, expectation, and promise. Ours is a song of great things and of a great God. Will you join in the song?
Write a psalm of praise for all that God has done in your life.CHAPTER 5
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth, The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say,
"Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."
Don't you just love a good party? There is nothing like warm hospitality, a buffet of wonderful food and drinks, and a gathering of people who are enjoying their time together. When all the arrangements are taken care of and the feast is provided, the guests are free to enjoy, celebrate, and relax.
This passage from Isaiah describes the feast that God expectantly and excitedly sets for all peoples. This feast represents the kind of party God loves to throw in which the oppressed and torn down feel like royalty—and even become royalty! Yesterday we praised with Mary that God lifts up the lowly and gives food to the hungry. Today we see that God doesn't just give the lowly a pat on the back and send the hungry away with the standard-issue PB&J. No, God sets a feast, hosting an elaborate party for the lowly and the hungry and the oppressed. Those who have been on the outside of society, the least among people, the downtrodden and brokenhearted—these are the ones God invites to this party. The Lord loves to bless his beloved with a feast.
It is right to throw parties at Christmas to celebrate the great work of God. We plan for, shop, and cook an extravagant meal; bring out the good dishes and set a lovely table; gather with loved ones; and exchange gifts not because Santa Claus is coming to town but because Love came down at Christmas. Love came down to swallow up death and to wipe away every tear. Love came down to remove our disgrace and to remove the veil that separated God from his people. We party because Love has come. Often in the busyness we can forget the reason for it all. Love has come, friends. Have a party and celebrate!
Excerpted from Under Wraps Devotional by Jessica LaGrone, Andy Nixon, Rob Renfroe, Ed Robb. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Week 1: God Is Expectant,
1. Great Expectations,
2. Where Is Your Heart?,
3. The Image of the Invisible,
4. He Has Done Great Things,
5. God's Party,
6. The Lord Is Near,
7. We Wait for You,
Week 2: God Is Dangerous,
1. The Danger of Light,
2. Dangerous but Good,
3. God Cares for You,
4. Run to God,
5. The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near,
Week 3: God Is Jealous,
1. All We Are,
2. Good Jealousy,
3. God So Loved,
4. In All Things,
5. Seek God First,
6. Be Transformed,
7. Fix Your Eyes,
Week 4: God Is Faithful,
1. Covenant God,
2. God Remembers,
3. The Lord Saves,
4. God's Promises,
5. The Backstory,
6. In the Family,
7. See What Great Love,
Christmas: A Season of Joy,