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Advent Devotion for 12-21-14

Welcome to the 4th Week of Advent!

December 21, 2014

Isaiah 7:10-14candle

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

We like signs.   Give us clear indicators of what lies ahead, an unambiguous portent of things to come. I remember trying to make a decision years ago about what college to attend- and I was looking anywhere for a sign: handwriting in the sky, a sign on the side of a bus, anything. Just tell me what to do, God, and I’ll do it! Except… I may not. Zechariah was visited by a real-life angel- and still didn’t believe. Ahaz, in this passage, was given a neon-bright, vivid sign, and still he didn’t trust God. The people of Israel were guided daily by a cloud and pillar of fire- and still they doubted. Just give us a sign, God, and we’re all yours. No more questions.

In His graciousness and His unquenchable desire to be known, God still gives signs. Like a virgin having a baby. Or Jesus making blind eyes see and lifeless limbs move. Or Christ Himself nailed to a cross and walking out of a grave 3 days later. And God is still giving us signs that point to Himself: each sunrise, every rotation of the planet speaks of His glory and faithfulness. Every loving word and gracious act in the name of Jesus points back to Him. The best part is this: You can be a sign. A real one. Your life, if you’re willing, can be a signpost, aiming attention right at Jesus. Through word and deed, you can point the way. What are you saying with your life?

What signs has God given you of His faithfulness and love for you?

For Families

Discuss ways that God shows Himself to us in everyday ways. Talk about how we can be signs to point people to Jesus.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-20-14

Well, I missed posting yesterday and I’m late today, but here you go, if you’re reading these.

December 20, 2014

Luke 1:67-80candle

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

God always keeps His promises. While this might sound like a pithy, even cliché declaration, it is still truth. Important truth. But consider how long people waited for many of God’s promises to be realized. God told Abraham that he would have a child- and he waited for 25 years before a baby arrived. David was promised the throne of Israel- and waited 15+ terrifying, running-for-his-life years before that promise came through. Even the night of Jesus’ birth announced a promise- “Good news of great joy for all the people”. 33 years would pass before that promise reached it’s fulfillment through a cross—and an and empty tomb.

So whatever you’re waiting for- and we’re all waiting for something- know that you’re in good company. Advent is a poignant reminder of the place longing occupies in the life of God’s people.   Waiting requires patient trust, robust hope, dogged anticipation. And choosing to remember— God always keeps His promises.

What are you waiting on God for these days? What might God be doing in you as you wait?

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-18-14

December 18, 2014

Luke 1:46-56candle

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

This spontaneous outburst of praise by Mary has been given several names: “Mary’s Song”, “Canticle of Mary”, or “The Magnificat” (from a Latin term meaning Magnify). Regardless of the title, these words of worship have been sung, spoken, and repeated for two thousand years. Considering that they were first uttered by a (most likely) illiterate peasant girl at the approximate age of 15, their eloquence and beauty is even more remarkable. But lean in close and notice the substance of this praise. Beyond God’s specific outpouring of blessing in Mary’s life, her worship is primarily focused on God’s great reversals. The proud and self-sufficient are lowered and humbled. Poor and hungry are raised up and filled. In God’s economy, powerlessness translates into divine strength; being kept down results in being raised up. How is this possible?

Because this is the way of God. His power is most displayed when we have none of our own to offer. It seems that utter dependence, even desperation, is God’s preferred posture for us. And who better to understand that than a poor, unprivileged girl with no social standing and no prospects? Don’t you agree? Then why is it we work so hard to prove ourselves competent and need-free? It would seem we have much to learn from this young girl- and those like her- whose very lack enables them to experience God’s fullness in remarkable ways.

When have you experienced the greatest dependence on God? How did He meet you there?

For Families

Talk about how God’s strength is most visible when we are at our weakest.

 

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-17-14

December 17, 2014candle

Luke 1:39-45

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

What a beautiful scene we witness here! Even apart from Elizabeth’s supernatural epiphany, we find in both women a posture of both humility and mutual celebration. Each had been recipients of- and conduits for- the blessing of God that would be for all people, for all time. Both were walking miracles. But notice the lack of comparison, the desire to bless and serve the other. Observe how they turn the spotlight not only towards one another but also towards the Giver of the gifts. See the way they love to rejoice in the good fortunes of another person. What a sharp contrast to our “selfie” obsessed culture, with our constant need to herald our own achievements- large and small. What if we took a cue from these godly women and learned the art of celebrating others above ourselves? What if we found rejoicing in God’s gifts to others did not diminish our joy but magnified it instead? What if, in the very act of noticing God’s goodness towards others, we were able to see His gifts to us even more clearly? What if?

How well do you tend to notice and celebrate other people? Who is someone that you could rejoice in and with today?

For Families

Take some time to celebrate each other- thanking God for the unique and wonderful things you see in one another. Talk about what that feels like.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-16-14

December 16, 2014

Luke 1:18-25candle

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

I’ve always been intrigued by this passage- particularly the consequence of Zechariah’s disbelief. God was unwavering in His determination to use Zechariah and Elizabeth to fulfill His purposes despite Zechariah’s doubts. But his resistance was not without repercussions- muteness for nearly a year. Conversations would have to wait. Questions and wonderings remained internal and unexpressed. Even doubts—maybe especially the doubts– would stay tucked away for this season. Sometimes silence is a wonderful teacher. In silence we put our own words on hold and prioritize what we don’t do as well: we listen. For Zechariah that meant listening to the joyous wonder of his wife experiencing the gift of an impossible pregnancy. It meant hours of reflection on God’s words and God’s ways. It meant hearing God in a new way.   We shouldn’t forget that Zechariah’s silence was discipline for a lack of belief in God’s clearly expressed words. But even the discipline was a gift. Perhaps a severe mercy, but a mercy nonetheless.

When do you spend time in silence with God? How might this practice help grow your faith and relationship with Jesus?

For Families

Talk about how hard (or easy) it is to not talk and instead pay attention to God and others. What are ways you can practice the skill of paying attention to God’s voice?

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-15-14

Happy Monday to you!

December 15, 2014 candle

Luke 1:14-17

 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Soil preparation is difficult, unglamorous work. Especially when the earth is hard and unyielding. Digging in requires diligence and prolonged effort. Mostly it takes patience—a willingness to endure a lengthy season of apparent futility, all in the belief that a payoff is coming. But without careful attention to cultivation, fruitfulness is limited at best. Such was the calling of John the Baptist- preparing the soil of hearts in anticipation of Jesus’ arrival on the scene. To patiently, diligently call people back to God- digging the spade into hard hearts, one at a time. Some hearts refused to yield and remained stuck in their resistance. Others softened slowly, demanding years of spade work before any change became evident. This was John’s calling. In many cases it is ours as well. In a spiritual climate like ours, we will need to take lessons from John the Baptist in the hard, enduring work of soil- and soul- preparation.

What people in your circle of influence- work, neighborhood, school, etc- is God calling you to engage in soil preparation with? What’s a next step toward that?

For Families

Talk about the idea of preparing the ground for the seeds to grow. Discuss how that might look from a spiritual perspective with people who are far from God. Discuss people they can be engaging in this way.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-14-14 Third Sunday of Advent

Welcome to the 3rd week of Advent- it’s going quickly, isn’t it?

December 14, 2014 Advent-Candles2

Luke 1:5-13

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

“Do you believe in miracles?” These words were made famous over 20 years ago by sports broadcaster Al Michaels, describing the stunning upset of the Russian ice hockey team by a young, hopelessly outmatched USA team. This event became known, in fact, as the Miracle on Ice. Simply put, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. And yet when we read the pages of Scripture- ones like today’s passage, we encounter miracles in abundance. But somehow we read past them casually, almost numb to the wonder of what is described.

Ponder this one for a moment: an angelic appearance announcing an impossible pregnancy. Like I said, things like this just don’t happen. Not apart from the power of God. And this is not the God of yesteryear, for a people far away and less sophisticated than we. This is our God: unchanging, infinite, and all-powerful. According to Jesus, one miracle ranks above them all. This one is all but invisible- the transformation of a human heart. “I was dead, but now I live. I once was blind, but now I see.” So let’s ask again, “Do you believe in miracles?”

What miracle do you long most for God to do in your own heart? How about the heart of someone else?

For Families

Spend time talking about and praying for God to do a miraculous work in hearts- yours and those around you.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized