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Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Presence

Day 25: Christmas Presence

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God. Read Psalms 42:1-2,5-7 and meditate on the words.

Psalms 42:1-2, 5-6 (NIV)
1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 5-6 Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

1) Be still and know he is God.
2) Allow your soul to pant for God “as a deer pants for water.”
3) Today, on Christmas Day, thirst for the Presence of God.
4) Enjoy the living God.
5) Put your hope in God.
6) Praise Him, your savior and God.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)
1) Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2) Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a) Oh God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…
i) I praise your Holy Name today.
ii) I worship you.
iii) I love you.
iv) I long for your presence like a deer longs for water.
b) Give me your joy on this Holiest of Holy Days.
c) Fill me with your power today.
d) Take away my difficulties today so that victory over those difficulties will be a witness to your power and your love in my life.

3) Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a) I am still.
i) I feel your presence.
ii) I feel your love flowing through me.
iii) I have your peace.
iv) Thank you.
v) You have made me worthy of your presence by “The Gift” you gave on that first Christmas.
b) I stand amazed at your presence this Christmas Day.
c) Forgive me when I am so far from you that I lose this amazement.

4) Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a) Holy Father, I offer myself to you today.
i) Mold me.
ii) Shape me.
iii) Do with me as you will.
iv) Let no word come out of my mouth unless it is your word.
v) Let me take no action unless it is your action.
b) I offer my gifts to you.
i) Bless them.
ii) Use them as a witness to your mighty power.
iii) Use them to demonstrate your love for the people receiving them.
c) Merry Christmas, Dear Father.
d) I will not be afraid today to “tell the world” of your presence.
e) Today, I claim your presence in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
f) Amen.

5) Ask God for knowledge of his will for you this Christmas and the power to carry it out.

6) Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)
The Jewish people knew for centuries that Messiah was coming. They taught their children to look for him. They were waiting. Jesus fulfilled all of the hundreds of prophecies. A few of them are included in this Bible Study. In spite of the strong evidence, most of the Jewish people missed “The Gift.” They became so angry, disturbed and threatened over the possibility that he was “The Gift” that they crucified him. But alas, even that, was predicted. Today, most Jewish people are still waiting for a Gift that has already come.

Before you feel too smug, look around. Today is Christmas. It is a day we have set aside for celebrating “The Gift.” In most homes, presents given will have little to do with “The Gift” and God’s presence. Today, as you go through your day, do not miss “The Gift.” Spend your day celebrating “The Gift” of his presence. Look for the special gifts that “The Gift” has planned for you.

Background Scripture
Read Isaiah 7:14. Centuries before Jesus was born, he was predicted. What was the “sign” of the Christ Child? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Luke 1:26-27. How did God fulfill the prophesy from the book of Isaiah? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Micah 5:2. Where was the predicted birthplace of Jesus? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 2:1-2. How did God fulfill the prophesy from the book of Micah? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Jeremiah 31:15. What is Jeremiah predicting? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 2:16. How did God fulfill the prophesy from the book of Jeremiah? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Luke 2:38. Not everyone missed the Christmas presence. Whom did Anna tell about the Christ child? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 2:2. Unexpected people recognized and worshipped “The Gift.” Who were they? Can you think of others that recognized the Christmas Presence? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 2:3-4. How did most people feel about “The Gift?” (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 2:11. Today, join the Wise Men and bow down and worship him. Open your Christmas presents and offer them to the Christmas Presence.

Read Matthew 7:11. If you ask and watch, Jesus will send you a special gift today. Keep you eyes open. Do not miss your gift from “The Gift.”

Don’t Forget The Baby

A young seminary student spent many of his evenings gathered in a basement set aside for the recreation of the seminary students. There with his friends, he talked, played, and dreamed dreams.

The young man graduated, fell in love, and married. He began preaching in his first church. Just before his first Christmas at his first church, he and his wife had their first child. His seminary friends were excited and wanted to celebrate the birth of his son. They decided to meet back in the same basement where they had spent so much time together.

His wife was a little nervous about letting her new baby leave for an evening with a “bunch of guys” but eventually agreed. When this young preacher arrived at the basement, he saw a room filled with balloons. There was cake and gifts for the child. They sat the young baby in the middle of the table and played with him. The father opened gifts and everyone except the baby ate cake. Eventually, the baby went to sleep. They moved him over to a quiet corner of the room.

The years slipped away and suddenly they were young seminary students again. They talked about old times. They played the games that used to entertain them. They caught up with each other’s life and spun new dreams until the middle of the night. Finally, they realized it was past time to go home. Reluctantly, they stood up.

The young preacher climbed the stairs with his friends. He made it all the way upstairs and out to his car before he remembered the baby. In a panic, he rushed back to the entrance, tore down the stairs, to find his son still sleeping peacefully.

As he got back in his car, he smiled ruefully. Perhaps his wife’s concern about him going off with the baby was valid. He thought about the purpose of the party. It was for the baby. He had accepted and opened the gifts on his son’s behalf. He had even carried them to the car. He had left and forgotten the baby. Suddenly, he knew he had his first Christmas sermon.

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1) Making It Personal
a) In your journal, write a birthday message to Jesus.
i) Wish him a Merry Christmas.
ii) Offer him your presents in worship.
iii) Ask for the Christmas Presence throughout the day.
iv) Thank him for being “The Gift.”

2) Praying Continuously (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a) Read the Christmas Story sometime during the day.
b) Ask God to interpret what you read and to make it meaningful to everyone around you.
c) Tell every person that receives a present from you that it is in honor of the Christmas Presence.
d) Tell people that you love them with the love of Jesus.
e) Tell people that Jesus loves them.
f) As you go through your day, experience the Christmas Presence.
g) Look for the customized Christmas Present the Christmas Presence will give you.

3) Ending The Day
a) Thank God for his Presence.
b) Review Christmas Day.
i) Was it worthy of the Christmas Presence?
ii) What changes do you need to make next year?
iii) Confess if necessary.
c) Sing the carol, “Away in a Manger.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Need a Baby Jesus

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God. Read Psalms 150 and meditate on the words.

Psalms 150 (NIV)
Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

1) Be still and know he is God.
2) Praise the Lord.
3) Praise God in the sanctuary of your heart.
4) Praise his mighty heavens.
5) Praise him for his surpassing greatness.
6) Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)
1) Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2) Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):

a) For Christians, every personal encounter we have may be part of God’s master plan to lead someone to Christ.
i) Ask God for opportunities today.
ii) Ask God for the willingness to be obedient.
iii) Ask God to help Jesus show through your life.

b) Pray for the people in your life that do not know Christ.
i) If you have been shy or reluctant to share about Jesus, confess.
ii) If you have become impatient with their progress, confess.
iii) If your impatience has made you anything less that loving and kind, confess.

c) Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3) Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):

a) Is the Baby Jesus a part of your Christmas celebration?
i) If yes, praise him.
ii) If no, read the plan of salvation below.

b) Praise God for continually knocking on the heart’s door.

c) In Appendix 2, list evidence that God is always knocking.

4) Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):

a) Offer your heart to him.

b) Offer to be his witness:
i) To the people you meet today.
ii) Through gifts you give this Christmas.
iii) Through the celebrations of Christmas.

c) Appendix 3: Pray and update.

5) Ask God for knowledge of his will for you this Christmas and the power to carry it out.

6) Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.
Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

Do you have the Baby Jesus? I am not asking if you believe in Jesus. The question is, “Do you have him?” Has he changed your heart and life? Do you know him intimately? Is he a part of your Christmas celebrations? Is he making a difference for you today? Can the people in your life see him through you?

If you have the Baby Jesus, the next question is, “Are you sharing?” We learned to share in kindergarten. This Christmas, are you sharing the Baby Jesus?

Background Scripture

Finding the Baby Jesus is simple. Below is the plan of salvation. If you do not have the Baby Jesus this Christmas, I pray you will read it and apply it to your life. If you do have the Baby Jesus, I pray you will share this plan with others.
Plan of Salvation

1. Read John 3:16. God loves us and has a plan for our life. What is his desire for everyone?

2. Read Romans 3:23. Our own tendencies as humans separate us from God. On our own, we make mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. What does the scripture say everyone has done?

3. Read Romans 5:8. Jesus came to earth to show us how to live. Through Him, we gain forgiveness for our past and direction for our future. What did he do for us? Did he wait until we were worthy to give us this gift?

4. Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. How did Jesus demonstrate overcoming death and offering us eternal life?

5. Read John 14:6. God gave us a clear road map to him. Who is Jesus? What is the way to the Father?

6. Read John 1:12-13. If we believe in him, what is our right?

7. Read Revelations 3:20. He is always standing at the door of our heart and knocking? How do we let him in?

Many are insecure telling others about Jesus. Read Matthew 17:20. What does God promise?

I Need a Baby Jesus
I interviewed Sue for a position and realized instantly I liked her. We worked side by side for several years, becoming close friends. She is fun, beautiful, and unbelievably loyal to those she loves.

Sue was not always the way she is today. She had difficult childhood. She grew up in a family that had struggles and addictions. As she became older, she began choosing the path that most of her family chose. This path took her on a long and difficult journey through the hells of addiction. Sue’s captivity to alcohol followed the typical pattern. She found herself deep in the dark pit of addiction. Addicts have three choices: death, insanity, or recovery. She chose recovery. In her pain, she prayed a simple prayer, “Help.” God heard her and granted her request. She admitted she was powerless over alcohol and that her life was unmanageable. She got the help she needed and became sober. She takes her recovery seriously and does what ever it takes to continue it, one day at a time. When I met her, she was leading a productive and full life.

Our wonderful and gracious God meets people wherever they are willing to meet him. Sue was willing to cry out to God and ask for help. She was willing to turn her life over to God. She was unwilling to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. All God asks is for us to have the faith of a tiny mustard seed. Because she asked, God restored Sue’s life to one of sanity and health. God is patient. He gently led Sue towards his son’s forgiving love and power.

I knew Sue believed in God. I also knew she was not a Christian. I prayed for her daily. Because she was on such a Godly journey, I knew that journey would eventually lead her to the truth of Jesus Christ. I trusted that her courage would allow her to accept the truth of God’s plan for us. I trusted that God would convict her. I asked God. “What should my involvement be?”

His answer, “Wait for the right time.” I am action oriented and waiting is difficult for me. In September of 2000, our company hired a consultant to help with training. That consultant, Karen, went to my church. Karen had just headed up our church’s participation in the Billy Graham Crusade. Because of that campaign, her heart was prepared for evangelism. Sue had to work closely with Karen on the work project. Sue liked Karen. She mentioned how special Karen was and how grounded she seemed.

God whispered, “It is time.”

“Sue, you are seeing Christ in Karen’s life,” was all I said. I thanked Karen for being a witness to Sue. Karen began praying for Sue right then. During the course of the next year, Sue and I had a few brief conversations about Christ. I had to let her set the pace. I shudder when I think of the damage pushing could have done. This was my lesson in patience and faith.

Sue had a couple issues that needed prayer during this time. She asked our church to pray. The church was faithful and followed up on her issues. God was faithful and miraculously answered the prayers.

On morning of September 11, 2001, Sue and I were having work pressures. People were flying in from all over the country for a business planning session. They were all due to arrive at noon. The CEO of our parent company was on a plane heading to Jacksonville. We saw no way to get everything done. Sue and I were frantic and snapping at each other. Sue looked at me and said, “We need to pray the Serenity Prayer and calm down.” We both love this prayer. I completely agreed. She shut my office door. We held hands and prayed together: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the different.”

As we finished praying, someone knocked. “You had better watch the television.” We arrived at the TV in time to see the second set of the Twin Towers hit. We all stood together stunned and crying. Our company gathered and prayed. People from all religions and beliefs participated in this prayer. Sue and I thought we were praying for “serenity, wisdom, and courage” to host a business planning session. How our perspective changed the moment the plane hit that building.

As CEO of the Jacksonville Subsidiary, I had my hands full. Because she worked directly with me, Sue had her hands full. There were 35 people heading to Jacksonville on airplanes. Their families began frantically calling. We had no answers for them. Employees had relatives in New York and working in the Pentagon. We had family members of the military working for us. One had a military husband that had shipped out the night before. All day, we had to deal with the terror of the people around us. We began the process of systematically finding our employees. Praise God that they and their family members were all safe. Most of them spent the day on an airplane on the ground.

In the middle of this mayhem, Sue came into my office. Weeping, she said, “This is like Armageddon.”

My heart began pounding, a sure sign that God wants something from me. I stopped what I was doing. “Sue, Armageddon is going to be much worse than today.” I briefly described it. “Are you ready for it?” I asked.

“I think so,” was her hesitant answer.

“Sue, the Bible says you have to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior for you to be ready.”

She gasped and simply said, “I guess I’m not ready.” We went back to work. As bad as things were that day, I knew the conversation with Sue was the most important thing I had been involved with. I wondered if I should say more but felt I should leave it alone for now.

For the next couple of months, Sue and I talked off and on about Christianity. Knowing she was a singer, I invited her to sing in our church’s Singing Christmas Tree. To my astonishment and delight, Sue agreed. I prayed for her that Christmas. I hoped singing the words of the Christmas Story would lead her to Christ. I confess to being slightly impatient and discouraged with God’s timing. Again, God gently reminded me to trust him.

Sue loved singing on the tree. The people in the choir fell in love with her. They began surrounding her with the love of Christ. She was faithful to the choir and an asset to the performance.

Karen had continued praying and was excited that she was singing in the choir. In January 2002, Karen helped start a “Seeker’s Group” at our church. A Seeker’s Group is for people seeking God in their life but who have questions. She seemed interested but made no commitment. Several people from the church also and invited her to this group, including Karen. “Are you asking people to call me,” Sue demanded.

I laughed. “You are going to have to blame that on God. You have made your own friends at Southside Baptist Church.”

Our Singles Minister, John, introduced himself to Sue. Sue liked him and secretly named him “John the Baptist.” One of the singles in our church, Jan, befriended Sue. John and Jan took Sue to lunch. They maintained contact with her. Sue laughed and said, “I am going to have to join the ‘Seekers Group.’ Too many people have invited me.” As she participated in the “Seekers Group,” her friendship with Karen grew. They occasionally met and talked privately. Karen offered prayer and support to Sue through this process.

The “Seekers Group” took on the challenge of Sue’s bold questions and challenges. Sue is outspoken and a bit stubborn. They did not judge her. Knowing Sue well, I knew this group had their hands full. Sue struggled with the news that Jesus was the only way to heaven. “I do not like the idea that a loving God has hell as an option. And how can Jesus be the only way to heaven?”

Finally, a very mature Christian, Dave, in our church challenged her. He asked, “What is it that bothers you Sue? Does it bother you that it is true or does it bother you that we said it?” Dave was afraid he had been too firm. Sue has courage and appreciates honesty. She still had difficulty accepting the reality of hell from a loving God but she courageously continued to “seek.”

Sue knew God was working in her life. There were too many coincidences. At one point, I realized that Sue did not know the simple “how” of becoming a Christian. She was making it much too complicated. I shared with her that all she had to do was to confess her past, believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and ask Jesus into her life. We talked through the simple plan of salvation.

I offered to pray with her when she was ready. “Thanks for the information,” was all she said. I gave her a spiritual tract that had the plan of salvation in it. Sue was amused at how hard I working not to push.

In April, I lost my job. Sue and I were devastated and cried together. How painful it was to give up working side by side. I left on my trip, Pocket Full of Quarters. For months, I traveled across American, talking to people about God. I felt badly leaving Sue in the middle of her “seeking” but God was in charge. Sue and I talked often.

Church members continued to reach out to her. Her friendship with Karen deepened. She developed a deep respect for “John the Baptist.” She continued going to the “Seekers Group” and asking questions. As I traveled, Sue gave me updates on how God was working. She went in a public bathroom and someone had left a spiritual tract identical to one I had given her. “Sue, you might as well give up and accept the truth. God is not going to let it rest.” She laughed at my impatience.

God is so wonderful. During this process, Sue began dating the man who is now her husband. Rick is a Christian. Early in the dating relationship, Sue asked him, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?”

His simple answer was, “Absolutely.” I came back to Jacksonville briefly to celebrate my 50th birthday. Sue came to the party and gave a wonderful present. “When you finish the journey, Pocket Full of Quarters, I want to come to your house and ask Jesus into my life.”

Again, I was impatient. “Let’s do it now.”

She smiled. It can wait.” I considered cutting my trip short but God told me to be patient. I finished the journey. That day after I returned home, Sue came to my house. We sat on my back porch looking at the moon and the water. She brought her Bible. We walked through the plan of salvation. Sue marked the scriptures in her Bible. She read the Bible aloud.

We came to places where I knew she struggled. Timidly I asked. “Do you believe what you have just read?”

She smiled and said, “Now I understand it. The ‘Seekers Group’ explained it. Ray from work also explained one part to me.” We held hands and prayed together. We laughed and cried as she prayed, “Lord Jesus, come into my life.”

The next Thanksgiving, Sue called to say she loved me. “This is my first Thanksgiving as a Christian. I am grateful for Christ in my life.” The next Christmas, Sue sang in “The Singing Christmas Tree” as a Christian. This year, she understood the words.

“How is this Christmas different for you?” I asked.

“When I went to put up my Christmas decorations, I realized I had no decorations of the Baby Jesus. I became frantic to get a Baby Jesus. I had found Baby Jesus in my life. I needed a Baby Jesus for my Christmas decorations. Rick bought me a Nativity Scene that had a Baby Jesus. This Christmas, I worship Baby Jesus.”

Application (5-10 Minutes)
1) Making It Personal

a) Are you a Christian?
i) Have you turned your life over to Christ?
ii) Are you willing to ask Jesus to reveal himself more fully to you?
iii) If you are not a Christian, be courageous. Take the following challenge. Write the simple prayer, “Jesus, if you are real, make yourself abundantly clear to me.” Sit back and watch.
iv) If you are a Christian, be courageous. Take the following challenge. Write the simple prayer. “Jesus, remove anything in my life that is keeping me from having the best possible relationship with you.” Sit back and watch.

b) What is your story regarding the Baby Jesus?
i) Write down all the people and the events that helped you along the path.
ii) List pastors, teachers, workers, friends, family, and anyone else that had a small part of your personal story.
iii) List life-changing events that got your attention.
iv) How did you respond?

2) Praying Continuously

a) As you go through the day, notice each encounter.
i) Remind yourself that you may be part of the master plan for God working in someone’s life.
ii) Act accordingly.
iii) If there is an opportunity, big or small, to represent Christ, take it without fear or hesitation.

b) Pray continually for each person you meet.
3) Ending The Day
a) What came between you and Christ today?
b) Did you share the love of Christ today?
c) Repent and confess.
d) Ask for more of the Baby Jesus this Christmas.