Free Advent Devotional Calendar

My childhood Christmases were magical, down to the oatmeal mixed with glitter that we scattered on the lawn for Santa’s reindeer (because reindeer don’t just eat plain oats, of course!).  I still don’t have any idea how “Santa” put our presents under the tree without detection year after year, especially with our creaky hardwood floors.  Year after year we did the same things in the same ways, and I didn’t know what a comfort that was until I entered the upheaval that accompanied the transition from my family of origin to starting my own family.  Suddenly, I lived in a different state and every year our family looked a little different through marriages, divorce, deaths, births, and moving.  Every Christmas for the last six years, I have longed for the stability of those old traditions, and vowed to start my own to provide the same sense of wonder, joy, and comfort for my own family once we got settled.  At first, I sought to replicate those very same traditions, but it won’t work.  It’s not the same.  Not to mention, I have always hungered for more Jesus in my Christmas than just setting up a Nativity scene and reading Luke 2 on Christmas Day.  So, I think I have finally come up with a solution that will work for my family, in creating our own Advent calendar.  This is not a new concept, by any means, but I have made it uniquely to fit what we are looking for:

  • It’s got a theological backbone.  It looks at 24 prophecies or signs pointing from the Old Testament to Jesus, and then celebrates His birth for a week after Christmas by looking forward to the New Heavens and New Earth.
  • On the other hand, my one-year-old can participate.  I’m going to make a felt calendar with Velcro symbols that he can stick on for each day.  I’ve also included corresponding readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible and The Biggest Story, two excellent depictions of the Bible for children.  (Disclaimer: there is not a children’s story for EVERY single day, because for some reason children’s Bibles don’t tend to cover prophecies like Zechariah. Go figure.)
  • I have also included hymns that correspond with each reading.  We received a hymnal as a gift from some good friends, and music helps move our knowledge from our head to our hearts.

This Advent Calendar is totally built for the needs of my family, but I hope it will be a good resource for yours, too.  You can pick and choose what is helpful and leave what isn’t.  I will be posting each day as it comes up, or you can get a printable spreadsheet of all the scripture readings, hymns, and symbols by clicking on Advent Calendar.

advent architecture blur business

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on



The #metoo movement has been sweeping the nation as people bravely call out those who have abused their power for personal gain.  Calls to action at the societal level have inspired people to take notice of an issue that has previously been swept under the rug.  I would argue, however, that the most important changes need to come at the level of individuals and families. It is at this level that children first observe power in action, and the most powerful person in the home is usually their dad.  He is bigger, stronger, smarter, and has more resources than they do. Dads are blessed to have the first opportunity to shape their child’s view of how people in power should act, so they should not assume that the #metoo movement is a woman’s issue or that they are powerless to do anything to help.

When I was doing counseling, I was surprised how often people traced problems back to their relationship with their father rather than their mother.  Two distinct patterns emerged: fathers who were too harsh and demanding, and fathers who were passive and apathetic. Both have taught unfortunate lessons to their children.  Before a young professional is climbing the career ladder, before they earn the corner office, before they have to answer the question, “will I take advantage?” or “will I be taken advantage of?” they have already learned the answer to this question in thousands of little ways over their childhood, from their father.  Children are little sponges, always observing how the following questions are answered:

Am I important enough for my dad to pay attention to me?  To put down his cell phone and play with me? To be consistently present, starting with dirty diaper changes and night wakings?  To communicate important life lessons and correction that is gentle and firm? Does he value my personhood? Does he listen and delight in what I have to say?  Does he draw out what is best in me and praise my inner qualities, or is everything about my outward performance?

Dads are also the first models of how to treat women.  Dad communicates a message loud and clear by the way he treats Mom.  Does he honor and help her, or does he use and ignore her? Is she the apple of his eye, or can he be found flirting with other women or leering at them on TV?  What might I stumble upon if I use Dad’s computer or visit his “man cave”? Are women treated as objects to be used, or people to be valued and respected? What is beautiful and praiseworthy in my dad’s eyes?

Dads can either use their power to protect, provide for, and propel their children upward, or they can use their power to control them and use them for selfish gain.  This is not a one-time choice, but is communicated through thousands of tiny decisions which add up to have a great impact over a lifetime. Many of those decisions will go unnoticed by most of the world.  They don’t garner attention and praise the same way as delivering a bold speech, and they aren’t as easy as liking a social media post, but they are way more important and influential when it comes time to decide:  will I take advantage? Will I be taken advantage of?

Unfortunately, although they wield great influence, men don’t have a great track record of using their power for good.  Generations of family dysfunction can be traced back through the years, with many examples even found in the pages of the Bible.  King Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines which were ultimately his downfall (1 Kings 11:4), but he was only following in the footsteps of his father, King David, who had a man murdered because of lust for his wife (2 Samuel 11).  David was also passive in disciplining his children, even when one of his sons raped one of his daughters (2 Samuel 13) and another son threatened David’s own life and kingdom (2 Samuel 15). Before him there was Eli the priest, who looked the other way when his sons were sleeping with women who gathered at the door of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 2: 22-36).  Before him was Jephthah, who made a rash vow which cost his daughter her life (Judges 11). Before them was Isaac, who made his wife pretend she was his sister when they traveled in a foreign country, exposing her to potentially being used sexually (Genesis 26:1-11). He was merely following what he had learned from his father, Abraham, who did the same thing to his wife, Sarah (Genesis 20).  The problem actually goes even further back, all the way back to the Garden. With the eating of the apple, sin entered the world. The perfect harmony between Adam and Eve was replaced with shame, blame, and enmity (Genesis 3). No wonder it is so hard to be a good husband and father!

Thankfully, there is hope.  God sent Jesus to our rescue, to set us free from patterns of generational family dysfunction and the destruction of sin and shame (Isaiah 61:1-7).  Christ laid aside all His heavenly rights, humbled Himself and came to earth to live a life of obedience, suffering, and righteousness. He died the death that we deserve, and made a way for us to be saved.  He reversed the curse and restored the image of Christ in us, making us whole again and restoring our identity and dignity. When we have a relationship with Him, His Spirit enables us to make those hard decisions, to die to ourselves and put others first.  My husband readily admits that apart from Christ, he would be neither a good husband nor a good father. With Christ it is still hard, but not impossible! Every day he grows more Christlike, learning to lead our family and use his power to protect and uplift our son and me.  

In Christ, there is hope for everyone.  Not just dads, but moms and children too.  Those who have sinned and taken advantage of other people, and those who have shame over being taken advantage of.  Family influence is important, but not deterministic. Even if you had a horrible father, you can still find healing.  You can still have dignity, worth, and an identity shaped by Christ. You can be adopted by God, redeemed, accepted, and beloved (see Ephesians 1).  You can be healed from wrong decisions and a shameful past. God is the ultimate Good Father, and He is always there for us. “For I, the LORD, love justice.”  (Isaiah 61:8) If our Father in Heaven loves justice, then that should certainly be something that earthly fathers seek to uphold and protect.

If Christ had not risen…

As my husband and I walked to our favorite breakfast spot this morning, we wondered if there is a name for today (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in the church liturgical calendar.  After all, there is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter Sunday, but what is today?  Thomas proposed that it should be called Hopeless Saturday, for this is the day that Christ lay dead in a dark stone tomb, and his disciples were left wondering what to do after the guy they had thought was the Messiah was just crucified in front of their eyes.  It got me thinking, what if Christ had never risen?  How would it have affected Christ’s followers, world history, and our own lives today?

Acts 5:33-37 gives us a glimpse into what would have become of the disciples.  As the Jews debate what to do about the increasing numbers of Christians, a wise leader of the Pharisee reminds them of other movements which had risen and fallen in Jewish history:

“For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody.  A number of men, about four hundred, joined him.  He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him.  He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.”

If Jesus had stayed in the grave, He would have been just another obscure footnote in history, like Theudas and Judas of Galilee.  His followers would have eventually scattered, returning to their previous lives and jobs, such as fishermen and tax collectors.  They would have been left wondering what to make of the past three years of their lives, and still waiting and hoping for the Messiah of Jewish prophecy to come.

There would have been no Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit and addition of thousands of new Christian believers), no church, no Apostle Paul, and no New Testament.  The Romans and their territories would have remained pagan and polytheistic.  Looking back at how the Roman Catholic church became such a powerful shaping force in history, the world would look drastically different without it.  Our laws, science, technology, music, and art would have undoubtedly progressed down a different path, perhaps more similar to our Arab and Chinese neighbors.  The 2.2 billion people in the world today who call themselves Christians would be adherents of some other religion or none at all.  America in particular, having been founded on Judeo-christian values, would be virtually unrecognizable to us.  And even the way we tell time would be different, as it would not be the year 2017, which is counted starting from the time of Christ.

But even more gripping is how it would personally affect Christian believers today. As the Apostle Paul wrote, if Christ was not risen, then our faith is futile and we, of all people, are the most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19).  If Christ was not risen, then we would also be pagans, worshipping false gods and unable to know the one true God.  We would be separated from Him forever, offensive to His holiness, strangers and aliens, unaccepted, unloved, lost, and deserving recipients of His wrath.  We would be spiritually dead, ruled by our flesh and the desires of our mind, slaves of sin and unable to change, with no chance of forgiveness or redemption.  There would be no Holy Spirit indwelling and praying for us, having no hope and without God in the world.  We would have no ability to do anything that would matter eternally.  Our circumstances in the world would determine our identity, purpose, and worth.  We would have no inheritance, no hope of Christ’s return, no looking forward to the day when He will make all things new and wipe away our tears.  Day after day would only be an endless treadmill of work and trying to find meaning, only to perish without hope.  Much like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we might say, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

PRAISE BE TO GOD that this terrible thought experiment is just a figment of imagination, for history very thoroughly documents the fact that Christ was risen!  First, we have the eyewitness accounts of His followers, whom He appeared to after being resurrected.  They felt His wounds, talked to Him, and witnessed Him eating.  Most of these people later lost their lives, persecuted for insisting on the truth of the things they had seen and heard.  Rather than dying out as the Jews expected it to, Christianity exploded, adding thousands of believers in the months after Christ’s death and resurrection.  Even the greatest persecutor of Christians, Saul, was transformed when he met the risen Lord, and devoted the rest of his life to making Christ’s name known.   He endured beatings, arrests, shipwrecks, and sickness to take the news of the resurrection all around the world.  The record of these things, the New Testament, is preserved with more manuscript evidence and accuracy than any other ancient document from the same time period.  Other ancient sources, even those that were hostile to Christ, don’t deny that He rose again, but rather accuse Him of doing it by black magic.

Because of this, today is not Hopeless Saturday, but, as my Anglican sister has informed me, it’s called Holy Saturday.  A day of waiting and expectation for Easter Sunday, that glorious day of celebrating Christ’s resurrection and our true source of light and hope in this world.



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Do you want to know more about the Bible, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve started, but have problems sticking with a daily Bible study routine? Are you tired of the same old devotionals and ready for something deeper? Swim in the Deep End invites you into the adventure of studying the Bible for yourself. It answers questions that many people have about Bible study: How do I find time? Where do I start? How do I understand what it means? How do I apply it to my life? And what should I do if I get out of my devotional routine?

This book contains practical answers to these questions and emphasizes relationship with Christ rather than religion. It also has thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, making it useful for both individual and group study. The last chapter gives several study plans on topics such as the attributes of God, the will of God, suffering, anxiety, and conflict. It is a great tool for new Christians or anyone who wants to freshen up their Bible study routine.

Approaching the Throne of Power and Grace

“…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” 1 Peter 3:22

“…according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Eph. 1:20-21

“Having disarmed principalities and power, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:15

I think these are some of the most encouraging verses in the Bible!  Jesus is alive, and He’s enthroned at the right hand of His Father God.  Through His resurrection, He disarmed and conquered every single principality and power.  Having incapacitated them and rendered them powerless, He marches them through the universe, shaming and embarrassing them in their defeat. Like a proud hunter who uses the skin of his kill to make a new ottoman, they are subjugated to serve as His footstool, showing His complete domination.

What is most encouraging to me is the sheer scope of His victory.  Paul has to get his thesaurus out to make sure he gets the point across:  Jesus is far above all principalities.  And in case you’re not sure what he means by that, he adds, Jesus is superior to all power.  Not sure what all power means?  Everything that has any might at all.  And just in case you don’t get the picture, He’s also over all dominion and every name that is named.  Everyone. Everything.

But wait, Paul–do you just mean all principalities, powers, might, and dominion that we’ve heard of?  NO!  He means everything we’ve heard of and everything we haven’t yet heard of.  Things we don’t even know we should be scared of yet.  Everything in this age, and everything in the future has been subjected to Christ.  Not just some, but all.  Not just now, but forever.  No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes!

This includes not only spiritual principalities and powers such as angels, demons, and sin, but also things that go by the more familiar names of:

  • world leaders and governments
  • depression
  • racism
  • addiction
  • anxiety
  • loneliness
  • terrorism
  • that awful boss of yours
  • chronic pain
  • disease
  • painful memories
  • shame
  • eating disorders
  • an unfaithful spouse
  • panic attacks
  • grief
  • futility
  • despair
  • a bad temper
  • abuse
  • pride
  • lust
  • insecurity

Every name that is named.  Whatever controls you, Jesus has control over it.  And He invites us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)


Day 30

We made it!  “Swimming in the Deep End” is hard work, and you should be excited if you stuck it out all the way to the end!


After summarizing and applying 1 Peter 5 to your life today, I hope you will take some time to review everything you’ve learned in 1 Peter.  Has God revealed areas in your life that are in need of transformation?

It was 1 Peter 3:4 that hit me like a ton of bricks.  It talks about “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  I have always assumed that I had a “gentle and quiet spirit” because I am a naturally quiet person.  But further study revealed that it is not talking about someone who’s just naturally quiet on the outside, but rather, the hidden person of the heart.  While I am quiet on the outside, my heart is often filled with anger, annoyance, and anxiety.  I may appear to be calm and quiet to other people, but God knows the turmoil inside.  If I truly want to have a gentle, quiet, peaceful spirit, I have to cultivate a stronger trust in God and His goodness toward those who love Him.

1 Peter was also a great reminder that suffering does not have the last word on our lives, but is something we can REJOICE in, because it is revealing the genuineness of our faith and is proof of the glory we will partake of when Christ returns!  This was very encouraging to me.

I would love to hear how God convicted, changed, encouraged, or strengthened you through His words in 1 Peter.  Even if you only completed part of the study or you are completing it after it’s officially over, please comment below and let me know what God is doing in your life!

Thanks, and thank you for sharing your lives and God’s word with me!


Day 29

Hey…you’ve made it through all the hard parts!  Finish strong and answer those questions one more time.  I had very few questions this week–chapter 5 is pretty straightforward.  If you didn’t have many questions either, you may want to go ahead and move on to the summarization and application that we usually do on Fridays.