Family 5

John 15:15

With the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas our sons’ girlfriends are learning all the family traditions. They are picking up on the personalities of our relatives and beginning to understand the relationships between the family members. An outsider, someone who is not part of our family, has no need to understand all these things.

While speaking to his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion Jesus lets them know where they stand with him. What name is taken away from the disciples? What are they now? Why is this?

The disciples followed Jesus in his ministry. They learned from him. They assisted him in the things that he did. In some ways they were like servants to him. At the very least they were students.

As the ministry of Jesus drew to an end, as he neared the end of his time on earth, he explained a change that had come about with his disciples. They were no longer pupils. They were no longer servants.

Instead, these devoted followers, these believers, were now friends to Jesus. They had learned everything Jesus had to teach. They understood things now. Although Jesus uses the term “friends” these followers were very much like family to Jesus.

We who believe in Jesus, who accept and believe that the child we celebrate at Christmas is truly our Savior and king, are people who are brought in to a deeper relationship with Christ. We no longer live in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. We live in the light of God’s love.

We are friends to Jesus. We are more than friends; we are part of the family of our loving Savior. The celebration of Christmas is a time to share joy and love with family. Now that family includes Jesus.

As we enjoy Christmas we must be certain to make God, our heavenly Father, and Christ our king part of the joyous celebration. We are all part of one big family now.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you make Christ part of Christmas?

This is the last 10/2 Grow Daily Devotion for 2011. We wish all of you a joyous Christmas filled with the love of family and the love of God. The daily devotions will return on January 2, 2012. – Roger and Peggy

Family 4

John 1:11-13

My nephew and his wife adopted a child a few years back. The boy’s biological mother was unable to care for the child so she gave him up for adoption. Now the little boy has a safe and loving home.

Such a story is not unusual to most people. Adoptions happen all the time. They are a wonderful opportunity to provide a warm and loving home to a child in need, a child who otherwise may have a life of struggles and challenges.

While the Gospel of John does not have the traditional Christmas story we are accustomed to hearing during Advent, what the Gospel writer says fits well in the Christmas season. What is said of Jesus? How did most people respond to the arrival of Jesus? What does Jesus offer to those who believe?

Mary and Joseph and Jesus began as a family in humble surroundings, the baby being placed in a feed trough – a manger – because there was no room for the baby anywhere else. Shepherds were told about the miraculous birth and were invited to see their Savior. Magi traveled from far off countries to honor the child because they recognized him as a king.

In spite of all that surrounded that special birth, in spite of the signs from heaven, not everyone accepted the fact that Jesus was the Son of God. Not everyone recognized the baby as the king God had sent. Even as Jesus grew and began his ministry not everyone accepted what he had to say.

Jesus was rejected by many of the people, the people he had come to save.

But if we believe in all that Jesus is, if we believe he is the Son of God, if we believe the baby was our Savior and king, then we are invited in to the family of God, the family that Jesus is part of. When we recognize Jesus for all that he is – Mighty God, Prince of Peace – we are adopted into a new family. We may not be related to Jesus in the same way that Joseph, Mary, and his brothers and sisters were but we are part of this great family of love.

Let us learn to celebrate the family that we have been brought into, the family of Jesus. It is a family of great love and grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will remind you that you are part of Jesus’ family?

Family 3

Matthew 12:46-50

The other night we had our church family Christmas dinner and program. Instead of the traditional event that featured the youngest children in the church singing songs and acting out the Christmas story, representatives from every Sunday school class gave short presentations of stories, readings and song. It truly was a church-wide program and it highlighted the fact that we are all part of one larger family – the family of God in the church.

Jesus was part of a family. Most people know that Jesus was part of a small family with Joseph as his father and Mary as his mother. But we have also seen that Jesus had brothers and sisters as part of his family. Now, in Matthew, we see a visit from Mary and his brothers. How did Jesus respond when told that his family was asking to see him? Who are Jesus’ mother and brothers?

At first glance this story can be seen as a slight to his earthly family. Jesus seems to be ignoring his mother and brothers who have come to see him about some matter.

We are not told that Jesus refused to speak to his family when they came looking for him. What we have is Jesus taking an opportunity to expand our view of who is part of his family.

Mary was indeed Jesus’ mother and his brothers are listed by name later in Matthew. We know who his mother and brothers are. But now Jesus points out that any person who does the will of God, our heavenly Father, is a brother or sister or mother to Jesus. Jesus is not excluding his earthly family; he is including all believers into his family.

We may look at our own situation at the holidays and feel that we want to spend time with family. We may plan to visit and exchange gifts with parents and siblings, possibly even cousins and uncles and aunts and others. We may be able to trace our family relations by blood as we consider our family.

But as we celebrate Christmas this year let us expand our view of our family. Jesus was given as God’s gift of love, and he came as part of an earthly family. But now we are included in the family that belongs to Christ. We are all part of one family under God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who needs to be part of your family?

Family 2

Matthew 13:55-56

With all the giving of gifts at Christmas, the many commercials and ads that urge buying the best and most expensive presents for others, the holiday often becomes a time of materialism. Christmas can become a celebration of possessions, a focus that takes us away from the gift of love from God.

But as time moves on, as we grow and mature, especially as we mature in our faith we can realize that the gifts – the things – of Christmas don’t have the appeal they once did. What becomes important is the time we spend together with the ones we love.

Although the focus of Advent and Christmas is often the baby in the manger, we must see that Jesus was part of a family. As Jesus was teaching in his hometown the people were amazed and in their amazement they wondered about this man they had known so many years. What questions did they ask? What family members are mentioned specifically?

In the amazement of the crowd, the questions they ask of each other, we see some details about the private life of Jesus. They mention his father, Joseph, someone we already know. They also talk about Mary, his mother. But now they talk about siblings to Jesus.

Listed by name are four brothers; James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. Although they are not named, sisters are mentioned and the words “all his sisters” seems to hint at three or more. Jesus was not alone in his life. He had brothers and sisters as he grew up.

Why is this important? I believe it is important for us to remember that our Lord and Savior was no stranger to the relationships we have in life. He had friends. He had parents. He had siblings. Jesus is completely able to understand whatever it is we go through in our lives because he experienced it too.

Christmas can be a celebration not just of gifts given and not just the greatest gift of Jesus, but also a celebration of time together with family. Jesus was the first child of a family, and that family has now grown to include each of us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who needs to be included in your Christmas?

Family 1

Luke 2:4-7

Christmas is more than just a pleasant holiday we celebrate each winter. It is a time of sharing together with family. It is a celebration of the holy family – Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – and as such is a celebration of all families.

We are familiar with the Christmas story – not just the story of angels and shepherds and wise men – but also the story of a family. Where did Joseph go? Why did he go there? Who was with him? What was their relationship? What happened in Bethlehem?

Jesus did not enter into this world through some mysterious way, suddenly appearing in the streets of Bethlehem or Jerusalem. He did not come to earth in a strange light or cloud of smoke. He came into the world as all people do, through human birth.

Both Joseph and Mary, descended from the line of David, were required by the ruler’s decree at that time to return to the town of their heritage, to Bethlehem. While they were there fulfilling their legal responsibility Mary gave birth to a child.

We see in this story the actions of a dedicated husband and father. Joseph is obeying the law of the land and returning to Bethlehem even though it was a hardship to him as he was in the company of his new wife already pregnant. We see a loving mother, Mary, wrapping her child in cloths – a tradition of that culture to ensure strong, straight legs – and giving him the most warm and comfortable bed she could find.

With the arrival of the baby Jesus we have a growing family. But there is an interesting word used that we often overlook. This was her “firstborn” child. It was not her only child. The implication is that other children would follow.

Jesus came into this world as part of a family; a family we will soon see will grow to include brothers and sisters. The gift of Christmas is Jesus, but it is also the gift of family and the love that exists between parent and child, brother and sister. Christmas is the celebration of God’s love that brings parents and children together in an all-encompassing love of one universal family.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to make the holiday about family love?

Magi 5

Jeremiah 33:14-15

There is a sense of peace that comes with Christmas. Gathering with family and friends in the comfort of our homes, watching the bright lights of the Christmas tree, knowing that there is a general feeling of love and compassion in the world at Christmas can bring a sense of serenity.

While the celebration of the holiday can be a time of fun and laughter, we must also remember the way in which God’s promises are fulfilled in the birth. We have already seen that this gift of God’s love, the baby Jesus, was a gift intended for us since the beginning. We have already seen that Jesus came to save us from our sins and offer us everlasting life. We have seen that this gift of grace was meant for all people; the rich, the poor, the righteous and the outcast.

Now we look back again at the prophets of old to see the promise that God has made. According to the prophet Jeremiah what will God do? What type of king will Jesus be?

Once more we see the Bible telling us that Jesus was more than just a good man, more than a compassionate teacher. We see again that the baby born was a descendent from David, a child born to be a king. We know, however, that Jesus is more than just an earthly king. He is the spiritual king.

And knowing this should bring us a sense of peace in our hearts. Knowing that Jesus was born to be the king who will do what is just and right should give us the serenity that comes with assurance, of knowing that we are ruled by a righteous and holy king, a king not of this earth.

This Christmas let us remember that Christ is our king. He is the Lord who was born to bring justice and righteousness to the world. He has come to bring us peace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can bring you a sense of peace this holiday season?

Magi 4

Luke 1:28-33

Christmas is a time of happiness and joy. It is a time to find gladness in knowing we have received the gift of God’s love and mercy. But the baby we celebrate is more than just an expression of love to give us hope and peace.

At Christmas we celebrate the gift from God, the baby Jesus given to save us. We likely have a Nativity scene set up somewhere to remind us of the story. And at the center of that comforting tableau is a baby in a manger, a child born to a young mother.

In Luke 1 Mary is visited by an angel who gives her some exciting news. How does he greet Mary? What is Mary’s reaction? What wonderful things are promised about the child?

The angel, Gabriel, has some information for this young woman. Gabriel has the advantage in that he knows what will happen with the child that will be born. Mary is not yet aware of all that will happen and so reacts with a bit of worry.

But the angel explains the importance of the birth of this child. It is not just any child who will be born. This child will have an incredible future.

Gabriel explains that the baby, Jesus, will be great. He will be the Son of God. As the Son of God, Jesus will receive the authority of God. He will be a great king. He will be part of the royal lineage passed down from Abraham to Isaac to David and to Solomon. And what is more his kingdom will never end.

In this prophesy from the angel Gabriel we see the majesty and glory of who Jesus is. He is more than just a child. He is more than the son of an average mother and a working father.

Jesus is a great king. But he is more than just a king in the earthly sense. He is a king in the spiritual sense. He is the Son of the Most High God, and therefore his realm is all the earth and all of our hearts.

Christmas is more than just a time to exchange presents. It is more than just a time of joy and happiness. It is also a time where we recognize the spiritual kingship of Jesus, and worship and praise him for who he is.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you give honor to Jesus this Christmas?

Magi 3

John 1:15

Christmas can be a time of contrasts. While the weather outside may be dreary and depressing, the season brings its own warmth. While the dark days of winter are upon us, there is the light of joy and hope in us. While we celebrate the birth of a child, a child born in a simple setting to poor parents, we also celebrate a great king.

The Gospel of John gives us some understanding of who Jesus is in the opening verses. It speaks of Jesus being the “Word” of God. Jesus was a part of God and remains a part of God. Jesus is the light of humanity.

The Gospel of John also speaks about John the Baptist. This prophet proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Savior who had been hoped for and sought after. What does John the Baptist say about Jesus? How was Jesus “before” John the Baptist?

At first glance this verse may seem a bit convoluted and confusing. Jesus came after John. Jesus surpassed John. Jesus was before John.

John the Baptist first states that Jesus has come after him. We know through Luke 1 that John the Baptist was born first, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a cousin to Mary. In this way John came first.

But now John the Baptist claims that Jesus was before him. John is acknowledging what has been said earlier in this gospel. Jesus – the Word – was with God in the beginning. Jesus, as a part of God, has been present since before John was conceived.

John the Baptist also points out that Jesus has surpassed him. John the Baptist was an important figure in the good news from God and an important figure in the Christmas story. But Jesus is far greater than John ever was.

Jesus is the very Son of God. He was given as a gift to the world, a gift to all humanity. He came to be our Savior, the Messiah who would remove our sin and despair and give us joy and hope and peace.

Like John we must acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus. We must see that this baby we celebrate is more than a child. Although born in humble surroundings he was born the king of all things.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you keep Jesus as the king at Christmas?

Magi 2

Micah 5:2

As we decorate for Christmas we pull out all the old ornaments we have collected over the years. Each has a memory and a story for us, but some of my favorite decorations are paper plates that bear the handprints of our children. When our children were in pre-school they dipped their palm in green paint and then pressed their hands on a paper plate.

These are simple things – inexpensive paper, cheap paint – but they are a reminder of how little and innocent our kids were so many years ago. I treasure these ornaments.

We are all familiar with where Jesus was born. We know the story of how Joseph had to go back to the town of his heritage and register for a census. He went to Bethlehem, a small town south of Jerusalem. It was considered a back-water kind of place, insignificant and unimportant.

But the prophet Micah has a message from God about this little town. Although it may on the surface be perceived as unimportant it would play a crucial role in God’s plan. How does Micah describe Bethlehem? Who will come from this town?

We can look at the town of Bethlehem now with some reverence and wonder. It is important to us. It was the place where Jesus was born. And again we are reminded of who Jesus is.

This humble birth that we celebrate at Christmas was really a very special birth. This little baby was truly someone great and wonderful. The baby was really a king, one who would rule over Israel. Although not the kind of ruler people may have expected, not the kind of ruler we may imagine when we think of kings, Jesus is still truly the king of all people. He is our Lord.

His origins are from ancient times. He was with God in the beginning. He has been part of God for all time.

As we go through the holidays this year we must remember how important the place of the birth was and how important the baby still is. We must recognize the Lordship of Jesus; see him as the king that God has sent to rule in our hearts.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will help you remember who Jesus really is this season?

Magi 1

Matthew 2:1-2

This Advent season we are looking at the meaning of Christmas. What is the point and purpose for all the familiar stories related to the birth in Bethlehem? The same question can be asked about the holiday season we celebrate. What is our focus?

So often the Christmas holiday becomes all about the gifts. And if we are able to look beyond the gifts we may focus instead on the traditions – the meals, the gatherings with friends and family, the decorations, the trees and the lights.

All of these are wonderful parts of the celebration of Christmas but at the center is the baby born in the manger. What do we know about the baby Jesus?

We see the beginning of who this child is with the story in Matthew 2. Who came to visit the baby after he was born? Who are they looking for? What was their sign?

We often depict the Magi as kings from foreign countries. The tradition began, I believe, because of the gifts they brought and the attitude they had in their visit. They had expensive, valuable presents to give the child and as they sought him out they went first to King Herod. After all, for such an important birth the ruler of the land would certainly know where the child was.

But the Bible refers to these visitors as “Magi,” wise men. These men may not have been kings, but instead were very intelligent scholars. They were wise. They had been studying the skies and had seen a supernatural indication that something special had taken place. A bright, unusual star had appeared in the skies and moved to indicate where a special birth had taken place.

Who was this child who had been born? We simply refer to him as Jesus, but these wise men knew him to be a king. He was a person of great value, a person with wonderful power and authority. This was why they came to give gifts, to honor this great king.

As we celebrate Christmas we must remember that this tiny, helpless child who was born was actually indeed a great king. He was the Son of God and as the child of God he was the king of all kings on earth. He was and still is the Lord of all rulers.

We must work to have the wisdom of the Magi. We must be wise enough to recognize that Christmas centers on the child king that was given by God to rule over all of us in tremendous love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remember that Jesus is the king?

Shepherds 5

Hebrews 5:8-9

At our Thanksgiving celebration this year we attended several gatherings of various family groups – my cousins, my wife’s cousins, our immediate families. Each gathering, each meal, was established for the family members to come together and celebrate our blessings.

But I noticed at each gathering that more and more people would come through the door and join in the party. As some of the people came in to join the feast our children would ask, “Who is that?” We would usually say, “I don’t know.”

It didn’t matter who the person was who came through the door. There was plenty for every person who entered. All were welcome.

The author of Hebrews explains what the gift of Jesus is all about. What relationship did Jesus have with God? What did Jesus become? What did he become to all of us?

Just as everyone was welcome to the celebration the families held at Thanksgiving, so it is with the gift of Jesus. The baby born in Bethlehem was a gift, first as God’s son intended to save his people, the Jews. But Jesus grew from a baby into the perfect teacher and Savior. Through him all are now welcome in the celebration of love that God offers.

Jesus is the source of salvation to all who believe in him. As the Savior to the world, then, the celebration of Christmas is a time to rejoice in the mercy and grace that is offered to us and to all people. Just as the shepherds – outsiders – were told the good news, we too are invited to share in god’s love.

Christmas marks the beginning of God’s expression of mercy and love to all who are separated from God. All are welcome to join in the feast of hope, mercy and peace. The celebration began as an expression of joy for the presence of Jesus but now grows to a time of rejoicing for all who believe.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you welcome others in your Christmas celebration?

Shepherds 4

Romans 3:25-26

When I started out in life I needed some financial help from my parents.  Over the years they assisted with school fees, car repairs, money for food, and so on. There was an unspoken understanding that these gifts were loans and would some day be repaid, but my parents never asked for the money to be given back.

In Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome he explains the meaning of the gift that God gave through the birth of Jesus. What was the intention of God’s gift? Why did he give Jesus to humanity?

We all know that we are sinners. We all know that we fail to be perfect in the sight of God. Knowing that, we all understand that we deserve nothing but punishment from God.

Yet God surprises us with His tremendous love. Instead of punishment and banishment God has given us the gift of Jesus, the birth we celebrate at Christmas. This gift is meant to be a gift of atonement. The birth of the baby was intended to be the beginning of God’s plan for humanity to be brought back into a loving relationship with the Almighty.

The birth of Jesus was the beginning of God demonstrating His incredible mercy and love. The birth of Jesus is the sign of God’s grace. Jesus would be that sacrifice, that atonement, that repayment of an eternal debt.

Jesus was given so that all people in all the world would have an opportunity for forgiveness. Anyone who accepts the gift of Jesus is welcomed back into the loving relationship of a connection with God.

The gift is a demonstration of God’s tolerance of our failings. It was a demonstration of God’s own justice, a justice that goes far beyond our own ability to be just and fair.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s love for all people. All are welcome to share the joy of knowing God is loving and forgiving.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you make the celebration of forgiveness part of your holiday?

Shepherds 3

Luke 2:8-11

While Christmas may be a time of joy for each one of us as individuals, and may be a time for joy that we share with friends and family, it is also a time of joy for all people. In the Christmas story we encounter the first outsiders in this passage from Luke.

Who is mentioned? Where are they? Who appears to them? What message is given?

Shepherds in the time of Jesus were a necessary part of the culture. They held an important job tending to the flocks of sheep that were so much a part of the economy and every day life of that time. But these men who tended the sheep were often thought of as outcasts and outsiders.

Shepherds conducted a dirty job – both physically dirty and spiritually unclean. As such they were seldom welcome in the society. Most people preferred to avoid them.

And yet we see in the Christmas story that it was shepherds who were the first people outside the holy family to hear the good news of the gift God had given. Angels appeared to them and announced the good news. These outcasts were presented with the news of God’s love.

In verse 10 we see the extent of this wonderful news. Not only were the shepherds – outsiders – told of the good news the angels explained that it was good news for “all the people.”

Just as the name of Jesus indicated that he would be a Savior to his people, and the implication could be that it was for not only the Jews but all who believed, the angel’s message now included all people. The good news of salvation is meant for everyone, including the outcast and the outsider.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this year we need to remember those people who are outsiders in our own culture. God’s love is extended to us as believers, but it also seeks those who do not know God yet. We can be the ones who bring that news of hope and salvation. We can be the ones who invite the outsider in to the celebration of love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who is an outsider you know who needs to know of the love of God?

Shepherds 2

Matthew 1:20-21

Just as John the Baptist was a part of the Christmas story, so too were angels. An angel spoke to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Angels appeared to the shepherds. An angel appeared to Mary and spoke to her about the birth of Jesus. And an angel guided Joseph.

This carpenter who was pledged or engaged to be married to the young woman, Mary, has discovered that the woman he plans to marry is already with child. Not understanding the heavenly and holy designs of what is going on Joseph decides to divorce her, to put an end to the relationship.

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

Joseph, a righteous man, has now been made aware of God’s plans. He has now been informed as to why Mary is with child and then he receives some instruction. Joseph should go through with the marriage and he should give the baby a specific name.

The name we are familiar with – Jesus – is actually just the Greek translation of the name “Joshua.” Just as most other names have a meaning behind them, the name Joshua has its own meaning. It means “the Lord saves.” But who is being saved and from what?

The angel explains in verse 21 what the birth is all about. Jesus – the Lord saves – will save people from their sins. He will remove the punishment earned from evil behavior. But who will receive this grace? The angel says that Jesus will save “his people.”

Our first thought might be that Jesus came to save the Israelites, the Jews, because Jesus was born as part of the Hebrew nation. While this may be true, I believe that “his people” are all the people who will accept Jesus as that Savior God has sent. I believe that Jesus came, not for a select group, but for all people. It is simply up to us to accept this gift and receive God’s grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you accept God’s gift this year?

Shepherds 1

John 1:6-9

If you examine the Christmas story in Luke 1 you will see that John the Baptist plays an important part of the story. It is reflected also in the beginning of the Gospel of John. John 1:1-5 talks about the Word being with God and the Word (that is, Jesus) being the light of men.

Who is brought into the story here? What is said about John and “the light”? Who was the light for?

We all undoubtedly believe that Jesus, even as a newborn baby, is the Prince of Peace and the Lord of our life. We give him honor and praise because he is the gift of God’s love and has come for our salvation. He is deserving of adoration and glory.

Yet, in spite of all this royal treatment and respect that is given we are also reminded that Jesus came to earth not to be separate and above all of us. Instead, Jesus came to be part of the lives of all humanity. He came to be that expression of God’s grace but also to live on the same level as each of us.

We see it in this passage. John was sent by God – inspired by God – to serve as a prophet for Jesus. John the Baptist was moved by God to begin teaching about Jesus and proclaiming his coming. In verse 7 the Bible tells us that John served as a witness to Jesus so that through Jesus “all men might believe.”

This is picked up again in verse 9. The true light – that is, Jesus, the love of God – was coming and Jesus was meant to give “light to every man.”

As we celebrate the holiday of Christmas we must remember that the birth of Jesus was a gift of incredible love from God. Jesus was an expression of God’s mercy and grace. And even though Jesus is of heavenly royalty he was given as a gift to every human being who will accept him.

We do not need to be extremely rich. We do not need high intelligence. We do not need to be perfect people. We simply need to see that the gift of Christ was a gift for you and me and everyone, no matter what place in society they hold.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will remind you that all people can receive the gift of Jesus?

Prophecy 3

John 1:1-2

A few years back we gave our two sons some skateboard ramps. They came in a very large box too big to wrap so we left it in the garage. On Christmas morning we sent our boys out into the garage to get the box. They were amazed by the gift and wondered when we had gotten it. We explained that it had been sitting in the garage for weeks; they just hadn’t noticed.

The Gospel of John begins with some explanation as to the relationship of Jesus to God. Who is “the Word?” Where was “the Word?”

When we celebrate Christmas we often get caught up in the hurry and stress of all that needs to be done. We worry about our money. We worry about buying the perfect gift. We stress over cleaning our house to be ready for guests.

With all that occupies our minds we can easily forget what it is we are really celebrating at Christmas. We are celebrating the fact that God loves us so much that He was willing to send His Son, a part of Himself, to live on earth in human form.

That was a tremendous and wonderful gift that we have received. It is the ultimate gift and the ultimate expression of love. Such a gift was not an afterthought. It was not a gift hastily purchased or prepared.

The gift of Jesus was a gift that was intended from the beginning of all things. John tells us that in the beginning, when everything was just starting and nothing existed but God, Jesus – the Word – was with God. Jesus was God; he was part of the Almighty.

As we move into the Advent season and prepare ourselves to celebrate the precious gift of Christ, we need to remember that this gift has been waiting for us since before time began. The gift has been given. The gift is there ready for us to receive it. Have we noticed it yet?

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you remember the gift of Jesus this year?

Prophecy 2

Isaiah 9:6-7

So often at Christmas some of our preparation is to buy a pack of batteries. We get them because we know that some of the gifts we will be giving will require those batteries. We get the batteries because we know what the gift is even though the one receiving it has not opened it yet.

The prophet Isaiah had a message from God about what was coming in the future. What was coming? What is said about this child who is given?

This passage does more than just give hope about what might some day happen. The prophet describes what will happen using words that imply it has already happened.

“To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” These seem to be more than words that predict the future. They come across as statements of fact. The child is born. The son is given.

These words were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem and yet they were exactly true. God had imparted His plan to the prophet and the prophet knew in his heart that God would carry through on this plan. The birth and life of Jesus was in the works from the beginning of time. God was already preparing to give a gift that would save us all.

And it was no small gift. Jesus would take on the authority over all the world. He would come to reign as our Savior and Lord from his birth, to today, and on into the future. He would be and is the Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

We know the celebration of Christmas is coming. We may know what we are giving as gifts. We may even know what we might be receiving as a gift. But what we must remember as we celebrate Christmas is that this precious gift of Christ was planned by God for millennia. He had decided to save us and give us everlasting life for thousands of years before we even existed.

As we celebrate the gift let us also celebrate the love behind the gift. It is a love from God that has been there for a long time and will remain there for even longer.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you remember the reason for the gift of Jesus this year?

Prophecy 1

Jeremiah 29:11

Along with all the plans we were making for our home and our jobs when we were first married, my wife and I talked about how many children we wanted to have. We even came up with names for our children. As soon as each was born we talked about what type of person each child might grow up to be, what we expected to happen with them, and what we hoped would happen.

Things haven’t changed much in our lives. We still look at our children and think about what the future might be like for them. We consider what paths they might take and where they might go.

The interesting thing to me is that God has done the same with each one of us. In this passage from Jeremiah God has a message of hope. What does God know? What type of plans does He have?

This passage is an excerpt from a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to leaders in exile. It was intended to make them aware that God had not forgotten them in their exile. God still had plans for them, and those plans were for good things, happiness, prosperity, and success.

As we enter into the Advent season, that time in the life of the church when we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we must know that the birth of the baby in Bethlehem was not some random occurrence.

God had plans for all of humanity from the beginning of the world. Although we as humans are separated from God because of our inability to be perfect, God still desires that we be connected to Him. He wants us to be able to be in His presence.

For that to happen God had to give a gift to the world, to all of humanity. That gift was Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. And this gift was planned for centuries and centuries. God had plans for all of humanity to be saved from sinfulness, to prosper and have hope. And all of these plans were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year may we remember that the holiday celebrates God’s love and mercy, a gift that was planned from the beginning of time and meant for each of us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be certain your holiday plans include celebrating God’s gift?

Faith in Action 5

James 2:14-17

In my childhood I was taught the song “The Deacon Went Down.” Some of the lyrics are,

“Oh, the deacon went down

In the cellar to pray.

He fell asleep

And he stayed all day.”

The song is a clever little commentary on pious appearances. The church person, the deacon, made a show of his piety by going in to pray. But the result was that nothing happened other than he fell asleep.

Unfortunately there are so many who think that faith begins and ends with how they look to others. We have far too many people in our churches who look good – like the deacon going to pray – but don’t live out their faith – falling asleep.

James has some strong words about living out your faith. He uses the example of a needy person confronting a faithful believer. If we as believers simply say that we want things to go well for the needy person, our heart goes out in sympathy to those who struggle, yet we do nothing then we haven’t truly lived out our faith.

All of our best intentions and holy thoughts and attitudes can be nice but they do nothing to share the love and mercy of God. When we fail to do anything about the situation the needy are in we are allowing our faith to fall asleep. James says that our faith is dead.

We must keep our faith awake. We must keep our faith alive. To do that we must put our faith into action. We must be willing to give of our time and efforts in helping those who are in need.

And when we feel that we are stretched beyond our ability, that we have given all we can and there is nothing left for us to do, we must trust that with God all things are possible. Nothing is impossible with God, and through Him we are able to give out of our poverty and enjoy the privilege of sharing with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you keep your faith alive and awake?

Faith in Action 4

2 Corinthians 8:1-4

So many people have the attitude and misconception that the church only wants money from those who attend. Yes, every place of worship has its share of expenses to remain functioning, but as a church leader I can say that I am not out to get everyone’s money.

What people fail to see is that THEY need to give – not for God and not necessarily for the church – but for themselves. We can claim to be faithful believers, but if we refuse to give up any of our money, time, talents or possessions aren’t we being selfish? And if we are selfish then we are not truly faithful.

To illustrate this attitude Paul relates some information about some churches in Macedonia, an area north of Greece. What situation were these people apparently experiencing? What did they do? What did they plead for?

We don’t know many details about what the Macedonian churches were going through at the time of Paul. We just know that they were going through “severe trial” and “extreme poverty.” Severe. Extreme. Were they experiencing a drought? Had they been invaded by another nation? Maybe their economy had collapsed.

No matter what the problem was these people were able to give from what little they had. It may have been money. It may have been food. Whatever it was they were able to see that even though they had very little they could still be generous to others in need.

And not only that they saw the act of giving as a privilege (see verse 4). It was a gift from God that they were able to experience the joy of giving even when they were struggling.

These people put their faith in action. They lived out their faith, and we can surmise that they were able to do this because of their strong confidence in God. They knew that with God all things were possible.

We must see that even though we feel we have very little to spare God will provide for us. When we give we must see it as a privilege, a joyous thing that we can do to honor our Lord. And as we put our faith in action we must believe that God will supply us with the ability to give.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your attitude in giving? Do you see it as a privilege?

Faith in Action 3

Philippians 4:12-13

Verse 13 is a very powerful punch of a verse, isn't it?  I can do EVERYTHING... ANYTHING... SOMETHING? 

Many days, it feels like we can do NOTHING.  When the world is battering you on all sides and your sick and tired and you feel like you're going to drop, it's then that we realize that we are in the time of need that Paul refers to here.  There are days where I feel like if one more person asks me to do something for them I'm going to collapse into a heap and cry.  And they always do, and I usually manage to hold things together.

Life is tough.  And it's so important to realize that we don't just feel like we can do nothing... we literally can do NOTHING. 

It is only with God's grace and power and the support of those around us that we can do ANYTHING at all.  When I get feeling overwhelmed, I will make myself a checklist of what needs to get done.  And I keep telling myself if I can just accomplish SOMETHING today, that will be a good day.  And I get up and get going and get doing what needs to be done. 

But verse 13 tells us we can do EVERYTHING, just not in our own power.  Only through the one who gives us strength.  We need to constantly be reminding ourselves of that.  It's not our power or accomplishments or greatness -- it's God's.  All of the THINGS we can accomplish should be giving glory to Him and not to ourselves.  He is our superpower!

So the next time you face a day where it feels like you can do NOTHING, acknowledge that it's true.  And then set out to do SOMETHING and realize that with God's help, you can do EVERYTHING.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  Whether you are in a time of need or plenty right now, what THING will you accomplish with God today?

Faith in Action 2

Matthew 19:23-26

With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

What an amazing claim--when we have God on our side, there are literally no limits to what we can do.

There is somthing really interesting that jumps out at me in this story. Jesus talking to the “Rich Young Ruler.” We don’t know who he was, but we know that he was young, interested in what Jesus was preaching, trying to live a good life, rich and probably very respected by everyone around him.

When Jesus tells him it’s impossible for him to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples are shocked that Jesus would tell this young man that. If he ain’t gonna make it, then who is? He’s nice, rich, polite, rich, respects his elders, rich, goes to church, rich,… (you get the picture).

Just a few verses later, Jesus says that famous line about the last being first and the first being last. In their culture (and let’s face it ours, too) someone with everything going for them is just expected to be rewarded. But when we rely on our own good deeds and our own attempts to follow the “law” then we are doomed to failure. This guy couldn’t “nice” his way into the kingdom of heaven and he couldn’t “rich” his way into the kingdom of heaven.

No, the only way to get into the kingdom of heaven was by God performing the impossible and making a way for him to get in.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What are you relying on for your eternal reward? Your own goodness or God’s eternal grace and impossible logic?

Faith in Action 1

Matthew 7:24-27

If you have ever tried to build a house of cards you know that you need a solid foundation on which to build or all of your efforts will be for nothing. The same is true of a house in which you plan to live. You need a firm foundation so the structure can withstand all the wind and rain of nature.

Now we see that the same is true of our faith. We need a firm foundation in our beliefs and in our connection with God before we can face the challenges of living out our faith.

In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus provides a short parable about two men building houses. Where did the wise man build? What happened when the weather turned bad? Where did the foolish man build? What happened to his house?

Like so many of Jesus’ parables we need to look closely at what is being said so that we can fully understand what is intended by the teaching. If we read this too quickly we come away with the idea that we need Jesus and God as our spiritual foundation so that we can weather the trials and troubles in life. While this is true – we DO need to have a sincere and genuine connection with the Lord to endure life’s challenges – there is more to the story.

In verse 24 Jesus says that those who hear his teaching “and puts them into practice” are like the wise builder. In verse 26 Jesus says that those who “do not put them into practice” are like the foolish builder.

We need to do more than simply have a deep and sincere connection with God. Or we might say that a true connection to the Lord, having Christ as our spiritual foundation, is more than just being loyal to God and spending time in church and prayer and Bible study.

To have a firm foundation of faith requires that we hear the Lord’s teaching and then we put it into practice. We must live out our faith, be active in our loving, in order to have that firm base of faith. I believe the storms of life are never a threat to any believer who is living out faith and sharing love with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What does your faith foundation look like?

Bearing Fruit 5

Luke 13:6-9

“Give me patience, Lord – but hurry!” Most of us have heard this humorous saying before. Patience may not be our strong suit. We may have difficulty accepting the fact that it may take time to become a fruitful member of God’s kingdom. We may need to work at learning how to do good things for others, to share God’s love in the way we act.

Jesus follows up some comments (Luke 13:1-5) on repentance and on being holy with this parable of a fig tree planted in a vineyard. It may seem odd that a tree is planted in the midst of a vineyard. But the parable creates a clear image in our mind.

The fig tree towers above the thick grapevines which only grow about chest high. It is something easily seen over the rest of the plants. Yet this tree has no fruit. It may look good. It may appear impressive as it rises above the many vines, but it is not producing fruit.

The owner wants to cut it down. He is frustrated with its lack of fruit. But the man in charge of tending the vineyard asks for one more year to try to get the tree to produce good fruit.

Some people who claim to have great faith, who claim the title of “Christian” and who say they love the Lord may appear to tower over the rest of the believers. Their faith appears tremendous and powerful. But the question is, do they produce fruit?

It is not always the appearance of things that we should look at. We should be examining ourselves and other believers to determine if their faith or our own faith is producing fruit for the kingdom of God. Are we doing good things to share the love of God with others or is what we do simply something that looks good but has no substance?

It may take time for any of us to be able to bear good fruit for God. We must be patient with others and with ourselves. But that patience has its limits. We can feel that we are not bearing fruit yet, but we should be working to develop our ability to share the love of God, to care for others, to bear the fruit of the Lord for the kingdom of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Are you bearing good fruit for God? Are you moving forward in this effort?

Bearing Fruit 4

1 John 2:5-6

Our teen-age daughter has experienced the hypocrisy some people exhibit in their faith life, a situation many adults have had to cope with. In a car ride the other day she made comments about people she calls “Super Christians.” She says these people are big on displaying their faith by carrying Bibles, quoting Scripture, and being very demonstrative in their prayers.

The problem is that she can recognize that these people don’t always live out their faith. In spite of their appearance of being good they speak poorly of others, they gossip, they lie and cheat. Others, who are less showy in their faith, exhibit their holiness in their actions, by caring about others, by being kind, by sacrificing of what they have.

In this first letter from John we have a description of what a real Christian might look like. How is God’s love made complete? How can we recognize someone who lives in Christ?

If we examine ourselves and the fruit that we bear we can see that we should be bearing fruit that is a reflection of God. Our fruit – the things that we accomplish, the things that we do – should be an expression of God’s love. Our fruit should be an obedience of what God has commanded – love your neighbor, care for the less fortunate. When we are able to do these things then God’s love is being lived out in us and it becomes complete, flowing from God to us and from us to others.

We can call ourselves “Christians.” We can claim that Jesus is living in our hearts. But for God’s love to truly be in us, for the Spirit of Christ to dwell in our hearts, we must walk as Jesus walked. We must offer care and forgiveness to those around us. We must seek out what is best and beneficial for others, and be willing to sacrifice ourselves for those in need.

If we will bear good fruit for God we must live as Jesus did. We must love, forgive, care and teach, and do all of this with a pure heart and humble attitude.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you walk as Jesus did today?

Bearing Fruit 3

John 15:5

Recently I was thinking about a job I had as a consultant doing corporate training. Along with the challenges of knowing the material and dealing with all the many people I encountered, one of the hardest things about the job was that I was out on my own quite a bit. I had very little connection with the training manager and other consultants in my own department.

It was difficult to face each day of work without that connection, without being constantly rooted in the support of my manager and co-workers.

Jesus addresses this issue with his disciples. What does Jesus say of himself? What are the disciples? What are we? What can we do without being rooted in Christ?

As we look at the fruit of our efforts, the many things we do to share God’s love in the world and do good things for others, we must remember where our connection lies. Jesus is the vine of faith. He is the source of our love and ability.

The disciples were the branches that sprang forth from Jesus. Their work was an off-shoot, a growth that came from the goodness of Jesus. And the same is true of us. We are simply the branch that emanates from Christ.

As we share love and compassion with other people, as we work to help the needy and care for people less fortunate than ourselves, we must remember that we should remain rooted in Christ. All that we do should be a reflection of the love that Jesus has for all humanity. Our work should be based in the caring that Christ had.

When we are able to remain rooted in the vine of Jesus then our offerings will be acceptable. If we keep ourselves connected to the love of Christ then we will be doing what is right.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you remain rooted in Christ?

Bearing fruit 2

Genesis 4:3-7

You would think that with all that God created – paradise – everything would move along smoothly and without trouble. But very soon after the beginning we have troubles in paradise.

What is the simple story being told here? How does God react to what is offered? What does He say to Cain?

The two brothers, Cain and Abel, present offerings to God and for some reason God prefers the gifts from Abel. God does not like what Cain has given. Naturally, this upset Cain.

We can look at this story and wonder what the problem was. We can even look at this story and say that it was God who started the feud between the brothers. But we must look at the details of the story.

The implication is that Cain brought an offering that wasn’t much of a sacrifice. He brought “some” of the fruits. Abel on the other hand brought offerings from the firstborn of his flock.

Was the problem a difference between grain offerings and blood sacrifices? I don’t think so. I think the difference is that Abel sacrificed some of his best to God while Cain’s offering seemed to be less sincere.

We all may feel that we give good things to God. We may give of our time. We may give from our wealth. We may give of our talents and skills. We may believe that we do many good things to give God honor. But do we?

The fruits we are to bear for God, the offerings we make to the Lord, should be foremost in our hearts and minds. Our fruit should be given to God first – that is, what we do for God should be something we give willingly and something we give that is of our best efforts. Our “fruit” should not be an afterthought or simply something we can spare.

And if we begin to compare ourselves with others – if we begin to feel that we have given more and better offerings than others – and we feel that God has favored another over us we must recall what God said to Cain. If we have done what is right then what we have done will be accepted by God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you keep a right attitude when offering the fruit of your work to God?

Bearing Fruit 1

Genesis 2:4-8

There is no question that life and growth and all that is in the earth are beyond our own making. All that exists is there because God has ordained that it be there. If we were not present still life would exist and things would grow.

Genesis presents the story of God’s creation. What did God make? What did God do with man?

Verses 4 through 7 tell us that God created all that exists. It also tells us that God created humanity. But in verse 8 we see God placing man – humanity – into the garden. What was the reason for this?

We exist in the midst of God’s work. And we exist for a reason. Part of our relationship with God and God’s creation is to enjoy all that God has made, but part of this relationship is that we tend to what has been made. God has placed humanity to exist within His garden and we are to help in producing the fruit of God’s creation.

But this concept goes beyond the physical plants and animals that God made. We are also part of God’s kingdom, part of the work that the Lord does in the world. This involves ministry and dealing with all other people that God has made.

God’s creation – His garden – is more than just green and flowering plants. It is more than just the animals that roam the earth. God has made us to care for one another. To do the work of God we must produce our own fruit. That fruit is not always something you can touch and taste.

The fruit of our labors, the fruit we are supposed to bear, is the good work of caring for others, having compassion on other people, helping the needy and sharing the love that God has given us. If we will be successful in bearing fruit for the kingdom of God we must be certain that we are rooted in the love of God. God must be the source and center of all that we do and how we work with others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What fruit can you bear for God?

I Am Crushed 5

Romans 13:1-2

“Rules are meant to be broken.”

“It’s only wrong if you get caught.”

We’ve all likely heard these statements before in our lives and it is possible we have even agreed with them to some extent. But Paul’s comments in his letter to the Roman church go against these sentiments. What are we to do as members of our society? Why? What is said of those who do not obey the rules of society?

Sometimes we may find the many rules of our culture, the laws within our communities and within our nation, to be a bit inconvenient. But if we believe that God is Lord of all and ruler of all things then it makes sense that the cultures and societies that have emerged are under the control of God.

If God has had a hand in creating our culture then God has been a guiding influence on the laws which have been enacted. With this logic what Paul has written must be true. God has established the authorities which govern our society. And if God has established them, then going against these rules and disobeying the law means we are disobeying God.

In the past few years I have been invited in to our local schools as a pastor to offer counseling and comfort following the deaths of at least five teen-agers. (It may be more. Honestly, I have lost count.) These deaths were the result of drug abuse, drunk driving and reckless driving. In these times of counseling I have been told by many, many others that most people knew the drinking and drug use was taking place. Most people were familiar with the reckless way the teens would drive. But no one said or did anything to stop it.

The prevalent thinking has always been that this is just the way things are. Some have said that it isn’t that wrong because lots of people are doing it.

It may in fact be the way things are and there may be a lot of people who are involved in this, but it is still wrong. It is still sinful and harmful behavior. These are destructive decisions being made repeatedly.

As Christians and followers of Jesus Christ it is our responsibility to work to stop these wrong behaviors and poor decisions. We will meet with resistance and scorn, but we will be doing what is right and holy, and ultimately what is beneficial to our society.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you help others obey the laws God has established?

I Am Crushed 4

Amos 5:14-15

It has been said that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time in our nation. The observation is that people of different races and cultures gather with others of the same race and culture to worship, rather than joining with others.

But I believe it is also true that when we gather in our places of worship we are segregating ourselves from the rest of society. The Christians huddle together within the walls of the church while the rest of society struggles along with the problems of life.

As part of the ceremony to join the United Methodist Church members are asked to respond to the question – “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” The expected answer is “yes.”

But do we? Do we sit in our church and pray and worship and find contentment in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and then fail to go outside the walls of our church and resist evil and oppression in its various forms?

When we think of evil we may have an image of a horned demon or Satan himself. When we hear the word “oppression” we may think of slavery. But evil and oppression take many forms in our society. It is a form of evil and a form of oppression to allow young people in our society to make destructive decisions over and over again. It is a form of oppression to turn a blind eye to the harmful and errant behavior of those who are taking drugs, drinking too much and driving recklessly.

The prophet Amos tells us what we are to do. What should we do? What will be the result?

We must be like Paul and recognize the evil and oppression that is being perpetuated in a society that is content with the way things have always been. We must seek good and hate evil, and in so doing call for changes that will disrupt society, but also leads it into a healthier, holier and more just way of existing. When we are willing to rock the boat for the purpose of bringing good to a suffering world then the Lord will be with us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you identify the evil and oppression going on in your society right now?

I Am Crushed 3

Jeremiah 8:20-21

Quit rocking the boat! We may have heard that a time or two in our lives. Who wants to be the one who rocks the boat? Who wants to be the one who disrupts the normal flow of life? Such an attitude and actions are usually met with resistance. Things don’t need to change; they are fine the way they are.

But are they?

Why is it our responsibility to be one who rocks the boat? Why should we push for change? The prophet Jeremiah speaks for the people of his culture. What situation are they in? Why is the prophet crushed?

Verse 20 talks about he way of life. Life has progressed as it usually does. The seasons move along – harvest is past and the summer is over. But nothing has changed. Life goes on as it has been. And the bad part of all this is that no one is saved. No one has had their lives improved.

And the prophet knows that he is part of this whole culture. As long as one person is suffering, then the prophet must suffer too. Others are crushed – crushed under the hopeless despair of the way things are, crushed under the pains of wrong decisions. And if others are crushed, then the prophet is crushed.

What about us? Is life in our society perfect? Are things moving along well for everyone, or are there people who are caught up in the pain and suffering of bad decisions?

If others are suffering in life, if society is not perfect, then life is not perfect for us either. We are crushed because others are crushed under the sorrows of life. Now we must be the ones who rock the boat, who speak out against the wrong decisions being made around us.

In our local culture we have seen the deaths and injuries of teen-agers, deaths and injuries that are caused by alcohol, drugs and reckless driving. We can tell ourselves that we are okay. It wasn’t our family member who was killed or hospitalized.

But the truth is that we are crushed because others are crushed. We must feel pain because others have been hurt. And now it is time for all of us who will call ourselves Christians and believers to speak out against the wrong decisions being made around us. It is time for the children of God to rock the boat and take actions that will stop the destructive decisions that have been accepted as part of life for far too long.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Are you ready to rock the boat and call for change?

I Am Crushed 2

Acts 16:19-24

It has been said that one of the riskiest things you can do is try to save someone from drowning. The person drowning, apparently, is so intent on trying to save themselves that attempts at rescue will be met with violence. It can be disheartening to think that your good motives can be met with such conflict, such aggression. But oftentimes when we move to help another we can encounter fierce resistance.

After Paul healed the slave girl what did the girl’s owners do? Who joined in on the attack? What happened to Paul and Silas?

The old saying “No good deed goes unpunished” fits in this story. Paul has done the right thing. He has confronted a situation and exposed the truth. The girl was a slave and was trapped in that slavery because she was possessed by a spirit.

Driving out the spirit was an act of kindness. It was an act of love on Paul’s part. He intended to make life better. But as a result the owners saw that their lives were going to change.

They could no longer make money off the slave girl’s spiritual possession. Life had been going smoothly for them. The suffering the girl experienced was just accepted as part of the way things were. Now they were angry at Paul and Silas for changing things, even if it was for the better.

We may be aware of struggles others are experiencing. We may be aware of destructive decisions being made by people we know. We may see that the behavior of certain people, although part of the normalcy of life, is really unacceptable behavior that needs to change.

If we will do what is right we may encounter stiff resistance. We may make others angry because we are working to change the status quo. But if we will be the Christians we are called to be there will come a time when we must speak out and work to stop the destructive behavior of others so that they may be set free and brought into a healthier life.

You are encouraged to read the rest of the story – Acts 16:25-34.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What are the risks you face in speaking the truth? What will help you face these challenges without fear?

I Am Crushed 1

Acts 16:16-18

Truth is an elusive thing. We may often think that we want to know the truth. Other times we may not want to face the truth.

In Acts 16 we have a story of truth involving Paul and Silas in Philippi. They have been traveling with Timothy, preaching and teaching and converting believers to this emerging faith in Christ. Who do they encounter? What does she do? How did Paul feel? What did he do?

The slave girl in Philippi following Paul and Silas around as they are going about ministry is possessed by a spirit – whether good or bad, we can’t be exactly sure. But the spirit has allowed her to predict the future, to tell fortunes. Through her affliction of being possessed by a spirit her owners have gained considerable money.

This all may seem well and good from the outside, but we have no way of knowing how the slave girl felt. One thing we do know is that she is a slave and her spirit possession is keeping her enslaved. She is too valuable to be freed from the possession.

Some may have thought that they should ignore the girl, but we know that she was speaking the truth. She knew that Paul and Silas were serving God and showing the way to salvation. But apparently not everyone wanted to hear the truth.

Paul, recognizing that this girl was enslaved by the spirit that possessed her, recognizing that as long as she was possessed she would remain a slave, is troubled in his heart. He knows the truth. She is possessed and he must act. And so Paul drives the spirit from the girl, releasing her from the possession.

We may know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who is living a life of slavery. That person may be a slave to drugs, alcohol, abusive behavior or trapped in accepted social traditions. But that person needs to be set free from that enslavement.

Regardless of the fact that this person may be functioning within this slavery, regardless of the fact that life seems to be going along smoothly in spite of this enslavement, we must act to put an end to it. We must do our part to speak the truth, to work against the damaging behavior, and set the person free from a destructive life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Do you know of anyone trapped in a destructive way of living? What can you say to stop it?

Comfort in Sorrow 5

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

With all the recent movies about super heroes that are available now we can sit and fantasize about what super powers we each might want. Do we want to be able to fly? Do we want to be able to have x-ray vision? Do we want a suit that makes bullets harmlessly bounce off of us?

It can be amusing to speculate what we would do if we had these powers. It can be fun to spend some time in wishful thinking. But what about the realities of life? What if we could cheat death?

While we may not be able to live forever as we are, we can live forever. We may not be able to retain our way of life, our homes and all of our possessions there is a way for death to have no hold on us, a way for the fear of death to be conquered.

Just as the super heroes must put on their special suits and rings and capes to become those super heroes, we too must put on what it takes to become immortal. We must put on the imperishability, the immortality that comes with our faith in Jesus Christ. When we have clothed ourselves with Jesus – that is, when we are deeply immersed in our faith in Christ and we have accepted Jesus as our Savior – we are made into immortal beings.

Death has no victory over us. Death can bring no fear to us. We know in our hearts that the experience of death – for ourselves and for others – is a transitional step from this world into the kingdom of God.

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death has been removed, canceled out, its powers taken away through the resurrection of Jesus. And in that trust and faith we can have confidence and hope. We can face our losses and sorrows with the joy and gladness of knowing that Christ has readied a place for us all in the presence of God’s love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you clothe yourself in immortality?

Comfort in Sorrow 4

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“Into every life a little rain must fall.” This is an old adage you may have heard in your lifetime. Life is not completely filled with happiness and bliss. Now and then there will be rain – those moments of sadness and troubles. And sometimes that rain can take the form of a loss of a loved one.

Life is said to be a mystery. And death is considered by most to be a journey into the unknown. Many fear death because they do not know what awaits them on the other side. At the very least it can be a topic most people do not want to discuss and something almost everyone wishes to avoid.

But Paul has some confident words about the death experience. What is his purpose in what he has to say? What does he remind us about our faith? What is our hope?

While it is true that most people would rather have days of sunshine rather than rain, rain is essential to life. It gives us the ability to grow. It renews and cleanses. And so too can be the experience of a loss.

When we are faced with grief and sorrows we must remember our faith. These times of sadness can be a time when we renew our strength in what we believe. They can be times when we are reminded of the hope we should all hold. Times of loss can be turned into times of hope and optimism.

Whenever we lose a loved one, when we encounter a sudden emptiness in our lives, we can be reminded all over again of what we believe. As Paul says, we believe Jesus died and rose again. And that resurrection was meant to be a promise to all of us who believe.

While it may not be fitting to say that we should rejoice in a death, we can be glad in the confidence we have. Death is not an end of things. It is simply a transition from this life into a new and brighter life with God. And in that knowledge we can have gladness and hope.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you find hope in sorrows?

Comfort in Sorrow 3

John 14:1-3

I remember going to visit some friends of our family in Cleveland when I was fairly young. They were all prepared for our visit. I remember being given a tour of their house – we had never been there before – as we arrived. We could tell that they had cleaned their house from top to bottom. The place was spotless.

Besides making their house clean and tidy the two sons had given up their bedrooms so that our family could stay. My parents would be sleeping in one bedroom and my sister would stay in another. My brother and I got to share the family room with the two brothers.

It was a wonderful thing to be welcomed into that house. Our parents had known each other years ago, but my brother, sister and I barely knew the two boys from the other family. But we had a great visit. It was so nice that they worked so hard to make us feel welcome.

As Jesus is preparing his disciples for the inevitability of his crucifixion he reminds them of what he is doing for them. What comfort does he offer? What does he say about his Father’s house (heaven)? What will Jesus do?

We can find comfort in the words of Christ. He tells the disciples and he tells us not to be troubled. We simply need to trust in God and in Jesus. We need to trust that there is a great deal of room for everyone in the house of God. Heaven has room enough for all.

But we must also see that there is more than just comfort in knowing that there is a place for us. We need to see that Christ has prepared a place for us. We are anticipated. Our presence is desired and sought after.

And more than that. If Christ has prepared a pace the n he will be returning to get us. Jesus will come to gather us up in his arms and welcome us in this place he has readied for us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you of what Jesus has done for you?

Comfort in Sorrow 2

Isaiah 61:1-3

It is part of the job as a pastor to be available in times of grief and loss. As the pastor I make myself available to those who are facing end of life decisions, and I pray that God might work through me to give comfort and assurance. But there are times when I encounter those individuals with enough faith and confidence in the Lord that they actually minister more to me than I to them.

There have been times when I have been with church members who were so strong in their faith that they faced their own death with great calm and confidence. In those times I was witness to what true faith and belief is all about, and I was taught how I should act when my time comes.

Just as Jesus used the words from Psalm 22 at his crucifixion, Jesus read this passage from Isaiah when he began his ministry in Galilee (see Luke 4:16-21). What is said about the brokenhearted in verse 1? What will God do with those who mourn according to verse 2? What changes will come about to those who grieve according to verse 3?

Nowhere in these words from the prophet is it said that our lives will be free of sadness. In fact, although this passage is an expression of hope and optimism, there are many problems that are mentioned. Isaiah speaks of the poor, the brokenhearted, prisoners, mourners and those who grieve.

The hope comes in knowing that in spite of all these afflictions God is present. The Lord will be there for every person who weeps and suffers. Jesus will be with all those who grieve and mourn.

The Lord has promised to make changes for us. We will go from those who suffer and cry to those who celebrate and have joy. Our ashes of suffering will be replaced by crowns of victory. Our mourning will be replaced by gladness.

As we face the possible losses in life we must go forward in confidence knowing that our Savior is with us in all things. We must go through life with the confidence of knowing God is with us to take away our sadness and replace it with joy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How do you know God is with you?

Comfort in Sorrow 1

Psalm 22:24

Life isn’t always pleasant for us. There will be times when we are confronted with sorrows; sometimes profound sorrows. There will be times when our faith in God is challenged because of the suffering and pain we are experiencing.

There are many people who lose a loved one to death who become very angry with God. Questions arise – why did this have to happen? Does God really love me? Many people become angry with God and yet are afraid that they should not be angry with God. I believe that God is big enough and caring enough to accept our anger and still love us.

Psalm 22, credited to King David, begins with some familiar words. The first verse of Psalm 22 is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus cried out while he was on the cross.

In that moment of torment and grief, that time of pain and sorrow, Jesus spoke the words of lament found in these ancient words. Clearly, when David wrote the words and when Jesus spoke them, these were moments of extreme anguish. We all may identify with these words when we are faced with the troubles of life and especially when we lose a loved one.

But the psalm does not remain in this attitude of sorrow. David moves beyond his words of suffering and comes to a realization of God’s mercy. According to verse 24, what is God’s attitude toward those who suffer? What has God NOT done? What has God done?

There is a time of affliction for every one of us. We will all experience loss and pain at some time or another. We will all feel sadness, sometimes so much that we will cry out that God has forgotten us.

But we need to remember in our grief that we are not forgotten after all. God does not turn away from our suffering and our sorrows. He does listen to our calls for help and He gives us comfort.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that God still loves you?