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

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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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