Advent Daily Devotional

Prepare – Devotions for Advent

The season of Advent is coming. How are you preparing to celebrate God coming into the world in the form of Jesus Christ? How are you preparing for Christ’s return?

This is a season of waiting and of preparation. There are many ways we can get ready and joyfully celebrate:

  • Many people use an Advent Calendar.
  • Many people use a weekly Advent Candle.
  • Many people do something called a reverse Advent Calendar where you put aside on non-perishable food item into a basket and deliver to a local food pantry on Christmas Eve. Does it have to be just food? No. You can be creative with what people really need.

There are many ways we can prepare our hearts and lives to be more closely aligned with Jesus Christ.

Click the link for a FREE Advent Daily Devotional to help get ready for this incredible season.

Prepare – Devotions for Advent

May the joy, peace, hope, and love this season brings fill your hearts and lives so you may fully prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.


 

 

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

Prepare: Daily Devotional for Advent

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

Advent is soon approaching. How are you preparing to celebrate the Christ who came into the world and changed everything?

Christmas is much more than parties, giving gifts, and making everything perfect. Christmas is about celebrating and worshiping God, who came down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

This daily devotional begins on December 1 and helps prepare our hearts for the true meaning of Christmas.

I pray your Advent and Christmas season is filled with anticipation, hope, peace, joy, love. May the Holy Spirit come into your life and the Spirit of this season more real to you.

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

 

Finding Joy

ADVENT WEEK 3: Joy

How have you been taking the time to prepare to truly and fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this year and prepare yourself for his return? What does this look like in your day to day life?

Everything in our lives will not go as planned, and people will frustrate us and cause things to happen. Disasters are common in many places around the world. Disasters can and do cripple people physically, mentally, relationally, financially, and in so many ways. How can we live with such devastation, such grief in our world?

Let’s continue our journey through Luke this week by looking at Mary’s (Jesus’ birth mother) response to her situation after she travels about 80 miles to see her cousin Elizabeth. Remember, the angel told Mary she would have a son and give birth to the Messiah and then she went to see Elizabeth who is also pregnant and will give birth to John the Baptist.

Luke 1:39-56 (CEB)

“Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.”

What stands out to you? Re-read the passage and this time try to see where you would be in this story. What character do you resonate more with? Or are you a bystander? What do you see, hear, feel (physically and emotionally)? This is one of those passages we can hear over and over, making it an ordinary passage of scripture.

Mary has just been told that she would give birth to a child, and she has not even been with a man. No one else in her community heard the angels proclamation to her, so they would have thought she committed adultry. This was a serious crime that was punishable by much more than just being sent out and told never to return. She faced the possibility of being stoned to death, and the child inside (our Savior, Jesus Christ) would have not survived.

How would you feel in this situation? We know what Mary did. Mary sang. She sang a song that gave praise and glory to God for how he has looked favorably upon her and how he will fulfill everything he has promised. I’m not sure about you, but when I hear bad news or know I’m about to walk into a bad situation, the last thing I want to do is sing. But this is what Mary did.

In everything she was facing with her family, her town, her husband, Mary still experienced joy. A joy beyond comprehension. She was more than just “happy” because happiness is an emotion that fades away based upon our circumstances. Mary experienced and proclaimed joy with what was happening to her. Joy is not an emotion, but a state we get to be in. God gives us this incredible joy so we can live in peace, even when everything else is going wrng or we do not think we can handle it. We keep the hope because we know God will keep his promises. We can live in love with those around us because God love us.

True joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Even when he was on the cross, I believe he still had the joy of God within him, even if he wasn’t happy about what was happening to him. If we allow God to work in our lives it is amazing what we are able to handle and what we see changed around us.

This advent season, with a week and a half left until Christmas, I invite you to take time out of your days and think about all God has done in the world, in your life. Think about what God is doing in the world and in your life. Thinking on this will help us remember all God has done and is doing so we can keep our hope and trust in him that he will continue to great and  mighty acts in our world and in your life.

Experience the joy that Christmas brings and allow it to transform your life so everyday is filled with incredible joy, joy from heaven.

Confidence in Prayer

Someone just asked their friend to pray in public. The friend felt fear creeping in. “What if I say the wrong words, that other person has much better prayers than I do!” These are thoughts that are not uncommon. It is scary, at times, to speak in front of a group of people. But prayer is different.

Prayer is not about what people are listening; it is more about our God who is listening. God is truly the only audience we have when we pray. It is to him that we bear our heart and soul. No one can take this away from us, unless we begin to focus on the people present and wondering what they are thinking of our prayers.

One way I have found to help with my personal prayer life is to pray the prayers the human fathers of our faith prayed. Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Tertullian, John Wesley, etc. For our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ, and something we can utilize, there is the Book of Common Prayer.

The people of our faith tradition have beared their heart and soul communicating with God. We can use those prayers and make them our own. The human heart is always searching for the same thing, purpose through a relationship with God.

So, how can we become more confident in our personal prayers? Several years ago, I was listening to a great friend of mine praying with a group of college students. The time spent in that prayer setting was incredible. What did they do? My friend led the students through the Lord’s Prayer, taking it line by line and encouraging each student to focus on that line.

For example, he would say something like, “Our Father, who art in heaven…God you are the One who created everything in our universe, including us. You are enthroned in the great glory of heaven and we get to talk with you because you are our Father.” WOW! Think of the power this would bring to the live of those praying. Not only are we speaking directly to God, our Creator; but we are recognizing his position, his power, and realizing that because he is our Father, we have a direct source to receive this power from. After each line in the Lord’s Prayer, my friend invited the students to pray on their own; praying for the specific concept of the phrase spoken and prayed.

What this showed me was we need to be able to address God through prayer; but at the same time, we have the opportunity to learn to pray in agreement with God’s plan. This is why I believe Jesus said, “ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” We do need to take heed, though, because when we pray, we get to communicate with our Father in heaven about his will, not necessarily our will. Our hearts become so connected with God that we begin to desire the things he wants, especially when we focus on what it is we are praying.

Taking time to pray daily, for any length of time is what we should be doing. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “pray without ceasing.” The way we live our lives is truthfully a direct reflection of our prayer time with God. But what if we feel like our prayers are too shallow, or they are not going beyond the roof of the house? We trust, that somehow God hear each and everyone of our prayers no matter how big or how small.

Over the course of this next year, I am inviting you to take some time to grow in your daily prayer life. Begin with a simple “thank you” to God for everything he has given and has done in your life. The simple act of saying “thanks” is a great mental and emotional reminder that all we have is from God our Father who gives us everything we need (Matthew 6).

Spend a few days with the simple “thank you” prayer and see how your communication with God changes each day. Watch how you’ll begin to experience, as Paul says in Philippians 4, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

I also challenge you to look into prayer books, especially ones from the early church, and pray the prayers the early church fathers prayed. The heart and mind they had in many of the prayers is something we can strive for because the mind of Jesus Christ was being formed in them as it is in us.

Finally, I encourage you to look at the 10 Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. These can be found in many church hymnals, online, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Read through and meditate on the words and take time to pray, line by line, and talk with God through these prayers, creeds, and commandments.

The more we pray, the more we pray with a friend, the more we pray with others, the more confident we will become in our prayer life. We can be assured that God is hearing each one of our prayers, that Jesus Christ is the high priest who is our mediator, and that the Holy Spirit cries out to God what we really need to say (Romans 8:26).

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Colossians 1:3-6 NIV

Peace: Have No Fear

ADVENT WEEK 2: Peace

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is a time we should take each year to prepare ourselves Jesus Christ coming into the world: a time of celebrating his birth, and also preparing ourselves for his return. When we take this time seriously, we have the opportunity to again place our hope in God through Jesus Christ, to experience the peace and joy the Holy Spirit brings us, so we can truly live in love and experience true life, life in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come.

This week, our scripture focus brings us to The angel’s proclamation to Mary she is the one to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”

More than likely, these are words you have heard many times. It is too easy for us to read a story, scripture passage, message that we have heard time and time again and think we know what it says. Remember, “God’s Word, is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) so each time we carefully read it, we can experience God speaking. Take a few minutes to reread the scripture passage again.

What stands out to you? What have you not noticed before? What do you hear, feel, touch, see? If you placed yourself in this passage, where would you be? What would you be feeling?

Mary is in the middle of her day, when angel appears to her and delivers this incredible news. Mary, like us, would most likely have responded in fear at first. Thinking about what would happen to her and her family, to her husband, if this all came to be.

Fear seems to make sense. We say we need to protect ourselves, so our self-preservation instincts take over. We are all driven by fear on some level. We save up excess money for the future because we get fearful we don’t have enough. We buy many imperishable foods because we’re fearful a storm will come and take out our power. We give our kids everything they want because we’re fearful they will through a fit in public. We buy the best and most expensive clothes, toys, electronics, houses because we’re fearful people won’t like us or we won’t feel valuable. Fear if kept unchecked will result in a person feeling anxiety, then turning to stress, then turning to anger. But, this is not how God desires us to live. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Everything around us can be chaotic, messy, scary; but God gives us grace so we can live in peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Jesus Christ around us and within us. Mary could have stayed fearful; but soon she would have the physical presence of Jesus the Christ growing inside her.

So, we can choose to respond in fear, or trust God, even when it seems impossible. This was Mary’s stance. She did wonder and ask how this can be since she has not been with a man. But the angel told her, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Many people get stuck on the question, “how can a virgin give birth to a baby?” If we stay in this Lin of thinking we will miss a much more important question: “How big is your God?” Here’s what I mean:

  • Is God big enough and grand enough to create the world in 6 literal days and give it the appearance of age?
  • Is God big enough to create a world, set it in motion, create the math, science, down to the smallest detail for the world to evolve and get ready for humans over a few million or billion years?
  • Is God big enough to shut the door of an ark, fight battles for the Israelites, bring a whole nation into the promised land?
  • Is God big enough to supply the missing DNA needed to give birth to his son here on earth?

We do not have to have all the answers; but we can trust that God can make it happen. Personally I find great peace in this because I know God is holding a tight grip on us and is giving us everything we need.

Mary really did not get an answer as to how, exactly, this was going to take place except for hearing the “Holy Spirit will overshadow her.” But she resolves to step out in faith and trust that God’s plan for her life is much better than anything she could have dreamed of or planned. Which brings us to a final thought.

Was Mary’s life easier because she said “yes” to God? No. Too often we have this idea that following Jesus makes our life smooth and easy. Following Jesus does not mean this. If anything it makes out lives harder because we have to go into the world to shine his light. People will look down on Jesus followers because they don’t understand or know. We get to help those and be in relationship with those who everyone else says is scary or dangerous. We get to go to places that we hear on the news is war torn and in complete chaos. But…

We don’t need to fear because the real presence of Jesus Christ is with us.

This Advent season, take time to experience the peace of Jesus Christ in your life. Fully embrace the grace God gives, fear not or be anxious about nothing because the best task is to focus on Christ.

In the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)