Advent Gifts: The Prince of Peace

6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6-7

Just about every epic story from Braveheart to Star Wars centers around the same theme: Freedom and Peace for beloved people. Every human heart longs for peace. Even when we attempt to portray a sense of peace, it is often a façade or fleeting. In the words of Alistair Begg, “Tranquility on the outside can be a disguise to the raging torment on the inside.”

We long for calm in the midst of life’s storms.
We need reconciliation where relationships have fractured.
We hope for harmony among our quibbling kids or siblings.
We pray for quiet hearts when we’re anxious about test results.
If you are a Syrian refugee displaced from your home you wish for the end of war.

No matter who you are, or where you’re from, you long for peace. After all, you were created to be in harmony with God and Creation. But ever since the fall, peace has been fractured. The Hebrew word that describes our original condition and the condition we long for is Shalom. The Biblical understanding of peace involves so much more than just the absence of strife. The peace Isaiah refers to means completeness, tranquility and welfare.

Adam and Eve lived in a state of Shalom before ‘The Fall’ in Genesis 3. Adam didn’t patronize or “mansplain” to Eve. He delighted in doing the dishes and holding Eve’s hand for long walks in the Garden. Eve felt no shame about her body, or any need to compare herself to anyone. She was co-ruler of a world that worked perfectly.

But it didn’t last. Sin took so much away from mankind, including peace and we’ve wanted it back ever since.

John Lennon and The Beatles artistically described our heart’s desire for peace in their 1965 classic, Help!

When I was younger so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone and I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors

Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody
Help! You know I need someone Help!

We all need help. No amount of education, charisma, success or money can acquire the shalom our hearts long for. This is why Christmas matters so much.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

How does this child born to us bring us the peace our hearts need so desperately? Isaiah answers,  

5 But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished him
for the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

The Baby born in a manger would one day bear the burden of our peace on His shoulders. He would embrace the war, strife and wrath our sin deserved.  He would take that war to the grave. The war would stay in the grave, but He would not. Peace with God would again be possible.

And one day, The Prince of Peace will come to wage one final war. When He has finished, a new shalom will spring forth. What is broken will be mended. What is lacking will be made whole. Strife will give way to tranquility. There will be Glory and Peace on Earth.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the gift of true peace. Give me faith to receive it and the strength to share it with the world. Amen.

Advent Gifts: Mighty God & Everlasting Father

6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6-7

The Advent Gift, the Child given to us, is so magnificent our language cannot comprehensively describe Him. In this penultimate prophesy, Isaiah describes who Jesus would be. We’ve seen Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor. Let us see Him today as Mighty God and Everlasting Father.

Jesus Himself sheds light on the depth and beauty of the meaning of these names in the Sermon on the Mount. In teaching us to pray, Jesus instructs us to address God this way,

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9)

In praying like this, we approach God both as Mighty and Everlasting Father. The implications of these names are incalculable. What does it mean to say that Jesus is “Mighty God,” or to pray “hallowed be your name?” What does it mean to say that Jesus is “Everlasting Father,” or to pray “Our Father in heaven?”

The refrain from a classic children’s prayer is helpful in answering these questions. Maybe as a child you were taught to pray something like this,

God is great. God is good…”

To pray to a Great or Mighty God is to pray to a God who is majestic, powerful, without weakness, and able to move on our behalf. Fundamentally, it is to pray to a God who is NOT like us. Because He is Mighty, He can do what we cannot do. Only a Mighty God has the power to create, rise from the dead, defeat Satan, and offer redemption to mankind. This is a God like no other. A truly Mighty and Hallowed God.

To pray to a Good or Everlasting Father is to pray to a God who is faithful, just, perfect, and without blemish. Fundamentally, it is to pray to a God who is NOT like us. Because He is a Good and Everlasting Father, we can trust Him. He is faithful to perform what He promises. He is compassionate toward us and is always working for our good. He is a perfect Dad.

As you reflect this season on the true gift of Advent, Jesus – remember that He is both Great and Good. He is both Able and Trustworthy. He is both Holy and Here with us.

Prayer: Father, I need your power today because I am limited in so many ways. Father, I need your faithful presence today in my life. That you for promising me these gifts.

Advent Gifts | A Wonderful Counselor

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6-7

As we continue to reflect on the Gift of Advent, Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us, let us examine the beauty and depth of this gift.

Jesus is anything but generic. Christmas and Christianity aren’t mere sentiments. The gift of who Jesus is to us is transformative. Consider the words of Isaiah as a starting point. The child given to us will be named Wonderful Counselor.

Isaiah promises a wonderful counselor to people walking in darkness (Isaiah 8:21-22). God’s people were experiencing dark days. They were the subjects of an infamously cruel ruler. Slavery, fear, poverty, and uncertainty were their daily reality. Isaiah goes on to say the people “would look to the Earth” for help. This was a metaphor for looking to the world’s systems such as the markets, human ingenuity, scholars, technology – you name it.  But the end result of looking within is always greater darkness. 

The reality of Ancient Israel isn’t too far off from our current reality. We live in the most prosperous nation in the most prosperous time in all of human history. Yet, America ranks 19th in the world in joy and happiness. We’ve seen dramatic upticks in depression and anxiety over the last 25 years, particularly in children. We have more money than ever.  We can seemingly innovate the improvement of our lives in unlimited ways. Yet, distress, hunger, anger, and fear abound.

For many of us the challenges we face are not enemies from “without,” but dragons from “within.” What we truly need is a Wonderful Counselor. A divine counselor who knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts and can provide transformative wisdom and healing. We need someone to help us slay the dragons within.

What makes someone a great counselor? The best counselors are the ones who have been where you’ve been, walked in your shoes, and lived to tell you about it.

This is precisely what makes Jesus a Wonderful Counselor. He has been where we have been. He has walked miles in your shoes. Loss? Jesus experienced it. Betrayal? Jesus’s closest companions abandoned Him. Poor? He “had no place to lay His head.” Lonely? He lived through the most agonizing isolation imaginable. Tempted? He stood face to face with the devil himself.

For this reason, the author of Hebrews could say to us, 15 We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Fighting difficult battles within this season? Fear not. Not only does Jesus care and want to help. He has been there Himself. He experienced your humanity, but overcame it. He will make you an overcomer too. Go to Him boldly and honestly. He knows what you’re facing. He will provide you the wisdom to walk through it and the strength to endure it.

Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor given to us.

Prayer: Jesus, as hard as it is, I offer you my trust today. Fill my soul with your peace. Guide me by your truth. Amen.

The Gifts of Advent

6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

When we think of Christmas, we likely think of many things. Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas parties, Christmas lights. But let’s be honest – we usually think of Christmas presents first! We, humans, love getting and giving gifts at Christmas time. According to some estimates, Americans will collectively spend north of 700 billion dollars on Christmas gifts this year. That is billion, with a ‘B’.

Before we go to railing against the evils of commercial consumerism at Christmas time, let us consider the reason we exchange gifts during this season. The notion of gifts at Christmas actually has very ancient roots. Historically, the tradition was born out of the Biblical narrative of Jesus. As Christianity grew exponentially and Christians began celebrating the Incarnation – the Birth of Jesus, on December 25th, they adopted the tradition of giving gifts because of the gifts the Magi presented to Jesus.

The irony of the Magi presenting gifts to Jesus was that Jesus Himself was a gift to those kings. And not just to the Magi, but to all of humanity. He was a gift foretold centuries ahead of time by prophets such as Isaiah.

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Christmas is more about gifts than we might realize. As a father, giving gifts to my children is my favorite part of the Christmas celebration for a number of reasons. First, it gives me great joy to see the joy they receive when they get something they needed or wanted. Second, as a father, it gives me great joy to do for my children what they cannot do for themselves. Third, I love my kids. It really is that simple. I don’t love them for what they do for me or how smart they are. I love my children because they are my children. Because of this, it brings me great joy to give them good gifts.

Our Heavenly Father is a good Father and He enjoys giving good gifts to His kids. James, the New Testament Author, says it this way: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Your Heavenly Father is not temperamental or unreliable. He loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His greatest gift for you. We’ll explore that gift a little more closely over the next few days, but in the meantime, it’s okay to just sit and smile. Like a kid who has received a really great gift. The gift of love from your Father above.

Prayer: Father, give me eyes to see who you are this Christmas. A good father, who grants His beloved children good gifts from above. Let my heart receive your grace this Christmas.

Joy for the Subordinated

And Mary said: “My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant.”  Luke 1:46-48a

In a world bereft of it, finding joy can be a tall order, not to mention a foolish expectation. Our encounters with difficulty expose the possibilities of joy as platitudes. Nihilism increasingly calls out to weary human hearts disappointed by local religions and their resolutions. Equally, our once-favorite politicians disillusion us when laudable concerns for at-risk communities manifest as pandering. Joy doesn’t come so easy to the perpetually let-down.

Right now, in China, the bars of internment camps blockade Uyghur Muslims. The powerful suppress the subordinated’s cries; the global marginalization of women persists; Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color endure vicious maligning and constant heartache in the United States. Revolutions and their seeming progress spiral into familiar, but preventable oppression, brimming with tears and death.

Curiously, in this passage, Mary, the mother of God, inherited the same broken world as our COVID-haunted generation. One moment, she was conscious of her inferior status as a Galilean woman in a Roman world. Then suddenly, she heard the incarnate deity would swim in her womb. News of Jesus’ birth turned a persecuted citizen under the thumb of Rome into a triumphant woman who rejoiced God would favor her “humble condition” – her subordinated status.

Jesus’ coming still makes all the difference for the down-and-out. He, the prophesied Messiah who holds the keys of life and is victorious over death, reaches out to us with good news, just as the angel did to Mary. He looks upon the condition of the oppressed and says, “I can still reverse it all. Your mourning will be joy. Your dissatisfaction will become praise.” In the same way Christ entered the womb of a virgin, he can slide between those iron prison bars in China (or America), unafraid of the wicked guards, to bring glad tidings of comfort and joy.

Prayer: Lord, we know you care for the lowly because you became lowly. In our darkest of days, you are our joy, and we know joy because we know You.

Author: My name is Zeru Fitsum, and I am a pastoral intern at Mosaic Knoxville, also a resident for Thrive’s Ministry Residency program in the Lonsdale community. I graduated from my undergrad program at Hannibal-Lagrange University with a major that is Biblical Studies. My passion in life is to personally believe and know the liberating God that became Incarnate in Christ and to proclaim the glories of the Word who became flesh, was crucified, and resurrected for the world and its salvation

Joy Comes in the Morning

“and David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” – Matthew 1:6

No matter what happens in our life, good or bad, we can be confident that the list of Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew 1 is a testimony to God’s perfect and joyous design long before we were born and will continue long after we are gone.

When reading this passage, I was struck by the jarring image given in Matthew 1:6. Soloman was born from King David and the wife of another man. Bathsheba was married to Uriah, but King David decided that he wanted her for himself. He summoned her, and submitting under his authority, she had no choice but to obey and became a victim of his sin. She became pregnant and David became scared; eventually ordering Uriah to be killed when he couldn’t cover up his sin. David then married Bathsheba, but the baby died shortly after birth.

This could be the end of a very tragic story, but God, rich in mercy, because of His great love (Ephesians 2:4), used this to write a beautiful story. God made a promise to David. He said, “If your sons take care to walk faithfully before me with all their heart and all their soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel,” 1 Kings 2:4. David and Bathsheba went on to have 4 more children, one of whom they named Solomon. Solomon understood his assignment. Unlike any other ruler, he was filled with wisdom and God lavishly gave him everything he had not sought. He built a house for the Lord and reigned on the throne, paving the way for an even greater king to come, King Jesus.

Joy is not dependent on the circumstances but originates in God’s perfect love that He has lavished on us despite all circumstances. No matter the darkness, no matter the pain, the life you choose to live is a testimony to God’s continuous work and hope given to us in Christ Jesus.

Prayer: Jesus, you are our greatest joy. This joy is not dependent on circumstances but is secured through you. Though sorrows may last in the long, dark night, Your joy will come again in the morning. Thank you for your sacrificial love, Lord. You are all we need.

Author: Atlee McSpadden. Atlee serves as the Director of Fellowship Kids at Fellowship West. Some of her favorite things include hiking, reading, podcasts, tea, coffee.

Where is Joy?

“Joy? JOY!? Where are you?”

Proceeds to rummage around in the dark

“I can’t find you.”


“If I just search long enough, or maybe, maybe if I try harder I can find you…”

This time of year reminds me of a single-lit candle on a canvas of black. If you grew up in church maybe you’ve seen the candles of advent being lit. Did you know that the light from a single candle can be seen from over 1.6 miles away? Interestingly, the amount of darkness held in a 1.6-mile radius stands no chance against the light of a single measly wick alight.

Isaiah 9:2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

John 8:12 “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””

Jesus broke through the black, a light bright enough that a world’s worth of darkness cannot overcome him.

In response, maybe this season finding joy looks less like searching desperately.

More like resurrendering. Less like running frantically.
More like kneeling calmly. Less forcing things to be a certain way.
More like looking up. Less like looking around.

With great anticipation, let us bow low to see the king raised high. Let us pray fervently to see darkness pierced with light. Find Joy by surrendering to Joy Himself. Jesus, the Light of the World.

Prayer: “Lord, though the world is dark around me, keep my eyes fixed on you. That the light you brought into this world would not just provide me with joy, but would radiate from me to provide others as well. In Jesus Name.”

Author: Zach Bingham. Zach is a native Knoxvillian and went to UT Knoxville, graduating with a degree in Nuclear Engineering and a masters in Biomedical Engineering. He is married to Kristin and dad to Declan.

Overwhelming Joy

“When [the wise men] saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:10-11

Here He is! The baby that so threatened King Herod that he issued a decree to kill all the baby boys under two years old is here, lying in a manger. They went to King Herod’s palace first because they assumed any king would be there. After all, kings belong in majesty, in lavish splendor, apart from common people and common things. They never dreamed this king would be in a barn in the middle of nowhere.

They had journeyed so far and had seen so much, carried the burden of their treasures for so long. They had hoped and feared and hoped again. They had been in a King’s presence and now they were in THE KING’s presence. Falling to their knees, they had finally seen what they had hoped for. They could open their treasures for Him. Overwhelmed with joy, these wise men could finally present their gifts to the King for which they were intended.

It is the same with us. He is here! Emmanuel, God with us is here! Although we hope and fear, we can hope again in Him. May we, like the wise men, be amazed by His presence and be overwhelmed with joy.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your fulfilled promise of Jesus. Help me see you today. Help me allow my heart to become overwhelmed with joy at the knowledge that you are here.

Author: Chelse Dyer. Wife to Bubba and Mom to Garrett and Gracie. Chelse works in the corporate marketplace and leads the Fellowship West Women’s gatherings called The Grove. She likes her dog, jeep, gardening, and recently started pursuing a new academic program at the University of Tennessee.

Rejoice. Then Rejoice Again.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say rejoice. – Philippians 4:4

I memorized this verse years ago, but I’m not sure there has ever been a year where I have repeated this verse more than 2021. Twenty years ago, I was unaware that the man who penned those words was bound in prison. Can you imagine the exhaustion Paul perpetually experienced? What about the loneliness of his isolation? And the incredible desire to be with those he loved the most?

And yet, here you have a tired – joyful man encouraging the church at Philippi to rejoice in the midst of their struggle. In our cultural moment, it seems as if exhaustion and weariness cannot coexist with the joy of the Lord. Or said another way, being tired, fatigued, or over-extended has put Jesus followers on the sidelines regarding living faithful, impactful lives. I believe there is something significant that we can learn from Paul here. Whatever has happened in 2021 that may have left you weary doesn’t disqualify you from living a life as an ambassador for Jesus Christ!

Let Paul’s example encourage you today.

Are you exhausted?… Rejoice in the Lord.

Have you been exposed? … Rejoice in the Lord.

Have you lost some meaningful relationships? … Rejoice in the Lord.

Do you need healing? … Rejoice in the Lord.

Imagine the moment the church at Philippi received this letter. Their beloved brother, Paul, was encouraging them to remain faithful and rejoice. The call is the same for us today!

Prayer: Father, Guide me to the truth that I can rejoice in you no matter how I feel or what I am walking through. Thank you for your steadfastness and faithfulness. You are my God, and I will follow you.

Author: Noah Case. Noah is the husband to Lindsay, dad to Eden, Deacon and Cannon. He serves as the Pastor for Community and Mission at Fellowship West.

The Joy of a Promise Kept

“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? – 2 Samuel 7:18

David was the shepherd king of Israel. He was quite literally taken from the pasture to the palace and called a man after God’s own heart. He made many mistakes, experienced trials, endured suffering, and for joy through prayer and praise. The Davidic promise from God gives us a fuller picture of all the promises of God and what is to come with Jesus Christ.

“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore, you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God beside you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.” 2 Samuel 7:18-22

These verses are a reminder that God knows us deeply. He has a plan, and we can find joy and peace by walking in it, even when it seems very different from our own. David wanted to put God’s glory on display through a temple, but God wanted to put His glory on display through David. David would fail and sin, but this promise was not dependent on David’s faithfulness, but the steadfast faithfulness of God.

Our God will not fail His children. He is faithful to every promise. When we see the first words of the New Testament open with the lineage and coming of Jesus, son of David, we are reminded of the great joy we have resting in God’s promises.

Prayer: Who am I, O Lord, that you have brought me this far? You know me better than anyone and because of your promise, according to your heart, you have brought about greatness. There is none like you and no one beside you. Thank you for the JOY of your steadfast love.

Author: Atlee McSpadden. Atlee serves as the Director of Fellowship Kids at Fellowship West. Some of her favorite things include hiking, reading, podcasts, tea, coffee.