Prince of Peace 5

Isaiah 12:2

Last Sunday our church held its children’s Christmas program in the evening. The leaders and children did a wonderful job of sharing the message of Christmas, and all had a great time enjoying the readings and music. After the songs had been performed and small treats given to young and old alike the program was finished. But no one moved to leave.

There were a few moments of awkward conversation and me standing at the back of the church ready to turn off the lights, but no one moved. Someone commented how odd it was, but in a good way, that folks wanted to linger and enjoy the time together. It was as if they expected more.

Today’s reading is the last in the passages for Advent. It is the last for this calendar year. But it is not the end. It speaks of the hope we have for what is to come. It speaks of the joy we can have in knowing that we are saved. It is a message of love and peace.

The story of Christmas and our Advent devotions began in Isaiah. They looked at passages from Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, Hebrews, Exodus, and Psalms. And we have returned to Isaiah. The Christmas story traverses the Bible, moving in an eternal circle. That circle can remind us of the eternal nature of God. It reminds us of the eternal message of Christmas.

The story of Christmas is a story that is complete and whole, yet at the same time is unending. The story begins with the prophecies and then includes the announcements of angels, the birth of a baby, and the resurrection of a Savior.

Now the Christmas story continues. It flows on in the hearts and souls of those who believe, who accept the birth of the baby as the birth of the Messiah. The story continues in our own salvation and in the love that we share with others.

The Christmas story is one that does not end, but shines the light of love and joy into the lives and hearts of those who need to know of the hope and mercy that God offers.

We are all part of the Christmas story, recipients of God’s incredible gift. We are offered hope, joy, love and peace. We can know that we need not fear because the Lord is our salvation. And now we must continue the story by sharing the news of Christ with all who need to hear.

Shalom. Peace to you.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be part of the story?

This is the last of our daily devotions until January 5, 2009. We pray that God will bless each of you with a holiday full of joy, and a new year of hope and love. – Peggy and Roger

Prince of Peace 4

John 12:30-32

There is often a debate about which Christian holiday is more important, Christmas or Easter. They are both equal in importance. Without Easter there is no reason for Christmas. Without Christmas there can be no Easter.

In the midst of the celebration of the birth of Christ there must be an awareness of the sacrifice of Christ. While at first glance that may seem to take away from the joy of the holiday, in fact it is all part of the wholeness of Christ. It is part of shalom – peace, completeness.

In the latter part of John 12 Jesus is talking about the sacrifice he is to make. He hints of his death on the cross. He explains that he will not ask God to spare him from what he is about to do because he intends to glorify God. Then God speaks to Jesus in a voice others can hear.

What does Jesus say about God’s voice? What will Jesus do?
The purpose of the gift of Jesus at Christmas is to reconcile the sinful world with our heavenly Father. The gift of Christ is the gift of a Savior, the Messiah who will restore our connection to our heavenly Father. He has come to bring us peace, peace in knowing that we are loved by God and invited into the wholeness of His family.

The idea of this gift of the baby can fill us with the warmth of love. And Jesus was indeed a gift of love. But the gift of a Savior involves a sacrifice.

The gift of Christmas was just the beginning of the complete gift of Jesus. The baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger would be the same Jesus later laid in a tomb.

And the point of all of it is explained by Jesus himself. He will draw all men to him. Through his sacrifice he will remove what separates us from God. Through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are drawn into the loving relationship of God. We are made into heirs of God. We are made complete.

With the birth of Jesus the story of the Savior can be made whole and complete also. And in that completeness we can find peace as we are made true children of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How do you fit in with the complete family of God?

Prince of Peace 3

Psalm 34:12-14

Seek peace. Seek shalom. What does that mean?

The word used in this verse (and in Isaiah 9:6 for Prince of Peace) means completeness. I love that definition of peace. Not just quiet or happiness or safety, but completeness.

So how do we live a long life full of good days? (Something I’m sure all of us want…) Speak kindness and truth. It really can be that simple. Make a choice--an active decision--to physically turn away from evil and DO good. Not just think about good or have some good ideas. DO good.

And lastly… seek peace. Search for completeness in our lives and relationships. Again it’s an action. It’s not just sit and hope that you can get along with everyone or that your friends and family will all be together again at the holidays. We are to SEEK completeness. Search it out.

And then the hardest part of all… work to keep it. It’s not passive. It’s active. It’s work! It might even be sacrifice. Yet we are commanded here to pursue it.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where do you need to make peace in order to have completeness in your life? Where can you speak truth and kindness in order to make that happen?

Prince of Peace 2

Matthew 2:1-6

The newspaper in our hometown held a “Secret Santa” contest. The idea was that a small Santa figurine was hidden somewhere within the city limits and daily clues in the paper helped you figure out where it might be. The person who found the tiny Santa figure could redeem it for the cash prize.

The contest was slow to start, but soon it seemed that everyone was looking for that little Santa figure. It was what people talked about, and it got people going all over the town to try to find it.

This passage from Matthew is a familiar story of the visit from the wise men. These men who are so often portrayed as kings may have been astronomers or learned scholars, or they may indeed have been wealthy and powerful leaders. Their own background is of less importance than what they did.

These men apparently had a great deal of means at their disposal. Their gifts were valuable. They were given an audience with King Herod. They had the money to travel a great distance. All these are indicators that these Magi had wealth and influence.

But part of the wisdom of these wise men was the wisdom to know that one greater than themselves had been born. Indeed, one who was greater than any king on earth had arrived, and they recognized the importance of this birth. They knew that the child born was the greatest king, and this is the reason they traveled so far simply to offer praise to Jesus.

They were willing to make a lengthy journey. They were willing to bring expensive gifts to honor the new king. They were willing to seek guidance and direction on how to find this king. It was all worth the effort, to lay eyes on the baby Jesus, Son of the Lord Most High.

We must not allow ourselves to get caught up in the celebration and gift-giving of the season. We should not allow the cost and number of gifts, the business of entertaining, or the traditions of Christmas to keep us from having a clear vision of why we are celebrating Christmas. We should be willing to put effort into finding the heart of the Christmas story, the centerpiece of the holidays. We should be willing to lay our own gifts before this Prince of Peace we honor.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you keep Christ in the center of your Christmas?

Prince of Peace 1

Luke 2:8-14

In the ministry there are times when the holidays are less than joyous occasions. The holidays often can mean more work, extra services, extra activities that make a full work schedule overflow with activity. And this kind of stress is not limited to people in the ministry. There are times when the extra expense and worry of holiday activities can feel like too much to deal with. Sometimes it seems easier and better to go through the monotony of the every-day, average work week.

The shepherds in this story quite possibly were the kind of people who wanted to be left alone. It is possible that they wanted to simply do their work – watch the sheep – and be at peace. But instead on that night so long ago an angel broke the silence of the night and interrupted the ordinary with extraordinary news.

These shepherds, average workers just doing their jobs, were presented with an incredible message, good news of great joy. They were among the first to hear that God had presented the world with a gift of tremendous love.

Not far from where they were a baby had been born. And that baby was Jesus Christ, God in human form. And he was the Savior to all people. Then the angels explained in their song what it all meant. There would be peace for those on whom God’s favor rested.

This was worth the interruption. This was worth having the comfortable and ordinary disrupted because the interruption was a great and glorious message. The Prince of Peace had been born. God’s peace, the peace that comes from knowing that we are loved by God, that we are forgiven by God, had come to earth.

In the hurry and worry of the holidays, in the extra work and the busy activities, we need to recognize the importance of what we are celebrating. It is more than extra work for us. Christmas is a celebration of the fantastic news, the good and glorious news, that God offers peace to those who will accept Christ as Savior.

When we feel overwhelmed by the holidays, when we feel worn out by all that needs to be done, let us find the time to know in our hearts that the true peace of God has been given to each of us. And let us find comfort and gladness in knowing that we have that peace, that it has been given as a gift to all.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be reminded of God’s peace this holiday season?

Everlasting Father 5

Luke 2:1-7

I have been learning a lesson these past few weeks. I have learned that I need to be faithful to God no matter what happens in the world. In spite of financial worries, in spite of fears for our economy, in spite of the frustration we have experienced with our 10-2 Grow e-mails, in spite of the depression that threatens when area teens and people I have known die unexpectedly – and so close to the holidays – still I must trust in God and obey His commands. I must be faithful to my heavenly Father no matter what.

I must be faithful because my heavenly, everlasting Father is faithful to me.

It is interesting that the Christmas story that we are so familiar with, that we have seen acted out by young and old alike in our churches, is presented only in Matthew and in Luke. It is in Matthew that we see the dilemma that Joseph faced, the fears of his impending marriage to a woman who is pregnant. In Matthew we see the angel visiting Joseph, giving guidance and reassurance.

In Luke the focus is on Mary. In Luke Mary is visited by the angel. In Luke Mary’s cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant.

The first real encounter we have with Joseph in the Book of Luke is in this passage, the beginning of the second chapter. We are presented with the reasons that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem and why the baby was placed in a manger. We see the genealogical connection to the house and line of David.

But to me, the key verse is verse 5. “He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Joseph carried through with his duties, his responsibilities, his obligations. He registered along with the woman to whom he was not yet married and who was with child. If we do not read Matthew’s story then we would have no idea that angels had guided Joseph.

But in this simple statement we see Joseph being faithful. His bride to be is already with child, yet he registers with her and marries her. He carries through with his pledge regardless of what was happening, in spite of the pregnancy and the strain of the census. He was acting as a faithful and loving father.

And this can be a reminder to us all that our heavenly Father is faithful and loving. This can be a reminder to us that the baby Joseph raised is also the everlasting Father to each of us. He gives us love, and he is eternally faithful.

Let us follow the examples of Joseph and Jesus. Let us be faithful too. And let us never forget the love of our everlasting Father, Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How does the everlasting Father show you His faithfulness?

Everlasting Father 4

Isaiah 11:1-2

Members of one of our adult Sunday school classes invited us to join them on a tour of a nearby courthouse. The courthouse was built in the 1920s with an open, three-storied central stairwell complete with a dome of stained glass. The walls were adorned with intricate carvings and gold leaf decorations. But over time this amazing building began to show signs of age.

Then our guide explained how they had recently renovated the courthouse, restoring it to its original beauty after the years had taken their toll on the building. The beauty that had faded was restored, the incredible splendor of the work was brought back.

This prophecy from Isaiah is a prediction of hope and joy for the Israelites. The family line of their greatest kings would be restored, the former glory brought back. In fact the past glory would be exceeded. Who is Jesse? What will the Messiah be blessed with?

The part that Jesse plays in the history of Israel begins in 1 Samuel 16. This is the story of Jesse’s son, David, being selected to be king. And David will grow to be one of the greatest kings ever. We then learn in the genealogy presented in Matthew 1:1-16 that Jesus is a descendent of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jesse, of David, and so on.

This prophecy is a message of restoration. This great line of leaders will again bring forth another great king, Jesus Christ. Jesus will be born and will be the everlasting Father, the Son of the Most High. And through this lineage we see the eternal nature of God.

God has blessed His children from the beginning, from the time of Abraham, down through the centuries. And His blessings continue with Christ. In fact, the blessings will exceed the past blessings.

The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of the everlasting love that God, the Father, has for all who believe in Him. It is an eternal love that stretches back over the centuries and also covers the days to come.

The baby born in Bethlehem is our eternal Father, the very image of God. He is an expression of love that transcends all time, that existed in the past, exists now, and will be with us forever.

Let us be reminded this holiday season of the eternal love that God has for us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can God restore you with His love this Christmas?

Everlasting Father 3

John 1:15-18

My wife sent an embarrassing picture of me to my sister, who in turn sent it on to other family members. Eventually we got a response from a cousin whom I haven’t seen in years. She commented that I look like my father.

My father passed away 25 years ago, but if someone wanted to know what he looked like they need simply see me to know. If they wanted to know what kind of personality he had they could simply point to me. I am a reflection of who my father was.

We are children of our heavenly Father, but no one has seen God, the Father. We do not know if He is the familiar image of an old man with a flowing beard, or if He appears as a pillar of fire, or if He is whatever He needs to be in appearance.

But we have seen Jesus. We are familiar with the personality of Christ. We know what he valued. We know how he felt about most things. We know how much he cares about us.

John the Baptist was aware of the coming of Jesus, God in the flesh. What does John say about him? What goodness have we received? What has Jesus done?

God gave Himself as a gift in the gift of Jesus to the world. Christ is God in human form. He is God. As John describes him, Jesus is “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side.”

Christmas is the celebration of God giving Himself to us so that we might know Him. He gave the gift of Christ as an expression of His love and grace for all mankind.

Jesus, in his love for us and in his teachings, has shown us who God is. Jesus has made God known. He has taught us the love that the eternal Father has for each of us. And Christ himself is the everlasting Father who cares for us and blesses us with his grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What part of Christmas reminds you of God’s eternal love?

Everlasting Father 2

John 1:10-14

My nephew and his wife are adopting a baby. He was born in Florida and now lives in Michigan with his new family. Although not born to my nephew and his wife, he is part of their family and will be loved and welcomed as their own. The mortal flesh is not important. The family of love and welcome is important.

And that is the message of today. That is the message of Christmas and our relationship with God.

How was Jesus received? How are those who believe in Jesus treated? What is said of Jesus in verse 14?

Jesus is the Son of God, and being God he was part of all that God has done. He was part of creation. He was part of the giving of life. He is part of all that has ever come before and all that will follow.

Yet his arrival on earth did not change the attitudes and lives of many. His birth took place in a small town in a place that few even noticed. His life impacted so many around him, yet so many refused to believe what they saw and heard. There were and still are so many who reject Jesus, who will not accept him as Savior or confess him as the Son of God.

And those who do not accept Jesus have missed the miracle and gift of Christmas. They have missed the gift of love and the welcome of a new family.

But to those who do believe, to those who recognize exactly who Jesus is, Christmas and Christ are a tremendous gift. Jesus came to earth to live with us as a human himself. And those who believe in him are welcomed as children of God. Our mortal families are not as important as our spiritual family and our connection with God.

It is no longer important who we are or who we have been. Our heritage is no longer important. What is essential is that we accept the gift of Jesus from God. It is essential that we receive the gift of love that comes with Jesus Christ, the gift of salvation and eternal life with the Father.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Have you accepted your new and eternal Father?

Everlasting Father 1

John 1:1-2 and Hebrews 13:8

If you've ever been on a long car trip with small children (or not so small children) you've proven Albert Einstein's theory that time is relative! It speeds up or slows down depending on how fast one thing is moving relative to something else. Time and space and light and age are all in a state of constant change.

This week we will be looking at how we can possibly understand the term "Everlasting Father." Eternity is a concept of time too complex for our simple minds to grasp. Everlasting is virtually incomprehensible to us.

Yet in John 1, it tells us that Jesus was already with God when things began. So Jesus (the Word) is older than the beginning. It's a paradox that we can't hope to fully understand. How can Jesus exist before the beginning? Yet the trinity have no beginning and no end.

And unlike Einstein's theories of relativity of time and space, we are told that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He is before the beginning and unchanging throughout the whole span of time. It's so easy to say those words, but really hard to internalize. Mathematics and science can try to explain infinity, but even that is limited.

But the mathematical symbol for infinity (at right) might help.

Like Jesus, there is no beginning and no end. It is an endless swoop of balanced and symmetrical beauty. It's not just a symbol of eternity, it is designed to be one. Where does it begin and where does it end? It doesn't. The question isn't really even valid.

It's the same with God. We can't ask where does He begin and end because the question is irrelevant. God, like the infinity symbol is always constant, beautiful, and endlessly connected. He is before the beginning, after the end and eternally in the present.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Are you living only in the past, only for the future or only in the moment? Where can you see evidence of God's presence in all three in your life?

Mighty God 5

Luke 1:39-45

As children my cousins had a very visible and simple way of showing their delight. Whenever something made them extremely happy they would hop up and down, literally leaping in their joy. Christmas mornings or surprise birthdays would find these children bouncing straight up and down in happiness. What a wonderful display of sheer joy.

After learning that she would bear the Son of God, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, of whom Gabriel has spoken. What happens with Elizabeth? What does the Holy Spirit cause Elizabeth to recognize? Why did the baby (John the Baptist) leap in her womb?

The gift of Jesus is the gift that brings more joy than any other present any person might find under the Christmas tree. And two of the first people to recognize the wonder of God’s gift were John the Baptist and his mother, Elizabeth. Just the sound of Mary’s voice was enough to stir the unborn John as he recognized the woman who would bring forth such a blessing to the world.

The Holy Spirit, with the aid of the moving baby, made Elizabeth also recognize what was going on. These two women and the unborn child were part of the miracle of Christmas and the arrival of God on earth. These three would be among the many witnesses who would see the mighty God of all things manifested in human form through Jesus.

And this was a cause of great joy. Certainly Mary was filled with joy, so much so that she rushed to share the event with her cousin. Elizabeth was filled with joy when she realized the import of what was happening. And the joy of our mighty God even reached an unborn child, filling him with such emotion that the confines of the womb could not prevent his own leap for joy.

The celebration of Christmas can become so humdrum and familiar that we miss the amazing truth to the whole story. It is the celebration that the mighty God of the universe has reached out to us. God loves us so much that he sent His Son to be with us. This should cause great joy.

May this holiday season fill you with such happiness that you are willing to break through any confines and constrictions in your life and leap for joy the way John did.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can your joy be renewed?

Mighty God 4

Romans 8:35-37

Discussing the concept of family at our most recent Bible study we were to take some time and think about our own families and our past. We examined what type of family we each had, looking at what qualities we saw in each. And thinking back over all the years with my own family I came to realize that over all the years, all the events in our lives, the marriages, the travels, the sadness and joys, there was love as a constant thread.

And the same can be said of us as members of Christ’s family. Jesus was sent by God to live among mortals, to be our spiritual brother no matter how much time separates when we live and when Jesus lived.

In his letter to the believers in Rome Paul offers encouragement. What life afflictions are mentioned in today’s passage? How does Paul sum up what it sometimes feels like to be a Christian? What is the conclusion?

Jesus Christ was born to a small family, entering the world as a little child. Yet, he was also our mighty God. And part of his incredible might is the love that he brought to us all, all those who are part of the family of Christ. That love remains constant over all the centuries and will remain constant in all the years yet to come.

The story of Christmas seems fixed in time in the long ago, but the story of the joy that Jesus brings is a new story that we receive every day. It is easy to keep the image of Jesus as a tiny baby in a manger during this holiday. But we should never forget that he is also the mighty God who brings joy.

Christmas is the story of God making us conquerors, victors over all those problems we may have and victors over the burdens of sin. The love of our mighty God brings us the joy of victory over all of life’s troubles. His love brings the joy of victory over all the hardships we may face.

As we near the celebration of Christ’s birth let us be reminded that the child born is also the Son of God who delivers us with his power, the power of love. And let us never forget the bond that God’s love has with us. It cannot be defeated or blocked. It cannot be diminished or taken away.

The love of God expressed through his Son, Jesus, is a love that is with us always. And in all things we are more than conquerors through him.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What does God’s love help you conquer?

Mighty God 3

Exodus 17:9-13

I love to play games, especially games of military tactics and strategy. I love the challenges of thinking through what moves need to be made and how I can defeat my opponent. We have often made jokes about my desire to play games because I am usually the loser. But I don’t lose every time. I am familiar with the elation that comes with winning. There is a thrill to see success in your plans, victory over an opponent. There is joy in winning.

Today’s passage may seem far distant from the story of Christmas, but it relates to the title of “Mighty God” and the concept of joy. What is Joshua doing? How does Moses help? What is the result?

Taken at face value the story seems like a myth involving some magic on the part of Moses. Although Moses needed to keep his arms and the staff of God raised to ensure victory, the victory came because of the power of God. By lifting up the staff while on a hilltop Moses was serving as a reminder to Joshua and his soldiers that God was with them to deliver their enemy into their hands.

So, what does this have to do with Christmas? Moses, Joshua and the Israelites experienced the joy of victory, a joy that came directly from God. They had a victory because God is a mighty God with great power.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, but that baby was also the Son of God. He is the mighty God too.

Christmas is the celebration of the gift of Jesus, who came to be the wonderful Counselor we need. But he is more than a counselor; he is also the mighty God who is able to do miraculous things in our lives. He is the source of our joy.

The baby born in Bethlehem came to bring the joy of love to our lives. And he came as our mighty God to defeat and destroy the power of sin in our lives. He came to give us victory over the fears and sorrows, the troubles and hardships of life.

As we celebrate Christmas this year let us raise up our mighty God that we may be reminded that He is always present with us to give us the joy of victory.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you of the presence of our mighty god this year?

Mighty God 2

Matthew 1:20-23

I have gotten to the age where I do not like to travel places on my own. It isn’t that I can’t, it is just that I prefer to have someone with me to talk to and consult whenever I have questions or uncertainties. There is a definite comfort in knowing that you are not alone in the things that you do.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s gift of Jesus, a gift that will end our loneliness forever. Moving forward in the Christmas story, today’s passage is Joseph’s encounter with an angel. What information does the angel give? What instruction is given? Why is this happening?

It is easy, in my opinion, to imagine God as an all-powerful being thundering through the heavens and casting down lightning bolts on the wicked. The title “Mighty God” fits that image, and such an image can bring some comfort. It is reassuring to know that the Lord of the universe is a great and powerful being.

But in the Christmas story we have a different perspective on our mighty God. The all-knowing, all-powerful King of kings has come to earth in flesh, arriving not as a warrior king but as a helpless child born to a virgin. And this also should bring comfort. The Lord is able to do the impossible by having Mary conceive a child. He has also fulfilled the ancient prophecies, those predictions and expectations from so many years before.

But the key words here are those in verse 23. Jesus will also be known as “Immanuel.” And that name means “God with us.” We are not alone. God is among us now and forever. He has sent His only Son to live with us and be the Mighty God who is also a companion and counsel to each of us.

This is part of God’s mighty ability – to make Himself vulnerable so that we might be given that comfort and companionship that we so desperately need. God is able in His might to bring Himself to us so that we might be blessed and comforted. Through God Himself we are shown the path to that right relationship with God.

As we prepare to celebrate the holidays this year, let us keep in mind that God is indeed with us at all times. The gift of Jesus Christ is an everlasting gift of love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where do you find God’s might in Christmas?

Mighty God 1

Luke 1:35-37

Many years ago my cousin’s wife had a baby. I asked him if they were planning another child in the coming years and he said, “I’m still trying to get over this one. The doctors said she couldn’t have a baby.”

Here in our ordinary life we saw a miracle. A baby was born to a young couple who expected that they would never have children. But, apparently, God had other plans.

In this part of the Christmas story the angel Gabriel has appeared to Mary and explained that she is to give birth to a child who will be great. He will be the Son of God. And this makes Mary wonder how it can all be possible.

How will this come about? What other miracle is mentioned? What does Gabriel declare in verse 37?

The celebration and story of Christmas is a story of miracles and the power of God. The very fact hat Jesus was born, God in human form, is a display of the mighty power of God. And so the second name for Christ is “Mighty God.”

But with the birth of Jesus were other miracles which displayed the incredible power of God. Mary, a virgin, was to give birth to the Savior. And along with Mary was her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was believed to be barren, unable to have children, yet when the angel came to Mary Elizabeth was already six months along in her pregnancy.

And how was all this possible? It was possible through the power of God. As the angel declared, “nothing is impossible with God.”

It is always exciting to celebrate Christmas, to remember what it all means, to share in the wonder and glory of the story. But we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just a few weeks in the winter. The miracles of God are around us at all times.

Even in our darkest hours, in the bleakest of times, in those days when we feel lost and alone we can experience the miracles of God. When we think it is impossible for our lives to get better, when we think it is impossible for us to find happiness, remember the words of the angel.

Jesus was born two-thousand years ago but the title of Mighty God did not end when he was crucified. Jesus is still the wonderful Counselor and he is still the Mighty God who can do the impossible in our lives.

In the birth of a little baby God was connecting to a dark and hurting world and that connection still remains. Take the time this holiday season to draw near to the Mighty God who has come to fill your life with joy and love and miracles. Let him fill your life with the miracles of peace and comfort.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there something impossible that you need from God?

Wonderful Counselor 3

Isaiah 9:1-2

Ernest Hemingway has the main character in the book “The Sun Also Rises” make the comment that there is nothing there in the dark that isn’t there in the light. But in some ways I must disagree. When we exist in darkness, whether we are talking about physical dark or spiritual dark, there are things there that we could be better off without.

Darkness, the physical absence of light, can increase a person’s feelings of being alone. Darkness can increase depression. And spiritual darkness – that separation from God or that separation from wisdom and love – can cause a person to be truly empty. To combat this we need light. A bright room helps ward off feelings of isolation and fear. And spiritual light, drawing near to God, can completely change your soul.

Part of Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah talked about the removal of the spiritual pall that was over all the people. How do both of these verses begin?

Christmas celebrations frequently use a great deal of candles or lamps. And this passage is part of that tradition. The light of the candles reminds us of the great gift of light that is Jesus Christ. Jesus came to be a light of wisdom and a light of God’s love for all people. Through his teachings we are given the direction, the light of wisdom, we need to help us comprehend God and to help us obey God’s command.

Through his life and sacrifice Jesus became a beacon of love for all in need. He shines the light of love for all of us to see that we might be drawn into this wonderful relationship with God.

We no longer need to live in the gloom of hopelessness. We no longer need to fear the spiritual death that sin can bring. Our days of sorrow are at an end.

Instead we have the wonderful gift of Jesus. He has come to be our counselor, the giver of great hope to all people. He is our companion and guide, that source of strength and refuge in troubled times.

And his love for us, God’s love, is a bright and wonderful light that can shine on our lives and chase away the gloom and darkness of ignorance and loneliness. Let this Christmas season be a time of light to you. Stand in the glorious glow of God’s love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there any darkness in your life that needs the light of Christ?

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday the 10/2 Grow for this week only contains three installments. We wish for all a very joyous holiday and many thanks to God. – Peggy and Roger

Wonderful Counselor 2

Hebrews 1:1-3

When I was a teen-ager my family visited Germany to see my brother who was stationed there in the army. I had a year of German classes under my belt when we went. Because I could speak enough German to pass in many circumstances, at age 14 I became the representative of the family as we dealt with ordering food, finding directions, and paying for hotels.

The Book of Hebrews explains the holiness and purpose of Jesus in very plain language. How is Jesus different than what was experienced in the past? How is Jesus described?

For thousands of years God spoke to His chosen people through the words and writings of the prophets. Names like Isaiah, Joel, Daniel, and Ezekiel all come to mind. These were attempts on God’s part to communicate with His children, to persuade them to change their ways and to understand just who God was.

With the birth of Jesus the communication changed. God was able to communicate directly. He was no longer working through an interpreter, but was speaking in a language all could understand.

Jesus was God in human form. Starting as a newborn baby, then growing up through childhood and into adulthood, Christ was completely human. But (and this is beyond our comprehension) he was also completely divine. He was God.

As the author of Hebrews puts it, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

Although he seemed to be no more than any other person, although he seemed limited by human characteristics like anyone else, still Jesus was able to be God among us. Just as I was simply a teen-ager but still able to play an important part in our daily activities, Jesus – although human – was still able to be God.

By living among mortals Jesus was able to be that wonderful counselor to those in need. He could teach in ways that everyone could comprehend. He could understand people as well, empathizing with their struggles and hardships. Whatever we go through in life – the fears and doubts, the pain and sorrows – Jesus has experienced them himself. Therefore, God has experienced our troubles too.

As that human gift to God’s beloved children Jesus is able to be the close companion, that guide, that source of advice and strength that we need so often. With Christ as our counselor we are assured that God understands us. Through Christ we can connect directly to our heavenly Father.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What do you want God to understand about you?

Wonderful Counselor 1

Isaiah 9:6-7

The season of Advent is the season of waiting, expecting and anticipating. It reminds us of the long wait that the world had for the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah predicted the coming of this great Savior. But the question was, who would this Messiah be?

This passage from Isaiah answers the question. Who is the Messiah? What all is said of this Messiah?

More than two-thousand years after that first Christmas we know who the Savior was. The Son of God, as predicted here, was born to set everyone free from sin and oppression. This was a tremendous gift from God. It was a perfect act of perfect love meant to bring us into the presence of the Almighty.

This small infant born in such unassuming circumstances would become the fulfillment of this familiar prophecy. Jesus was the wonderful Counselor. He was the Mighty God, everlasting Father and the Prince of peace. But what do all of these terms mean to us?

As a counselor Jesus is that companion and advisor who accompanies us on our journey in life. This concept separates belief in Christ with all the other religions. Our God is not a deity who looks down from the heavens at us as if we were small creatures under his inspection. Rather, God is among us, beside us, with us. He is that companion who is there to assist and comfort by being ever present.

We can turn to Jesus as we can turn to any counselor, seeking immediate help and advice. Christ is beside us always to offer guidance and strength. God is present at all times and we are not alone.

And this counselor of ours, able to take his place among us mortals, is still a powerful force. Our world may be divided into nations, each with its own authority. But the government of life is on the shoulders of Christ our King.

His kingdom is forever and encompasses all who live. Jesus rules us with justice and righteousness, now and forever. And that great Savior, that perfect expression of God’s love, is beside us as an everlasting companion.

Our wait is over because it never was. Jesus is there for us when we are ready to accept him and embrace him as our counselor and guide. And this is the reason for celebrating Christmas, remembering that God came down in human form to be among those He loved so much.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What name would you give to describe Jesus?

Shamar the Holidays 5

John 2:1-10

A common misconception is that Christians are dull and boring and that a life under God is a life of strict rules where fun is not allowed. But today’s reading is a story that goes against that belief. A little longer than usual, it is a story that many are familiar with.

Jesus is at a wedding when the wine runs out. The family, I am certain, was worried that the whole affair would become a disaster and a social embarrassment, but Jesus orders that water be poured into jars intended for ceremonial cleansing. And then the water is miraculously turned into wine.

But not just any wine. Look at verse 10. This wine is the best wine ever. It is special. Not only will the wedding move on without incident, it will be a memorable wedding.

The deeper meaning of all of this would fill pages and pages of analysis. The connection of wine to the sacrificial blood of Christ that we see at the Last Supper is evident. But the focus for today is that Jesus provided an opportunity for one of life’s celebrations to become special. The feast was protected. The ceremony was honored. The wedding could be celebrated – all because of Jesus. His miracle allowed everyone to shamar this special occasion.

And we see celebrations throughout the teachings of Christ. In Matthew he presents the parable of a great banquet. In Luke 15 we have the story of the prodigal son whose return is celebrated with a feast. We also see parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep, each ending with a celebration. In John 7 Jesus attends the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

I am not claiming that Jesus was the original party animal, but it is clear that Christ wants us to enjoy the holidays, Sabbaths and celebrations of life. He has come to give us life, and give it to the full. We are called to shamar our holidays and feast days because when we do we celebrate the goodness and love of God. We remember and honor God by celebrating His love and blessings.

Colossians 2:16-17 tells us that we should not let others judge us when we celebrate holidays. It says that these are a shadow of the things to come. Our best celebration, our most extravagant holiday, is just a small imitation of God’s glory and goodness – just a taste of what we can expect when we are gathered up in glory.

Let us shamar our holidays – honor them, protect them, celebrate them – knowing that our happiness and joy comes from God and that the fullness of all good things are found in our Lord Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you include God in your holidays?

Shamar the Holidays 4

John 10:7-10

Our children, like most, had some rules to follow at our house. Don’t go out in the street. Don’t go where I can’t see you. Stay away from the electric fence, and so on. These rules put limits and boundaries on our children, but they were not intended to be limits to their fun. Rather, these limits were meant to ensure good health and long life. Some people hate rules and can’t always see the benefits of the limitations.

Jesus has encountered some criticism and resistance to his teachings and healings (what else is new?) and so offers the response of today’s reading. To what does Jesus compare himself? To what does he compare the false teachers and leaders from before? What are the benefits (verse 9 and 10) to living within the confines of Christ?

Many non-believers criticize Christianity by claiming that it is a religion of restriction and criticism. What they misunderstand is that these erroneous attitudes are the wrong attitudes of some religious people, people who rob and steal the joy of life from others. They are not the true intent of God.

By his own words Jesus describes himself as the gate for the sheep. He is that entry point, that access, to a life that is filled with goodness and joy. Like a gate in a sheepfold, it is a passage from an unsafe place to a safe sanctuary.

By accepting Jesus as our Lord and Master, by living according to his teaching and by observing the commandments of God, we are brought from a life of emptiness and spiritual peril. We are brought into a new life, a life of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy.

And as we live within the confines of God’s laws, as we live within the walls and boundaries of life in Jesus – a life of faith and assurance, peace and kindness – we can enjoy the freedoms and goodness of that life. We can “come in and go out, and find pasture” – that is, we will have what we need.

The gift of salvation through Jesus and the gifts of life from God are not there to limit and restrict us. They are meant to give us freedom – freedom from fear and worry and sin and death. And with that freedom comes a fullness of life, an ability to celebrate our work time, our family time, our Sabbath time and our holidays, knowing we are a people forgiven and recipients of God’s goodness. Jesus has given us life, and life to the full, that we may celebrate the goodness of God in all we do.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Have you entered through the gate of our Savior? Is there someone you know who needs to be invited in as well?

Shamar the Holidays 3

Isaiah 58:13-14

Many years ago a co-worker taught me how to play the game of “Go” (Japanese for “Five”). It is a fairly simple game involving two players, one with white stones and one with black stones. The rules are few. And my friend pointed out that the rules are not intended to be restrictive, but are designed to make for a successful game. By following the rules you are more likely to do well.

In today’s passage the prophet Isaiah is delivering the word of God for the faithful believers about honoring the Sabbath. What cautions are presented in verse 13? What is the result?

In his ministry Jesus brought fullness to the lives of the people he touched. There were times when his acts of mercy and healing confounded those religious leaders who were strict legalists, especially when it came to observing the Sabbath. But in Mark 2:27 Jesus explains to his critics, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In this statement is a comment on how we are to shamar, or honor, or celebrate the Sabbath. The Sabbath was intended by God to be a time to abstain from labor and toil, not as a restrictive measure, but as an opportunity to spend time celebrating God’s goodness. The Sabbath was not intended to shackle people, but was meant as a gift.

Isaiah reminds the faithful that we are to observe the Sabbath, not to break it. It is not intended as a wild time of revelry, but as an intentional time of remembering God and His faithfulness. It is a time to enjoy the goodness that God has provided. And, I would venture, that it is a time to share the goodness of God with others – the reverse of “doing as you please or speaking idle words.”

When we can take our holidays and our Sabbath times and use them as a time to honor and remember God by enjoying the gifts we have been given, then our festivals, feasts, holidays and Sabbaths will be times of wonderful goodness and joy. There is no sin in celebrating our holidays, provided we acknowledge God, the giver of all good things, as we enjoy them. We should also use our holidays and Sabbath times as a time to share God’s love.

By observing God’s commands, by honoring our holidays and Sabbaths with the attitude of gratefully acknowledging God, then we will be obedient children of God. He will indeed fill our lives with goodness and gladness, and we can truly “feast on the inheritance” that comes from our heavenly Father.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share God’s love as you celebrate your holidays and Sabbath times?

Shamar the Holidays 2

Exodus 31:16-17

Many can still remember the days when stores and any other businesses were closed on Sundays. This was the Sabbath, the day of rest when commerce stopped, even if only for a day. But in our current society most Sundays are very similar to almost any other day of the week. We shop. We buy. We are busy.

But from early on God has given a command for a day of rest and celebration. What command is given in verse 16? What is the purpose?

We can claim that we should return to the old days when businesses closed on Sundays. We can claim that as a society we still should honor the Sabbath – in our case, Sunday – by abstaining from any type of labor. And there may be some truth in that, although technically the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week; in our case, Saturday.

Most would agree that the day of the week is not as important as the purpose of honoring the Sabbath. It is less important which day we rest. The point is that we should have at least one day a week where we stop our busy-ness and take some time to rest.

But we can still miss the point of it all. The Sabbath was not meant to simply be a day where we are prohibited from doing anything. In strict religious societies honoring the Sabbath means avoiding ANY work, including such small tasks as untying a cord or even breaking off toilet paper for use. With this attitude the Sabbath becomes less of a day of rest and honor to God and becomes more of day of restriction.

A key word in the passage is shamar – celebrate. We are to celebrate the Sabbath. Not only are we to take a break from the daily tasks of labor and business, but we are to use that time to honor God by spending time in communion with Him. We are also supposed to spend our time enjoying what God has given us, the abundance in our lives, the beauty of creation, the love of family and friends, the fellowship of others.

We are to take a Sabbath and protect that day as a day sacred to honoring God. We are to use that time to honor God by celebrating Him and all that He has given us.

The point is not to become a prisoner to rules and restrictions. The point is to be part of a celebration of God’s greatness, and to take pleasure in His great love and mercy. We should be certain we set aside a day a week to give God honor and to celebrate Him. We can do the same by observing our holidays, or festivals, and using that time to enjoy being a child of God, recipients of His goodness.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you honor God with your Sabbath time and your holidays?

Shamar the Holidays 1

Exodus 23:14-16

Although it may seem impossible, the Christmas holidays are quickly approaching. And with their approach can come the anxiety, confusion and frustration of these exhausting holidays. We can be anxious about all the work involved in getting ready. We can be confused about whether or not we are truly honoring God in our celebration. And we can feel frustrated by all the work that seems to rob us of the joy we should be feeling.

In this passage from Exodus we see God giving the command to celebrate festivals, or holidays. What are the three feasts? Who is to be honored at the festivals?

The Hebrew word used in this passage is shamar, which has several meanings. It means “celebrate,” as it is used here, but it can also mean “protect.” The third meaning is “observe,” as in “honor” or “keep the commandments.”

Blending these three meanings together we can see God’s attitude toward the feasts that He has decreed. He wants us to observe the festivals – that is, God wants to be certain we take time to be part of the festival. We are also to protect them. We are not to let them be ignored. And finally, we are to celebrate these festivals.

A common misconception of the Jewish faith is that all Jews are legalistic and strict. We often have the impression that the Jewish faith is nothing but a series of rules just waiting to be broken so we can be punished or feel guilty.

The same is true of Christianity. So many people believe that being a Christian means obeying strict laws that prohibit happiness or joy or laughter. There are those who think that Thanksgiving and Christmas have been so commercialized that real Christians should ignore them.

But neither view is accurate. God has decreed that holidays (feasts or festivals) should take place. He has decreed that we should observe these holidays, protect them by continuing to hold their observance; and He has decreed that we should celebrate. Shamar!

God has certain laws and decrees for life; that is true. But overall, God is love and God has created all things so that we might celebrate His love and mercy. He wants us to celebrate Him – shamar the Lord! – in our holidays.

As we enter into this holiday season, let us allow our fears and troubles to fall away. Let us truly celebrate God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How might you “protect” the Christmas holiday this year?

Faithful in Prayer 5

2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

One of the most memorable moments from my Emmaus Walk experience was when the leaders presented a list of names of people who were praying for all of us involved in the weekend. Prayers were being offered 24 hours a day from all sorts of people, most of whom we did not know. Seeing so many names and realizing that other people were lifting me in prayer had an impact.

There have been other times when a prayer offered on my behalf has meant so very much. To know that others are willing to take a moment of effort to address God for my benefit is truly moving.

In this second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul is asking for prayer. Why does he want prayer? What encouragement is offered in verse 3?

Paul’s request may at first seem selfish. He wants prayer for himself and his ministry team – Silas and Timothy. But what at first may seem selfish is actually very sound.

Paul realizes that he needs the prayers of others so that ministry might move forward. And he is not being selfish, he is being bold in his requests.

I think this brief passage addresses two key issues that we so often overlook. The first is the fact that we need to keep ministry and the faith of ourselves and others as part of our regular prayer life. So often prayer becomes a laundry list of desires and needs, a “wish list” for the believers. We go to God and ask for healing or better jobs or peace of mind.

While there is nothing wrong with presenting your needs to God, we also need to go to God and ask for stronger faith. We need to go to God and ask for others we know to be given faith. We need to go to God and ask for success in ministries – our own and the ministries of our church or other individuals we know. Our prayer requests need to expand beyond ourselves and encompass the work and the faith of others.

The second key issue often neglected is the fact that the Lord is faithful. We can come to God in desperation. We can cry out to God, and so often we wonder if He hears what we are asking for. Yes, God hears us. God is faithful. God wants to respond to our prayers.

What we must trust in is that God is faithful AND God knows better than we do what we need. God’s response to our prayers is the perfect answer. It may be different than what we seek, but we must trust that it better than what we hoped for.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What ministry needs your prayer?

Faithful in Prayer 4

Luke 11:5-8

I remember when I was young being shocked the day my mother called friends and invited our family over to their house.

“Can you do that?” I asked.

“Of course,” my mother said. “They are our friends.”

As time has passed I have seen the truth in that statement. You can be completely honest with friends. You can ask help from friends without inconveniencing them, and you will be welcomed even when you are the one inviting yourself.

In this passage Jesus has begun a lesson on prayer, presenting an outline to prayer that we now know as The Lord’s Prayer. What is the example Jesus gives here? How does the friend at home react to his neighbor? What is the lesson?

We have all experienced the person who nags and pesters and persists in a matter. And most of us have been like the friend who was already in bed – you may not want to do it out of goodness, but you will respond just to get some peace.

This little parable is an example to us on how we should approach God with our prayers. The emphasis from Jesus (in verse 8) is that if we are persistent and bold we will likely get a response from God. Christ’s teaching is that we are supposed to be bold in our approach. This is something I have urged in the past – don’t be afraid to go to God with big requests.

When we pray for other people be willing to ask for a great deal – peace of mind, a new attitude, a change of heart. If someone is sick don’t be afraid to ask for the miracles – ask for complete healing, total restoration. Jesus himself encourages us to be bold.

But what strikes me as well is that the neighbor in need did not go to a stranger. He went to a friend to get his help. It may have been his boldness or his persistence that got the friend to respond, but it was the friendship which paved the way for the request to begin with.

So it is with God. We are urged to be bold in our prayers to God, but I think we also need to remember that when we are approaching the Lord in prayer we are approaching a friend. We give God lofty titles – Mighty God, Lord, Almighty, Jehovah, King. These words might intimidate us and make us shrink away from asking too much.

God is indeed all of those things that we ascribe to Him, but He is also a friend who waits for us to be bold enough to ask.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your attitude in prayer?

Faithful in Prayer 3

Ephesians 6:14-18

Our teen children are involved in various activities, and so, as their parents, we are familiar with all the necessary equipment each activity requires. Girl scouts calls for a special uniform – a vest and a sash. Track and field, and cross country both need special shorts, jerseys and unique shoes. Marching band requires a uniform, a hat and an instrument. Each separate outfit is specially designed to help with the particular activity.

As Christians we are called to ready ourselves with unique equipment. What equipment should we have on? Once we are equipped, what are we to do?

This letter to the church in Ephesus creates a beautiful image of how Christians should ready themselves for the tumult and troubles of life. We are to surround ourselves with the truth that comes from God. We are to guard ourselves with the righteousness that comes from obeying God’s laws, and we are to arm ourselves with the power of the word of God.

Immersing ourselves in our faith gives us the strength and ability to deal with the sorrows and uncertainties of society. But we are to do more than simply insulate ourselves with protective gear. We are again reminded to be spiritually prepared and clear minded with the simple command to “be alert.” Then we need to act.

Now that we are prepared, now that we have equipped ourselves, we are given instruction to pray. We are to connect ourselves to the Almighty in the intimate and sincere communication of prayer.

And when do we do this? We are to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions.” Prayer is not an activity exclusive to Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) worship. It is not restricted to hospital rooms or dinner tables. We should be praying in all situations and in all locations.

We are further instructed to pray for all the saints, offering up requests and petitions to God not just for ourselves but for others as well. Faithfulness in prayer calls for us to be mindful of others, to truly express concerns for the well-being and situations of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But I believe it should also include those who are not “in Christ,” those who need to have a relationship with the Lord. Let your prayers be for all people in all situations. Equip yourself with the power of God and serve Him in prayer.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you equip yourself for prayer?

Faithful in Prayer 2

1 Peter 4:7

I was so excited the day I heard medical researchers explain that taking a brief nap in the afternoon can be a very good thing. It helps to refresh us, to renew us and re-invigorate us. There are many times when I need to stop and close my eyes for even 15 minutes, just to clear my thoughts so I can approach my sermon or a 10/2 Grow with a sharper mind.

Removing yourself from the hassles and hurry of life is not always a bad thing. It is not always an indication of laziness. There are times when we must deliberately find the time and space and emotional solitude where we can pray.

What is Peter’s warning? What does he encourage?

This is what we are called to do. Our time is brief. Our faith should be urgent. We should take the time to clear away the clutter of our emotions and fears, and with that new focus come to God in earnest conversation – prayer – about ourselves, our world, and all the others who need our spiritual encouragement. Prayer should not always be rushed and superficial, but needs to be a deep connection. And that connection often requires preparation on our part.

We may need to take a spiritual nap of sorts from time to time. But, instead of having our souls go to sleep, we just need them to rest a moment. We may need to have a time when our souls and our faith are taken away from the stress and worry and work of being faithful believers in a fallen world.

When we pray we can allow our souls to renew themselves, pulling away from the troubles of life and spending a moment in silent meditation and reflection. Then, with our spiritual strength renewed, we can go to God in prayer, taking time to make that holy connection with the Almighty.

We can enter into that intimate conversation with God being clear-minded, having the turmoil of life set aside even if only briefly, so that we might speak clearly with God. Setting aside deliberate time for prayer and approaching it with clear intentions, guarding ourselves from the distractions of life, is a way of being clear minded and self-controlled.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you step back to improve your prayers, approaching them with a clear mind and with more self-control?

Faithful in Prayer 1

James 5:16

This weekend in church we sang "Untitled Hymn" by Chris Rice. (play the video above or visit to view it!) One of the lines in that song that always strikes me is to remember when we walk, sometimes we fall.

Today's reading references this idea. The Greek word used for sins here means to stumble or fall down. So when we stumble in our walk, we are to confess that openly to our Christian brothers and sisters.

But there's a big AND in there as well that is sometimes forgotten by folks who like to condemn others. We are all to confess AND all to pray for one another. It's not only to pray for those we like or a few who are sick. We should always be in prayer for one another, lifting up, encouraging and helping one another. In this way, we will be healed.

Think about how you feel when you KNOW someone is there to catch you if you fall. How it feels to have someone you can depend on no matter what. Someone who "has your back" as they say. That's a wonderful feeling. It makes us stronger. It makes us want to take risks. That's how our Christian family should be. We should know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that people are praying for us and supporting us.

We should also KNOW one another's strengths and weaknesses. We need to know when our brothers and sisters stumble and fall down. Not so we can look down on them, but so that we can pick them up.

Prayer is powerful, folks. We see that over and over both in the Bible and our own lives. Prayer works miracles. Sometimes they are physical miracles like sensation returning to a numb limb. Sometimes they are emotional miracles that allow us to get through a year where we lose so many loved ones it's staggering.

But we lose sight sometimes of how powerful prayer can be and how important it is to pray for one another all the time. Let's be that kind of family in Christ. Let's pray for one another all week and see what happens.

DAILY CHALLENGE: PRAY for everyone in your church family today. Pray for anyone who sat in your pew this week at church. (and if you weren't there... pray for the folks who usually sit in your pew!) Pray personally for each one of them today, asking God to show you how you can help lift them up if they stumble.

Patient in Affliction 5

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6

Often when I am awakened by the alarm clock or startled out of sleep by a noise I am very confused. Because I have been in a deep sleep I wake up disoriented, not certain where I am our what day it is. It takes a moment to get my bearings. I stop the noise and take time to begin thinking clearly before I move on.

On a spiritual level it is easy to be disoriented in life, especially in times of hardship and troubles. We can feel doubt and confusion as to what is going on and what the solutions may be.

I think often of the many devotional guides that are put out to help in matters of faith. One of the beginning exercises in many of these publications is called “Centering Moments.” It is a directed time to get your spiritual bearings, to clear your heart and soul of distractions and confusion, and center – or focus – on God.

How are the faithful described in verse 4? What is said in verse 5 of those who believe? What direction is given?

We know that troubles are not taken away from us just because we believe in God and have faith in Jesus Christ. Even the most dedicated believer will be confronted with problems and challenges, heartache, sorrows, and pain. But as this letter to the church in Thessalonica sates, we should not be surprised by this.

Our faith in God should allow us to face the problems of life without being disoriented or confused. Our faith should be strong enough that troubled times – affliction – should not shake our confidence. As children of light – that is, people who belong to God – we should be alert to any situation that may confront us. We should be spiritually alert, braced for the problems with the strength that comes in our faith in God.

No matter what problems or worries may strike us we should be able to be patient in our afflictions, trusting that we are not alone in our plight, but that we are in the company of our Lord and Savior. The firm foundation of our confidence in God should enable us to withstand the troubles of life and keep us centered on the power, love and mercy of our heavenly Father.

Our faith in God, our acceptance of Christ as Savior, our Christian values and beliefs are not just solutions to problems. They are also strengths we build up so that we are ready to face the problems of life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there a prayer or Bible verse that you can use to create a centering moment for you at the start of each day?

Patient in Affliction 4

Daniel 3:16-25

Jesus warned the disciples, and us, that in this life we will face troubles. There is no avoiding all the problems that can come our way. What is important, however, is that we are prepared to face the perils and sorrows of life.

Today’s passage is from the story of three companions to Daniel – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar has commanded that at a musical signal everyone is to fall down and worship his image, but these three men hold firm to their Jewish heritage and refuse to worship the king (Daniel 3:1-15).

What confidence do the three men have? What was their punishment? How do we know the furnace is truly hot? What does the king witness?

There was no getting out of the punishment that the king had ordered for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But they were ready to face their punishment because they trusted in God’s power. If you continue with the story you will see that nothing happens to these three men. Not only are they not burned, their clothes do not burn and they even have no odor of smoke or fire about them (see Daniel 3:26-27).

In this story we can see that it is not the troubles we face that is important but how we face the troubles. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were slaves in a foreign land and had fallen out of favor with the king. Their situation seemed hopeless, but they did not waiver in their faith.

Instead they were patient in their affliction, calmly enduring all the punishment and anger the king could dish out. The result was a very concrete example of how God is with the faithful even in times of trouble.

We may not be as fortunate as these three. Yes, they were fortunate, because God showed them quite clearly that He was with them in their troubles. There could be no doubt that no matter what they were going through they were not alone.

As we face the uncertainty and troubles of our current situation, or any situation, we must hold firm to our faith in God. We may not be blessed enough to see a tangible figure standing beside us, but we should know in our hearts that we are not alone. God is with us to give us protection and strength. He can see us through the bleakest of times.

And with that faith we should be given the ability to be patient in our afflictions. In time we will be carried through the fires of our trials and challenges, brought unscathed to the other side. And through it all we are not alone.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remind yourself of God’s presence in desperate times?

Patient in Affliction 3

Luke 12:35-37

No matter how tired I am I can not rest unless I am prepared for what needs to be done. I can not relax on Saturday night unless I am sure that I have all that I will need for Sunday’s service. Weeknights are the same; I can’t rest until I at least have a list of what must get done the next day. Knowing that I have gathered all that I need or have prepared myself and gotten organized to the best of my abilities helps avoid anxiety.

We can avoid fear by being spiritually prepared. In this passage from Luke Jesus is giving an example of how we are to be watchful for the Lord. What are the instructions? To whom is Christ compared in verse 36? What twist is presented in verse 37?

The image of Jesus as the bridegroom is common in the Gospels. It presents a picture of a loving relationship. It also creates a comparison that most of Jesus’ listeners were familiar with. Those attending the groom had to wait patiently for him. They had to be ready so that whenever the groom appeared they could serve him. To be unprepared meant to risk the success of the wedding.

So it is with our faith. We need to establish that relationship with God now. We need to work on perfecting ourselves in Christ now. We are not supposed to wander blindly through life turning to God only when things get desperate. Nor can we abandon our faith when things get tough.

We need to be patient with our faith. One way to be patient, to avoid fear and worry, is to know that our faith is strong. We should be spiritually dressed and ready for service to God. Is your heart in a place where you are prepared to help God’s kingdom even when society seems to be in turmoil?

We need to keep our spiritual lamps burning. We should be a beacon of light and hope to others who do not have the depth of faith we have. Is your spiritual light of hope and love shining in these dark times?

How can we dress our souls for service? How can we keep our own lights burning? We do so by applying ourselves to our faith – by examining the word of God, by searching for understanding in the teachings of Jesus, and by holding firmly to our faith. We also need to be persistent and diligent in our prayer life.

We also dress for service by watching for need in others. We should be observant to the troubles others may be going through and be prepared – physically, emotionally and spiritually – to step in with help and encouragement. We can also be an example of strength and confidence, exhibiting that faith in God which keeps us joyful in hope and patient in affliction. When we do that we shine our lights for others to see.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do now to keep your spiritual lamp burning?

Patient in Affliction 2

Philippians 4:4-7

One of my goals in life recently has been to become more calm and level-headed in all situations. I am trying not to let small things annoy me or excite me. I have always admired those individuals who can go through life seemingly without fear or anxiety, taking whatever life throws at them in stride. It is what we are called to do. It is an example of being patient in affliction.

In this letter to the church at Philippi what is encouraged in verse 4? What is encouraged in verse 5? Why? Instead of anxiety, what is encouraged? What is the result?

The first verse of today’s reading fits with the concept of being joyful in hope. We are to rejoice in the Lord at all times. We are to know that God is Lord of all, and with that confidence we should be able to celebrate all that we are experiencing.

But we are also encouraged to be patient in our afflictions. We are to remain steady in troubled times. Knowing that the Lord is near should give us such a firm faith that we can be gentle in all that we do, not desperate and anxious.

We are not called to sleep-walk through life oblivious to what is going on. We are not expected to be unaffected by the loss of a loved one. But we should be able to overcome the worries and stress of uncertainty, and we should be able to cling to hope in our sorrows.

If we are truly Christians, if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that the Lord is our God, then we should be able to exhibit that faith in how we live our lives. There is no need to be worried about our economy or our government. There is no need to be worried about eternity and our own mortality.

Being a Christian means having a firm faith in the teachings of Christ and the promises of God. With that firm faith should come the confidence that allows us to be patient with what is going on. We can patiently wait for things to get better. We can patiently wait for God to work through new leadership. And we can patiently wait for the eternal reward Christ has assured us.

By patiently trusting that God is in control, no matter how uncertain life can be, we can find the peace of God which will guard our hearts and minds.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to relieve anxiety?

Patient in Affliction

Hebrews 6:10-12

In today's world, it is nearly unheard of to pay employees cash at the end of the day for the work they have done. In fact, most new employees have to wait an extra week or so to get into the paycheck rhythm of the company. But, while we wait for our pay we are expected to continue to do our work and do it to the best of our abilities.

A similar attitude is referred to in this passage from Hebrews. How is God described? What is encouraged or desired? What does the author want to avoid?

How is God described? What is encouraged or desired? What does the author want to avoid?

Last week we examined the passage from Romans 12 where Paul encouraged the believers to be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” We have seen that knowing our salvation is sure through Jesus Christ should bring us hope. We have seen that knowing we are not alone in our difficulties should bring us hope. And we have seen that having all this hope should bring us joy.

Now we must learn to be patient in our affliction. Many financial experts have commented on the current trouble in the world marketplace. One comment that has frequently been voiced is that it will take time for the economy to recover. Those who have investments in stock will do well to be patient, allowing time to pass and their stock values to increase.

The same attitude is required in our faith. As we face hardships and challenges in life, we need to be patient in our difficult times. Rarely do our problems resolve themselves overnight. The struggles and hardships we encounter do not mean that God does not love us nor that God is not there.

We need to be diligent in our faith. We need to continue to apply ourselves spiritually to our pursuit of God and the perfecting of our souls. This usually takes time.

We should be patient, not only in the times of affliction we must endure – the struggles, the pain and the loss – but also in our spiritual growth, and in the relationship we have with the Almighty.

The author of Hebrews warns against becoming lazy. True faith and belief in Christ requires a patience and an endurance, holding firm to what we know as true without allowing ourselves to weaken or abandon our hopes.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you remain patient in difficult times?

Joyful in Hope 5

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

I remember quite clearly when my father died more than 25 years ago. Our family, especially my mother, fell into incredible despair at his sudden passing. Those were dark days, a time when we felt abandoned and alone. We grieved for some time.

But eventually time moved on and we were able to go about life as best we could. In time I became aware that there was indeed a hope that we could all share. Although gone from this mortal life, my father had passed into an immortal life with Christ.

This passage from the first letter to the church at Thessalonica offers hope to those who may grieve or despair. What is the purpose of this writing? What do we as Christians believe?

I find it interesting that the comment is made that this proclamation of faith is intended to dispel any ignorance. Those who do not know Jesus are ignorant of the hope that we can all have.

The comment is made that we should not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” It does not say that we should not grieve. Grief, sorrow, sadness, times of depression are part of life and when we suffer a loss or are in distress we are going to experience this pain and sadness.

But our grief should not be a hopeless grief. Our grief should be a temporary state from which we rise with a hope. That hope is in the knowledge that Jesus died and rose again. And it follows, then, that if Jesus died and rose again, all who believe in him will also rise again, rise into an eternal life with God.

And that hope applies to all our worries and distress. We may need to spend some time being concerned over what is happening around us. We can feel discouraged by the financial turmoil of our society. We may be distressed over the attitudes and behaviors of people we see. We may even be experiencing the sorrows of losing a loved one.

But we must remember this feeling can be overcome. Our distress and troubles are overcome by the mercy and love of God. And that should present us with hope.

Having such hope should turn our sorrows and our worries into joy. It may be difficult to achieve, but we should be joyful because our hope is based on the firm, unshakable truth that we are loved by God and we are beneficiaries of Christ’s great mercy and sacrifice.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How might you still have hope even as you grieve?

Joyful in Hope 4

John 11:25-26

The television show “The Soup” once featured a clip from a children’s program. In the program they were talking about eating dried apple chips as a healthy snack. Then one of the children said, “Dried apples? What are they?”

How do you answer a question with such an obvious answer?

I feel the same way about people who aren’t sure who Jesus is. “Jesus? Who is he?”

This passage is part of the story of Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus has died and his sisters are grieving their loss. Who is Jesus? What promise is offered to those who believe in Jesus? What is the question Jesus asks?

The story of Lazarus is important. It is important because in it Jesus clearly demonstrates his power to raise the dead into an everlasting life. But it is also significant because the story shows that not every challenge or hurtful thing can be avoided. Lazarus died. There was no stopping it. The family had to go through the pain and sorrow of a loss.

But Jesus was there in the end to raise him back up. Jesus was also there to grieve with the sisters, to share in their sadness and sorrows.

There are so many who do not know who Jesus Christ is and was. There are even those who are familiar with Jesus, those who are part of the church, who do not realize precisely who Jesus is. And yet, Jesus himself is very clear on who he is.

Jesus is the one who can give us eternal life, life that goes on forever, even after our mortal bodies have ceased. If we truly believe in Christ as the Son of God then it doesn’t matter what happens to us. We will receive eternal life through the Savior.

This fact is what we must hold to. This belief is what we must stand firm in. And this belief can give us the joy of hope even in difficult times. We have the hope of Christ’s promise of eternity, but we also have the hope of Christ’s presence with us as we go through the challenges of life.

And it is this hope that will give us joy. The question Jesus asked Martha is asked of us. “Do you believe this?”

DAILY CHALLENGE: How would you describe who Jesus is?

Joyful in Hope 3

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17

An early memory of mine is from a day in grade school where the whole class was working on a sheet of math problems. One after another students asked the teacher about fractions in the answers. I had completed most of my paper and didn’t have a single fraction in my answers, so I began to worry. I reviewed all my answers and pressed on, completing the assignment. Still no fractions.

After a second review, convinced I was correct, I told the teacher that I had not come up with any fractions in my answers. “None of the answers are supposed to have fractions,” she said.

Fortunately for me I was convinced I was right and held on to what I believed. That same attitude needs to be applied to our faith.

In this letter to the Thessalonians what encouragement is offered in verse 15? What is offered in verse 17?

It can be very disheartening to watch the news reports on television or to open the daily paper. Story after story tells of the problems with our current economy, failing lending institutions and falling stock values. It is easy to get caught up in the despair that many people feel.

If we are going to maintain a positive outlook on life and continue believing that God is watching over us and can provide for our needs, then we are likely to go against popular belief. It can be difficult to keep the faith when so many problems surround us.

It is unlikely that our economy is going to rebound over night. The return to financial and economic stability will, no doubt, require time and work. And it is very possible that we will never return to exactly where we were. The economic landscape may become something completely different.

But this time of uncertainty is no time to abandon our faith or belief in God and His mercy. Rather, this is the time for us to renew our strength in our faith and to draw even nearer to God. Just as the church in Thessalonica was urged to stand firm, so we should take courage and stand firm in the shifting tides of our times.

We can take courage that the blessing for Thessalonica can also apply to us. Jesus Christ and God, the Father, can give us eternal encouragement and good hope. With the blessings and grace of God even in uncertain times, we can continue in good deeds and good words.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you stand firm in your faith?

Joyful in Hope 2

Isaiah 60:19-20

A common comfort that many people have and many others offer when there is a death is that the loved one we have lost is now in a better place. As Christians we believe that. In fact, we know it to be true and can indeed find comfort in knowing that the one we have lost is in a better place.

This passage from Isaiah is an image of that “better place.” What surprising image is first presented in verse 19? From whom will we receive light? What comfort is offered in verse 20?

We can all have a vision of what the eternal will hold for us. We can all have a hope for an end to suffering and conflict. The idea of God as our everlasting light and of heaven as a place without sorrow can bring great comfort.

But I would like to suggest two things. The hope of God’s eternal peace should not be thought of only in times of death. As we face the fears and uncertainties of today’s society, the marketplace, the government, our changing culture and shifting value systems, we can take comfort in knowing that God is an everlasting God who has a place of peace for us all. In that knowledge, in that confidence, we should be able to find hope in a world that seems to offer little hope. In these uncertain times we can find joy in the hope of an unchanging God.

The second observation would be that I believe the peace and comfort promised in this passage is not just waiting for us at the end of days. I believe that when we trust in our Lord, when we believe in Christ and obey the teachings of Jesus, we are spared much of the worries and turmoil of life. By having strong faith in God we can make the Lord our everlasting light in the here and now. By trusting in the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father we can see the glory of the Lord in our lifetime. By living in the sheltering arms of God our days of sorrow will end.

In all of this we should place our hope. And the confidence of knowing that our hopes will be realized should bring us joy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to make God your everlasting light now?