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Church Regathering

Dear North Raleigh Church Family,

We trust this note finds you well. The past several weeks have been difficult for many in our country and community.  Thank you for the many ways you have stayed engaged in our mission to Live Jesus, Give Jesus in these historic times.  Just because we have not gathered at our campus, it does NOT mean that our church ever closed. 

We have started the process of developing phases for the North Raleigh family to regather starting in mid-June.  We believe we are designed, by God, to gather face to face.  Our sentiments are similar to Paul, who said, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…” (2 Thessalonians 2:17 ESV).

While we are anxious to reunite as a church family, we also continue to honor principles that have guided us during COVID-19:

  • We want to love our neighbors. From the start of the pandemic, we shared our goal to exercise precaution to help protect the most vulnerable among us.
  • We want to listen to leaders. That is why we are closely monitoring government guidelines and giving heed to medical and public policy experts. 
  • We want to learn best practices. As we move toward reunion, we learn from those who have already reopened.  This includes other state guidelines, similar sized churches, schools, theatres and businesses.  They have good lessons for us to learn.
  • We want to continue to move through this with flexibility, adaptability and agility which may include having to return to electronic only gatherings if the situation worsens once again.

As we adhere to these principles, we plan for our regathering.  Church will look and feel different than three months ago.  We want to be as prayerful and careful as possible so we can do it the right way and safe way, for all of our members and guests. More details will be released as we go forward.  Please pray for us.

We are not calling it a “reopening” because we never closed.  Our desire is to reframe the question away from “When will we reopen?” to better questions which include:

  • What are new ways during COVID that God opened us to?
  1. More people opening Bibles.
  2. More people opening hearts in prayer. North Raleigh may have more people praying than ever before in our history using our daily COVID prayer guides.
  3. More people opening hearts and supporting Gods work by continuing to tithe and support the church through donations.
  4. More people opening time to serve our community during Operation Feeding Hope. The people of God are those who rush in during difficult times, not run away. 
  5. More openings for online engagement. More people, from all across our community and country, are visiting our website.
  6. More opportunity to enhance our online presence by implementing livestream (which will be operational by the time we regather).
  7. More openings filled in Connect Groups & other additional times of Bible teaching.

North Raleigh never closed, but is open in fresh and new ways to the mission of God because of COVID-19. Our hope and prayer is that we will continue to be open and that these new opportunities will never close.

  • What are the new ways that God has opened you up to a larger and involved role in His mission with and through the North Raleigh Church?

In the meantime, before our reunion, we will continue to focus on connecting with you digitally as we worship at home, share resources and utilize technology for group meetings.  We are committed to gathering again and seeing your faces very soon.

You are loved!

The North Raleigh Church of Christ Shepherds & Staff


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Shepherds’ Message

Dear North Raleigh Family,

We hope you are well, trusting and rejoicing in Jesus, even in the midst of these unusual and sobering times.  As events have progressed over the last couple weeks, we have decided that our services will continue to only be offered online for an indeterminate number of weeks. 

Our decision was not made out of fear, but out of a desire to actively love and protect the most vulnerable people in our church family and throughout the Triangle. This decision, prompted by the Holy Spirit and in accordance with governmental decrees, communicates that not gathering in our building is the best way to be the church in our city, and the best way to love our neighbors.

We are the church, wherever we are. As we continue to worship in our homes, we are as much in the presence of God as surely as if we were sitting in the auditorium together.

We want to encourage you to:

  • Keep updated with recent news and events by visiting our website: northraleighchurch.org
  • Additional resources & communications will be available through email and our church Facebook page.
  • Encourage one another through emails, phone calls and texts. Physical distancing doesn’t mean spiritual distancing.
  • Look for ways to do “good in the neighborhood” as you recall that it is our good deeds that creates the good will for us to share the good news. The gospel will not be quarantined.
  • Pray for all those physically and economically impacted by this contagion. Pray for healing, for a cure & for all those serving in the frontlines in battling this pestilence.
  • Commit to reading your Bible daily.
  • Your generosity will help us with meeting needs and opportunities. Please continue to give online at https://app.easytithe.com/App/Giving/nraleighchurch. You may also mail your offering to the church office.

We look forward with great anticipation to our reunion. As we enter another week under different circumstances, may we be people who fully trust in God’s faithfulness, always remembering that God is our hope and strength.

Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

Isaiah 41:10 (The Message)

You are loved!

The North Raleigh Church of Christ Shepherds

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Message From the Shepherds

Dear Church Family,
 
These are difficult days.  We continue to monitor the events surrounding COVID-19.  It is our goal to keep the well-being of our church family, neighbors, and city in the forefront of the decisions we find ourselves facing.  We covet your prayers.
 
In Acts 8:2 Luke uses a word to describe what was happening to the church because of difficult times in Jerusalem.  He says they were “scattered.” The word “scattered” is the same word used by Jesus in Luke 8, the parable of the sower, to describe what happened to the seed the farmer sowed.  In the scattering is where the good news and expressions of the love of Jesus were being spread. 
 
We are “scattered” currently, in trying, but mighty ways.  These days provide opportunity for seed to be sown and the love of Jesus to be shown.  We were made for times as these.
 
Here are the latest updates, as of Tuesday, March 17: 
  • Church services will not be held at the building on Sunday, March 22 or March 29.  Decisions about future dates will be made as the situation continues to unfold.  We want to be good neighbors as we honor our government leaders and support the steps they are taking to battle this pandemic.  We see this not as a step of fear, but of faith.  We ask you to pray, along with us, that our witness will help advance The Kingdom and the spread of the gospel—which is always good news.
  • Fortunately, social distancing does not equate to spiritual distancing. As a portion of God’s people in North Raleigh, we want to encourage you to gather differently in the next two weeks.  Kent’s sermon from Colossians will be posted online (with more details coming on that later), and we ask that you have worship together with your family and share communion.
  • We will have a small group gathering at the church building on Wednesday evenings for Bible study.  There will be no ladies class. There will be no childcare, as we seek to abide by the guidelines issued to parents by Wake County Schools. 
  • Connect Groups and Discipleship Groups will meet at the discretion of the group leader(s).  We will follow establish CDC guidelines (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html), and ask that if anyone is feeling unwell, vulnerable, elderly, immunocompromised or anxious to please stay home. Also, if you live or work around those who are most at risk (elderly), please stay home.   
  • Stay prepared to mobilize in creative ways to live & give Jesus within and beyond our church family.  We are considering ways to best mobilize and respond to needs as we see them come available. Please contact your primary elder if you have a need, or know of a need that the church can help meet.
  • We will be using technology and social media to resource and encourage you in coming days.  Be sure to visit our Family News Facebook page and website.
  • Continue to give as you have been, and maybe a little more.  We are expecting needs to arise within our church family and in the community around us.  We also have obligations that must be met, even when we are scattered.  You may give online by visiting our website www.northraleighchurch.org and click the link at the bottom for online giving.  You may also mail your offering or drop it by the church office.  We do anticipate an opportunity in the future to help close any gap in our budget shortfall.
 
There is another powerful text that has the word “scatter”.  We hope this reading from Psalm 112 will give you great peace as we are sown. 

“Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn will be lifted high in honor.”
Psalm 112: 6-9 (NIV)
 
You are loved!
The North Raleigh Church of Christ Shepherds

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2019 Advent Devo: Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

These were the words spoken by Angels to the women who had travelled to Jesus’ tomb a few days after his crucifixion. These are the words that defined a new reality in the world, then and forevermore. These are the words on which history was turned upside-down and these are the words that make Jesus’ story our story. These are the words of a resurrected and reigning Savior that make his ministry in the world today, you guessed it, alive.

As I read these words, I wonder how many times I have spoken or heard them yet have failed to grasp their true meaning because far too often when I have looked for Jesus, I have looked for him as someone who is dead and whose story has more in common with distant memories than with the active present. I recognize that many times I have read the story of God, sung songs and taken the memorial cup and bread, I have even celebrated Jesus’ birth with the whole world as if it all was purely an exercise in remembering someone who is separated from the here-and-now and only exists in memory. When I read and learn about God and expect nothing to happen, when I work so hard to serve Jesus by my own power, when I give up on people because they are beyond the hope of changing, I need an Angel to come down and ask me, “Why do you seek Jesus as if he is dead?!”

The story of Jesus from the tomb is a signal to all people who follow him from now until eternity and a reminder that we will not find Jesus the way we find old, dead things. We must find Jesus among the dynamic and living world, expecting him to be present in everything. When we read the word, we must realize that we are reading along with the Living Word! When we sing and take the Lord’s Supper, we are singing and taking the Lord’s Supper in the presence of the Living God! When we pray and talk and spend time with people, hoping that they recognize Jesus as King, we do so through the power of the Living Jesus!

So many of the things we do would have new life if we remember that we do them for a resurrected King who is on the throne of God in power, not a distant figure of the past. As we celebrate this Advent season, we can be reminded that the story that began so long ago is not finished and that the life we celebrate in Jesus goes on, empowering us to expand his eternal reign now and forevermore. Amen!

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: Overshadowed

As we near the end of Luke’s gospel, today’s reading takes us to maybe the hardest chapter to read during Advent—Luke 23. It’s the story of the trial, suffering, death and burial of Jesus. What is happening in Luke 23 makes us pay attention to the things that happen at His birth. By seeing the end, it helps us learn the meaning of the things that happened at the start.
 
The baby that laid in the manger is destined for the cross. That is why He was sent. The angels at the birth of Jesus tell the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why would we need a Savior if there wasn’t something we needed to be saved from? It’s as if the cross overshadows the manger.
 

 

Every world religion has a path to righteousness & a way to get right with God. Their plans focus on merit rather than mercy. Religion puts the burden of righteousness on us. It demands we clean ourselves up, and we need to “get our act together.” But the Christmas story is centered in the fact that our attempts to be good will never be good enough. It is Jesus—and only Jesus—that will save us from our sins. We must obey God, we must live our lives rightly, but at the end of the day our only hope is Jesus. Us with God will save nobody, but God with us, Immanuel, will save anybody. He is not just God with us in the manger, but He is God who is for us on the cross. That’s God’s way of saying, “Merry Christmas!”
 
 

You are loved! Kent


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2019 Advent Devo: The Jesus Way

“You know those days when you wake up and you think, ‘I want to help someone today’? My friend says this casually, leaning into the phone like we’re sitting across the table.  She continues, as if our hearts beat the same. “Well, yesterday I woke up like that, so I got up, got dressed, got in my car, and I drove around looking for someone who needed help.”

I pause the video message, hearing a pulse discordant from but more strident than my own, a voice I recognize as the voice of the Spirit:  This is the Jesus Way.  For a split second it seems absurd, this notion that my friend, who is physically petite but spiritually magnanimous, or “great-souled,” would allow her day to be so wind-tossed.  But the Spirit is a wind, the gust of God’s breath, and disciples of Jesus are servants living to serve.

In Luke 22, Jesus and his disciples–the betrayer among them–gather around a table celebrating the grace of God through the Passover feast.  Maybe minutes after Jesus offers them bread and wine; maybe minutes after Jesus explains that these emblems represent his own broken and given body and blood, his own self-sacrifice; maybe minutes after Jesus reveals the presence of a betrayer; the disciples argue about who among them is greatest.  The irony of course is that most of s read this and inwardly sneer at Judas. Loving Jesus with Peter-like passion, we want to chase Judas from the table. We feel, if we’re honest, the temptation to believe that we would not betray Jesus.  Centuries later, we dive with the apostles into the discussion of which of us will be the greatest, and through the Spirit, Jesus warns us of our own betrayals like He warned Peter.  The entire experience, from Jesus’ reconceived Passover to the concurrent foot washing the apostle John also shares, proclaims a new Kingdom and pivots on Jesus’ perfect expression of Godly Kingship.  Right at the Passover table, Jesus redefines royalty:

Jesus told them, ‘In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25-27).’”

So this thing my friend does, it’s what royals do in the Kingdom of Jesus.  They wake up wanting to serve and go looking for the opportunities God prepares in advance (Ephesians 2:10).  I watch the video and smile; my friend’s eyes sparkle with love.

“First, I saw this older gentleman struggling to walk down the road on the opposite side,” she says, remembering.  “Two other men were trying to help him, but they were all struggling, and I thought, ‘Maybe I just need to pick that man up and drive him where he needs to go.’”

Her words sound reckless, and I feel myself wanting to save her life, this life my friend’s okay to lose.  But my friend, she’s as courageous as her wide, Spirit-led faith.

She laughs out loud, tucking errant strands of hair behind her ear, continuing. “But by the time I turned my car around, the men were gone.  I don’t know where they went, but I thought, ‘Okay, maybe they’re not the ones today.’ At our library, I almost always see a few homeless people hanging around, so I decided to stop by the grocery store on my way over.  I bought some apples, some granola bars, and some water, and I went to see who might be at the library that I could help with a little food.”

I smile, watching her, thinking this relentlessness must be the difference between disciples who serve because the Spirit makes them like their King and those of us still trying to make the leap on our own.  Jesus keeps company with people who need something. I think I might have followed Him out the door and then, having lost sight of that struggling old man, checked the day’s box on servanthood. But my friend leans into the Spirit, waiting for Him to send her home.  Jesus came to serve.  My friend, she lives to serve.

“I got to the library and couldn’t find a single homeless person hanging around.  There’s always someone.  I thought, ‘Where is everyone today?’ So I looked and looked, and finally, just a little hidden behind some bushes, I saw one old man hanging out.  So I went over and talked to him for a while. He was the most delightful, joyful man, and we had such a good time. Finally, I said, ‘Would you like something to eat?  I have these granola bars and some apples and some water.’ And he said, ‘Honey, I don’t have a tooth left in my head. I can’t bite into apples or granola bars anymore.  But thank you for offering!’”

I smile, thinking that as she spoke, all I could see was that man’s smile, not the toothless mouth to which he confessed.  All I could see was what my friend saw: someone to love. My friend, she laughs, taken up with the fact that this joyful homeless man was also not the one she was meant to serve that day.  And yet, I listen wondering how much she served him just by setting aside her day to stop and talk, just by acknowledging him as someone significant to Christ.

I am among you as one who serves.  Jesus left his home and came to us–the homeless, the lost, the needy.

My friend, she tried one more time that day before God sent her home.  Catching sight of a panhandler at a stoplight, my friend rolled down her window and offered granola bars, apples, and water.  And the panhandler peered in the window, sweaty faced and tired, and said, “You might have poisoned that food! No, I won’t take it.”

My friend leans toward the camera, grinning, lifting her arms in a shrug.  Her hands are open, empty, lifted to God. She would surrender herself–her time, her agenda, her possessions.  Incredulous, she sighs. “I don’t know; I just couldn’t give that food away today.” I think of Peter, resisting that foot washing.  I think of all the ones I know who still won’t be served by Christ. I shake my head at the phone, even though my friend can’t see. Nothing we do for Christ is ever in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), and the Jesus way, the cross-shaped way, is the only way for disciples of Jesus.  My friend, she lives the Advent; she comes and comes again, leaving home to serve the broken, whether they’ll receive her gift or not.

You are loved!
Elysa Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: The Widow’s Mite

Not having any money can put a real drag on the enjoyment of life.

If you were of the Jewish faith in the time of Jesus, not having enough money also meant that you were not capable of being a worthy Jew. It took money to do the things required by law that made you a “good” Jew. Giving sums of money to the Temple in a public display was one such requirement.

I so much enjoy how Jesus can take a serious situation in our lives and turn it in a whole new direction. This happened when the widow put her two mites into the offering.

The Pharisees think they have everything in smooth working order until Jesus comes along and says, no, no, no, no.  He says, “Here is the new view about money, about faith and tithing to the Temple.” Jesus says it is not how much you give that matters the most. This raises eyebrows of disbelief from all who hear it, including His disciples.

A denarli is one day’s wage. One denarli = six meahs. One meah = two pondions.  One pondion = two issarines. One issarine = eight mites. Two mites is 1% of a denarli which makes it 1% of a day’s wage.  (A mite can also be translated as a “crumb/morsel of bread.”)

It is true today that we have to have some money to buy food and maintain a living condition. So what is the deeper message here with the widow and her two mites and why did she place both of them into this massive round offering plate in front of this massive, ornate Jewish Temple?

It is true that the Jewish culture of that time did have a social system to “take care” of widows and orphaned children. It was a Jewish dictate, a law, that they do this in a sincere way. So if the widow had absolutely no money, she gave all she had, then she would clearly be supported by this Jewish requirement. But there is more to this story than simply the act of her giving all she had.

Jesus, watching as the long line progressed by giving their tithes, realized there was a deeper, more personal issue going on. It was a matter of sincerity, devotion and trust. There was the matter of her faith. The money was to be used for God’s purposes. The widow believed in Yahweh; she believed He would take care of her. She said by her actions, “I trust You. I believe this is the right thing to do. I give you all I have in obedience to Your love and care for me.” Then she dropped her two mites into the plate and walked away not knowing what the future would bring.

During this Advent Season we are called to refresh our awareness of what really happened when God gave us His All. By giving His only Son, who entered this world like every person who ever lived, God gave us the opportunity for a new life, a bright future and a Holy Spirit in this life to guide and show us what is right and wrong. God gave us His all knowing what the final outcome would be. And that final outcome is for us to live as Jesus lived to bring about heaven on earth and life eternal to all believers.

You are loved!
Steve Mayberry


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2019 Advent Devo: Who Do You Think You Are?

Do you have a list of questions you want to ask Jesus when you meet him?  My list includes:

  1. Couldn’t you find a different way for mosquitoes to be nourished?
  2. What purpose do allergies fill?

I expect these questions are as welcome to Jesus as our 5 year old children asking adults their endless series of “why this and why that” questions.   Looking past the specific questions is the important point that children ask questions of a person they recognize as knowledgeable, trustworthy and authoritative.

The Pharisees, spies and Sadducees line up to ask Jesus their questions, not so much to gain any knowledge, but to maneuver or entrap Jesus.  The Pharisees’ question really comes down to “who do you think you are”? What they saw in front of them was a man, but with the undeniable Spirit of God.  Of course, no one would challenge Jesus with real or manufactured questions if they didn’t recognize him as knowledgeable, trustworthy and authoritative.

If you were a 5 year old witnessing these exchanges, what would you conclude?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. The people asking the questions didn’t like Jesus very much, but he didn’t do anything harmful to provoke that.
  2. The people asking the questions must recognize Jesus had the answers or they wouldn’t have asked him.
  3. Jesus was the center of their attention even though they were supposed to be the ones “in charge”.
  4. Jesus must really be special for everyone to want to speak to him.
  5. Jesus is smarter than all of them because no one said his answers were wrong.

The 5 year old version of me adores Jesus.  He is a superhero. No one can challenge him.  No one can defeat him. Why did the lustful 20 year old version of me, the 40 year old professional version of me and the jaded, 60 year old version of me think of him any differently?  I long to have the 5 year old version back. I long to simply be amazed at God in the flesh and follow him daily. There is no question nor need that I have that he is not the ultimate answer for.  He is the lens that I view the rest of my life through – no questions asked.

You are loved!
Don Keefer


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2019 Advent Devo: Jesus Meets Zaccheus

As we join Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem, he stops in the city of Jericho. As always, there is a large crowd following him. One man in the crowd, a very short man, wants so badly to see Jesus that he climbs a tree to get a better view. And guess what?!? Jesus not only notices him but stops to talk to him. So, Luke introduces us to Zacchaeus, a Jew by birth but, as the chief tax collector, an enemy to his countrymen. Definitely not a crowd favorite. And, even worse in their eyes —a sinner! And yet, Jesus saw into the heart of this “sinner.” He told him to come down and then he invited himself to stay with Zacchaeus. The crowd is appalled! But, Zacchaeus “welcomes him gladly” and in his response to Jesus pledges one-half of all his possessions to the poor. In addition, he promises to pay back four times the amount of money to those whom he may have cheated. Wow! For a man once defined by the pursuit and love of money that is what I call a transformation! To the stunned crowd, Jesus reminds them Zacchaeus is like them, a son of Abraham. Could that possibly mean that they, too, were sinners? Above all, Jesus proclaims that he “has come to seek and to save what was lost.” I wonder how many truly heard him.

We still sing the favorite children’s song,

Zacchaeus was a wee little man A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree 

The Savior for to see. And as the Savior came passing by He looked up in the tree. And he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down from there! For I’m going to your house today.” 

It’s a great song and it’s wonderful to hear a group of kids singing Bible stories together. But this isn’t the whole story. In fact, it completely misses the significance of Zacchaeus and, I know it it had nothing to do with being a “wee little man.” Zacchaeus was a sinner! His sins of greed, cheating and selfishness were evident to all. But Jesus saw beyond the external and into his heart. When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he immediately obeyed him and gladly took him to his home. Zacchaeus was convicted that he needed to change and he did! In fact, he was completely transformed.

In my personal meditation, I don’t see many differences between Zacchaeus and myself. I know how it feels not to be able to see over the heads of the crowd around me. But, my true connection to Zacchaeus is this, “I am a sinner.” I thank God that he sees inside my heart and loves me enough to save me and to change me.

In this season of advent, we focus so much on the images of the sweet innocence of baby Jesus. But Advent’s true meaning and celebration should be on what that child would and does mean to the world for all eternity. He came to seek and to save what was lost! And that means me and you! I pray that his love and forgiveness will transform us all into more of his likeness as we move past Advent and into the 2020.

You are loved,
Sharon


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2019 Advent Devo: Transformation

On this day, 176 years ago, Charles Dickens waited anxiously for the dawning of tomorrow, December 19, 1843, when the first edition of A Christmas Carol would be published.  Struggles with printers and publishers had exhausted Dickens and the young writer, still eager to achieve success, wondered how British readers would react to his story.  The story met with great acclaim as the first printing of 6000 books sold out by Christmas Eve. Continuously in print all these years, the book still captures the hearts of readers around the world.

Because of Dickens, Scrooge is universally used to describe a miserly, joyless, selfish person and bah-humbug is the quintessential expression dampening the enthusiasm of others.  While Scrooge and his routine expression of bah-humbug may be the most recognized parts of the story, the true meaning is captured in the minor character of Tiny Tim, the young crippled son of Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit.  Tiny Tim becomes the antithesis of Scrooge counterbalancing bah-humbug with “God bless us, every one!”  Dickens’ novel connects the characters of Tiny Tim and Scrooge and uses the boy’s plight and enduring, endearing, loving attitude to soften the heart of Scrooge.

Luke 18 reminds us that a trusting, loving attitude as demonstrated by Tiny Tim is indicative of the kingdom.

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”” Luke‬ 18:15-17‬ ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Luke 18:18 introduces us to a character known as the rich young ruler.  In many ways he seems to be admirable. However, his reaction to Jesus’ response to his question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life,” reveals the heart of Scrooge. The young man loves money more than God.  We don’t know what happened to the rich young ruler. Perhaps he lived out his life outside the kingdom. Or maybe, like Scrooge, he encountered a change of heart and was transformed by the promise Jesus offered at the end of the encounter.

“And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”” Luke‬ 18:29-30‬ ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Christmas brings hope to all of us as it helps us understand that the Gospel is Good News. It has the power to transform the “scroogiest” of us and turn our bah-humbugs to hallelujah!

You are loved!
James Peterman


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2019 Advent Devo: Called Higher

When I read Luke 17, I think of the Casting Crowns song Called Me Higher.  The song talks about how God has a plan for all of us and has called us to do higher and bigger things than we could ever imagine.  And in Luke 17, Jesus talks about how we will all face sin and the consequences of it, but we have to focus on what God has called us to do and go to God for help to get through those trials.

Whatever you’re struggling through this Christmas, remember that God has called you to higher and bigger things and try to focus on that calling.

Watch here > https://youtu.be/Y8mMp3bKDt0

You are loved!
Zoe Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: Be Shrewd

If I were to list the top qualities found in a follower of Jesus, shrewdness would probably not be very high up on my list. The truth is, just the sound of the word “shrewd” is likely to send up my defensive hackles and conjures up images of Ebenezer Scrooge hunched over his ledgers, looking to squeeze the last dime out of his unfortunate debtors. It can be curious to us then that Jesus tells his disciples a parable in the beginning of Luke chapter 16 that commends the actions of a “shrewd” manager. In the story, we find a manager who is in a position of disfavor with his boss due to a lack of proper investing. Faced with the prospect of losing his job, he decides he will do whatever he can to endear himself to his boss’ debtors. The manager does this by lowering the amount owed by the debtors and in-turn gains their favor. In a turn of events, the master commends his manager’s actions and ultimately approves and praises his shrewdness. While the story seems to be about a clever employee who was looking out for himself and was willing to act inappropriately to do so, Jesus also commends the man’s shrewdness. This may well leave us scratching our heads, asking, “What did this man do that was so good? It seems like he was dishonest, right? I mean, is he just allowed to do that? And why is his master happy?”

Jesus’ own point in telling this parable centers around the idea that people are often much more strategic and yes, even shrewd, when it comes to dealing with their own well-being than they are when dealing with the well-being of the Kingdom of God. When I read this passage, I hear a message about my own resources and how I use them on mission with Jesus. There is a sense of urgency in this parable because the manager is at a dead-end. He knows his days are numbered and he must find any possible way to insure his own future. At this point in his story, all he has to be able to influence anyone is his last bit of control over his master’s accounts, and he is willing to use whatever he has in any way he can for his own good.

What would happen if I viewed my resources for God’s Kingdom in the same way? How would my views on my money, my connections, my physical resources and even my friendships change if I felt the urgency to use every advantage I had to further the mission of Jesus? I believe I would start to see everything I have as a tool to lead others to Jesus. In the end, God knows we are willing to be shrewd when we look out for ourselves. He only asks us to think the same way when we deal with matters of his kingdom. To do this, we must feel the urgency of Jesus’ mission and be willing to use whatever means we can to accomplish the work we have been given for the Kingdom of God.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Post: Lost and then Found!

Recently my parents came to visit from Florida. My dad isn’t very high tech and doesn’t use a phone or GPS system. Unfortunately, this is not a formula for success if you are traveling around a new city. His cousin came to town to visit his family who also live in Raleigh. The two of them were going to meet up and go fishing together! My dad looked up the directions online and thought he was prepared to find his way to where they were going to meet. Well around 5pm that afternoon (hours after we thought he would come home), he walks through the door with a big smile on his face and says, “Boy am I so happy to be back I could kiss the floor!” Needless to say he had gotten lost driving not only to the lake that morning but also on the way home that afternoon and had been driving all over Raleigh for the past two hours. I think he had probably seen all of the city by this point.

Have you ever been lost? What emotions have you felt while lost? Frustrated, angry, frantic? The joy you feel when you finally find your destination is immense!

Luke 15 gives us 3 parables about being lost and then found: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

Flip it the other way and what emotions have you felt when you lost someone or something? Have you ever lost your keys or phone? Or have you been in a store or at the park and lost sight of your child? Even if it’s for a split second, the feeling of sheer panic engulfs you!

When I was young and immature, I had a hard time with the parable of the lost son. I had selfish feelings and thought very similarly to how the brother felt. From a human perspective, it was hard to understand why we should receive the same reward If I had been living my whole life faithful and my friend/peer/etc had been living a sinful life for so long and suddenly runs back for forgiveness. However, now that I’m older I see this story very differently. I FEEL very differently. I now understand better God’s love and forgiveness. If it was my sibling who was lost and came back crying and asking for another chance, I would feel as the father felt; overjoyed and ready to forgive him instantaneously. This is how we should feel towards not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but to complete strangers who come “home” to Jesus. Being lost can be lonely and scary. Let’s be a source of comfort and support to those looking to be found!

You are loved!
Lacey Dellapace


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2019 Advent Devo: Kingdom Decision-Making

We all have choices to make.  We have priorities and are often faced with numerous opportunities to decide how to spend our time.  These decisions can be tough, especially when trying to remove the “me” factor. It’s terribly hard not to just end up deciding based entirely on how I perceive it will affect me.  Will I consider it fun? Is there an opportunity for me to meet someone important who can help me with something I desire? Will it benefit me financially? Will it help my children?  Tougher decisions typically require a weighting of pros and cons in order to come to the right decision.

In Luke 14, Jesus proposes a different approach.  It is full of a lot of very hard teaching and in trying to take a thousand-foot view of the chapter, it seems to me that part of what he’s doing here is challenging folks to expand the center of their universe a bit – showing them that it doesn’t revolve around them.  Over and over he challenges their thinking. They challenge the notion of healing on the Sabbath, but he points out that they wouldn’t think twice about breaking the rules if it was a benefit to them or a loved one. He challenges their desire to be self-important and rub shoulders with the elite and encourages them to invite the unimportant and the outcast to dinner rather than those that will benefit them.  And in his typical kingdom-twist parable style, he seems to assert that his own kingdom dinner invitation is not regarded by the self-important as something all that terribly desirable. Perhaps that hanging out with Jesus is not something that will help you get ahead in this life. They each have better offers – business transactions, family matters and the like – so he ends up gathering those considered unimportant in the eyes of the world (and perhaps their own eyes).  He offers dignity and fellowship and belonging – where the least is the greatest and the greatest the least – concluding this discourse with the stinging words I say to you all, the one who receives an invitation to feast with me and makes excuses will never enjoy my banquet.” (v.24 TPT)

And from there it just gets downright uncomfortable.  He pulls out the “D” word (disciple) and says you must be willing to give up all to follow him – whether things or relationships – whatever is holding you back.  In fact, those things you think you own …nope! Not if you want to follow Jesus.  It all becomes his. Most importantly, YOU become his.  And your decisions become less about what you want or what benefits you and all about what honors him and reflects living in his kingdom.

The invitation to feast with him is open to us every day.  And I notice that when I’m faithful to respond to the invitation and make myself present to Jesus, something changes in me and I see things through his perspective just a little bit more. Joy and contentment are found in ways that are not available anywhere else.  So make the choice to be present to him and to feast together with him – each and every day – and his words from v 14 will become more and more real all the time Then you will experience a great blessing in this life, and at the resurrection of the godly you will receive a full reward.” (TPT)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP3CsHfU7dc

You are loved!
Kevin Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: You Are Set Free

As I sat in worship that morning, I lifted my voice in song.  I heard every word of the sermon.  Every word of every prayer.  And yet, if you had asked me later, I would not have been able to identify any song or what the topic of the sermon had been.  All that was really running through my head was, How could this be happening to me?  What if the treatment doesn’t work?  I’m not ready to leave my family.  There is still so much to do, and see, and experience.  Is this God’s punishment for my sin?  Well, I probably deserve it, but why would he let my husband and daughters suffer this way?  They shouldn’t have to watch me deal with the side-effects of chemo and radiation.  They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not I will be here five years from now.  

Maybe you have experienced an event like this too and dealt with it in the moment.  And time went on.  And later, the same feelings resurfaced, and maybe you thought: No one here really cares about me anymore.  When I was first diagnosed with this illness or my loved one died, or when my children first moved away, people prayed for me.  They called me on the phone, they visited me, sent me cards and notes.  They showered me with love. But now that time has passed, I guess they think I don’t need them anymore. They must think I’m okay because when I show up for worship, I always wear a smile and tell people I’m doing well.  Maybe they think that if I’m really depending on God, I will be able to handle my situation with no difficulty.  But I am in pain, and I do not think anyone cares. Sometimes I even wonder if God cares!

That Sabbath morning when Jesus was teaching at the synagogue, a woman was there who might have been feeling this way.  She was bent over and could not straighten up.  She had endured this crippled life for eighteen years! Imagine what her life must have been like.  She could not stand up straight, could not sit comfortably, could only lie down on her side.  Walking was difficult. Eating could not have been pleasant.  But – what could have caused her infirmity? Was it the result of some genetic abnormality or due to some catastrophe that occurred at her birth?  Had there been an accident that caused her to be so bent?  According to Luke 13:11, she had been crippled by a spirit. An attack by Satan. Not only was she physically shackled, she must have been suffering emotionally and spiritually as well.  Discouraged, depressed, feeling abandoned by God.  Yet in spite of this ongoing attack, she still came to the synagogue to listen to God’s Word. She still had faith.

As Jesus is teaching, He spots her in the crowd, calls her forward, and says, ”Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”  He touches her and immediately she straightens up and praises God.  Did you notice? She does not approach Jesus to ask to be healed.  She hasn’t come today expecting anything from Him. And Jesus doesn’t say that she is healed. He says that she is set free! What joy and excitement she must have felt to be freed from her burden!  There must have been tears of joy streaming down her face as she praised the one who was the source of her freedom.  The leader of the synagogue was not happy with this development. He scolded the people for coming to be healed on the Sabbath.  But the Lord of the Sabbath calls the leaders hypocrites. They pretended to be zealous for God, but their hearts were far from Him. They had more compassion for their donkeys and oxen than for this poor woman. They were more interested in “following the rules” than in showing grace, compassion and mercy on the Sabbath.  Jesus exposed them by revealing the true heart of God.

Think again about the words of Jesus.  Woman, you are set free.  Free from the prison your physical form has created for you.  Free from the isolation your physical form has thrust upon you.  Free from the chains your physical form has bound you in for so long.  As I think about all the emotions that this woman must have experienced after her encounter with Jesus, I am reminded that we all have something that keeps us from experiencing true freedom.  Whether it is a physical ailment, a lack of self-worth, a fear of failure, a long standing hurt or loss, or a sin that continues to overtake us, Jesus stands ready to call us to perfect freedom.  Only He is able to loosen our chains and set us eternally free.  My weakness serves as a reminder of His power and strength.

Today, Jesus stands and calls.  He says to us, “You are set free from your infirmity.”   He calls us to come to Him for freedom and strength.  Will you come?

You are loved!
Melissa Holland

 


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2019 Advent Devo: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Until it Isn’t

We find ourselves in the thick of Christmas.  Our calendars are full, our to-do lists are long and we are often stressed (isn’t it interesting that “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”?).

The kissing cousin of stress is worry, and this season brings lots of worries.  Will this person like their gift? Will I get the gifts I really want? How will I get everything done?

In Luke 12:22-34, Jesus is addressing his disciples.  He is teaching them a valuable lesson about how their energy can be spent on the things that really matter in life.  He forces us to face some difficult foes. Things that keep us seeking Him foremost.

The first foe Jesus mentions is worry (Luke 12:22, 19).  Worry is like a rocking chair, you do some travelling—but you don’t go anywhere.  He says that we fret over things that aren’t our responsibility, because it is God’s responsibility, as our sustainer, to make sure we are clothed and fed (12:28).  We also worry over things that are beyond our control (12:25-26). None of us can add a second to our lives, let alone a year. We cannot control the weather, stock market, political climate, time or reactions of people.  So much of our lives are spent out of control.

Here is the core of Jesus’ message-“Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31). I love what an old gospel preacher once said, “You mind HIS business…He will mind yours.”

Secondly, Jesus draws attention to our fears.  In the text, Jesus uses a term of endearment and affection as he speaks to his followers.  He says, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  If we really believe that—is there anything that our Father would withhold from us that we need? John Newton said, “Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

He saves the hardest foe for last—selfishness.  Worry and fear often drive us into the arms of selfishness.  We want to cling hard to everything we possess or have. Once we see that Jesus has us in his grip of grace, we find freedom to loosen our grip on the transient, temporary things of this world.  We live into Jesus command to “Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Luke 12:33).

We are more than what we get this Christmas.  God’s Kingdom always starts in our hearts and spreads outward to the world like ripples in a pond.  To seek first His kingdom is to want the spread of the reign of King Jesus. It is acknowledging Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As the old Christmas hymn reminds us: “Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.”

You are loved!
Kent Massey


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2019 Advent Devo: Just Pray

In the evenings, I kneel beside my daughter Riley’s bed; the carpet stamps my knees.  Riley gently drapes an arm around my shoulders, awkwardly gathering me in, and we pray.  I try to change it up, because conversational topography should vary like the relational landscape it represents, and because I know that maybe especially because she Autism, Riley tends toward endless repetition.  Kevin and I have always done this; we teach our children to pray by praying with them. We start where they are; we gently tug away any barriers that could hinder their spiritual growth.

For each of our children, this teaching happens differently, though the process begins in the same way.  Before my son Adam, who also has Autism, could string any number of words together to communicate, we created a simple prayer, unique to Adam, for him to recite at bedtime:

Dear God,

Thank you for my family.

Thank you for music.

Thank you for school.

Amen.

We chose just a few ideas we thought Adam might understand, but what we most wanted was to build was the foundation for a relationship between our son and the God who loves him.  For a while, we recited this prayer and Adam repeated it after us word for word. Then gradually, Kevin and I began dropping words, leaving empty pauses, waiting for Adam to fill them in.  Adam quickly caught on, but almost always filled the words in exactly as we had taught him. Then one night, Kevin decided the time had come to encourage Adam to pray on his own. He knelt beside the bed, nodding toward Adam, and said, “Okay, go ahead and pray, buddy.” Kevin offered no model prayer, just an invitation to pray.  Adam, who loves music and, we believe, finds it more understandable than plain speech, prayed aloud the entire chorus of the Casting Crowns song East to West:

Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west

‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been come rising up in me again

In the arms of Your mercy I find rest

‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west

From one scarred hand to the other

At this point, Adam still wasn’t speaking to us in sentences.  Kevin left the room in tears, taking with him our first sign of a God-gifted relationship between our sweet son and his God that surpasses the limits of language.

In Christian history, the Lord’s Prayer, as we’ve long titled Jesus’ primer prayer for the disciples, remains one of the most memorized and oft quoted liturgical prayers.  In childhood Bible classes, my Restoration-roots teachers taught us kids that The Lord’s Prayer was just an example and not really something Jesus intended for us to memorize or learn to recite.  Later, discovering my own spiritual Autism in my children’s challenges, I wondered about that. As part of the lesson, these sincere, dedicated teachers often asserted, not inaccurately, that recited prayers can become impersonal.  God wants a relationship with us.  This, of course, is exactly my thought when I opt for an ever-changing dialogue with God beside Riley’s bed.

Right now as I pray, Riley pats my back rhythmically with her hand in much the way that she lightly pats the doors in our home with her fingers as she repeats comforting checklists under her breath.  Okay, the door is open, and yes, the lights are off, I sometimes hear her whispering repetitively, each word another pat.  Even though I use all kinds of different words, there are certain petitions so significant to Riley that she insists I pray them aloud by her bedside every night.  I know it’s these she’s patting out against my shoulder while I creatively chat it up with God. She’s polite enough not to interrupt, but I feel fairly certain that inside her mind and heart, over my sometimes incomprehensible speeches, she’s whispering, “Please God, keep me seizure free and headache free and anxiety free and side effect free,” over and over and over.  And the thing is, I don’t know a prayer warrior more fierce or more supplicating than Riley.  When anxiety grips Riley’s heart, nothing frees her except prayer. When she’s struggling, she’ll openly ask everyone she knows to pray for her.  More than anyone I know, Riley perseveres in prayer.

Right after Jesus, at his disciples’ request, teaches them to pray using what has become to us The Lord’s Prayer, he goes on to instruct them to try to drive God nuts by asking repeatedly for what they need.  Jesus tells a crazy story about an annoying neighbor who clearly failed to prepare in advance for the potential for company and who interrupts some poor family’s sleep for who-knows-how-long asking for bread. Jesus says the neighbor will finally get help not because of friendship but because they have been audaciously annoying, and then he encourages, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9, emphasis mine)”  Then Jesus makes the point that God actually loves us better than a neighbor or friend, better than any human Father loving his kids, and I hear an implicit comment about the explosive collision of our childish persistence and God’s unconquerable love for us.

I pray now, teaching Riley, and I realize my children have also been teaching me.  I think of Adam, how he used a model prayer–a different one than ours–in a language he could understand, to express a relationship we could not.  I feel Riley’s persistent patting petitions now, and I understand that while sometimes for some of us repetition loses its meaning, sometimes for some of us it expresses clearly and persistently what matters the most.  Whether we read Luke 11:1-13 needing to repeat and repeat and repeat Jesus’ model prayer or teasing substantial Kingdom-focused sentiments from its compact layers, we can’t miss that what Jesus models for us is a consistent, reliant, boldly persistent, submissive and conversational relationship between God and his children.  At the heart of the lesson seems to be the truth that God loves us and will always love us well and that His Kingdom has come–this after all, is the resonant good news of Advent–and so we pray and we pray and we pray again, seeking Him in never-ending supplicating conversation, first and forever.

You are loved!
Elysa Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: The Simple Life

From my infancy until my teenage years, 16 or 17, I spent many of my summers on my grandparent’s cattle farm. They lived a simple life on their 160-acre homestead.. There was no running water or indoor plumbing. Water was pumped either from the cistern next to the house or drinking water came from the spring pump my grandpa built on top of a hill in the 1930’s. They used coal in the pot belly stove for heat in the cold winters and counted on the 200-year-old oak trees surrounding the house to keep them cool in the hot summers. It was an uncomplicated, self-sufficient way of life. They were not simpletons by any means, but every day they did live a simple lifestyle.

Grandmother milked the cow, Betsy, twice a day and kept the chickens laying eggs; Grandpa butchered the hogs and cattle to keep food on the table for them and the farm hands. You went to bed soon after the sun went down and you were up and dressed ready to work when you came down the stairs for breakfast before the sun began to shine. I loved every summer and holidays I spent on that farm. It taught me more about what mattered and was real about life and death than anything else I have ever done; fishing in the pond, flying kites, seeing faces in the clouds, working hard, being with family and friends, feeling deeply loved and accepted.

Jesus lived a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle. His message of God His father and of heaven was direct and uncomplicated. His message of salvation and of being the Son of God never wavered or was burdened down with details or complexities.  We see this in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10:21 where we read Jesus saying “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

This single verse comforts me. It expresses a profound insight into how Jesus shared His message of salvation and joyful living and purpose in life. It speaks to me in the midst of my very busy, very complicated and distracted way of “living” in the culture I sometimes find myself. We live in the age of technology and intellect and moral freedom. We live in an age where money and intellectual superiority often gives people the illusion of power and privilege to get their own way, right or wrong.

In the wisdom and love of God as expressed through Jesus Christ, His message of salvation comes to us in the universal, most common starting point of a new born child in a manger surrounded by mother and father and magi from the East bringing gifts. It is a picture adored by little children.  The story of the birth of Jesus Christ can bring comfort and well being if we slow down long enough to hear.

You are loved!
Steve Mayberry


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2019 Advent Devo: Jesus Is So Easy to Resist

Luke chapter 9 is filled with positive highlights of Jesus’ ministry and teachable moments for the disciples and for us.  Jesus sends out the disciples with power to teach and to heal, Jesus feeds five thousand, Peter recognizes Jesus’ divinity, Jesus shows his divine nature in the transfiguration and “everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did” (vs 43).  Luke is communicating how compelling a person that Jesus is – thousands come to hear him preach, he can provide food and healing himself and through others. Over and over we see Jesus being glorified in these stories. But, then in verse 51, that all comes to a screeching halt when Jesus wants to make a pit stop in a Samaritan village.

Of course, we know the Samaritans were generally looked down upon by Jews as not “real” Israelites despite living in their country.  Did the Samaritans view this snub of the famous Jesus as some form of pay back disguised with the rationale of not wanting Jesus to become “unclean” while he was heading toward Jerusalem?  We won’t ever know what the Samaritans were thinking, but it was clear that Jesus was affected by the resistance – to the point that the disciples offered to destroy the people via divine retribution!  Of course, Jesus love for people prevailed over any disappointment or anger as he simply moved on.

The reaction of the Samaritans baffles me.  All Jesus ever wanted to do, and still wants to do, is to bless people, to save people from evil, and to offer abundant life.  But, looking back on my own life, I have treated Jesus the same way. I don’t have some rebellious position to stand on, although some people do.  I always had good rationale why Jesus’ way was not right for me at this time, convenient for me at that time, nor desired by me because of the sacrifice I must make to honor him and welcome him in my heart.  Resisting Jesus simply required me to stiffen my neck instead of bowing in servitude, harden my heart instead of obeying, and distract myself instead of repenting. Jesus quietly moved on. It is so easy.

What I don’t see clearly is how it affects Jesus when I do this.  Is he as disappointed in me as he was in the Samaritans? I have to believe that he is, but still loves me more than he wants to destroy me.  He didn’t leave his position at the right hand of God to come to this earth, be born to humble circumstances, live a life devoted to serving God and laying down his life for me on the cross because he wants to destroy me.  Regardless of how I treat him on a particular day, he is faithful to his nature of wanting to bless me. All he asks is that I welcome him into my life and allow him to be sovereign over my will and actions.

Share with me today in a decision to welcome Jesus instead of resist, to beg for his presence and healing in our lives.  John 14:23 promises he will make his home with us if we love him and keep his word. Isaiah 57:15 tells us that God “lives in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit”.   Let’s humbly and gladly welcome our King of Kings and Lord of Lords in to every part of our lives today and every day!

You are loved!
Don Keefer


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2019 Advent Devo: Just Listen

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

“When is he coming? How much longer must we wait?”

“Has he forgotten us?”

“What will he bring?”

I don’t know about you, but my brothers and I asked these questions every year as Christmas approached. And my children asked them every year and now my grandchildren ask them every year. Oh the anticipation of something wonderful that is going to happen!

For a moment, try to put yourself in the place of those who actually lived before that first Christmas. They had been waiting and anticipating the arrival of Jesus the Messiah for 400+ years. I suspect their questions mirrored our own Christmas questions.

When is he coming? How much longer must we wait?

Has he forgotten us?

 What will he bring?

When Jesus finally arrived as promised and later began to fulfill his mission to proclaim the “good news of the kingdom of God” (Lk 8:1) the responses to his message were as individualized as the ones who heard him teaching. In Luke 8:4-10, Jesus shares a parable that gives insight into the “why” of the various responses and exhorts “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (v. 8) As I doubt the audience was comprised of those with hearing problems, what exactly did Jesus mean by that? From the text, we hear his disciples ask him that very question. Jesus’ response is timeless and echoes through the ages resounding in our ears today—if we just listen.

Four types of soil representing four types of hearts are scattered with seed which is the “word of God”. Only one produces a crop. Jesus explains that “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15).

It is obvious that Jesus is not talking about the hearing we do with our ears, but the hearing we do with our hearts. And when we hear with our hearts, Jesus changes us and, in that transformation, we persevere and share that same “good news of the kingdom of God.”

I pray that God will continue to teach me to listen with my heart open to Him and to persevere in Jesus’ mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to everyone I meet. May we all honor him together with our listening hearts.

You are loved!
Sharon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: Listen for the Bells

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe. – Billy from the Polar Express

In the fanciful children’s story, The Polar Express, a young boy named Billy begins to doubt the story of Santa Claus.  His emerging disbelief exhibits itself through his inability to hear the ringing of a tiny Christmas bell. Billy’s belief is restored by a journey on a magical train, the Polar Express, that takes him to the North Pole.  After meeting a host of characters and witnessing the manufacture of countless toys for Christmas gifts to all the world’s children, Billy’s belief is restored and he once again can hear the bell.

Luke chapter 7 presents 4 episodes in the ministry of Jesus and introduces us to many characters.  These characters fall into one of three belief categories; believers, doubters and unbelievers.

The first episode in Luke 7 tells of a Roman Centurion whose belief overshadows that of many of the Jews.  He fully trusts in Jesus’s power to heal his beloved servant so much that he says don’t bother to come, just say the words.  Jesus remarks with, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  A few verses later, his healing power was again demonstrated by raising a widow’s son. Belief took root in those who witnessed the miracle with their proclamation that “God has visited his people!”

The final story of the chapter introduces us to a strong believer amidst a group of staunch unbelievers. While dining with Pharisees a woman known for her sinful living boldly interrupts the feast and, moved with true conviction, begins to wash Jesus’s feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, then anoints his feet with perfume from an alabaster flask.  In contrast to her faith, the Pharisees ridicule Jesus for allowing a sinner to approach him.

Inserted in between these stories contrasting believe and unbelief is a fascinating account of a question from John the Baptist.  Struggling with doubt, he seeks confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’s answer for John is simple; consider what you have seen and heard.

Belief can be elusive and at any point in time our belief in God can vary on a continuum from extremely weak to overwhelmingly strong.  Like waves at the seashore, our faith can ebb and flow on a daily basis across the spectrum of belief. This can be frustrating and even frightening.  We must not get discouraged but work with resolve to trust through the times of doubt. When doubt arises, let’s all be like John and return to Jesus with our questions, then consider what He has said and done.

During this Christmas season we all face the challenge of doubting that God truly sent his son to earth as a baby to an unwed teenage mother.  How outrageous does that sound? But look at what he did and said. I pray that we will all be like Billy in the Polar Express… Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.

Listen for the bell.

Live Jesus, Give Jesus.
James Peterman


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2019 Advent Devo: God Only Knows

So, when I read Jesus’ words in Luke 6: 20-23,

Blessed are you who are poor,

    for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

    for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

    for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

    when they exclude you and insult you

    and reject your name as evil,

        because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,

 because great is your reward in heaven,

I think about all the real, awful things people go through that most of us don’t even know about.  And then I think about what Jesus is saying, which basically is that God’s love is bigger than all that stuff.  It reminds me of a song by For King and Country called, “God Only Knows.”

Watch here > https://youtu.be/Q5cPQg3oq-o

We don’t know all the things that other people are going through, but God does, and His love is bigger than those things.  He turns it all upside down. So whatever you’re going through right now, I hope you’ll feel a little better knowing that God knows, His love is bigger, and better things are coming.

You are loved!
Zoe Henegar


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2019 Advent Devo: Calling

When were you called to follow Jesus? For me, the call to be a disciple has always been in my life, in one form or another. I can remember growing up with a deep appreciation for who God is and understood from an early age that at some point in my life, I would have to decide to obey God, follow Jesus, and commit myself to being a life-long disciple. Though these truths were always present in my life, there were times when I found it hard to sense a clear call from the Lord.

For much of my life, I longed for the type of “calling” that Jesus’ disciples received in Luke chapter 5. The story of their calling is a simple one. Some fisherman have been out all night trying to catch fish but have failed miserably. They are washing off their nets and packing up when Jesus comes by, asking if he can borrow a boat to use as a makeshift stage so that he can speak to the crowd of people that have been following him. He borrows a boat from Simon Peter and speaks to the crowd. As he finishes, his attention turns to Simon Peter. “You haven’t had any luck on the lake tonight, why don’t you try one more time and put your nets back in the water?” Jesus says. Peter, no doubt tired from his fruitless work, decides he has nothing to lose and goes along with Jesus’ request. For those of us who already know who Jesus is in this story, it comes as no surprise that the fishermen’s nets are now bursting with fish. Upon seeing the empty nets Simon Peter is convicted by his lack of faith and understands that he is in the presence of the Lord. It is from these unbelievable and miraculous events that Jesus offers his invitation to Simon, James and John. “Be my disciples and I will show you how to fish for men,” He says. How could anyone in that situation say no to Jesus!

It is only natural for us to want to be called by Jesus in the same way, to have a miracle performed before our very eyes that validates our decision to put Jesus first and give him complete reign over our lives. The interesting thing is that the book of Luke continues to show us again and again the miraculous work of Jesus. Immediately following this miracle with the fish, we see Jesus perform two more miracles and as the gospel of Luke continues, so do Jesus miracles. Luke seems to be telling us that following Jesus requires a continued observation of the things that he can, and will, do.

While Jesus initially called the disciples with a show of his power, we know that their ongoing faith and obedience required many different experiences with Jesus. We also know even in spite of everything they saw, they still struggled to follow and obey Jesus, especially Simon Peter! Our own lives may reflect the overall story of Jesus found in Luke more than any one miraculous event. Most of us would identify as being called to follow Jesus through a lifetime of experiences, not just one single event. It is easy to long for a big moment, or a personally deep call from Jesus to be his disciple, but often times our call comes in the ways we experience Jesus’ love and power over and over in the smaller moments of life. When God became man, he gave himself to these smaller moments of life, not becoming flesh to make a big show and gain worldwide attention, but to permeate the simple actions of humanity, over and over and over again. For me, the call to be a disciple was in the continual love and guidance I received from my parents, the many stories told to me about God by the special people in my life, and the “small” experiences I have shared with Jesus over the years.

This Advent season as we reflect on the life of Jesus, we can remember that following Jesus isn’t just about the big ways we have heard him call us, but it is about the smaller moments of life. We see in the life of Jesus’ closest friends, that following him is about an ongoing relationship of faith, sprinkled with special moments until our lives are full of moments of Jesus’ call. As we reflect all of Jesus’ stories told in the gospel of Luke, may we long for more stories of Jesus in our own lives, giving thanks that the truth about our incarnate King means that he is with us in the big things and the small things, forever.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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2019 Advent Devo: Rest

“When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness and laying his hands on each one, he healed them….” Luke 4:40

There are so many sections of Luke 4 that can be studied and dissected further. Many of these passages you have probably read several times in the past- the temptation of Jesus, the rejection of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth, the healing of Simon’s mother in law, etc. I challenge you to read this chapter and these “stories” again to find something new; something you may have missed in the past.

If you’re like me, I often start a chapter with intense focus but by the end, find myself losing attention. The last verses won’t get near as much thought or meditation on as the first ones. When I was reading through Luke 4 this time, the last verses stood out to me. The realness of Jesus came to life in this passage. After a night of healings, he went out at “daybreak to a solitary space.” (Luke 4:42) 

“The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.”

“But he said, I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 

What stands out to you? Have you ever felt this way? Exhausted and needed so much that you just had to have a few moments of time to yourself. How real is that!? But even when the people came looking for him, Jesus wasn’t rude or insincere. In fact, despite him being tired, he knew he must go on; doing the mission he was sent here for.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think rest is so important! Let’s face it, if you aren’t well rested and you’re feeling overwhelmed you aren’t much good to anyone. And as you see in these verses, Jesus also needed time alone. What do you think he was thinking about during this time of solitude?

In this crazy busy world, you can feel pulled by so many things. Your boss may be asking more of you, your kids may be needing your attention, your family wants more time with you. You may feel like some days you are going to implode if one more person asks something of you. This may make you lose sight of your mission here on

Earth. You may want to do what’s “comfortable” because you’re exhausted and feel you can’t give one more thing to one more person. Balance can be hard to find.

But there is one more voice asking something of you. And this request is the most important. It can be easy to block God out because he isn’t constantly tapping your shoulder or sending you a thousand texts & emails. But his requests and mission for your life are of the greatest!

Let this season of the year be a time to slow down (without guilt) and focus on what God is asking from us. Let it be a time to find balance and if needed, a few minutes of solitude to collect your thoughts and refocus. Our life here on Earth is a gift and God has a mission for each one of us.

You are loved!
Lacey Dellapace


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2019 Advent Devo: Wake Up

It had been around four centuries since the Israelites had heard a Word from the Lord.  He had gone silent. After years of trying to call his people back to himself, there is a great Holy pause.  A great waiting period. There were a few folks who managed to wait on him with hopeful anticipation, but I think most (like I would have surely been) had stopped expecting.  They were no longer anticipating nor looking for him. They had grown comfortable and careless. They were slumbering through life. And it’s into this scene that Luke sets the stage so well for the arrival of the promised Messiah to enter public ministry.  I love how he recounts every generation by name back to the garden – it’s like this was planned. It’s like he’s coming at just the right time (Rom 5:6).

And God’s plan is not for him to just show up one day.  His plan involves an announcement from the one who is called to prepare the way.  Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist has a very specific purpose. He’s sorta like a spiritual alarm clock.  His call is to awaken the people to the coming Christ.  He announces the coming kingdom and the need for repentance.  Wake up! Be on the lookout! Change your ways! He admits that his call to life change and baptism is simply a start.  He can awaken and help folks to see the ways they have gone wrong and encourage behavior change, but his words lack the power to reconcile and sustain.  Much like the prophets of old, he had no power to renew and transform. He knew what he had to offer was woefully incomplete.

But… he speaks of Christ in v16-17 “The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives…” (MSG)

Don’t you just love JTB? Isn’t he what we are supposed to be? He clearly knew his purpose and place.  I’m not the one, but I know who is…  I can’t change you, but I know who can…  His life consistently and faithfully points to Jesus.  He has no interest in making a name for himself, but only draws attention to himself enough to awaken hearts and prepare the path for the coming King.  May we, like John, embrace our limitations and strive simply to awaken hearts to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – the only one who can redeem and reconcile and change hearts and lives from the inside out.  Worship the King of glory!

You are loved!

Kevin Henegar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYVtW3FYQUI


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2019 Advent Devo: Great Expectations

I remember well the anticipation of Christmas when I was a child, watching as my father climbed the pull down stairs to the attic to retrieve the Christmas tree, lights and decorations, helping my mother choose just the right place for each ornament.  I remember hanging the stockings on the mantle in the living room while taking great care to make sure they were not too close to the hearth and potential danger from the fires that would burn there over the holidays.  I remember choosing the perfect gift for each friend and family member on my list, wrapping each gift carefully and placing it just so under the tree, making the list for Santa of all the things I wanted.  Then on Christmas Eve, I remember the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen mixed with a tiny bit of anxiety that potential disaster loomed.  What if Santa didn’t get my wish list? What if Santa ran out of the very thing at the top of my list before he got to me? What if Santa forgot me completely? In the rush of planning, shopping, wrapping, caroling and parties, I focused so much on presents that I failed to remember with joy the real reason for the season: The birth of a Messiah.  The coming of a King.

When I read Luke 2 and consider Simeon, I am reminded that many generations of God’s chosen people lived in anticipation of the coming of their Messiah and died before His birth.   But Simeon was different.  Very little about Simeon is revealed in Scripture. There is nothing about his background, which tribe he belonged to, whether he was married or had children, what occupation he held.  Only three things that speak to his character and relationship with God are mentioned:   he was righteous and devout, he was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. In fact, verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

When the Holy Spirit led him to the temple that day, did he know what was going to happen?  Did he have a feeling that there was something special about this day?  Whether or not he sensed that this day would bring unimaginable joy, he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit to go to the temple on the very day when Mary and Joseph would be there to present Jesus to the Lord.  Scripture does not reveal exactly how the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that Jesus was the Messiah, but when he saw Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.  He doesn’t see the leader of a political movement or military revolution.  He doesn’t see a revival of the strict law-keeping that religious leaders of the day would have taught.  He hasn’t been expecting this kind of fulfillment of prophecy.  Instead he is holding all that he has longed for in his arms.  This tiny baby with seemingly no power at all is the all-powerful God.  What joy Simeon must have felt at that moment! Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and looks forward to what is to come.  He speaks to the impact of the incarnation and the varying responses to the anointed One.

When we think about Simeon, we see a picture of fulfilled expectations and realized hope.  Though our perspective is different from Simeon’s, we also see Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament anticipates.  The Lord’s Messiah has come to comfort and save his people.  We rejoice in His coming not only during Advent season but also all throughout the year.  And as we rejoice, we also long for the day when He will come again.

You are loved!
Melissa Holland


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2019 Advent Devo: We All Need Somebody To Lean On

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:36-37

I am a blessed man in many ways.  One of my most prized blessings is the many friends that God has given me.  From Canada to Colombia, California to Connecticut, and Charlotte to Canyon and points in between, I have people by whom I’ve been blessed to have been loved.  There is something about deep relationships that is life giving.

In Luke 1, Mary is touched by an angel’s appearance.  Gabriel announces to her that she will give birth to a son.  Mary is a virgin and she isn’t given many details about how this pregnancy will happen or how she will make it, but the angel does something very important—he gives her a friend.  Gabriel lets her know that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant as well.

A friend once shared that during her pregnancy, she loved being around other pregnant women.  They would share experiences, hopes, dreams, and even fears. When Gabriel tells Mary about Elizabeth, he is giving her a friend.

When guests visit church, they often want to know what we believe, who is in charge and how they can get involved.  Often, the deepest and most unspoken question is: Who here will love me?  Following Jesus is a team sport and we flourish and thrive best in community with others with whom we share life. As Bill Withers once sang in his hit Lean On Me, “We all need somebody to lean on” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkaexjc-1os).

God provided Mary a gift in Elizabeth.  Mary may have needed Elizabeth more than she needed answers to all her questions.  God made sure that Mary was not alone on this journey.

This holiday season, reflect on the friendships you have and be grateful for those who walk with you, pray for you, and speak truth to you.  It’s one of the best gifts you’ll get!

Reflections Questions:

  • Who are your Elizabeths?  The people who love you well all year long? How will you honor them this Christmas?
  • Who is God putting in your path to be an Elizabeth to? To befriend and love well?

You are loved,
Kent Massey

Sign up for all our iWitness Christmas Advent Devotionals here > http://eepurl.com/gb1BrT


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Cross Walk Devotional: The Day That Everything Changed

Growing up as a children in America, we learned about all the days in history that had an impact our lives: the day we won our independence from England, the day we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and most recently, the attack of the Twin Towers on 9/11. These days all had great significance, and we now have dates that we use to remember these historic occasions.

All of these days have great importance in our history, but they all are small in comparison to the day we celebrate each year in the Spring to remember and celebrate the day Jesus Christ was resurrected from the grave of death. This day is the day that changed everything.

Before the resurrection there was the cross and the death Jesus had to endure on our behalf. Without the cross, there is no resurrection and there is no mercy from God because His justice would not be satisfied. With all thanks and praise to Jesus, payment has been made, and we do have the mercy we don’t deserve.

The penalty for our sins was paid on the cross, so why was the resurrection so necessary to complete our redemption?

Without the resurrection, the only thing we would have is sympathy without victory. Our hope comes not only when the darkness is shared but also in the process of leading us out into the light.

Without the resurrection, Satan would have won. Paul suggests that the cross was a trap for Satan. Due to his limitations in knowledge he did not see God’s plan with the cross and the resurrection to bring about our redemption.

Without the resurrection, death would still be our final enemy. Jesus took on our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death —that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus, through His resurrection from death, has removed the fear and the sting from death.

Without the resurrection, we would not have newness of life. Where the cross brings forgiveness of sins, the resurrection brings us an offer of new life. In his discussion of baptism, Paul gives us the vision of us identifying with Christ in His death and His resurrection. When we enter our watery grave, we nail our sins to the tree, and as we rise up from the water, we leave our old life in the grave and walk in a brand new life. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

As we stop and reflect this day on all that changed for all time for all people everywhere, it is important to see the power and significance of this day. We can see how it truly did change everything for every person who would believe in Jesus and His sufficiency and repent to live God’s way.  These will have life and life eternal.

If I truly believe that this resurrection did occur, then what has changed for me and my life? How about those around me who may not believe? Have I shared this Good News with them? Do I live as if this Gospel message is just for me or am I proclaiming this message of life and victory to every person at every opportunity that is presented?

Lord, we offer our thanks today to you for your Son Jesus, who paid our penalty for our sin and then through His resurrection proclaimed victory over sin and death. We praise you and your perfect plan and ask your forgiveness for our disbelief. Lord, give us the desire and the courage to love others as you have loved us and to proclaim this message to the lost at every opportunity. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Peace and grace to all in Jesus’ name!

You are loved! Jackie Gass


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Cross Walk Devotional: Focus

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My in-box shouted at me as I scrolled through the e-mail on my phone rushing from one meeting to another.  The subject line of one of the numerous devotionals to which I subscribe caught my attention because the message was painfully applicable to me.  If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. Wow…that hurts; but sometimes the truth always does.  Now to prove how well this statement fits me, I haven’t even had time to read the entire devo.  But I’m not sure I need to. The message has haunted me for days.

I prefer busy because I’m easily bored.  But busy has become its own vice as my busyness robs me of the ability to keep focused on what is truly important.  Why didn’t I read the daily scripture for today before I left for work? Because I knew I needed to be at work early since it would be such a busy day.  This is beginning to sound like a circular argument and unfortunately, I’m very good at it.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”

Those words from Jesus’s first recorded public teaching forever haunt me as they daily convict me of my greatest challenge.  My hope and personal prayer this Easter season is that I focus on the cross and truly seek first the kingdom and his will in my life each day.

As the women discover the empty tomb, one of the angels tells them that he is risen and prompts them to “remember how he told you…”  And the women, “remembered his words…”

May this season help us remember and remain in remembrance of God’s love and power demonstrated through Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death.

God’s wisdom in the institution of the Lord’s Supper in commemoration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is amazing.  He seemed to know that we (I) would struggle with busyness and life’s many distractions. May we remember resurrection Sunday this Easter and each Sunday and every day.

Father, lead me to seek first the kingdom.  May it become a mindset and my life’s sole direction.

You are loved!

James Peterman

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Cross Walk Devotional: Our Wholly Predictable God

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There is an old hymn called, “This is my Father’s World”.  The first verse of this hymn says:

“This is my Father’s world, And to my listening ears;

All nature sings, and round me rings, The music of the spheres.”

This song is meant to provide comfort to us, because all nature witnesses to the power and providence of our heavenly Father, if we are so oriented to listen.  The last line is particularly interesting as it suggests the moon, planets, stars – in fact, the entire universe plays different parts to one harmonious, orderly and beautiful score.

But, on the day of Jesus death, all nature testifies to a very different story line and the music is chaotic, unpredictable and violent.  The sun stops shining mid-day, there is an earthquake that breaks open tombs, awakens the dead and they start walking around again. An invisible hand rips the huge curtain in the temple.  Perhaps a zombie apocalypse comes to mind – at least that is probably the effect of these events on the people. People are terrified, but do they understand the connection between the death of Jesus and the testimony of nature?  It appears that only the pagan centurion and his men get it. The ruling Jews & Pharisees are somehow all too willing to stick in their ear buds, block out this music and listen to the relaxing melody brought to them by their favorite singing group, Moses & the Law.

Truly, this was a significant day and probably not quickly forgotten by its witnesses.  But, 2000 years later, there is “nothing new under the sun. Everything that happens has happened before” (Ecc 1:9 paraphrased).  I confess that I don’t always reflect on the spectacular, supernatural events of that day and they don’t affect me like they should.  The everyday grind of work to do, bills to pay and chores to run are the noises that drown out that celestial music. I don’t look for, nor do I desire anything unpredictable in my life.  It’s not that I don’t fully appreciate the significance of Jesus death and the redemption it brings, it’s often just not “front and center” like it needs to be and would be if nature testified to this event every day.

The purpose for Jesus’ redemption is for me to be transformed in to his glory, which means submitting to my Lord in all areas of my life.  May I have more of the faith of the centurion who says, “truly this was the Son of God” and make that the foundation of every aspect of my life.  May I put my faith in the wholly predictable God even in the unpredictable events that come my way – a wholly predictable God that will be glorified, will make himself known, will save his people and will return again!

The last verse of the hymn talks about that last, triumphal day when nature once again declares his glory in an unusual way, when the “clouds be rolled back as a scroll”:

“This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done.

Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied, and earth and Heaven be one.”

I can’t want for those trumpets to sound!

You are loved!

Don Keefer

 

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Cross Walk Devotional: Stay the Course

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Jesus hung on the cross for six hours of sheer agony. That was after a severe beating and having to carry the cross part of the way.He was on the cross from the third hour (9 am) to the ninth hour (3 pm). He was now at the pinnacle of His walk on the earth. We would be the beneficiary of His travails. Our sins could only be remitted by His sacrifice. – Amen

We are now at the sixth hour when Jesus speaks. “Eloi Eloi, lema sabachtani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a direct quote from Psalm 22:1. Wonderful psalm, reading it will give you a better understanding of the sentiment Jesus is expressing. I am sure you will see yourself in the words therein.

The use of this passage by Jesus brings up some good questions. Why do you think Jesus was saying this? Do you think Jesus being fully God as well as man felt real distance from God? Is it even possible for God to feel separate from Himself? This is good theology and will lead to many interesting studies if you should pursue.

Here is another idea, could Jesus in His expressions be telling us that this feeling is a common reaction in difficult times?  Could Jesus in His kind and nurturing ways be bolstering us for the ways we will feel whilst in the midst of struggle? Recall Jesus tells us in this world we will have trouble.  Also, the night before the crucifixion Jesus was asking to be excused from the task at hand. Can we from these teachings learn to cope better with our struggles or disasters?

Have you ever felt God to be distant from you, not in touch with you at all? Have you abandoned yourself to ‘my way’ mode?  Do you grow impatient with God and become demanding in your prayers? Or do you find yourself doubting God’s very existence because somehow you think the Christian walk should be without pain or bother?

Recall passages like the ones in James that tell us to count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2,3). Take a lesson from Jesus:  the victory is a certainty no matter how we might feel or what we experience. So, when you have difficult times, do as Jesus did. Keep talking to God and stay the course.

You are loved!

Edward Constantine

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Cross Walk Devotional: It Can’t End Like This

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Our Cross Walk series has been leading to one of the most memorable moments in Jesus’ ministry, the crucifixion. This material captures our imagination and paints a vivid picture of the cruelty that humanity is capable of. It begs us to picture what it was like to be there and to witness the abuse, the slander, and the murder of the Son of God.

Mark 15:16-32 tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ crucifixion. We watch as Jesus is treated as someone of no value by the Roman officials. We see how Jesus’ own people, especially those who had been threatened by who he was, are quick to mock their Messiah and revel in their apparent victory. Their hateful activity is contrasted with Jesus’ passive acceptance of his fate because he seems weak and incapable of doing anything to change his situation. If we only had this part as the end to Jesus’ story, it would be an unremarkable end to a life with so much promise.

If we were there, if we had been following Jesus all this time and seen all the great things he had done, I imagine we would be thinking, “Surely, it can’t end like this.” For all the great things that happened in his life, for all of the ways it seemed like the world would finally be different because of him, for all the ways it seemed like God’s power had come to free the abused and marginalized from unjust suffering in this world, surely it can’t end like this.

As much as this story is a story about what happened 2000 years ago, all too often it this story is re-lived. The same dark world that Jesus inhabited in Mark 15:16-32 exists all around is in our own world. Innocent people are oppressed unvalued more than we would like to think in our own country, in our own cities, and even in our own neighborhoods. If we took the time to look around, we would see that we are surrounded by people who cry out to God, daily, “Surely, it can’t end like this.”

So where would we be if Jesus’ story ended here? For a short time for those who loved Jesus, this was the ending to his story. The resurrection was only days away but the darkness felt by those who were close to Jesus at this time must have been immense. This is the darkness of a future without Jesus.

But praise God we, the people of the resurrected, enthroned, empowered, just and holy Jesus have a message to share in our present darkness because we know that the resurrection happened, and through it we have all been empowered to shine His light on the world! We are able to go into the Golgothas with those who are being crucified daily and deliver a message of hope, not just of the hope to come, but the hope for today that comes through the knowledge of the Son of God. Jesus walked through his own darkness so that he could be a light to the world. As we look forward to the Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection, may we look into the dark places around us and see those who only know darkness and live as if the crucifixion was the end of the story. But it did not end there for Jesus and it does not end there for us. As believers, we can enter the darkness, easing injustice and suffering while we are here because we serve a King who heals and promises His own resurrection for all creation. We can bear this part of Jesus’ story in Mark because we know it only adds to the glory that is to come. The same goes for those in our world who live lives of pain and need to know how Jesus changes the end of their story. Our message to them is the same message we read about in Mark’s gospel, that because Jesus is King and Messiah, surely it won’t end like this.

You are loved!

Jon Cooke

 

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Cross Walk Devotional: The Real Picture of Sin

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We rarely see sin for what it is.  It never looks quite as ugly to us as it does to God.  And our tolerance for it—whether in ourselves or in others—is always greater than His.  Think about it. He has always had a zero-tolerance policy. Sin math is simple. Sin=death.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a white lie or a grievous deception.  Sin is sin. The evil one, however, through temptation taking advantage of our sinful nature, never paints it in the ugly light that it truly is.  Whether it’s justification of our selfishness, recasting gossip in the name of trying to figure out how we can “help” brother or sister so and so, calling living together with someone outside of the marriage covenant a “good way to find out if we are compatible”, or one of the countless ways Hollywood tries to influence our thinking by continuing to push the boundaries of what we consider normal and no longer sinful.  Regardless of how we try to make it look good and ok, it just isn’t. It’s ugly. It’s despicable. It’s terrible. Just look at how Paul describes the life of sin to the Colossians (3:5-8) as he encourages them to put away this former way of life. Nothing positive or nice about this.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

During this season leading up to Easter, it has struck me more than ever before just how ugly it truly is.  And the fact that there was one moment in history—the pivotal moment of all time—when it was truly seen for what it was. Not only did the cross represent the atonement of the sins of the world as they were all placed upon Christ the unblemished and sinless lamb of God.  I think the very act of the crucifixion was the representation of the true picture of sin. Not only did Jesus bear our sin, but he was the very target of all sin in that moment. It seems that part of bearing that sin was that all humanity directed its collective anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, idolatry, you name it, towards the son of God in that moment.  How else does it make any sense that they all pleaded with Pilate to crucify the Lord Jesus and let the murderer and thief Barabbas go free to roam the streets (Luke 23:18-21)?  The sinless Jesus was tortured, beaten and humiliated, his body torn and broken, his blood shed for us.  Indeed, He was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53:7) in the sense that he accepted it as Father’s will, but this sacrifice was anything but merciful.

And in this moment, when sin was exposed for what it truly is, Jesus is despised and rejected.  The scene was far too awful to look upon.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Is 53:3

But the good news is that just as sin was exposed for what it truly is, so was the grace and mercy of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  The extravagant, reckless, amazing, wonderful grace—truly scandalous and far too good to comprehend or even imagine. Just as Barabbas is acquitted and set free, all of humanity for all ages to come is given the very same opportunity.  

So the next time you are tempted by sin’s deceitfulness, by all its attractive edges and the alluring invitation which promises only fulfillment and satisfaction with no glimpse into the shame and brokenness it brings, remember the true picture of sin as exposed on the cross, pray and ask the Spirit for help in weakness and you will find the strength for mercy and deliverance (Heb 4:14-16).

You are loved!

Kevin Henegar

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Cross Walk Devotional: God Used Pilate

The chief priests, elders, teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin had made their plans.  They bought the assistance of Judas in bringing down Jesus, the man who threatens everything they hold dear.  While these groups have very different beliefs, they are united by their desire to rid themselves of a man who has become their enemy.  They know that they want Jesus killed, but they do not have the authority to do so. Only a Roman governor can carry out a death sentence, so following a “mock trial” by the Jews, Jesus is bound and led away to Pilate very early in the morning.  The working day of a Roman official began at daylight, and since the Sabbath is approaching, the Jews know they must bring Jesus to Pilate at this early hour if his sentence is to be passed that day.

Mark doesn’t tell us what conversation transpired between the Jewish leaders and Pilate, but we know that Pilate would not be involved over charges of blasphemy.  Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, makes it clear that Jesus has been charged with the treasonous act of proclaiming himself king. Jesus’ response, “You have said so,” is non-committal.  He doesn’t say yes, and he doesn’t say no. He is a king, but not of an earthly kingdom. Even when prompted by Pilate because of the number of accusations made against him, Jesus does not reply. Not exactly what Pilate expected.  Most men would be pleading for their lives. Jesus fulfills the prophecy about him recorded in Isaiah 57: 3 – “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (NIV)

The crowd begins to ask for Pilate to release a prisoner as was the custom for the festival.  Knowing that the chief priests have their own agenda in handing over Jesus, Pilate sarcastically asks the crowd if they want him to release the “king of the Jews.”  It seems that he anticipates their agreement. When the crowd asks for the release of Barabbas, a zealot who had participated in treasonous acts against Rome, Pilate asks what the people want him to do with Jesus.  Perhaps he thinks they will ask for Jesus to be beaten and released, but twice they ask for his crucifixion. Pilate is in a tough place. He questions what crime Jesus has committed. He seems to be reluctant to crucify Jesus, but at the same time he has brought soldiers to Jerusalem to keep peace during the festival, and now he has a mob on his hands that is almost at riot level.  The last thing he wants is for the crowd to get out of hand now. Pilate is unwilling to oppose both the people and the Jewish leaders, so he orders the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus.

What were Pilate’s private thoughts in these moments?  Did he have some internal struggle between doing the right thing and pacifying the people?  Was he only thinking about himself and how his career would be affected by his decision? Had he conspired with the Jewish leaders to be rid of Jesus once and for all?  There is no way to answer these questions, but of one thing I am sure. God used Pilate to carry out His plan for salvation. God did not force Pilate to make the decision to hand Jesus over for crucifixion.  Fearing a revolt if he spared the life of Jesus, Pilate surrendered to political expediency and refused to set an innocent man free. He cared more about his own political ambition and safety than justice and truth.  He is a stark contrast to Jesus. Jesus wanted to bear witness to the truth, and knowing the desire of the Father, he willingly allowed himself to be handed over to the authorities. He would not deny the reason he came to earth even though he understood the pain and suffering that he would endure for our sakes.  He submitted to God’s will and surrendered himself to crucifixion to take on our sin as God’s final sacrificial lamb. He bore the pain so we wouldn’t have to. He bought us with his blood, ransomed us, and redeemed us so we could be in a right relationship with God. May we always be conscious of his sacrifice and its ability to release us from the bondage of sin and the power of death.  May we always remember that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

You are loved!

Melissa Holland

 


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Cross Walk Devotional: The Rest of the Story

Before Gethsemane—before Jesus asked Peter and James and John to keep watch while he prayed in anguish, Please, not this.  But not my will (Matthew 26: 36-46); before sorrow forced blood out of Christ’s body with his sweat; before the betrayer kissed Jesus’ cheek and soldiers arrested him–before all this, Jesus told his disciples that they would fall away.  The word Matthew uses is skandalizo, from which eventually comes our English word scandal, and which literally means that the disciples would be ensnared, or trapped.  The enemy had fresh-dug a monsterous pit, and all of the disciples would fall right into it while Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus knew this, and yet his comments on the matter hardly come off as rebuke. Instead, the gospel writers share this revelation a bit like a resurrection weekend itinerary:  “You’ll fall for the trick, guys.  But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:31-32,my paraphrase).”

Pride and passion, that brash confidence that made Peter a natural leader, also made him blind to his own potential for error.  “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” Peter argued that night (Matthew 26:33). Peter felt certain he would see the nasty teeth of the thing on the ground before he ran into it.  And, worse case scenario, he had a sword (John 18:10). Peter had made up his mind some time ago that no matter what Jesus said, nothing resembling death and sacrifice would befall them (Matthew 16:22).  Sometimes we refuse the Cross with equal resolve.

It’s interesting to notice how carefully Jesus prepared them, especially Peter, for the dark, terrifying days that would precede Jesus’ resurrection.  “Your thoughts are only filled with man’s viewpoints and not with the ways of God,” Jesus had corrected Peter (Matthew 16:23). I believe Jesus offers that same correction to us when we want to side-step His suffering.  And then Luke, in his careful account of the events preceding Christ’s garden arrest, includes a bit more of the “before the rooster crows” conversation, wherein Jesus tells Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).” It seems as though Jesus knew that in order for the disciples, especially Peter, to become disciple-makers who would later testify boldly and in public—who would “rejoice because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace” for His Name (Acts 5:41), who would rely solely on His power (instead of the force of their own will and “godliness”, see  Acts 3:6,12), they had to come face to face with their own lack of understanding and weakness.

So, it’s a surprise to Peter, but not to Jesus, when in the courtyard Peter so vehemently denies Jesus that profanity rolls out of his mouth along with his denials (Matthew 26:74).  Jesus had said, “You’ll aparneomai me,” that is, “You’ll refuse even to recognize me.”  In the Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases that Peter left that courtyard “with a shattered heart (Matthew 26:75),” and rightly so, for our scandalous denials of Jesus betray the truth of our love for Him.

Maybe you feel it now as I do, the truth of all our collective Peter moments, when some embittered soul has said, “You’re a Christian, what do you say about this?” and we’ve shrugged or, when forced to acknowledge the ugly, suffering truth of the Cross, we have unwittingly minimized the power of the gospel.  Maybe, seeing yourself warming your hands at the courtyard fire, you’ve wondered as I have if you could ever be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or a Corrie ten Boom or a Rachel Scott. At the same time, we witness Peter’s denials and feel stung by our own moments of foolish pride.

But I submit that these conclusions fall short of the motive of the text.  We’re not meant only to read about Peter’s scandalous hours and drop our heads, weighted down by the truth a similar inadequacy.  Notice that when Jesus tells the disciples that these things will occur, he simply says, “But after the resurrection, I’ll meet you in Galilee (Matthew 26:32),” or specifically to Peter, “But when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32).”  Jesus never sees his disciples’ failures as the end of their story any more than he sees the Cross as the culmination of God’s achievement. And we’re also meant to appreciate the entire story, not just a part of it. Even before these events occur, Jesus knows that because of the resurrection, the enemy’s snare will be broken.  The trap will be sprung forever. Once freed and restored, Peter and the other disciples will continue in Christ with the life-changing understanding that Christ–not they–holds insurmountable and reliable power, even over death. Peter’s denial ultimately teaches Peter to rely on Jesus. The power of Christ—only that power–transforms men and women into disciples like Peter and John and Paul, like Bonhoeffer, ten Boom, and Scott.

So whether we humbly see our own potential for error now or discover it to our surprise while we’re warming our hands over a refining fire, the moment when we own our desperate need for more of Christ will be the moment we become those of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

You are loved!

Elysa Henegar


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Cross Walk Devotional: Footsteps of Jesus

June 17, 2015 was supposed to be another Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Until it wasn’t.

For the members of the historic Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston SC, they welcomed a guest from off the streets to join them as they prayed and studied God’s word.  As they studied a passage from Mark’s gospel, Dylann Roof sat quietly next to the pastor. An hour into the prayer/study, without warning he pulled out a pistol from a bag he was carrying and killed nine people, including the church’s pastor.  Church members who had gone to church for solace and encouragement, entered their eternal peace instead.

Roof would later be captured and admit his guilt.  He had hoped his actions would ignite a race war. He also shared that he almost changed his mind about the shootings because the church members had been so nice to him.

Suffering is hard.

Even worse than suffering is unjust suffering.  Suffering visited upon you for doing the right thing.  For choosing God’s way instead of your own. Being a Christ follower never exempts us from suffering, and following His footsteps often take us down a rocky road.

The Bible is very clear about this reality.  In 1 Peter 2:20 (addressed to servants, by the way—see verse 18), we read: “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”

It is in that context, that Peter wrote the words that follow, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Peter encourages to view our suffering though the lens of the suffering of Jesus. Jesus’ life teaches us some truths about suffering: suffering was a necessary part of his work as The Messiah (Luke 24:25-27); His suffering was for others and had a greater purpose for salvation (Matthew 20:28; 26:28); if we follow Jesus, we will suffer as he did (Mark 8:34; 10:38-39).

Peter brings out these three points when he writes, “Christ suffered….for you…that you should follow in his steps.”

The word translated “example” means “something written underneath.”  I remember as a child, having a drawing book with thick, bold lines that I could lay a sheet of paper over, trace the lines and draw a picture.  Jesus’ footsteps boldly mark the path we must walk. He set a flawless example for us.

In the process, he “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).  The reference to Jesus’ death underscores the truth that his physical death was essential for our sins to be forgiven.  That Jesus’ sacrifice was real—a matter of flesh and blood—a true historical event and not just the gist of myths. His wounds bring us healing, and through Him we are restored to “the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Even when He was unjustly accused, unjustly beaten, unjustly killed—He didn’t fight back or retaliate.  He trusted God to vindicate Him. In the economy of God, suffering never gets the last word.

And the news gets better—If we share in the suffering of Jesus, then we will share in the victory of Jesus.  Even though we don’t taste it yet, we can be certain of it! Even when our suffering ends in death, we are not helpless victims.  We are not destroyed, even when decimated. We are joined to a Christ who was once dead, but will NEVER be dead again.

During World War II, the French resistance heard on their radios that the Normandy invasion had taken place.  When they heard the news, it changed their spirits. They still lived in a hostile environment. They were still surrounded by the enemy. But, suddenly they knew that victory was on the way.  They weren’t the ones who were afraid anymore—it was the enemy that was afraid.

And Peter is saying the same thing to suffering Christians.  The gospel is good news, and we have hope. Our hope moves upwards from the blackness of the grave to the brightness of glory where Jesus—even now—reigns victorious. Though we might not understand everything we need to know about suffering, we know where Jesus ended up—at the right hand of God.

And Peter is saying, “if you suffer for Jesus, if you follow His footsteps, that’s where you will be too.”

You are loved!

Kent

 


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Cross Walk: Join us for Easter 2019

Cross Walk: He Is Risen!
Join us for Easter on Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 10am.

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Cross Walk Devotional: We Mostly Live in Saturday

Friday is the day of pain,

of sorrow and of woe.

We see His face of suffering,

to darkness He must go.

We look ahead in two days’ time

when victory shows its face.

He’ll conquer death, at last, we’ll know!

that heaven is His place.

The painful day of sacrifice

is finished!  Love’s stripped clean.

But we mostly live in Saturday,

the day that’s in between.

The next day brings a joyful shout!

our faith will soon be seen.

But we mostly live in Saturday,

the day that’s in between.

We pray that help is on the way,

to heal the scars that gleam.

‘Cause we mostly live in Saturday,

the day that’s in between.

We all have heard, “He is the Way!”

But what does all that mean?

‘Cause we mostly live in Saturday,

the day that’s in between.

I still have hope that in my life,

He’ll bring me peace serene.

That I will move past Saturday,

the day that’s in between.

How ‘bout you?  Do you still walk

the path that’s dark, unseen?

Will you let go of Saturday?

the day that’s in between.

You are loved!
Deborah Constantine

 


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Cross Walk Devotional: Follow or Follow Not

On the last night Jesus was with his disciples prior to his death, He shared with them that there would be betrayal and denial. Of course, He was right. In his three years of ministry Jesus had been laying out what allegiance to Him and His Kingdom looked like.

So, Peter told Jesus that he would follow him even if it meant his death, though at this time, Peter still had his own earthly hopes and dreams in mind about Jesus’ Kingdom. After Jesus’ arrest, Peter followed Jesus to the priests’ courtyard, and he did deny Jesus just as had been predicted. He wasn’t committed to Jesus’ Kingdom vision yet.

We know Jesus said that a person that would follow Him would have to “deny themselves and take up their cross.” What do these conditions really mean in our lives today?

Just as Peter denied Jesus on that night, we too have the tendency to deny Jesus in a variety of ways. We fail to proclaim Jesus’ message, we fail to place our trust in Jesus and trust in our own ways, and we fail to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” to name a few.

As we reflect on our lives, are we denying the lordship of our own lives and proclaiming Jesus as our Lord? When we “take up our cross”, do we realize that Jesus is calling us to die to our own hopes and dreams and allow Jesus to resurrect them to His purpose?

Jesus said that if we want to save our lives, we will lose them, but if we lose our lives for His sake, then we will save our lives (Luke 9:24).  The good news is that just as this was a process for Peter, it is for us as well. Denying ourselves is a continuous process of trusting Jesus with our complete life.

Lord, we ask for the courage and passion to follow your Son Jesus according to His call and not in our own ways. We give our thanks for the wonderful example of Jesus in how to live in His ways and may we do your work, your way.

Grace and peace!

You are loved! Jackie Gass


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Cross Walk Devotional: Transformation

One of the most fascinating characteristics of the Bible that attests to its authenticity is the human frailty of so many of its characters.  Beginning with the dysfunction of the first family where Cain kills his brother Abel, to the fleshly weakness and moral failure of King David, the Bible is rife with flawed characters.  But these characters don’t hide in the background like extras on a movie set. These are the “heroes” of the story used to deliver God’s message to mankind.

The trend doesn’t end with the Old Testament as the recurring theme continues in the New Testament among the apostles, who like the children of Israel wandering in the desert, at times seem lost to the true meaning of the Gospel story.  We see their faith repeatedly waiver, their doubts emerge and their human frailty surface over and over. As the Gospel story rushes to its climax as Jesus is arrested, nearly all the apostles abandon him and he who would become our savior suffers alone.

The apostle Peter provides perhaps the greatest New Testament example of human frailty when he denies Jesus three times on the fateful evening.

Yet there is a transforming moment after which the remaining 11, along with the appointed replacement for Judas, demonstrate an undying commitment to the mission Jesus laid out for them.  That moment of truth is the resurrection where doubts and fears are replaced with steadfast faith and hope. From that moment these 12 men, and many more witnesses of the resurrection, live transformed lives where a spiritual focus outweighs their mere physical existence.

Each day I’m reminded of my many frailties, weaknesses, doubts, fears, and failures.  But hope still abounds for the cross and the empty tomb still provide the transforming power to lead me into a spirit-filled domain.  The entire Bible points to the cross as the Old Testament anticipates it and the New Testament reveals it, reflects on its power and inspires us to celebrate it until He comes again.

My prayer for all of us is that this Easter season will transform our doubt into faith and our fears into hope as we marvel at the love, grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Transform me, Father!

You are loved!

James Peterman


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Cross Walk Devotional: The Plan

So, What’s the Plan?

“So, what’s the plan?” I ask.  Family is coming and I need to be ready. They all know that I like to have a plan. I function best when I can make a list so nothing is forgotten and no one is overlooked. I will also admit that My Plan offers me a certain sense of security.

As I study the life of Jesus and his disciples, I wonder if Jesus’ followers found a sense of security in what they thought was “The Plan.” After all, the prophet Isaiah foretold of one who would

“. . . reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” Isa 9:7

And they believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of those words. But the story doesn’t seem to play out as expected and as I read and re-read the accounts of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, I am drawn to thinking about the “rest of the story.”  There is much to ponder beneath the obvious event of a once devoted follower selling out Jesus, Son of God, for a measly 30 pieces of silver.

If there were any doubts about Jesus’ future and their roles in it, the disciples weren’t seeing them. It fact, it had been an incredible week! On Sunday, they were welcomed to Jerusalem by crowds lining the road with their cloaks and with palm branches cut from nearby trees. The people sang and shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.” The Plan seemed to be right on track.

The next day they witnessed a side of Jesus they had not seen before. Jesus, entering the temple, was angered at the buying and selling taking place in the temple area.  He drove out the merchants, overturning tables and benches and forbidding anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. Just what they needed! A king who could rule with a strong hand. What excitement! How exhilarating! Victory at last!  But the trend did not continue.

Thursday, Jesus and his disciples gathered for what we commonly call the Last Supper. Jesus continues to talk about things like his death, his betrayal. Exactly the opposite of what one expects to hear from a conquering king. When Jesus is finished speaking, they sing a hymn and an exhausted and confused group of disciples, led by Jesus, retire to the Mount of Olives and the peace of Gethsemane.

Soon, the darkness and quiet peace of the Mount of Olives were shattered by the sounds of an approaching crowd. Torches could be seen as a collective of soldiers armed to the hilt and officials from the chief priests and Pharisees approached.  As the group drew closer, a familiar face stepped out from the crowd, greeted Jesus with, “Rabbi” followed by a kiss on the cheek. This was the secret signal to the soldiers to seize Jesus. Seize him? But he is the future King! The disciples must have been astounded when Jesus did not resist. Even when a passionate Peter drew his sword and swiftly sliced off the ear of a servant. Jesus’ response, again, is not one expected from a man who is about to conquer the Roman Empire and return the nation of Israel to the throne.  Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter and then goes peacefully with those who were there to arrest him. To say the least, The Plan envisioned by the disciples had been turned upside down. How disillusioned, confused and disappointed they must have felt. Can you relate? I certainly can.

As I continue to think about the defining moments of that last night in the Garden of Gethsemane, I am drawn to Jesus and his response to The Plan. Namely, in the hours prior to Judas’ betrayal, Jesus poured out his heart to God begging for release from what was to come. (Ironically, Peter, James and John whom Jesus had invited to join him, slept through it all.) Jesus completely surrendered himself to God’s Plan when he said,  “Yet not my will but yours be done.” Shortly afterwards, Jesus confidently and with the bearing of a King peacefully went with his accusers and soon to be murderers. He, without resistance or complaint, picked up and carried his own cross after hours of humiliation and torture. Astounding! How did he do it? He simply trusted and obeyed. Through his obedience to the Father, he completely conquered death and Satan’s hold over mankind and, in doing so, offered salvation to all who believe. That had been The Plan all along.

Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

When we open our hearts, our eyes and our ears to Jesus’ leading, success will always be the result. The only worthy Plan is to follow in his footsteps, relying as completely as he did on the Father, surrendering to His Plan and, with humble willingness, carry the cross we are given—no matter what. Jesus has shown us how.

All praise be to our God and Father who loves us unconditionally to infinity!!!

How wonderful to know that we are loved.

You are loved!

Sharon Cooke


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Cross Walk Devotional: Flee and Be Safe

The arrest of Jesus by the mob, initiated by the political leadership, is punctuated by a hypocritical kiss from Judas, a violent strike by a disciple that, fortunately, did not escalate to an all-out brawl, and then desertion by the disciples.  As always, Jesus is composed and in control even as these events swirl around him. There is much to consider here, but I wish to focus on the last event – the young man who followed Jesus, maybe too closely, was considered a threat, seized by the mob, and wriggled out of his clothes to escape naked.

This is a strange aside to the main story and makes me think Mark was the young man.  He had to flee from the very people that he should have been able to turn to for help – the priests, the teachers of the law and the elders.  But, where did he go? Who provided a place of refuge and clothes for him to wear? For this event, there is no answer given. But, the need of this man at this time is a metaphor for the need of all mankind.

The power of darkness and the attraction of sin is great, so that everyone gets caught in its grasp.  We lie to ourselves, thinking we can manage to overcome it on our own; or we think we aren’t so bad; or, worse yet, we deny that it is evil and will separate us from God.  Do you really want to be all alone when the power of darkness won’t let you go? Don’t you want somewhere to flee to be safe and cared for?

Fortunately, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has overcome the power of darkness.  He is our perfect high priest who provides the sanctuary for us, the redeemed, to flee. Of course, he requires that we shed our old clothes (lives) and flee naked to his sanctuary where we are “clothed with Christ”.  The second part of Hebrews 6:18-20 says, “…we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.”

Real security is a rare commodity.  We have found it in Christ by grabbing hold of him, clinging to him with all our heart, soul, mind & strength, and being greatly encouraged by the knowledge of his sacrifice and resurrection that provides this refuge!

You are loved!

Don Keefer


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Cross Walk Devotional: Crushed

Then Jesus led his disciples to an orchard called “The Oil Press.” He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  He took Peter, James, and John with him. However, an intense feeling of great sorrow plunged his soul into deep sorrow and agony.  And he said to them, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels as though I’m dying. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Matthew 26:36-38 TPT

Hours before Jesus’ arrest, he had already begun to die.

As Jesus invites Peter, James, and John into his suffering, He says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38 NIV), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased in the The Message, “This sorrow is crushing my life out.” Before the first spike pierced our Savior’s flesh, grief began to crush his soul.  In the Greek, the word Matthew uses is perilypos, which means surrounded by or encompassed by sorrow, but it’s that “even to death” part that makes it crushing grief.  Jesus expresses the idea that grief closes in on his heart like two ugly, murderous, strangling hands.  I think of what Paul later wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed (8)”, and I realize that the crucifixion began right at this moment in the garden, when Jesus took our crushing.  In the orchard—Gethsemane, which actually means “oil press,” Jesus became the olives squeezed for our own healing oil. He became the grape-crushed wine we now drink to remember.

In fact, in reporting the same events, Luke the doctor adds a rather clinical note, “…he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground (Luke 22:44).  In modern times, this condition is called hematohidrosis, and it happens when “capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810702/). It’s all very scientific, the way that the pressure of stress, anxiety, and fear can actually smash your blood vessels so that you begin to leak blood through your sweat glands.  It brings to mind something the Hebrew writer challenges in Hebrews 12:4, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The TPT makes the leap, translating this, “After all, you have not yet reached the point of sweating blood in your opposition to sin.”  In other words, we will never out grieve, out stress, out fear, out hurt, out overwhelm, or out struggle Jesus. We won’t, because he was crushed so that we never need be. As the writer of Hebrews also points out, we can now confidently take our needs to Jesus, because He knows suffering (Hebrews 4:15-16), and he overcame it.

We need to hold that wine in our mouths a little and let the flavor of it develop.  We can’t just read these verses and let them fall empty. The crucifixion of Jesus began when he was crushed for us.

When I begin to taste the bitter fullness of that truth, what stuns me even more is that Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to watch while he experiences this suffering.  “Stay and keep watch with me,” he compels them (Matthew 26:38). Why does Jesus invite his disciples, perhaps these with whom he shared closest relationships, to keep watch while he struggles in prayer with soul-crushing grief?  As disciple-makers following Jesus, we must wrestle with that question.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a “suffer alone” kind of girl, regardless of whether my pain is physical or emotional.  I learned a long time ago in my own broken moments that people can be disappointing and unreliable support when life falls apart, and I can save myself even more grief by working through it on my own.  The trouble is, that’s not the example of Jesus.  We can’t water this down.  In the account, Peter, James, and John come off as terrible friends.  They don’t get Jesus, and they don’t offer him any support. They sleep.  He even wakes them up a few times. But notice what he says when he wakes them.  It’s not, “Come on, can’t you even offer me a little bit of encouragement here,” which is always what I’m darkly thinking when I read the passage.  Instead, Jesus says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak (Matthew 26:41), and this reveals a shocking truth about Jesus’ purposes.  Even in his suffering, Jesus is a teacher, and this isn’t just about having his friends there to support him. Even crushed, He isn’t thinking about himself. Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ disciples.  He’s training them not just to get through the next few days but to build His church, and there’s something he wants them to learn about how to persevere when hard-pressed.

What does Jesus do right in front of them during the last crushing hours of his freedom?  He prays–so fervently he sweats blood, actively submitting his will to God. Jesus is honest about what he wants and thus the temptation he feels–”My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me (Matthew 26:39),” and he is also resolved to be obedient–”Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Notice that the longer Jesus prays, the more resolved he becomes, so much so that he rises to meet Judas instead of waiting to be found.

So how does the example of Jesus extend to our own disciple-making?  As we grow into the likeness of Jesus and take up our commission we should also learn how to actively submit to God’s will when we feel hard-pressed by temptation and the pain of our circumstances.  Our prayers should take on the flavor of Christ’s in the garden. And as we train other disciples to build the Kingdom, we should view even our own times of suffering as teachable moments. We need to invite those we mentor to keep watch with us, to hear us resolutely say through our suffering, “May your will be done.”

You are loved!

Elysa Henegar


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Cross Walk Devotional: Are You a Gatherer?

When I was in college, I had a friend who organized pick-up soccer games for all of our friends. He had the goals, some cones, and the willingness to message/talk to folks he knew would be interested in playing and because of his efforts, we always had enough players to have an enjoyable game. The only problem was, this friend ended up graduating before many of the guy and girls who played did. When he left, he passed on all his equipment to the group. In spite of this, it only took a few weeks for numbers who came to play to start dwindling, and the dwindling didn’t stop until only 2-3 were showing up on a regular basis. It didn’t take long after his departure before the once strong group stopped playing together at all. What none of us had realized when the group was strong, was how much effort our friend put into gathering people together and inspiring participation in our soccer games. Without his leadership and gathering abilities, our group was lost.

I can’t help but think about this story when I read Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26:31-35. In this passage, Jesus foretells of a time he will not be able to use his gifts for gathering and shepherding in the same way. His asserts this not out of bitterness or regret, instead he is revealing the truth of the state of his disciples. While making his point, Jesus compares his disciples to sheep, not only because of they are a closely connected “herd” but because they still bear the mentality of sheep in their timidity and need for guidance and protection. Peter takes exception to Jesus’ classification, he cannot bear the shame of being called a deserter. After all, he has followed Jesus this far. He has seen crowds reject Jesus, he has seen the religious rulers plot against Jesus, and he has stayed by his side. How could Jesus think such a thing? What Peter doesn’t realize is everything that Jesus has been doing in order to keep his disciples together. In the end, Jesus knows the truth about Peter. When things get tough, when Jesus is not there to provide a calm shepherding voice, Peter himself will be one of the first to deny his identity among the flock.

Just like my soccer group in college, it is easy to underestimate the worth of someone who can bring people together. Many times, the gifts that go into being a good shepherd are not flashy or even easily identifiable. That being said, I am sure we can all think about someone in our lives who has the special ability to bring others together. What would life be like without those people? What would happen if you needed to step into that role in the absence of someone else? After Peter’s denial when he has had time to repent and see Jesus a few days after his death, I wonder how much Peter understood that he would need to become a gatherer in the model of Jesus. While we are looking back on this story, it is interesting to look forward in Peter’s first letter and to see him addressing it to believers who have become scattered across the world. (1 Peter 1:1) It is amazing that at this point in his life Peter has come to be the shepherding voice among the sheep who are following Jesus. The Peter of Matthew has been transformed into one who senses the need to call people back to the gathering-center of the Messiah. In this stage of life, the Peter who was so quick to deny Jesus and run away has become a shepherd, calling people to reunite and gather under in the identity of Jesus. It is possible that Peter’s own denial of Jesus may have been the turning-point lesson that convicted him to embrace his new role of service to the King.

In the same way, we are all called to be gatherers and shepherds of people, even though we may feel more like the scattered sheep. When we submit to the power of the Holy Spirit and learn to let Jesus transform our hearts, we are empowered to seek out and call the lost back to Jesus no matter where we came from. In fact, the Spirit gives us the ability to return to the places where we were once scattered in order to save others. This is the power of following Jesus, that we are not only called in and made whole by him, by we are sent out with the Spirit’s power to share our savior with the world.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke


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Cross Walk Devotional: Eat

1 Cor 11:24 “..Take it and eat your fill. It is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” (TPT)
It’s just moments or hours before his betrayal. He knows what is coming all too well. This has been in the works since time began. Jesus will soon stand alone against the forces of evil as He does His redemptive work on the cross, bearing all the sin, guilt, and shame of humanity for all time. It had to be this way, but the thought of it must’ve still hurt him deeply.

And yet, Jesus tells the disciples to “eat their fill” of the bread – of His body, His essence. He said this to them as they physically ate the bread at this Passover meal which was the first observance of the Lord’s supper – the same supper that Christians all over the world have regularly celebrated throughout the centuries to this very day. What a beautiful glimpse we have into this Holy moment over 2000 years ago when our Lord shared it with his disciples for the first time. It’s amid this backdrop that he humbles himself – he loves – despite what is to come. He knows that later when they celebrate this meal in the future, they will remember this night and it will all make sense.

What about us? We know we are supposed to do it. It’s the main reason we come together, in fact. The very thought that we would go through a Sunday worship service without observing the Lord’s supper would result in anger, guilt, sorrow, and disappointment. Yet do we understand and appreciate the essence? Do we understand that Jesus’ invitation is about even more than the supper itself? That it’s a divine invitation to share in His very essence? I think it’s safe to say that we have all been guilty at times of making the meal as efficient as possible, even perhaps viewing it as an item to check off our spiritual “to-do” list. Yet Jesus calls them to “eat their fill”.

It makes me wonder if in some ways our efficient observation of the supper is a reflection of our discipleship. Could it be that we have become satisfied with just a small occasional “taste” of the Lord? When you reflect on your life, can you honestly say that you hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt 5:6)? Have you tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 34:8)? Can you say that His words are sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103)?

An appetite is developed. The more I eat, the more my appetite grows. The more I taste, the more I develop a sense for what is good. Conversely, the longer I go without eating, the more I get used to it and the less appetite I have. A true hunger for the Lord does not happen overnight; it is developed. The Lord – the God who created the very heavens and the earth – has invited each of us into deep relationship with himself through the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Such an amazing invitation and gift!

What’s holding you back? Refuse to be satisfied with just an occasional taste. He bids you to come and eat your fill. The table is set. He desires to dine with you. What are you waiting for?


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Cross Walk Devotional: It’s All About Jesus

When Jesus and his disciples meet to celebrate Passover together, they are observing the oldest of the Jewish religious feasts. In Exodus 12, we learn that God is going to make a distinction between His people and the Egyptians as the last plague before He delivers them from captivity. God is going to kill the firstborn of every household – both human and animal – that does not observe the sacrifice and feast He commands. An unblemished, one-year-old male lamb is to be killed and its blood spread on the door post and lintel of the house. When Yahweh sees the blood, He will “pass over” that house and the firstborn will live. Other details concerning the meal are given, and the Lord commands that Israel celebrate the feast every year as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage.

In Matthew 26, we read that Jesus’ eats the Passover with His disciples. During the meal, Jesus reveals that one of the disciples sharing this intimate and important remembrance will betray him. The fact that Jesus would be betrayed did not surprise them. They expected it. Only the identity of the betrayer caught them off guard. One of His closest friends. One of the Twelve. The ones who had walked with him along the dusty roads, watched as he healed people of diseases, listened as he taught the throngs, fed thousands from the basket of a small boy, calmed a raging storm on the ocean, and raised Lazarus from the dead. One of them. How could that be? They began to ask him one after another, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” Jesus says that it is the one who has dipped in the bowl with him. Then Judas says, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Not Lord. Rabbi. Not Lord. Teacher. Judas has already agreed to betray Jesus. He has already withdrawn himself emotionally from the group. He is already looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the chief priests. Jesus answers him, “You have said so.”

After this, Jesus takes the elements of Passover and changes their meaning. Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it into pieces and gives it to His disciples. He says, “Take and eat; this is My body.” The unleavened bread had been a symbol to Israel of their separation from Egyptian bondage. The bread now symbolizes Jesus’ body that will be given up so we might be separated from the bondage of sin. Jesus also gives thanks for the cup and tells all of them to drink from it because it is His blood which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. The blood on the doorposts and lintel covered the families in Egypt and protected them from death. Jesus’ blood now covers us and protects us from eternal death. Jesus will be the final Passover lamb.

As Jesus reinterprets the Passover feast, He points our attention to Him. He points to his own suffering. It’s not about religion, tradition, festivals, rules or rituals. It’s ALL about Jesus. Dying a painful, humiliating death on the cross for us. Paying the penalty for our sin and pouring out His blood that we might be set free to live our lives for Him. Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God.

You are Loved!
Melissa Holland


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Cross Walk Devotional: The Struggle is Inevitable

There are times in each of our lives when forces are at work to undermine what we are attempting to do or so it might seem. We try very hard to be stewards of the tasks our Father has given to us. We read our scriptures almost daily (that’s the plan anyway). We pray for others: the lost, the sick, our family, for those that ask. Just a genuine person walking by faith, well mostly.

Something that lurks just beneath the surface in our belief system is, if I walk uprightly and do the right things as best I can, things will also work for me. We believe we will have a life free of major struggles. We would never teach this but we surely believe it. Have you ever thought or verbalized, “I have lived a good life. Why is his happening to me?” Well guess what, the devil would like you to believe it is due to your failings or your lack of efforts. Remember it is not up to you. We are justified by the finished work of Christ.

Jesus had detractors, and he lived a sin-free life and yet from within his group sprang his betrayer. Whatever your response to this, the main point here is that you will always face times in your walk with God where you might be betrayed, cheated, treated unfairly. At times it could be someone you trust. No matter what you might be facing, maintain your focus through continued reading of the word, praying, talking with a close follower of Christ, and keep your thoughts focused on the spirit. Keeping up your spiritual strength will help with the feelings, desires and actions that might be associated with what you are going through.

You are loved!
Edward Constantine


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Cross Walk Devotional: What Love Smells Like

The smells from the kitchen make the mouth water. The scents of rotisserie lamb, freshly baked bread, and aromatic spices waft into the hall where the guests have gathered into a cozy gaggle.

The invitees include Simon, a leper Jesus has healed; Lazarus, a dead man Jesus raised; the disciples who have left everything to follow him; Martha, who served him; and, lastly but not least, Mary, who sat at his feet.

Yet, another odor has drifted into the room. More of a stench than an aroma. It is the stink of death. Only Jesus detects it. The Christ, and one other—Mary.

Mary comes in cradling an alabaster jar containing expensive perfume. It represents her investments. Her future financial security. Her future hopes. Her most precious possession. As she breaks the seal, the smell of extravagant love fills the room. The syrupy fluid begins to flow from the thin neck of the veined alabaster jar anointing the head of her Lord and Master.

What she has done violates every cultural norm, and upsets the social etiquette of the day. It becomes a moment where all the others in the room become invisible, and it is an intimate moment of worship between she and Jesus. And like most moments of intense worship, this one draws critics too. For some in the crowd, the ministry is a business to be budgeted rather than a Savior to serve.

Mary doesn’t need to defend herself, because Jesus does it for her. As she stands over Jesus, wanting to slink away from the sting of the purse keeper’s words, Jesus speaks up for her. Somehow, this perfume mixed with the saltiness of her tears, is potent enough to be savored for all eternity and we whiff its’ bouquet even now. It is a fragrant reminder of what love smells like.

Several hours later, Jesus would be stripped naked. He would hang in shame as his arms were suspended and held in place by nails that pierced his palms. Unable to cover himself, the only thing he would wear that day were the remnants of the perfume that lingered in his hair.

As his head lolls onto his chest, and rolls back and forth in anguish, the aroma fills his nostrils and helps cover his own odors and those of the ones who hurl insults at him. And as he struggles for his last breath, with one heaving inhalation, he may savor the scent that gives him the strength to exhale and exclaim, “It is finished.” It is a fragrant reminder of what love smells like.

Like the seal on the alabaster jar, the alabaster body of Jesus would be broken. Blood would flow from the wounds, and from the spear stabbed into his side. That precious blood–so lovely, so pure, is more precious than any perfume.

Mary came to break an alabaster jar for Jesus. And Jesus came to break an alabaster jar for humanity.

It was a jar he never regretted breaking.

And neither did Mary.

Nor should you.

You are loved.

Kent


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Advent Devotional: Accept No Substitutes

Christmastime has always been a time of baking in our house.  At the moment, while I’m writing this, my two youngest sons are making gingerbread men with my wife. I’m sure they’ll be delicious, but my favorite cookies this time of year are sugar cookies. My mother’s recipe for sugar cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. But even when I follow the recipe to the letter, mine never seem to taste as good. The first time I tried to make them didn’t turn out so well. I was about twenty years old, living on my own and was feeling homesick, so I decided that a good sugar cookie would make me feel better. Unfortunately, one of the main ingredients in her recipe is butter – lots and lots of butter, and all I had in my refrigerator was a tub of “I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter.” I figured that should work and went about making my cookies with the butter substitute that claimed to do a great impersonation of real butter. I let the dough sit in the fridge for a day just like the recipe told me to do. I put them in the oven for the correct time at the correct temperature. But what came out of the oven looked nothing like what I was looking forward to seeing. Instead of the moist and delicious cookies I had been raised on, they were dry, flat clumps of dough that crumbled to pieces when I tried to use a spatula to take them off the cookie sheet. Instead of comfort for my homesickness and the taste of my Mom’s famous cookies, I was met with complete and utter disappointment.

What I learned from this experience was that substitutions don’t always work. Just because it looks like butter and claims to act just like butter, when the recipe calls for butter, nothing else will do. A few years later, after the creation of Google, I was able to look up the reasons that my experiment failed. Butter along with eggs are the catalysts that hold everything else in the recipe together. Margarine doesn’t have the needed ingredients to cause the chemical reaction that occurs in the oven that produces the perfect cookie.

Colossians 1:15-20 tells us how Christ is the exact image of the God who has always been and always will be. He is literally Immanuel (“God with us”). If you want to see God, look to Jesus; if you want to know God, look to Jesus. But verse 17 reveals another facet of who Christ is for us, “In him all things hold together.” All creation relies on Christ whether they know it or not. He is the catalyst that holds everything in all creation, the whole universe, together. Without him everything crumbles apart.

During the Christmas season, it’s easy to be disappointed when things don’t go the way we plan. We spend all day looking forward to this time of year and it usually doesn’t live up to our expectations. This often occurs because we forget the “reason for the season” (I know that has become a cliché, but it fits here). I believe this happens because we try to use substitutes in our recipe for the perfect Christmas. Our family, which is certainly an important ingredient in the holiday celebrations, can crumble when we do not remember Christ. Our church family, also an important ingredient cannot do what Christ alone does for us. The perfect gift, either given or received, pales in comparison to the gift that God gave us in Christ. Christ is the ingredient that holds it all together. Without him, all the hopes that we have in the perfect Christmas crumble into disappointment.

During your time with your friends and family, if you find that they are not meeting your expectations, double check your recipe. Make sure you haven’t tried to use a substitute for Christ. He is the only one that can hold it all together. He is the only one that will not disappoint or let you down. Today, enjoy some Christmas cookies (with lots of real butter) and remember that Christ is the ingredient in your life that makes everything else possible because he is the perfect image of the God we long to know and see. Accept no substitutes!

You are loved!

David


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Advent Devotional: Marvel in the Miraculous

The Advent season is all about the miraculous. I was struck by this obvious fact the other day when I was reading about Jesus’ birth story with my kids. As they repeated the basics of the story back to me while we read, it stuck out to me that the things we were talking about so matter-of-factly were really amazing and super-natural events! I find this same principle at work when I read through the introduction (1:1-18) to the Gospel of John. I have read and studied this passage so many times that I can explain the key concepts and big ideas without much thought about the miracle behind it all:

Jesus was with God in the beginning. He was not created by God, he is God. In fact, everything that was created was created through Him. I have long accepted these facts, but I have not often stepped back to marvel at miraculousness of what they mean.  Just sit back and think about what this passage means about Jesus. Jesus was intimately tied to creation even before he became flesh to be in creation. He is immensely powerful and his work in creation cannot be overstated. We have no way in understanding the power that is required to create, but when we read the creation story in Genesis 1:1, we are reading about Jesus and His power. And yet with all that, Jesus decided to become a small, vulnerable child even though he knew what awaited him in the world. That type of vulnerability became the hallmark of Jesus’ life on earth. He submitted himself to rulers, even when it was clear that he knew they were wrong. He spent his life illuminating injustice and visioning his kingdom where the gross wrongs of this world would be eradicated, and yet he made himself so lowly that he suffered the greatest injustice of all time. The one with all the power came to do something besides show how powerful he was. He asked us to trust in his miraculous power, but also to trust in the ways he would decide to use it.

The significance we find this season is due to the fact that, from the beginning Jesus’ existence has been miraculous. In all he has does in his creation and incarnation, Jesus can never cease to be miraculous and that miraculous nature is now a part of us, through his Spirit. This Advent season we are being constantly reminded of Jesus’ nature, but this nature is not simply something that calls us to remember. The vision of Jesus as a child also calls us to believe and profess that someday, Jesus will return again. His powers of incarnation and creation will be perfectly united, and we will finally know what it is like to be with Him in his full glory and power. What a great time to remember that we will one day live in the miraculous where Jesus will have no reason to hold back his power.

You are loved!
Jon


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Advent Devotional: Free

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” Malachi 4:2 (NLT)

I long for healing.

Maybe you do too…

Healing from thinking…

That you have to change your spouse, if you’re going to be happy.

That you have to stay on top of everything, if you’re going to impress people.

That you have to do everything right, if your children are going to turn out OK.

That you have to control what others think about you, if you’re going to feel valued.

That you have to be successful, if you want your parents approval.

That you have to behave a certain way, if you want God to love you.

If so, Christmas is for you.

The first coming of Jesus is a reminder to all of us that God is more willing to clean up our messes than we are willing to mess things up.  The arrival of the Son of Man—God in skin—frees us from the pressure we feel to save ourselves from loneliness and lostness, despair and disappointment.

He comes to bring healing from our malady of self-salvation.

When Jesus came, He took away the pressure of having to find, fix & free ourselves.

We no longer are held tyranny to the need to be right, regarded respected or revered.

We don’t have to live under the oppression of “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Jesus came to give us what we could never earn, and as a result we don’t have to be worn out trying to establish, justify and validate ourselves.

Christmas shouts:  “You are free!”

Jesus became nothing so that you—as nothing—could have everything.

You are loved!

Kent

 


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Advent Devotional: Make It a Great Day

The principal of the elementary school where my kids attended used to finish the morning announcements the same way every day.  Bent over some mammoth-sized copier or carefully cutting around the edges of giant, overly enthusiastic (for the morning, in my opinion) animals, on volunteer days I would smile in anticipation of her closing comment.  Make it a great day, she would say, implying a whole paragraph about how our own choices can influence such an outcome.

Malachi’s prophecy as recorded in Malachi 4 carries exactly the same implication, but with much more severe terms.  When Malachi writes about “that great and dreadful day of the LORD (5),” the word he chooses for “great” means everything from marvelous to intense to significant.  It will be a great day, at least in terms of magnitude, but for those who revere–literally, fear–the Name of the LORD, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves (2).” Contrast this with Malachi’s opening warning to evildoers. That same sun will burn everything and everyone that’s evil to stubble (1).

Everytime I read these verses, I feel both exuberant anticipation and deep dread.  The prophecy still lands effectively, even today. I think of my children and their constant struggles with bodies that don’t work as they should, of their trouble with communication (two of my children have Autism), their need for insulin to survive (two have juvenile diabetes), their frustration and pain over side-effects caused by medicines they need to be functional (one has epilepsy and anxiety).  At this point in their young lives, my children love Jesus. They rely on Him, worship Him, pray to Him, and claim Him as their Hope. I imagine that Day coming and that Sun falling on their faces, and all of their challenges melting right away. I cry tears of joy over the promise that one day they will find complete healing. I imagine them happy dancing over finally being fully well.

But I also think of a dear friend of mine who, at just twenty-one, lives in pain every day.  She has most recently come to a point when it seems unlikely that she’ll ever be able to live her life without needing a wheelchair.  I love my friend. She has a heart for helping difficult, challenged kids find success. Every week, my friend pushes herself past pain and limitation and exhausts herself helping other people.  But she doesn’t know very much at all about Jesus, which is of course the most important reason God made us friends. While I could hardly ever describe my friend as evil, Jesus Himself proclaimed that “no one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18)”, and we know that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)”.  Sometimes we lose our awe over the fact that the Sun of righteousness could fall with healing on any of us, when the truth is that without Jesus, none of us would escape those flames.  When I hear again Malachi’s prophecy about that Day, I know that God loves my friend more than I do, and that as much as I want her to experience His complete healing, God wants that for her even more.  God gave Malachi this prophecy because He desperately wants to save as many as possible. As Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”  It hurts my heart to think of that great Day arriving as a dreadful day for my friend or others like her, and I think that’s exactly the response God looks for in me.

Our celebration of Advent must evoke more in us than fuzzy feelings or even joy over what we have now in Christ.  Part of looking toward the comings of Christ includes remembering the reasons He came and thus, the mission we have as God’s redeemed children.  Advent should awaken in us an urgency to give the greatest gift of all–Jesus, and by Him the gifts of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and healing–to those still lost to the pain and destruction of sin.  How can any celebration of the season not move us to share the gospel and help our hurting friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers make it a great day?

Today, we can:

  • Intentionally tell someone in need of Jesus why He is the greatest gift we’ve ever known.
  • Make a list of people who are in our lives specifically because they need Jesus and make a commitment to pray for them by name each day.
  • Look ahead to the new year and carve out time that is for spending time with and loving people who need to hear the good news we have to share.

Live Jesus.  Give Jesus.

You are loved!

Elysa


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Advent Devotional: What Gift Can We Bring to Jesus

It was a beautiful Christmas morning as we gathered around the tree to exchange our gifts.  As is our tradition since she was a small girl, Rebekah began to remove the gifts one by one from under the tree and pass them out.  At the very back of the tree next to the wall remained one very large box. This box had intrigued and frustrated Rebekah every day since it had been placed under the tree.  You see, the gift had no tag to show to whom it belonged, and Andy and I refused to reveal the person who would receive it. We insisted that Rebekah save that box until all the others had been distributed, and then we finally told her that the box was hers.  Of course, it was the first one she wanted to open, but she knew based on past experience that if this was the present deemed to be “the very best one” then she would have to wait and open it after all the other gifts.

After what must have seemed like an eternity to her, only this large yet lightweight box remained.  Rebekah tore into the package and revealed – another box. She opened that box and found another smaller box.  Her questioning looks made the rest of us smile knowingly in anticipation of the revelation. After two more boxes, she finally arrived at an envelope.  She gently opened it, and as she withdrew tickets and held them in her trembling hands, she began to read the note inside. Her eyes filled with tears which brimmed over and ran quietly down her cheeks.  Choking back the emotion, she said, “It’s tickets to see Renee Fleming in Washington. We’re going to see Renee Fleming! She’s my favorite opera singer!” Yes, dear daughter. We know.

The Magi were influential and powerful figures.  They were highly educated men who studied the heavens to find meaning and understanding, and apparently knew the Messianic prophecies well.  When they visit Herod in Jerusalem, they tell him that they have seen the star of the one who has been born king of the Jews, and they have come to worship him.  The star appears again and guides them to Bethlehem to the place where they find Jesus. After they bowed down and worshiped him, they offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Scripture doesn’t tell us why these particular gifts were offered. We know that they were appropriate for a King due to their great value, but tradition suggests that they may have been chosen for another reason.  Gold to symbolize the deity of Jesus; frankincense, which was highly fragrant when burned, to symbolize His willingness to become a sacrifice for us; and myrrh, which was a spice used for embalming, to symbolize the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

In this season of gift-giving, what gift can I bring to Baby Jesus?   A song comes to mind that I think answers my question perfectly.

What can I give Him
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring Him a Lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him
Give Him my heart.
Yet what can I give Him
Give Him my heart.

You are loved!
Melissa

 


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Advent Devotional: Birth Stories

One of the traditions in our family when I was young is that on our birthdays my mother or father would tell each of us the story of how we were born. I was born, for instance, during Christmas week and was in such a rush to be born that I couldn’t wait for the doctor to get to the hospital. Each of the six children in my family have a very different birth story. In hearing our parents tell us how we came into the world and how excited they were to meet us gave us a special bond with our parents that, in a large family, made each of us feel especially loved. With my own children I have tried over the years to continue that same tradition. However, two of my children are adopted, so I don’t know their birth stories. I do know, however, the story of how they came to be my boys. I tell them about how excited I was to have them become my own children and how God had prepared us to be there family before they ever came to live with us.  So, when I read of Jesus’ birth story in the Gospels, I wonder how it impacted his relationship with Mary and Joseph.

Luke tells Jesus’ birth story from Mary’s perspective. Most likely he interviewed her and heard the narrative from her first hand while she was living with the apostle John in Ephesus. There are hints of this in the way Luke tells the story when he uses phrases like “and Mary treasured these things in her heart.” However, Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. From Joseph’s view, this story is a testament to faith and trust. I imagine that when Jesus heard his birth story from his mother’s perspective, he felt special because God had chosen her to be his mother. But when he heard Joseph’s side of the story, I imagine he felt a special bond because Joseph chose, through faith, to be his adopted father.

One of my favorite sections of Matthew 1:18-25 is rendered by the ESV, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Joseph had already decided what he was going to do. In his mind, it was obvious that Mary had been unfaithful, but he still loved her too much to shame her publicly. But God stepped in and told His side of the story. Once Joseph heard what was really going on, he had a choice to make. He could have thought about all the shame and gossip that would come from his neighbor’s who knew about Mary’s condition. He could have focused on the fact that the child to be born would most likely look and act nothing like him. Instead he chose to focus on the fact that he would be honored to raise this child who was literally a gift from God.

I imagine that Joseph’s version of the birth story might have bothered a lot of people who would hear it at family dinners or wedding parties. But I think that when Jesus heard it, he felt special. When Mary told the story she said, “God honored me by choosing me to be the mother of His anointed one.” When Joseph told the story he said, “God gave me a choice, and I chose whole heartedly to call you my son.” As I have learned over the last few years, that is the beauty of adoption. There is a special feeling that comes with it. With my natural born children, God chose me to be their parents. I didn’t have much say in it. But with my adopted children, I saw them, I knew them, I knew their backgrounds and their sometimes unsavory or shameful stories, but I still chose to be their father; I chose to call them my own.

How much more meaningful, in light of Joseph’s side of the story, are the verses in the New Testament that refer to our adoption as God’s children! Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV), for example, says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has bless us in the Beloved.” Like Joseph and Jesus, we have a special bond with God our father, who chose to take us as His own, even if our past story was shameful or embarrassing. God looked at us and said, like I did with my own adopted children and like Joseph did with Jesus, “If you will take me as your Father, I will proudly take you as my child.” That is part of the good news of Christmas that we don’t often hear about because Mary’s story is more exciting and looks better in a paining or on a Christmas card. But Joseph, as a normal man who struggled with his faith, gives us another side of the story to bless us with the opportunity to choose to trust God’s plan and to become his children.

Today, ponder the ways that your birth or adoption stories have affected your view of yourself and your parents. Meditate on the love that God has for you. Think about how he wants you to be His! He looks beyond anything you’ve done or anything you’ve been and says, “I choose to be your Father – will you choose to be my child?”

You are loved!

David

 


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Advent Devotional: Knowing God

Since the world began, people have been asking themselves, “What is God like?” There have been attempts to classify God according to the things he has done, the words he has spoken, even the images that he has used to display his power to us. In the Bible, we see God teach the Israelites about himself through the law, showing them his character and his invisible attributes through his relationship with his special people. If we look back into the Old Testament, we find that God always had a deeper purpose, a special plan where he would eventually make his character known in an understandable and plain way to all people.

Isaiah 7:14 makes this plan plain when it says, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (NRSV) The name “Immanuel” means, God is with us and points to the coming of Jesus. One of the reasons that the virgin birth is such an important part of the Advent story is because it confirms who Jesus is, he is God with us. As we pursue a better understanding of God, we cannot find a better example than Jesus. Many of the attributes of God that have been difficult to see throughout history are revealed through the person of Jesus and there is no more important question to those who wish to know the character of God than “What would Jesus do?” or perhaps “What did Jesus do?” We cannot lose sight of how important Jesus is even when we are asking big questions about God and his character. If you search for God, you will find Jesus, and if you follow Jesus, you will be transformed into the character of God. Of all the things we celebrate this season, let’s celebrate that God is with us in Jesus and that he is always close enough to follow.

You are loved!
Jon


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Advent Devotional: Skipping Christmas

Several years ago, the famed writer John Grisham wrote a holiday book, “Skipping Christmas.” The title sounds tempting.

Just think.  You disappear on Wednesday, November 28, and show back up on Sunday, January 6, 2019.  No crowded malls, no to-do-lists, no cards to mail, no worries about the perfect present, no maxed out credit cards.

By skipping Christmas, you may get to enjoy peace on earth, goodwill to men, and possibly even a Silent Night.

Sounds fun, huh?

The book “Skipping Christmas” was turned into a holiday movie titled “Christmas with the Kranks.” The plot begins with a dad (Luther Krank) who is upset that his family spent over $6,000 on the previous Christmas, and now they have little or nothing to show for it.  With his daughter in the Peace Corps, Krank convinces his wife to skip Christmas for a year, and use the cash for a Caribbean cruise. They avoid all the holiday accoutrements and events. The story is about how the neighbors react, especially the man who organizes the neighborhood Christmas light show, and who gets cranky with the Kranks for not participating.

But the Kranks discover that their decision to skip Christmas has some unforeseen consequences, especially the surprise arrival of their daughter, who expects them to be carrying on the usual Christmas traditions.

The movie is entertaining, yet it calls us to wonder what really matters during the holiday season.  Most of us will do our usual holiday thing—perusing Amazon, trips to the mall, the decorating, the entertaining, and the presents.  And in the midst of this frantic activity, there’s a strong chance we’re going to be skipping Christmas and not even know it.

In Isaiah 60, God is encouraging His people after a period of thick and desperate darkness (Isaiah 59:9-10), and telling them about a glorious rescue coming from the Redeemer.  God says:

“Though you were once despised and hated,
with no one traveling through you,
I will make you beautiful forever,
a joy to all generations.
Powerful kings and mighty nations
will satisfy your every need,
as though you were a child
nursing at the breast of a queen.
You will know at last that I, the Lord,
am your Savior and your Redeemer,
the Mighty One of Israel. Isaiah 60:15-16 (NLT)

“Your Savior and your Redeemer” aren’t names we normally associate with the holidays.  It isn’t going to be on many Christmas cards, carols or decorations. Yet, if we miss it, we might end up skipping the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus is all about redemption.  He came to reconcile broken humanity with a holy God.  He came to show that our righteousness comes only from God.  God makes us righteous through the Christ. It isn’t about what we can do—but solely based on what he has done.

“Your Savior and your Redeemer” means that it isn’t our political affiliation, our religious tradition, our economic position, our racial distinctions.  The ribbon between redemption and Jesus is the very meaning of Christmas.

And it’s too good to skip.

That’s why I look forward to Christmas.  I want to have an open heart to what Jesus brings.  He comes to us as God’s personal holiday card in which he shows us his great love, offers the gift of forgiveness, and the present of redemption.  He comes to reconcile us to God—with a right relationship that has all the hallmarks of a righteous life.

The coming of Jesus isn’t about religion—us finding God.  It is about relationship—God finding us. Righteous living is a relationship with God.

Go ahead and put Frosty in the front yard, string the lights around the tree, and make a clear path for Santa.  But don’t miss the chance to focus your attention on the coming of “Your Savior and your Redeemer”.

Because if you miss it, you will be skipping Christmas!

You are loved!

Kent

 


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Advent Devotional: Let There Be Light

On December mornings, I become a lightbringer.  I walk through the still, sleeping house and set everything to twinkling, plugging in glowing Christmas trees and strands of lights that suddenly bring magic to dark corners and make even our foot-worn, stained carpets look soft and inviting.  I enjoy the idea that when my children wake up they will open their eyes to a home that just barely hints at the radiance of God. In fact, especially at Christmastime, it feels as though the Light of the World shoots out of all our cracks and around the broken edges of things.  I turn on the lights, thinking about Jesus, about Matthew’s testimony that, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Matthew 4: 16); about John’s exiled, cave-sheltered writing that, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).”

The writer John Burke compiled a book called Imagine Heaven, comparing the “near-death” experiences of men and women of a variety of ages and situations.  One of the fascinating similarities Burke discovered was that many of these people noticed light “(which felt like love) coming out of grass and leaves.”  In fact, Brad, who had been born blind, described his experience this way:

There was a tremendous light up there.  It seemed to come from every direction…It was all around and everywhere that I happened to be looking…It seemed like everything, even the grass I had been stepping on, seemed to soak in that light.  It seemed like the light could actually penetrate through everything that was there, even the leaves on the trees. There was no shade, there was no need for shade. The light was actually all-encompassing.  Yet I wondered how I could know that because I had never seen before that point (112).

Regardless of what you believe about “near-death” experiences, the idea that Heaven throbs with the light of God is certainly Biblical.  From the first moment God appears on the pages of scripture through to the denouement of John’s Revelation, God describes Himself as a lightbringer.  In fact, not merely a lightbringer, but as the light itself. As John also writes, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5, emphasis mine).”  Jesus said, “I am the light of world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”  So maybe it’s no accident that we begin our earthly lives as children looking for nightlights in the darkness and finish them grumbling about the dim lighting in restaurants. Maybe that’s not just about who we are but also about whom we’re meant to become. Since God is light, we have somewhere threaded into our hearts a longing to seek His light to See.  Since God has set eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11), He has with it given us the longing for a place with walls called Salvation and gates called Praise, were God himself is our everlasting light (Isaiah 60:18-19).  In that place, God says, “you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy (Isaiah 60:5).” Light-seekers gazing into the glory of the one who is the Light become Light-bearers. But that isn’t just a promise for Heaven.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Isaiah 60 describes the resplendent, restored glory of Zion, where God dwells once again with us and our “days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60:20).”  I imagine Isaiah exhaling with force, pausing to find more air, after he proclaims, “I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly (60:22).” And then, breath restored, out of the prophet rushes Spirit-filled words that belong to Jesus, words that will later fall from God’s own lips:

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The Light came and made His dwelling among us; God became man and once again, human beings heard the sound of His feet on the earth.  Restoration began with the first coming of Christ. God turned ON the Light. But unlike our twinkling Christmas lights, God’s Light doesn’t just make things look better.  His light actually transforms the world.

During Advent, why not let every glowing tree and twinkling light strand draw us to worship?  As we gather in the beauty of the season, we can shift our spiritual gaze to the all-transforming glory of God.  We are Light-seekers who, by grace, became Light-bearers with a mission to be Light-bringers. As we reflect Christ in every dark corner, He transforms the world into a place with walls called Salvation and gates named Praise.

You are loved!

Elysa

p.s. Have some fun with this.  Go out with family or friends to see Christmas lights.  Drive through neighborhoods and do a Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunt (our family likes this freebie).  Each time you see something glorious and breathtaking and beautiful, think of Jesus and imagine what the Light will be like when He comes back.

 


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Advent Devotional: Be a Servant Like Jesus

As I watched the coverage of the funeral services for President George H. W. Bush, I was struck by the depth of the feelings that people had for him.  They mentioned his faith and trust in his Savior, and spoke of his humility, kindness, gentle spirit, love for all people, and that he was a role model for how to live a full, productive, joy-filled life of service to God, family, and country.  I was reminded of Paul’s words in chapter two, verse two of his letter to the Philippians where he tells them to make his joy complete by being “like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit, and of one mind.”  He goes on to say they should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but they should humbly value others above themselves.  They should not look to their own interests but to the interests of others, and they should have the servant mindset of Jesus who willingly came to earth in order to humble Himself before God and be obedient – even to death on the cross.

When I read these words, I find myself wondering if I could have been the servant that Jesus was.  Could I have given up the glory of Heaven to be born as a baby in a humble stable to earthly parents?  Could I have submitted myself to their authority, and later to the authority of teachers, the Roman government, and even to the financial support of women?  What about experiencing temptation? Would I have been able to withstand the forces of Satan? How would I have treated Peter when he disowned me? How many days would I have been able to endure the knowledge of what was to come when my time on earth reached its end?  What about the pain of the lashes and the torn flesh as the nails were driven into my body? The crucifixion. Devastating humiliation. Complete separation from God. He endured it all for you and for me. For the joy that was set before Him. To purchase our salvation and reconcile us to the Father.

As we celebrate Advent together, let’s remember that Christmas is about God the Father taking the initiative to send His only begotten son to offer His life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

You are loved!

Melissa


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Advent Devotional: He’s Coming! I Know Him!

In recent years, one of our family traditions during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been to watch the movie Elf at least once a week. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Buddy the Elf learns that Santa is coming to the department store he is working at. He begins yelling and shouting, “Santa! He’s coming here? I know him! I know him!” He’s so excited that he can’t stop smiling. Buddy stays up all night getting the store ready for Santa’s arrival. He makes a giant Lego model of the North Pole, he cuts paper snowflakes and popcorn strings and mistletoe to decorate the store, so it will be ready for Santa’s arrival. In case you haven’t seen the movie, the thing that makes this scene so funny is the fact that Buddy isn’t really an elf – he’s a man in his 30s played by Will Farrell, who is dressed like an elf and truly believes in Santa. Those who see his childlike exuberance for Christmas and “elf culture” respond in one of two ways throughout the movie. They either catch the contagious joy that Buddy radiates, or they (especially those who have lost the Christmas Spirit and don’t believe anymore) cross their arms and glare at him in judgment for being weird and not fitting in with the rest of the grumpy people who are trying to get through Christmas. It’s an odd comparison, I know, but when I read Isaiah 40 I can’t help but think of Buddy the Elf.

“A voice cries:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

This verse has been taken several different ways throughout its History. From the perspective of most of the Jewish people who would have originally read it, it would have been good news that God was going to bring them home after they had served their time in captivity. They were to make a clear path in their community and in their hearts for God’s return as their Lord and Savior. Other people of the Jewish community saw this as a Messianic Prophecy, speaking of the promised anointed one who would return God’s people to the Glory they had known under David and Solomon. In this case, Isaiah 40 was a call to prepare the way for God’s Kingdom which would cause all other kingdoms of the world to kneel. The Gospel writer Matthew states, through the Spirit, that this verse refers directly to John the Baptist who “prepared the way” for Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 3:3). But like most verses, there are personal applications for us – even if we aren’t Jews who are being exiled or men in the wilderness living on locust and wild honey.

The image this verse conjures up is of a herald. A man who would go ahead of the king or ruler and clear the road for him. As the conquering king would return to his city, the Herald would run ahead and clear the way and shout to all who would listen, “The King is Coming! Make way!” Yes, this was the calling of John the Baptist, but it’s also our calling. We are to be heralds of God’s gospel. We don’t want there to be any hardness in us or any bumps in our relationships that will keep the King from being able to make it to his destination. We need to prepare our hearts to receive Him, we need to prepare our community to be ready for him. Being ready to celebrate Christmas means more than making sure our shopping is done and the presents are wrapped and the food is cooked. It also means fixing anything in ourselves or between us and others that might keep us from missing the true gift of Christmas!

“Go on up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of good news;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good news;

lift it up, fear not;

say to the cities of Judah,

“Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).

Do you see the parallel now? Between us and Buddy, I mean. Christmas is the celebration that God is coming into the world, He is going to live among us, He is stepping into history and changing everything. When Jesus talks about us receiving the Kingdom of God like a child (Mark 10:15), I think he’s telling us to be like Buddy the Elf. We should be just as excited about God coming as Buddy was about Santa coming. We should jump up and down and not be able to control our smile while we shout to all who will listen, “God is coming! I know Him!” We should stay up all night preparing for his arrival by fixing up any areas in our lives that might keep us from seeing Him in our lives! We should have the kind of excitement about God’s arrival that means those around us are forced to either catch the Joy we exude through God’s spirit or to stand in judgment against us for not fitting in with the world around us.

Today ask yourself, “What do I need to do to prepare the way for Immanuel (God with us) in my life? How can I be contagious in my childlike exuberance for the God who is coming? How can I keep from telling everyone I meet, ‘God is coming! I know him! I know him!’”

You are loved!

David


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Advent Devotional: Be Kind

They must not speak bad of anyone, and they must not argue. They should be gentle and kind to all people.  Titus 3:2

What does the Advent season mean for the lives of those who follow Jesus? It can be easy to remember the mercy and grace that was poured out on the world when God sent his own son to be a sacrifice for all sin. It is a different thing altogether to remember just what that means for the way we live our lives, interact with our neighbors, and exist in a world that will not always see things the way God does.

The Christmas season can be a great time of year. A lot of people seem more friendly than usual and we are quick to give blessings and receive unexpected kindnesses. What a great thing to be associated with the birth of our King Jesus! However, we know that for many of us, that wellspring of joy can quickly dry up. In fact, the holidays can serve as a way to distract us from our less-than-jolly “normal” lives.

In Titus, we are confronted with the reality that Jesus isn’t only the “reason for the season” but he is the reason behind how we live every day. How will I approach my coworker about a potentially difficult problem? How do I reflect Jesus when I am stuck in line at the DMV? How can I ever let go of the anger I feel when I speak to someone who has hurt me in the past? You see most of the time, we aren’t dealing with holiday stress, we are dealing the with stress of our everyday lives. For the Christians being addressed in Titus, this everyday stress included a real worry that their entire lives could be disrupted, or even ended, because they followed Jesus.

It is in this world that Paul delivers a message that may have been difficult for people to understand or even hear: be kind (Titus 3:2). Yes, in this passage he says to live upright lives, to follow Jesus’ example by being morally driven, even to submit to others’ authority. But it must have been difficult in a situation where it seemed like the world was against you to be told to “be kind.” In reality, we are God’s chosen people, forgiven and promised with new life because of God’s kindness. This is the quality and type of kindness Jesus expects us to have, a kindness that reflects everything we know about how kind He is and has been to us. Mother Teresa said, “We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do.” As we greet each other with simple smiles this season, let’s remember the kindness that should be behind it. The type of kindness that is an emptying, humbling acknowledgement of the kindness that Jesus has brought into our lives and woven in to our DNA. More importantly, let us not let our smiles stop with the new year, but pray that as we strive to Live Jesus, that we don’t forget to Give Jesus through kindness.

You are loved!

Jon


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Advent Devotional: The Great Reversal

One of my favorite books is CS Lewis wonderful story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  He writes of a fictional country called Narnia, which is under the curse of the White Witch.  This villainous queen has placed a spell on Narnia so that it is “always winter and never Christmas.”  While she has control, the future of Narnia seems hopeless.

Yet word begins to leak out that “Aslan is on the move.” In the book, Aslan is a noble lion who serves as a Christ figure.  He is coming to set things aright. He is coming to rid Narnia of the White Witch and reverse the curse on the land.

One of the first signs of Aslan’s movement in this wintry scary land is that the snow begins to melt—“spring is in the air.”  As the sun’s rays warm the earth, it chases away the cold, promising the dawning of a brand new day. All of Narnia begins to change.

The birth of Jesus and His incarnation is the certain and absolute sign that “God is on the move.”  The coming of Jesus, over two thousand years ago, proclaimed that God has started the process of reversing the curse of sin and initiated the renewal of all things.  In Christ, God was making it clear that, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “winter began stirring backwards.”

Everything about the ministry of Jesus—His teaching, His miracles—and everything in between—were meant to show that things will not be as they once were.  The arrival of The Christ child was meant to show that God in the flesh was bringing the restoration of the way God intended things to be. He was set to reverse the curse of death, disease and discomfort.  It was, and still is, the Great Reversal.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

You are loved!

Ken


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Advent Devotional: Encourage One Another With These Words

The music in the arena pulsed so powerfully that it made my chest vibrate.  Kevin and sat on the floor in an empty row in the back, waiting as volunteers to “spring into action” when the headlining band, For King and Country, began singing the song that would serve as our cue.  We sat among a scattering of other volunteers, all smiling briefly at each other in acknowledgment of our mutual purpose and a bit of shared knowledge yet to be revealed to the rest in the room.  Of course, at this point, For King and Country had yet to even take the stage.  The band had not one but three opening acts, graduating in notoriety until the main event.  I scanned the crowd and noticed varying degrees of investment on the part of those waiting. Some of the audience stood, engaged with the supporting artists, singing and entirely responsive.  Others sat and thumbed their phones, looking no different than they would if waiting, say, at the DMV. Others chatted with friends and moved in and out of the rows getting drinks or buying merchandise.

Finally, just before their last song, the final supporting artist, shouted, “Are you ready for For King and Country?

We cheered.  I looked around:  the question had snagged everyone’s attention.  People outside their seats began to move more quickly to get into place.  Others stuffed their phones in their pockets and stood on their feet. Conversations ceased as we all turned our attention toward the stage.  And this happened even though we knew that this act had one more song; even though, predictably, it would take still a few moments more for the stagehands to set the stage.  Just the suggestion that the moment we waited upon was coming very soon without delay excited us and moved us to prepare and focus our attention. And it made me wonder: Do we wait less urgently upon Jesus because we often fail to heed Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, when he urges us to “encourage one another with these words (4:18; 5:11)” about the return of King Jesus?

In this section of scripture, Paul urges us not to grieve like those who have no hope (4:13), because not only will our Lord return, but those who have died in Him before that day will arise first (4:16).  All of the Christ-following loved ones we’ve lost, all the ones we miss especially during Advent, will appear with Christ. Maybe, depending on the day, some of the rest of us now living in Christ will appear with them.  So maybe we grieve them now, but we do so with hope in the advent of Jesus. For those in Christ, this long anticipated day, our “main event,” will come not as a thief but with great celebration, because we have received salvation through Christ.  In the meantime, whatever influence we have has been given us that we might point the way to Jesus. He’s the headliner, and we merely His supporting artists. It’s our job to joyfully shout out, “Are you ready for Jesus?” Of course, we could ask that question with so many attitudes, but the tone that stops people in their tracks and draws them out of their disinterest is the one that conveys the truth that Jesus is the best of everything, the One for whom we’ve been waiting, the only One worthy of glory.  During Advent, let’s take advantage of a season when even more people have come to wander around in our arena, and encourage one another with these words of hope.

Jesus is coming soon.  Hallelujah!

You are loved!

Elysa


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Advent Devotional: The Gift of the Spirit

A teacher was hired by a large hospital to tutor school aged children who were in the hospital for an extended stay.  She would talk to their teachers and then go by their rooms to help with work. One day she visited a boy who had been terribly burned.  His appearance was so shocking that she almost backed out of the room. But she introduced herself and said, “I’m a school teacher who works for hospital.  Your teacher has asked me to help you with some school work.”

A few days later she was on the same hall and a nurse stopped her and asked, “What did you say to that boy?  He was so despondent before.  But from the day you visited he’s been fighting back. He’s responding to treatment.”  The teacher said, “I didn’t say anything.”  The two of them went in the room together, and the nurse gently asked what had made the boy more cheerful. He teared up and said, “I figured they wouldn’t send a teacher to help me with math if I was dying, would they?”  What was different after the teacher’s visit? The boy who had been hopeless was now filled with hope. He had received a great gift from a simple message spoken by a stranger.

In Acts 2, we read that following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His apostles, and over the course of the next forty days, He spoke to them about the kingdom of God.  Once, when He was eating with them, He commanded them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift the Father promised. This reminds us of the words of the angel Gabriel when he spoke to Mary in Luke 1.  Both the book of Luke and the book of Acts begin with the Holy Spirit moving in the world to bring about something new – in Luke, the birth of the Messiah, and in Acts, the birth of the church and its witness.

And it’s the same way with us.  The Holy Spirit brings about something new in us; changing us into the person we want to be; helping us be more and more like Christ.   Here are some ways we can allow ourselves to be more and more filled with the Holy Spirit:

  • Invite the Spirit to take control of our lives by continually asking the Spirit to lead us, to guide us, and to help us do the things God wants us to do.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort us when we are hurting.  Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will bring us peace.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the things that God wants to change.  Not only will the Spirit work to make us aware of sin, He will fill us with the power to stop sinning.
  • Trust that the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.  Maybe the pain is too deep, the burden unbearable, the fear too great, the confusion too difficult.  Whatever it is, we can be confident that the Spirit himself will intercede for us. He will bring our needs before the Father in words that we cannot express.

Let us always remember that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, that He lives with us forever, and that He will never leave us or forsake us.  These are reasons to have great joy and comfort. Thank God for this precious gift of the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives!

You are loved!

Melissa


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Advent Devotional: Now I’ve Seen Everything

Ask anybody what is on their Bucket List and you will get a multitude of answers. Some would like to travel and see distant lands, some would (for some strange reason) like to run and finish a marathon, some would like to earn a certain amount of money or learn a special skill before they die. I’ve been fortunate to do most of the things on my bucket list. However, one thing I still want to do before I kick the bucket is to see the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (nee Constantinople).  During my first venture into University I studied English Literature with a minor in Art History. During that time, I studied and fell in love with Christian architecture. I loved the Gothic and Byzantine styles and the symbolism built into the structures that housed the church over the centuries. Before I got married and had children, I had the opportunity to travel all over most of Europe and see many of the more famous Cathedrals and chapels: Notre Dame in Paris, St. Basil’s in Moscow, and many more. However, I never made it to the Mediterranean. I never got to see the Acropolis in Athens or the Pyramids in Egypt or the Temple in Jerusalem. To be honest, I could go without seeing many of these places now that I’m older and my priorities are closer to home then they were before I had a family. But one thing I always regretted was not seeing the Hagia Sophia. So, for years, this destination has been paramount on my bucket list.

In Luke 2 we meet a man named Simeon who had a bucket list of his own. Apparently, he had only one item left on his list: to see the “consolation of Israel.” His bucket list wasn’t a destination, it was an action of God. He wanted to live long enough to see God work to bring comfort to his nation through the promised anointed one. And because he was “righteous and devout” in his waiting for the Messiah, God had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die until he had crossed this last item of his bucket list.

How many people do you know that would have a bucket list item like this? “I just want to see God’s plan in action before I go.” What does that reveal about the kind of heart Simeon had? His priority wasn’t worldly things like money and skills or even to visit a holy place like Hagia Sophia. His paramount desire was to see God in action. And he waited expectantly. He didn’t just wish and pray for it to happen, he expected it to happen at any moment. Do we have that kind of faith? Do I? Unfortunately, no. I pray daily for God to work in my life, I pray daily that Christ would be manifest in my life, but rarely do I expectantly wait for it, knowing that it’s going to happen. And because of this, I believe I’ve often missed seeing God’s hand in the mundane things in my everyday life.

Jesus being brought to the temple in Jerusalem was not a big deal to anyone except his parents. Everyday parents brought their sons to the temple to be blessed. During his lifetime Simeon had probably watched thousands of babies being brought through the streets of Jerusalem up to the temple to be consecrated for God. But because he was expectant of God, he didn’t miss Him at work in this everyday activity, even though it was in one of the least expected places. Most Jews of the day who new the Messianic texts of the Old Testament would have been looking for a soldier on horseback entering the gates of Jerusalem or a king regally dressed in purple. Not many would have recognized God’s anointed one wrapped in common cloth in the arms of a young mother. But Simeon was blessed to catch what no one else did. God allowed him, through His Spirit, to recognize what no one else did. God was working, His plan was set in motion and Israel was about to be consoled for the years of oppression and ridicule by other nations. God had become flesh in order to bring salvation to those who could not help themselves. And how did Simeon respond? With praise and prayer: “Now I’ve seen everything!”  That’s a paraphrase, of course. What he actually said was,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32 ESV).

The ancient Simeon saw a new born baby and said, this is exactly what I’ve been waiting for, my bucket list is all checked off, I’ve seen everything, now I can rest in peace.

I pray that during this season of advent, as we wait for the Lord, we will wait expectantly. I pray that I will not be distracted by all the hustle and bustle and work it takes to pull off the perfect family dinner. I pray I won’t be so focused on buying the perfect presents that I miss His perfect presence. I pray God will bless me with the ability to recognize Him in the faces of my family, in the kindness of a stranger or even in the innocence of a baby. I pray He will allow me to make my experience with Him paramount on my bucket list… although it would be nice to get to Istanbul someday.

You are loved!

David


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Advent Devotional: Our Stories Matter

Zechariah had a hard time believing God’s promise about his son. In Luke 1:18-20 we are told that Zechariah is punished for his lack of faith and cursed with silence. As we rejoin the story of Zechariah in verse 57, the things Zechariah doubted have come to pass and there is no longer any room for doubt. As the time comes to gives Zechariah’s offspring a name, his submission to the naming of his child outside of the cultural expectations confirms his faith and Zechariah’s speech is returned.  When Zechariah’s first words are spoken it is obvious that the Holy Spirit is speaking through him and he begins to prophesy about the impending work of God the world.

While the story of Zechariah is amazing by itself, popular Bible scholar N.T. Wright* reminds us that this is a “reflection on a smaller scale of what was going on in the Israel of [Zechariah’s] day.” Indeed, up to this point there had been a prophetic silence in Israel for hundreds of years. Beginning with the stories of Jesus’ family in Luke chapter 1, we are given insight into the boundary-breaking event that is Jesus’ birth and again we see a God who uses human stories and events to represent and even bring about global Kingdom movements.

From this point in history onward God will pour out his Spirit intentionally on the world as a way to advance the message and the reign of his Kingdom. Over and over in the Bible we are assured that God can use our own story to bring about his larger purposes in the world. Especially in this Advent season, we remember that Jesus was the first-fruits of a larger initiative. We do not celebrate Jesus’ birth as a memorial, but as the moment where the reality of our world was changed.  As we live into that reality, we can be assured that our stories matter. God tells us that when the Spirit grows within us, just like it did with Zechariah, we begin to reflect and even bring about the larger story of God’s will. So what will you do this season not only to remember Jesus, but to become a part of God’s story? How will the Spirit empower you with the boldness and courage to proclaim and walk in step with Jesus’ will? May all of our joy and acknowledgment of what God has done through Jesus move us to action so that our own stories intertwine with his in big and beautiful ways.

You are loved!

Jon

*N.T. Wright’s “Luke: 26 Studies for Individuals and Groups”


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Advent Devotional: Magnify

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Luke 1:46 (ESV)

My friend Palmer Trice, a great Christian counselor, once told me something that I will always remember.  He said that Christmas is a magnifier for most people. If things are good in your life, then Christmas tends to magnify that goodness.  It moves things from good to great. A good family becomes great. A good party becomes great. A good memory becomes a great one. Christmas magnifies the good.

On the other hand, Christmas can magnify what is difficult.  Christmas can make struggles seem more difficult. Financial stress, which is tough any time of year, becomes unbearable in December.  Fractured relationships often become full breaks during the holidays. Loneliness, which is a battle for some all year long, becomes a full blown Pearl Harbor.

Magnify means to make something bigger than it appears to our eyes.  Binoculars and telescopes are used to bring objects far away, closer.  Magnifying what we are looking at doesn’t make what we are looking at bigger, but helps us to see them as they really are.  

Mary could have chosen a thousand fears to magnify.  Rather than allowing her mind to drift to uncertainties and unknowns, she reflected on what she did know.  More importantly, she focused on what knew about God. Her God was:

  • “The Mighty One who has done great things for me…” (Luke 1:49)
  • Merciful (Luke 1:50)
  • The One who “has lifted up the humble…” (Luke 1:52)
  • A God who “Has filled the hungry…” (Luke 1:52)
  • Faithful to His promises (Luke 1:54)

Mary gives us a great lesson on what to magnify.  When we get unexpected news, what do we magnify? Our circumstances, situations and dilemmas? Or will we magnify the Lord?

This Christmas (and every day afterwards), make God a bigger part of your life.  How would your life be different if you allowed his plans to consume your thinking?  How would your life be different if His presence was the greatest present in your life?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E8UXJ4bDN4


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Advent Devotional: Looking Together

Not many days ago now, we stood together, my friend and I, appraising what God had done, how He’d taken a bit of me and a bit of her and blended it into something better than we could have created alone.  We laughed out loud, with wide grins. We slung our arms around each other’s shoulders and sighed.

“Isn’t God just cool?!” one of us said.  We felt so unified in that moment in fact, that it’s hard to say where her exclamations began and mine ended.

God had given us a shared vision for something that required a measure of faith, and we had put on our mud boots and walked into the flooded river of it together.  This is, of course, the way God has always wanted it to be for his kids. The Bible includes 59 “one anothers;” Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21); and Paul famously wrote that we should live and breathe like one body–the body of Jesus, with all the parts working together for the mutual benefit of the others (1 Corinthians 12).  We were never meant to be Lone Ranger pilgrims. We live in a world hungry for community, and as Jesus people, we’re meant not just to do life together but to commune.

We need not drag our fingers far down the page in Luke 1 to discover what it meant to Mary to learn that her cousin Elizabeth already knew all the edges of miraculous pregnancy.  Luke tells us that after the angel visited the young mother of our Lord and mentioned by way of encouragement that, “even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month (v.36),” Mary “got ready and hurried to Elizabeth (v.39).  Every woman alive understands this reaction.  Mary needed a friend, someone to walk right into the flooded river with her; someone who knew what it meant to be used by God in a way that no one else expected or understood.  Elizabeth knew the walk by faith; and Mary knew Elizabeth would be a trusted confidant with whom she could share both her tired mama stories and her God-sized, God-given dreams for the future.  In a startling, life-wrecking moment, God gave Mary someone who would share her laughter and understand her tears. God gave Mary a partner in the gospel.

From prison, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1: 3-5, emphasis mine).  The encouragement of like-minded, vision-sharing friends spurs us on, no matter where our faithful following takes us.  God asks us to walk by faith, to focus on the unseen, to be Kingdom-builders, but He doesn’t ask us to do it alone. In startling, life-wrecking, risky-faith moments, God demonstrates His faithful presence (the with-ness of Jesus, our Immanuel) through the love and support of partners in gospel, our relatives in the faith.

I love the way Elizabeth greets Mary when she arrives, don’t you?  All of Elizabeth’s words are the building-up kind, and they must certainly have blessed every listener.  It’s important to note that Elizabeth’s words in Luke 1 really aren’t Elizabeth’s words.  Verse 41 says that Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and then out of her mouth in greeting flowed words of life.  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her (v.42-45)”!  I read that and think, “When have I ever offered such eloquent encouragement?”  But Elizabeth didn’t purpose to say those things; she allowed the Spirit to say them through her.  And in Christ, all of us have been filled with the Spirit. We need not wrangle with what to say; we need only to submit to the Spirit and allow Him to speak life-giving words through us.

Advent is a time for celebrating the great blessing of our partnership in the gospel, for looking together at the first coming of Christ and eagerly toward his second coming as KIng.  It’s a time to live out our faith in community.  To that end, let’s let Jesus be Lord of our Advent calendars.  This season, you and I can…

  • Make a coffee or lunch date specifically to share faith-filled dreams, hopes, and struggles with a trusted friend.  Mary hurried to Elizabeth.  Block out time for this kind of partnership before it’s gone!
  • Plan one “interruptible” day a week and ask the Spirit to reveal the “Marys” in need of “one another” fellowship.  Hide the to-do list; this day is about people!
  • Stop the madness for thirty minutes a day and ask, “Whom can I encourage today?”  Send texts; write emails; write notes. Be intentional. Pray before starting and let the Spirit speak life-giving words.

You are loved!

Elysa


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Advent Devotional: Looking Forward With Hope

When you think of Christmas, what part speaks most to you?  I am drawn to the complete trust that Mary and Joseph had in God.  Imagine being in Mary’s shoes. At the age of perhaps fifteen or sixteen, she is visited by an angel of the Lord and told that because she has found favor with God, the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive and have a son whom she will call Jesus.  Her response in Luke 1:38 is:

I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary and Joseph were betrothed in a legally binding agreement.  If Mary was found to be pregnant before the wedding, the assumption would be made that Joseph was the father of her child.  If he was not, Joseph would be well within his rights to divorce her. We aren’t told in scripture how her parents reacted to her news, but Matthew records that Joseph did not want to publicly humiliate her and was going to divorce her quietly.  That is, until he had his own visit from an angel telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The son that Mary will have will save his people from their sins. This took place to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.”

Both Mary and Joseph knew of God’s promise of a Savior.  In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, they must have been reminded over and over about God’s character in blessing His people and keeping His promises.   Perhaps, just like other couples awaiting the birth of a child, they sat together and dreamed new dreams, imagined what might be possible, and looked to the future with hope.

In this Advent season, let us follow their example of trusting in God, imagining what might be possible, and looking forward with hope.  It is because of the birth of Jesus that we have hope. He is our Hope!

You are Loved!

Melissa

 


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Advent Devotional: Where Are You From?

Micah 5:2-4 (ESV) – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

How much does the place we come from affect how we are viewed by others and ourselves?

I was born in Lubbock, Texas. However, you will never hear me claim to be from there. When I was two months old my family moved back to New York where I lived until I was eight. I will always claim to be a New Yorker even though my birth certificate clearly states Lubbock as my birth place. Why do I besmirch my place of birth? There’s nothing wrong with Texas and I don’t want anyone reading this to be offended.  Lubbock is just too small a place to live after you’ve lived in as many big towns and cities as I have. When I moved back to Texas in my late 20s I was shocked at the pride Texans hold for their state. They even sold tortilla chips at H-E-B (the grocery store) that were shaped like their state. My personality, however, is more New York than Texas. I didn’t quite fit in with the people there. And Lubbock itself, though a great place to visit, isn’t exactly the Garden of Eden. Mac Davis, himself a Lubbock native, even wrote a song called “Happiness is Lubbock in the Rearview Mirror”. I have no memories of living there as a newborn. However, my family often pointed out that I was the only one of the six siblings who wasn’t born a New Yorker. In an attempt to make me feel better, my parents would often tell me how Buddy Holly was from Lubbock – but I was quick to point out that he got out as soon as he could.

So what does this have to do with Micah or with Advent? Micah prophesied roughly 750 years before Christ that God’s promised Messiah would come from a small town in Judah called Bethlehem. This little village was famous for one thing – it was where King David had come from. Bethlehem was where David watched over his father’s sheep. However, like Buddy Holly – he got out as soon as he had the opportunity. Like Lubbock, Bethlehem was a good place to be from, but not always a great place to stay. It had a reputation as a “hick” town that didn’t have much to offer those who lived in places like Jerusalem or Shiloh or even fishing towns like Capernaum. In other words, most of Israel didn’t think of Bethlehem as anything special. So this prophetic message from Micah must have been shocking to the people of Israel.  God through Micah announces that the Prophet/King they had been waiting for since way back in Deuteronomy 18 was not going to be from the learned, cosmopolitan or sacred cities of Judah, but from a rural sheep town in the middle of nowhere. But if you know God, its not really shocking at all.

Throughout Israel’s history God had used the least to show that he is the greatest. Joseph, the eleventh of twelve sons from a small farm in Canaan became second in command to Pharaoh the leader of the known world and was able to save his whole family from famine. Israel itself was not a strong or amazing group of people – but God called them to be his anyway. And David himself: the youngest of eight sons was overlooked by his own father when Samuel came to his house looking for the next anointed king of Israel – but God chose the one no one would have thought about.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that God does this throughout the story of the Bible to show that He is the real power behind it all.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV) Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in Lord.”

We should not be surprised that God choses the smallest village in Israel to be the starting point of His Kingdom. As we study the advent (the waiting) of God’s coming into the world this season, don’t be surprised that He does things we do not expect. Try to put away your modern preconceived ideas as you study His Word. Try to see the shocking truths that we often miss in our readings – that God uses the small and mundane things we often think are unimportant to shine a light into the world and to ultimately bring Glory to Him.

Today ponder this: No matter where you come from, in spite of what other think of you, regardless of what you think of yourself, God can use you. Place your life in His hands and He will shine through it and He will be glorified. Boast in His amazing ability to use the broken, the weak and the least to do the greatest things for His Kingdom. As you wait patiently for the Peace and Hope that God brings through Christ, remember that it is often in the little things in our lives – don’t miss them.

You are loved!

David


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Advent Devotional: Our Holiday Tables

We don’t have to look very far to see injustice in our world. In fact, many of us can identify ways in which injustice has changed the course of our lives. If we are lucky, we have the hope that the institutions and communities that we are a part of will protect us and provide justice when it is necessary. When these systems work, we feel safe, secure, and protected, but many people in our world have no earthly hope for justice.

During the holidays, when many of us focus on the blessings and the joy that Jesus has brought us, others will be crying out for justice. What a great vision we have of Jesus in Isaiah 11:1-9, where we are reminded of his coming gift of justice in the world.  In this passage, Jesus, the “fruit bearing shoot,” will provide a harvest full of justice. The justice that Jesus provides will not only contain retribution and reparation, but it will bring about a peaceful community of lion and lamb, leopard and goat, and even child and snake. The poor will not merely be elevated to equal ground with the privileged but will all be gathered at a table where justice’s final tab is paid and we are able to share an eternally peaceful meal without the specters of fear, violence, or hatred.

As the people of God, may our holiday tables reflect God’s communal vision in a bold and courageous way so that the world would see that we are part of the coming justice of Jesus our Savior.


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Advent Devotional: The Way In A Manger

Jon Kennedy recounts a story about two Americans who were asked to come to Ukraine and teach a series of classes on morals and ethics to community leaders and children.  The teachers were also told they could teach these lessons from the worldview of their faith.

One particularly poignant moment on their trip came while teaching at a Ukrainian orphanage.  According to one of the teachers, there were about 100 boys and girls in the orphanage. These were children who had been abandoned, abused and left in the care of a government run program.  The teacher tells the story of the approaching holiday season, and how for the first time many of the orphans had a chance to hear the true story of Christmas.

“We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

“Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

“The orphans were busy assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat – he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

“Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

“Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, ‘And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him – for always.’

“As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – for always.”

Little Misha was on to something!

One of the names of Jesus that we recall around the holiday season is “Immanuel” which means, “God is with us.” It is a wonderful reminder that the name is not just for the holidays. The Son of God, Jesus Christ will never abandon or abuse us, but will always stay with us.

Jesus is with us:

  • When life is rosy and good times are rolling and when life becomes stinky and the bad times are roiling;
  • When the grade on the report card is an “F” instead of an “A”;
  • When the spouse who promised themselves faithful is found in an illicit affair;
  • When the dream of success is downsized and diminished;
  • When the phone rings in the middle of the cold, dark night;
  • When the family harmony is drowned out in a shouting match;
  • When the loneliness of singleness is highlighted by another Christmas alone;
  • When the pain of sin and shame makes us run from Him.

In every discouraging, disgusting and disillusioning situation, Jesus is with us.  We often miss it but he is there. If you are like me, you especially miss it sometimes during the holiday season. There are many things that threaten to separate us from the Christ child.

One of the biggest reasons is blindness.  We just don’t see the manger.  In our frantic search for comfort and joy, we end up looking for love in all the wrong places.  There is only one place where we can find unconditional acceptance and unending peace—the manger.  It is only in an intimate relationship with Jesus that we discover how truly valuable we are—children of God!

Another problem is our busyness.  We don’t have time for the manger.  This time of year is marked by endless appointments, school concerts, church pageants, shopping excursions and elaborate decorations.  In the crush of the season we crowd out the crèche. How much time do we spend keeping him warm?

We also face the issue of belief.  We don’t believe in the manger.  The world is so sinful and evil abounds.  What chance does a baby in a manger have against suicide bombers, chemical weapons, machine-gun toting terrorists and dictatorial regimes?  It doesn’t look like a fair fight. But no single life has ever changed the world more than the life of this baby born in Bethlehem. It is a life that challenges us all to look beyond the evil of this world and look to the eternal kingdom of God.

Jesus invites us to join him in the manger.  Join him not just for the purpose of enjoying him but also to share him.  We can share Jesus in many ways:

  • Adopt a disadvantaged family this Christmas;
  • Forego your gifts and give the gift of yourself and your time to a worthy cause on Christmas Day;
  • Promise to pray in a more consistent and spirit-led way for peace in our world;
  • Spend time with a widow or the fatherless;
  • Commit to teaching in our children’s programs next year;
  • Ponder how best to live out your belief in the workplace;
  • Begin a daily prayer and Bible study plan.

Let’s enjoy him and share him this holiday season, and every season.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

Kent

Download the Advent Reading Plan here >

 


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What God Has Done

Nothing Can Hold It Back

When you know what God has done, it floods; nothing can hold it back. One of our staff members wrote this lovely blog and we thought it was appropriate to share it with you.

#Reblog

View the article here > https://elysahenegar.com/what-god-has-done/


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