Friday, December 30, 2011

When the Mighty Fall

When the Mighty Fall

Today’s Passage: 2 Samuel 1:19-27

“Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen! How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places…How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” 

Words of Devotion from Scripture

The headline screamed the astonishing message: “How quickly the mighty can fall.” What had happened? A major corporation had lost $7 billion in market value…in just four days! A week earlier, the company appeared secure and profitable, with rising expectations. Then, after several unexpected developments, everything changed! Billions of dollars in value just disappeared—vanished—as if they’d never existed.

These events remind us of just how temporary the things of this world are. Those who seem invincible can crumble suddenly. The famous quickly can become infamous.

 Overnight, popular personalities can become hated. The best of friends can become enemies. Investors can lose their profits in a matter of minutes. The powerful can become weak and helpless.

It was David who first spoke about the fall of the mighty. He spoke these words about the death of Saul and his son, Jonathan.

David had seen the fall of many mighty men. As a boy, he had defeated the giant, Goliath. He had led Israel into battle against enemies with far greater resources. With a relatively small army, he had outfoxed Saul and his legions. Then Saul and Jonathan died in battle, men who previously had been “mighty.”

David learned that God alone truly is “mighty.” As he once asked, “Who is the King of glory?” The answer … “The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8).

Today, remember that men and nations may rise and fall. Businesses may come and go. Market values may increase and decrease. But God never changes! You always can depend on Him.

PRAYER: Father, thank You that I can trust in You. I will store up treasures in Heaven and invest my resources in Your Kingdom. I commit all that I have to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cultural Religion

Cultural Religion

Today’s Passage: Revelation 3:15-16
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” 

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

When a well-respected advertising executive died, a colleague concluded that he “resides in Heaven now.” Why was he convinced? Because the man had been “nice.”

When a major business leader resigned, a media columnist encouraged colleagues to “send him positive thoughts (and prayers, if you pray).” Why? Because of “all the wonderful things he has accomplished.” 

We hear this kind of language every day, particularly around Christmas—talk about God and prayer, about being “good” and “nice.”

Words like these may be motivated by a desire to rise above the mundane and focus on values and spiritual things. But the Bible reminds us that God has different standards. 

None of us is truly “good enough.” We all are sinners. None of us can get into Heaven by being “nice.” The deciding factors are the choices we make, what we believe.
Many people, particularly around the Christmas season, embrace the concept of being “nice” and “good,” of giving and sharing. Yet they aren’t willing to follow Jesus, feeling that His teachings are too radical, too impractical, too inconvenient (see John 6:60-69). 

They have other priorities. They want to live like the world and rule their own lives.
But Jesus taught that we must make a choice. We cannot “serve two masters.” We either will serve God or the things of this world (Matthew 6:24). Jesus specifically said that being “lukewarm” isn’t acceptable. We need to be “hot”—committed, totally and completely!

Today, remember that you will need to give an account of your life. You have a choice to make: Is Jesus really your Lord and Master? Have you really left all to follow Him?

Don’t be lukewarm. Make Jesus your Lord. Follow Him wherever He leads.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, I declare that You are my Lord. Open up doors so I can share my testimony with others. I commit my life to serving You! In Your name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Battle for Your Soul

The Battle for Your Soul

Today’s Passage: 2 Chronicles 32:19-20 

“They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands. But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven.” 

Words of Devotion from Scripture

Powerful assumptions are sweeping across the globe. An army is gaining momentum. What is their cause, fighting against Christians? Many of them believe that Christianity is outdated and even a dangerous influence; that Christians are unrealistic fanatics, na├»ve or foolish, hypocrites; that no “intelligent” person could believe the Bible.

We find these forces in the marketplace, in business, in government, and in education. This humanistic mindset dominates countless films and TV programs. Through these outlets they mock our beliefs and the idea that there is one true God. They deny that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). In this cultural war, they feel they can win by intimidating Believers and forcing their view of history and their interpretation of life.

The people of Judah faced a similar battle when they were being besieged by Assyria. Their leader, Sennacherib, tried to discourage God’s people, warning them that they could not depend on God and that they would be defeated, just like other nations.
God’s people could have become discouraged. 

They could have given in or believed the lies, but they remained steadfast. They committed their problems to God and sought Him with renewed intensity…and He delivered them. Miracles were performed, and Assyria was defeated.

Today, remember that you are in a war. Open your spiritual eyes, and you’ll see battles being fought. Some, like Sennacherib, seek to intimidate us, spread confusion, or weaken our resolve.

This is a day to stand strong. Don’t compromise or be afraid. Know what you believe and who you serve. Commit your life to serving Jesus. Make Him your Lord. Seek first His Kingdom. Trust in Him. Believe Him for victory!

PRAYER Father, give me greater boldness to stand for You. Keep me from compromise. I seek first Your Kingdom. Thank You for victory! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day after Christmas

The Day after Christmas

Today’s Passage: Job 19:25
For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth

Thoughts of Devotion from the Scripture
The only difference in today and all other days in the year is the fact that it is the day after Christmas. To some, that is a welcomed day! To others, it may be a sad one, in that they will have to wait another 364 days until they can once again have Christmas.

There IS life 'after Christmas'; it's just that some don't know about that life. They are too busy satisfying self, building a life of their own, going about their daily chores and jobs, without giving consideration to the how's and why's of their being on earth. They don't know that the Redeemer lives, because they haven't found Him yet.

Today is the first day 'after Christmas', in which we can start, once again, spreading the gospel to the lost and dying world. We can help guide them towards salvation, the deliverance from the power of sin. This can be the first day in a 'new year', and counting down to the next Christmas, in which they may then take part as being a Child of the King. 

The Christmas season is better observed, if you know the maker of the day, the one who made it all possible.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us spread the Word that the Redeemer lives. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Come as a Child

Come as a Child

"There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child." 
- Erma Bombeck

Today’s Passage: Matthew 18:2-4 
"He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" 

Words of Devotion from Scripture
Is there anything more exciting than being a child on Christmas morning? And yet this is what God asks of us each day, to change and become like little children. Not just on Christmas, but each day approaching God the Father as a child, with excited anticipation of His goodness, humbly trusting Him that every need will be met and every care will be under His control.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jesus Our Friend

Jesus Our Friend

"A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have." 
-Dwight L. Moody

Today’s Passage: John 15:15
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." 

Words of Devotion from the Scripture
When Jesus came into the world in human form, He changed our relationship with God forever. He made it possible for us to become adopted sons and daughters in God's family, co-heirs with Him to the gift of eternal life with the Father.

However He gave us another Christmas gift few of us ever open: His friendship. He experienced firsthand the loneliness of being human, and He saw that as much as we need a savior, we also need a friend.

What better friend could you have? Jesus is steadfastly loyal. He forgives your every fault. He supports and encourages you when you need it most, and He listens whenever you want to talk. He is a tireless listener. Jesus loves you as a friend who wants to see you grow to your full potential. There is no jealousy in Him. He wants only the best for you.

Enter more deeply into friendship with Jesus this Christmas. You can trust Him. If you reach out and accept the friendship He offers, your life will never be the same.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Room Enough for Jesus

Room Enough for Jesus

Today’s Passage:  Luke 2:7

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." 

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

One of the first words that come to mind when most of us think about the holiday season is "busy." True, but sad.

We can get so busy decorating the house, baking goodies, shopping for presents, going to parties and sending Christmas cards. Then, just when we think we've got a handle on it, we receive an unexpected card in the mail or a plate of cookies from a neighbor. What do we do?  We find time to return the gesture.
It's usually a challenge, but somehow we find time and make room to do all sorts of things during the holidays.

We make room for company to come. We make room for a Christmas tree in front of the picture window. We make room in our crowded schedule for activities we don't have time for.

Let's take time to consider: Have I made room for Jesus in my busy life this month?

In the familiar story of Christ's birth, I've always been bothered that there was no room in the inn for Jesus. I can't help but think didn't they know who He was? What could have been so important that they couldn't stop to make room for Jesus? My best guess is they were thinking only about themselves and their own busy agenda.

Likewise, we can become so busy with our Christmas plans that we run out of room for Jesus, too.
A tradition that I found online was a family would withhold the baby Jesus from their nativity set until Christmas morning.

One year, when the first grandson was three years old, he asked, "Grandma, where is the baby Jesus?" "He's not been born yet," she explained to him. "Jesus comes on Christmas Day. Then, you'll find Him right here," she added while pointing to the manger. Like years past, the house was full of excitement as family members arrived with arms full of presents. They expected to exchange gifts and enjoy a time for food, fun and celebration. But boy expected something different. He ran into the house shouting, "Is He here, yet? Is He here? Has Jesus come?"
The mother took her son over to the nativity and there, cradled in the manger, was baby Jesus. He had come just like He'd promised.

Over 2,000 years ago, God promised us a Savior. In a little town called Bethlehem, God kept His promise and Christ our Lord was born. While most missed what was happening that holy night, Christ's birth didn't escape the attention of heaven, a few shepherds, and some cattle. They pushed aside their duties and agendas to make room for Jesus. In fact, like the young boy, the Magi’s anticipated His arrival.

 In doing so, their lives were forever changed.
Every year Jesus still searches for hearts to fill. But He can only fill those spaces where we have left room for Him and invite Him in.

Christ's presence may go unnoticed by the world, but you and I, along with others who have made room in their hearts, can experience all the glorious wonder He brings. Let's cast aside the busyness of our lives this season to make room for Christ as we anticipate His arrival!

PRAYER: Dear Lord, the best I know how, I lay down my busy agenda to make room for You. Jesus, I don't want to miss a thing. Give me fresh eyes to see You this holiday season. I want to experience Your birth like never before so that I never close You out again. Welcome home, Lord. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Friday, December 16, 2011

Forgive Us our Christmases

Forgive Us our Christmases

Today’s Passage: Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

Once upon a time, a little girl named Mary Beth found herself caught in the pre-Christmas swirl of activity, all of which seemed to be coming to a head on Christmas Eve. Her dad was always scurrying about, loaded down with bundles and burdens. Her mom, under the pressure of getting ready for the great occasion, had succumbed to tears several times during the day. The little girl tried to help her weary parents, but always found that she was in the way.

“Not now, Mary Beth!  Can’t you see I’m busy!” her parents would say.

Finally, near tears herself, she was hustled off to bed.  There kneeling to pray the Lord’s Prayer, her heart and tongue became intertwined, “Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.” 

Perhaps Mary Beth’s prayer was not such a great mistake after all. Many times we leave Christ out of Christmas. Many times our Christmas spirit is not of good will but of exhaustion, causing us to trample on our loved ones’ feelings. And many times we are so busy planning the birthday celebration that we forget to invite the guest of honor.

Imagine for a moment, that you have never heard the Christmas story and you visit a shopping mall on December 22. You listen to the music being played over the intercom system and eavesdrop on a few shoppers’ conversations. Next, you stop by a greeting card shop and browse through the rows and rows of red and green envelopes with cards sporting colorful and comical messages. Window displays grab your attention, enticing you with promises of low prices for the last minute shoppers. Stress laden faces rush by carrying stacks of boxes in various shapes and sizes.  What conclusions would you draw about the event that culminates on December 25?

Much has changed since the God of the universe decorated the night sky with the star of Bethlehem and directed the choir of angels in a chorus announcing the birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. But the commercialism doesn’t have to rule in our hearts and homes. This year, let’s focus on the Christ Child and remember the true meaning of the holiday season. As we turn our eyes to the Babe in the manger, we will not view Christmas as a dreaded obligation or a major retail event. It will be a time of joyous celebration, honoring the One Who came to give us eternal life and worshipping our Heavenly Father.

Let’s focus on celebrating a Christ-centered Christmas!

Let’s Pray: Dear God, sometimes I get too caught in the Christmas commercialism. OK, a lot of times. Today, I’m going to refocus my heart and remember why I’m celebrating this wonderful day in the first place. I’m celebrating Jesus today…and every day!
In Jesus’ Name,

Now It’s Your Turn

What stirs in your heart when you see how retailers are trying to cash in on Christmas?

What do you think Jesus would say about all that?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Shepherds

The Shepherds

Today’s Passage: Luke 2:8-19

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you(8-12a)

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

Most of us are quite familiar with nativity scenes, whether in pictures, small figurines or “live” nativity scenes featuring real people and animals. My favorite part of the nativity is the Shepherds. Simple and Non-important but yet they had a “Great Message” to share.

 People tend to think of shepherds the way they are portrayed in our modern presentations—clean, well-groomed, and handsome. I have nothing against nativity scenes, but the ancient reality is much different. 

We hear much about shepherds in the Bible. Jesus even referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:11. The role of the shepherd was well-known, but this does not mean it was highly regarded or prestigious work (especially during Jesus’ time). Just think about what they did—spending days or even weeks as outcasts from society. Luke 2:8 clearly states that these men were “living out in fields.” 

I find it interesting that God chose to make the first angelic announcement to these outcasts. What if something like this happened here? What if God bypassed missionaries, pastors, and priests and instead sent His announcement to a group of cab drivers?

We serve a God who is not impressed by our titles, not even the religious ones. The shepherds had little to offer by worldly standards—I see only two characteristics:

First, the shepherds had a simple faith. They trusted the angels’ message completely.

Second, they had a simple life. They were not too busy to respond to the angels’ announcement. 

Again the shepherds were simple faith and lived a simple life. Perhaps we should also strive for these qualities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Origin of Christmas

The Origin of Christmas

Today’s Passage: Luke 2:11

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Words of Devotion from Scripture

When Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today? And when Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in American in 1832, who would have ever thought that decorations would become as glamorous as they are today?

Even before these two events that shaped what Christmas means today for most, there was a bright, special star that lit the dark night thousands of years ago letting the world know that Jesus the King was born. Usually, we don't celebrate historical figures as children, but in the case of Christ, it is appropriate.

When Christ was born, shepherds came to honor Him, wise men from the East brought Him gifts, and the earth rejoiced at His birth. These people who came to worship Him had no idea what Christ would accomplish as an adult. But they were right in traveling to worship the King because His birth was the most remarkable event in human history. Wise men and women today worship not only the Child of Bethlehem, but the Christ of Calvary.

As we approach Christmas in just a few days, we are faced with yet another opportunity to pause in the midst of all the excitement, decorations, and commercialization, to consider again the origin of Christmas--the One whose birth we celebrate. Let's not forget the true meaning of why we celebrate during this time of year. Celebrate the baby Jesus and trust Him as Savior today.

PRAYER CHALLENGE: Thank God for sending His Son that glorious night to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, die on the cross for your sins, and rise from the dead three days later to give you eternal life through Him. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Season … The Already-Lord

Advent Season … The Already-Lord

Today’s Passage:  2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.(1-4)

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

Christ has come! Christ is coming again!

We might expect people in general to get anxious about the things of our world: a difficult economy, powerful politician who doesn't really do much of anything, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor of the world, natural disasters, and so on - you know the like.

Yet for we who proclaim and follow the Christ, our anxiety is of a different sort. We worry and fret not, but we certainly anticipate. Especially during Advent, we remember that Christ is already Lord (Phil.2:9-11, Col. 1:15-20, John 19:30, Rev. 4:2), and so we anticipate his coming again. 

Despite difficult or disappointing situations, Jesus Christ is already Lord.

Despite loneliness, Jesus Christ is already Lord.

Despite changed circumstances, Jesus Christ is already Lord.

Despite unexpected situations, Jesus Christ is already Lord.

Despite my mistakes, your disappointment, our inadequacy or anything else that 

would cause us to be brought down…Jesus Christ is already Lord.

If we were to paraphrase the first beatitude, it would read in this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” These situations that seem threatening are actually opportunities of God's rule and Christ's dominion. Paul's words to the Church at Thessalonian ring of this notion:

"As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here."

Then there are those other disappointments
Worried about a “falling” society and “corrupt” government?

Check out I Samuel 8

Feeling defeated? Look to II Corinthians 4:9b

Feeling abandoned? Read John 14:18

Feeling like our “Christian heritage” is being challenged? Be encouraged by Matthew 5:10

Feeling inadequate without money, and weak without measurable results? 

Remember II Corinthians 4:7

Don’t get me wrong – we have a loving work to do, a high mission to which we are called. And it’s because of this that we must not let these things bring us down. Fight the urge to fight…instead, let God be God, stand firm, and let’s fulfill the calling to which he has summoned us (John 13:35).  For when we are challenged by the ways of the world, we must then remember:

Christ has come! Christ is coming again!

PRAYER: Almighty Father, in days of uncertainty and unrest, and especially in the light of this Advent season, help me to remember your Lordship: that you are indeed Lord of all Creation, Lord of the Universe, and thus, Lord of my life.  I submit to you again this day. In Christ, Amen.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Season … Selective Hearing

Advent Season … Selective Hearing

Today’s Passage: Isaiah 6:1-13

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. (1-5a)

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

At the time, I was certain I had properly understood my grandmother.  Even now, I don't even remember exactly what it was that I had wanted to do, but I made plans to do something... and later learned that she hadn't given me the permission I thought I had received. Looking back, I suspect she said, "We'll see..."  Instead, I heard, "yes."

Have you ever been accused of having selective hearing?  Or hearing what you want to hear?

Today's scripture reminds us of the danger in having ears that hear, but don't understand.  Isaiah was called to preach to a group of people who weren't going to listen to him... hardhearted people who were going to hear what they wanted to hear. 

We face this danger every time we hear a sermon or open scripture.  Our tendency is to read what we want to read... and to hear what we want to see.  We expect God to fit into the boxes that we construct for Him, and to act according to our expectations.

This Advent, we're reminded that Jesus didn't come the way people expected.  Instead, he came as a baby in a dirty unprepared manger, and placed in a smelly feed trough and born in a rough stable behind a busy inn.  May our eyes and ears be open, that we see Jesus when He comes to us today.

PRAYER: Almighty God, I confess that there are times when I limit you by my own preconceptions and expectations.  I have heard what I wanted to hear... I have read what I wanted to read.  And there have been times when I have missed your call because of my own preoccupation.  Give me ears to hear, eyes to perceive, and an understanding heart.  Amen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Season … In the Meantime

Advent Season … In the Meantime

Today’s Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters,[a] we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. (1-3)

Words of Devotion from the Scripture

How many times have we heard that, we don't know when Jesus will come again? It’s probably more times than we can count. All we're ever told is that the time is "soon." Our passage today says that the "Day of the Lord" will come like a "thief in the night," meaning it will sneak up on us, catch us unawares. Paul, however, tells us that we do not need to be surprised because we live in the light.

One of the great joys of the Advent season is that we're not only celebrating the birth of our Lord. This season is more than just celebration for what happened in the past. As we remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord we look forward to a Second Advent, when our Lord will once again come to us. But what are we to do in the meantime?

We are to be faithful and dwell in the light of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. Living in the light means we are never without hope. We are never far from our Lord, who keeps us with Him at all times. We are to encourage each other to keep to a life lived in the light, because our Lord Jesus Christ is our past, present, and future. As we observe Advent let us remember that we celebrate a glorious past event which holds strong in the present and looks to the future with great excitement and hope.

PRAYER: Dearest Lord Jesus, as we remember your birth we look ahead to the day when you will come to us again. We wait with great anticipation, and as we wait we pray for the strength to be faithful and to hold onto you even when it seems easier to let you go. We love you. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Season … Begin Anew

Advent Season … Begin Anew

Today’s Passage: Isaiah 4:2-6

But in that day, the branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious; the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of all who survive in Israel. All who remain in Zion will be a holy people— those who survive the destruction of Jerusalem and are recorded among the living.

Words of Devotions from the Scripture

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival."

What does Advent mean to you? Have you really thought about it? Have you noticed that little by little “sacred” has lost its meaning and true identity, often times falling prey to selfishness and commercialism. However, there is hope. Isaiah spoke of a “day” that will be spiritually beautiful and glorious. That day arrived at Advent.

“In that day” is familiar to us, because “in that day” refers to our day. Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of judgment are balanced by God’s promise of the Messiah in Isaiah 4:2-6. Advent reminds us that the Messiah is in our midst; it reminds us that “in that day,” the promise that was Israel will be realized spiritually in God’s people.

Have you thought about the supreme hope we have in Christ? Advent is the beginning of God’s promise that the latter covenant will be better than the former. Advent reminds that the darkness of our past has been forgiven. Advent is the story of how tragedy is turned into hope.

It seems likely that this prophecy came after Jerusalem had actually been destroyed. So what that does that mean? It means Advent gives us hope, it allows us to begin again anew. But the promise doesn’t stop there. Advent fulfills the promise of God’s constant presence, provision and protection. You can begin anew this Advent.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art. Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart! – Charles Wesley, 1744.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Season …Giving Pennies

Advent Season …Giving Pennies

Today’s Passage: Luke 20:41-21:4

Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Verses 41-44)

Words of Devotion from the Scriptures

Other men want to fight over wording. Jesus wants to celebrate the gift of love. Jesus’ symbol for giving is not a seasonal charity-fundraiser with cocktail dresses in red and black. Jesus’ message of love isn't tipsy executives under the mistletoe.

While rich men march to the collection boxes and the sound of their coins clatter together, it might have been easy to miss the little “tink, tink” of two pennies. An older lady, alone in the world, was dropping her two pennies into the collection. Even then, people were celebrated for the size of their gift, not in the depth of their sacrifice. This lady didn’t have a lot to give, but she hoped that her gift would make a difference to someone with a greater need. 

It was a sacrifice of faithfulness. It was a sacrifice of love. 

How many of us really want to talk about sacrifice this year? Maybe it’s hard enough to put a few things under your own tree this year. Maybe you've been reminding the kids that they won’t get EVERYTHING on their list. When times are tough, it’s easy to think that others are missing the message of the season. And we all wonder if we ought to be doing more. And whenever we give, it feels so small. Be encouraged. Jesus notices an older person who uses her Social Security check to put a gift under someone else’s tree. He notices a person who uses food stamps to buy food for the holiday food drive. He sees you. 

Times are tough. And if you are trying to figure out how to manage through this season, you are not alone. If you are trying to teach your kids to give and hide from them your own need, you are not alone. And if you are scraping together your pennies to share hope and joy with others, you are not alone. What you are doing in secret, can become His story of Christmas love.

PRAYER: Lord, we are faced with so many opportunities to give in these days. We don’t want to hoard all that you have given us, but we are afraid that our gift is too small. Open our hearts to a few ways we can be a real blessing to others this season. Help us to be thankful for all that we have. Prince of Peace brings us joy in our fear.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Season… Cemeteries & Prison Cells

Advent Season… Cemeteries & Prison Cells

Today’s PassageLuke 20:27-40

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. Finally, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!” (Verses 27-33)

Words of Devotion from Scripture

Christ has come! Christ is coming again! 

This is the hope of Advent, the hope of the Church, and the hope of those her members.

While a passage from Luke on the topic of resurrection may seem out of place for us during Advent, that’s likely only because we assume the things of Christmas upon Advent. You know: baby Jesus, a manger, some angels, and other Nativity-related personalities. Indeed, Christmas is coming, but Advent is a season of remembering Israel’s time of waiting for the coming Messiah. And thus, it’s a season where we look forward with the same anticipation of His coming again: to bring about the Great Resurrection.

I have taken walks through many cemeteries. One town that we lived in had a number of beautifully-maintained cemeteries that I liked to visit. The mix of centuries-old trees and just-as-old grave markers serves as a reminder to us that the cycles of life and death are nothing new and nothing swift. If you live in the northeastern United States, you know the seasons are quite different one from another. The life cycle of the trees that ranges from life-full green leaves, to brown crunchy ones, to bare skeleton-like branches, to yellow birthing buds and back to life again is not unlike human life itself. There are seasons for life...and seasons for death. And while we might try and figure it out - and even control it - we are yet not God and ultimately cannot control these things. And so...we wait.

Advent seeks to be a reminder of this. Perhaps you’ve asked questions similar to my own: “Where on earth is Christ? What is taking Him so long?!”

The faith of the matter is that God is God and we are not. Bonheoffer likens the situation to a prison cell in which one can only rely on someone with more power to set us free from the outside. We can bang on the door and shake the bars as hard as we'd like - we might like to think we have the know-how to figure our way out - but nothing will let us go other than the One who holds the key.

The Sadducees wanted to pick apart and figure out the “hows” of resurrection. This is our desire: to figure, to know, to control, to grasp. Yet while God has granted us the opportunity of choice, God has not granted us sovereignty of knowledge. We know in part, and thus during this season, we prophesy in part: 

Christ has come! Christ is coming again!

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” - Dietrich Bonheoffer

PRAYER: Almighty Father, I submit to you today my desire to know it all, be it all, and do it all. As I wait for your coming again, help me to trust in your ways, in your movements, and in the revealing of your Kingdom and will as you see fit. In Christ… amen

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Season... Swords into Plowshares

Advent Season... Swords into Plowshares

Today’s Passage: Isaiah 2:1-11

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” (Verses 1-3a)

Words of Devotion from Scripture
I confess... I never really read this passage correctly. I always thought that the verse referring to swords and plowshares was a reference to some violent battle where the farmers used farm tools to take up arms against the trained soldiers. (If you've ever seen the movie Brave heart, you know what I mean!) Taken out of context, you might read this verse as a very violent image—you might picture well-trained, well-equipped warriors doing battle against ill-trained, ill-equipped farmers. Swords vs. plows and Spears vs. pruning shears…
But this is not the case at all. When Isaiah's vision becomes reality, “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
In other words, there is no longer a need for swords, so the iron-smiths will heat the swords up and remake them as plows. The spears will be reshaped into pruning hooks.
In other words, the instruments of war will be destroyed and reformed into instruments of agriculture. Instead of destruction, they will be used for generating food and beauty.
The boot camps will turn into summer camps for under-privileged children from the city, the military bases will help us solve the world’s housing crisis, the destroyers and aircraft carriers will become vehicles of recreation and exploration. Billions of dollars from every nation will no longer be used to destroy life—but to enhance it. 

This is the vision that Isaiah speaks of—the vision of the Kingdom of God, come on this earth.

Impossible? Then why do you pray “the Lord’s Prayer”? You know…the part where it says, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And yet, do we pray that prayer with any actual belief? Do we pray in expectant anticipation? Do we pray with certain hope? Do we really believe that we might wake up one morning and find that these words had become our actual present reality? That God was actually reigning on earth? That the Kingdom of God had actually come? That His will was actually being done here on earth?

Advent is not simply a way for us to mark time until we can open the gifts under our Christmas tree. Advent is a time for us to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It’s a time for us to consider if we are ready for the Messiah to come. Advent is about waiting—but it’s also about hope, expectation, anticipation, preparation, and excitement. It’s about recognizing that Christ has come, is here, and is coming again. It’s about living our lives according to those truths.

PRAYER: Almighty Father, I live in a world that is broken and war-torn. I realize that my tendency is toward violence and retaliation, not peace and reconciliation.  Help me welcome the Prince of Peace into my life that I might be shaped more and more by Your Kingdom.  Amen.