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

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 25) - I AM

Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"
God said to Moses: "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 
-- Exodus 3:13-14

"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to Him (Jesus), "and you have seen Abraham!"
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I AM!"
-- John 8:57-58

In Jesus we have the richest, most vivid picture of God imaginable. God is not remote, displeased with the world He has made. Instead, through Jesus He bends toward us, sharing our weakness and shouldering our burdens. Through the perfect offering of His life He becomes our Way back to the Father. He is the True Vine in which we abide, bearing fruit for God's kingdom. He is the loving God who will never abandon us, but who will be present with us always, leading us to life eternal.

By using the name, I AM, the Lord may have been revealing Himself not only as the God who has always existed but also as the God who is always present with His people. Jesus used this name not only to identify Himself in answer to the religious leaders' questions but also to introduce a number of self-descriptions in the book of John:
I AM the bread of life (6:33)
I AM the light of the world (8:12)
Before Abraham was born, I AM (8:58)
I AM the gate for the sheep (10:7)
I AM the good shepherd (10:11)
I AM the resurrection and the life (11:25)
I AM the way and the truth and the life (14:6)
I AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener (15:1)

By living and dying to save us, Jesus Himself has become the Promise we live by. He is the Word of Truth we stand on, the Bread that nourishes us, the Shepherd who leads us, the Light that drives all the darkness and fear away. He is the Savior for which we hope and the Messiah, our gateway to eternal life. He is all of these things and more - the Almighty, everlasting God, the One who is the great I AM!

Discuss: How have you experienced the I AM...God's faithful presence in your life?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the great promise-keeping God, the One who was, and is, and who is to come. You are the Resurrection and the Life, the True Vine, the Way, the great I AM. Help us, O Lord, to live in You, bearing fruit that will last through the power of Your Spirit both now and forever. It is in Your precious name that we pray this, Amen.

Songs: O Holy Night, Mary Did You Know

Devotions come from Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 24) - Savior

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. 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 1:20-21

They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.
-- John 4:42

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father. -- Philippians 2:9-11

Just as Yahweh is God's personal name revealed in the Old Testament, Jesus is the personal name of the One we call Redeemer, Lord, and Christ. His name is intimately linked to the God of the Hebrew Scriptures because it means "Yahweh is salvation." Indeed, Jesus is Yahweh come to earth. He is God bending toward us, God becoming one of us, God reaching out in mercy, God humbling Himself, God nailed to a cross, God rising up from the grave to show us the way home. 

There's power in the name of Jesus, but it's not some kind of magical chant. Saying His name is not like rubbing a lamp to conjure a genie. No, the power of the name of Jesus is released when people earnestly cry out to Him and when they live in obedience to Him. 

There are many stories that reflect this truth. One was told by a woman at Ann Spangler's church. While walking to her car in a deserted garage one night, a thug accosted her, knife in hand. Though she was terrified, this woman managed to command the man who wanted to hurt her: "Get away from me in the name of Jesus!" To her astonishment, though they were alone in the garage, the man backed up as though someone had just threatened him with a knife. Then he turned and fled. 

Then there's the story of E.P. Scott, a missionary to India. One day Scott decided to visit a mountain tribe who had never heard of Jesus. But as he approached the mountain, a band of angry tribesman surrounded him with spears pointing straight at his chest. On impulse, the missionary took out the violin he was carrying, closed his eyes, and began playing and singing a hymn in their native language. When Scott finally found the courage to open his eyes, he was amazed to see that his attackers had dropped their spears and that several of them had tears in their eyes. Scott spent the rest of his life preaching and serving the people of that tribe, many of whom became believers. What was the hymn he sang? "All Praise the Power of Jesus Name!"

Discuss: What comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus? 

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, thank you for being my Savior.  Thank you for all the sacrifices that you made in Your earthly life.  Thank you especially for Your sacrifice on the cross that I might find salvation and spend eternity in Heaven.  Amen.

Songs: Silent Night, Christmas Offering by Casting Crowns


Craft: Make a banner or other decoration showing the Cross.

Service Project Idea:  Participate in a church visitation program, mentor a new Sunday School member, help set up a new members’ program at your church, etc.  Another option would be to participate in any program that helps to spread the Gospel.

Devotions come from Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 23): Lion of Judah

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 
-- Revelation 5:4-5

Only once in the New Testament is Jesus described as a lion. The book of Revelation (named in part for what it reveals about Christ) portrays the risen Jesus as the only one worthy to open the scroll that contains the ultimate unfolding of God's purposes for the world. The apostle John perceived Jesus as both Lion and Lamb, who through his death and resurrection becomes the ultimate victor and conqueror. When you pray to Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, you are praying to the One with the power to banish all fear, to the One who watches over you with His fierce protecting love. You are also praying to the One who is judge of the living and the dead.

The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the sky will tremble.
But the LORD will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.
-- Joel 3:16

The Gospels tell us that Jesus cried out just before His death. John's Gospel supplies the words: "It is finished!" These are not the last gasping words of a dying man. No, the Gospels say that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and then gave up His Spirit! It was a shout of triumph, the raised fist of victory! Jesus had gone willingly to the cross, fulfilling every detail of the mission the Father had given Him. Having won the struggle for our souls, it was as though the great Lion of Judah had roared from the cross itself.

No wonder the earth shook, the curtain of the temple ripped apart, and people rose up from their graves! Jesus, the conquering Lion of Judah, could neither be caged nor killed. Through His victory He has made a way for sin to be forgiven, for death's power to be rolled backward. By dying Christ shows us the lengths to which God's love will go. By rising He shows us the heights to which God's power will stretch.

The cry of Jesus on the cross still reverberates, still heralds the news of what God has done for us. As believers we need to reshape our lives toward that victory, even when we feel defeated. We need to remember that no matter what or who is against us, God is still for us. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is reigning from His throne, protecting us, purifying us, and using even the worst of circumstances to our advantage.

Today as we consider what Jesus has done, let us lift our voices in praise of the One who humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Let us remember that God has exalted Him to the highest place of all and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Discuss: Why do you think the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as both Lion and Lamb?

Prayer: Jesus, You are the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Thank you for Your fierce love and Your strong protecting power. Come with Your might and rule over us. Defeat your enemies and ours, extending Your reign throughout the universe. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Songs: Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin, A King Like This by Chris Tomlin

Devotions come from Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 22) - Rabbi / Teacher

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" He asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
-- John 13:12-17

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and He is in Heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
--Matthew 23:8

In Jesus' day, the name "rabbi" or "teacher" was normally reserved for someone who had studied under another rabbi for many years. Jesus offended the religious leaders of His day by ignoring this system. Instead of apprenticing Himself to a rabbi, He simply laid down His carpenter tools and called twelve ordinary men to become His disciples. Unlike other rabbis, who merely passed on the teaching of the rabbi under whom they studied, Jesus spoke with an authority that startled many of His listeners. His wisdom came from above -- a fact remarked upon by many who heard Him.

Jesus was an enormously popular teacher who drew crowds wherever He went, using parables, questions, discussions, proverbs, symbolic actions and even miracles in order to teach people the way to live. The content of His teaching is most powerfully and eloquently evident in the story of His life.

When He counseled His disciples not to follow the pattern of the Jewish rabbis and their disciples they saw around them, He wasn't discounting the benefits of learning from the examples or teachings of others. But He was warning His disciples against following or becoming self-important teachers who led others astray by their focus on externals.

Our call, like that of the disciples, is centered not on externals, not on adhering to a set of laws or regulations, but on following a person - Jesus. That's why faith is such an adventure. We are called to keep moving, growing, learning, becoming. We are lifelong disciples, bound to Jesus in a unique way, serving Him daily and relying on Him to provide for our needs just as the rabbis of old did for their disciples.

Two thousand years later, we are called to become His disciples, to stay as close to Him as a disciple would to a rabbi, studying His life, examining His teaching, and allowing His Spirit to remake us in His image. When you pray to Rabbi Jesus, remember that you are praying to the only Teacher who is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, able to transform not only your mind but also your heart.

Discuss: Why do you think Jesus cautioned His disciples against them using the title "rabbi?" Why do  you think Jesus washed His disciples' feet, making this one of the last lessons before His death?

Prayer: Jesus, my Rabbi and Lord. On the night before You died, You painted a picture by Your words and deeds of what it means to be Your disciple. Help me to advance in wisdom, love and grace as Your disciple. Give me opportunities to follow you by serving those around me. Help me to seek hidden and humble ways to do Your will. In your name I pray, Amen.

Songs: He Shall Reign Forevermore by Chris Tomlin, One Small Child

Devotions come from Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 21) - Friend

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. 
-- John 15:9-16

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions.
-- Matthew 11:19

Jesus is not only Lord and Master but the greatest of all friends, who willingly proved His friendship by His death on the cross. By this costly gesture He has won the friendship of billions of men and women from every tongue and tribe and nation. When you pray to Jesus your Friend, you are praying to the One who loved you before you were lovable and who links you together with His many friends throughout the world.

Jesus took the first step toward us, basing His friendship not on a set of shared interests or on mutual admiration - the usual basis for friendship - but solely on His love. But there's a catch: None of us will ever be attractive enough, good enough, or successful enough to warrant His friendship. In fact, we must admit our weaknesses and sins before we can become His friend. Because Jesus is only and always a friend of sinners, of people who are broken enough to know their need.

We are to be like our friend Jesus. We should reach out to those we know who are not as easy to be friends with, those who are different than us, those who maybe don't even like us, and just like Jesus did...show them friendship and kindness and the love of Jesus.

Discuss: There are other passages about Jesus being a friend but this one is more revealing. Why? Think of a good friend. Why are they your friend? What qualities do they have that make them a friend.

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, thank You for being my true friend.  I know that I need never be lonely with You in my life and that I can talk to You about anything and everything.  Amen.

Songs: The Little Drummer Boy by 4Him, O Come, O Come by Mercy Me

Craft: Send a homemade greeting card to a friend or to someone who might need a friend.  You may also chose to send a “welcome” card to someone new in your church or in your neighborhood and make a new friend.

Service Project Idea: Plan and carry out several helpful chores … serving your family.  You may also know of other ways that you can “serve” in your community.

Devotions come from Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 20) - Bridegroom

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give Him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and His bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." 
-- Revelation 19:9

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.
-- Hosea 2:19-20

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. 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 14:1-3

God is not content to be known merely as Creator, Lord or even Father. Incredibly He reveals Himself also as Bridegroom or Husband. The Hebrew Scriptures contain numerous allusions to Yahweh as Israel's divine Husband, and the New Testament presents Christ as the church's Bridegroom. He is the Holy One who did not cling to His divinity but left His Father's house to dwell among us, calling us to become one with Him in the most intimate way possible. To all of us, male and female, Christ offers Himself as our provider, protector, the One who has forever pledged Himself in faithfulness and love.

Although God's people have turned away from Him time and time again in disobedience, God made the most gracious gesture imaginable. He came Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, to call His people back. Just like a Jewish groom, Jesus left His Father's house to come and pay the bride price for His beloved. But instead of paying in so many coins, Jesus secured the marriage covenant with His own blood.

God loves us as a bridegroom who is passionately in love with his bride. Let us pray today for the grace to understand the lengths to which God has already gone to unite us to Himself. And let us heed the voice of Jesus who tells us not to let our hearts be troubled as we wait for Him, but to take heart because He is preparing a place for us in Heaven.

Discuss: What do you think it means that Jesus is the bridegroom?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You left Your Father's house to come to earth and claim me as Your own. Thank you for showing me what love is by the way You lived Your life. Preserve me from both worldliness and weariness as I await Your coming. I pray that on that great and terrible day, I, along with all Your people, will be ready, eagerly awaiting Your return as our Savior and our Bridegroom.

Songs: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Wedding Day by Casting Crowns

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Devotion (Day 19) - Son of David

The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end." 
-- Luke 1:32-33

"I declare to you that the LORD will build a house for you (David): When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish His kingdom. He is the One who will build a house for Me, and I will establish His throne forever. I will be His Father, and He will be My Son. I will never take My love away from Him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set Him over My house and My kingdom forever; His throne will be established forever." 
-- 1 Chronicles 17:10-14

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." 
-- Jeremiah 23:5-6

David was Israel's greatest king, a man whom the Bible describes as having the very heart of God. So it may not be surprising that the New Testament both begins and ends with references to Jesus as the Son or Offspring of David. He is the One who fulfilled the promise of a coming King so beloved by God that His throne will endure forever.

Like David, Jesus was born in Bethlehem (the city of David). And like David, who established his kingdom by overcoming Israel's enemies and uniting God's people, Jesus would establish His kingdom by defeating the principalities and powers, making a way for us to become part of it as we confess our faith in Him. When you pray to Jesus as the Son of David, you are praying to the long-awaited King, human by virtue of His descent from David and divine by virtue of being God's only Son.

At the time of Christ's birth, the people of Israel longed for the Messiah, a descendant of the great King David, who would drive out Israel's persistent enemies and restore the nation to its former glory. When people cried out to Jesus as the "Son of David," they were expressing their faith that He was this long-promised Messiah.

But what the people didn't understand was that they needed not just another David but someone far greater. They dreamed of a military leader who would drive out their Roman overlords, not realizing they needed a Savior who would drive out their sins. They longed for political power to restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory, never reflecting on the fact that Israel, even at its peak, had never been more than a very small nation, which had flourished as a united nation for only about a hundred and twenty years - equivalent to something like a millisecond in the scope of world history.

Nor did the people of Jesus' day understand that David's Son would exceed David in all things. He would inaugurate a kingdom that extended throughout the world and one in which every trace of sickness and death would eventually be driven out, a kingdom in which the lion and the lamb, the poor and the rich, the great and the small would lie down together perfectly and forever at peace.

Today as you read the headlines or watch the nightly news, remember that it is important to pray for our nation and our political leaders. We should regularly ask God for wise and humble leadership, for men and women who hunger for justice and who are eager to pursue peace. But remember too that we need more than good leadership. We need our sins forgiven, our relationships healed, our sicknesses overcome, our selfishness defeated. We need Jesus, the only King who is able to drive out our worst enemies and bring us together from every tribe and tongue and nation into a kingdom that will endure forever.

Discuss: What does it mean that Jesus was the Son of David? You might read Jesus actual genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16 (traces through his adoptive father Joseph) and Luke 3:23-38 (traces through his biological mother Mary).

Prayer: Jesus, Son of David, take up Your throne! Drive out Your enemies and be our protector. Then rule with Your wisdom and grace. Scatter the proud and raise up the lowly. Establish Your kingdom now and forever. Amen

Songs: Joseph’s Song, O Little Town of Bethlehem/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear by 4Him