Saturday, December 15

Ephesians 4:20-24

Ephesians 4

After years of complex theologizing, I stumbled on to a simple truth.  A good day is a day when I say “yes” to God, and “no” to my bogus self.  Paul sometimes uses the word sarx (flesh) to refer to that old, stubborn self that persists in selfishness, even after we have been liberated by God’s grace. I translate sarx as “bogus self,” because the real self is created/found  in Christ.  In Ephesians 4: 20-24, Paul uses  slightly different terms to make the same point: “That is not the way you learned Christ!  For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.  You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be continually, spiritually renewed in your perspective, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Paul is writing to believers who have been taught and actually have learned the Truth. The Truth, in this context, is a particular and unique person, Jesus. Paul’s point is the we cannot simultaneously embrace the Truth and indulge the bogus self. So, every day and throughout each day , we have to decide between the bogus self and the Truth. We cannot say yes to both, and we cannot say no to both.  Our daily decision has profound ramifications. If we say yes to the Truth, we become more real, and more connected to reality. That is a good day.   

- Jack Wisdom

Reflection: 

Proposed two-step agenda for your day:  

1) Consider Jesus, the eternal Word who became the Incarnate Word, who demonstrated love for you on the cross, and power for you in the resurrection; and

2) say thank you and yes!

For Families:
*In your group or family, who can produce the best foreign accent?  Who can do the best impression of another member of the family?  These examples, though funny, are really fake, or bogus, versions of us.  But sometimes, it isn’t as easy to tell when we are not living in the way for which Christ created us.  How might you fall into a bogus life, one that is not what Jesus intended for you?

 **Lord, we are so thankful for the new life you invite us into.  Spirit, continue to guide us in the way you have laid before us.  Give us the eyes to see your Truth and the wisdom to choose your Truth.  Amen.

Friday, December 14

Ephesians 1:13-14

Reflection:  Take time to read the passage.  Circle or take note of words, concepts, or truths that stand out to you.

Ephesians is addressed to people who are “faithful in Christ Jesus.”  The phrase “in Christ Jesus,” (often shortened to “in Christ,” or “in Him”) is key to understanding Ephesians in particular, and Paul’s theology in general. Some theologians argue that the phrase connotes a “mystical” relationship/communion between and among the resurrected Christ and the members of his body, the church. Other theologians argue that the phrase refers to our present participation in the blessings of the  already- inaugurated- but- not -yet -consummated  “kingdom of the beloved Son” (Col. 1:13) and the “new creation.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Ephesians confirms that these theologians should find something else to argue about, because they are both right!   

Ephesians 1:3-14 could literally be translated from the Greek as one long, mind-blowing, breathless sentence about the manifold blessings we find “in Christ.” Paul caps off the recitation of blessings with Ephesians  1:13-14: “In Him you also, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and having believed in Him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;  this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, culminating in the praise of His glory.”

Note the progression: we hear the gospel; we believe in Christ; the Holy Spirit marks us as God’s people; we inherit the ultimate treasure; we praise His glory. In context, the ultimate treasure is a Who, not a what. Our inheritance is eternal, unbroken communion, fully knowing and loving Christ, as we are fully known and loved. But, we don’t have to wait for the consummation of history to get started on our  calling to praise God’s glory. The Holy Spirit offers a foretaste of eternal communion here and now, in Christ.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a taste of your inheritance today.

- Jack Wisdom

For Families:
*What does it mean to seal something?  What is the purpose of sealing things (like letters, doors, food, etc.)?  Why is it amazing that people who hear the good news of Jesus and believe are sealed with the Holy Spirit?  What does it mean to you to know that you have been or could be marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever?  Is there anyone on your heart that you would like to pray for to experience this same sealing?

**Holy Spirit, you overwhelm us with your care.  How is it that we can become one with Jesus and saved for eternity?  Only through you can we experience the promised fulfillment of the good news that Jesus is our Savior, our King, and our Brother.  May we never lose the wonder of it all.  Amen.

Thursday, December 13

2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Reflection:  Take time to read the passage.  Circle or take note of words, concepts, or truths that stand out to you.

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!  18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth literally say, “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!”  Thus the translator is left to supply the subject and verb.  The common choices are “he is a new creation” and “there is new creation.”  Paul has been talking about how we are radically changed by our relationship with Christ.  In vs. 15 he has just pointed out that we no longer live for ourselves.  That’s a radical change.  Then in vs. 16, he remarks upon the change in how we view the world and regard people.  Another quite radical change.  These lend support for the view that Paul was intending to say that if anyone is in Christ, then he is a new creation. 

On the other hand, Jewish writers of that day spoke of the coming of a Messiah that would bring about an end to the old order and introduce a whole new age.  Isaiah wrote, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”  Paul also saw Christ’s death and resurrection as “the divider of history”.   So, perhaps he was truly intending to say that if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.

I love both options and I am glad that both are true.  I am new.  God is doing a new thing.  Maybe Paul didn’t want us to have to choose between the two.

If we were reading the Greek, we would also see that some of our English translations leave a word out.  Behold.  “The old has gone.  Behold, the new is here.”  I’ve seen it argued that the word is archaic; some translations forego the “behold” and include an exclamation mark instead.  In my mind, I keep behold.   God’s work is something to behold.  That he reconciles us through the sacrifice of His One and Only and makes us different than what we were in our dusty fallenness, that we are part of all that He makes new—this calls us to stand in wonder and behold his lovely Otherness.

- Diana Wisdom

For Families: 
*Think of examples with your family of things that begin one way but end up looking completely different (examples: butterflies, plants, origami, clay pottery).  Talk about how people are similar to your examples, how they can be new creations in Christ.

**Jesus, our Messiah and Creator, without you we are dust.  But, in your beauty, you have recreated us for new life and for glories unseen.  May we ever see you before us and follow you home.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 12

John 14:1-7

Reflection:  Take time to read the passage.  Circle or take note of words, concepts, or truths that stand out to you.

Jesus of the Upper Room reveals significant things to me. 

(1) He loves me.  Jesus’ tenderness toward his bumbling, oafish, often clueless, occasionally noble disciples, tells me that his love is full of grace and forgiveness.  He gets who we are. 

(2)  He is not like me.  His is an authority and majesty in a place I dream of and long for.  In that place he has rooms that he has prepared for us.  Our current dwellings are not the goal.  Heavenly dwelling places have been made ready.

(3) He has a plan.  I don’t see much evidence that others ever seemed to understand the plan.  (I don’t think I would have been any different.)  But he knew what he was doing and he was steadfast to the plan from first to last.  Jesus of the Upper Room persuades me that though I don’t see the way, I can trust him with the plan.

(4)  His power is absolute.  When I read the Gospels I am surprised by how many times Jesus told the disciples in what seemed to be plain language that he knew where he was going and that when he got there he would be handed over, would suffer and die.  At this last meal, his certainty is equally evident.  Just as before, he knew where he was going and what awaited him.  Significantly, he knew death would not rule the day.  A tomb would not be his resting place.  His friends would see him again and soon.  Divine power is the power that puts death in its place. 

(5) He loves me.  (I know I used this one already but it seemed worth repeating.)  He opened a way to the Father so that I might be with him forever.  The way isn’t hard to find. It isn’t elusive or changeable.  He is the way.  I just stay near him.

- Diana Wisdom

For Families: 
*When you go on vacation, what are some tools your parents use to find your hotel?  How would you react if, instead of getting directions to a new place, someone told you, “You will know the way”?  You would probably feel about the same as Thomas the disciple!  But, when it comes to how to get to the Heavenly Kingdom, we can be sure that Jesus knows the way and he will give us everything we need for our journey home.

**Jesus, thank you for your care, for your changelessness, for your plan, and for your power in our lives.  Help us to remember that you are Lord of lords and that to trust in you is the best way to pursue you and your ways.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 11

Galatians 2:20

The early church was suffering from a big problem, one that Paul took so seriously that he addressed it 29 times across 7 letters.  The problem was circumcision.  On the surface this might seem trivial, but to Paul, this old initiation ritual was placing God’s people back under the Law for which Jesus had already fulfilled and died.

The problem of hollow ritual acts and law following is not a thing of the past.  Our flesh is constantly pulling us towards a self-interpreted law with stilted rewards of self-importance.  Our need for checklists and accolades pulls us away from grace.  We forget that the Law was weakened by humanity because we did not use it as a tool to better understand the heart of the Law Maker; instead, from it we created a system that doomed us to failure generation after generation.

Paul’s argument in Galatians 2 is that faith is enough to be counted as sons and daughters of God.  Faith in Jesus is what takes our sinful nature and replaces it with His spiritual nature.  Our old lives of sin, guilt, and striving died on the cross with Christ.  And now, in the same way that His death was our death, His life is now ours.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit in our new lives, our faith is greater than our flesh.

To close, soak in these words from Martin Luther: “Read the words "me" and "for me" with great emphasis. Print this "me" with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this "me." Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins.”

- Mikah Alge

Reflection: 
1. Think about your old life and your new life after believing in Christ.  What has been crucified to Christ in your life?

2.  How does Christ live in you?  Essentially, what is different now, and can you see the role of the Holy Spirit in that change?

For Families:
*
Parents: grab a glass of water, some cooking oil, and dish soap.  Tell your children that God like the clean, pure water.  Add the oil and tell them that we are like the oil. The oil looks really similar to the water but, no matter how much you shake or stir the mixture, they just can’t mix together.  In the same way, our sin actually separates us from God.  Now add the generous amount of dish soap and say, Jesus is like the soap.  In this experiment, the soap breaks down the structure of the oil so that it can mix with the water, this is the only way these two liquids can mix.  In the same way, Jesus actually changes us so that we can be with God.  What do you think of that?

**Lord, you communicate your love for us in so many ways, and we are in awe.  Thank you for sending Jesus to change our beings so that we can experience your love and presence for the rest of our lives!  Amen.

Monday, December 10

John 8:31-37

A strong foundation is the most crucial part of building a home that will last.  Signs of a weak foundation are immediately obvious in the form of sloping floors, cracked walls, or stubborn doors. 

In John 8, after long discourses with the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus addresses a group of onlookers.  These budding believers are beginning to understand that Jesus has authority and really is the prophesied Savior.  He now charges these believers to abide, or build their home, on His word.  This means more than accepting or obeying his word but giving it permanent residence in their lives, allowing it to teach them truth, and, in turn, set them free from sin.

The Jewish nation was known for their resilience and also for their pride, which is why Jesus’ comment about their enslavement was so insulting to them that they completely forgot about thousands of years of slavery and oppression they endured at the hands of many nations.  In fact, they even forgot about the Roman garrison, closely monitoring this inciteful, riotous people, that overshadowed this very conversation in the temple courtyard.

Abraham’s offspring were so proud of their history, that they were completely blind to the cracks in the walls of their faith.  They had grown comfortable and had even come to love the quirks of their paltry house.  But sin wounds more deeply than is evident on the surface.  One storm can obliterate a weakened home.

Jesus invites us to build our home in Him and on His word.  He is our rock, our shield, and our sure foundation.  When we ask Jesus to forgive our sins and rely on His word to keep us from becoming once again enslaved, we will be sons and daughters of God the Father and inheritors of the promise of eternal life.

- Mikah Alge

Reflection: 
1) What does abiding look like in this season for you or your family? 

2)  Is this time with Jesus shaping and influencing your way of life?  Why or why not?

For Families: 
*If you wanted to build a house all by yourself, how would you know what to do?  Who would you ask?  Could you do it all by yourself?  Why or why not?  If we wanted to know how to live a holy life, one that was pleasing to God, who would be the best person to ask? 

**Lord, thank you for sending Jesus to show us how to live a life that pleases you.  Help us to surrender control, and show us how to make sure you are the foundation of our lives.  Amen.

Saturday, December 8

Hebrews 9:11-14

When I proposed to Langley, I gave her a beautiful diamond ring. During our engagement, I would occasionally catch her just staring at it on her finger, turning it ever so slightly to see ever cut, every sparkle of light.

Advent gives us the chance to gaze intently at Jesus; to see all the amazing facets of who he is and why he came. The Book of Hebrews presents a unique facet of Jesus’ identity as the perfect high priest. As modern followers of Jesus, it can be difficult for us to appreciate what this means. For the Jewish people, the high priest was central to their worship and way of life. He offered gifts and sacrifices on their behalf at the temple. He was the mediator between God and the people. God would come in judgment because of the sins of the people and the high priest would stand in their place, offering sacrifices that satisfied God’s justice and demonstrated His mercy by punishing an innocent animal in place of a guilty human being. 

Hebrews 9 tells us that the role of high priest in the past was pointing to the ultimate high priest, Jesus Christ.  Jesus, God in the flesh, is the perfect mediator between us and God who offered Himself for our sins once for all. There is no longer need for the sacrificial system because Jesus death permanently satisfied God’s justice and demonstrated His mercy by laying our punishment on Jesus at the cross.

Jesus, the ultimate high priest, came to offer is life as a sacrifice and shed his blood for us so that we might be forgiven our sin and set free to love and serve God forever.

— David Cumbie


Reflection

  1. Jesus’ role as high priest leads us to the cross where he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for the whole world. Imagine the cross looming over the nativity scene of Jesus as a baby. How might this change the way you think about Christmas and Jesus’ birth?

  2. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Try to memorize this verse and repeat it to yourself during Advent. Ask God to use it to remind you of his love for you and to help you love others sacrificially during this Advent and Christmas. 

For families

*What does the word sacrifice mean?  Can you think of an example of sacrifice?
What is the greatest sacrifice Jesus made for you and me? Why did he do it? 

**Spend some time thinking of a tangible way you can demonstrate the love of God as a family to someone in your neighborhood this Christmas by imitating his sacrificial love. Pray and ask God to bring to mind someone that really needs to know God loves them this Christmas.

Friday, December 7

Romans 10:1-4

As a parent, I love the joy my children experience opening presents on Christmas morning. My boys especially love to rip into their gifts with reckless abandon — so excited and eager.  What they never do is turn to me and ask, “What do I have to do to earn this?” They know it’s a gift given in love. 

In Romans 10:1-4, Paul pleads with his fellow Jews to come to this same realization about their own salvation. He says his own people have a zeal for God but rather than simply receiving the God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, they are trying to earn it through their own good works.  That’s what Paul means when he says Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. While all of us fall short of God’s perfect law, Jesus hasn’t and his perfect righteousness is gifted to us. 

We live in a performance-based culture. Make the grade, make the team, get the degree, get the job and on and on it goes. From our childhood we learn that if we want to be accepted, significant, even loved then we have to earn it. Unfortunately, this carries over into our relationship with God and our salvation becomes something we try to earn through our religious performance.  But that isn’t how God works.

The word grace in the Bible comes from the Greek word charis which can be translated “a gift” or “blessing.” Since the fall, humanity has been longing to recover what was lost in the garden, namely life with God. That’s why God took on flesh and entered into his creation. We could never climb our way back up to him, so he condescended to us out of his love for us. By the cross, he fulfilled all righteousness and open the way for us to receive life with God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Lord Jesus help us to receive this greatest of all gifts!

David Cumbie

Reflection:

1)     How does knowing God does not accept or love you on the basis of your performance change the way you see God? see yourself?

2)    Ask God to reveal and help you let go of any ways you might be trying to earn his love or win the approval of others by acting religous.

For Families:
*What is the best present you ever received? What did it feel like to receive it and why did someone give it to you? How is Jesus the greatest gift we have ever received and what did it tell us about how God feels about us?

** Jesus, thank you that you came into the world to give us life with God. Help us to remember we can never earn your love or be good enough to make you accept us. Thank you for living a perfect life and dying on the cross in our place. Thank you for the gift of life that comes through faith in you. Amen.

Thursday, December 6

2 Corinthians 1:19-22

 “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Slivanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us,, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” — 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

Yesterday’s reading showed Jesus had come, in righteousness, to accomplish all that God had promised by the Law and Prophets. Namely, the rescue of the world from the affects of sin—to bring shalom. Paul, then, echoes this fulfillment-power of Jesus by saying in Christ all of God’s promises are YES. Even when darkness abounds, in Christ, God at work to accomplish his promise.

Paul, then, highlights 4 things the Father accomplishes through the Word made flesh.

1.     He establishes us with you — God makes a new humanity with a new family identity. We are now the community of God. Our lives and ministry intersect. We are now, in all our uniqueness and brokenness, gifted by God to one another!

2.     He anoints us — Anointing in the Bible typically symbolized one of two things: a) a person being appointed to a divine task/role; or b) a person being brought before God for healing. Whether Paul is directly speaking of his anointing as an apostle, or of our “anointing” to the priesthood of all believers, a fundamental truth underlying either is that the object of God’s anointing is deeply loved and imbued with purpose!

3.     He seals us — Durning baptisms the priest puts the sign of the cross on the newly baptized persons’ forehead saying “you are marked as Christ’s own”. This is a signet of love. In Christ, we are God’s beloved. We are children of the one, true King; and he deeply loves you—the unrepeatable, uniqueness that you are.

4.     He gives us his Spirit — The Spirit is specifically a guarantee of God fulfilling his word/promise through the Word made flesh. The Spirit also empowers us to live into the righteousness of Christ as God’s agents in this world.

- Luke Kunefke

Reflection:

1)     Consider the fact that you are loved by God. In what ways do you feel loved by God?

2)     In what ways do you live out of your being loved by God?

For Families:
*How do you know that someone loves you?  What kind of things do you do with a person you love?  God is the perfect gift-giver, and more often, we call these gifts blessings.  What gifts or blessings in your life help you know that God loves you?

** Father, you care for us so much that you have freed us, loved us, marked us as your own, and given us the power of your Holy Spirit through Jesus work on the cross.  How can we help but rejoice in these great blessings!  Thank you for your love; we love you!  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5

Matthew 5:17-18

Anticipation builds as we inch towards Christmas. We’re told Christmas is the “best time of the year,”[1] and are promised “sentimental feelings”[2] as we surround ourselves with songs, decorations, gift giving, family, and friends. However, the commercialization of Christmas has distorted our anticipation. There is joy in this, but it pales in comparison to the anticipated joy Christmas should elicit. Christmas hope does mean “Joy to the World”. A question asked during Advent, but absent in our cultural liturgy, is: why does Christmas mean joy to the world?

Our cultural liturgy wrongly suggests all is well. But, all is not well. The world is, in fact, marred by sin and in desperate need of someone to put it right.

As the Old Testament ends Israel has physically returned from exile but God’s Spirit has not returned as promised. Desperate, Israel longs for God to act—to break into the darkness with his light, to liberate, to pour out his Spirit, to bring shalom.

Into the midst of this longing Jesus comes—Word made flesh[3], born to save the world! At his baptism God’s Spirit does return! Signs of God’s kingdom undoing the world’s brokenness are displayed as Jesus teaches, heals, and forgives.

However, his life and ministry were often misunderstood. Thus, Jesus declares in Matt. 5:17-18 that his life is not about undoing the Law and Prophets, but fulfilling and accomplishing them. Jesus came to earth to accomplish God’s rescue plan by righteously fulfilling the Law’s requirements. It was not to initiate God’s-Rescue-Plan-B. He came to fulfill and accomplish what God had promised long ago. Everything about Christ’s righteous life was to this end.

- Luke Kunefke

Reflection:

1)     Consider Christ’s righteousness in juxtaposition to the unrighteousness in our world and selves.

2)     Then, thank God for the gift of Jesus and ask for grace to imitate his righteousness.

For Families:
*What if you had never heard of Christmas before and you walked into a toy store or a bookstore (or any store) in December.  What would kinds of things would you see?  What might you think Christmas is about?  Now, what if, instead, you walk into a church in December?  What kinds of things would you see?  What might you think Christmas is about?  Why do you think these two versions of Christmas are so different?

**Brother Jesus, you always knew that you were on a mission to save us, and you did that through fulfilling God’s perfect law for us and taking away our imperfection.  Help us remember that true peace comes from knowing you and joy comes from being with you.  Amen.

[1]  A Holly Jolly Christmas, Johnny Marks; Columbia Records, 1962.

[2]  Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Johnny Marks; Decca Records, 1958.

[3]  John 1:14, ESV.

Tuesday December 4

Luke 24:22-27

Today we read about a remarkable encounter between the resurrected Jesus and two confused disciples. The disciples had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), but he had been brutally murdered on the cross. These disciples had heard from others that he had risen from the dead, but no one could find his body. They wondered if their hope had been misplaced.

We do not know exactly what Jesus said to the disciples, but his point is clear from verses 26 and 27: the thread of the cross has been carefully woven throughout the beautiful tapestry of the history of Israel and the Old Testament, and he is the tie that binds it all together. Abraham, Egypt (Joseph), the Exodus and the Law (Moses), the judges, King David, the prophets, even the exile to Babylon had all been leading up to this point and hint about the coming of Jesus. Jesus left his home (i.e. heaven) in obedience to God’s call (like Abraham) to be sacrificed as a sin offering by his father (like Isaac). Jesus was betrayed by those who supposedly loved him, only to be their savior (like Joseph), and he would set his people free, not from slavery to pharaoh, but to sin itself (like Moses). Jesus is the High Priest and King forever who fulfilled the Law and made atonement for sin once and for all on the cross (1 Tim. 2:5; Hebrews 7:27), and he defeated Satan, our greatest adversary (like David). Scripture is clear that Jesus’ crucifixion was God’s will and sovereign plan to redeem people from every nation from their sins (Isaiah 53:10; Mark 14:36; Gen. 22:15-19). This Advent, let us remember the purpose of Jesus’ birth and marvel at the mystery of the cross, God’s plan at work through the ages.

- Joey Alge

Reflection:

1)     How can you allow the cross to shape your Christmas this year?

2)     The cross is the fulcrum of history. Now God is at work reconciling the world to himself through faith in Jesus, and he wants us to join him in this work. How can you be a part of his mission? With whom can you share the good news about Jesus during this season?

For Families:
*How long have you loved a brother, sister, or friend?  How long have the people in your house loved you?  How long has God loved you?  How does it make you feel to know that God loved you before time began?  How does it make you feel to know that God had a plan before you were ever born to bring you into his family with Jesus?  Who do you want to know this good news?

**Jesus, thank you for your life on this earth.  Thank you for leaving your kingdom to save me.  Thank you for loving me before I even knew you.  Help us not to forget what you have done for us.  Amen.

Monday, December 3

John 5:39-47

Today’s reading reminds us that Jesus life and teachings must be understood in the context of the Old Testament and a society that had been carefully constructed around God’s law, which had been given to the people of Israel by Moses. Moses’ words of warning- obey God’s law or die (Deut. 30:15-18) were taken seriously by the Israelites of Jesus’ day because they were descendants of those who had survived the fall of the kingdom and the exile (see 2 Kings 25, and the book of Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra). Therefore, God’s law governed every aspect of their lives. Circumcision. Food. Clothing. Sex. Marriage. Divorce. Property. Tithing. Religious ceremonies and sacrifices, and the Sabbath. Even so, they had missed the forest for the trees (Matt. 23:24), and Jesus’ words to the religious leaders struck at the very heart of the lie upon which they had built their lives.

Jesus, like Moses, set the issue of life and death before them. He knew that they sought to earn eternal life through obedience to God’s law; he offered them eternal life as a gift and plainly told them that Moses’ writings were really about him, the Messiah. Jesus had come to set his people free, not from slavery to pharaoh, but from slavery to sin. He is the true Passover lamb who died for the sins of his people (John 1:29), and he is worthy of more glory than Moses because he is not just the law giver, but the author of the law itself (Hebrews 3:3). More than that, he is the fulfillment of God's law (Matt. 5:17). This Advent let us remember that Jesus is God’s perfect law incarnate, full of grace and truth, and he alone can save us and give us eternal life.

- Joey Alge

Reflection:

  1. Do you put your hope in things other than Jesus?

  2. In what ways do you try to earn God’s favor and eternal life?

For Families:
Have you ever been told to do something that you really didn’t want to do?  What do you do when your parents or a teacher or a grandparent tells you to do something that you don’t want to do?  I bet your response was the same as the Israelites – they looked like they were obeying God on the outside, but on the inside they grumbled and didn’t understand why they had to obey.  They didn’t understand the heart of God, but Jesus did.

Prayer:
Father, we thank you so much for your Son, Jesus.Help us remember that He is the only one would could fully obey you and fix our broken hearts so that we can live with you forever. Amen

Sunday, December 2

John 1:1-5

John starts the story of Jesus by calling him “the Word.” It may sound strange to us, but to Jews and Greeks in the first century, it was a clear signal. God created the world by his Word (Genesis 1) and revealed his wisdom (e.g., Proverbs) and truth by his Word (the Old Testament prophets). For Greeks, the Word or logos was the divine animating reason behind everything.

John claims this Word is Jesus and that Jesus’ story doesn’t start with his birth, it starts with the words “In the beginning.” Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John frames the story of Jesus in cosmic terms. Jesus is and always has been the eternal creator of all life.

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation — the incredible mystery that the eternal creator of humanity became fully human. That God himself took on flesh and came to us. But why did Jesus come? 

He came because God so loved his creation that he sent Jesus (John 3) not only to rescue us from sin, suffering and death but to restore a fallen creation. The story of Jesus is a second Genesis and Jesus is a second perfect Adam. At Christmas, God begins to recreate the heavens and the earth, a cosmic redemption project he Jesus will one day return to complete (Rev 21). 

Until then, as followers of Jesus we live in gratitude that Christ came to give his own life to rescue us and in anticipation that he will one day return to complete his recreative and redeeming work in the world. Advent is the season in which we not only remember what God has done for us in Jesus, but longing to see Jesus again. It is a time to celebrate Jesus as the light shining in the darkness that offers hope to a broken and hurting world.

-David Cumbie

Reflection Questions:

  1. Take a few moments and consider your own life story. How have you witnessed God’s power to rescue and recreate or redeem your life?

  2. Who in your life could use some hope right now? Spend some time in prayer asking God how this Christmas you can share with them the good news of God’s power to rescue and redeem.

For Families:
*
Consider turning off or dimming the lights as you read John 1:1-5 to your family, and light a candle during verse four.  Who is the light?  (Jesus) What was the world like before Jesus came?  (dark, sinful) What did Jesus bring to the world?  (light, truth, God’s word) Do you think your life would be different without Jesus?  How?  Share with your family one or two ways your life was different before Jesus, and how he changed your life.  Ask your children if there is anyone they would like to pray for, that they would also know Jesus.

**Lord, you are our great rescuer and we are so thankful that you would send your Son to live with us and die for us so that we could be with you forever.  Help us to see those who need this good news this Christmas.  Give us the words to speak light into their lives.  Amen.

Advent Devotional - Compline for Families

Reader: The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
Reader: Our help is in the Name of the Lord;

Everyone: The maker of heaven and earth.

Reader: Let us confess our sins to Almighty God.

Everyone:
Almighty God and Father, we confess to you,
to one another, and to the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned, through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins,
and by the power of your Holy Spirit
raise us up to serve you in newness of life,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Reader: May Almighty God grant us forgiveness of all our sins, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Read one of the following Psalms together)

Psalm 31:1-6

1 In you, O LORD, have I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion; deliver me in your righteousness. 2  Bow down your ear to me; make haste to deliver me. 3  And be my strong rock, and house of defense, * that you may save me. 4  For you are my strong rock and my castle; *
be also my guide, and lead me for your Name’s sake. 5  Draw me out of the net that they have laid secretly for me, for you are my strength. 6  Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me, O LORD, O God of truth.

Psalm 134

1       Behold now, praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD. 2  You that stand by night in the house of the LORD, even in the courts of the house of our God. 3  Lift up your hands in the sanctuary* and sing praises unto the LORD. 4  The LORD who made heaven and earth * give you blessing out of Zion.

Everyone: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

(Read the Scripture for today’s devotional)

(At the end of the reading …)

Reader: The Word of the Lord.

Everyone: Thanks be to God.

(A period of silence may follow. A suitable song may be sung. )

Reader: Let us pray together..

Everyone:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Reader: O Lord, hear our prayer;

People: And let our cry come to you.

Reader: Let us pray. Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Reader: Let us bless the Lord.

People: Thanks be to God.

Reader: The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us, this night and evermore. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2018 Introduction

USING THE DEVOTIONAL

This devotional contains daily devotions and reflections for the entire season of Advent as well as a reflection and compline prayer to help families worship and discuss our Advent themes together. The family portions is designed to work for families of all shapes and sizes and does not require extensive preparation. The Advent study walks through the theme of “The Word Made Flesh” exploring the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his embodiment of Word, truth, grace, and love. No matter what your experience is with devotionals and Advent, this is a great opportunity to focus in personal discipleship and growth and extending that to the whole family. For all of us, we pray that this Advent would be one that is marked by hope, expectation, remembrance and worship. The King has come and is coming again and there is much to celebrate!

A NOTE FOR FAMILIES

Christmas is such an exciting time, especially for the smallest members of our family.  But all of the good things the season has to offer can take our focus off of the best thing, the whole reason for Christmas – Jesus coming down from his throne to be live among us, putting into action the great rescue plan for his people.  If you, as a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or other influential person in a child’s life are wondering how to recapture the meaning of Christmas this year, this devotional may be the stepping stone you need to begin meaningful conversations and change in your home.  To help toward that end, we have provided a family portion each week that will help you create intentional time to talk about Jesus. We wrote the family portions of the guide with preschool and elementary-aged children in mind. If you have older children, consider having each person work through the “Personal Study” section in place of reading the family commentary, and then come together to talk about what you learned.

If you are new to home worship or feel overwhelmed by using this whole devotional, choose one part to engage in as a family.

  • You may choose to just focus on doing Compline together in the evenings during Advent.  Repeating these prayers together plants them in the hearts of our children faster than you can imagine.  Questions about words or phrases can spark beautiful conversations.  The use of candles to signify a holy time, set apart from the rest of the day can bring much needed peace before bedtime.

  • Some families choose to do devotions during dinner, when everyone is seated and already gathered.  Ears are wide open for readings when mouths are full of food.  You could even share something you learned earlier in the day when you studied the daily passage or reflected on the devotional questions.

  • Do a combination of the two. Children’s Pastor Mikah shares part of her own story where “one of the most meaningful (albeit initially odd) things my Dad did when I was in high school was to read scripture to me as I was getting ready for school (literally doing my hair in the bathroom).  And, if for some reason he missed me in the mornings, he would tell me about his time with God in the evenings as I got ready for bed and close the night with a prayer from Compline.”

Whatever way you choose this year, involve your family, and pursue your children.  Take them with you to pick out a candle to light while you say compline or have them help decorate an Advent wreath.  If you choose to use the Advent wreath as the guide suggests, put it in a special, visible place in the house to serve as a reminder of Jesus’ coming. Set aside a place and a time for your worship.  If you find yourself at a loss of what to say, use the guiding family prompts to help you talk about the Bible passage, and see where the Spirit takes you. 

Above all pray.  Pray for this time of preparation.  We, in turn, will be praying for you.  May the Lord bless you in this wonderful season, may Jesus be present in your homes, and may the Spirit guide and embolden you as you lead your families in worship.  Amen.