December 13: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Matthew 1:20-25 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

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How do you make decisions? Do you only look at the facts, or so you allow God the opportunity to speak to you? I tend to have quick reactions, but then I try to take time to think about and assess the situation from different angels.

Joseph was about to dismiss Mary from the marriage contract, but I imagine there was still something in his heart that was questioning the decision. This is where God had an opening to prepare Joseph for what was about to happen in the birth of Jesus. After he heard from God, he obeyed and was confident he had an encounter with an angel of God.

I hope we all take time to think and pray about our decisions. God is preparing each one of us for something bigger than ourselves and we should allow him the opportunity to speak, and then obey.

Joseph knew the community would probably not understand his decision or even stand behind him to give him support. But he knew God was there and in that event. May we know, believe and live like this too!

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 12: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Matthew 1:18-19 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.

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Even though we are still over a week until Christmas and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we have come to the part in the Christmas story that causes us to think about societal views and how we treat people. We are called to be people who show love to everyone, even when it is difficult.

Joseph had every reason to call off his engagement to Mary since she was pregnant with a child who wasn’t his. He even had every right to have her stoned to death or have her go through life as a disgrace as a symbolic “scarlet letter.” He did none of that. The text says, “Joseph…was a righteous man.”

Would this be the same description of you and I? I do not always do what I know needs to be done; and if you’re honest, neither do you. But we have this example of Joseph. Even though he thought about calling off the marriage quietly, he still saved her life.

How can you show love to those you do not enjoy, or those who have caused you embarrassment? This is where we can continue to prepare and consecrate our hearts for the coming Messiah. God is using you, as he used Joseph, a couple thousand years ago, to be an example to the world of the better path we should take when we interact with people, even those who did us wrong.

God, thank you for the opportunities to practice humility and to show love to those who embarrass us or wrong us. Guide us this day. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 11: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Luke 1:67-80 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” The child grew up, becoming strong in character. He was in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.

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How do you view your life? Do you like to be the one getting recognized, or are you comfortable being the one behind the scenes for another person? It is important to know roles we play in our lives.

Here, we find Zechariah giving a prophecy about his son. No doubt he is extremely proud of being a father and excited to watch his son grow up. But if we read this prophecy carefully, it is really about the Messiah to come (Jesus Christ) and the role of John to play in the people recognizing and following Christ. So in reality, this prophecy is saying that John is actually going to play a part behind the scenes for the fulfillment of God’s plan with Jesus.

No doubt, this shaped his upbringing and how he was treated. John became the “pointer” to Christ. This is how our lives should be. Everything John did in his ministry, while alive, pointed people to the Messiah. Even to the point of bowing out when it was his time saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

Our challenge today is to see is we are the ones trying to be out front, or if we are doing everything we can behind the scenes to let Christ be known.

Thank you God for the opportunity to be lights in this world so people can see you through us. Help us be the brightest lights we can be and remember this season is about Jesus and not gaining material goods. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen

Advent Devotional 2014: Prepare (December 10)

Luke 1:57-66 When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy.  On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him. After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.” At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God. All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?” Indeed, the Lord’s power was with him.

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What stands out to you when you read these verses? If we remember what has happened before this time, Zechariah and Elizabeth have been prepared for this day their son would be born, They were given a glimpse of how the child’s life would be and what he would stand for. They trusted the Lord to provide in their circumstance and that his word would come true. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s heart was prepared and ready for this day.

This is part of the journey we are in this Advent (season of preparation and expectation) as we examine our hearts to see how the story of Jesus’ birth will continue to shape and transform us. Zechariah and Elizabeth were different after the meeting with the angel, and we should be different (being able to stand out from the crowd) after any meeting we have with God.

They were able to confidently tell the people around what their child’s name would be even though it did not make sense to the rest of the crowd. What is God asking you to do that seems other people don’t understand? Will you be bold and confident in your faith and the calling God has placed on your life?

Dear God, You have guided us to this place and this time. Help us in any unbelief we might have so we can celebrate this season of Christmas with boldness and confidence of your presence and your calling in our lives. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 9: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:46-56 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.

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How do you think you would respond if you were in the situation Mary was in? Remember she faced stoning, ridicule, being thrown out of the family, anything like that. But she still found it in her to praise the Lord even in the midst of knowing what could happen to her.

Whatever it is you face today, it may look grim and you don’t know how it will turn out; but God can still be praised! Here’s why:

  • God has never left you.
  • You are held tight in the grip of God.
  • You have the power of the Holy Spirit within you.
  • You have not lost your salvation.

I hope you can remember that this day and give praise and thanks to God in any situation you’re in.

Lord, Thank you for this time. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for giving way more than we deserve or realize we have. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 8: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

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Luke 1:39-45 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.”

Remember yesterday’s passage. Mary just heard she would be the mother of the Son of God and she accepted. Now, she is off to be with people who she may believe to give her peace and walk with her on this journey she is beginning. Mary went to trusted people.

When you have good news (or need to sort out your thoughts) who do you go to? We tend to want to work through ideas and things on our own and privately; but we can get an even greater realization and understanding if we go to people we can trust. Sometimes, the people we go to will even have a word from God to help us, encourage us. We all need encouragers. Life is not always easy and we need to confidence of having people we can trust and go to.

This Advent season, as we are preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, we are encouraged and invited to be around people we trust and friends who will be there for us (like Elizabeth was for Mary and vise versa).

Almighty and gracious God. Thank you for the people you place in our lives to help us work through life and hear from you. Guide us as we prepare our hearts, and help us be encouragers and be encouraged about the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 7: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:35-38 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.

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Humans have limitations. God does not. We often try to say God only works in certain ways and in certain times and under certain circumstances. This is simply putting God in a box. One of the issues with this is that when we put limits on God, we are attempting to control God and create God out of our image.

“Nothing is impossible for God.”

Here is a great story of how a seminary overcame financial obstacles because of the power of God. This is taken from the Dallas Theological Seminary web site:

One year several weeks before May graduation, the leaders had a few days to decide whether the school would continue.

Three people were awakened at 5 a.m. on a Saturday—Dr. William Anderson, a Dallas pastor instrumental in the Seminary’s founding; Dr. Chafer, founder and first president; and a donor. None knew the others were awakened, and each was impressed with the need to pray about the burden the Seminary faced. Only weeks later did they learn that all three had been awakened at the same time.

It took the donor about two weeks to get the money ready. And at the time it arrived, Dr. Lewis S. Chafer, Dr. Rollin T. Chafer, Dr. C. Fred Lincoln, and Dr. Harry Ironside prayed together on a Monday morning in an office. After praying they sat for a few minutes in silence. There came a knock at the door and a government bond for $10,000 arrived from an unknown banker in Illinois.

Some folklore has developed around this narrative. There was this story about a cattleman or a rancher. Somebody retelling it probably preached that “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” and that’s where cattle and a Texas rancher came in.

But the real story had nothing to do with a cattleman or a rancher. In reality, it had everything to do with “the God who owns all” sovereignly working in the hearts of a pastor, a president, and a donor. Three men prayed, and one had the financial means to give what the school needed to survive. In obedience, he sent it.

That story has been a faith-builder for many of us throughout the years. The prompting of the Spirit and the Lord’s provision at that time constituted a God-moment in our school’s history. Stories of answered prayer and God’s provision have continued across the decades.

God can overcome any limitations we place upon ourselves: education, finances, or anything else. Today we are invited to wholeheartedly trust God and see how big God truly is…so much bigger than we might imagine or can conceive.

Great God, we often place you under limitations. Help us trust you and help us see how grand you actually are. Guide us and break us free from lack of trust and movement on our part because of our limitations. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 6: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:26-34 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?”

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So we finally get to Jesus’ birth spoken of by the angel Gabriel. One of the things that happens is we hear this story every year and know the details. As we’re going through this story segment by segment, I continue to invite you to find yourself in it and hear God speaking directly to you.

I find it interesting that every time, in the Bible, an angel appears, the first thing they say is ,”don’t be afraid.” When your life is suddenly interrupted, how do you feel? Do you feel calm? Most likely not.

Mary was going about her day as normal, and all of a sudden her entire life is changing. God is calling her to this incredible life of being the earthly mother to the Messiah, Jesus Christ himself. I believe God is calling a person reading this today into vocational ministry. To be clear, each one of us is a minister to the world. Where we work, go out, eat, home, etc. are all places we are ambassadors to Jesus Christ.

We often have questions when God says he wants to use us. Why me? There has to be someone of better character. Someone smarter. Someone better off. But God uses people we don’t expect…you and me!

Almighty God, you speak daily. Open our understanding so we know where we are already in ministry and where you are calling us to go to be in ministry. Allow us to see and live into the gifts you have given. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 5: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:21-25 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn’t speak. When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”

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When we hear from God, what is the first thing we should do? Just sit around and be lazy. NO! We should be the people who continue to do our job to the best of our ability.

Zechariah just had this incredible vision from God. He could have run out and immediately told everyone outside and rushed to go home and do everything he could to make sure it came to pass. But that kind of living and thinking doesn’t really rely on God and his timing. Zechariah completed his work in the Temple, because that’s what he was assigned to do and he would have been breaking a major rule by leaving when he should have been there.

When God speaks and gives a vision for something we should do, he may not give a time frame. God may reveal some more of his plan for our lives, but he may also be continuing to show us who he is molding us to be.

Today our task is to do our work to the best of our ability and listen for the voice of God to work in us to reshape and remold us. You and I are not as good as we think we are; but we are so much more than we could imagine. Trust God to work in you and through you.

Ever working creator, you are doing an incredible work in us so we can be the people you call us to be. Grant us strength, patience, wisdom to live out your calling to be lights on a hill so everyone can see your glory and know you. Continue to work within us to have the fruit of the spirit come to pass. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 4: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:14-20 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

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In our journey to Jesus’ cradle this Advent season, we come now to the prophecy of the birth of John the Baptist. John was an interesting person; but he is very important and gives us an example of how we should prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.

There are two things that catch my attention in these verses to help us this Advent season: 1) stand out and let God’s glory shine through you, and 2) trust that what God says is true and will come to pass.

Stand out and let the glory of God shine through: How can we all the glory of God to shine through us? Be filled with the Holy Spirit and work in his power. This may look different in how each person lives their life; but the main point is to show love and compassion to those around us. So as you’re out shopping and getting things ready for Christmas, let’s not become agitated when things don’t go our way. Let’s be the people who, instead, act different and not be like tired, stressed, impatient people. Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

Trust that what God says is true and will come to pass: Very often we want things done in our way and in our time. God’s time is different than ours. 2 Peter 3:8 reminds us that “with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day.” When we hear from God, our tendency is to have it happen right here right now. Remember, we are in the season of preparing for the birth of Christ and trusting he will return. Faith comes when we can learn patience and simply trust that God is love and God is truth. John will not be born for another 9 months, in this story; and Jesus is still a year and a half away. We never know what will happen, but God has our life in full view.

Thank you Lord for filling us with the power of your Holy Spirit. Help us be patient when you speak and with other people. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.