What God is Saying:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Devotion (December 11) - Do Not Fear

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” – Luke 1:30-31

"Fear. One of the enemy’s most popular weapons that he uses against us. Worry, anxiety, fear…can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, controlling our every move and decision.
So much crazy going on around us today - wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death. We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. The list goes on…long." Debbie McDaniel

So how do we combat this fear? By turning to God's Word. Just as the angel said to Mary...do not fear, God tells us in His Word, "Do Not Fear". By focusing on these words of life, of truth, we can change our mindset. Soaking them in, over and over, and praying them out loud, will slowly begin to replace the familiar thoughts of fear and anxiety. There’s nothing magical about words and verses, but there is power through them, because they’re God’s words. 

"His words are “life” words, soothing to our soul, calming to our spirits, giving power to our days.  
It’s not always easy, and it often comes down to a choice: 
Choosing not to allow fear and anxiety to control your life. 
Choosing to guard your heart. 
Choosing to focus your mind on what is truth in the midst of uncertain times.

We might still feel afraid, but we can believe that God is with us. We may not be in control, but we can trust the One who is. We may not know the future, but we can know the God who does." Debbie McDaniel

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Devotion (December 10) - Difficult Faith

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” – Luke 1:45

Difficult faith...it is often asked of a follower of the Lord. God makes a promise and asks us to believe it but some of these promises are hard to believe:

Noah - build a boat for 100 years because I'm going to send a flood across the whole earth
Abraham - your wife Sarah is well past child-bearing age and has never had children but look to the skies...I'm going to give you descendents more numerous than the stars
Joseph - I know you are a slave, in prison, forgotten by everyone, but I've not forgotten you
Moses - You are 80 years old and an outcast from Egypt but I am going to send you to the most powerful leader on earth and make it possible for you to lead the Jews out of slavery
David - Pick up that rock and sling because you will prevail over Goliath
Daniel- walk into the lion's den because I will be with you

All these examples and so many more throughout the Bible and history show God making a promise which is hard to believe, hard to hold onto because it's fulfillment doesn't make sense. The odds seem so stacked up against the promise ever being fulfilled. But the person steps out in faith and believes that God is bigger than their mind, bigger than the circumstances. This is difficult faith.

Maybe the most difficult promise to believe is Mary's.
Mary - you are carrying God in your womb...trust me and believe this truth

And she did! She believed and she is called blessed. Happy, filled with joy, filled with the assurance that God is in control and will fulfill His promise no matter the circumstances. And He did!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Devotion (December 9) - The Ultimate Rescue Mission

When God created this world, created us, everything was good. Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God. The Bible tells us that God actually met them and communicated with them each and every day in the Garden of Eden. There was no separation, no guilt, no shame. But then...they wanted more. They wanted to be like God. They wanted the one thing God said they could not have. And they sinned and thus ended that perfect relationship.

But what was the first thing God did after that sin? As Adam and Eve were hiding from God, fully aware of their sinfulness, ashamed of their nakedness...God called out to them. He didn't turn His back on them...give them the silent treatment. Instead He went looking for them, seeking after them...because He still loved them.

And for the next few thousand years God continued to seek after them through the prophets, through miracles like the Exodus from Egypt, through judgments and restorations. Yet, that wasn't enough. From the very beginning God knew that He would have to go on a personal rescue mission to save the people He created, the people He loved. To save them from their sins and the rightful judgment that those sins deserved...eternal separation from Him in Hell.

That rescue mission started with a baby in a manger. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21

You see, man has tried time and time again, through every other religion in the world, to save himself. Enough good deeds, enough sacrifices, enough acts in the name of God. But nothing, nothing that man does can buy salvation for him. Why?  Because all of our good deeds can never outweigh the sin nature that we are born with.

Only One who knew no sin, who was perfect in every way, could step in for us. Jesus actually became sin on that cross. He took on all the punishment that the Lord could give for every one one of our sins. And He did it willingly. He did it in love. And He did it for all time. Jesus is our rescuer!

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Devotion (Day 8) - When Reputation Dies

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this: an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” ...When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.   Matthew 1:18-20, 24

Joseph had a decision to make. Would he believe the angel, obey God and destroy his reputation or would he take the easier road...divorce Mary quietly, give in to his human nature and put the problem behind him? The angel tells him not to be afraid but he is! He knows that few if any of his friends will believe this story. Would Mary's own family even believe her? 

He knows that if he follows through, most everyone will believe that his wife was unfaithful and that this baby was not really his son. Does he want to deal with this sort of shame, this sort of reputation, probably for the rest of his life? 

"Sometimes the implication of listening to the voice of God is that we ruin our reputation in the public square. Loving God involves surrendering ourselves to God in heart, soul, mind, strength - and reputation. The minute we turn exclusively to the Lord to find our true identity is the day reputation dies.

Joseph turns to God. Joseph learns that who he is before God (his identity) is more important that who he is in the circle of his pious friends (his reputation)." Scot McKnight

Most of us, as we follow Jesus, will come to this crossroads at least once in our life. Do we obey God even though the road ahead is uncertain, our reputation is on the line and people may not understand us or think poorly of us, or do we play it safe, go along with the crowd, ignore the voice of God in our heart? 

We most likely will not be visited by an angel, as Joseph was, to encourage our obedience. But...we do have something he didn't have. We have the Holy Spirit living in our heart. He will strengthen us to choose obedience if we will ask. And when all is said and done, isn't God's opinion of us more important than man's?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Devotion (Day 7) - A Difficult Miracle

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:18 

Newly engaged to be married. A young woman, most likely 13 or 14, and a young man. Promises of a good life together, children, memories shared, vows made. They were just starting out with all the hopes and dreams of any young couple. 

But then..."before they came together (before they were officially married), she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit." Wow! What an incredible miracle! God had promised, through the prophets, for hundreds of years, that there would be a Messiah. A baby born, fully God and fully man. And now here, with this young girl, was the answer to that prophecy. There had never been nor would there ever be a more miraculous birth! Somehow, God took on human flesh. 

Can any human being truly understand how this happened? I don't think so. But Matthew is clear that it is exactly what did happen. This is where faith is so necessary. Even though we can't understand how it happened...we can understand why it happened. It happened because God said it would happen. It happened because God desired to be fully human yet would continue to be fully God. Jesus wanted to become one of us so that He could fully understand us. 

But it was also a difficult miracle...difficult for Mary and her promised husband. “Her situation was the most distressing and humiliating that can be conceived. Nothing but the fullest consciousness of her own integrity, and the strongest confidence in God, could have supported her in such trying circumstances, where her reputation, her honor, and her life were at stake.” (Clarke)

It would take absolute faith and trust in God on the part of Mary and Joseph as they walked this road together. There would be joy and pain and uncertainty. But God would be with them each step of the way, as He is with us when the journey seems uncertain. When there is joy and pain in what we experience, there is always God with us! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Devotion (December 6) - God With Us

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 

What must Isaiah have thought when God told him to write these words? Isaiah ben Amoz was a prophet, living in Jerusalem 680 years before Jesus was born. He lived in the time just prior to the Babylonian captivity (when Babylon overthrew Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah and took many Jews into captivity while destroying the city). 

Much of the book of Isaiah contains warnings to the Jews that they need to return to worshipping God or they will be punished. It lays out the takeover of Babylon and the eventual collapse of that great empire. Isaiah then goes on to speak of Cyrus the Great, a ruler of the Medo-Persian empire, who would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Amidst all this prophecy, warnings of doom and words of restoration, Isaiah suddenly pens the words: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." 

What did it mean? Isaiah himself may not have known. These words were a prophecy that would need to wait for 680 years before fulfillment through the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. But the promise is there for all of us...His name was to be Immanuel which means "God with us." 

"Henry David Thoreau decided to get into Walden Pond one day and sink down until the water was at eye level, so he could see the world through the eyes of a frog. I always thought, How stupid; and really, who cares? But I began to think about Henry David Thoreau this week. I began to think about Christmas, and I began to think about God. Do you realize that’s what God did? The God of the universe, with no limitations, allowed Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary. He looked through human eyes and grew up like you and me, so that He would understand us and know how to relate to us. If Christmas is anything, Christmas is the story of God changing worlds and putting limitations upon Himself. It’s the story of a baby born in Bethlehem, who was more powerful than the Roman Empire that existed that day." John Maxwell 

God with us...that is who Jesus is. He is God and He made us, yet He came to earth to live with us. To walk the paths we walk, to be tempted by the same things we struggle with, to know hunger, pain, rejection and sorrow, just as we do. Why...to show us that He knows us, knows what we face, can understand our weaknesses, and wants us even with all our ugliness and sin. He is God with us. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas Devotion (December 5) - O Little Town of Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5:2

It's not how I would have done it. If I was coming to earth to show the people I had created who I was in the hope that they would believe and follow me, I would have done things much differently. For one...I would have come as the most powerful being they had ever seen. One look at me and they would have known that I was God.  A super hero of super heroes. But that's not how Jesus did it.

I would have chosen a family that was rich, powerful, mighty, with servants galore. Their influence would have been world-wide. At my birth there would have been no doubt that I was the King of Kings, God in the flesh. The Messiah. But that't not how Jesus did it.

The setting for my birth would have been the center of the world...a New York City, London, Beijing or in that time...Rome. That way, as soon as I was born, those with influence and power would have known about it. And the news would be spread by the most reliable news carriers to the four corners of the globe. But that's not how Jesus did it.

No, "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." 1 Corinthians 1:27  He came as a humble baby to a poor family who could only find a bed for Him in an animal trough. He chose to bless a small town, in the shadow of mighty Jerusalem, with His birth.

Isn't that like our God? He so often chooses the small, the humble, the weak and the powerless to work His mighty deeds. No matter how little or insignificant you may feel, God can and wants to work through you to further His Kingdom. Just like Bethlehem, though small among the clans of Judah, your life can be the fulfillment of God's promises as you draw others to Him.

God, thank You that You came as a Baby King in the most surprising way at the most surprising time. We need Advent this year, particularly. We need to see Your face in the middle of chaotic and challenging times when our souls are tired of the worldly rush and rage and unrest. Help us to see You, focus on Your astonishing incarnation into a messy world, and celebrate You. Ignite our wonder and awe! We love you. In Jesus' name, Amen.