Advent Devotion - New Year's Day

“The Power of God”

 

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

(Eph. 3:17-19, NIV)

 We have journeyed through the Advent season, a time of preparation for and anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth.  We have exalted the name of Jesus, the Messiah born in a manger.  Now on this first day of 2017 may we seek to be filled with God’s power that we might live different so that others can see Jesus in us.  It is God’s Holy Spirit who empowers us to grasp the richness of God’s love and to know his love which surpasses knowledge. May the words from seventeenth century British Baptist, Gerrard Winstanley, help us to understand God’s power in this New Year. 

 

What is to be understood as the Power of God?

It is to have the same Anointing

that was upon the Anointed One,

indwelling and ruling within you.

The power of love in you is the power of God in you,

setting you free from envy.

The power of patience, and of gentleness in you,

is the power of God in you,

setting you free from discontent.

The power of humility in you,

is the power of God in you,

setting you free from pride.

The power of peace, joy, and stillness of heart,

is the power of God in you,

setting you free from sorrows

and inward bondage of mind.

 

 

Blake Burleson and Michael Sciretti, Jr., ed. Baptist Wisdom for Contemplative Prayer (Copyright 2012), pp. 94-95.

  Pastor Bob

 

Advent Devotion - 12/31/16

“The Gift of God”

 

Family traditions are such an integral part of the Christmas season for many families. Once we became parents we wanted to establish traditions as well.  We wanted to be sure to emphasize the importance of celebrating the birth of Jesus and keeping forefront on our minds that God gave us the ultimate gift in his son Jesus so that we can have eternal life: “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23.”

 We thought that a good way to do this was to let Isabella be involved in doing something for someone less fortunate.  Since she was little, we have tried to teach her that giving is a way we can show God’s love to others.  One way she can do this is by participating in Operation Christmas Child each year.  This is a ministry of Franklin Graham and has made a huge impact on millions of children around the world that may have never had an opportunity to hear about God’s love for them in addition to having a shoebox of gifts to open at Christmas.

 We have always done this as a family but thought she could also do her own box because this would make more of an impact on her.  She gets so excited to go to the store to select gifts and hygiene items for a little girl.  It’s so precious to see her carefully select items that she feels will make this child happy.  She puts a lot of thought into each item and always wants to fill the box up so there is not even one ounce of space left. It’s also exciting to hear about what country her box was delivered to and to see photos and learn some history of that area.

 Maybe you have some traditions in your family to help keep the focus on Jesus during the Christmas season.  If not, maybe you can start something new.  We can never out give God but we sure can try!

 “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

  Melanie Lee

Advent Devotion - 12/30/16

“Surprises at Christmas”

 Scripture Reference:  2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Focus:  Amid the most unlikely of circumstances, to the most unlikely of people, God became a human being to reconcile all peoples to himself. (http://www.crivoice.org/cyxmas.html; “The Christmas Season” by Dennis Bratcher)

 My dad loved Christmas like a kid, and he delighted in holiday surprises.   We begged to open his special gifts early!  He would usually concede a few days before Christmas.  I still smile when I think of the special gifts he surprised us with…a coke-can lamp, a large package filled with many smaller wrapped gifts each containing a piece of jewelry, my first “jam box” as we called them way back then!  Another surprise I remembered was a gift to my grandparents.  My dad’s parents lived in Alabama.  We drove 12 hours at Christmas, and only my mom’s mom knew we were making this holiday trip.  Imagine the surprise, joy, and excitement when we pulled up in front of my grandparents’ house for family Christmas. 

That Christmas is remembered for smiles and excitement that came from the surprise!

 Phillip and I have continued to enjoy holiday surprises and making our own family memories.  One Christmas, Santa brought Disney tickets.  It seemed like Christmas all year as we anticipated our summer trip to Orlando.  The wait was long, but it was a fabulous trip, one that we still smile and reminisce about.  Another year, train tickets and plans for NYC were a big surprise.  Cherished memories come from these experiences.

 I surprised Phillip one Christmas.  Just before Christmas 2000, I learned that I was pregnant.  Phillip was caught up in the holiday craziness and wasn’t aware.  I decided to reveal this news with a Christmas morning surprise.  I placed a note in his stocking letting him know that his best gift would arrive in August – our second child.  Phillip was truly excited and filled with joy and anticipation! 

 There was great anticipation about the arrival of Baby Jesus many years ago, and there was great joy when he arrived on Christmas day, in a stable.  It wasn’t fancy, but he was an awesome gift to a world in need!  Our world has greatly changed, but we still need Jesus.  I hope your Christmas had elements of surprise, anticipation and joy.  And I challenge you to share that with somebody you know!

 Lisa Brown


 

 

Advent Devotion - 12/29/16

“Unconditional Love”

 As I write this devotional, our sixteen and a half year old black lab-border collie mix, Dozer, is in his last days.  We adopted him in January 2001 and he has been a wonderful part of the family.  He would let Isabella ride on his back when she was little.  Squirrels and cats would not dare trespass in the yard.  And when he heard my old Chevy pickup start, he knew we were going to the dump.  He rode the whole way with his head out the window, ears flapping and tongue blown over to his cheek.  Dozer showed us what unconditional love was all about.  If only I could love others like he loved us!  Here’s a poem I found on the Internet about the love of dogs.  I hope it speaks to you as it has me . . .

Pastor Bob

When a dog offers you his heart

Accept it with a smile

For his love will last a lifetime—

Which is such a little while.

 

When a dog offers you his heart

Take it gladly and with pride

For he will be a faithful friend

Ever by your side.

 

A dog loves you because you’re you—

Not for how you speak or what job you do

You could be short, tall, think or fat

Or ugly as sin, he doesn’t care about that.

 

A dog knows if you’re good or bad

He can see inside your soul

When he decides you’re okay

To earn your love is his main goal.

 

When you’re sad, he’ll comfort you

And kiss away each tear

Youmay even wake up in the morning

With a cold nose in your ear.

 

When eventually the time comes

And the lights in his eyes dim

A new star will shine in Heaven

In remembrance of him.

 

You’ll gaze up at the midnight sky

And you will hear him say—

I’m so glad you were my human

We’ll meet again some day!”

 

So, if this poem has caused a tear to fall

That’s because you love the dog who’s

Giving you his all

go travel on together, happily paw in glove

He’s the only one who’ll ever give you

Unconditional love.

 

When a dog offers you his heart

Accept it with a smile

For his love will last a lifetime -

Which is such a little while. [1]

 

 [1] Unconditional Love—A poem for everyone who loves dogs—copied.

 

Advent Devotion - 12/28/16

It’s never really a surprise that Christmas is coming, is it? Halloween decorations are still tossed about the aisles of stores the week before trick or treaters collect their loot, while the halls have already been decked the next row over. Red and green begins to bleed into the orange and black before we even flip the calendar to November. Black Friday ads and catalogs flood mailboxes well over a month before we even think about Pilgrims and turkey. Kiddos are making wish lists and adults are rapidly filling up the pages of December with parties and concerts and plans for decorating.

 Christmas morning is full of energy and enthusiasm at our house. I’m certain it looks similar to Christmas morning at your house this year or in years past. When I was young, my family gathered at the top of the stairs to pray together before dashing downstairs for the excitement of the morning. Such a simple, yet meaningful tradition was so helpful for us to focus our thoughts on Jesus on a day when it so quickly becomes about us. As Jon and I raise our own family now, we have continued and tweaked that tradition some. We huddle together at the top of the stairs and read the story of Jesus’ birth. We’ve progressed from an interactive version on the Kindle to listening to Daddy read from The Jesus Storybook Bible to hearing our kids read to us.

 December was filled to the brim once again. Every year I determine to slow down. To soak up the season of Advent and treasure and ponder things in my heart as Mary did. But each year Christmas Eve arrives and I think, “Oh! It’s here! What happened?!” It’s as if I didn’t even know that December 25 was right around the corner. My heart hasn’t prepared much room for Him, I’m afraid. Despite my best intentions, I get pulled in many directions and my heart is anything but focused. The Lord, in His kindness, uses our family’s Christmas morning tradition as a gentle reminder to re-orient my soul to the journey I’m walking. A chance to stop and be still for a moment. He always offers these opportunities to us, but we so often miss them. How is God offering you a chance to be still today and reflect on who He is and what He’s done for you?

 Mollie Greenhill

 

 

Advent Devotion - 12/27/16

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in a manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2: 16-20)

 The days following Christmas Day can seem to be a bit anticlimactic.  Shopping done, cards sent, presents opened, meals prepped and served.  Now what?  We spend so much time and energy preparing for those few hours on Christmas morning that we are too exhausted to appreciate the real miracle God has performed. 

 The pastor that counseled Matthew and I before we were married said to us if couples put as much thought, time, energy, and money (when necessary) into their marriage as they did on their wedding day, there would be far fewer divorces.  I think these wise words hold true for our view of Christmas as well.  How well do we live into the miracle of God in the flesh after the wrapping paper has been cleaned up?  The shepherds bore witness to the miracle of Christ and spread the good news, amazing all that were told.  That seemingly ordinary night would now mark their lives forever into two distinct parts – the before and after.  They saw the face of God and their lives would never be the same. 

 Are we living in the after?  We face an uphill battle when society tells us Christmas begins with shopping on Thanksgiving Day and ends by noon on Christmas Day when the radio stations stop playing Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bell Rock for the umpteenth time and go back to their regularly scheduled programming.  But as Christians, we know that God calls us not to conform to the world, but to transform it.  Mary treasured and pondered the miracle of God.  Do we set aside time in the after of the hustle and bustle to be still with God and treasure and ponder what an amazing gift we have been given? 

 The coming of God in the flesh was so monumental, it marks time for all of humanity.  The before and after.  God came to live among us and life will never be the same.  Let’s purpose to live into the after of Christmas Day, knowing it’s not the end.  It’s the beginning.   

 

Beth Hensley

 

Advent Devotion - 12/26/16

Devotion is some value we respect in newlyweds and our elders. It's something we long to see and admire when our parents exhibit it. And, it's hard to maintain in today's world. Not just in my marriage, but also to my God.  I don't remember when it became hard, or truly just harder to do.  It's not my wife's fault, it's not God's either (yes, these both go without saying).

Devotion takes intentions, disciplines, goals, perseverance, commitments, flexibility, consistency, and love, I think. The greatest gift God gave us yesterday (Christ's Birthday, so long ago), and today, and tomorrow is just one many-faceted sign of God's devotion to you and me.

I think of the Tom and Cecile Millers of my life and think of evidence of their devotion.  I think of my parents and the repeated and renewed efforts they make to show their devotion to each other and God amidst differences of opinion, challenging economies, transitions of vocation, interstate moves, children born with physical challenges, temptations of technology and busyness that threaten to take their time and attention from their commitments and purposes, and tests of their health. I also see it between my aunt with cancer and my uncle. But in all of these I get encouragement and inspiration from the ways they repeat their devotion to God and each other.

Do you see devotion around you?

Intend today to see an example each of God's devotion to you, of someone else's devotion, and also of your devotion. I will join you in this activity today.

  Craig Lott

 

 

Advent Devotional - Christmas Day

“A Snowy Christmas Story”

 

“Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” (Prov. 17:17, MSG)

 During our seminary years and into the years of our first pastorate, Melanie and I would celebrate Christmas morning and would then drive to South Carolina to visit our family.  Our goal was to arrive so as to have Christmas dinner with family.  But after Isabella was born in March 2004, we made the decision not to travel on Christmas day.  Instead, we would drive on the day after Christmas.

 We will always remember December 26, 2004.  It was a Sunday.  Because I had to preach in the morning, we would not be able to leave for South Carolina until after church.  The problem was that there was a winter storm threatening the east coast.  Some folks at church questioned whether we should travel or not.  I said, “We will be fine.”  (Typical husband!)  We loaded the family Christmas gifts, our bags and some lunch.  We buckled ten-month-old Isabella, our most precious cargo, into her car-seat and off we went!  We set our eyes on I-95 south!

 When we hit Emporia, the sleet started.  I figured we should keep going because the roads weren’t slippery at that point.  Soon the conditions changed very quickly.  Traffic came to a crawl.  It took us about five hours to drive what should have taken two.  We called my dad in Florence to provide updates.  Finally, we arrived in Rocky Mount and could travel no farther.  We tried to find a hotel.  There were no vacancies (sound familiar?)  People were scattered all over the hotel lobbies, and gas stations and restaurants were packed.  It was dark and we were getting worried.  Where would we stay and keep our baby warm and safe?

 Then I remembered our seminary friends who lived in Tarboro.  We called information (no smart phones then) and got their phone number.  Then we made the desperate call and they answered!  We told them our dilemma and they said, “Come on!”  They pulled out their pack-and-play for Isabella and we had a safe place to rest for the night and an unexpected reunion with some old friends.  When the temperature warmed up a bit the next day, we continued our trip and arrived safely with our own Christmas story to tell.     

 Pastor Bob

 

Advent Devotion - 12/24/16

I have often made the declaration that I don’t like Christmas music. That is only half true. In reality I love a number of Christmas hymns. My current favorite is “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.” Although originally penned over 400 years ago, there is one verse written more recently. It reads:

 O come, desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease

And be Thyself our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

 As we think back to that original Christmas eve we remember what was happening in Israel.  Israel is being occupied by the Romans. They longed to be free of this occupation. They longed to overthrow the ruling power. The longed to be free. They longed for  a King of Peace.

 And on this night so many years ago a child was born. The Messiah. Emmanuel. God with us. Surely this would give Israel the King of Peace they so much desired! But Jesus didn’t give them freedom from Rome. Jesus didn’t rally the troops and overthrow their rulers. Jesus didn’t become that Earthly King of Peace.

 But he did bring peace. It just wasn’t what they were expecting. Jesus brought peace of the heart. He brought the peace that, “transcends all understanding”. He brought a peace that couldn’t be captured, or conquered, or taken away. His peace would be eternal.

 Today is Christmas Eve and a quick glance at the world will reveal so many things offering us peace. So many things to “free” us from what holds us back. But they are merely shadows of the only true peace that satisfies. Only the peace of Christ will satisfy.

 So today, take a few moments and think of the things that you look to for peace. It might be a leader, a job, a relationship, or an item. Is this peace eternal or will it fade?  I challenge you today to renew your desire for the peace that does not fade away or die. I challenge you to give these things up to God and accept everlasting peace.

 Jon Greenhill

 

Advent Devotion - 12/23/16

"You will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in You.” Isaiah 26:3

 One of the deepest experiences I ever had with “the peace that passes all understanding” was at my grandma’s interment. It certainly wasn’t expected, but my meeting with God that day was profound and I pray, unforgettable.

 It seems odd to find peace in such a heavy place but it’s where God allowed me to understand that peace doesn’t exist apart from trusting in Him.

 As I sat on an Appalachian hillside for Grandma Jobe’s interment, I found myself “being” with God. And, as I try to write about this, I’m realizing how worthless words can sometimes be. The easiest way to describe my state while being there with God is that all my soul was perfectly still; like when the earth is hushed, blanketed by a deep snow fall. I found myself simply believing in who God says He is - a God who loves and whose heartbeat is mercy, our God who keeps His promises and redeems us, everlasting, never-changing, and almighty. In this place, I was at rest and full of His love.

 On that day, I saw a promise fulfilled. It was a holy experience that words can’t describe. And, if I didn’t believe that God is who He says He is, that day would have been very different. Anything experienced apart from God isn’t all it can be. Trust in God’s promises is paramount to experiencing peace. It is a lynchpin. The peace I felt that day came from trusting in God’s promise for a woman whose walk with God was a close one. I grew up witness to that relationship. I knew what He had in store for her. To God be the glory.

 On this amazing journey called life, I spend nearly as much time in the valley as I do on the mountain, and the pattern is… When faithful to my relationship with God, my life is sustained; apart from God, there is no real peace deep within. If I am not loyal to God, His promise will remain, but I will be missing much.     

 So during Advent, my hope is to rest in the promise of Emmanuel having been fulfilled. The Prince of Peace has come; we only need to trust in Him.  

  Beth Jones

 

 

Advent Devotion - 12/22/16

"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world!” – John 16:33

 It may seem odd to read a verse from the end of John spoken by Jesus to His disciples right before he was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, sentenced, and crucified.  This is supposed to be an advent devotional!   This verse, spoken at the end of Jesus’ life, shows us the reason He was born, the reason He was sent to us by His Father, and the reason we can rejoice in the birth of Christ, the coming of the Messiah.

 God knew that this world was going to have trouble in it, especially for those who choose to follow Him and live like Jesus.  He also knew that we couldn’t handle it by ourselves.  He knew that the troubles, the sorrows, the pains, and the trials we experience in this world are too much and too overwhelming for us to persevere on our own.  That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus.  Jesus came into the world to defeat sin once and for all, to free us from the slavery of the flesh, and give us peace.  This peace is found in knowing that through His death and resurrection, Jesus has overcome the world.

 What is making you restless?

What makes you overwhelmed?

What makes you anxious or afraid?

 These are the things that the Enemy is using to distract us from the peace that Christ has won for us.  During advent we reflect on what it means to us that Jesus was born.  In this hectic season, when you find yourself overwhelmed, anxious, afraid, or restless, rest in knowing that the things you fear have been overcome.  Once and for all.  Jesus was born for that.  He is the Prince of Peace.

 Isaiah 54:10 says, “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”  No matter what happens in your life, no matter what happens in our country, no matter what happens to our world, God’s unfailing love and covenant of peace will reign forever.  That is something we can rest in.

 

Jessica Torres

 

Advent Devotion - 12/21/16

Peace, a word that seems almost impossible to attain in our world yet we are told throughout the bible that through Christ, we have peace. It is hard to see peace in our world or even in our own lives. There is a song that I love, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and the lyrics shed light on how it is easy to believe that peace does not exist:   

 

“And in despair I bowed my head

There is no peace on earth I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men”

 

It is easy to take all of the chaos, hate, and tragedy in our lives and in this world and give up on the idea of peace. But biblical peace, the peace of God, transcends our situations. Colossians 1:19-20 states, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” This verse explains that Jesus is peace, the sacrifice of Jesus is what gives us peace with God and allows us to have peace in this life on earth. Peace goes beyond our feelings or our understandings of peace; peace is the ultimate sacrifice and love only found through Jesus.

 

When we don’t recognize Jesus as our peace, we start to worry; we think of all of the things that could go wrong and fixate on the unrest in our lives. When we forget that peace exists, we give into the world’s idea that peace is not attainable. In the busyness of life, in the trials of my individual life, in the violence of the world; it is necessary to be reminded of God’s peace, his peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4;7), a peace that is not just found in the calm of life but found in every moment as we walk through life, following Christ.

 

Today, take time to invite God into your everyday life and ask for peace through Jesus. Do your best to be found living your best, in peace; find the peace of God and run after it.

 

Here are some scripture verses to meditate and reflect on today:

Isaiah 26:3, Hebrews 12;14, 1 Peter 3:10-11

 

Rachel Jones

 

Advent Devotion - 12/20/16

One Step at a Time- Peacemakers in Our Midst

 “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”

Jesus Christ-

Matthew 5:9

 

This may be a short, sweet, and simple verse, but it is very important. Jesus was a big peacemaker in his days, which is really very impressive. He had to deal with the Pharisees, who were always bugging and testing him. If I were Jesus, I would probably get so angry with the Pharisees that I would start yelling so loudly that the whole earth could hear me. But Jesus didn’t. He remained calm. He was peaceful.

 

One time that I have seen peace in my midst through someone else was through my third grade teacher, Mrs. Nagy. My third grade class was one of the most loud and crazy classes ever, and trust me, my being in that class didn’t help the matter whatsoever. I was probably the loudest, most talkative person in that whole class of twenty seven third graders. I’m surprised I didn’t ever go to the principal's office (though I was often sitting at a table by myself). I would get up and talk to my friends that were sitting on the other side of the room (and they were sitting on the other side of the room for a reason). But Mrs. Nagy remained calm. She would always sweetly say, “Please sit down Jack.” or “ I love you to death Jack, but you have got to quit talking!”. She would only ever raise her voice by the littlest bit when she was trying to calm the whole entire class down (which was like herding cats.  When she told one group of kids to stop talking, another would start). Mrs. Nagy would remain calm and be peaceful, like Jesus.

 I think that the lesson that we can pull from this verse is that we need to look up to the peacemakers in our community and our world, people like Mrs. Nagy and Jesus, and strive to be more like them. For it is them that makes our world a better place every day, one step at a time.      

 How can you be a peacemaker like Jesus?

 Jack Hensley

 

Advent Devotion - 12/19/16

In the current state of the world, peace is not something that is easily achieved. Everywhere we look, there is war and hate. But as Christian people, we are supposed to be advocates for love, friendship, and most of all, peace. Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes, that isn’t all that easy. It is so easy to hold a grudge, and to show hate towards those that show hate towards you. However, if everyone took every opportunity they had to take the high road, to turn the other cheek and show kindness, the world would not have so much hate. We are meant to carry out God’s word. The bible calls for peace, so we should, to the best of our ability, create and maintain peace, especially during the Christmas season. There are many places, even just on the streets, to see peace. Whether it’s people gathering to sing Christmas carols, or people ringing salvation army bells, Christmas time is a peaceful season. Everyone seems to gather together to remember what the holiday is all about. So this Christmas, take a few minutes to think about how you can contribute to the peace, and do it. After all, peace cannot be fully achieved without a little work.  

 

How can you share God’s peace with the world around you?

 

Kate Wakeland

 

Advent Devotion - 12/18/16

What is Peace?  The dictionary defines it as: freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility. Well, after this season of political rhetoric, world issues, and personal/family busyness, peace sounds nice. Donna in our office told me about a visit to the mountains of NC where she said you could just sit on the porch and stare at the mountains and see what God had made. Personally that sounds like peace to me.

 

The Bible is not silent on the subject of peace. In fact it is mentioned 249 different times in our scriptures. If something is mentioned that many times, it might be significant.  Of all the books, the word Peace is mentioned most frequently in Isaiah.

 

Isaiah is popular around this time of year with verses like Is 9:6-7.  “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.”

 

That is a good Christmas verse right there. It speaks to the purpose of celebrating Christmas. We have the child messiah being born! He is going to change everything!  He will be called these amazing things including Prince of Peace! This is the peace that we have been looking for!   But that’s only half the story. Isaiah also has a prophetic look at the other half with verse 53:5.

 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

 

It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative of Christmas and only consider the first part of the story. In reality, the narrative is the whole story, starting at Christmas and culminating at Easter. God came to Earth as a baby so that we may eventually know true Peace through his death on the cross and the resurrection.

 

My prayer in this last week leading up to Christmas is that we can reflect on the type of Peace that Christ brought to us and how that will affect who we are and how we act while here on Earth. Do we allow the peace of Christ to transform us so that we can be a light to a dark world? Take a few minutes to pray about it.

 

Jon Greenhill

 

Advent Devotion - 12/17/16

What is it?

 

1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

In my growing-up family, there weren’t always many things under the tree before Christmas morning. Part of it was that we didn’t have a whole lot. The rest was the fact that my mom shared my proclivity for late-Christmas-Eve wrapping frenzies. What WAS there, though, was always able to be shaken and asked about: What is it? Who’s it from? Tell me – PLEASE?!?! And, unfailingly, I already loved and “belonged” to my presents before I even saw them unwrapped.

 

I feel the same way now, about the mystery of Christmas and the coming of that special baby to this earth. I look at artists’ pictures of that night in Bethlehem, and I wonder, “What was it really like that day? What does it mean for me now? Tell me, God – PLEASE?!?!” Even when I don’t know all the answers, I already love and cling to that sweet gift in the manger that was meant for me.

 

And I feel the same way when I talk to children about following that grown up, crucified Jesus. I say, “You can’t see Him or touch Him, but He is there, already loving you. I don’t understand how God does what God does – and I don’t have to. Because if I did, I wouldn’t need God or Jesus anymore.” All I know is, I love Him. And He loves me. And, boy, is there JOY in that!

 

My prayer for you this day, this season – this life – is that you will come to know the mystery and joy that were wrapped up and laying in that manger. That mysterious gift of joy has YOUR name on it, and is just waiting for you to open your heart to it.

 

Amanda Lott

 

Advent Devotion

Psalm 118: 24 "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

 

Mom: What has been the most Joyful thing that has happened in your short 6 years of life?

Emma: When Jo Jo was born!

Mom: Why do you pick that one?

Emma: Because I didn't have a sister!

Mom: What did you want to do with your new sister?

Emma: I wanted to pinch her cheeks and take her to the park and Jo Jo likes doing stuff with me.

 

Almost exactly a year after Emma was born, I got a surprise call from our adoption coordinator. It was quite an amazing conversation that is too long to put in this brief devotional. Basically, Emma's birth mom was pregnant again and she wanted the children to be raised together. Did we want another baby? She's due in six weeks. Um, what? This was only 12 months after Emma was born. We were finally getting used to sleeping again. We had a good routine going.

 

I called Gordon at work and let him know about the call and, of course, we said yes immediately. Laura Jo was our surprise baby that some parents who adopt often have, but we got her in a very different way. Just like Mary was surprised by God's news that she would be having a baby, we were blessed with a most joyful surprise. Laura Jo is the best joyful surprise that our family has had. God very much played a part in how our family was brought together. We wouldn't have it any other way. 

Emma Rawls

 

Advent Devotion

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 

—Philippians 4:4-7

 

In my years of teaching first grade Sunday school, I've seen joy on children's faces many times. Their joy is never predictable, never forced, but always immediate and genuine, for their minds are uncluttered by the perspective of adulthood.

 

Frequently their joy is expressed when they walk in the room smiling, knowing they are in a place of acceptance and love. Sometimes it's pride in a drawing they've completed, and given their best effort. Sometimes it's the hugs they give each other (and me). And sometimes this joy is expressed in prayer, which usually goes something like this: 

 

Dear God,

Thank you for my family. Thank you for my dog. Thank you for letting me have a sleepover tonight. I hope I get a (insert popular toy here) for Christmas. Please help my grandmother feel better soon. 

 

These prayers, so honest and pure, demonstrate the complete trust in God that comes easily for children but is sometimes difficult for adults. And yet trust is essential for us to experience joy. 

 

God wants us all to trust in Him, and to know that He will take care of us no matter what happens. He wants us to come to Him with our worries and concerns. He is our refuge in all things, and the source of true joy in our lives. 

 

Carolyn Burdette

 

Advent Devotion

What is joy?

 

As Christians, we experience joy in many ways. I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach Kindergarten Sunday School for many years. To me, there is so much “joy” as I welcome the children on Sunday mornings with their beautiful smiles and enthusiasm to learn more about Jesus and his teachings through our Bible stories. As we approach this Advent season, may we come as little children with open minds and hearts.

 

In Luke 2:10, it says, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” God also reminds us how we can always have that “joy” in John 15:10-11: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

 

My prayer is that this Christmas, we will let Jesus bring joy in our lives as we commit ourselves to his service.

 

Andrea Simpson

 

Isaiah 9:2-3a The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest

 

When I think about Christmas, it’s sometimes hard for me to separate the “worldly” stuff from the “REAL” stuff. The stuff like the presents and the lights and the parties are different from the angels and the manger and the baby. And, yet, they are so intertwined.

The evolution of the “secular” side of Christmas is so related, in my mind, to the above verses from Isaiah. After a year of slogging through the days, dinged on every side by the hurts and frustrations and darkness of everyday life, there it is – CHRISTMAS. We long for the lights and the carols and the hubbub. We deeply desire the feelings of joy the holiday promises. So we overwhelm the days with more and more twinkling decorations, more and more presents, more and more music, and more and more celebrations . . .

 

But isn’t that what that very first Christmas was? Lights from heaven, songs from angels, the gift beyond all gifts, celebrated by heaven and earth together? Sound familiar?

 

As you are celebrating this year, make room and time to store away in your heart some of the joy that comes from this season. When God sent us the gift of Jesus, it was sent to brighten and fill with joy even the darkest of days. I pray that you will truly know and receive that gift for yourself.

Amanda Lott