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Advent 2020: The Son of God

He disables sin.

Christmas Eve. It’s here! We’ve journeyed a long way, even though it may seem like the time flew by.

Today we celebrate the eve of the birth of the Babe in the manger, the Son of God, the Son of Man, God-Incarnate, Jesus.

As you celebrate this night before Christmas, take time to focus on the steps of the spiritual discipline of Advent. Invite those with you into the conversation.
Meditate. Share your thoughts on the need for Jesus in your life.
Examine. Ask each person present to consider what is in their hearts this Christmas Eve: Emotions. Thoughts. Desires. Invite them to speak openly.
Build. Take a survey of those with whom you gather to discover different ways to stir up excitement for Jesus at Christmas and all the other days of the year.
Be. Open up a Bible. Read a portion of Jesus’s birth story out loud. Ask God to open hearts to the joy of Christmas.


Read December 24: The Son of God Appeared

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Reflect.

What did you hear in today’s Joy to the World devotional?


Jesus came into the world to help us stop sinning.

John Piper, Joy to the World

Sometimes, we view the Christmas story as unconnected from the work Jesus came to do: Disable sin.

We make a big to-do of His arrival in the manger, but the reality is He quietly appeared. Hardly anyone noticed.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Jesus’s life as a child or young adult. The next time we hear of Him, He’s all grown up and undergoing baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. He enters ministry by fighting off temptation. Then He begins teaching, healing, and working miracles as He forms fellowship with a band of brothers.

The Babe in the manger seems far removed from the Messiah on the cross.

John Piper wants to make sure we connect the whole story and see the Babe in the same light as Christ: The Lamb of God. The Savior of the world. The King of kings.

Why do you think we need to see the incarnation of God, from baby to manhood, as an integral part of His mission on earth?

Do you tend to compartmentalize Christmas from the cross? His resurrection? His return?

Today think about how you handle the whole story of Christ. Examine your attitude toward Jesus’s birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. Are they a single epic written on your heart? Or do you view them as individual accounts?

Ask God to open your eyes and heart to the full story and purpose of Jesus. Be prepared to let go of old attitudes and make way for a fuller perspective to take hold.

Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil who had the power of death.
Hebrews 2:14 NLT

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: Believe

Find Him awesome.

The calendar tells us we have two days until Christmas Eve. With yesterday’s winter solstice, the light of day begins to increase, little by little.

Most often, the light of Jesus in our lives waxes and wanes in the same way — little by little — it doesn’t stay the same. We are either moving toward Him or away from Him on any given day or season of life.

Today consider how Advent as a spiritual journey has affected you. Discern whether your heart is a little nearer to the adoration Jesus deserves or if the light from the manger is dimmer than in seasons past.


Read December 22: That You May Believe

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Reflect.

What was your heart’s response to today’s devotional? How did it make you feel?


Something must be done to help us once more feel the awe, the fear, the astonishment, the wonder of the Son of God…

John Piper, Joy to the World

John Piper tells us there is no more exciting story, no more thrilling tale, than the one of the Son of God, yet it fails to capture our attention.

What stories are your favorites? action-adventure? mystery? science-fiction? romance?

What is it about your favorite genre that holds your attention? captures your imagination? speaks to your heart?

Consider what you do know about Jesus’s story — the one told from Genesis to Revelation. Are there elements of the stories you love in His story?

Ask God to help you see His story in a fresh light. Ask Him to capture your heart with the truth of all He did, does, and will do. Open your heart for the Holy Spirit to tell you the greatest story ever told.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” — Jesus
John 16:12-14 NIV

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: Freedom

The destruction of sin and death.

So far this Advent season, we’ve gone deep into the heart of Christmas, perhaps seeing things previously unseen.

Today, as you go about your day, think about what you’ve learned. Look for signs of the deeper meaning of Christmas in the world around you. See past the temporary and into the eternal.


Read December 19: Christmas is for Freedom

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

Did today’s reading give you a different perspective on Christmas? How?


Christmas is for freedom — freedom from the fear of death.

John Piper, Joy to the World

Christmas frees us from fear. A good thing to remember when fear of death is rampant in a world gone viral with a pandemic.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being high), what is your current level of fear? anxiety?

What does your fear-rating tell you about your faith?

Take time today to consider: Christmas ushers in freedom from the fear of death. Does this concept ring true in your heart? or is there resistance? Do you hear a “Yeah, but…” in your spirit?

After considering your heart’s response to this good news, ask God to reveal the sin keeping you bound to fear of death. Ask Him to speak the truth of the power of His love and grace into your life.

Ask Him to set you free!

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1John 4:18 ESV

Store window decal: Joy, Peace, Love ornament. Merry Christmas.
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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: On Mission

You are sent.

Only six days remain in Advent. The last week before Christmas gets more frantic for some. Others seem to have it all done with time to spare. And some have no one and nothing for the holidays.

Let the final days of Advent be a time to slow down. Think about the heart of the season and be like Jesus. See the needy. Lay down your plans to help someone else. Find joy and peace in giving and forgiving.


Read December 18: The Christmas Model for Missions

Photo by Ira Ostafiichuk on Unsplash

Reflect.

Did you read something unexpected in today’s devotional? What?


Christ came to his own, and his own received him not. So you.

John Piper, Joy to the World

Too often we come to Christmas and never look past the manger. We fail to consider why Jesus came. All we want to do is rest in the peace of the silent night.

But this moment in history marked the climax of a war that originated in the garden of Eden. Jesus came as the offspring of Eve to crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:14-15).

The Babe in the manger came on a mission: To give His life to rescue many (Mark 10:45).

The same can be true of our journeys as Christians. We fail to look past the joy and peace of baptism — the descent of the Spirit — and forget we’re engaging in war. We find ourselves blindsided by the battle. Confusion sets in if we don’t understand the story we’re entering.

Surprise attacks can put us at risk of distrusting God and stir up unbelief.

Have you ever considered Christ came to win a war?

What about following Him into battle? Is this a part of your understanding of being a Christian?

Today, ask God to open your eyes to the spiritual battle you’ve entered. Then remember Jesus already won the war!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.
1John 5:4 ESV

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: Life and Death

The way of abundant life.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in the mid-1600s, provides introductory teaching for new Believers to the Christian faith. Its first lesson tells us the ultimate purpose of every individual born into this world is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Finding joy in this life and the life to come is founded on our relationship with God. Jesus did all the work to make it possible for us to fulfill our purpose.

An abundant life of joy starts with glorifying God.


Read December 15: Life and Death at Christmas

Photo by Lionello DelPiccolo on Unsplash

Reflect.

How did John Piper speak to you today?


Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it.

John Piper, Joy to the World

What loss are you facing this Christmas season?

Death. Sin. Loss. Repentance. These are not the usual themes we entertain at Christmas. Yet, John Piper tells us we discover the path to adoring Jesus and joy in this world when we embrace the truth of our life apart from God.

The fact is many are hurting this holiday season. Not just because of the physical loss of death. Disturbance of emotions and spirits occur with financial losses and broken relationships, the dismantling of hopes, dreams, and expectations. All caused by the introduction of sin into our world.

When we allow ourselves to face death and loss head-on — wrap our minds around the truth of its source — the lies of Satan. We can come right alongside the manger and see the hope of life, peace, and joy shining through the swaddling cloths of Baby Jesus.

Let grief magnify your adoration of Jesus.

Have you ever considered what Jesus left behind in heaven by becoming a man, the losses He endured? Name a few.

How does contemplating His loss for your sake speak to your heart?

Today, embrace your loss, your grief, your pain. Attribute it to the right culprit — the ones who believe the lies of the enemy — us. you. me. Then consider what God reveals about His heart by coming down from heaven to enter a womb and live the life of a human being from birth to death.

Ask God to open wide your heart and mind to the spirit of revelation to receive the truth of Christmas. Ask Him to set your sights on adoring Jesus.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Psalm 36:7-9 NIV

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: A New Covenant

Better promises.

A big part of trusting God is believing what He says in His Word. Understanding we need a Savior just because He says so.

Today, by faith, consider your need for salvation — from yourself and others, from situations and circumstances — listen to your heart’s response. Write down your needs, then go to God’s Word and find His promises that speak to your needs.

Do it all in the name of increasing your capacity to adore Jesus.


Read December 14: Making it Real for His People

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Reflect.

How did today’s devotional speak to your faith?


God brings about our inner transformation by the Spirit of Christ.

John Piper, Joy to the World

We enter into the New Covenant by faith. Putting our trust in Jesus — His life, death, resurrection, and return — makes us recipients of His better promises.

His blood makes way for us to be transformed by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Believing in Jesus starts the process.

Have you experienced God’s transforming power in your life? How?

Which of His promises are you most looking forward to being fulfilled? Why?

How does your heart respond to the truth that God alone brings about transformation in your life by faith in Christ’s sacrifice and the power of the Spirit?

What does your emotional response to this truth say about you? your relationship with God? with others?

Ask God to prepare your heart and spirit to receive the changes He wants to bring about in your life. Ask for the faith to trust His guidance and a willingness to obey.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:12 NIV

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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Advent 2020: Everyone’s Messiah

Wise men seek the King of the Jews.

The roadmap for Advent as a spiritual journey — Meditate. Examine. Build. Be. — is a means of drawing close to God’s presence, not only in the manger, but for wherever you find yourself in the world.

Build. Form. Fashion. Construct. Forge.

The third step toward adoring Jesus is working to create excitement in your heart to experience His daily presence and anticipate His future return.


Read December 7: Messiah for the Magi

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

Reflect.

What did you learn in today’s reading? Was anything new to you?


Jesus is the universal Messiah for all the nations, not just the Jews.

John Piper, Joy to the World

Do you remember Jesus is God’s gift to the world? the whole realm of unbelievers?

He is not just for those who believe, but everyone! He is Savior for all. Available to anyone who believes and receives Him.

Is your heart as open to unbelievers as it is to Believers?

Do you see others as missing out on the good news? Do you want to share it?

Ask God to use you and show you how to tell everyone about the Savior of the world. The One who loves them enough to die for them.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
1John 4:14 ESV

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[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

December 20

The Season of Light

 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2

Two times I’ve really paid attention to light versus dark. Well, maybe just one time as the other just hit me as I was writing this devotional.

The first was on a mission trip to Ojeto, Utah to help a sister church on the Navajo Reservation. We would go out on the Mesa for the evening devotions. One night as I was laying back, looking at the night sky, the stars stunned me. They were so close, so enormous and profuse. To me it seemed that they refused to be blanketed by the night sky, nothing could keep them from shining. It was like a curtain had been hung with holes in it that allowed the light to penetrate, so brightly it lit up the night.

The second was the realization that Christmas is all about lights. We put them on trees and houses and buildings. There is something so special about driving around the neighborhood, in the dark evening, looking at Christmas decorations. Lights everywhere… glowing, sparkling… they fill us with joy and wonder. We ride in the car with the kids and point, Oh, look at that one. (And wonder how in the world people got lights way up there).

Light-Jesus-Faith-Hope-Advent-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash]

Then there is the tree in the living room. A tradition. It goes up every year even though it seems like a lot of trouble. Drag out the boxes and haul them to the living room. The strings of lights are twisted and when plugged in don’t work. Argh! And, you thought romantically, sentimentally, that it would be a family affair. Think again, you are home alone. Then the strategy of placing each ornament in the perfect place. Tedious is the word that comes to mind.

But, then comes the evening and you plug the tree in and stand back, and well, it takes your breath away as you bask in the warmth of the glow. The feeling those glowing lights bring, of peace and hope, into the heart of where you live.

Yet, in all this time, all these years, I’ve never connected those lights to the fact that Jesus is the great Light for our souls. Bringing us out of spiritual darkness so we can embrace God’s love for us. And then we, like the stars, reflect the glory of God and shine God’s love to a dark world.

And we certainly can’t forget the star over the manger sent by God… the light that guided the wise men to the Babe in the stable. The light that celebrated this amazing event, God coming to dwell among his people.

There is a song:

Walk in the light, the beautiful light.

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night.

Jesus the light of the world.

Jesus came as the Light. We as His disciples reflect His light. But mostly we thank God who sent Jesus, the Light, who takes us out of the darkness.

Linda Baker

Jesus, thank You for rescuing us from the darkness and making the way for us to come into Your Kingdom of Light. May we shine Your love and mercy like stars splashed across the night sky.

 Additional Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-4, John 1:1-5, Luke 1:76-79, John 8:12

December 17

Pregnant with the Promises of God

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4 NASB

For many years, my preparation for celebrating Christmas focused on the story of Jesus’s birth. Looking into the Nativity story beyond the superficial facts into the deeper teachings of God’s Word woven into this story.

Becoming a Believer at 33 years old with three small children, five-years-old and younger, provided the perfect incentive to seek the truths found in Jesus’s story and share what I discovered with them. It was all new to me too.

The heart of my preparation for Christmas was to know more about Jesus, the One who captured my heart, and share Him with others. The continuing practice of preparing each year through reading the stories surrounding His birth led me deeper and deeper into a passion for Him, and like Luke, for others to know Him. Not just know about Him but know Him!

After many years, those moments with my children, the study and spending time with Him in His Word, became a series of twenty-five devotionals I published into a book: The Heart of Bethlehem. This was an unexpected result of pursuing Him in His Word, because I didn’t set out to write a book. I simply set out to know who He was and share Him with my children.

Mary and Elizabeth are the two mothers central to the Nativity story. They both experienced supernatural births. Elizabeth, old, barren, way past menopause, carried her firstborn son who was designated by God to prepare the way for Jesus in the world (Isaiah 40:3). Mary, a virgin, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and carried the Son of God (Isaiah 7:14). Both believing women, both familiar with the truths planted in their hearts from the Word, both pregnant with the promises of God.

Pregnant-Promises-Fruitful-God's Glory-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash]

The Truth was planted in my heart, and after a very long gestation period, a devotional book was born to help others see the Extraordinary God we have: One who takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. All who receive the wonder of His Truth, Way, and Life enter into an extraordinary journey too.

Once we come to know Jesus, every Believer is implanted with the Truth and becomes pregnant with the promises of God. Each of us as followers of Christ carry around a promise of peace, hope, restoration, love, and grace. With time and obedience, something will be birthed through us to help others know God and His glory.

What promise has He planted in you? How are you preparing for Him to use you to fulfill His promise to a dark hurting world?

Begin asking God to prepare you to be used for the building up of His Kingdom and as a means of fulfilling His promise to all creation.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8:18 ESV

Lord, reveal the promise of the Holy Spirit You’ve implanted in me. Grow the gifts, the graces, and the power You’ve given me, to glorify You in the world. Amen.

 Additional Scriptures: Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:3-6, Luke 8:9-15, John 15:5

Carol Weaver

Another Side of Sunday: Recipe for Joy

A new teaching series began this week: Christian Characteristics. Merriam-Webster’s defines characteristic as “a distinguishing trait, quality or property.” Believers have traits, qualities, and properties that set them apart, and these characteristics draw others to Jesus.

Sunday’s focus was joy.

Before we go any further take a moment to consider yourself when it comes to joy. Ask a trusted friend, “Do you consider me to be joy-full?”

I am reminded of a recipe I once heard or read. I believe it still rings true. A simple acronym provides us a recipe for joy.

Jesus… Others… You…

This is not one of those recipes where the ingredients can be thrown into a bowl and mixed. Order is of great importance. As Believers when we align our thoughts and actions in this way (Jesus, Others, You) joy becomes a part of who we are in Christ.

I see it reflected in Sunday’s Scripture.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (emphasis added)

Jesus ushers us into new life the moment we decide to follow Him. As we put Him first in our daily walk, our faith continues to grow and God’s power resides in us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (emphasis added)

Followers of Jesus aren’t guaranteed a rosy life on easy street. We face trials and heartache and pain. These are used to refine our character, create genuine faith, and connect us to others. The hard in our lives is exactly where Jesus reveals Himself to others through us.

 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (emphasis added)

You and I are the ones who reap the benefit of this recipe. Take a look at how many times you see the word “you” in the Scripture.

YOU love Him, YOU believe in Him, obtaining the outcome of YOUR faith, the salvation of YOUR souls.

In Galatians 5:22 joy is found in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. As we put Jesus and others before ourselves, joy naturally springs forth. It’s not something we can manufacture or pretend to have. It is a gift, a supernatural working of the Spirit in us.

Are you missing joy in your life? Do you find yourself grumpy, critical, or bitter? Is it time to try a new recipe?

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Matthew 22:37-40  The Message

Father, so many times I have placed my happiness as my priority. I want life to be fun and full of joy. I’m sorry for the moments I’ve gotten mixed up in thinking something or someone will bring me joy. You and You alone are the One who can bring me joy. Guide me to put You first and to love You more and more each day. Show me how to share Your love with others. Amen.

[Feature Image Photo on blog by Aaron Burden on Unsplash]