Grace 5

Luke 1:49-50

Christmas is a time of tradition and specific activities. We have certain trees we put up in certain rooms of our house. We have certain decorations we put on the trees and around the house. We have special programs at church and at school that we attend.

And beneath our Christmas tree is the small figurine of Jesus lying in a manger. It is set out when we put up the tree and begin decorating, and it remains there until the tree comes down. There may be times when presents and packages obscure our ability to see it, but it is always there.

It is a constant reminder of the purpose for celebrating Christmas. Christmas is all about the celebration of the gift of Jesus, the gift of salvation and grace from God.

When Mary learned that she would be the one who would bear the child of God, the Savior of nations, she rejoiced and sang praises to God. What did Mary recognize? What gift has God given to the generations?

In her holy joy Mary saw the working of God in the Christmas story. She saw that what God had done was a great thing. He had provided a way of forgiveness for all mankind. He sent His only Son to be the reconciliation between sinful man and the holy God.

As we celebrate Christmas we can so easily be distracted from the holiness of the occasion. We can allow the giving of gifts, the parties, the shopping, and the spending of money to get in the way of what is truly important. But at the heart of the holiday is the birth of Jesus.

And that birth was an expression of God’s mercy and love, not just for Mary and Joseph, not just for the people of Israel at that time, but a gift of grace for all generations of those who will accept the gift of Christ.

Let us not allow the activities of Christmas or the traditions of the holiday to get in the way of our gratitude to God. Let us recognize the tremendous love God has shown us through the baby given to save the world.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you keep Jesus at the center of your Christmas?

This concludes our 10-2 Grow daily devotions for the 2010 calendar year. We will resume the 10-2 Grow on January 3. From all of us, we wish each of you a happy and blessed Christmas.

Grace 4

Matthew 1:22-23

For me one of the best parts of Christmas is the celebrations that go on over the holidays. I love to get together with family and have those times of frivolity and games, of laughter, good food, and companionship. It is good to catch up with distant kin and old friends.

But in time the holiday must end and we must face the bleak cold of winter that still remains. We must return to our homes and say good-bye to friends and family until the holidays come around again.

We can often take the same approach to the meaning of Christmas. Once everything is put away, all the gifts have been opened and the wrapping paper and boxes cleaned up, we can forget about the holiday. But the gift of Jesus is an eternal gift. What was prophesied? What title was to be given to the child?

An angel informed Mary and Joseph that they would be parents. Mary would give birth to a child. And this alone would be reason enough to celebrate. They could look forward to the many years of watching the child grow to manhood, the many years of his struggles and success as a person.

But they also had more reason to celebrate. This was no ordinary child. He was God in human form. He was to be called “Immanuel.” He was God living among us. And that would never end.

As we say good-bye to the holidays this year let us remember that the love of God does not go away when the decorations come down. Jesus is God with us, not just then, but now and forever. The gift of God’s grace is an eternal and everlasting gift. God is with us always.

As we enjoy the Christmas season this year let us keep the memory of this gift alive in our hearts at all times. Let us forever remember that God is with us, not just in the laughter and happiness of the day, but in the love that surrounds us every day.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that God is with you always?

Grace 3

Luke 1:30-33

When our second child was born my wife looked at him and said that he would either grow up to be a musician or a preacher. I didn’t think much of what she said; at the time I hadn’t even entered into the ministry yet. But I always remembered what she had said.

Today our son is a talented musician playing in the school band and lately playing guitar with others in his own band. He has also begun playing at the opening of our church service and is very involved in worship.

When Mary was visited by an angel to announce that she would be the one who would bring forth the child of God the angel explained what would happen. Why was Mary chosen? What name was to be given the child? What will happen?

God had great plans for Mary and for His Son. God knew what the world needed. We needed a chance, an opportunity, to connect with God. We needed mercy and grace from God so that we might have salvation and everlasting life.

The only way to achieve that was for God to send a part of Himself to be among us. This child was given the very specific name of “Jesus,” which translates into “the Lord saves.” The very name told of what he would do.

All these things that were prophesied have come true. Jesus was great and called the Son of the Most High. And he reigns, not just over the house of Jacob, but over all the world.

And so we should see that the rest of the prophecy must be true as well. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never end.

The celebration of Christmas can be a busy time, a time of excitement and joy, a time of fun and happiness. But it is fleeting. It may last a month or two, but in time the holiday seems to fade.

What we must remember is that the gift of God’s grace and love never ends. The gift of Christmas not only lasts throughout the year, but through all the years. The love of God, expressed in Jesus, is a love that never ends.

Let us celebrate the unending kingdom of Jesus this holiday. Let us recognize the eternal nature of God’s grace this year.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remember the meaning of Christmas beyond the holiday season?

Grace 2

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Last year we gave our family the gift of a digital video camera. It was no surprise to anyone. We had planned to buy one.

To make it so we could get more of a gift for our money we even decided that the gift could wait until after Christmas. We took the money we had accumulated from gifts and the money set aside for the camera and went out a few days after Christmas. We bought a much better camera than we originally could afford because we got one that was on sale. The waiting paid off.

The prophet Jeremiah gives an indication of hope to the people of God. What does God hint at? From which important family will the promise emerge? What will this promise do?

The people of God, the Jewish people, were waiting for a salvation from the Lord for ages. They waited lifetime after lifetime for a Messiah to come. Their prophets foretold of this Savior’s arrival. He would be born in Israel, in the land of Judah. He would be a descendent of the House of David, a descendent of that great king.

And when he came he would bring righteousness. He would bring salvation.

Now we might see this prophecy and this story as something old and tired. The prophecy has been fulfilled. Why do we need to worry about it now?

Yes, Jesus has been sent to the world and the event happened two-thousand years ago. Yes, Jesus has brought righteousness and salvation. But have we accepted the truth of all this? Is this story one that rings true in our hearts?

We can so often be distracted from the immensity of God’s love. We can allow the traditions of our holidays to take us away from how profound the gift of Jesus is.

To truly celebrate Christmas let us turn our hearts and minds to the praise and worship of him who was sent to bring salvation. We may not be waiting for the Messiah in the same way the ancient Hebrews did, but we may not have turned our hearts over to the Christ-child the way we should. Let your waiting end and turn to worship the Savior this Christmas. It is not too late to worship God at this holiday season.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can the gift of God gain new life in your heart this year?

Grace 1

John 1:14

Sometimes when we give gifts at Christmas they serve as hints or indications as to what else may be expected. If, for example, we plan to give an electronic device as an important present, we might first have our children open a pack of batteries. In that way they have an indication of what is coming. They can anticipate a greater gift.

The gift of the baby Jesus was not the only gift we have received from God. It was the beginning, or indication of all the good blessings God has in store for us.

In today’s passage John sums up the very essence of the Christmas celebration. Who is “the Word?” What did the presence of Jesus show us? What did Jesus bring?

Although Christmas has become a hectic time of shopping and spending, a time where we get caught up in the music and the stores and all the events that make up the holidays, at its heart it is the celebration of the gift of Jesus. Jesus was “the Word” of God, the expression of God’s love. God’s love became flesh. Jesus – God – became a human being so that we might see the indication of what was coming.

In the appearing of Jesus, God in flesh, we were able to see the grace and glory of our heavenly Father. Through Jesus we can see how much God loves us and how much God cares for us.

This is the celebration of Christmas. We not only honor the gift of the baby, we celebrate the love that God has for us and how God has shown us that love.

The gift of Jesus was a gift of grace from God. It was an undeserved expression of compassion and forgiveness, from God to us. Let us not allow the superficial celebrations of the holidays overshadow what is at the heart of the season.

As we go through the Christmas pageants, as we attend the Christmas parties, as we work through our gift-giving and our times together as friends and family, may we keep our hearts and souls focused on the most precious gift of all. May we clearly see that Christmas is a time when we join with the shepherds and the wise men and worship, truly worship, the Lord.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be certain to worship God this Christmas?

Attitude 5

Philippians 3:7-9

The other night I caught Andy Rooney’s segment on “60 Minutes.” He talked about all the things that he saves. He has boxes and boxes of letters and mementos he has amassed over the years, things he just can’t let go of.

I got to thinking about all the “things” we have had in our life. Now and then we simply have to go through all the possessions we have and toss out those items we no longer value and that are simply taking up space. There are times when we must take the same approach to our spiritual and mental state.

Paul’s message to the Philippians puts our material possessions and some of our attitudes into perspective. What is the comment on what is valuable or profitable? How does our relationship to Jesus compare with everything else in our lives?

Paul recognized how very important the gift of Jesus was. He saw that all things in his life, even those things that might bring the benefit of physical comfort or enjoyment, are not as important as knowing Jesus. He considered “everything” a loss and “rubbish” compared to the salvation gained through Christ.

Over the years it seems the Christmas holiday has become less and less about Jesus and God’s gift to humanity and more and more about the material possessions we can get. Our focus can sometimes stray from the spiritual blessings of God’s love. Our attitude can slip into one of greed and consumerism.

As we enter into the Christmas season, as we go through the tradition of exchanging costly presents with one another, we must see that our gifts at Christmas are but a poor reflection of the greatest gift that has ever been given, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. All of the bright paper and bows that adorn our presents, all the money spent, all the material possessions that fill our homes at the holidays are as nothing compared to the greatness of the love that God expressed to us through the baby born so long ago.

Before we allow ourselves to be caught up in the drive to spend more and more money, to give bigger and better gifts, let us be certain our attitude at the holidays is put in the correct perspective. Let us realize what the most important part of Christmas really is.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you keep Jesus at the center of Christmas?

Attitude 4

John 1:10-11

One of the gifts we received on our wedding was an incredibly nice pizza stone. It apparently helps you bake a pizza in the oven by distributing the heat more evenly. It was a nice gift in that we recognized that it was an expensive present and a well-made stone.

The problem was that we really didn’t make a lot of pizzas when we were first married, or for the first ten or fifteen years for that matter. The stone was tucked away, unused for many years until at last it either was damaged or we simply got tired of having it and we threw it out. We had a great gift that we just didn’t appreciate or value.

Unfortunately the same thing can happen with our attitude toward Jesus. What does John have to say about Jesus? What did the world NOT do? Who are the people described as “his own?”

John’s comments let us know exactly who Jesus is. He is God. He was with God in the beginning of all things and, according to John, Jesus was that part of God which created all that exists. Yet, in spite of who Jesus was, the world did not recognize him as God. Although Jesus was the Immanuel – God with us – still the people of earth did not see the value of Jesus. The people then did not receive him.

The same can be true even today. There are many in the world who do not recognize who Jesus is. They do not see the value of the baby born in Bethlehem.

And even those who are Christians, who claim a belief and acceptance of Jesus, can lose sight of the true meaning of what Christmas is all about. People today can reject him, or not receive him, if they lose sight of the meaning of Christmas.

When we approach Christmas with our focus on the gifts we exchange with one another, or we focus on the lights and decorations of Christmas, we have lost the value of the reason for the holy birth. We must keep our focus on why Christmas is celebrated. We must be certain our attitude is one that celebrates the salvation God offers through His Son. And this may require a change in our attitude this holiday.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you show that you value who Jesus is?

Attitude 3

John 3:17

The other night I had to drop our son off at a worship practice on my way to a church meeting. When we got to the church where our son was supposed to practice no one was there. We had to wait about thirty minutes until someone finally arrived and let him in, which made me about forty-five minutes late for my meeting.

While we were waiting I could see that our son was feeling uncomfortable. He said that he didn’t want me to be late for my meeting. I think he feared that I would be angry and upset, which I wasn’t. What was going on with him was far more important.

When we consider our relationship with our Almighty God we can feel a bit intimidated. While on one hand we may long to stand in the very presence of our God to experience His wonderful glory, on the other hand we are likely to be aware of how undeserving we are of God’s love. The thought of being before our Lord may make us fear His wrath and anger.

The celebration of Christmas is the celebration that God sent Himself to live among us. Those who came to honor the newborn king and those who followed him as he taught and preached were all in the very presence of God. Aware of this they may have realized how unworthy they were. They may have feared the Lord’s judgment.

But John indirectly has something to say about the birth of Jesus. What was NOT the purpose of Jesus’ coming? What did Jesus come to do?

Such knowledge, such information, such awareness may be something quite unexpected. Many people, ourselves included, may expect judgment from God. The announcement of the birth of Christ may have been cause for alarm. But the truth was that the birth of the baby in Bethlehem was an unexpected gift of mercy and love. It was an act of grace from God – grace being that undeserved love from the Lord.

As we enter into this holiday season let us not forget that we are honoring the gift of salvation. We are remembering and celebrating the forgiving love of God. We have been given the unexpected – and undeserved – forgiveness of our sins through the birth of a little baby.

DAILY CHALLENGE: This Christmas, what can you do to remind yourself of why Jesus came?

Attitude 2

Matthew 2:9-11

When I was about seven or eight years old my friend and I decided to have a party at my house. We invited some kids in the neighborhood and we planned a few games and a silly puppet show.

It was no big event, just a bunch of kids getting together to have some fun. But one of the other children, Brian, was apparently unfamiliar with our concept of a party. He showed up dressed in a small jacket and tie and bearing a gift.

The Magi from the story of Christmas have traveled a great distance to visit the new king of the Jews. They had seen a great star appear in the sky and knew it was a sign of a tremendous event. Their first stop was with King Herod, but there they learned that their search must continue. What was their attitude as they neared their destination? What did they do when they found the baby? What were their gifts?

It seems obvious that these wise men from the east were expecting to find a child of royal birth, or perhaps a great political leader who had risen to power in Israel. Their first stop was at the royal palace, but that wasn’t where the king of the Jews lived. They had to continue their journey until they found the humble home where a carpenter, his young bride, and their baby were staying.

There may have been a sense of confusion for these wise men. They seem to have been men of wealth and prestige, and here they were entering the house of an ordinary craftsman, a laborer, and not a home of a powerful and rich family.

Their gifts were expensive, rare commodities not found among the working class. They had exceptional spices and incense. They had gold. And the person to receive these gifts was a baby who was kept in a manger.

It seems apparent that the wise men were expecting one thing, but found something completely different.

As we enter this holiday season we may find ourselves expecting certain things. We may be expecting the holiday to please us with material gifts. We may be expecting a time of food and frivolity.

We may not be expecting Christmas to be a time of spiritual fulfillment. We may not be expecting God to touch our hearts and souls. But that might be exactly what will happen this Christmas. It is possible that we will find our holiday filled with the holy realization of God’s love and not the empty pleasures of materialism.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to make Christmas more of a spiritual experience this year?

Attitude 1

Luke 2:10-12

Many years ago I went to the annual church picnic our previous church used to hold. I don’t remember why I decided to go that year; I think it was out of a sense of obligation to family. I attended but expected to have a pretty boring time – I mean, how can you have any fun with church people?

I was very wrong. I had a fantastic afternoon and evening, hours of games and swimming and great food. I recall not wanting it to end, leaving reluctantly as it got dark.

Sometimes life surprises you with nice things. You may expect one thing and then get something totally different. Such is the case with the Christmas story.

Luke’s account of the miraculous gift of Jesus focuses on the shepherds who were tending their flocks near Bethlehem. While they were out in their fields one night an angel appeared to them. What hope does the angel bring? What has happened? What should the shepherds look for?

God has at last sent the Messiah, a Savior, an expression of God’s love that is meant o be received by the entire world. We can imagine the incredible joy the shepherds must have felt when they heard the news. And the angel then told them how to find this incredible gift. They were to go to Bethlehem and search for this new Messiah.

They may have expected to be told a name. They may have expected to have been told about some great and powerful leader who lived in the nearby town. But instead they are told to search for a baby. And the baby they should search for was going to be a poor child, one wrapped in the traditional swaddling cloths of the common folk and not the child of a wealthy or royal family.

The baby would not be found in a great house surrounded by the comforts of a life of plenty. Instead, the baby would be found in a feeding trough for animals.

As much as this news may have confused and confounded these shepherds, they had to be faithful and go seek out the child. They had to believe that this child born in low estate was indeed the amazing gift God had promised.

We too may have expectations for Christmas. We may expect that the season will be filled with stress and worry. We may expect the holiday to be a repeat of what we have been through before. Or our expectations may be for wonderful presents, things we would love to have in our life.

Whatever our expectations, we must approach the holiday with a heart and mind open to what God might have in store for us. If we can trust in the Lord we might be surprised at the wonderful joys we will find this holiday.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What must you do to be more open to the unexpected joys of Christmas?

Time 4

Hebrews 13:15-16

When our church took time on a Sunday morning to serve breakfast at a local soup kitchen we did more than share food. Members of the church were asked to sit down with the needy families we were serving and eat with them. In that way we shared our time and ourselves with others.

This was the gift we shared. The food we prepared had been provided by the soup kitchen. What we gave was our time and effort in preparing and serving the food. Then we gave of ourselves by talking with others and sharing time together. Finally, we worshiped together – the church members and the people who had come to get breakfast.

Christmas is a time of giving and sharing. It is a time of giving gifts to one another. These gifts can be considered a sacrifice from us, and the author of Hebrews has something to say about sacrifices.

What type of sacrifice should we offer to God? How is that done? What other sacrifices are encouraged?

It seems that most people get caught up in the materialism of the holidays. We fall prey to the trend of spending excess amounts of money and rushing through crowded stores grabbing up something we think others might like or need.

But at the center of Christmas is the gift of Jesus. That gift is a gift of sacrifice, a sacrifice God made of Himself for our benefit. The true celebration of Christmas is the reflection of such an attitude of giving.

Rather than focusing on the cost and size of the gifts we give each other, we should focus on the gift we can give to God. We should be praising God this holiday, offering thanks for the love expressed through Jesus. And that praise should be continuous with us, not just something we do once a year.

But we can’t stop with praising God. We are encouraged to do good for others. We are encouraged to share with others. These are the sacrifices that please God.

As we do our shopping this year, as we consider what this person wants and that person needs, let us remember the needy people is our society. Perhaps we can give the gift of our time in helping out others. Perhaps we can share some of our comforts with those less fortunate.

These may be the gifts that please our God and fill our holiday with joy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you help someone less fortunate this Christmas?

Time 3

Hosea 6:6

We have a wide variety of ornaments on our family Christmas tree. Many are gifts from other people. Some are antiques from my childhood. Still others are ornaments our children created when they were very young.

All of them are important to us. They carry with them the memories of years past, the memories of family and friends, and the recollection of the time and effort our children put in to making the ornaments they created.

The celebration of Christmas can be summed up with this attitude. Christmas is a reminder of the love God has for us. It is a reminder of the love we should have for each other, and it is an opportunity to share the gift of time with others.

The greatest gift of Christmas is the gift from God of Jesus. It is a gift of mercy, for Jesus came to offer peace and salvation to all people.

This passage from Hosea encapsulates the idea of Christmas and is referenced by Jesus himself in Matthew 9:13. What does God desire?

It is not important to God how much money we invest in our churches or in our lives. It is not important how much we spend on one another or what we possess. What is important to God is mercy. And the “sacrifice” referred to in Hosea and Matthew is the sacrifice of animals and grain (and, therefore, money) by faithful believers. The sacrifice God desires is the sacrifice of our time and emotions.

The same is true at Christmas. It doesn’t take a great deal of money to make for a happy holiday. The cost of the gifts exchanged at Christmas does not make the gifts more valuable. What is important is that we sacrifice time at Christmas.

We need to give time to one another. We should give time to those in need, and give time to loved ones. We should also give of our time to God.

This Christmas we can give a gift back to God by giving the gift of our time and mercy. If we are willing to sacrifice part of our busy schedules to give some time in being in the presence of God, we will be presenting God with a very precious gift.

Let this holiday be a time for you to share mercy and a time for you to acknowledge God. This type of gift is far more valuable than any amount of money you might spend.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you give mercy as a gift this year?

Time 2

Luke 2:4-7

Thinking back on all the many Christmas celebrations of my life I can’t recall more than one or two special gifts that I received over the years. While I know that the presents I received were all very nice, with time they have faded from my memory. What I remember most from all the years of celebrations are the times I was together with family and friends during the holiday.

That seems to be the greatest gifts I ever received – the time I spent with people I cared about and people who cared for me.

Christmas is the celebration of the tremendous gift of Jesus Christ. It is a time to honor and remember the fact that God gave of Himself, giving all of us the gift of His love.

This passage from Luke is at the core of the Christmas story. Where did Joseph take his wife? Why did he go? What happened there?

The story of Joseph and Mary may show us the first gift of Christmas. The gift Joseph gave was the journey he and Mary had to make to fulfill Scripture. He needed to go to Bethlehem for tax reasons – he was of the house and line of David and so had to go to David’s city. But he was also living out the prophecy of the expected Messiah. Bethlehem was to be the place where the Savior would be born.

And we can allow our imagination to work with the story we are given. This newlywed couple have left their home n Nazareth and gone to a different place. And in this different place their baby boy is born.

What did they do there? They likely spent a few months together as a small family, drawing close together in a gathering of love – two parents and a child sharing the first few weeks of a life together.

Since Joseph had his heritage in Bethlehem it is also possible that this small family was surrounded by a larger family. They may have been staying with relatives – aunts and uncles and cousins. The larger family would have gathered to celebrate with the young couple and surround them with love.

Now, just as it was then, Christmas is a time of family. It is a time to gather together and share a very precious gift – not a present that can be purchased at a store or wrapped in shiny paper. The gift we can all share is our time together, sharing love for each other and reflecting the love that God has for each of us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who will you spend time with this holiday?

Time 5

Romans 12:1

Last year several of us from church went caroling in area nursing homes. We weren’t the best of singers, but we sang with heart. It was wonderful to see the faces of so many people in these care facilities delighted to hear the familiar carols of the season.

We could have sent cards to these nursing homes. We could have purchased small gifts to be passed out to some of the residents. But instead we offered ourselves and our time and our efforts. We felt that this was in line with what Paul has to say in Romans.

What does Paul say we should do? Why should we do this? What are we doing when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices?

Our time of caroling was more than just a time of fellowship. It was more than a time of singing. It was more than a time of sharing the spirit of Christmas. By offering ourselves in this way we were worshiping God. We were living out what Paul spoke of.

This seems to be at the heart of the Christmas holiday. Many incorrectly believe the tradition of presents at Christmas comes from the fact that the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus. But really, the idea of giving gifts is based on the gift that God gave us.

Christmas celebrates the gift of Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem who would grow to be a man. As a man Jesus offered his body as a living sacrifice for our salvation.

Just as we should reflect the selfless giving that God demonstrated with the birth of the Christ child, we should also reflect the whole purpose of Christmas. We should reflect the idea of the living sacrifice. This should be how we worship God.

As we celebrate Christmas we should be sure that our celebration is more than just the exchanging of expensive gifts. We should take time this holiday to give of ourselves. We can be living gifts, living sacrifices. And as we offer our time and efforts to benefit others we are worshiping God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you give the gift of sacrifice this holiday?

Time 1

Matthew 1:20-21

“What’s in a name?” The quote is a famous line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and it is said as Juliet considers the animosity between the two families. Their feud was a fight between groups with two different last names.

For most of us our names have little meaning aside from simply identifying who we are. As we look at our faith and the celebration of Christmas we must see the importance of certain names. The very title “Christmas” comes from the fact that we are celebrating the birth of Christ. And the word “Christ” actually is a Greek word which means “Messiah.”

But we can also see that the name the Messiah was given had special meaning. As we celebrate the birth of the baby we must also recall the reason for this wonderful gift. The angel who visited Joseph explained it all. What assurance does the angel give Joseph? What name is to be given the child? What does the name mean?

Joseph was understandably concerned when he discovered that the young woman he was pledged to marry was with child. His first decision was that he would divorce her, end the agreement between the two, but he would do it in such a way that he would not bring disgrace to her. But an angel came to Joseph to explain to him what he was supposed to do.

Joseph should go through with the marriage. He had to understand that the child Mary carried was a gift from God. And he and Mary would give the child a special name – Jesus.

The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” which translates into English as “Joshua.” The name carries its own meaning, however. More than just an identifying label the name means “the Lord saves.” With his very name Joseph was announcing to the world that the baby born would save the world.

This is part of the celebration of Christmas. It is more than just a holiday to remember the birth of a child. It is a celebration that God loved us so much He sent His one and only Son to save us from sin. His gift to us was a gift of salvation, of being reconciled back to a loving God, a gift of inner peace in knowing we are deeply loved.

Part of our observance of Christmas should be a living out of this precious gift. We should be willing to give love this Christmas, not just costly items wrapped in nice paper. We should celebrate the very name of Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share a gift of love this year?

Prepare 3

1 Peter 1:8-9

Modern conveniences help us remain connected with family and friends. Although we may live a hundred miles away from loved ones we can still communicate with them over phones, e-mail and instant messages. Although we can not see them we can still express our love for them. Although we are separated by time and distance still we are connected.

In his first letter Peter speaks of a similar connection in our relationship with Jesus. What can’t we do? What do we still feel? Why do we feel this?

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, an event that took place about 2,000 years ago. With that expanse of time between the occurrence and the remembrance it is easy for us to lose sight of what is truly going on in our holiday revelry. Because of the distance of time we do not see Jesus. We did not see him while he was on earth and we do not see him now.

Added to this is the tendency for modern society to help blur the image of Christ. So often the Christmas holiday seems to deviate more and more from honoring the gift of Jesus. It seems to become more and more about material gifts and mindless parties.

But we, as faithful believers, must prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas. We must take an intentional approach to the holiday, keeping the true meaning of Christmas alive in our hearts and minds.

In spite of the obstacles of time and distance between us and the birth of Jesus we still love the Lord. We still believe in who he was and is. We still believe in the purpose and meaning of his birth and life.

We must be aware of the purpose of this tremendous gift. We must remember that Jesus was born so that we might have salvation and the promise of everlasting life with our God.

As we enter into this holiday season let us enter in with watchful eyes and an eager heart, an attitude of expectation. Let us enter the holidays prepared to truly worship the Lord, the king who brings God’s peace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you see Jesus more clearly this holiday?

Prepare 2

Matthew 2:1-2

As a pastor there are many times when people will tell me that I might expect a phone call from someone else. They often explain what is going on, what problem, what need, and then when I do receive the call I am at least partially informed of what to expect. I must be prepared so that I can help.

Part of the familiar Christmas story involves the Magi, a term which means “wise men.” Where were the Magi from? What did they want to know? What made them look for this new king?

Little is known of these Magi, but we can assume from their story and the term that is used to describe them that they were intelligent men, astronomers, and apparently men of some financial means. They must have been watching the skies for any change in the formations of the stars because the appearance of a special star tipped them off that a great event had happened. A king was born to the Jewish people.

And whoever it was that was born must have been a special king since there is little record of foreigners traveling long distances to honor any of the other kings born to a royal family. The Magi claimed that they had come, not just to bring nice gifts, but to worship this new king.

These Magi (somehow gaining the title of “kings” over the years) are a traditional part of the story. There images are among the figures of any Nativity scene during the holidays. And they teach an important lesson about our approach to the Christmas celebration.

We can assume that they had prepared for this event. Their journey and their gifts were not a spur of the moment decision. They had anticipated the birth. They had watched for the sign. They had prepared so they would be ready to worship the new king when he arrived.

We too must approach Christmas like the Magi. We too must be wise in our preparation for the holiday. We should be prepared to honor God at Christmas, not allowing the holiday to surprise us and not allowing ourselves to miss out on the true meaning of what is going on. We must be ready to worship the king this holiday.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What must you do to prepare yourself to worship Christ this Christmas?

Prepare 1

Isaiah 9:2

A few years ago our church provided gift cards for needy families in the area. I was the one fortunate enough to have the task of delivering them. It was a true joy to see the faces of those who received these gifts, faces that brightened and lit up when they realized their holiday season with all of its stress and financial burdens had just been lightened.

The gifts we give at Christmas are but a poor reflection of the greatest gift that God gave the world. The prophet Isaiah sums up the feeling we can know when we see what God has done. Who are the people walking in darkness? What is the great light? What is the land of the shadow of death?

We can easily lose sight of why we celebrate and what it is we are remembering in our holiday traditions. We can get caught up in all the decorations and the gift-giving, preceded by all the gift buying that we endure. But at the heart of it all is the gift of God’s gracious love in the form of the baby Jesus.

When we reach that realization, when it becomes clear to us that the reason for all the Christmas pageantry and busy-ness is because we are filled with joy that God has loved us so much that He sent Jesus to the world that we might have everlasting life, then our joy can flash inside of us like a brilliant light. This is the image that Isaiah addresses.

This passage from Isaiah is a standard for the holiday. It is one of the first passages read that addresses the reason for the Christmas celebration. But what we can overlook is that we are the people spoken of by the prophet. We can be those people living in darkness. We can be the ones living in a world that has no hope and no direction.

We can be the people living in the shadow of death, the death of the soul, if we are not aware of the salvation God provides. And when we realize that God has sent Christ to the world to save us, then we can have the light of hope and love brighten our empty and dark souls. We can be filled with joy.

If we will truly honor the holiday and the memory of God’s gift we must be prepared to recognize that gift. We must watch to see God’s love moving in our world today.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where do you need God’s light in your life?

Celebrate 5

Luke 12:35-36

The preparation for Thanksgiving was always a very busy time for me and my family. But, in spite of how hard some of the work may have been it was done with a joyful and glad heart.

Some of my chores were to sweep and mop the family room area, and to light the fire in the fireplace so that the room was welcoming and warm for all who came. Getting ready was a fun time of anticipation because I knew that our guests – friends and family I was anxious to see again – would be arriving throughout the day. Some would enjoy the comforts of our home for many hours and others would be arriving after dark, coming in from the cold to find a bright, warm welcome.

In Luke 12 Jesus has some words of instruction for those who would do the work of God. What are we to do? To what does he compare the work of the kingdom?

As we gather this holiday and enjoy the companionship of others let us remember those who still know loneliness and sorrows. As we celebrate the comforts and goodness we have in our lives let us remember those who have not yet found the love and grace that God can give. As we reflect on the abundance of spiritual blessings we know let us think of how we might be able to share this goodness with others.

The celebration we take part in should not be a celebration that we keep to ourselves. It should be a feast we are willing to share with others. We need to be ready and willing to open the doors to invite others in so they also might experience the love and mercy of God.

We must be ready in our celebrations to welcome the stranger, the person who is a stranger to the ways of the Lord. We must be prepared to help them find their way through the darkness of a life without hope, to find their way into the light and warmth of God’s grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you open the door for someone’s faith?

Celebrate 4

John 21:4-6

One time when fishing with my dad and a cousin on the banks of the Ohio River a small, commercial fishing boat pulled up to unload their catch. The first was so big one of the men needed both hands and all of his strength to heft it out of the holding tank. Others followed, huge fish, scooped out with a big net that was full to almost bursting with the weight of them. When they were done they came over with half a dozen big fish and tossed them to us. They said they wanted us to have them because our reaction to what they were doing had entertained them.

In John 21 we are given an account of Jesus with his disciples. What are the disciples doing? What does Jesus suggest? What is the result?

Jesus gathered his first disciples by telling them he would make them fishers of men. He meant that they would be going out into the world and “catching” people who needed to have a connection to God, who needed to have hope and joy brought into their lives through the presence of God.

This encounter in Luke 21 is a reminder that with the direction from Jesus his followers could find a large number of people who could be brought in to the kingdom of God. And when those who are lost are brought in they can become part of the wonderful banquet of God’s goodness.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, as we gather to celebrate, we should remember not only to celebrate the abundance of blessings we have, but also that we should be willing to share our abundance. And that abundance that we share is more than just material possessions. We are blessed with an abundance of love, mercy and peace from God. This is also what we should share with others.

And not only should we see that we need to share our abundance with others, we should see that there is an abundance of needy souls out in the world that should be brought in to the feast that God offers. As we recognize the feast of love and grace God gives us, let us also recognize that there are so many others who deserve to have that same fulfilling relationship with Jesus. We can be the people who make the banquet full and complete when we invite the stranger to be part of our worship and part of our own faith journey.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there someone who needs you to invite them to God’s feast?

Celebrate 3

Exodus 18:10-12

Thanksgiving has always been one of those wonderful holiday memories I carry with me. The day is very special because it is such a celebration of the goodness of life. I remember all the years as a child and a teen-ager and now, even as an adult, the times we have gathered as family. On those holidays so many come together to fill the house and share in abundance.

It is more than just an opportunity to eat too much food. It is a time to re-connect with loved ones we haven’t seen in months and months. It is a time to meet new people who are now part of the lives of those we know.

After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt they began their long journey through the wilderness. As they traveled Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, heard of what the Israelites had gone through and so came to Moses bringing with him Moses’ wife.

What words of celebration does Jethro offer? What is his realization? What do Jethro, Moses and Aaron and all the others do together?

Although our holiday of Thanksgiving is meant to commemorate the pilgrims and their survival in the new world, this instance in Exodus reminds me very much of the holiday. Relatives on both sides of the family along with other important people in Moses’ life gather together for a celebration.

Praise is offered to God for all the goodness God has shown. Honor is given to God for His provision. Then God is celebrated with a special meal, and that gathering involves friends and family, and those related by marriage.

As we celebrate our holiday this year we must follow the pattern set by Moses. We should give our thanks to God for what He has done for us. We should celebrate the goodness we have in our lives. And that celebration should not be complete unless we have included not only those who are “insiders” in our life, but the outsider as well.

The gladness and joy we feel for how God has blessed us should overflow in abundance, not just for us, but in an abundance we can share with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share your celebration of God’s goodness?

Celebrate 2

Matthew 9:35-38

Many people try very hard to be certain everything is ready for any event where guests are expected. If someone is coming to dinner you may want to be certain all the food is ready, the table is set, and the glasses for drinks are out. If planning an event at your church you want all the tables and chairs set out ahead of time, the coffee pot going, and everything tidy.

There is nothing wrong with that attitude, but we must also see that there is nothing wrong in asking guests to take part in the preparation either. There are many times when the guest actually feels better about helping out than being catered to completely. They feel part of the event because they were part of the work.

In Matthew we have a general summing up of Jesus’ ministry. What were all the things Jesus did? How did Jesus feel toward the people? What should we ask for?

The ministry of Jesus, in fact his entire purpose for becoming human and coming to earth, was all about compassion. He came because he loves us and because God wanted good things to come to us.

With that compassion Jesus taught about living in the kingdom of God. He preached. He healed people. And then at one point he invited his disciples to be part of this wonderful ministry.

The harvest Jesus is talking about is the gathering in of souls. He was talking about bringing the hopeless and sorrowful, sin-sick souls in the world to the wonderful comfort and joy of being in relationship with God. The disciples were then told to ask God to send others out in the world to do the same ministry.

And we as followers of Christ should ask God for the same thing. We should ask God to send us out into the world, to be the workers for God. We should be part of this ministry of inviting others in to experience a new life of love and grace in the presence of God.

We should be part of the preparation of the great celebration of salvation and mercy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you help with the harvest?

Celebrate 1

Luke 15:25-27

Last week we attended the final concert of the school’s brass band. Our middle child is the junior student conductor and had the honor of conducting the band in a song. Like both of his parents he was quite a showman, not only directing, but dancing and joking as he did so. As parents we were quite proud of what he has accomplished and we were glad to be there and be part of the celebration.

Our daughter was also part of the presentation, performing with the flag group that works with the band. We were proud of what she had accomplished also.

Our celebration of what our son had done should not have in any way diminished what we felt for our daughter. It should not in any way diminish what we feel for our oldest son who has had his own set of successes in life. The celebration of one good thing does not take away from the joys that other situations and accomplishments bring.

Today’s passage is just a small piece of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Most people are familiar with the story. The younger son of a rich man takes his share of the inheritance and squanders it in frivolous living. Poor and struggling, he decides to return to his father and hope for a kind welcome.

What type of response does the older son hear? Why is there a celebration?

The younger son wanted and expected little more than fairness and mercy when he came back, but instead he got more than the kindness he hoped for. He is celebrated. His return is cause for a feast. But this response angers the older brother who stayed with the father.

The parable is a message to all of us. God delights in our return to His good graces and to His kingdom. God does not want any of us to be wandering hopelessly in the world. He welcomes all who will return from a life of sin to a life of goodness.

But those who consider themselves righteous and devout believers can often feel that they are being neglected because God has set His eyes on the lost. As believers we need to join in the celebration. God does not love the wayward soul more than the obedient believer, and celebrating the return of a sinner does not diminish the good we have done.

As we celebrate the goodness God has given us in our lives, let us be willing to celebrate also the goodness that is given to others as well. Let us invite all to be part of the gladness God gives.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share your celebration of God’s goodness?

Confidence 5

Exodus 20:15-17

One of the most difficult issues I have to cope with is deceit. I am very upset whenever someone tells a lie or is underhanded in their dealings with others. It is a big part of who I am to be as honest and open as I possibly can at all times.

The Ten Commandments conclude with three more laws from God that address how we deal with one another. What are we NOT to do? What is your understanding of what it means to "covet" something?

So often people who make reference to the Ten Commandments will say that one of the commandments is that we should never lie. While I would agree that lying should not be part of who we are or what we do, I think it may be an over-simplification of what is being commanded by God.

We are not to steal; that is, we are not to take things that do not belong to us. We are also not to give false testimony against others. This seems to go deeper than simply telling a fib.

To steal and give false testimony, to covet what others have, is a much deeper problem than simply taking and lying. These three commandments seem to me to be addressing an overall attitude. We should not deliberately and willfully bring about problems for others around us.

We should not take away from what others have managed to gather for themselves. We should not work to establish falsehoods that will cause problems for others. We should not desire what others have so much that it consumes us with envy and causes us to want harm to befall others.

Coveting what others have is more than just wishing we had more or desiring to have what others may have. It seems to be more of an attitude of willful destruction, a desire to take away and cause harm.

While we may claim that we always obey the Ten Commandments, there are many who present the fa├žade of being righteous when in our hearts we still covet and deceive so that we may improve our status. The Ten Commandments taken as a whole seem to address the need for us to keep God at the center of who we are and for us to live peacefully with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be certain you are living out all ten of God’s commandments?

Confidence 4

Exodus 20:12-14

I may have mentioned this before, but sometimes when our children ask us why they must do this chore or that small task we tell them, “So you can live in our house.” Being part of a family requires that you take part in the activities of that family, and sometimes those requirements are chores or work.

The Ten Commandments continue with some more rules to follow in life. What is our attitude to be toward our parents? What will be the result of this? What other restrictions are placed on us?

Now that God has established His place in our lives and set forth the laws regarding our approach to all things holy, He moves on with the Ten Commandments. The fifth, sixth and seventh commandments are regulations on how to function in a working society. We are to give due respect to our elders, specifically, we should honor our parents. These are the people who have brought us into this world. They are the ones who have provided for us, kept us safe, and given us a place to live. They are deserving of respect.

And more than just respect they are to be honored. That is, they should be obeyed and treated as special. This is part of being a human being in a workable, functioning community.

Likewise, we are not to take the life of another person. Nor should we violate the sanctity of marriage.

All of these regulations should not be that much of a challenge for us to obey. By following the Ten Commandments we are contributing to the stability of our culture and also, in an indirect way, giving honor to God who has set up our society.

This may have been a change for the Israelites at the time of Moses. They may have been accustomed to a culture where life was easily disposed of and where the sanctity of family was not respected.

We can also encounter differing attitudes in our modern culture. Life seems to be devalued by many and marriage is seen as a convenient union that may be ignored if we choose.

Like the Israelites under Moses we must have the confidence in God’s wisdom to obey the basic rules of God. In this way we give honor to life and to the ways of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What must you do to obey these commandments of God?

Confidence 3

Exodus 20:7-8

As a child the general consensus was that a person should never use the name “God” as part of any curse, even though a common swear begins with it. For fear of uttering the Lord’s name incorrectly I almost reached a point where I was afraid to ever speak it in any circumstance. There are some who may agree with this type of thinking, but as I have matured I think the mandates of God are less about filling us with paralyzing fear and more about pointing our attitudes in the right direction.

God’s instructions to Moses and the Israelites continue in this passage. What is the third commandment? What is the fourth?

I don’t think we should be afraid of speaking the Lord’s name. I believe the misuse of God’s name is less about speaking incorrectly and more about the value we should give to God. Likewise, the Sabbath may not have to be a day where we refrain from all activity, but we should value time with God.

In our current society it seems more and more people toss the concept of God around in conversation without realizing or understanding the honor and respect we should be giving. The name of God is invoked in blessings and curses and bantered about in conversation without any recognition of how important God should be to us.

Similarly, every day of the week has become like any other. Our work and play fill our days from Sunday to Saturday, and we don’t allow ourselves any space to spend time in the presence of God. All of our other obligations and activities have begun to crowd out the Lord. We just don’t have time to worship, to pray, to be in the presence of God. And “God” is a concept that can be ignored or discussed without any emotional attachment.

I believe these are all violations of the third and fourth commandments. If we will truly worship God we must have the confidence to obey His rules, and part of this is offering due respect to God, treating any mention of the Lord with real reverence. And part of that reverence is to value the relationship we have with God, deliberately setting aside time in our busy weeks as a Sabbath to the Lord, time to be with God in worship and prayer.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you offer respect to God? How can you remember the Sabbath?

Confidence 2

Exodus 20:1-4

We like to gather as a family now and then and play various games. It’s a great way to pass the time, to have fun, and a great way to be together enjoying one another’s company. One of the essential parts of playing any game is understanding the rules. To sit together and move game pieces around the board with no purpose really accomplishes nothing.

The same thinking can apply to our journey of faith. In the history of the Israelites, a relationship with God began with Abraham and the relationship was simple. In Genesis 17:1 God told Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” That was the relationship.

Now that the Israelites had been delivered from Egypt it was time for the relationship to take on some structure. Who has delivered these rules? What is the first commandment? What is the second?

God has established some organization – rules – to the life of a holy believer. This is the beginning of what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments. They are the basic guides to holy living, the foundation of a relationship with God.

And where does it all begin? It begins by acknowledging that these commands have come from God Himself. And the first of the commands is to keep the Almighty as the one and only true God we worship and adore.

The second is like it. We are not to have any other idols, or gods, that will compete with God.

If we will be true believers in the Lord, if we will be obedient followers of the Almighty, we must first have the courage to leave the comforts we know and follow God. Then we must have the confidence to be obedient to the structure God places in our lives and in our faith.

The most essential part of this is keeping the Lord at the center of who we are and what we do. God must be the primary focus and center of our faith. With God as the core of our belief and the central guide of our actions we will have the confidence to obey whatever God asks of us, to go wherever God will lead.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you keep God at the center of your life?

Confidence 1

Psalm 119:41-42

I have been noticing more and more situations in television shows and movies where characters make erroneous assumptions about religion. Sometimes there are questions raised about the Christian faith. When I see these situations or hear the comments I feel like jumping up and giving my interpretation of religion. But, of course, that is somewhat pointless since the people can’t hear me.

At least I feel confident enough in my faith to be able to respond should any of these situations arise in my life. As believers we need to be prepared to deal with the misinformed, the misguided, and those who are just not seeing the truth.

The psalmist has his faith firmly grounded in the Lord in today’s passage. What does he ask for? What confidence does he hold? Where does it come from?

Just as we should face each new day with the assurance that God is with us and that we are called to share our faith with others, we should know in our hearts that God has promised us His unfailing love and our salvation. With that confidence in our hearts we can confront any situation or person who will seek to sway us from the holy path of our faith.

And where does this confidence come from? It comes from the Word of God. If we can become more familiar with the teachings of God as presented in the Bible, if we can build up our spiritual strength through worship and Christian fellowship, then we can walk with calm assurance through all the trials and tribulations of life.

Like the psalmist we must trust in the word of the Lord. We must live in the secure confidence of the promises God has made to us. The messages of the Bible are not just for distant people who lived long, long ago. The words of God are intended for us today.

We must move forward in life with the surety that Jesus was speaking to us when he said “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will help you trust in the word of God?

Courage 5

Romans 14:17-18

Paul’s comment in verse 17 seems an odd thing to say. But the reference to eating and drinking is a concluding statement to what he has addressed throughout most of Chapter 14. He has spoken about potential conflict among believers when this one considers a certain food or drink acceptable while others do not. He goes on to point out that other activities done in faith may be held sacred by some but not by others.

The over-riding concept is that the details of faithful living are not as important as our overall attitude of faith. Our faith must be about serving God and furthering His kingdom.

What comment does Paul make about working for God? What should we find as we commune with the Holy Spirit? How does God feel about the devout believer?

It is not a new concept that people see certain aspects of church as important while others do not. Apparently, people in the early church often allowed their differing values to cause dispute. But, as Paul points out, our faith is more than just the activities of worship. It is more than just a time to be with others who are just like us.

Our faith and our connection to God should be a time when we build up our spirituality to become more righteous, to develop our morality, and to focus on doing good and holy things to help others. Our relationship with God should be a time when we find the peace that comes from being in intimate communion with the Holy Spirit of God. Through that we find joy and comfort. Through our connection with God we learn to have the courage to face the adversities of life.

Those who are faithful believers, who have the strength and courage to trust in God, who are willing to share the love and mercy of the Lord serve Jesus Christ. In this way we are pleasing to God. We are approved by men; that is, other people will see the goodness of a strong faith in God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you deepen your connection to the Holy Spirit in your faith community?

Courage 4

Psalm 91:9-10

When the youth group at our previous church took a mission trip to North Carolina they stopped to help a van that was broken down on the side of the road. As they approached the van one of the people there said, “You’re Christians, aren’t you?”

Our youth leader said, yes, they were and asked how they knew. The man said, “Because we just prayed that God would send us someone to help.”

The story is an incredible testimony to the power and grace of God. Unfortunately, the solution to our troubles doesn’t always come as quickly as that.

The author of Psalm 91 has a great deal of confidence in God. What advice does he give? What assurance does he offer?

A common misconception is that once you have turned your heart and your life over to God then all of your problems will disappear. It can cause those who believe to doubt their faith when troubles do arise. “Why has God abandoned me?” they might ask.

The words of Psalm 91 can’t always be taken quite so literally. Life is full of troubles and problems. Some are of our own making. We make wrong decisions and bad choices and then suffer the consequences of them.

Other troubles come from people and situations outside our own control. We can feel assaulted and under attack from many different sources.

While I do not believe that faith in God will spare us from all heartache and pain, I do believe that a confident and sure trust in the Lord will bring us safely through any situation. We may have to endure hardships and troubles, but if we believe completely in the love and grace of God then we can weather the storms of life with a peace in our hearts that lets us know that goodness will come from even the darkest of times.

The disaster and harm mentioned in this psalm is more of a devastation of the heart and soul. If we will take refuge in the Lord then our troubles cannot shake our heart and spirit. No harm will befall your soul.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you make the Most High your dwelling?

Courage 3

Exodus 12:21-23

One of the most frightening things we can face in our lives is any time when we need to have surgery performed. In those times we must learn to have courage and faith, for we are trusting in the skill of the surgeon and staff as well as the grace of God as we allow ourselves to become helpless and at the mercy of so many other people.

The Israelites went through a similar situation as God prepared to set them free from the bondage they were experiencing in Egypt. God had afflicted Egypt with many plagues in an attempt to have the pharaoh set the people free, but the king would not relent. Finally, God sent one last plague, the death of the firstborn, to turn Pharaoh’s heart. To be safe the Israelites had to trust and obey God.

What instructions did Moses give? What assurance was given?

We all know the result of this final plague. In retrospect we can see the great power of God to protect the Israelites from harm. But at the time the Hebrew people could not be absolutely certain their actions would protect them.

They had to have the courage to believe that they would be safe even though they were in a helpless situation. They had to trust that God would honor His promise and spare their families because they had followed His instructions of slaughtering a lamb and painting their doorposts with its blood.

We can imagine their fear as they heard the cries of the Egyptians, as they listened to the sounds of the Angel of Death visiting each household that was not protected. Certainly they wondered if their obedience was sufficient to save them from this terrible fate.

We also face many afflictions and situations in our lives that may make us fear the results. We may tremble with fear wondering if we have done what is right and wondering if God will be true to His word.

As faithful believers we must have the courage to hold to our faith. We must have courage to believe that God will indeed be with us to protect us from harm.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can help you have courage in the face of distress?

Courage 2

Galatians 5:13

In the movie “Secretariat,” the character of the daughter – part of the anti-establishment movement of the 70s – asks her parents “Why do we call it freedom when it costs something?” Good question.

As we consider our military veterans at this time and the sacrifices they have made, as we consider our troops serving now on foreign soil, we may wonder why it is that we are so involved in the struggles of other nations. I believe today’s passage may be at the core of that attitude.

What does Paul say of those who believe in Jesus Christ? What warning does he give? What does he urge the believer to do?

The freedoms we enjoy in our country are the freedoms from oppression and hopelessness. We enjoy the freedom of living in a country where we are not held down by our own governing bodies. We are not victims of tyrannical rulers or ruthless military powers.

Similarly, we have freedom in our faith. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, because of God’s mercy and grace, we are free from the burdens of sin and hopelessness. We are assured of a great eternal reward. We are released from the guilt and pain of our own wrong-doing and can live lives of joy and happiness knowing that we are loved by God. We are precious to the Almighty.

As we enjoy these freedoms, not just political freedoms but freedom of the soul and spirit, we must remember that these freedoms do not exist for our own selfish interests. Our freedoms could cause us to fall into self-indulgent and self-destructive behaviors if we let them, but we are called to a higher purpose.

Both our political freedom and our spiritual freedom are there to be shared. Both exist within us so that we might share those freedoms with others.

Just as politically our nation involves itself in the struggle of people trying to shed the yoke of oppression and hardships, we as Christians need to be involved in helping others discover the same freedom of the soul that we enjoy. We are called to share the renewing and refreshing grace and love of God with those who are trapped in a life of sin and despair.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you share the freedom of faith that you have?

Courage 1

Joshua 1:9

Our oldest son bought his first car this past week. He has been working to get it in shape – replacing the ignition switch, flushing the radiator, changing the oil. For my part I bought him his first tank of gas and then got him an ice scraper and a blanket, preparation for what lies in store this coming winter.

We can take the same approach to our life in faith. Do we have everything we might need as we face each day and the challenges it might bring?

God’s command to Joshua in today’s passage is a good one to remember as true believers. Where do the instructions come from? What attitude should Joshua have? Who is with him?

Although these commands were meant for the leader of the Jewish people thousands and thousands of years ago, the same can apply to each of us. God is the one who has commanded us in how we are to live and what we are to do as believers. God has sent us out to share His love with all the world.

Just as Joshua was certain to encounter those who opposed him, we will encounter those who will oppose us. We will be faced with temptations and lures that will try to distract us from our holy purposes.

But like Joshua we should be strong and courageous. We should not fear or feel discouraged as we attempt to live out the love of God. We are setting out on a journey of faith, a journey that begins each morning when we begin our day. And like any journey we make we must be certain we have all that we need before we go.

Before we start each day, before we confront the challenges of life that may cause us fear or discouragement, we should remind ourselves that what we are doing as Christians is what God wants us to do. We should remind ourselves that we have what it takes to accomplish our tasks because we have the greatest asset of all. God is with us wherever we go.

With God at our side we can confront any and all challenges. Through the power and presence of God Most High we can overcome all obstacles and accomplish God’s holy tasks.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that God is with you wherever you go?

Remember 5

Romans 2:6-7

At Bible study the other night I told about the differences between me and my brother. My brother didn’t like to tell my parents where he was going and what he was doing. In response my parents were very strict with him.

In contrast I was fairly open about where I was going and who I would be with. In response my parents were very lenient and forgiving with my curfew and what I was permitted to do. We both got what we gave. If we were good we received good.

In the same way our faith life can receive good or bad from God depending on what we invest in it. What does Paul claim God will give to us? What is the reward for those who persist at doing Godly things?

It can be a very difficult thing to think of all those we have known who have passed on from this life to the next. Often the question arises about where that loved one will spend eternity. Will they receive the gift of glory and everlasting life? Were they good and holy examples of what it means to live as a Christian?

So many of the people we have known over the years, those who are no longer with us, have had an influence in our lives. So many have been an example that we could follow, an example of kindness and caring. We can take comfort in trusting that each one we have known who was a good example of holy living has received the glory that God has promised. Those who stood out as shining examples of Christ’s love and mercy most certainly have received the blessings of God’s grace. And all those saints who have gone on before were examples to us, showing us how we should live out our faith.

As we take comfort in the assurance of the eternal rewards that have been given to those we know, let us examine ourselves and our own attitudes and actions in faith. If we will be people who live out the teachings of Jesus, if we will show mercy, if we can be that example of holy striving and righteous living then we certainly can trust in the glory that awaits us. God will give to us according to what we have done.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to seek glory, honor and immortality?

Remember 4

Psalm 4:6

Putting jigsaw puzzles together can be a lot of fun even if it is challenging. It is the challenge and the success – or overcoming the challenge – that brings about the satisfaction of completing the puzzle.

I suppose it is possible to put a puzzle together through trial and error with all of the pieces, but I have the most success when I keep the puzzle box lid near at hand. That way I can look at the picture on the box so I know what it is I am trying to build. The picture serves as a guide for me.

Our journey of faith can be like putting a puzzle together. The psalmist relates a question that many people might ask. What is the question? What request is made?

Like a jigsaw puzzle our faith can raise questions. We don’t always understand or see what it is we are supposed to be doing. We don’t always know if we are doing the right thing. Like the puzzles we assemble for fun, our faith also needs a guide, a completed picture to show us where we should go.

These guides can be found in other believers. People we know who are strong in their faith, those who seem secure in their relationship to God, can be an inspiration to us. They can set the example we need to know what it is we are trying to achieve. Through them we might see the face of God because they have lived out or reflected God’s holy purposes.

The observance of “All Saints Day” is an opportunity for us as believers to remember the good work and good examples of those believers who have gone on before us. We can look at the legacy of these lives of faith and see them as that completed picture, that goal we are trying to reach.

But as we remember those who have been examples to us, let us remember that we too should be examples to others. We should pattern our lives in such holy pursuit that our own lives might serve as guidance for others. Through us perhaps the light of the face of God might shine on others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you shine the light of God on others?

Remember 3

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

“It’s no skin off my nose.” Most are familiar with this expression. It is often said when advice is offered but not followed. It isn’t the person giving the advice who suffers when that advice is rejected, but the one who rejects it. Such an attitude could also apply to teaching about holy living.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he addresses guidance for holy living. What has God NOT called us to? What has God called us to? If we reject holy guidance who are we rejecting?

Paul makes it clear – God does not desire that we live lives of sin and error. He does not want us to do harm to others and to ourselves, to be self-seeking and cruel. Rather, God desires that we strive to be the holy people we are called to be.

As we move forward in our faith journey we can receive guidance from other believers. Those who are strong in their relationship with God can help us find our way and give us help in growing deeper in our faith. We can look to those who are strong Christians as examples of how to live a good and righteous life.

As we consider those we know who have passed on we can recognize the good examples of faithful believers they have been. We can see that we can learn from what they have taught.

But it is up to us to embrace this guidance and the examples given. It is up to us to value what God desires for our life and to try to live out the love of God. It is our choice to live this way or that.

And who is it that is hurt when we choose to do wrong? If we choose to ignore the teachings of Christ, if we choose to ignore the lessons of Christian living, if we choose to turn our backs on the good examples of righteous believers we are not taking away from these wonderful saints. Our errant ways do not diminish the good that others do.

If we choose to turn from God we are not taking away from the good that has been done, we are simply rejecting God and His desires for us. Instead of rejecting the holiness God desires for us we should embrace it.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What do you do to avoid rejecting God’s desires for your life?

Remember 2

Luke 3:8

When my father had to travel to Europe for his job – repairing dry-cleaning machines – one of the company’s European sales representatives escorted him around. The man’s last name was Van Leu, and he was just an average man with an average job. But whenever he went to a restaurant he would make a big fuss and claim he was Doctor Van Leu. “You’ve lost the reservations for Dr. Van Leu?!” “You expect Dr. Van Leu to sit there?!”

My dad said he put on such an act that restaurant staff would really scramble to get him the best table, the best service, the best food, and so on. And it was all because of the name.

In Luke we have an account of John the Baptist giving warning to the crowds who have come to hear him. What should they do? What should they not do? Why not?

John’s comments here are addressed to the behavior that must have been exhibited by those who were coming out to be baptized by him. Apparently it had become the trendy thing to do, to go be baptized by this prophet. We can imagine those coming out were doing so because it was fitting for their position in society.

They could claim Abraham as their ancestor. They were devout Jews who obeyed the Jewish laws. They were doing the correct religious rituals.

But John was attacking their motivation. The name of Abraham was not important. It might impress this person or that, but it wouldn’t impress God.

What would impress God would be to do the holy work of a good person, one who was humble and penitent.

We can claim the title of “Christian.” We can claim that we have been attending church for years. But all of that doesn’t mean anything if we aren’t living out what it means to be a Christian. We must produce the fruit of our faith, the fruit of love and mercy and good works in the name of God.

As we consider those who have passed on in our lives, and consider the legacy they have left behind, we must think also of our own legacy. Will people remember our names and the titles we give ourselves, or will they remember the good we have lived out?

DAILY CHALLENGE: How do you live out the title of “Christian?”

Remember 1

Luke 16:27-31

The other day at church we had a new curtain hung over a small window. The curtain rod was not secure, however, as it was the wrong type of rod. Still, the curtain was functioning as long as no one touched it. Someone came up to admire the new curtain and I warned them, “Don’t touch it.” But as the words were coming out of my mouth the woman touched the curtain and it fell.

Today’s passage is part of a longer story Jesus tells of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man dies and goes to hell, while the poor man receives the comfort of heaven. What does the rich man request? What is Abraham’s response? What reason does the rich man offer for the request (verse 30)? What is the final decree?

We don’t always pay attention to the many warnings and advice we may receive in life. Sometimes we have to go through the experience before the lesson sinks in, and sometimes that is much too late.

A poorly hung curtain that must be picked up off the floor is no big deal in our lives. But the story Jesus tells is of a more important issue. He is talking about our eternal reward and eternal condemnation, the results of our actions in life.

Those we know who have passed on from this life to the next are aware of what awaits us in the great beyond. They could, if they were able, tell us very earnestly how we should be living our lives. Yet, it is not to be.

We do, however, have someone who is able to tell us about how we should be living our lives so that we might be spared eternal punishment, and how we should keep the focus of our attitudes and actions on the goodness we are called to live out. Jesus is the one who has shown us how it is we should be living.

Yet there are so many who still continue to disregard the good teachings of the Lord. There are still those who will not approach their spiritual lives with the commitment and heartfelt attitudes we are called to have. They will not listen to the teachings of the Bible and will not even listen to the one who has been raised from the dead.

As we think of those we have lost over the years, the great saints who have gone before us, let us remember the teachings and examples they have shown. Let us also commit ourselves to obeying the instructions of the greatest teacher, Jesus Christ.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will help you remember the teachings of Jesus?