Tuesday, December 16, 2014

12-17-14 God and the Shepherds

Dec. 17, 2014
Scripture: When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."  And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.  And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:15-20).
Thoughts: The shepherds not only heard the angel speak but they believed the angel’s words to be the Word of the Lord, that is, a message “which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they not only heard but they obeyed the Word of the Lord with single-minded obedience, which is indicated by both their words, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,” and their actions, “And they went with haste.”  This is a picture of the life of faith: we hear and believe the Word of the Lord and immediately act in single-minded obedience.   This is faith.  To hear the Word of God is to believe and to believe the Word of God is to obey.  To live a life of faith does not mean one will always be understood (“all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them”) nor does it mean a change in one’s status or vocation (“the shepherds returned,” which means they remained shepherds).  But it does mean a joyful and purposeful life, a life of “glorifying and praising God” in both word and deed. 

Prayer: Eternal Father, help us to hear, to believe, and to obey your Word with single-minded obedience as the shepherds did and to glorify and praise you in our words and deeds.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray.  Amen.

Application: Hear, believe, and obey the Word of God today in an act of single-minded obedience, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, to the glory and praise of God.

Monday, December 15, 2014

12/16/14- God and the Search

Dec. 16, 2014
Scripture: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14).

Thoughts: What does “Glory to God in the highest” mean?  It means God stands above our highest thoughts and most sincere quests for meaning or purpose in the universe.   It means God stands above our highest hopes, dreams, longings, and aspirations.  It means He stands above our deepest feelings and intuitions about how the world should be.  It means God stands above all realms of human thought, wisdom, conjecture, and speculation, including all religious or philosophical speculation.  It means God stands above the entire world of human possibility and above our highest expectations as to who God is or should be.  “Glory to God in the highest” means God is not the fulfillment, even the last, supreme fulfillment, of what you and I were looking for all along.  Luther wrote: “Man would have never found God, even had he looked for him in the heights.”  “Glory to God in the Highest” means Christmas is not about man’s search for God.  It’s about God’s search for man and God finding us in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son.  Christmas is about God condescending from the greatest heights to the lowest depths, even the depths of Hell, for our sake.  This is not only the true meaning but also the great joy of Christmas!

(Shepherd's Field- Bethlehem)

Prayer: O Lord, humble us who have been so high-minded that we have failed to see who it is who came to us in such humble ways so long ago in Bethlehem.  Teach us that your thoughts are higher than our thoughts and that your ways are higher than our ways so that we may know you, love you, and follow you.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray.  Amen.

Application: Think about ways in which you have tried to fit God into your hopes, dreams, and aspirations instead of fitting into his purposes and ask him to forgive you and renew a right spirit within you! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12-15-14 God and the Helpless

Dec. 15, 2014
Scripture: And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-11).

Thoughts: It was not the high and mighty, the religious leaders or kings of this world, to whom the angels appeared.  It was to shepherds, to those who were not considered good, smart, powerful, or trustworthy.  They were nobodys in the social structure of the ancient East.  They were not even able to testify in court because their testimony was considered unreliable.  Yet they saw the angels and were entrusted with a twofold sign, namely, this child would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  What does this twofold sign signify?  First, it signifies that the child wrapped in “swaddling clothes” (i.e., rags) would not only suffer cold and hunger as any other baby who has come into this world, but he would also suffer helplessness until his last day when it was said of him: “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Matthew 27:42).  Second, the manger foreshadows the homelessness he would experience throughout his life to the point that one day he said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  For those who know they are homeless and helpless in this world apart from God, the shepherds – even though they were not considered good, smart, powerful, or trustworthy – point us still to him who is our help and who leads us home.

Prayer: Lord, help us in our helplessness and homelessness in this world to rely on you by following your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Application: Do a kind deed in Jesus’ name for someone who is spiritually or materially helpless or homeless in this world.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12/14/14- God and the Small

Dec. 14, 2014 – WEEK 3- Dr. Richard Burnett is writing this week’s devotionals Concentrating on Luke.
Scripture: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.  This was the first enrollment, when Quirin'i-us was governor of Syria.  And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.  And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).

Thoughts: Are you not struck by the smallness of it all?  Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem were very small, insignificant towns in the wider context of the Roman Empire and the census decreed by Caesar Augustus.  Mary, Joseph, and the babe wrapped in “swaddling clothes” also appear rather small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Why did God choose to reveal himself in such small, insignificant, and humble circumstances?  C.S. Lewis claims: “Proud man would have died had not such a lowly God come to him.”  Augustine wrote: “Because man fell through pride, He [God] applied humility as a cure.  We were trapped by the wisdom of the serpent; we are freed by the foolishness of God” (On Christian Doctrine I, xiv, 15).  God uses the small, humble, seemingly insignificant and even foolish things to confound the wisdom of the wise in this world and bring about His redemption.  Does he not continue to do so?  And should we not be watchful and ready to participate in such work among such circumstances?

Prayer: O God our Father, help us to believe that you work in the small, humble, and seemingly insignificant circumstances of life to bring about our redemption.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Application: Take some time think about the small, humble, and seemingly insignificant circumstances of life God has used to teach you about himself and to bring about your redemption and the redemption of those you love.

Today's (and this week's) devotion was written by Dr. Richard Burnett, Interim Associate Pastor at Lake Murray Presbyterian and Professor at Erskine Theological Seminary

Friday, December 12, 2014

12/13-A Weeping Spirit

12/13 Scripture - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:16-20)

I confess I find these words some of the most disturbing in Scripture. What a horrific scene that breaks my heart.  Why in the midst of the beauty of the Word being made flesh are we told about humanity’s immense capacity for evil? But that is why the baby Jesus was born in the first place. He came to redeem, transform, and restore us. And as Herod shows we desperately need redemption from the evil in our hearts.

Christmas is a beautiful wonderful time. But it has a spirit of darkness. For many Christmas is a lonely, depressing, desperate time.  It is a time when one is “supposed” to be happy, but in truth depression and suicide rates rise each December.  Christmas is a time when too many people feel broken. Many are hurting and grieving. Others are ill or facing challenges in their families. And all these problems seem bigger when cast in the light of “Happy Holidays.”
As the church of Jesus Christ and as His brothers and sisters we are to cast out this spirit of darkness and fill it with light and love. Jesus came to give us eternal and abundant life. He sent His Holy Spirit to be our Comforter. The Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life and through the Spirit Jesus keeps His promise that he will never leave us.  In truth we are never alone for God is with us. But as Christians we are to look for those that the world has hurt and welcome them especially this time of year. We are to offer everyone the certain hope that is found in knowing Jesus Christ and the peace and joy He freely gives to His disciples. And as each person finds hope and healing, our joy increases and so does the Lord’s!

Prayer: Lord use me to cast out darkness. Heal those who are broken and hurting. Make me an instrument of your peace this Christmas and always.

Application: Invite someone to worship or another activity at LMPC. Help them connect with others here.

Today is 12-13-14 getting ready for 15!
The devotion today is written by Rev. Tracie Stewart, Associate for Pastoral Care and Education

Thursday, December 11, 2014

12/12/14 Spirit of Unrealistic Expectations

12/12 Scripture: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

Another spirit that makes it hard to embrace the holidays is the spirit of unrealistic expectations. Each year is supposed to be “the best Christmas EVER.” Each eleven months we have to compete against our best efforts from years past. We must have the best and most and the first! This lying spirit convinces us that the quality of our Christmas lies in our actions – in how much we do and spend and how busy we are. It is exhausting and ultimately self-defeating.

Herod had unrealistic expectations about his power and might and he let them consume him. He wanted to control his kingdom and his fate. He was willing to destroy anything that was in the way of how he thought things should be. Even helpless babies were expendable if they were in his way. But Herod most well-laid schemes were no match for God.  Jesus was kept safe. And end in the end all Herod’s riches and power, all his earthly expectations came to nothing at his death.
God created us to love us not for what we do, but for who we are. He loves us despite our sins. We do not earn our salvation. We never could. God gives it to us a gift, completely unearned and undeserved. This is grace! Surely such grace should fill our Christmas celebrations. Let us rest and relax knowing through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, that the perfect Christmas is one where Jesus is worshiped and adored.

Prayer: Lord, may your Holy Spirit cast out any expectations that are not centered on you. Help me to grow in grace and rest in your love.

Application: Spend quiet time reading the Christmas story or listening to carols. Think about how much God has done for you and how much He loves you.

Devotion by Tracie Stewart

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

12/11/14- Spirit of Consumerism

12/11 Scripture: “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:9-12)

One of the most overwhelming spirits we encounter this time of year is consumerism.  We are not just to buy things but to consume them. We need bigger, shiner, newer and always MORE!  We are encouraged to eat everything in sight, to buy as much as we can, to decorate every inch of space. The excess and waste is incredible. While around the globe people perish for lack of necessities we are fed a mantra that just because something attracts us for a moment we MUST have it.
I have always wondered about how Mary and Joseph must have received the magi and their gifts. These men were offering them a fortune! And they were truly poor. In Luke they give most meager offering the law allowed at Jesus’ birth. And yet here all their wildest dreams are coming true. They have literally won the lottery and can change their lives. But these gifts quickly became a lifeline. Most scholars think they provided the funds for the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. Jesus grew up as the son of a poor carpenter.

In a world that is all about “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” what does it say that our Lord chose to be poor? His priority was His relationship with His heavenly Father and with other people. He came not to serve but to be served and give His life as a ransom for many. The Holy Spirit can teach us to put others first and to resist the siren songs of our culture. And what blessings will follow as we learn to be content with what we have and truly enjoy life rather than exhausting ourselves seeking more.

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, help me to discern between what I want and what I need. Send your Spirit into my heart to teach me to resist greed and temptation and to serve others.

Application: Consider buying some gifts from fair trade cooperatives (they give poor people fair prices for goods like coffee, jewelry and art pieces). Or consider an alternative Christmas gift such as a gift to a charity.