December 24: Merry Christmas!

We have been on this journey to allow the message of the Christmas story to change our hearts. Today I invite us to read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke to hopefully hear it with fresh ears and a fresh heart.

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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.

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

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.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

~Luke 2:1-20 CEB

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December 23: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 28:20 “…..I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

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These past 24 days, we have been on this journey which I hope has prepared your heart for Christmas in a fresh way this year. We have traveled with Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the angels, Herod, the magi, and many more.

How does Christmas change you? Jesus Christ’s birth into the world is not just a cutesy story we hear each year. This is an incredible story that really changes everything. God, the creator of the universe, came down and became one of us in the human form of Jesus the Christ.

This birth, like ours leads to death. But there is something NEW that happens. Because Jesus Christ has risen from the grave, he has conquered death. It is great gift for God to walk among us AND it is an incredible gift that he chose to die a human death to conquer sin and death so that we can be in his presence. I heard this said, “Jesus did not die so we could go to heaven. Jesus died so we can get to God.”

That’s the great thing about Christmas. We remember God coming to us. God pursues us and showed he understood firsthand the human experience. We do not have a God who is aloof about what’s going on; we have a God who has walked with us and continues to walk with us today.

Jesus Christ is with us each and everyday! Our challenge is to live so the truth of his presence changes us and makes us stand out.

Lord Jesus, Thank you for your presence among us. Thank you for walking with us. Help us to see you each day. Continue to mold us into the new creations you created us to be. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 22: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 2:10-12 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

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We are now just a few days away from Christmas and celebrating once again the birth of Jesus Christ. In our passage today, we see the wise men (magi), have come to visit the toddler Jesus in his home. Even though this even took place up to two years after Jesus’ birth, there is still something here for us to see and hear during this Advent season.

The magi entered the house, bowed down and gave their gifts. So what is really interesting, to me, is how these verses today end: “they went back to their own country by another route.”

The magi left different. They still went back home, but they left different. After you and I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this year, we should leave different and not take the same path back we searched for him on. This means, we do go back into our home, work, school, life; but we are different. We do not have the same patterns, the same “rituals,” the same direction. Our new purpose is that of following Christ and helping people find him. You and I have become the angels (messengers of God) to proclaim to those who feel unworthy that the God in heaven loves and adores them and is longing to be around them.

How will you be different this Christmas season?

Jesus, too often we hear the story of your birth in this world and it does not phase us. We seek for and long to be in your presence. Help us proclaim to others your reality and your love for them, even if we feel too important. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 21: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 2:7-9 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.

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King Herod obviously has ulterior motives when he calls the magi back to his presence in secret. What he did not know is that God was using this time to fulfill his plan of the magi visiting the baby Jesus. Herod could have easily said they could not pass through; he could even have tried to stop them from going further. But Herod allowed them.

Little did Herod know that God was moving and using the situation and the people. Which brings us to today’s thought. Where can you see God working in your life today? Do you realize that God is working in you and through you? There are people  whom you interact with that God knows you are the right person for the task, even if you do not believe in God.

Our challenge today, and really everyday, is to be open to how God is leading. Many times we will not know or see God working, but he is. He is using ordinary people in ordinary ways to show the extraordinary. God is working through you.

Lord, thank you for choosing to work through us. Help us to see your work and give you glory. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 20: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 2:3-6 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

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We have come to an interesting point in our journey this advent season. Herod trying to figure out where the “King of the Jews” would be born.

At first glance, these verses may not make sense being part of a devotional series preparing our hearts for Christmas; but if we look closely and listen we can see a couple incredible things.

First, this passage shows that Herod was not paying as close attention to his area as he should have. Have you been busy in the business of the Christmas season, that you may have missed something important? We all get caught up in our lives and become so inwardly focused that we can miss what God is doing all around us, especially if it does not directly pertain to us. I believe part of the reason for the Advent season is to remind us to be patient and expectant. This means we look for Christ is all we see, hear and do. We are patient because we take the focus off of ourselves and onto God. We are expectant because we should love to see that God is doing around and in us.

Second, this passage shows that Herod had learned people around him to continue to teach him. Who do you have around you that you can ask questions to so you don’t come up with your own conclusions; but you can learn from each other? Being in community is another part of the Advent season. God comes down to be with his people (community).

As we’re getting closer and closer to Christmas, let’s all pay close attention to what’s going on around us so we don’t miss God’s work in the world and in our lives. Let’s also continue to keep learning from each other.

Holy God, you do incredible works all around us. Thank you for inviting us to observe, yet be part of your working in this world. Help us open our hearts to see and hear from you as we prepare to celebrate, once again, the birth of Jesus the Christ. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 19: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

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When we think about the Wise Men going to Jesus, we typically picture the final destination (after meeting with King Herod). In this picture, we can see the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is easy to picture Mary and Joseph’s surprise and amazement at these men and their expensive gifts. What we typically do not focus on is the journey the men took, out of faith, to get to this newborn baby, Savior of the world, Christ the Lord.

These men (unknown number of travelers) went on a journey of faith to follow a “star” in the heavens. We do not know when this heavenly sign appeared for the men, but we do know after they saw the sign, they left on a journey that would take weeks, months to get to their destination. And they probably were not sure exactly what they would find when they arrived. They traveled over mountains, valleys, through deserts. God is giving each one of us a sign to follow.

What sign has God given you? We can easily allow life to get in the way and cloud our vision from seeing all that God is doing and showing us. This is why we pause each year at Advent (4 weeks prior to Christmas) to pause and “reset” our hearts to once again be renewed by the gift of Jesus Christ. This is the gift we seek in our journey, our life. This is the gift that will be revealed to us when we seek. This is the gift that changes us inside and out. The journey we are on is incredible!

The journey we will take, by faith, is a journey that will lead us through the hardships of life, ups and downs, alone and accompanied. How will you take this challenge of God and step into this new year? Let’s take this journey to see where it ends up and we can meet the King of Kings face to face. All we have to offer is ourselves and that’s all he offered when he came to earth as a baby to die on a cross over 30 years later. What a journey, but to see Him face to face…WOW!

Thank you God for walking with us through life’s journey and the challenges we go through. Continue to guide and strengthen us, even when the journey seems too far or too difficult. Thank you for Jesus Christ! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 17: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Luke 2:15-16 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.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

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On this journey to Bethlehem, we have just encountered the angels (as the shepherds did). Here’s something to think about, “how do you respond after hearing from God?”

I believe the tendency could be to try to stay right there and internalize it so we could make sense of it. This way when we do tell our friends and those we encounter, we’ll be able to fully explain what we saw and what we heard and we’ll have researched the event and words enough to be able to explain it so our hearers would understand.

What I find interesting is that the text does not say how long the shepherds waited before hey went; but they did go “quickly.” I believe this should be our reaction and response too. God does not ask us to have everything figured out before we step out in faith; he just wants us to step out in faith, trusting him.

Another point this brings up is what to do after we hear from God. Our community (family, friends, trusted acquaintances, etc) is there to be a sounding board so we can have people to confirm/affirm/or maybe even give a new twist on what we heard. We should find ways to confirm what God has spoken. How that looks for you maybe different than me. I personally talk with trusted people to discuss what I felt God say, then we work together to continue listening for God, as we are moving in the direction sensed.

So when you hear from God our challenge is to keep the excitement and move “quickly,” bringing people along with us (the shepherds went as a community) to do the work God calls us to, or even what God calls us to see.

God, you speak to us. Help us hear with excitement what you say and move quickly to where you call us. Also, Lord, guide us to the people you want us to share this calling with. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.