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


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


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


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


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


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,


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


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


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


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


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)


You are loved!
Kevin Henegar


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



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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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