Receive 5

John 13:34-35

We have three Christmas trees in the main section of our house. One is in the entryway, one is in the living room and one is in the dining room. All are near windows so that they may be seen from outside.

Why do we do this? Why do we decorate our homes with lights and trees and evergreen swags? We do it so that we can share the wonderful season of Christmas with others.

The trees are beautiful and it is very pleasant to sit in the evening and look at all the decorations and the soft lights. But our celebration of Christmas is not something only for ourselves. The excitement and love of the holiday is meant to be shared with everyone.

Today’s passage is from a later chapter in John, but I believe it is as much a part of the story of Christmas as any other. What does Jesus command? What will that show?

Christmas can be a wonderful time of gathering as family or with friends, surrounding ourselves with all the joys and pleasures of the holiday. It can be a very personal experience, a time of family love and warmth.

But the gift of Christmas, although meant to be a personal and intimate gift, is also a gift which needs to be shared. We receive the love of God at Christmas. We are reminded of how deep and powerful God’s compassion for us truly is.

Now we must spread that gift to others. We must show the love and compassion of God to the entire world, sharing Christ with everyone.

Let the love and joy of Christmas be yours, but let it also be shown to the world, shining as bright and pure as the candles and lights of the season.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you shine God’s light of love this year?

This is our final devotion for 2009. We will resume on January 4, 2010. Our family would like to wish all of you a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year. May the love and peace of God be with you always. – Roger and Peggy

Receive 4

John 1:14

At our previous church they told the story on several occasions about a man who was home one evening when birds began flying into the reflection of the sky on his plate glass window. Bird after bird flew into the glass and smacked against the hard surface. The man tried to shoo the birds away, to warn them, but they kept flying into the window.

Desperate to help the birds and tired from waving his arms, the man finally thought that if he could become a bird he would warn the others about the window. And it was in thinking this that he saw the meaning of the birth of Jesus.

Jesus was a gift from God to all of humanity, a gift of God in flesh. Jesus became one of us. He became a person so that we might be able to understand who God really is. Christ became a person so that he might have an intimate and personal relationship with each of us.

It was through the birth, life and death of Jesus that we get to know who God is. We can see His mercy and His love through the teaching and action of Jesus. Through the example of Jesus we are shown the glory of God, the Father. Through God, the Son, we can know better our heavenly Father.

That is the purpose and point of Christmas – God giving Himself to us so that we might know God better and more closely. The point of Jesus is that we see more clearly who our God is.

Knowing this should bring us joy. Knowing that God loves us so much that He wanted to live among us should fill our hearts with a warm elation, not just over the holidays, but every day of our lives.

Receive the gift of Christ. Let the joy of God’s precious gift, the example of His glory, grace and truth fill your heart this Christmas.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can Christmas become more personal to you this year?

Receive 3

John 1:12-13

There are many people in our society today who are members of various clubs – Elks, Eagles, Moose, VFW, and so on. When I was younger I joined a gun club and was able to go to the range and shoot at targets whenever I wanted. To be a member of these clubs there are certain requirements, but mostly you must pay the required fee to join.

As John continues talking about Jesus he addresses our relationship to him. What must we do to be children of God? What kind of child is that?

While being a Christian and believing in God and in Jesus Christ are by no means a form of club, true believers do become part of a special group. If, as John points out, we receive him and believe in his name we are children of God. There are no dues or special tasks involved. We simply must receive – accept the birth, life and death of Jesus – and believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

And what type of person is a child of God? A child of God is not someone born to certain parents or part of a certain heritage. Children of God are those who accept Christ and his birth and death. Then we are born of God, no matter what type of person we were or who we descended from.

The description of a child of God also fits Jesus. He was born, not of natural descent. His birth was not due to the decision or will of a human. Jesus was born of God. It took no money or anything else of man to create Christ. He came from God and was freely given.

This free gift is the most precious of all gifts. This gift that no man had any part in was the greatest gift to all humanity. And what are we to do?

We are to receive the gift. We are to accept the gift. We are to welcome this wonderful present from God and believe in Jesus so that we are made children of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you express your joy at receiving the gift of Jesus?

Receive 2

John 1:4-5

It is one of those fascinating facts of physics that no matter how dark a room may be, even a large room like the Sanctuary of a church, the light of a single candle can be seen from anywhere in the room. No matter how dark it gets the candle still offers light. In fact, the darker it is the brighter the candle will seem.

John has a few things to say about Jesus at the beginning of his book. What was the life that is in Jesus? What is the relationship with light and dark?

The most familiar translation of this passage uses the word “overcome” rather than “understood.” But both terms apply.

Jesus brought light into a dark world. He brought the light of wisdom and grace and mercy and love. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of hope for a people who had never known salvation before. Jesus was that small flame of love in the darkness of the world.

And that light shines brightly no matter how dark the world or our lives may seem. In fact, the darker things get in our life with troubles and stress and worry, the brighter the help of Christ may feel to us.

There is nothing the darkness – the evil and troubles of the world – can do to block out the light that Christ brings. Whether it is the light of love shining in the darkness of hate, or the light of wisdom shining in the darkness of ignorance, there is nothing the darkness can do to stop the light.

And the darkness of hate cannot overcome the light. And the darkness of ignorance and selfishness cannot understand the light that Jesus brings.

We are invited to be part of this great and wonderful light of love and comfort that Jesus brings. We are invited to help shine the light of God in the darkness of the world.

Let the light of Christ into your life this holiday and receive God’s love with great joy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you shine the light of hope and mercy and love this holiday season?

Receive 1

Matthew 18:3

I don’t need anything for Christmas. I am a man in my fifties with a wife, children, two cars and a nice house. Whatever I really need I usually go out and buy over the course of the year. Yet, on Christmas morning it is always fun to be able to open a gift. There is something exciting and joyful about receiving some object, some present that was meant just for you.

Some people might claim that it is immature of a person to get excited about getting gifts, but I believe God wants us to have child-like joy in the celebration of our holidays. What lesson does Jesus teach in today’s reading?

What exactly does Jesus mean by becoming like little children? Most interpretations are that he meant we need to regain that childhood innocence we once had. We need to look at life with a trusting heart, open and honest and uncontaminated by the evils of the world.

But I think he also means we need to celebrate life the way children celebrate. Is there anyone more joyous on Christmas morning than a child, jumping and screaming with excitement?

Do we celebrate Christmas with that much enthusiasm? Probably not. We might sit in a comfortable chair with a hot chocolate or coffee and watch the festivities of the day unfold while we look on, a slight smile on our face. We seldom hop up and down with sheer joy.

But perhaps we should. Perhaps we need to truly comprehend what Christmas is all about. We must realize what an amazing gift has been given to each of us, and perhaps that truth should make us dance with child-like glee, even if we are in our fifties or sixties or seventies.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you celebrate God’s gift of Christmas?

Give 5

Matthew 25:35-36

Several years ago I received a call from an elderly woman who was struggling with her health, as was her husband. In addition to their health issues the couple was financially strapped, living in a small apartment with very few belongings. For Christmas she wanted only to be able to provide a nice holiday meal for her husband and family.

When the request was made known the church responded with an abundance of food and cookware. I was the one who was fortunate enough to deliver the donations. I was the one blessed to see the grateful expressions and the excitement the woman felt.

In this holiday season as we celebrate the story of Christ’s birth, we take a moment to look at one of the lessons Jesus taught. He told of his return and how he would reward those who followed his teaching. What needs are listed? What responses are given?

The generosity presented in this lesson from Jesus does not involve an abundance of money spent. Food, drink, fellowship, and compassion are the gifts we can give to those in need.

At Christmas we can get very caught up in the exchange of presents. We can be consumed with the amount and value of the many gifts. While it is important to spend time together as a family and to share times of love and togetherness, we must never forget that our giving should also extend beyond our own families.

As we go through this season of celebration, of sharing love and generosity, let us remember to share God’s love and compassion with those less fortunate than ourselves. As we consider what gifts we may want to buy for our loved ones, we should also set aside money and time to give gifts to the needy.

By sharing your abundance with those less fortunate you will be living out the true gift and spirit of Christmas, an attitude of selfless giving and compassion.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there someone in your community who needs your time and a small bit of sacrifice on your part?

Give 4

John 1:1-3

There are times when I must remind our children that doing chores and helping out around the house are simply part of the expectations of being in the family. Being helpful is not a one-time opportunity that is rewarded and then abandoned. Now and then one of the children will ask what they will get if they do this job or that. I tell them they get to live in our house another month.

While Christmas is a celebration of exchanging gifts, giving and receiving presents, and while the day is a reminder of the greatest gift of all, that of our Savior Jesus, we are also reminded of other gifts from God. Where did the “Word” begin? What did the “Word” take part in?

The Greek term for “Word” is Logos. It represents the consciousness and will of God. Logos is intended to be Jesus; therefore, the “Word” is Jesus.

In this holiday season as we hear the story over and over about Mary and Joseph and the little baby born in Bethlehem, we can overlook the fact that the baby we are talking about did not originate in that small town. The baby that came as a gift to humanity was God, eternal and beyond all time.

With the birth of the human, Jesus, God Himself came to earth to live among mortals. God Himself appeared in flesh in the form of Jesus. And while this is the greatest gift of all time, the gift of extreme love and mercy and forgiveness, we cannot overlook the fact that all of creation is a gift from God.

Through Jesus and the power of God all things have been made. God created heaven and earth. God created each one of us. And all of this creation is a gift from God, an expression of love and compassion, a love that has existed before we were born.

Christmas should not be a time when we give presents and then we are done with the task. The giving spirit, the willingness to share, the desire to give good things to others should be something that is in our hearts at all times. The “spirit” of Christmas, the spirit of giving, should be with us always.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you keep the Christmas spirit as part of what you do every day of the year?

Give 3

Isaiah 9:6-7

Last year we gave our daughter a Nintendo DS. It is a hand-held game device, something she can carry with her almost everywhere and play games. At first it may appear to be one of those devices which foster being isolated and alone. She can be entertained all by herself.

But one interesting part of the game device is that most of the games can be shared with others who also have a Nintendo DS. If someone else has a device and the same game the game can be shared. One of the games she was given is also a game that others can play when our daughter isn’t using the DS.

Because of that Peggy and our son have been involved in the game, and their involvement has fostered times of sharing and talking.

From this small game device that seems like an isolated object, sharing and fun has spread and spread and spread over time.

The prophet Isaiah had predicted the coming of the Messiah, presenting a message of hope and anticipation to the faithful. What gift was expected? What are the titles given to Jesus? What was expected of Jesus?

The baby prophesied in Isaiah was not a person who would appear briefly and then be lost over time. This Messiah who was anticipated would become a great and powerful influence. The baby born in Bethlehem would grow to be the Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace for all who believe. He was the Mighty God who would become a very part of who we are.

The gift of Jesus was an everlasting gift, not something temporary. The gift of a Savior would impact all of life and all who believed from that time on into eternity.

The gift we celebrate at Christmas is not a gift just for one day or one year or even one lifetime. The gift of Christ is a gift for all time. And the gift of God’s love is not a gift we selfishly cling to. It is a gift of love and peace that has no end, a gift to be shared with all.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to be part of the increase of Christ’s government and peace?

Give 2

Matthew 1:22-23

Some of the best gifts we have given our children in the past and still today are those gifts we call “family gifts.” These are presents that are not to a specific individual, but are meant to be shared by all of us. Gifts such as games and decorations are meant to involve all of us, requiring that we enjoy them together. The present that is given is more than just the item, it is also the gift of shared time together.

Continuing in Matthew we see an explanation of what the angel was telling Joseph about the baby who would be born. Why would this birth take place? What was the prophecy? What does “Immanuel” mean?

It is difficult for me to get through the Christmas season without tears in my eyes every time I read Matthew 1:23. God with us. The gift of Jesus is the gift of God being present with us, and not just 2,000 years ago and not just in Israel.

The gift of Jesus is the gift of God’s presence with each one of us every day no matter where we are or what we are doing. What an incredible and personal gift that is.

It seems so often that presents exchanged at the holidays are an attempt to satisfy the recipient, to make them happy if only for a brief time, and then send them on their way. But the gift that started the whole Christmas tradition, the whole Christmas celebration, was a gift that lasted forever. It was a gift of presence that cannot be taken away.

As we give presents this year we need to remember to also give our presence. Give of yourself, give of your time, give your attention. Don’t let the rush and chaos of the celebration steal the love that is meant to be shared.

Let every present you give be accompanied with the gift of your attention and honest feelings. Let the greatest gift you give be a gift of love and caring for those you know and those you don’t.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you add to your gift list? Can you add the gift of your time together with loved ones? Can you give a gift of love to strangers?

Give 1

Matthew 1:20-21

Another pastor once shared with me that the most awe-inspiring idea of Christmas is the manifestation of Jesus. The fact that God became flesh, became a human so that He might live among us and among other humans, is the most incredible part of Christmas.

We can get so caught up in the presents of Christmas that we forget about the “presence” we have with Christmas. Christmas is that celebration of the presence of God in our lives.

We are familiar with the beginning of the story of Christmas. Joseph, a carpenter, is engaged to be married to a young woman named Mary. But suddenly it is discovered that Mary is with child and Joseph is not the father. Disturbed and probably embarrassed, Joseph decides to end the relationship.

Who appears to Joseph? What assurance is given? What name is to be given?

The name “Jesus” that we use is the Greek version of “Joshua.” In Hebrew it is “Yeshua,” and the name has as its meaning “the Lord saves.”

This child was born of the Holy Spirit. This child was God in flesh, come to the world so that the world might be saved from hopelessness and sorrow, from the worries and fears of a life of sin.

Jesus was a gift from God and of God. It was a very personal and meaningful gift. It was precisely what we all needed and still need today.

Our giving of gifts is just a faint shadow of the generosity of God. We cannot duplicate a gift as wonderful as Jesus, but our presents that we exchange at Christmas should be a closer reflection of the gift of God. Our gifts should be just what the recipient wants and needs. Our gifts should be from our hearts and possibly be from ourselves and not just something costly we purchased.

As we look at Christmas in a new way, let the thought of giving meaningful gifts, heartfelt gifts, personal gifts be your guide.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Do you need to re-think what you will give to others this year?

Rebel 5

Isaiah 55:2

Christmas in years past has been a time of giving our children popular toys and games that they have wanted. They begged for this new gadget or that popular item. But there have been so many years where we bought the latest fad, the hottest item on the shelves, only to have the toy fall apart after just a few days, or be neglected by our children in short order because the FUN just didn’t last very long.

As our children have grown older the gifts have been just as much desired, but tend to be presents that will last. The gifts are fewer but are better investments.

In this passage from Isaiah we have a simple message from God. What question does God pose? What does God suggest instead?

Like the toys that are short-lived, the food at the holidays can be overly sweet and extra rich. Taking in too much of these empty calories can leave us all feeling sick instead of joyful.

The same can be true of our attitudes at Christmas. If the holiday is a celebration of things – what we can get, what we can buy, what we can surround ourselves with – then the season can leave us empty. If our efforts and work are all spent on the temporary decorations and rushing here and there, we can end up with an emptiness inside.

Rather than focus on temporary things, we ought to rebel against the temptation to spend and buy and fill our lives with empty items. Instead we should focus on the real gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ. In that gift from God are everlasting love and a soul-satisfying contentment that comes with the salvation Jesus provides.

God wants us to eat what is good, and He is not just talking about food. He is talking about taking in, consuming, holy and spiritual goodness, consuming the love and grace He offers. God wants us to stop wasting our labors on those things that are fleeting and momentary, and spend our time in more lasting endeavors such as strengthening our own faith and sharing love and caring with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you invest your time and energy in this year that will give you lasting satisfaction?

Rebel 4

Matthew 2:1-2

Part of the fun of Christmas is the surprise of the gifts. It is fun to give someone something when they aren’t exactly sure what it is that they are getting. There is joy in seeing the look of excitement at some unexpected present. One of my worries over the holidays is accidentally spilling the beans about what gifts we are giving.

The gift of Jesus Christ was indeed one of those unexpected gifts in a way. The birth of a Messiah was predicted and looked for, but no one knew exactly when it would happen. And the birth of this small child was the beginning of a rebellion in that society. Jesus, the Messiah, came to turn things upside down, to help the poor, to heal the sick, to forgive sinners. He would be a king far different from the earthly kings people were accustomed to.

One of the signs to indicate the birth of this new king was a star that appeared in the east. Who came because of the star? Who did they visit first?

The wise men, or Magi, were able to determine that a great king had been born in Judea. A star had appeared and they followed it many miles to Jerusalem. And here, in this capital city, they looked first for the new king. They asked the current king, Herod, about the new-born child.

It was an innocent assumption on the part of these three. They assumed that the next great king would be born in the majestic and important city of Jerusalem, so they started their search there. But in visiting Herod they tipped their hand, so to speak. They let this cruel and ruthless king know that one greater than he had been born. Herod learned from the wise men that a rebellion was beginning.

But that rebellion was not a political or military rebellion. It was a rebellion of attitude and behavior. Jesus came to bring love and peace and mercy, not strife and struggle and greed.

As we celebrate Christmas this year we encourage you to be part of the rebellion Jesus began. Rebel against strife and greed. Rebel against insensitivity and callous behavior. Instead, let us spend less money on presents and spend more time in fellowship with one another. Let us share a smile and our time with those we love, and also with the stranger we see on the street.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there something new you will do this Christmas, something good that is different than what you have done in the past?

Rebel 3

Luke 2:8-10

Nancy, a woman from our previous church, started her own ministry by helping out underprivileged school children. She raised money throughout the year by accepting used book donations, and then selling these used books for $1 or 50¢. With that money she took Christmas presents to needy children in select families.

It was a simple ministry, but it had a big impact. She said that there were many times that her gift was the only gift these children received.

We can easily forget about the poor and underprivileged in our society when we surround ourselves with the abundance of Christmas. But we need to remember who was involved in the birth of Jesus. Who heard the message about the birth? Who told them?

A few years back we found information that pointed to the concept that these shepherds were not just any group of men. Indications are that they were temple shepherds, special shepherds responsible for a flock of perfect sheep available for sacrifice.

But that really doesn’t matter. Shepherds in that society at that time were considered to be among the poor. Shepherds, even temple shepherds, were considered outcasts, laborers who were physically dirty and therefore spiritually unclean.

Yet they were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus. They were informed, not through a mysterious sign in the sky or a dream that needed to be interpreted, but by the physical and personal appearance of God’s own messengers, a host of angels. The glory of God, the promise of salvation, the great news was all revealed to these poor outcasts.

This serves as a reminder that Christmas is all about love and not about presents and spending. Christmas is for everyone.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Will you rebel against tradition and include the hungry, the poor, and the underprivileged in your Christmas?

Rebel 2

Luke 2:22-24

Childhood memories of Christmas growing up are memories mostly of what we did together as a family. As I grew up our family never had a great deal of money to spare, but we always had sufficient presents to be happy on Christmas morning. Yet, I can only remember one or two presents from all those years.

What I remember most is how we celebrated the holidays. Christmas was a solid week of visiting with friends and extended family members – cousins and uncles and aunts. It was the socializing, the fellowship and the fun that made Christmas so special.

Returning to the story of Joseph and Mary at the temple, where they will encounter Simeon, we see some interesting information about them. Why were Joseph and Mary in Jerusalem? What was their offering?

While this passage may seem to be one of those sections that is entirely utilitarian – something helpful and necessary for the story, but really not interesting – it actually tells us something of Jesus and his family. The sacrifice they brought to the temple consists of two birds, either doves or pigeons.

In Leviticus 12 we see regulations for this sacrifice. What is required is the offering of a lamb; however, Leviticus 12:8 states that if a person “cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons.” With that we are to understand that Joseph and Mary could not afford a lamb. In other words, they were among the working poor of the land.

Why is this important? I believe it is important to be reminded that Jesus was a gift not just to wealthy and powerful people, but was born among the poor of Israel. The celebration of his birth does not require that a great deal of money be spent. Rather, we should rebel against the temptations of over-spending and worship God with our hearts and not our wallets.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you reduce the amount of money you spend on Christmas gifts this year? A good goal may be to lower your spending by 25%.

Rebel 1

Luke 1:46-48

There is no question that there is a great deal of commerce, business, buying and selling, connected with the Christmas holidays. This past week-end we were among the thousands and thousands at a Cincinnati mall where business was booming. With all the gifts being accumulated and all the bright and beautiful decorations – even in our own houses – it can be easy to think that Christmas is all for those who have money.

But the gift of God’s love in Jesus Christ came to a young girl who had very little possession. In Luke we have “Mary’s Song,” the response that Mary gives when she learns that she will bear the Lord’s Son. What is Mary’s attitude? What does she say about herself in verse 48?

The source of our Christmas holiday is from the birth of the baby Jesus. This time of exchanging gifts is to remind us that God gave the greatest of all gifts. But what has become a holiday that emphasizes money actually began with an emphasis on the poor.

God was indeed mindful of the humble state of his servant. Christ came not just for the rich, not just for the powerful, not just for the influential. Jesus was a gift to all people, especially the poor and oppressed. This is made clear because Jesus was born to a poor family, an average family, a family not unlike yours and mine.

This priceless and wonderful present of love and hope and salvation was meant for all people. It was a free gift that cost nothing, yet has value beyond comprehension.

Aware of the simplicity of God’s gift, let us take on an attitude of rebellion this Advent. Let us rebel against getting caught up in excessive spending, pricey presents, and oppressive debt. Let us keep our focus on the true gift of Christmas and give priceless gifts of our time and emotions.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you give a gift that costs nothing but has great value? Can you give a gift of your time and attention to a loved one?

Worship 3

Luke 2:27-29

Christmas is filled with so many traditions – traditions that involve sights and smells and tastes – that there are many things that can trigger a memory. Looking out the window on a cloudy, winter day can conjure up memories of years past sitting in the warmth and comfort of home with family. Or the strong smell of cinnamon can bring back images of holidays past, times of laughter and joy. Getting out the decorations can summon recollections of all the years of celebration.

It is delightful when the joy of Christmas breaks into the humdrum of everyday life. In Luke we have a story of a man named Simeon, a devout and religious man whose encounter with Jesus is often overlooked. Why did Simeon go into the courts? What did Simeon do and say?

We can imagine that Simeon was an older man who has spent many days and months and years attending to the rituals of the temple in the hope that some day God would reveal to him the Messiah who was promised. On this day Simeon was going about his business when the Holy Spirit nudged him to enter into the temple courts. There, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, was a young couple with a baby.

And that was when the joy and holiness of this child broke into Simeon’s life. And what did Simeon do? He gathered the baby in his arms and offered praise to God. He stopped what he had been doing and spent a moment giving glory to the Lord for the gift of Christ. The blessings of the birth had broken into his life and this man took some time to worship.

We might look forward to Christmas every year. We might get as excited as a child as the big day nears, but so often we can feel empty when it passes. We can sometimes feel that we missed Christmas because we just didn’t get enough joy.

We need to be like Simeon and stop what we are doing so we can take the time to worship God. We need to make the room in our hearts and in our arms for the baby born in Bethlehem. Make room to worship Jesus this holiday.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you make the time to worship Jesus this Christmas?

Worship 2

Matthew 2:9-11

The holidays can become such a busy time. There are times when the schedule simply becomes overloaded – a holiday concert, the company Christmas party, a friend’s party, family gatherings, shopping. Such a hectic schedule can rob us of the joy that Christmas should bring us.

And who is to blame for all this exhausting pace? We can point the finger at this person or that, or claim it is just what happens in our society. But the truth is that we allow ourselves to feel frantic and we succumb to the pressures to be here, there, and everywhere.

In Matthew we have the story of the wise men, also called Magi. What led them? What was their reaction? What did they do when they saw Jesus?

These wise men – whether they are astrologers, sages, scientists, or scholars – had discovered a strange event in the night sky and knew that it was a sign of something powerful. They knew a great king was born and they had no intention of missing out on the event. So they packed up their gifts and traveled to Jerusalem to find him. Their first stop was with the current king, a bold move since this new king would likely surpass him.

But these were bold men. They were bold enough to travel a great distance to see the new king. They were bold enough to have an audience with the ruthless Herod. And they were bold enough to follow the guidance of a star to find the one they sought.

Ultimately they were rewarded by finding the baby, Christ, the new king, the Messiah. They had the opportunity to worship Jesus and offer him the gifts he deserved.

What about us? Can we be bold enough to resist the hectic schedule? Can we be bold enough to say “no” to at least some of the invitations, and instead spend some time as a family and with friends worshiping our king? The Magi sought him, found him, and worshiped. Will you find him and worship this year?

DAILY CHALLENGE: If your holiday schedule is filling up, take some time to add to it. Add “family time” or “time with friends” or “worship” to your calendar and then make sure you fulfill that appointment.

Worship 1

This week we begin a four part series inspired by "The Advent Conspiracy." You can learn more about what we are doing as a church and what's going on here. We've also got the video clip that we showed in church this morning. I hope you'll watch it again and really pray that God will show you how he wants to you to worship Him this Advent season!

Isaiah 9:1-2

It isn’t always easy to get ready for the holidays. In fact there are times when it feels that it isn’t ever easy to prepare for the holidays. Trying to organize all the parts of the worship services, to plan out the activities, to set schedules and events, to gather the materials can be a tremendous task and there are many times when things just don’t seem to come together.

But one thing I have learned over the years is that there is always a solution to the problem. Things work out.

It may be difficult in our current society to put ourselves in the position of the Israelites before Jesus. There was a hope that often fell back into hopelessness as they waited for the Messiah. Or perhaps we can identify with them as we look at our present circumstances and feel totally lost facing financial problems, challenges in relationships and troubles in our lives.

In spite of the darkness around us there is a light. And that light is the light of love from God expressed in Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah offers some words of hope. What assurances does he give? What hope do the people have?

This prophet from so long ago knew that the Lord was coming. He would be from the area of Galilee and he would offer a tremendous hope and promise for a brighter, happier, more contented life. We know the story of Christmas. We know the story of Jesus and the light he brought.

But we can allow our culture and our hectic holiday schedule to overshadow that bright love from God. We can allow our Christmas time to be a time of worry and stress and fear and upset.

We need to cling to these promises from Isaiah. Christmas should be a time of hope and celebration. Most importantly it should be a time where we worship the gift of Jesus Christ, a gift of love from God. There is a solution to the crazy holiday rush and stress. The solution is to focus on the light which has dawned for all of us. The solution is to worship God and turn our holidays back into a time of praise and celebration of God’s love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Christmas is usually a time of traditions. Which tradition of yours helps you to worship God at this time?

Fellowship 5

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

I have never really cared for gift exchanges at work. I don’t like having to buy a present for someone I don’t know that well, especially a gift that is usually at a dollar value set fairly low. What can you get someone for $5 now days?

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I also don’t like getting gifts from co-workers in these gift exchanges. After all, they are simply giving a gift under the dollar limit, a present to a stranger, a gift that is pretty much impersonal and pointless. “I got everyone a coffee mug!”

Our gifts need to come from our heart. Our presents need to be offered with love. What we give God should be presented with a willing heart and true desire to honor Him.

Still addressing the church in Corinth, Paul has more to say about giving. What does he say about sowing and reaping? What is God’s attitude?

We have learned to trust in God and rely completely on Him. It is my desire to tithe to God. Therefore, my family and I contribute 10 percent to the church every pay period, and often exceed this amount through incidental offerings throughout the weeks. I have decided in my heart this is what needs to be given, and I give it willingly and not under compulsion.

Others do not feel they can spare 10 percent. Because of uncertain incomes presenting a tithe is not always practical to many people. Is that okay?

In many ways, yes, it is okay to give to God whatever you choose. Others may insist that anything less than a tithe is a sin, but this passage deals less with amounts and more with attitudes (My whole theology and faith centers more on attitude than anything else).

It is up to each of us how much we give to God. Our offerings to God should not be like those given at office gift exchanges. Our offerings to God should be given with a cheerful heart. If we choose to give sparingly, to sow sparingly, to do only a little for God, then we will reap sparingly. Our blessings will be small.

When we give in faith and we give generously – and also with a heart and attitude of devotion and love – we will be reap abundantly. The windows of heaven will be opened to cover us in blessings.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Be honest – what is your attitude in giving? Are you faithful enough to take a risk and give more?

Fellowship 4

Malachi 3:10

In today’s business world we have found ourselves buying many things over the Internet. We find something we want, submit our credit card information (hopefully, on a secure web site), and then wait until what we want is delivered to our door. This is an act of trust and faith on our part. We assume that what we have given money toward will be given to us.

Malachi speaks of another exchange of faith, an exchange between the faithful and God. What are we to do? What does God urge? What does God promise?
This passage speaks of the “tithe.” There are many who are not familiar with the term “tithe.” Simply stated, a tithe is ten percent.

I find it amazing that we will act in faith with businesses yet we do not trust God. We are taught not to test God, not to challenge the Almighty and make Him prove Himself. But this is one place where God actually encourages us to test Him.

God asks us for our tithe, one tenth of what we have. And in return God promises to prove Himself true. If we can offer to God a sacrifice of one tenth He will respond with so much blessing that there will not be room enough in our lives for all the goodness He will pour down on us.

And still there are those who will not take this step of faith. There are many who claim they do not have a tithe. And I wonder how a person can not have one tenth of what they possess. If you have a dollar, the tithe is a dime. If you have $100, the tithe is $10. If you have no money, then no money is asked, but there is always a tithe of your time and talents.

God encourages us to bring Him a Fellowship Offering, a sacrifice to Him, and one in which we will share. The tithe is like that. If we give to God our offerings we are invited into a relationship of blessing, taking part in all the goodness of God’s Kingdom.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Assess your income, your time and your abilities. Are you giving God one tenth of what you have?

Fellowship 3

2 Corinthians 8:12

Last year Peggy surprised me with a gift of a leather coat. It is beautiful – soft and warm, and quite stylish. I truly treasure that gift. (It was actually two years ago, but who's counting, right? LOL)

When I completed my schooling a few weeks ago my children gave me a card with brief messages from each of them. It is a beautiful card, and I treasure it very much.

One gift was very expensive and one was only a few dollars. One gift required some planning and effort; the other gift required some effort but not as much. Yet I value them both because they both came from the heart and were given in love.

We saw Paul teaching about the generosity and eagerness of the people in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. Now what does he tell the Corinthian church, and us, about presenting gifts?

When it comes to giving there are all different attitudes and approaches to it. There are some very wealthy people who are stingy in their giving, limiting their gifts to God to a tiny amount. There are others who give a great deal because they have a great deal.

There are some who feel they do not have enough in life to spare anything for anyone. They claim they just can’t afford to give to God. Yet others give generously in spite of their poverty.
How does God feel about all this? Does he have a calculator where he adds up what is given? Is he pleased when He sees the big money rolling in?

Obviously, the answer to this is “no,” and I certainly hope you knew that. It isn’t the amount of money that is given. It isn’t the size of the gift that counts. What matters to God is the intention of the gift. What is important is the heart behind the offering – the “willingness” of the giver.

I believe even those who tithe or give beyond the tithe are not always blessed if the intention of the tithing, the heart of the offering, is misguided or missing. Our expressions of thankfulness, our desire to present offerings of fellowship and gratitude, need to come from a true and earnest desire to honor God and share in love. When our heart is true and generous we are blessed and the gift is precious, made valuable by our intentions and not by cost.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your willingness to give to God? Perhaps you can determine a monetary value to your gratitude as well as a list of actions you can do to honor God.

Fellowship 2

Leviticus 7:12-15

“Try it on! Try it on!” That has become something we say when we give gifts in my wife’s family. As soon as a person opens the gift – a sweater, a t-shirt, a pair of pants – we all say, “try it on.” It’s a joke, but it started as an encouragement to enjoy the gift right away. It was a way to share the gift, letting everyone see it being used and worn.

It is the same when a child gets a toy. One of the first impulses is to play with it. Sometimes that is part of the present – being part of the enjoyment of it.

In this passage from Leviticus we have some instructions on the Fellowship Offering. What is one reason for the Fellowship Offering? In verse 14, what instruction is given? What must be done according to verse 15?

While this may be a rather long and detailed reading, the key elements are at the beginning and the end. The Fellowship Offering is more than simply a gift to God. It is a sharing of fellowship – of being together – as an expression of gratitude and thanks to God.

A unique feature of the Fellowship Offering is that what is presented to God in sacrifice is shared by all. God is honored, the priests are sustained, and the faithful believer is invited in to take part in the abundance. After the offering is made the person presenting it must eat all of what was given – presumably, along with his family and with the priest.

It was a time of thanking God for His goodness and abundance. But it also involved sharing that goodness. And it involved getting something back from your expression of gratitude.

When we honor God with our gifts, when we present to God the offerings of our tithes and financial support, then we are blessed. We get back from God. Usually it is a deep sense of community with God and a feeling of elation at having helped God’s kingdom. When we give to God we sit down with the Lord and share in the blessings of His love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there a way to share your thankfulness? Who needs to join you in your celebration of God’s goodness?

Fellowship 1

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

The other day I had to have quick and cheap lunch. Since I didn't pack, that meant that McDonald's drivethrough would have to do. (Yeah, how am I going to continue to lose weight eating a hamburger????)

While at the drive through I felt really strongly that I should pay for the person's meal behind me. I've thought of doing this before, but I'm always afraid that I'll offer and then the order will be for a whole office or something and be $50! But I asked and the lady at the window told me the amount. It was about the same as my lunch and I had a $20 so I bought her lunch. The woman at the window asked me if I knew the woman behind me or something. When I told her that I didn't but just wanted to brighten her day, I think she thought I was nuts.

I have no idea how my gift was received. I drove away and I'll never know whether that woman behind me was shocked, happy, angry or whatever. But it was fun for me!

Today's scripture reading is Paul referring to the giving of the Macedonia church. If you read Romans 15:26 you will find out who they were giving to. They were not building a place to worship, nor were they supporting local beggars. They weren't even collecting for their own widows and orphans. Instead, they were giving to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Folks that they likely had never nor would never meet in their lives.

They gave because they had submitted themselves to God. They gave not from riches but from poverty themselves--and (I love this part!) they begged for the chance to give. I wonder if any pastor has ever had the congregation beg to take up an offering???

Just as I was excited to share the little I had with the woman behind me, they were excited to give what they could to support the work of God through others that they surprised even Paul and his fellow missionaries.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Ask God how you can be more like the church in Macedonia. Perhaps you are not able to give from wealth, but let them be an example to you to give yourself first to God and then to support the work of others!

Wave Offering 5

Exodus 36:3-7

When my father passed away all of our friends and relatives wanted to express their sympathy and offer help to our family. They did so by bringing us food – covered dishes, casseroles, cakes, pies, rolls. I vividly recall having so much food that had been brought in that there was no more room for any more. The kitchen counters were covered with plates of food, the kitchen table was covered, and even snack tables had been set up and they were heaped with food. The love expressed through gifts of food filled our house.

What a wonderful comfort that was. What a wonderful sight to see such abundance, all reminding us of the love and comfort that surrounded us.

In Exodus we have God commanding that a tabernacle be built along with other items for worship. Moses instructs the Israelites to bring in contributions, whatever they are able to give so that God might be honored. How did the people respond? What did the workers tell Moses? What did Moses command? Why?

This is an uplifting story, an example of the dedication the people had to God. They had been commanded to bring contributions to God, and they responded with all of their hearts, presenting offerings day after day. So much was given that Moses had to put a stop to the generosity.

Unfortunately we seldom see that kind of dedication. It is rare to have a church leader tell the members that the contributions are in such abundance that they must be stopped.

It is a wonderful example of how we should respond to our God. We are to present God with our offerings and gifts, and our gratitude should be expressed “morning after morning.” Our thanks and appreciation of God, our praises, should be lifted up to God first, before anything else is done. And we should offer such gratitude in such abundance that we are certain we have given enough that the work of God my be done.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Will you be one who fills God’s house with an abundance of gratitude?

Wave Offering 4

Psalm 95:6-8

My wife and I love to watch “The Amazing Race.” It is fun to see so many beautiful parts of the world, the different cultures, the different customs and people. And it is exciting to cheer on our favorite contestants and predict who will be eliminated each week.

In the show the contestants must complete various tasks throughout each episode, and when the task is finished someone is there to hand them their “clue” – directions for the next task. The one thing that bothers me every time I watch the show is seeing these people snatching the clue from the person’s hand and running off to do the next task. I know they are in a race and I know they are excited and want to hurry, but it bothers me that the contestants rarely say “thank you” to the person handing them the clue.

God is deserving of all our praise and gratitude and Psalm 95 offers some instructions to the faithful. What should we do? Why should we do it?

It is interesting that Psalm 95 has two parts to it. The first seven verses tell the believers to give praise and thanks to God. It also explains why we should do that – the Lord is great (verse 3), He is the Creator (verse 4-5), He is God (verse 7). The last four verses are a reminder of what has made God angry in the past.

What is interesting is that the praises are encouraged first. The warning and caution is second. The psalmist puts his praise to God at the beginning.

So it should be with us as well. We should offer God our praises in our life, not as an afterthought and not to avoid wrath, but because God is deserving of our thanks and praise. We have already received abundance from God. We have already received love and mercy from God. He is deserving of our praise and adoration. And that praise should be the first things we offer, before we do anything else.

DAILY CHALLENGE: When do you praise God?

Wave Offering 3

Leviticus 23:9-10

I am part of a small group of area pastors planning to have a Christmas party this December. We have agreed that when we meet we will likely provide our hostess with a gift. That is the polite thing to do – to give a gift in appreciation of the kindness of allowing us all to gather and receive hospitality.

God gave commands in Leviticus on how to provide Him with offerings, expressions of appreciation. What command is given in this passage from Leviticus?

God provided for the Israelites under Moses by working against Pharaoh so that the Israelites would be set free from their bondage in Egypt. Once freed, God had promised to lead them to the Promised Land, a place prepared for them so that they might prosper and live out a good and blessed life.

In return for these great acts of compassion God set out certain rules and requests of the faithful. Once they had settled, planted and harvested their crop they were to return to the Lord a portion of the plenty they would receive. God asked for a sheaf of grain, a small token of gratitude for the abundance they would enjoy.

God did not need this grain for sustenance. He would not be eating this offering. It was simply meant to acknowledge God and what He had done for the people. The point was that in all that they did the Israelites were to keep God foremost in their thoughts.

Before sitting back and enjoying the fullness of life they needed to give God a small gift of appreciation.

While we may not be expected to bring a handful of grain to our altars, or bring in a bucket of vegetables from our gardens, or even a fistful of money from our paycheck, we are to remember God’s goodness in what we do. As we enter into the season of harvest and the season of Christmas, indeed in all seasons, we are to present God with our own offerings, our own gifts of gratitude for what He has done. The “Wave Offering” is a reminder that we should honor God first, putting God above all else in our lives.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remember to put God first in your life?

Wave Offering 2

Romans 12:1-2

Our most recent Bible study spent some time discussing how to live within God’s will. We talked about the need for us as Christians to seek first what God wants from us, what He expects us to do. It is not always clear when we are trying to make decisions about our lives and our finances, our plans and our desires, what exactly would please and serve the Lord.

The solution is to pray. When deliberating on which way we should go and what we should do the best way to start is to pray to God and ask plainly for some indication of the direction we should head. We all agreed that we have each, at one time or another, felt some nudge this way or that and a sense of peace when we felt the decision was within God’s will.

In his letter to the Romans Paul offers some instruction. What does he urge? What attitude should we have? What is the result?

In looking at the offerings that can be made to God the most common thoughts turn to possessions. If we want to give something to God our first thoughts often turn to money or material items. I should allow God to have this much money. I will allow God to use my car for His service, or my tools.

We often overlook the best gift we can give to God. We forget that what God frequently needs most is us.

We are to offer ourselves as sacrifices – not necessarily laying down our lives in death to serve a holy cause – but to offer how we live and behave as an offering. If we can set our own selfish desires aside and we can resist the temptations of this world – temptations to fame, success, wealth – then we can transform ourselves into a holy offering to God. We can put God first in our lives, changing our attitude to one of intentionally living under God’s will, His influence and His teaching.

The best offering to God is an offering of yourself as a living sacrifice, one who obeys God and shares His love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be a living sacrifice?

Wave Offering 1

Exodus 23:15-16

Although I enjoy the humor of comedian Jim Gaffigan, I caught him on a commercial the other day and his comment irritated me. I don’t even recall what he was promoting, but he was comparing things that were good with those that are not, and said something was “like church.”

The implication was that church is dull and bad. Worshiping God is boring and restrictive, and there are many, many people who believe that whole-heartedly. Lots of people believe God does not like fun.

But in Exodus God outlines certain activities for the Hebrews. What instruction does God give in these verses?

While it is true that there are certain rules to life, and God is not a god of “anything goes,” still the fact remains that God calls us to celebrate and have a good time. These three feasts are just the basics in God’s party plan. There are other opportunities to celebrate throughout the year.

It isn’t that God doesn’t like a good time. In fact, I believe God is one of the best at providing reason and occasion for celebration. What God wants, however, is that we keep our lives and our celebrations in perspective.

There are times of work and sacrifice. There are times of hardship and struggle. But there are also times of celebration and party. What is most important in all these seasons is that we keep God as our priority and confess that all things are of God.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrates that God saved His people, whom He loved. He also saved us. The Feast of Harvest and the Feast of Ingathering both recognize that God has given us what we need and continues to provide.

As we consider our faith, our worship and our offerings, we must remember that all of the good we have comes from God. Our celebrations are permitted and encouraged, but God must be honored first in all things.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is worship a joy or a burden to you?

Burnt Offering 5

Hebrews 10:12-14

When one of our neighbors finished off his basement and turned that large, empty space with concrete walls and exposed rafters into a very nice family room, laundry room and office space many of his friends and neighbors stopped by to see the finished work. He enjoyed giving little tours of the new space, but as he went around the rooms he pointed out all of his mistakes, all the tiny flaws in his work. I always wondered why anyone would do that. Why point out what is wrong and take away what is good?

The author of Hebrews continues with his commentary on ritual offerings. Who is “this priest” mentioned in verse 12? What has he done? Who is being made holy?

Jesus has become our high priest. The sacrifices that had to be repeated over and over again are no longer necessary because Jesus, in his perfection and in his sacrifice, has eliminated the need for them. The sacrifices made to remove sin are no longer needed because Jesus has made all who accept him to be perfect.

We are perfect when we are saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are made clean and whole when we confess Jesus as our Savior and when we live according to God’s laws and Christ’s teachings.

True, we cannot remain perfect as mortals. As human beings we have a tendency toward sin, and even when we are purified we will again fall into sinful behavior.

But there is no need to focus on our flaws. We should recall these words from Hebrews. “He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” We are the ones who were made perfect and we are the ones who are being made holy.

We do that by confessing Christ as Savior and by living – or at least trying to live – a holy life. Through our obedience to God we are sustaining our perfection and developing holy lives.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be made more holy?

Burnt Offering 4

Hebrews 10:3-7

One day as a teen-ager I was wasting time with a friend of mine, the two of us playing pool and talking. While we were “hanging out” he took a chain and heated it in the flame of a candle (I know it doesn’t make sense! We were teen-agers!) When the chain was good and hot my friend pressed it down on my hand. It hurt – and it left a scar.

To this day, about thirty-five years later, I can still see the marks of that chain. No amount of time, washing or lotions will take away the mark and the reminder.

The author of Hebrews spends some time discussing the rituals and practices of sacrifices among the Jewish people. What does he say about such things as burnt offerings and wave offerings? What is the comment on their effectiveness? How was Jesus different?

While it may be important to remember the reasons behind the offerings called for in Leviticus, and while it may be interesting to know how these offerings were given, we need to remember that they have no point at this time. These sacrifices, although well-intentioned, have no ability to remove sin. In fact, they serve as a scar – a reminder, a recollection that wrong has been done.

In their place we have a true and perfect sacrifice that has removed our sin. Christ himself came, not to give a burnt offering, but to have a mortal body that would itself become the sacrifice.

Sometimes in our faith we can fall into the mistaken thinking that if we do something long enough and good enough we can be acceptable to God. If we keep saying our prayers the right way, if we attend worship enough, if we give enough money, we can have our sins washed away. But there is nothing we can do on our own to achieve salvation. Only the sacrifice of Christ – and that is the accepted sacrifice of Christ – can save us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can wash away your sin?

Burnt Offering 3

John 3:16-17

One year for the holidays my cousin surprised me with a couple of Christmas gifts – a framed picture, a personalized mug and a bag of chocolates. I was dumb-founded and a little embarrassed at first. I had not gotten him anything – after all, we had never exchanged gifts before. He was quick to explain that the gifts were given just because he wanted to give them. He expected nothing in return.

Today’s passage is the keystone to the Christian faith, the central foundation to what we believe. What did God do? Why did God do it? What happens when we believe and accept it?

Jesus was God in human form, God here on earth. And he came for a reason. He came so that we could believe in him. And through believing in him we are given the promise of eternal life. We are given the promise of eternity in heaven.

It is a gift from God.

Jesus was an expression of the love of God, plain and simple. Jesus did not come so that he could point out who was wrong and who was condemned to hell. He came as an expression of grace and mercy. He came to benefit us.

And one of the key issues is that, like the burnt offering of Leviticus, Jesus offered himself of his own volition. He came out of his own choice, his own desire to be that gift of salvation to each one of us.

He was neither motivated by judgment nor requirement by God. Jesus came out of love to save us all from an eternal death, a death not only of the body but of the spirit as well.

We have been presented with the perfect offering, the unblemished sacrifice of Jesus. How will we respond?

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you show gratitude toward God?

Burnt Offering 2

Leviticus 1:3

I recall getting very angry one holiday when I had to go to the store the day after Christmas to exchange one of our children’s gifts. The toy we had purchased and wrapped, the gift that our child received, was broken inside its packaging. It was very disappointing to me and our child to have this long-awaited gift delayed even more because somehow the quality of the item was not where it should have been.

If we will give a gift to another we usually expect and hope that the gift will not only be acceptable, but be of excellent quality. In the Book of Leviticus God outlines exactly what type of offerings are acceptable and which ones are not. What are the specifications described for burnt offerings?

God has decreed that certain sacrifices should be made to Him. These sacrifices are signs of penance, or of commitment, or of gratitude. Commentaries describe the first such sacrifice – the burnt offering – as the oldest and most common offering made. In my mind it is also the most important.

These sacrifices are suggested by God, and are not mandatory. They are made on the decision of the one offering the sacrifice, made by choice and not by requirement. The person making the sacrifice was also to present the best of his animals, a perfect and unblemished creature, a flawless offering to God. It was not to have defects or problems.

The sacrificed animal then takes the place of the person making the sacrifice. The burnt offering suffers the punishment and destruction due to the person, and the one making the offering is cleansed of guilt through the perfect sacrifice.

Sound familiar? It should. Jesus Christ became the perfect offering to God, presented through his own decision, willingly destroyed on our behalf. And Jesus was a gift of the highest quality, flawless and without defect.

How do we react to such a sacrifice? First, we must accept it and embrace it. We must cherish such a sacrifice. And then we should strive to offer ourselves to God – flawless and without defect – in our faith and in our actions.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you become a perfect offering to God?

Burnt Offering 1

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

At the store today we were greeted by a sign that wished us all a Merry Christmas. My daughter asked, “Are we skipping Thanksgiving?” I told her that we almost skipped Halloween – the Christmas holiday commercials have already begun.

Today’s passage is the start of a very familiar reading from Ecclesiastes 3, a statement about life. What does the first verse tell us? What specific times are mentioned in verse 2?

Although we do not as a family have exact dates when it is time for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and so on, we do have an order to our lives. We often find it amusing when folks put up their Christmas decorations in early November only to leave them up well into March. It seems a blurring of the seasons, a refusal to allow the holiday to fade.

As pointed out in Ecclesiastes there is an order to life. There is a time for all things. We will experience a time of growth, a time of rest, a time of joy and a time of sorrows. That is life. There is a rhythm to it, a flow, an order.

We are currently in a time of harvest. We are seeing the local farmers gathering in their crops and personally we are preparing ourselves and our home for the fast-approaching winter months and all the activities that involves.

Our faith life has its seasons as well. There is a time of renewal in our spirits, a time of confidence and security, a time of doubt, and also a time of struggle. We are given times of joy from God, but we also must prepare ourselves for times of sacrifice and times of loss.

We are called on by God to give offerings to the Lord and the Bible also gives us guidance in the offerings we are to give to God. For the next several weeks we will be examining three types of offerings mentioned in Leviticus – the burnt offering, the grain offering and the fellowship offering.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remember that God is the Lord of all seasons?

The Carpenter's Son 5

Matthew 2:13

There were several occasions when I worked at the local newspaper where I was able to listen to police reports on the scanner as information came in regarding this car wreck or that accident. For the more serious collisions I was also exposed to photographs of the wreckage and often pictures of the deceased victims. Those were very disturbing times, and in those experiences I was made keenly aware of how quickly a life might end or be changed forever.

Life may be full of energy and strength, of courage and hope, yet at the same time life can be fragile. My experiences have forever affected my concern about my own children as they learn to drive or take my car to go here or there. I can’t help but fear for their safety.

The telling of the Christmas story each year usually ends before we get to this section of Matthew. The angels have announced the birth. Shepherds and wise men have arrived. And now an angel again speaks to Joseph. What does he say?

In spite of the fact that Jesus is God, that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that shepherds and magi came to visit, the baby is still a human and vulnerable to human situations. King Herod has heard about this new king and fears for his throne. To solve the problem he will have all the infant boys in and around Bethlehem murdered in an attempt to stop this rival king.

To keep Jesus safe Joseph must pick up his family, his wife and young son, and go to a foreign land. We often overlook this part of the Bible, but in this moment in time Jesus was at serious risk. He could have been killed as an infant.

What does that tell us about our Savior? It doesn’t mean that he is weak. It doesn’t mean that he is not able. It doesn’t mean that he is not really God.

What it means is that he was completely human so that he would understand us and we might understand him. Jesus was human, so much so that his life was just as fragile and tenuous as our own, as an act of compassion and love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Share your fears with Jesus.

The Carpenter's Son 4

John 11:35-36

A very early childhood memory of mine is the morning I awoke to the sounds of my mother in the kitchen crying. I went out into the kitchen. My father sat at the table silently and my mother was trying to keep busy at the sink and stove, all the while weeping and sobbing. Without a word I began crying too.

It wasn’t until several minutes later that I was told my mother’s friend had passed away. I simply knew that my mother was sad and I joined in with the grieving.

When grief and distress enters into our lives there is often very little another person can do to help resolve the situation and make the sorrow go away. Sometimes the only thing that can be done, and the only thing that really helps, is to join in the grieving. Such is the situation for Jesus when he discovers that his friend Lazarus is dead. What does Jesus do? What does that say about Jesus?

I have often made jokes about John 11:35. It is the shortest verse in the Bible and I have made comments and claims that it is the only verse in the Bible I am able to memorize.

In truth, however, the tiny verse is very significant. Even though it is the shortest verse in the Bible, I believe the two words speak volumes. They indeed tell us that Jesus loved his friend, Lazarus. But I feel they say more than that. They show us that Jesus – even though he is God – has the very deep and real ability to have sympathy and tenderness for each of us.

Jesus wept for the loss of his friend. I believe Jesus joins us in our weeping as well. When we suffer a loss, when we experience pain, when we feel sorrows, we can turn to our Lord and know that he completely understands what we are going through. He joins in our sorrows, and that is a great comfort to us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you grieve with those who are grieving?

The Carpenter's Son 3

2 Corinthians 1:6-7

Coming to our current appointment meant moving about 100 miles away from friends and family, but we felt that it was part of God’s plan. In spite of the distance we remain in contact, of course, with our relatives, but also with those who have been our friends for years. The separation has done nothing to diminish or weaken our connection. We still keep in touch and we are still as involved with the lives of those we love as much as we can.

Such an emotional connection is nothing new. In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul explains the connection the believers share.

What causes distress for the believers outside of Corinth? What brings comfort? What confidence is shared?

The connection Paul describes may at first seem a bit confused and complex. In fact it is quite simple. Fellow Christian believers – those not in Corinth – may feel distress because they want the faithful in Corinth to be comforted. The believers are fretting over the well-being of the Corinthian church.

The believers can receive comfort when they know that the people in the church of Corinth have felt that reassurance of God’s presence in their suffering and struggles. Ultimately, all Christian believers face the same challenges, the trials and struggles of the world and of a tested faith. But all Christians also will share in the same comfort, the comfort of knowing God is with them.

We are little different from the First Century church, or the church from any time or place. We all face struggles and hardship, but we are all part of one family of God. We should take comfort in knowing that our Lord and Savior understands and sympathizes with all we have to go through.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Share comfort and encouragement with someone you know who is struggling.

The Carpenter's Son 2

Mark 14:32-34

Facing the unknown is very stressful, and it gets even worse when you must face it alone. I recall the times I have had to travel for ministry retreats and classes, going out of town to face a situation I was uncertain about. I was worried about what was required of me, and worried about my family left behind, and then I had to be on my own, with no one to share my anxiety.

Fortunately for us we have a God with so much compassion and love that He understands our fears. Jesus was in a situation of worry and fear in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has shared the Last Supper with his disciples and then taken them off to a secluded place where he might spend some time in prayer. What does he instruct his disciples to do? How is Jesus described? What does Jesus say of himself?

In some ways Jesus was facing the unknown. He undoubtedly had no experience with the sensation of death and the pain that was awaiting him. And, at the same time, Jesus knew exactly what was waiting for him, what would happen before too long. He knew the suffering he would go through.

How did Jesus react? He wanted to be with his friends for awhile. He wanted to confide in those closest to him, to confess his fears and anxiety. And then he wanted to be alone with God.

Jesus was upset. He feared. He was concerned and apprehensive. Does this make him less of God? I don’t think so. I think it makes him more.

Rather than seeing Jesus in this moment as weak and fallible, I see him as more empathetic with each of us. He was identifying with the types of trials and suffering any of us might go through, and because of that he is more accessible to all of us. It is easier to turn to Jesus in times of fear and stress, because he knows – he really knows – what we are going through. Jesus understands.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there anything overwhelming you with sorrow that you need to share with Jesus?

The Carpenter's Son 1

Matthew 13:55-56

Before I was married I lived on my own a few years. While living on my own, going to work and coming home to see nothing had changed since I left, I realized that there was no one around to help clean up the mess or cook the dinner. There was no one to talk to and no one to offer advice. While there were some freedoms to being on my own, I have often claimed that my time alone was not real life. It seems that it takes other people in your life to make it complete.

When we think of our Savior we often have a tendency to see Jesus as this lone man, this supernatural being, God in flesh, existing on a higher emotional and spiritual level than all the rest of us. While being aware of Jesus as God and remembering that he is part of the Holy Trinity is important and can give us some comfort in knowing of the omnipotent powers of God and Christ, it can also put some distance between us.

Jesus had a human side too, and in Matthew we see Jesus teaching in a synagogue. What are the details about Jesus we get from this passage?

Although completely God, Jesus was also completely human. He had the wisdom and the love and the abilities of God, yet he was like any one of us. He had a father who had a fairly ordinary job. He had brothers and sisters. Growing up he most certainly had to keep an eye on the younger kids now and then. He had to share a house and meals with the others.

There was likely love and laughter, as well as the occasional argument, the hurt feelings, the jealousy. Along the way there were times of joy and times of sorrow. Jesus was part of a family, sharing his life and living with others.

And while it is important to know Jesus is God, it is also important to know that Jesus was a human being. He understands what we are going through. He has experienced all the emotions and fears we have had, and his compassion – his love and comfort and mercy – is genuine and true, filled with complete understanding.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Did you have household responsibilities as a teen-ager? Can you imagine Jesus doing that same task?

God Is There 5

Isaiah 43:1-2

I will never forget our experience during our mission trip in Haiti. We were told that as foreigners, especially Caucasians, we should not walk the streets alone. It was a risk to do so. But one day we were faced with the need to walk a mile from the orphanage school to the children’s house. There was no ride and no escort.

So, with a whispered prayer, we left the secure walls of the school and went out into the street. We were immediately met by a man who was friends with the couple who run the orphanage and he walked with us the whole way.

That was a big reminder to me that God is there to protect us in difficult and uncertain times, and I have carried that memory with me as I go into any neighborhood or situation where I might otherwise feel at risk. I know God is with me and He will keep me safe.

This passage from Isaiah has become one of my favorite Scriptures. What does God remind us of in verse 1? What assurance is given? What promises are made in verse 2?

Although we should not test God in His mercy by deliberately putting ourselves in risky situations, we should remember that God knows us. He created us. He has known us since before we even came into being, and that relationship is one of tremendous love.

We are more than simply people who happen to know God. We are more than just acquaintances of the Almighty. We belong to Him. He has worked to give us salvation through Jesus Christ. He knows us by name.

When we face the troubles that life can dish out, even the problems of our own making, we must remember that God wants us to succeed and be well. He is with us at all times. He will guard us against the assaults and trials of life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that God values you?

God Is There 4

Hebrews 13:5-6

As I prepare for two weddings which are coming up the meaning behind marriage is foremost in my mind. It is more than simply a legal binding together of two people, it is a spiritual commitment of one to the other. Marriage is a ceremony celebrating and marking the pledge of constant companionship and support, mutual and enduring strength and encouragement, and of the uniting of two spirits and two minds.

As time goes on there will be those rough patches in the road of life. There will be times of doubt and times of challenge, of setbacks and pain. But the marriage pledge is a commitment to always be there for the other person no matter what the circumstances. And the wedding ceremony is a reminder that God is part of that joining together.

As powerful as a pledge made in marriage can be, God’s pledge is stronger. The author of Hebrews offers some assurance in life. What instruction is given? What pledge has God made to all of us?

Whether married or single each one of us can count on the promise of God. Although we face uncertainty in our lives, fears and worries about income and the economy, struggles with our jobs, challenges in our relationships, uncertain health, even questions about our place in God’s Kingdom, we can rely on the certainty of God. We are never alone no matter what the challenge is before us.

No matter how difficult life may feel, no matter how much we may wonder if we have the ability to push through the hard times, God is with us. God is able at all times to strengthen us and surround us with His Spirit of love, mercy and comfort.

Our enemies and the evils of this world may try to convince us that we are weak and alone. We may even tell ourselves that we have no one but ourselves to rely on. But that is not true at all.

God is with us at all times. We must learn to trust in our God and place our confidence in the sure knowledge that God is with us and will never leave us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you remember God’s eternal presence?

God Is There 3

Proverbs 3:5-6

When our children were very young they used to follow me when I mowed the lawn. They liked to walk where I had been. They pretended that they were in cars and that the cut path was a road for them. As I mowed the swaths I had cut became intersecting avenues that allowed them to go in various directions. My children trusted me to provide them with safe, smooth and interesting ways to go. It wasn’t the fastest and most efficient way to mow the lawn, but it was a lot of fun for the kids.

While we may feel daunted by the prospect of going forward in our life or exploring the challenges of our faith, we need to remember that God has gone before us in all things. When we hesitate and worry about what might be, what might happen, what terror could be awaiting us around the next corner, we must have the faith to know that God has walked before us.

His teaching and guidance exists in the form of the Bible. Over the ages He has spoken to us and offered instruction and counsel. He has laid out His promises and professed His love. And He has given us His assurance.

How are we to behave toward God? Are we to rely on our own understanding? What does God do for us?

It can be difficult to step forward in faith, but we are called to follow God. We are called to turn to His word – the Bible – and find His wisdom. Through the word of God we can find the knowledge of God, which can and should replace our own, fallible understanding.

We should recall that our Lord is a loving God who cares for us very deeply. As a father leads his own children in safety and righteousness, as a father may prepare a path of goodness for his little ones, so God prepares the paths in our lives so that we might follow Him. We should learn to trust in our God, to lean on Him and rely on His love as we walk through the paths of life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you follow God with more assurance?

God Is There 2

Matthew 28:19-20

I remember when I first started school. Tony Mayor, the boy next door, was my age so we walked together to Kindergarten, about three-quarters of a mile through the suburb where I grew up. It was a frightening prospect, the two of us going off on our own every day. But one thing that made it easier was that Tony’s mom walked behind us that first week.

We had the task of going to school, but she went with us from the house to the school, walking behind us the whole way, carrying a walking stick to fend off any bullies or dogs. I must admit the idea of going to school was much easier knowing Mrs. Mayor was right behind us.

At the end of Matthew we have Jesus speaking to his disciples, offering them a charge. What are they to do? What promise is given?

The term “comfort zone” appears to have lost some of its popularity in our current culture, but years ago it seemed that all I heard was about being in or out of our comfort zone. The focus was on what you were okay with – what doesn’t bother you and what does bother you?

I frequently preached that there are no comfort zones for anyone who follows Christ. And here is a perfect example. Jesus is leaving and he is telling his followers what they should do with the rest of their lives. Go! Go out into the world and make disciples. Preach. Teach. Baptize. Spread the word of God.

And this is not going to be a simple task, but there is one wonderful promise made. Jesus will be with all of those who do his work. He will be with them in the good times and in the tough times. He will be with them in the frightening times and the challenges. He will be with them always – ALWAYS – forever, until the end of time.

We are supposed to do the work of Christ – spread the word, preach, teach and make more followers. And that idea can be very frightening. But we need to remember that Jesus is with us in all that we do. We are never alone. He is right behind you as you go to do his work.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you remember the promise of Christ?

God Is There 1

Luke 8:22-25

Our daughter is very afraid of insects and bugs, especially spiders. Usually, when there is a spider in the house she will come get me and make me go squash the little pest. It can be irritating that she can’t take care of the situation herself, yet at the same time it makes me a hero of sorts. And it’s part of my job as a father.

In Luke we have the familiar story of Jesus and the disciples in a boat during a storm. What did Jesus do as they sailed? What happened with the boat? What did the disciples do? What did Jesus do?

I must admit this is one of those Biblical stories that often gives me problems. When I read it I am right there with the disciples, shaking in my boots at the storm. Why did he get mad at them for waking him up?

It seems many assume that Jesus rebukes his followers – “Where is your faith?” – because he is grouchy from being awakened.

But I wonder if Jesus’ comment is not so much about the fact that they woke him up and more about their attitude. Perhaps he did not mind being awakened. They could not still the storm, but he could. Why would he be angry about that?

Perhaps the lack of faith was something Jesus saw in their faces. They didn’t wake him up to calm the storm. They woke him up so he wouldn’t sleep through all of them drowning together. Perhaps their lack of faith was that they did not know he was able to still the storm.

In life we are going to face storms. Some will literally be wind and rain, others will be emotional and spiritual storms. Is it wrong for us to be upset? Is it wrong for us to be concerned?

I don’t think so. I think it is logical and part of who we are to be upset by the storms of life. But as we face these storms we need to remember that Jesus is with us. We shouldn’t be afraid to wake him up and ask him to calm the situation. I don’t think God gets angry when we ask Him to help us. Our lack of faith comes when we forget to call on God or we forget that He can calm the storm.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where is your faith?

New 5

John 3:1-5

There is a clever challenge we have used before in church to show how God can make the impossible happen. We challenge people to cut an opening into an 8x11 piece of paper, leaving the paper in one piece. The hole must be big enough to allow your whole body to pass through without tearing the paper.

At first it seems like it can’t be done, but if you fold the paper down the middle and then make about a dozen cuts from the fold toward the edges and back again the paper can open up like a string of paper dolls – remaining in one piece – but with a hole large enough for an adult to pass through.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was presented with what appeared to be an impossible task. What did Jesus tell him about seeing the kingdom of God? What was Nicodemus’ interpretation? What did Jesus say?

Like so many, Nicodemus was trying to comprehend the ways of faith by looking at things from a human perspective. But Jesus clarified the situation by explaining that Jesus was talking about spiritual things.

To be part of the kingdom of God, to be immersed in our faith and a vibrant believer in Christ we must be born again. But this rebirth is not a physical matter. It is a spiritual matter. We are called on to be reborn in our spirits, to take on a new faith life, to give our spiritual attitudes a revival.

This lesson from Jesus was not for a new convert, someone unfamiliar with faith, but to a man who was a leader in spiritual matters. Like Nicodemus we are also called to have a new spirit put in us. We are called to ask God for a new heart, a revived and steadfast spirit, so that our faith life – our beliefs and our actions – might gain a new energy.

By being reborn by the Spirit, even when we are quite familiar with God and faith, we can have a new heart and new attitude toward our holy living.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you allow yourself to be reborn?

New 4

Psalm 51:10

For the past several years we have had bottled water, the kind that comes in 5-gallon jugs and is dispensed through a chilling tank. Because of that I have become accustomed to pure water. I like my drinks – iced tea, hot tea, water – to be clear and pure, free from any contaminants.

I try to have the same attitude with my thoughts and feelings. It is part of my daily prayer to ask God to keep my thoughts and intentions pure, clean, and holy. The same thoughts are expressed by the psalmist in today’s passage. What two things does the psalmist ask for? What do you think a pure heart is like? What is a steadfast spirit?

True purity is hard to achieve. Whether you are talking about water, food, air or thoughts and attitudes, it is difficult to reach a level of purity. Contaminants seem always nearby ready to pollute whatever is pure.

This is true of our hearts. No matter how devout and holy we want to be we can often have things enter into our hearts and minds that distract us from God. Or we may simply be unable to maintain the fervor and dedication we once had.

When we find our faith failing or when we seem to have lost sight of God we must remember that He welcomes our return. When we lose the fervor we once had for ministry we can always turn to the refreshing well of our God. The Lord welcomes those who hunger and thirst for His presence. The Lord can restore and revive any soul, we simply need to seek Him.

If you feel that your heart is not in your relationship with God, if you feel you have strayed from the Lord, or if you simply want a renewed attitude and connection with God, you can join in this prayer with the psalmist of old.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you live out having a steadfast spirit?