Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday December 24 Christ is Born

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
With these words we learn of the greatest of all miracles, that God almighty, the God of Abraham Isaac and David, the very author of creation, who made heaven and earth and everything therein chose, for our sakes to step out of the glory which He inhabits and walk among us; not just with us, but as one of us. He chose rather than remain seated on high, to come humbly into the very world he created, defiled by those whom he created, in order to restore us to Himself. Though He was fully God, he chose to empty Himself and become as one of us. Jesus Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, the King of Glory came into this world not with fanfare or display of strength, but born of a woman, a young virgin and her carpenter husband in the humblest of settings, a cattle shed. And this is what He chose. Jesus, the only person in all of history who chose to be born and for whom birth into this world was the greatest contrast of circumstance, chose this for us, knowing what it would all entail and cost Him. Yet He chose it still.
What did it cost to come in such a way? Why, it cost Him everything. This One who knew no sin chose to step directly into the sinful world and take every sin upon Himself so as to save us and reconcile us to Himself.  This One who was of the very substance of God, chose to give up all divine power and authority and become a helpless and very human child. How did that tiny human frame contain God Almighty? How did He empty Himself of all that He is and was? The how of it, friends, is a mystery we cannot expect to fully comprehend this side of heaven. The why of it is another matter. The why is because of His great love for those He created and that includes us. Our salvation begins not by human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God (John 1:13).
Is this not cause for the greatest of rejoicing? We have a divine mediator who knows our condition with complete intimacy, not just because of His own divine knowledge of all that is, but because he has chosen to share that very condition, with all its frailty and temptation and suffering. Sit with that a moment will you? The perfect One who knows no bounds, by His own choice, because of His unlimited love, chose such a way to redeem us. We are told in scripture, that He came to reveal God to us: No one has seen God; the only God who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:18) In that swaddled babe we are given a true high priest who is interceding for us; able to sympathize with human weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16) We are given a perfect example that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter2:21) and learn from His ways. He provides a sacrifice, a perfect and unblemished lamb, to atone for the sins of us all. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told  he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18 ESV). As God he would not have been able to suffer death. As humankind, He would not have been able to conquer it. Yet as both natures fully integrated, He is able to present us weak and weary ones, spotless before the throne of God redeemed for all eternity. For this friends we join with the angels singing "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14) HALLELUJAH! Christ is born!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday December 23 His Kingdom Come

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike. And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth— blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved...       
Joel 2:28-32 NLT

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. Revelation 21:4 NLT

This week we have been talking about dreams as a way God may choose to communicate with us. But what about the other kind of dream...the dream planted in each of us? That dream of what is to come that we celebrate through this season of Advent. For even as we commemorate the birth of baby Jesus in that long ago cattle shed, we look forward and dream of His return in glory.  This is more than a dream. It is a promise of our great and mighty God, who made heaven and earth, the seas and everything in them. Who keeps every promise forever. Psalm 146:6 So advent is truly a season to nurture those dream seeds God has planted in each of us.  It is a time to dream of that day promised in the scriptures above, when all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. To dream of that day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will no longer know sorrow or suffering, crying or pain ever again. Can you dream of a day when we no longer ache for those we love who are suffering in body, mind or spirit? Can you dream of day when children are not hungry? Can you dream of a day when we do not watch helplessly as innocents are slaughtered by evil regimes? Can you dream of a day when Aleppo is part of paradise? Can you dream of a day when we no longer need fear for the safety of our brothers and sisters simply because of the color of their skin? Can you dream of a day when God Himself lives with us?If so, perhaps it is time to stop dreaming and start working to build the Kingdom right where you are and hasten that day He has promised.

"God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour Your power. Crown your Church's ancient story. Bring her bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom. Grant us courage for the facing of this hour. Lo! The hosts of evil round us scorn the Christ,assail His ways. From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise. AMEN! (Harry E. Fosdick)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday December 21 Attention!

For God may speak in one way, or in another, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings. He makes them turn from doing wrong; he keeps them from pride. He protects them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death. Job 33:14-18 NLT

If we accept that God created us for Himself and His purposes, surely we would accept that He wants to communicate with us. In fact, He is relentless in trying to get our attention so that we might have a true, active relationship with Him. Today's scripture affirms that God speaks to us in many different ways. The simplest and most direct way He speaks to us is through His written word, but He certainly does not stop there. He may use other people, music, circumstances, nature, and of course, His Holy Spirit residing in each one of us. Last time we talked about the possibility that God may speak to us in our dreams, and again, today's verses confirm that possibility. Of course, not every dream is a communication from God, any more than every word spoken to us from other people is communication from God. It is important to use discernment and "test the spirits, whether they are from God for many false prophets have gone into the world" 1 John 4:1 Nonetheless, as scripture tells us, dreams can be a valuable source of communication from God. He may use them to warn us of a situation that is dangerous to either our physical or spiritual selves, as He did with Abimalech when he took Sarah for himself. (Genesis chapter 20) Or He may use a dream to offer encouragement as He did for Gideon in Judges chapter 7. Consider the importance of dreams in the Christmas narrative, including Joseph's dream telling him to take Mary as his wife, or later to flea to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to  protect Him from Herod. Similarly it was through a dream that the wisemen were warned of Herod's evil intentions. How might God be using dreams to get your attention?

Great Lover of our souls, we come giving thanks with such gratitude that no matter how distant we me become, You never cease reaching out and calling to us. Lord we thank You for the way Your faithful servants of old listened to Your communication through dreams. Help us O God, to be open and attentive to all the ways You would speak to us each and every day. We ask in Jesus' name. AMEN!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday December 19 Dreams

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Genesis 37:5-11 NIV

Perhaps it is because I used to have extremely vivid dreams, but dreams have always interested me.  That certainly puts me in good company. A multitude of books and articles have been written about dreams over the years and dreams have been the subject of scientific study. The ancients believed dreams were revelations from God to be acted upon,  as in the story from Genesis of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's dreams and his ability to interpret the dreams of others were the source of both his misfortune at the hands of his brothers and his rise to power at the hands of Pharaoh. Pioneering psychologists such, as Jung and Freud, saw dreams as tools of the unconscious mind to help us work out the psychological difficulties of our waking time. More recently, neuroscientists have posited that dreams are part of memory consolidation, connecting visual,  auditory and motor experiences. Often, when this happens, scientists tell us, we are able to connect images and ideas that we were previously unable to, possibly leading to breakthroughs. And so modern science brings us back around to dreams as revelation. That modern science gives us biochemical mechanisms for the way dreams happen,  in no way dismisses the possibility the ancients embraced that dreams are communication from God.  After all God is the amazing creative source of our biochemical make up and functioning. I urge you to pay attention to your dreams. Perhaps God indeed has a message you need to hear.

Creator God,  You have made us so marvelously! Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made, in ways that even the greatest minds cannot fully fathom. Lord we thank You for Your amazing creativity and attention to detail in creating us and sustaining us and leading us back to You. Help us, we pray to be attentive to all the ways You communicate with us, especially through the sending of Your Son Jesus, in whose name we now pray.  AMEN!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday December 17 The Unseen Things

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 
For many of us, perhaps even most of us, our troubles seem anything but small or brief. Health challenges...loss of a loved need...broken relationships...wayward children...unemployment. Or just disappointment.  All of these loom large not small before us. And as our prayers seem to go unanswered as weeks turn to months and months to years it becomes very hard to hear that they won't last long. Jesus warns his disciples“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV  Trouble in this earthly realm is a promise from God. Not one we care to cash in on but a promise nonetheless.  That is exactly why Paul tells us to look beyond what we can see with our eyes to the unseen things. We cannot see the love of God,  but in a thousand ways, small and large He demonstrates that love for us especially through the act of sending Jesus. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV  While our lifetime, in our eyes, seems to be forever, we know that it is a mere speck of eternity. Perhaps this is why Mary, a young girl faced with personal ruin, was able to answer back with a song. Forever is a long time to collect the returns on the investment of a single lifetime. Hold fast to that promise and see beyond what is before you to the unseen joy of eternity.

Almighty and eternal God, please give us eyes to see this world for what it is: a brief temporary stop on our way to our forever home with You. When we feel overwhelmed by our troubles here and now, remind us, we pray, that Jesus has already gone ahead to prepare a place for us of unceasing, neverending peace and joy in a kingdom that will last forever. We ask this in His name. AMEN!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday December 16 See Jesus

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:34-40

No one living today has actually seen Jesus. Or have we? These days images abound...images of families and individuals desperately trying to flee Aleppo. See Jesus! Images of children wide eyed and bloodied or staring blankly too traumatized to register outward emotion. See Jesus! Images of refugee camps teeming with displaced persons struggling daily to survive. See Jesus! Images of starving children too weak to raise their heads. See Jesus! Images of young girls forced into the sex trade. See Jesus! Or perhaps the images in our minds are closer to home. Memories of faces we have seen in the flesh. The single mom struggling to hold her family together. The lonely senior in the nursing home. The homeless person you pass each day on that same corner on your way to work. The "misbehaving" child who is actually struggling with autism. In all of these see Jesus. Yet in the parable, the king rewards not those who simply see, but those who fed or invited or clothed or visited. We may not have the power to make wars to cease or feed all the hungry people, but we can refuse to look the other way pretending we do not see. We can see with eyes of love and act with compassion, doing, as Mother Teresa encouraged, small things with great love.. And then we will indeed see Jesus...all around us...everyday.

God of the hurting and helpless and hopeless, open our eyes, we pray, to the pain of those around us both near and far. Gift us with an ache that makes inaction intolerable. Help us to see the face of Jesus in each one, even as we offer this prayer in His name. AMEN!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday December 15 Ask

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. "Matthew 13:10-17 NLT

Hardened hearts. For me these are two of the scariest words in the Bible. The thought that a person could get to the point, through their own actions (or inactions) that the Word of God and the love of Jesus could not penetrate is nothing short of frightening and Jesus explains why in this passage. Not only would we not be able to understand more, but even the understanding we do have would be taken away. The result is getting to a place where, so Jesus says, we are no longer choosing to ignore Him, but in fact we are no longer able to understand, nor turn to Him. The consequence of this is that we cannot accept His healing. A dire consequence indeed, not only for this life, but more importantly for the life to come, when we need to be healed of our sins in order to dwell with Him rather than be eternally separated and cast into darkness. Fortunately, the converse is also true... to those who do listen and turn to Him, even more understanding will be given. In fact, he says, they will be given an "abundance of knowledge". We have only to seek knowledge and in humility ask for it: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 NIV  In addition we have the Holy Spirit to teach us: But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth...He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. John 16:13-14 NIV Are there any of us who do NOT wish to see more of what Jesus wants to show receive greater understanding of his teaching? Ask, seek and knock “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:8 NLT

God of all knowing, we do come to You at this time to seek more understanding. Lead us, O Lord to seek You everyday and to long for and ask You to guide us in wisdom and truth. Lord, please never let our hearts grow cold and hardened to the point that we can no longer hear Your voice, but rather nurture in us the desire for that which You desire that our hearts would be aligned with Yours. We ask this in Jesus' name. AMEN!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wednesday December 14 See Clearly

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.--1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT
Omniscient adj.
having complete or unlimited knowledge, or understanding; infinite awareness and insight; perceiving all things.
Omniscient...God is...but as this beloved verse reminds us, we are not. If only we could see what God sees...past present and future all at once. See the possibilities...see the consequences. So many things we cannot understand would make so much sense.  And yet one must answer the question would such seeing be a blessing or a curse? Surely God's heart is broken minute by minute by what He sees in this world HE created. Instead, as we learned yesterday, God calls us to trust... to believe that He is for believe His promise that truly He will work all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). It is not given to us to have all knowledge in this earthly life but we can walk in trust that the One who did not spare His own son but gave Him up for us all will graciously give us all good things (Romans 8:32). During this season of looking forward, we can anticipate a day when we will see clearly and  know completely. For now though, we must be content to trust in the promises of the Giver of all good things. I am a scientist by training. How? and why? are part of my marrow. But we know God's ways are perfect and His perfect plan is that we trust Him in this earthly life and can look forward to seeing and knowing all things in completeness and perfect clarity in the life to come.

Gracious and benevolent God, how we struggle with our incomplete seeing and knowing.  How we long for that complete knowledge You have promised believers. But until that day comes, O Lord, lead us to trust in You and seek Your will in every arena of our lives. We give thanks that You have no expectation that we will puzzle it all out for ourselves on this side of heaven. We ask as we gaze into that murky reflection, for faith to have patience as we trust that the day will come when we can see clearly know fully, even as You do. Thank You Jesus! AMEN!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday December 13 Trust and See

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life” John 44-50 NLT

"For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me." I wonder if it would be easier to believe we were looking on the face of God if we were looking on the actual in-person face of Jesus? First thought would be "Yes" there must have been an air about him that was impossible to miss. Yet clearly many missed it. If we can believe without physically seeing, how could they have missed it? But then again, if we had seen the helpless baby born to a young couple in a lowly stable would any of us NOT struggle to "see" God there? Perhaps that is why Jesus, speaking to Thomas after His resurrection, said "Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”John 20:24-29 NLT. That's us friends! We are those ones whom Jesus calls blessed. None of us have actually seen Jesus and yet we believe. Perhaps it is because those images are not burned into our consciousness, but only into our imagination. Those images of a baby in a stable, or a young boy working beside his father with the simple tools of his carpentry trade. Those  unlikely images that would make believing a challenge even despite the miracles. So though we cannot see with our physical eyes, we can trust that His word is true and we are told in this scripture passage that all who put their trust in Jesus will not remain in darkness. Yesterday we talked about being trapped in darkness and today, we have yet another promise, directly from Jesus' mouth, that when we put our trust in Him he will not allow us to remain in the dark, but will shine His light into our darkness illuminating all things so that we will indeed see God all around us. Even in the most unlikely places. Even in our own time and place. Trust and see! And know beyond doubt that when you see the Son, you are seeing the Father who sent Him because of His amazing love for you!

Gracious God we are thankful for the gift of faith, that we can trust you and claim Your promise to take us from darkness into light... to illuminate all of our world with a heavenly light that the eyes of our heart can see. Lord please increase that gift of faith and trust in each of us today that we would see You clearly at work in our world. We ask in the name of Jesus,  who spoke the promise and who is the promise. AMEN!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday December 12 Children of the Light

Our theme for this third week of advent is SEE.
Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” --John 12:35-36 NLT

Though He spoke these words to the disciples near the end of His time on earth, they remain good words for His disciples today to hear.  Everyone has had the experience of trying to walk in the dark at one time or another.  We may be on a familiar path and think we know our way but our eyes play tricks on us. Familiar and harmless objects may loom threatening in the cover of darkness. Unseen obstacles can trip us or hurt us and it is easy to take a wrong turn or get off course completely when there is no light to guide our paths. In a greater way, if we walk in a state of spiritual darkness we cannot see with the eyes of our hearts. We may fear that which is of no consequence to children of God.  Small things which should be easily avoided may get in the way and trip us up. And we can very easily get on a wrong path leading to a place of spiritual danger simply because we cannot see. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”John 8:12 NLT. Like a beacon in the night, Jesus shines brightly to light our way and guide us safely home to our Father who waits anxiously for our return. God placed a star in the sky to lead shepherds and wise men to the Christ Child. Jesus Himself is now the star that lights our way safely home to our Father. And as we step out of the darkness and into that glorious light, Jesus tells us we become children of the light,  able to reflect it back into a dark world around us that others might also see and find their way home. Step into the light that you may see!

Father God, we love you and give all our thanks that You have seen fit to not leave us struggling in darkness, but have sent Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ to light the way for us. Just as those long ago shepherds were drawn to the light of the star, draw us, each one, to the Light of the world. Help, us we pray, to step away from whatever darkness may be holding us and blinding us into the light where we can see your love for us and move fearlessly. We ask in His glorious name. AMEN!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday December 10 Turn back

Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the LORD. Lamentations 3:40 NLT
I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live! Ezekiel 18:32 NLT

If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn back and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave to them and to their ancestors. 2 Chronicles 6:24-25 NLT

Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. Revelation 2:5 NLT
Jeremiah, say to the people, "This is what the LORD says: 'When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?' ”
Jeremiah 8:4 NLT

We have been talking this week about turning: turning away from sin and turning toward the Lord. But there are a surprising (or perhaps not so surprising, given human nature) number of scripture passages that refer to turning back. These are just a few of them. Did you think it was only you? Were you certain no one else lacked the spiritual GPS to stay on course? Think again! Advent, the New Year of the church is the perfect time to pause and reflect on the direction we are traveling and then reset our course.  It is so easy to get off course in this world, yet the consequences can be devastating.  A ship that is even one degree off course will eventually, if it does not make a correction, find itself far from it's intended destination. My dad was a pilot in WW II. When he taught me to drive, he told me this: "Little corrections all the time. If you are always making little corrections you won't be in a dangerous place where you need to make a big correction."  Good advice for life, yet sometimes I find that I have failed to make those little corrections and indeed I am far afield. That's when a complete turn back is in order. Our God stands patiently waiting for just that. The prophet reminds us: Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:13 NLT. We can't travel in two directions at one time. We can't be moving away from God and toward God simultaneously. The longer we are moving away from the Lover of our souls, the further away we will find ourselves and the more work it will take to get back...just like Dad told me! How about you? Is it time to turn that ship around? Turn back and find yourself heading straight into the arms of the One who loves you!

Merciful God, sometimes I find myself so far from where I want to be. Help me, O Lord, to see the small corrections I can make along the way so the big ones are not necessary. But if I need to make a big correction, remind me that it is never too late to turn back and that You stand waiting for me to do just that. This I pray in Jesus' name. AMEN!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday December 9 Turn North!

Friday December 9
Then we turned around and headed back across the wilderness toward the Red Sea, just as the LORD had instructed me, and we wandered around in the region of Mount Seir for a long time. Then at last the LORD said to me, "You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn to the north."Deuteronomy 2:1-3 NLT

In the Old Testament we learn of God's miraculous deliverance of his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. God overcame every impossible situation for His people with an awesome display of His power because he wanted to deliver them. There were wonders and miracles and eventually plagues of every kind against those that would hold God's people back, culminating in the very sea being parted so they could walk away on dry land as God destroyed the mightiest army of that time. And it was not God's plan to merely bring them out of slavery but rather to give them every good thing in a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet we learn that what should have been and 11 day journey morphed into a 40 year trial and only 2 of the more than 600,000 adult men who left Egypt were allowed to enter the promised land. Even Moses himself did not get there. Throughout those 40 years, the Israelites moaned and complained and displayed a never ending failure to trust the One who longed for their deliverance. The message is very clear to us and we shake our heads at their foolish lack of trust. But what about us? Are we so different? Some of us have reached an age where we literally have been circling around the same "mountains" for 40 years (maybe more?) while for others it's just been a long time. What is our mountain? What looms so large in our mind that we have been circling in the desert while the promised land waits just beyond the horizon? Is it a mountain of poor health? A mountain of debt? A mountain of addiction? A mountain of family difficulties? A mountain of fear? We all have a mountain. We may even have a mountain range, but even more than the Israelites who walked across that dry land, we have proof that God is for us and wants to bring us to a place of abundant life: a land of milk and honey and grapes so large it takes two men to carry them.  We have a Savior who suffered that we would be saved. As we bring to mind the image of the Christ child,  that precious baby in His mother's arms we need to remember that He is the guide who will take us over that mountain and deliver us safely to the promised land of joy, both here and now and eternally. It's time to stop circling. Turn to the north!

God our Deliverer, maker of all that is good, we love You and give thanks for Your patience with us. Help us we pray to break free of whatever is holding us back and keeping us circling our own mountain instead of claiming the abundant life You have prepared for us and long for us to step into. Give us eyes to see beyond our mountain and courage to cross over knowing You will be with us all the way. We ask in the name of the One You sent as proof of Your great love for us, Jesus our Lord. AMEN!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thursday December 8 Strong Words

Thursday December 8
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the LORD will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the LORD himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:14-17 NLT

Can you hear it? The distant melody; the joyful singing? Christmas carols hold a special joy for so many people.  Even folks don't particularly care for music or who would never be caught singing will often join in a Christmas carol and those who seldom listen to music enthusiastically turn to that special playlist or enjoy the radio this time of year. But listen again. What if the sound that stirs our hearts isn't the familiar carol but instead the joyful sound of God, your maker singing with delight that you have come seeking His face, remembering with anticipation, the day he stepped out of heaven and into our own world. We often caution children about "strong words" such as "hate" but "delight" and "rejoice" are very strong words too and ones that merit not caution but joy.  These are the words that were used to describe how God feels about you not because of anything you have or have not done but simply because of who he created you to be. How does God feel about you? For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 NLT. His masterpiece! And He is singing with joy over you right now. We turn toward THAT sound. Listen! Sing along!

Loving God, too often we become stuck in condemnation or despair.  Remind us that is no place we should stay and that all we need do is turn in a new direction, to turn toward the one who loves us.  Help us to hear the sound of Your singing.  Help us to feel in the depth of our being Your joy and delight in us. Give us hearts that reflect that loving wonder back to You as we continually turn in Your direction, the direction of the joyful exultation You feel for each one of us. Lord help us , we pray, to sing along! We ask in the joyful name of Jesus. AMEN!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday December 7 Turn where?

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. --1 John 4:9-10 NIV

So far this week we have talked about what we need to turn from. As we learned Sunday, what we turn from is only part of the equation and I daresay, the lesser part at that. What is equally, if not more important is what we need to turn toward and that is God. We have been created by One who has no needs, for His pleasure and that pleasure is to be in relationship with us, the work of His hands. Consider these words from Richard Foster: Today the heart of a God is an open wound of love. He aches over our preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence. And he is inviting us-- you and me--to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created. His arms are stretched wide to receive us. His heart is enlarged to take us in. (Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home Richard J. Foster; p.1). Have you ever stopped to consider what makes God's heart ache? Have you ever considered that it might be not having YOU fully in love with him? Perhaps it is time right now in this Holy season to do just that.

Loving God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, it may be a new idea that one as great as You would truly desire to be in relationship with small and weak and imperfect ones such as us.  Yet You have shown us by your advent here that is precisely what You desire. Help us O Lord to pause to take that in. Remind us of just how much it cost You to reconcile us to Yourself. And then Lord lead us we pray, to turn back to You with that same desire, which You have already planted in each one of us. We ask in the name of the one who makes that possible, our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday December 6, 2016 Turn!

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. --Matthew 3:10-12 NIV

The ax at the root of the tree and the chaff on the barn floor burned with unquenchable fire. Two very stark images. Anyone who has ever thrown dry leaves or  pine needles on a fire knows what happens. Having seen the recent footage of wild fires in our own country we can easily imagine what would happen when the dry chaff on that barn floor comes in contact with that unquenchable fire. Similarly the ax at the root of the tree implies it's complete destruction.  Both of these images show us what needs to happen with our sin. Ambrose, he fourth century theologian, describes it this way: One does not repent by trimming leaves one at a time, or even by cutting off an entire branch. The whole life of sin must go, must be renounced altogether, and definitely (Ambrose, On the Mysteries 1–3). Hence the need for a complete turn away from that which separates us from God. We long for a world where all is just and fair, where righteousness prevails.  Such a world cannot exist unless individuals are just and fair and righteous. That is where we come in. We are responsible for our corner of this world.  Dealing with our own sin can only happen as described by the writers above: completely and utterly. But how can we ever eradicate what is our very nature? Even the Apostle Paul tells of himself: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:15 Surely we are no different. In our own power we never cannot turn away. But we know that as true believers, that same Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us(Romans 8:11). Today's scripture tells us that sin consuming fire burns in us. THAT is power to change. That is power to turn right round.

Almighty and omnipotent God, we are amazed and so grateful that you choose to dwell in us by your Holy Spirit. Reveal to us we pray, all that is not pleasing to You within each one of us, and give us the desire to turn away from it .  Empower us, O God to do just that, so that we might be clear channels for Your great love in this time and place. We love You Lord and we ask all this in Jesus' powerful name. AMEN!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday December 5, 2016 Repent!

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ”--Matthew 3:1-2 NLT 

Repent. A loaded word. Another trip to the dictionary yields this: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life. Aha! So right there in the definition is a turn. John the Baptist spells out clearly what we are to turn away from: sin. Another loaded word. One working definition I have heard of sin is anything that separates us from God. That's simple and it makes sense does it not? Scripture tells us that God's eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Habakkuk 1:13. Moreover, your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 NIV. Holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. Sadly, we are by our nature sinful. But hear this good news: God who loves you infinitely has provided a way out. That way is THE WAY, the truth and the life: Jesus Christ. The very One we await in this Advent season. Though we wait to celebrate His birth and we wait for His return in glory, there is no reason to wait to accept His offer of redemption. As we learned last week, no one knows the hour of His coming therefore we want to be prepared.  Repent!

Merciful God, we are so amazed at your ceaseless love, and Your plan of salvation through Your Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we now pray. Help us, O God,  to recognize the many ways we separate ourselves from that amazing love by our sins. Remind us, we pray, that Jesus has already paid the price for those sins so that we have only to turn from them and accept His sacrifice in order to be cleansed and made right with You. Thank You Lord! AMEN!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday December 3, 2016 Hope

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. John 1:4-5 NIV

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”-John 8:12 NIV

Traditionally, the first candle in the advent wreath symbolizes hope. defines hope the noun as: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. As a verb it means to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence. The older meaning is to place trust in; to rely. We light the candles of the advent wreath; we see the golden light that reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. As the scripture states: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Surely this is the basis for our hope. Where there is light, darkness can no longer be. I'm not sure how the board of discipleship chose the  weekly themes for Advent this year, but "watch" seems a perfect partner for the traditional "hope". The very idea of watching implies hope does it not? For who would watch for something if they had no hope that it would come. We know that all the promises of God are true.  That Jesus will return, is promised: My Fatherʼs house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3 NIV. Therefore, during this Advent season we watch because we have hope in the One who has promised to return and take us to be with Him. I can think of no better blessing for this glorious truth than that of Apostle Paul in His letter to the Church in Rome: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:13 NIV

God of truth, just as the candle brings light to the darkness, so You have brought light into a dark world through Jesus, in whose name we now pray. In the same way that darkness cannot exist in light, neither can despair exist where there is hope. Fill us with hope, we pray O Lord, as we watch and prepare for Your coming. AMEN!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday December 2, 2016 Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14 KJV

I don't know of any statistics, but surely this is one of the best loved and often recited passages of scripture. I can't remember a Christmas among the many I have counted when I failed to hear or read or speak these words and I pray they will never become so familiar that they no longer cause joy to well up within me. What strikes me as I read these beloved words now, as we consider how we are to watch, are the shepherds on that first Christmas night. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. How interesting that not only did God choose to come among us in the humblest form: as a helpless baby born to an unnoteworthy young couple in a dark and dusty cattle stall, but the first to hear the Good News of the saviour's birth were simple shepherds, the humblest of witnesses. Shepherds occupied the lowest rung of both the economic and social ladder of that time.  In fact they were so little trusted that they were not allowed to testify in court. Yet this is who God chose to first reveal the news of His arrival as Immanuel, God with us. We are told After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished -Luke 2:17-18 NLT
Would it not have made more sense for God to reveal His arrival to those ones who had spent their lives studying His coming? Or to those who would have great influence over others? Surely shepherds would not qualify on either of those accounts. But that is exactly the point: God is not looking for the qualified or the influential. In fact, we are told  Instead God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. -1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT. In coming to the shepherds the angel brings good news of great joy to those who were considered of little value and least likely to influence their world. In so doing not only does God show us that the saviour has come for EVERYONE, but He shows that anyone can spread the Good News. And that friends includes you and I. So how about it? Are we willing to be like those shepherds? Keep watch and then have the faith to share the Good News? It would seem to be God's plan!

Surprising and marvelous God, though You have told us in Your word that Your thoughts are not our thoughts nor are your ways our ways, still we are amazed at what and who You will use to build Your kingdom. Give us faith and trust like those shepherds, we pray, that we would be steadfast in keeping watch and quick to share the Good News of salvation with those who need to hear. We ask in the name of the One we watch for even now: Lord Jesus. AMEN!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday December 1, 2016 Watch and Pray

December 1, 2016
Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41 NKJV

Jesus in the garden...with the disciples...those closest to Him. Those ones who were hand chosen and walked with with daily during those years of His public ministry. Those ones who not only heard his teachings, but afterwards received private tutoring. Those ones who loved Him deeply. And yet, in the hour when he so greatly needed them, not once, but three times the disciples failed Him. If those who were with Jesus face to face on a daily basis, listening and learning directly from Him needed to watch and pray so as not to enter into temptation, how much more we who follow Him today?  Perhaps now, more than at any time in history,  worldly distractions tug at us and threaten to lead us away from all of our good intentions. The world is full of loud and shiny things that cry out for our attention, more so at this time of year than any other.  Jesus' voice, though persistent,  calls quietly. The world speaks to our fleshly love for ourselves and concern with our own well being. Jesus calls us to love and serve Him by loving and serving the least of these. The irony is that this season which exists to point us to Jesus has become something so different that we have to work   against our consumer culture to even keep in the front of our minds what we are actually celebrating. As Jesus tells us in this passage, our watching needs to be intentional and it needs to be fortified by prayer. In prayer we connect our spirit to that which we cannot see with our eyes: our triune God. In prayer, if we practice it regularly, we can sense that tender love that  God has for us and which we so desire, yet so often miss in a world where how we look and what we do is often valued more than who we are. But prayer does take practice...regular practice and we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. So in these days of watching, let us respond to Jesus call to watch and pray, that when he comes he finds us ready and waiting to receive all that he has for us...heavenly treasures that nothing in this world can ever match.

Loving God, Source of all that is good, help us, we pray to be strong against the temptations all around us. Open our ears to hear Your voice calling to us to watch for You. Lead us and guide us that our feeble attempts to meet You in prayer would be engulfed and overwhelmed by Your almighty power and great desire to draw us to Yourself as demonstrated by Your coming to this very earth as a helpless child, Jesus, in whose name we now pray. AMEN!