Wednesday, December 31, 2014

1/1/15- God of Time

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spiritsabefore his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen...8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:4-8)12“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Rev. 22:13)

Thoughts: God identifies Himself as the Alpha and Omega- the A and Z of the Greek Alphabet.  God identifies Himself with language, as if to say "I am the one who was at the beginning of making sense and will be at the end of sense."  But it is even more an identification of time- He was, is, and is to come.  The verb for existence- "to be"- has always been associated with the God the Hebrews worshiped.  In Exodus 3 God identifies Himself to Moses as "I am who I am" (Or the Great I Am).  God is the one who makes life and makes sense of life.  He gives existence and meaning and thought to existence. He makes time- which we mark as passing on this New Year's Day.  He makes space and human existence to mark and track time.
     In Revelation- God the Creator identifies Himself as "the Alpha and Omega" (Rev. 1).  Then at the end of the book God the Son- Jesus- identifies Himself as "the Alpha and the Omega- the first and the last- the beginning and the end."   In other words, Jesus claims the same title as Lord of time as the Father-Creator does.
    We would do well to give ourselves to the One who gave us time, and will be there at the end our days into eternity.  It would make sense to give time and space to the One who created time and space and gives us breath and time.  Time is a gift- so we should not only not take it for granted- but recognize to whom it really belongs.  So this year, make some more time for the One who gives time and helps us to make our time here worthwhile.  

Prayer: Lord of my time and of my days, forgive me for acting as if my time is mine alone as if I am the Creator of my time and blessings.  Give me grace and time that I might reflect your love in the time you have given me.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

12/31/14- With Us in Truth and Love

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love. (2 John 1;3)

Thoughts: Jesus truly came in love.  He came to bring us truth and He came out of the Father's love to bring us love- and encourage us to love one another.
    As our year ends, truth and love are important things to meditate on.  What truths did we learn in the last year.  How can we be more true to what God made us to be?  Do we truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The truth helps us confront the falseness- where we have failed God, ourselves, and others.  Love gives us hope for the coming year.  But truth also gives us a goal to aim for- true north so to speak.  Ephesians tells us to speak the truth in love.  These two concepts go together and are not in balance apart from each other.  The truth is harsh without love.  Love is mushy without the truth.  Grace, mercy, and peace come from truth and love.
     Jesus Christ embodies both. He spoke the truth- even when it hurts.  He loved too- even when it hurt.  He did not compromise or waver.

Monday, December 29, 2014

12-30-14 1 John 5:20

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Thoughts: Some ask, "Is it even possible with our limited minds and finite perspective, to know Almighty God?  The good news that we celebrate at Christmas is that God wants us to know Him and has come down in accommodation to us in order for us to be able to know Him.  This is more than knowing ABOUT God- but having a loving relationship with Him.  It is out of God's grace and love that He comes in order that we may know Him.  God sympathizes with and has mercy on our ignorance of Him.  Ignorance of God is not bliss.  Not knowing the One who made you and not caring whether you know Him or not means not only do you miss out on know His love, hope, meaning and direction in life;  It also means we miss out on God's design beyond this life.  For to turn away from His knowledge is to turn toward darkness and to love being lost rather than being found.
      I may not know my wife of 35 years fully and completely.  But what I know about her I know truly.  I trust that knowledge and rest in my love for her and her love for me.  We may not know all about God, but we know enough truth of God to make a difference.  Jesus came in order that we could know God better.  Isaiah 11 speaks of Christ's coming as a spreading of the knowledge of God- as the water covers the sea.  Today the knowledge of God through Christ has spread to every continent and nation.
     This verse also emphasizes two other important things.  God is true.  When Christ came, He brought not false hope but truth and real hope.  To not believe the truth of God by turning to our own pride is a sad state.  It is actually wanting eternal death over eternal life because we think we may know better.  What do we have to lose if we believe and follow Christ and it turns out not to be true?  We would have chosen to try to love neighbor better to serve others rather than ourselves.  But if Christ's hope is true and we have refused that hope to go our own way- we have lost God and we have lost eternal life both in this life and in eternity.
     Christ also calls us to be one with Him.  One with Him in family- adopting us as His children.  He calls us to be one in mind with Him.  He calls us to be one in love with Him.  We are in Him as we are in the air and the air is in us.  God comes that we may be one with Immanuel (a title for Christ which means God is with us).
     Christ comes to bring us understanding about the truth, about God, and about eternal life. He calls us to one with Him too. We can be slaves to ignorance or be set free by the truth of hope and eternal life. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming that i may know you and be one with you.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

12-28-14- By Water and Blood

This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (1 John 5:6)

Thoughts:  This is a theological statement of how Jesus came to earth.  There have been three explanations: 1) This refers to the death of Christ- meaning He came to die.  In John 19:34 when the soldier pierced the side of Christ water and blood poured out.  2) Some say it points to the two sacraments of baptism and Lord's Supper (water and blood).  3) A third explanation would be the actual birth itself- where the water (amniotic fluid) bursts and the blood of delivery comes.  This would point to the real human birth of Christ and would only coincidentally fit with the water and blood coming from His side at death and the elements of baptism and communion.  4) A fourth explanation points to the actual cleansing elements of water and blood- both were symbols of purification in the Old Testament.  Ironically, the first plague was turning water into blood (Ps. 105:29; Ex. 7:21), 1 John 5:8 may help us to see (since it is only two verses later)- that the water and blood as well as the Spirit testify to the reality of Jesus as the Messiah- the Lamb of God who takes away sin.  The water could symbolize the Father as Creator; the blood could symbolize the Son as Redeemer; the Spirit symbolizes the Spirit who speaks to our spirit of the reality of Christ even today.  Christ came to testify that God desires to wash us, cleanse away sin, and inspire us to be more.  

Prayer: May your cleansing power srengthen me to be all that I can be today..  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

12-29-14- Life in the Son

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)

Thoughts: To think you can find life without the S-o-N is like thinking you can have life without the S-U-N.  Without the sun there is no warmth no strength, no joy.  Eternal life in the Johanine writings- (thus and in the Bible) does not begin after you die. God gives it to us- now.  Jesus is the source of life- an eternal source for an eternal life.  

Prayer: Help me to see, Lord, that you are not a secondary event in my life, but the primary means to grow and have hope, faith, and love.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

12-27-14 If you are Born loved the Borned-One

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (1 John 5:1)

Thoughts: To be a child of the Father means to love other children of the same Father.  As a father, I want my children to get along.  I want this not simply to calm the noise in the house, but for them to bless each other with peace and love - long after I am gone.  I still remember being an angel in the live nativity scene at our church.  The other angel and I argued in between scenes all night.  Once our teacher had to break up the fight.  This was so wrong in so many ways.  Angels don't fight each other- at least not the good ones.  The message of the angels was not "everyone for themselves" but peace on earth goodwill toward those on whom His favor rests." 

     But there is a sense in which this verse points out that if we are born of God then we should love our oldest brother- Jesus- the first begotten of the Father.  Jesus is the first one to make it through to the other side and then come back to tell us about it .  The Sonship of Jesus is special.  We are adopted children- born again into the kingdom.  Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  The King James translation points to this: "every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."  We are called to love Jesus and each other- not simply because of His teaching and our belief, but because we are in the same family- in the same place.  We are all at the manger worshiping.  We all give thanks to God as a baby- not just Jesus the teacher.  Not just for his potential as a teacher and example-giver but  for Jesus as a being worthy of the angels' song, the shepherds' worship and the wise men's gifts.  In His being, there is a reason to love the Father- for sending Him in love- born of God and born in love.  The Nicene Creed captures this- He is to be loved as true God from God; light from light; true God from true God.  That we are drawn to the Father should draw us together as children, and draw us to the older brother- Jesus. 

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to love others and to love Jesus because you have loved me so well. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

12-26-14 God gave

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Thoughts: We love our children.  Our children, however, are not perfect.  Twice God said, "This is my Son whom I love" (Mark 1 at the baptism and Mark 9 at the transfiguration).  God's love for His Son was a perfect love and Jesus' love for His Father was perfect too.  That is what makes the gift of God's Son for us so amazing.

Prayer: Lord, give me gratitude for your love.  Help me to love others and you in return.  

12-25-14 In the flesh

12/25     John 1:14             The Son in the Flesh
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Thoughts:  The Word just didn’t exist in heaven.  It didn’t just come down to earth like a trumpet blast.  The Word took on flesh.  So we have seen a glimpse into the heart of God through Jesus’ words and actions.  We see God’s mercy and kindness.  We see His truth and love.  He lived among us.  The King James Version says “tabernacle
among us” or “tented among us.”  He lived in our midst- faced our pain, our hunger, our thirst, our hatred, our sadness and overcame them all.  He shows us not only can it be done- but He gives us the power to overcome. 

Prayer: May this Christmas be a blessing to you, O lord.  May my patience grow and my love be more full. 
Application: May your faith become visible as you are patient with others, letting them speak, open, go, and move first.  Love with an extra measure the people who are hurting in your circle today

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

12/24- Christmas Eve- John 1

12/24     John 1:1               The Son in the Beginning
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Thoughts: Jesus is the Word of God.  You may substitute His name thus: “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.”  As the Word of God emanates from the Father’s mouth, so Jesus emanates from God.  As the Word reveals something about God just by going out- so Jesus reveals God in his actions and words.  As the Word of God does not fade or disappear- so Jesus is eternal and His truth and salvation reliable. 
    Jesus was in the beginning.  He was and is and is to come.  Jesus was here before Christmas and will be here afterwards.  We would do well to focus on this constant and faithful One.

Prayer: Lord, may your eternal faithfulness inspire loyalty and faithfulness in me. 

Application: Come to a Christmas Eve service wherever you are.  Invite another to come with you if possible. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

12-23-14 God's Love in Jesus 1 John 4

12/23     1 John 4:9            God Loves by Sending His Son
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Thoughts: That God loved us is something we might guess is right.  We may want it to be so and imagine it.  But Jesus coming removed all doubt of God’s love.  The Father sent the Son- and we are not the same.  His love broke through the coldness of time and space.  Because He was born we may be born again.  Because He lives we can live now and live into the future with hope and confidence. 
       The essence of Christianity is played out in that great verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  This is Christmas.  It is God’s showing His love by giving.  It is why we give gifts- in reflection of His greatest gift. 
       The gift of His Son is not just an example of living.  It is a real gift of real life.  Jesus helps us to live now- to quit being distracted by the unhealthy and trivial things but to see what is really important- and that is God’s love and human love. 

Prayer: Lord, may your love overwhelm my apathy towards you.  Help me to love you in return for your great love for me. 

Application: Jesus set us an example of love.  Think of those who would be effected by your good example of love, and reach out to them with a card, email, or text today.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12-21-14 Jesus Come in the Flesh

12/22     1 John 4:3  spirit acknowledging Christ in the flesh

2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2,3)

Thoughts: That Jesus came in the flesh is what the Christian celebration of Christmas is all about.  Much like the Jews celebrate Passover as a way to remember their salvation each year, so Christians celebrate that God has come for our salvation.  There have been some who have said (Docetists) that Jesus did not really come down as a man- he just appeared to do this (some Muslim groups think this today).  On the other extreme are those who think Jesus did not come down at all- but just was an ordinary human that we have over ascribed as divine.  Two thousand years later, I believe we can see that Jesus was not just an ordinary man- but a man whose simple life changed the world for the better.  He was really born in a manger and walked our sod and breathed our air, drank our water.  But He taught as no one else taught and rose from the dead as no one else could.  Jesus has come down. He came in the flesh.  If we acknowledge this, we will begin to experience the true spirit of Christmas.

Prayer:  let me acknowledge you, Lord Jesus, as fully human and fully divine.  You have come down for me and suffered true suffering for me.  Let my heart well up with gratitude.

Application:  Let the love of Christ inside of you become visible to others today.  Look for an opportunity to identify yourself as a believer today.  Look for an opportunity to help someone in need- maybe put a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

12/21/14- Jesus the Bread

12/21     John 6:35             I am the Bread
34Then they said to Him, "Lord, always give us this bread." 35Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

Thoughts: Bethlehem means "House of Bread."  Bethlehem was the place that the Bread of Life was born.  Once people were looking for Jesus because he had given them free bread (feeding of the 5,000).  Many a ruler over the years fed the poor to keep them happy and loyal.  When they came to make Him king, he refused, for he knew it was temporary loyalty.  The popularity of rulers waxes and wanes.  
They even tried (vs. 30-31) to trick Jesus into giving them more bread like Moses gave the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus was trying to get them to look to the eternal and not the temporary bread.  They sought only what would satisfy their immediate needs.  Jesus knew He could satisfy their deep inner needs for eternity (vs. 35).  Let us look to Jesus, and keep our eyes on Him- without distraction. 
       This time of year people are thinking a lot about presents.  Who did I leave out, what did I get everyone, and will I have enough “bread” to pay my bills.  This passage reminds us that if we have little physical bread we may still be blessed and have satisfaction from God. 

Prayer: Bread of Heaven, come down to me as you came that first Christmas.  Make my life more whole and satisfy me with you- the true satisfaction.

Application: Make a gift to We Care, Goodworks, or Snackpack to help those who are physically hungry in the name of the One who can satisfy their spiritual hunger. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

12/20/14- God and the Faithful

Dec. 20, 2014
Scripture: And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan'u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

Thoughts: Anna, a prophetess, had been waiting for “the consolation of Israel” like Simeon for a long time.  Neither Simeon nor Anna was particularly important as far as the world was concerned.  Neither is depicted as having led a particularly exciting, successful, or eventful life.  Nor are they said to have achieved great accomplishments or accomplished anything at all.  In fact, today many would probably describe the life of Simeon and Anna as boring and insignificant, especially Anna’s life, which, having been widowed after only seven years of marriage, revolved around the temple and consisted of “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  Yet she too, like Simeon, lived a life of gratitude (“she gave thanks to God”) and was privileged not only to see the world’s redemption in Jesus Christ before her death, but also to bear witness to it as she “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  God honored the humble, patient, faithful service of Simeon and Anna’s lives and he honors the humble, patient, faithful service of all who call upon and bear witness to him today.  For thus says the Lord: “those who wait for me shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 49:23).

Prayer: Faithful and Ever-loving Father, sustain me in the humble, patient, faithful service I seek to render today and help me to serve you and others with joyful gratitude.  In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray.  Amen.

Application: Forget performing a random act of kindness (especially if it is a matter of mere tokenism or motivated primarily to make you feel better about yourself) and receive God’s redemption in Jesus Christ and do your assigned tasks faithfully this day, however difficult, with humility, patience, and joy, out of gratitude to God.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

12/19/14- God and the Pain

Dec. 19, 2014
Scripture: And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:33-35).

Thoughts: Even with the accounts of Christ’s birth there are signs that point to his death.  In calling our attention to these signs, the New Testament does not seek to cast a pall or shadow over “the good news of a great joy” we celebrate at Christmas.  On the contrary, it depicts the birth of Christ as the most joyous event in all of history.  But no honest reader of the Bible can deny that there is pain mixed in with the joy as when King Herod, in attempting to kill the baby Jesus, slayed all the male babies who were under two years old in Bethlehem.  Thus, there was great joy at Christ’s birth, but also great pain.   There was great joy, but it was not a joy that ignored or floated blithely above the pain and suffering of this world.  No, Jesus Christ entered into it.  He entered into the real pain and real suffering of life in the real world.  And he overcame it, but not without a price, the price of his own suffering and death on the cross. Simeon was was waiting for “the consolation of Israel” and he received it.  But he was compelled to tell Mary, “and a sword will pierce through you own soul also.”  What is so striking about this passage is that it makes clear that our true consolation does not come cheap.  It does not come without a price, the price of the blood of God’s only begotten Son.   

Prayer: Lord, deliver me from cheap comfort and false hope wherever I am tempted to look for them and make me satisfied with nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else than fellowship with your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray.  Amen.

Application: Try to comfort and encourage someone who is hurting or struggling today by bearing witness to the true hope and consolation of the world, Jesus Christ.

12/18/14- God and the Waiting

Dec. 18, 2014
Scripture: And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord), "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."  Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel" (Luke 2:21-32).
[Simeon and Anna – Rembrandt]
Thoughts: Simeon’s waiting was not like the waiting of others.  His waiting made him active not passive, alert not dull, watchful not inattentive.  The reason is because Simeon was waiting on the Lord.  It was not the waiting as such that made Simeon “righteous and devout,” obedient rather disobedient.  It was the Lord!  Simeon waited in hope and expected to see “the Lord’s Christ” and the consolation he would bring.  But Simeon had waited not only for his own personal or private consolation.  He had waited for the consolation of Israel.  Yet when Israel’s Messiah finally appeared and Simeon held “him up in his arms,” he recognized that what he had been waiting on was greater than he had expected.  The consolation he had been waiting for meant “salvation” and its significance extended not only to Israel but also to the whole world: “for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”   What sort of consolation are you looking for?  Will it bring only a little comfort or salvation for you and for those you love?  Simeon’s long awaited consolation allowed him not only to die in peace, but also to live in hope.  And such peace and such hope are ours in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to wait patiently in hope on you and you alone for my comfort and salvation.  In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray.  Amen.

Application: Ask someone you have never or rarely talked with about “spiritual things” what sort of peace and comfort they hope for.  Wait for them to tell you.  After you have listened to them carefully, tell them in whatever words the Holy Spirit gives you (however inadequate they may seem or you may feel) about your hope in Jesus Christ and the peace and comfort you have in this life and the life to come.

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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

12/10- Submitting Our Spirit to His

12/10   Scripture  - “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’  Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’” (Matthew 2:3-8)
Ancient Byzantine drawing of Magi

This is a very ironic scene. The magi have traveled a great distance to worship the new-born king. Naturally they go to where they expect the king to be – in the palace. Not only is there no king, but these devout men actually put Jesus in danger. They alert Herod to his birth and then they tell him all they know about this king and his natal star. Herod represents all that is evil, all that is the “spirit of the flesh.” He seeks power and wealth and will destroy anything and anyone that gets in his way. He is a liar and cheat and above all a coward who fears infants. Being in tune with the spirit of the flesh can only bring misery.
In contrast the Holy Spirit bears good and lasting fruit – peace, joy, patience, love, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. To submit our will to that of the spirit seems very difficult – especially at first. Our sinful nature cries for what we want. But over time we learn that God’s ways are full of wisdom. His plans are better than we could ever imagine. He is faithful and true and as we reap these fruits of the spirit we desire to grow ever-stronger in our discipleship. To submit our will to Christ is one way to worship and adore him.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, Take my life as an offering to you. Use me for your glory.

Application: Give Jesus a Christmas present.  Either give up something that displeases Him or take up an additional thing that pleases Him (participate in a ministry, read your Bible or pray more).

[Written by Rev. Tracie Stewart]

Monday, December 8, 2014

12/9- Matthew 2- Spirit of Commercialism

12/9 Scripture – “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)

Another spirit of this world that can make our Christmases difficult is the spirit of commercialism. Charlie Brown even counters this. He sees Snoopy’s First Place doghouse decorations and cries in frustration, “Even my dog has gone commercial!”  Throughout December and even earlier we are bombarded with things that we can buy that will guarantee our happiness this Christmas season. One of the most moving was the old Coca-Cola commercial that showed the world putting aside all differences over a Christmas soft drink!
But this can create incredible stress as we buy things we don’t need, stress over the right gifts, and try and purchase joy even at enormous cost to ourselves.  Debts can pile up and stresses and tensions mount. And yet the best Christmas moments are not bought in a store. The moment a loved one comes home. A precious memory that warms our hearts. The mystical moment every Christmas Eve when Silent Night is sung by candlelight.

The Holy Spirit creates true unity, joy, and peace. Some of my favorite Christmas traditions are the simplest.  I love to string cranberries and popcorn into garlands, to make “gifts” for the birds with pinecones, to just sit by a fire. But like those wise men long ago the most meaningful times are when we lose ourselves in worship. My husband’s mother started a tradition when the boys were young. Each Christmas Eve we would go out to the barn singing carols. Grace had placed Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in one of the stalls. It was cold and musty and dusty and so peaceful as we shared the Christmas story in a barn. No amount of money could by the feeling on that sacred night in a Spirit-filled barn in the Carolinas. Let us be still and know God this Christmas.

Prayer: Father, make me still so that I may feel your presence and be filled with your peace. Draw me ever-nearer to You and Your Son, and Your Spirit.

Activity: Plan a special time of worship just for you or for you and someone special in your life.

By Rev, Tracie Stewart

Sunday, December 7, 2014

12/8- Spirit of Perfectionism

12/8     Scripture –   “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:22-25)
Of all the spirits of this age the spirit of perfectionism may be the one that most robs me of Christmas joy and defeats me.  I love holidays and want make everything perfect for those I love.  I am the one the magazines are targeting when they show lovely decorated homes with perfect tables and declare that 1001 Christmas ideas and recipes will be mine if I only pay $1.99. Never mind that there are stacks of these magazines already at home or that there are only 365 days in the entire year!

Every year I wrap our staircase in magnolia and then sigh disappointedly as it never looks as pretty as in Southern Living. My dishes are less than Martha Stewart’s and my table cannot measure up to the Barefoot Contessa. Yet I believe if I just try hard enough I too will achieve glossy perfection. Yet this world of endless projects and countless things to bake even as one follows all the holiday diet tips make me feel very small and insecure.

But Christmas is not about worldly perfection. The first Christmas was in a stable and one that was not the sparkling clean panorama featured in our Christmas cards. It was dirty and smelly and yet the Son of God chose to be born in poverty not perfection. He chose to be with us in our sin, shame, discomfort, and pain. Jesus chose to be “God with us” - and not at our best but at our worst. He left the splendor of heaven, exchanged His crown for a cross, and died for us – not because we were perfect but because we weren’t! What an assuring reminder that our best efforts are enough for Him and that He will clothe us with His sinless perfection if we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.  Our Christmases need not be perfect, because they and we are made perfect in Him! That is grace!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, by the power of your Holy Spirit help me to place you at the center of my holiday.

Application: Give up doing one thing you do not enjoy this holiday season. Spend the time with the Lord instead.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

12/7- The Spirit of Doubt

WEEK 2- Devotion on Matthew and Concentration on Spirits of our Age.  By Tracie Stewart

12/7 - Scripture           - “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21)

Like all children, I loved Christmas. But I also remember being terrified of one beloved Christmas tradition.  A Christmas Carol confounded me. What did one mean man and three spirits have to do with the holidays?  I was especially tormented by the Ghost of Christmas Future who seemed more Grim Reaper than Christmas joy. Over the years I have come to love and appreciate Dicken’s work, but I confess those spirits still haunt my nightmares!
As an adult I think there are spirits of the age and our culture that have the potential to rob us of our Christmas joy and more importantly, our focus on Jesus Christ. The spirit of doubt comes to mind. This time of year there is much pressure to do things well. Yet we can doubt if our gifts and abilities are needed. We may hesitate to involve ourselves in new ministries or to reach out and try and get to know others better. We may feel lonely yet doubt anyone cares. We may hunger for the wonder and faith of Christmases past yet doubt we can rekindle those feelings.
Joseph had a great love. But he doubted her loyalty and faithfulness. And who among us could blame him? But the Holy Spirit gave Joseph the confidence to return to his faith in Mary and to stretch His faith in the Lord to the point that he was able to be the step-father to the Son of God.  Our doubts tell us virgins don’t give birth. But faith, hope, and love proclaim that they do! Our God is a God of miracles who can transform us and our circumstances. If we seek Him and His perfect will, everything else – no matter how challenging or frightening – will fall into place. The name Joseph was instructed to give Mary’s child was Jesus which means “He saves.” Surely Jesus’ love for each one of us is stronger than our greatest self-doubts!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Save me! Send your Holy Spirit to fill me with the confidence to serve you each day to the best of my abilities.

Application: Try a new ministry that attracts you yet stretches your gifts. Enjoy it and let God use you rather than worrying about your abilities. Just do your best!