Search This Blog

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Day 21: Peace in All Circumstances

Day 21: An Abundant Christmas: Peace in All Circumstances

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read Jude 1-2 and meditate on the words.

Jude 1-2 NIV
To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    God calls us for his purpose.  Think about your calling:
a)    To God.
b)    To the church.
c)    To your family and friends.
d)    To the world.

3)    God the Father loves us abundantly.  Think on the wonder of that. 

4)    If we know Jesus, he keeps us.
a)    Let him keep your problems.
b)    Let him keep your fears.
c)    Let him keep your hurts.
d)    Let him keep your dreams.
e)    Let him keep your Christmas Spirit.

5)    Mercy in abundance
a)    God offered mercy to you, even when you did not deserve it. 
b)    If anyone has hurt you, offer them mercy, even if they do not deserve it.

6)    Peace in abundance
a)    God is offering you a peaceful Christmas season, regardless of your circumstances.  Accept it.
b)    God is offering you a peaceful life, regardless of the circumstances.  Accept it.

7)    Love in abundance
a)    Love the Lord God:
i)    With your mind.
ii)    With your heart.
iii)    With your soul.
iv)    With your strength.
b)    Love your neighbor as yourself.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Are there circumstances in your life that are getting in the way of your having an abundant Christmas? 
i)    List them in Appendix 1. 
ii)    Ask for God’s will in each circumstance.
iii)    Ask God what to pray for. 
iv)    Listen.
v)    Make sure you are holding no grudges against anyone.
vi)    Pray for what God leads you to ask for.
vii)    Believe God will answer.
b)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Thank God for his abundance and peace through all circumstances.
b)    Praise God for mercy:
i)    The mercy he has for us.
ii)    The mercy he helps us have for others.
c)    Praise God for his plans for us in this life and the next. 
d)    Praise God for loving us. 
e)    Thank him for answered prayer.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer him your faith this Christmas. 
b)    Offer him your love this 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)

Christmas Spirit depends on our relationship with God and not our personal situation.  The same is true of our peace throughout the rest of our life.  If we depend on Christ, we can have an abundant Christmas, regardless of our circumstances.  If we have faith in Christ, we can have an abundant life, regardless of our circumstances.  Through faith, our world can be spinning around us and we can relax into God’s peace. 

Background Scripture

Read Mark 11:22-25.  Like can be uncertain but our God is not.  When we are facing difficult circumstances what does verse 22 tell us we must do first.  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

According to verse 23, what is the secret to our prayers being answered?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What is the promise in verse 24?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read verse 25.  To have effective prayers we must do one more thing.  What is it?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

The above verses, taken alone, can be confusing.  Every word of the scripture is true but there is more to it.  We all know Godly people who have begged God for something, only to receive a no to their pleas.  The answer to this lies in studying how Jesus dealt with the difficult moments of his life.  Jesus knew he was facing the cross.  He was completely human and completely God.  The human side of him dreaded the pain and suffering of the cross. 

Read Luke 22:42-43.  How did Jesus pray?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

The disciples and followers of Jesus all faced difficult circumstances in their lives.  We see them accepting the will of the father.  Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  God’s plan for us is an eternal one.  When we pray “In the Spirit,” our perspective becomes an eternal one.  We hear God’s voice and know his will.  He leads us in what to pray for.  When we pray “In the Spirit” Mark 11:22-25 becomes a reality in our lives.

Knowing we are “In the Spirit” does not mean that our earthly circumstances are painless.  The pain of the cross was real.  The brutal ways in which most of the disciples died were real. 

Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.  Where do we turn when our circumstances hurt?  How does what we receive help others?  (Write your answers in your journal.) 

Read Philippians 4:7.  We cannot avoid pain on earth but our suffering is optional.  Regardless of our circumstances, God gives us a blessing.  What is it?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

In closing, read Paul’s encouraging words in Romans 1:8-10.  Read his closing prayer.  How does he show deference to God through his prayers?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Difficult News At Christmas

“Bethany is going to need a kidney transplant,” the doctor gently informed a distraught mother and daughter. 

“But she is so young.  She is just twenty years old.  Surely there is another answer,” the mother argued.  Bethany had one kidney removed at birth.  A progressive kidney disease was causing Bethany’s remaining kidney to fail rapidly. 

Bethany is a college student and planning to be a nurse.  She has always been a good student.  She is a Christian and is beautiful, responsible, sweet, and fun.  She has a close relationship with God.  Many young people stop attending church when they go away for college.  Not Bethany.  She became active in a church in her college town as soon as she arrived at school.  Her mother, Nancy and I joke that she is the “perfect” daughter. 

Bethany laughs at us and says, “I am far from perfect.” 

Bethany grew up in a Christian home.  Her father has dedicated his life to full time Christian service.  He is on staff in a large church.  Her mother plays violin in the church orchestra.  Bethany has one sister, Allison, who would do anything for her.  Allison is hoping and praying that she will be able to give a kidney to Bethany. 

My sense of fairness says this family has done everything right.  It seems wrong that they have to face something as difficult as a kidney transplant.  It seemed particularly unfair to have to visit so many doctors during the Christmas Season. 

I asked Bethany how her Christmas Season was going.  “It is going great.  I will enjoy Christmas just as much as ever.  I believe my doctors when they tell me that many people with kidney transplants go on to have a family, career, and wonderful and full lives.  I trust God with my future.  Doctors make me nervous but I go anyway.  My main worry is Allison.  I don’t like it that my illness might cause her pain.”

Bethany’s mother, Nancy, depends on prayer to get them through this.  After getting the doctor’s news, she immediately asked her church to pray.  While normally very independent, she allowed friends to help.  “I can’t go through this alone,” she said.  Nancy trusts God with Bethany’s future.  “I will allow no thoughts other than Bethany coming out of this healthy and whole.  Bethany will have a full life.  Allison’s kidney is going to be a match for Bethany.”  What some would call denial; others would call faith. 

A year later, it is Christmas once again.  Right after last Christmas, Bethany’s failing kidney suddenly stabilized.  It is still only partially functioning, but to date, the transplant has been unnecessary.  “We are taking life one day at a time,” Nancy said.  “I pray we can put this off until Bethany finishes school.” 

A Difficult Year

John had a difficult year.  First, he lost his job.  John gives his heart to everything that he does.  His job loss was “economy” related and out of his control.  John loved his job and his company and grieved the loss.  While grieving, he reminded everyone, “God is in charge of this situation.”  John’s attitude towards his former employer remained amazingly positive. 

Not long after he lost his job, John had a routine physical.  At the last minute, the doctor decided to order a prostate test.  They found a very aggressive form of prostate cancer.  This caught everyone by surprise since he had absolutely no symptoms.  John praised God through this bad news.  “God led those doctors to run that test.  Normally, they don’t test for this at my age.” 

Before this year, John had led a charmed life.  He lived the “American dream.”  He went to college and excelled.  John’s career soared and generated an excellent income.  He married and had two children.  His wife takes care of the home and family while he goes off to work each day.  He is a Christian that has remained faithful to his church.  He is a Sunday School teacher and sings in his church choir.  John has close friends that love him.  He is a fun and loyal friend and easy to love.

The news of his cancer shocked all of us that love John.  He seemed “the picture of health.”  It was doubly hard because of his recent job loss.  The doctors gravely told John, “This cancer had a rating of ‘7 out of 10’ on the aggressiveness scale.  The statistics for this are not in your favor.” 

John had the normal reaction of surprise and fear.  He worried about his wife and young children.  He turned to God and his friends.  John asked the people closest to him to pray.  He called us and asked, “Would you please invoke the Jacksonville prayer warriors on my behalf?”  Bob and I immediately went to our knees for John.  We made a mental decision to go through this emotionally with him.  That first night, we both cried as we held each other and prayed.  God gave us a sense of peace.  We realized that God had led those doctors to find this cancer early and that he was taking care of John.  As we prayed, God brought Mark 11:22-25 to my mind. 

Mark 11:22-25 NIV
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered.  "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." 

The next morning, I did two things.  The first was I did make sure I was not holding any grudges against anyone.  I did not want my prayers on John’s behalf blocked by my shortcomings.  That was when I realized that I was angry with John’s former employer.  I do not like it when people hurt my friends.  I confessed and asked for healing.  Gently, I felt my anger replaced by love. 

The second thing I did was to send out an e-mail “Request for Prayer” to the “prayer warriors” that John was referring to.  They immediately e-mailed their willingness to pray.  Ray is one of those “prayer warriors” that I depend on.  He is also a friend to John.  Ray e-mailed me Mark 11:22-25 on John’s behalf.  God had now given that scripture to both Ray and me.  I knew God was leading us to pray for John’s complete healing.  I e-mailed this scripture to John and told him what I was praying for. 

John e-mailed back, “I am overcome with the outpouring and support from my Christian, and non Christian friends.  My Lord is sustaining me.  I am buoyed, feel myself sinking sometimes, and raise myself up by praising Him.  I am supported by a great church community that I now realize encompasses the entire United States.  Christians catch on fire and spread themselves when others are hurting.  I am being transformed even as I type this.  My faith is being transformed.  My being is being transformed.  My relationship with my Lord is being transformed.  How humble and grateful I have become.”

Throughout the surgery and treatment for cancer, God ministered to John’s spirit.  Once, he was nervously waiting to see a doctor.  He looked up and saw the father of a friend to his daughter walking by.  John knew the man was a doctor but had not seen him in years.  “Why are you here?” the doctor asked.  John explained what he was waiting on.  Without permission, this doctor grabbed both of his hands and immediately went into prayer.  He prayed for God’s presence in John’s life.  He prayed for God’s plan for John’s life.  He asked for mercy and strength.  John had not even known this man was a Christian. 

For the next few months, they went through the roller coaster ride of cancer.  John went through the entire Christmas season feeling blessed.  “I am reading God’s word more than I ever have before.  I am really listening to God.  I feel gratitude for everything this Christmas.  I even notice the smell of the Douglas Fir in my living room.  I am at complete peace.” 

A year later, it is Christmas once again.  This year is entirely different.  Against all human odds, God healed John from the cancer.  There is no trace of cancer cells in his body.  He found a job that he enjoys.  He is grateful to be alive but no longer afraid of death.  “I am grateful for everything that happened last year.  My perspective on life has changed.” 

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    In your journal, write a prayer asking God for an abundant Christmas for you and your family.
b)    Make a decision to trust God with your circumstances. 
c)    Forgive anyone who has harmed you.
i)    Who hurt you?  (Write your answer in your journal.)
ii)    What happened to you?  (Write you answer in your journal.)
iii)    How did it impact you?  (Write you answer in your journal.)
(1)    Did it hurt your self esteem?
(2)    Did it get in the way of your ambitions?
(3)    Did it hurt your personal or romantic relationships?
(4)    Did it hurt you financially?
iv)    Ask God to give you the same forgiveness and love for the offender that God had for you. 
v)    Be honest about your part in the situation. 
(1)    Were you afraid?  Did your faith falter?
(2)    Were you selfish?  Did you forget to love your neighbor as yourself?
(3)    Were you dishonest? 
(4)    Were you self-seeking, showing off or trying to dominate? 
vi)    Confess:
(1)    To God.
(2)    To another Christian.
vii)    Make any necessary amends.
d)    Pray “In the Spirit.
e)    Enjoy God’s peace this Christmas.

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    Praise God all day. 
b)    Praise Him when you see any Christmas Decorations. 
c)    Praise Him when you hear Christmas Music. 
d)    Praise Him when you hear the word Christmas. 

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Did circumstances keep you from experiencing God’s peace.  If so, confess.
b)    Did your faith waver today?  Did you doubt?  If so, confess.
c)    Are you angry with anyone?  If so, ask God to help you forgive them. 
d)    Praise God for the peace that is beyond understanding. 

Advent Day 20: And the Light Became Flesh

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read John 3:17-21 and meditate on the words.

John 3:16-21 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.  Enjoy God’s love.

3)    Whoever believes in him will have eternal life.  Anticipate an eternal life with God. 

4)    God sent his son to save the world through him.  Ponder the wonder of God’s grace.

5)    Light has come into the world.  Think about the Light of Christmas.

6)    Whoever lives by truth comes into the light.  Are you living by truth?

7)    Are you living by the Light of Christmas?

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Ask God to help you walk in truth:
i)    Throughout your day.
ii)    Throughout your life.
iii)    Through all eternity.
b)    Ask God to give you the light to notice and enjoy his world today. 
c)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Praise God for creating the world.  (List in Appendix 2.) 
i)    Praise him for his beautiful creations. 
ii)    Thank him for turning on the lights so we could see them.
iii)    Thank Him for the moon, stars, sun, and the heavens. 
iv)    Praise Him for the flowers and the trees. 
v)    Ask Him to help you to notice them all day. 
b)    Praise God for Christmas.  (List in Appendix 2.)
i)    For the gift of his son.
ii)    For the privilege of worshipping the Christ Child.
iii)    For the fun we have at Christmas.
c)    Praise God for loving us enough to send us the Light.  List in Appendix 2.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer God your awareness today:
i)    Of the beauty around you. 
ii)    Of his truth.
iii)    Of his light, lighting your way. 
b)    Offer God your willingness today.
i)    To be delighted with his gifts.
ii)    To enjoy the Spirit of Christmas.
iii)    To walk in truth.
iv)    To bask in his light.
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)

From the beginning, God offered us light.  God said, “Let there be light.”  We look around in wonder at his creation.  We are grateful that he created light first.  Without light, the beauty would be a waste.  We would not be able to see the colors in the flowers, sunsets, mountains, and rainbows.  Everywhere we look, God has given us things to see and enjoy through his light. 

Instead of enjoying the light God offered, man rebelled.  The first rebellion was in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve just could not be happy with the gifts God gave them.  The rebellion has continued throughout history.  For our own good, God gave us the Ten Commandments.  We were unwilling to follow them.  He sent prophets, whom we ignored.  Occasionally, he even spoke directly to us.  We just kept right on being our own worst enemy. 

God saw our darkness.  Once again, God said, “Let there be light.’  This time, the Light became flesh. 

Background Scripture

Read Genesis 1:1-2.   Describe the earth in the beginning.  What was it like?  How does that compare to life without Christ?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read Genesis 1:3-5:  The world was dark and God created light.  What did he say about this light?  How does God say, “Let there be light” in the lives of people?  (Write your answers in the journal.)

Read Genesis 1:6-10:  What did God create on the second day?  What did he say about it?  (Write your answers in the journal.)

Read Genesis 1:11-13.  God created fruits and vegetables.  He could have made everything the same but he gave us a wide variety to choose form.  He saw that it was good.  Think about your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Why do you suppose God went to the trouble to make them so different and interesting?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Genesis 1:14-19:  God had already created light.  Even in light, he created variety.  What was the purpose of the lights in the sky?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read Genesis 1:20-25.  God filled the water and the skies.  He created birds and fish of all sizes, shapes, and colors.  He filled the land with animals.  Think of the fun he had as he stretched the giraffe’s neck and painted the stripes on zebras.  He enjoyed his creations.  Who could blame him?  How could you not enjoy watching monkeys?  Again, why do you think he created such a variety?  Whom was he creating this for?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read Genesis 1:26-27.  God made man in his image and let us rule over everything he had made.  This world was for us.  What do you imagine the image of God is like?  How are we like him?  What does that mean our potential is?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read Genesis 1:28.  God had already created a wonderland.  And yet, he did one more thing.  What was that?  Why do you think he did this?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

You know the rest of the story.  What kind of life did God plan for Adam and Eve in paradise?  Did they live happily ever after?  (Write your answers in the journal.) 

Read Jeremiah 50:6.  Adam and Eve are not the only ones who struggled.  What happened to us?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read John 1:14.  We are God’s creations, created in his image.  God continually sent us light.  We continually choose darkness.  What did God finally do?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read John 14:6-7.  Who is Jesus?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read John 10:10.  Why did he come to earth?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

The Aquarium

My late friend and mentor, Steve, told me this story many years ago.  I dedicate this devotion to his memory.  Steve shared this story when I was going through a “crisis of belief.”  I have retold it so many times that I no longer know what parts are his and what parts are mine.  I have no idea where this story originated.  If anyone knows its origin, please let me know. 

A young boy dreamed of owning an aquarium.  He visited fish stores.  He read books about fish.  “I want an aquarium for Christmas,” he announced.

“You are too young.  This is too big responsibility at your age,” his parents insisted.

“Please.  I promise to take care of it,” he begged repeatedly. 

On Christmas morning, he received his aquarium.  With it came the basic supplies.  There was also a gift certificate for him to purchase the fish and anything else that he thought he needed.  That morning, this little boy saw no other gifts.  His dream had come true. 

Lovingly, he washed out the aquarium.  He found a table to put it on and set up the equipment.  His aquarium had a light.  He turned it on.  How he loved this light.  He went to the store and looked at everything.  He picked many different colored rocks.  He chose trees and bushes to put in his aquarium.  He bought houses, toys, and even a swing set.  

He went home and set up his aquarium.  He carefully laid the rocks.  He used the different colors to create roads and trails.  They looked good to him.  He set up the house.  He put the swing set with the slide right beside the house.  He put the trees and bushes around beautifully.  All looked perfect for his fish.  He filled the aquarium with water.  He made sure the temperature was just right.  He turned on the pump so the oxygen level would allow his fish to breath.  He loved everything about this world he had created.

Finally, the time came to buy the fish.  He went to the store.  There were so many beautiful choices.  He picked out the most colorful fish.  Excitedly, he rushed home and put the fish in the aquarium.  He watched.  He could not wait to see them swing on the swing.  He imagined their joy as they slid down the slide.  He looked forward to them traveling the roads he had created.  He waited for them to take shelter and comfort in the beautiful homes.  Surely, one of them would stop to notice the trees and bushes. 

He stared in shock as the fish just swam around in circles.  They did not enjoy the world he had made for them.  They ignored the roads.  They swam right past the swing set.  They did not seem to notice the bushes and trees.  None of the fish cared about the homes or sought their comfort. 

Some of the fish fought with each other.  The little boy could not understand why they were fighting.  There was plenty of room for all of them.  He had kept his promise to care for them.  They had enough food, water, and oxygen.  The little boy tried making the light brighter.  It made no difference.  They did not see the light. 

As the little boy stared at the world he had created, tears began rolling down his face.  How he loved these fish.  “Mommy, I wish I could be a fish just for a little while.  I want to go inside the aquarium and teach them how to enjoy their world.  I want to show them the roads.  I want to point out the beauty of the bushes and trees.  I want to teach them the fun of playing on the swings and slides.  I want to offer them the comfort and safety of the home.” 

The little boy longed to talk to them.  “Don’t you know I will take care of you?  I’ll give you everything you need.  You don’t have to fight.”  Sadly, this little boy was not God.  It was not within his power to become a fish and teach his fish how to have the abundant life he dreamed for them. 

God created a beautiful world for us.  He started with the heavens and the earth.  His spirit hovered over the waters.  Like the little boy, he created light.  How He must have grinned as he noticed how good it was.  Like the little boy dividing his world with his rocks, God separated our world between earth, sky, and water.  It was so good.  God created vegetation and it was good.  God created our seasons and gave us variety.  He gave us the beauty of the sun, stars, and moon.  It was good.  God created fish, wildlife, and animals for us to enjoy. 

God created us in the very image of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  He looked forward to our fellowship together.  God loved his creations.  He blessed them.  He was willing to take care of his world. 

Like the fish, we just swam around in circles.  We did not notice the beauty that God had given us.  We did not take delight in our world.  We hurt ourselves and others around us.  God’s world became a dangerous and difficult place to live. 
God knew the way.  He told us the way.  He gave us rules to live by.  The rules were for our own good.  They were the way to our peace, happiness, and long life.  We did not listen to him.  We lost our way.  We were like lost sheep.  Our shepherds on earth had led us so far astray.  We had even forgotten the places God had given us to find rest.  Like the fish, we fought.  There was plenty for everyone but we fought anyway.  We forgot how to play. 

The little boy could not come enter his aquarium and teach the fish how to live.  God could go to earth and become a man.  God did become a man.  The Light became flesh.  He came to show us his glory.  He came as the Son, full of grace and truth.  He taught us humility by coming as a baby.  His mother was a simple young woman.  His Father was God.  He wanted us to enjoy the world He created for us.  He came to show us the way, the truth, and the life.  He came so that we could have an abundant life.  He even simplified the 10 Commandments for us.  He gave us one simple commandment: To love. 

Luke 10:26-27 (NIV)
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 

Do you know the Light this Christmas?  “The Light” starts by walking in truth.  The truth is that Jesus is our Savior.  He points the way to God.  We can decide to invite Jesus into our lives. 

Becoming a Christian is only the beginning of our abundant life.  Jesus taught us so much more.  He modeled our fellowship with the Father.  Jesus began his mornings alone with God.  He taught us to love by loving us.  He showed how to put others first by putting our needs ahead of his own.  He taught us humility by being humble.  He taught us forgiveness by forgiving his executioners.  Jesus taught us to enjoy each other by going to parties himself.  He taught us to have friends by being a friend.  He made time for his mother, family, friends, followers, and even children.  He established the church for us.  He left us the Holy Spirit so we would never be alone.  He offered us a way to live guilt free.  He comforts us, prays for us, and has prepared a room for us in heaven. 

This Christmas: If you have forgotten how to play, swing, or slide:- Follow the Light of Jesus. 

This Christmas: If you have stopped noticing the trees and bushes - Follow the Light of Jesus. 

This Christmas: If you cannot find the comfort of a true home - Follow the Light of Jesus. 

This Christmas: If your world is dark, turn on the lights - Follow the Light of Jesus. 

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    Do you enjoy the beauty of God’s world? 
b)    Do you have fun in God’s world? 
c)    In your journal, list everything fun about Christmas.  If you cannot think of anything, write a letter to God asking him to help you learn how to have fun. 
d)    In your journal, list everything beautiful about Christmas.  If you cannot think of anything, write a letter to God asking him to help you learn how to see the beauty of Christmas. 
e)    Review Appendix 2 and praise God for your blessings.

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    Notice everything. 
i)    When you step outside, look up.  Praise him for the sky. 
ii)    Look for the sun and moon.  Praise him.
iii)    Look for flowers that bloom in the winter.  Praise him.
b)    If you pass a swing, take a moment and swing.  Praise him for swings.
c)    If there is water near by, walk down by the shore and pray. 
d)    If a child is playing, stop and watch. 
e)    Discipline your thoughts today. 
f)    Notice everything wonderful. 

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Did you enjoy God’s world today?  If not, confess and seek his Light.
b)    Did you enjoy Christmas today?  If not, confess and seek his Light. 
c)    Ask God to help you enjoy everything he has given you. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Day 19 - Christmas Rules

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read 2 Corinthians 13:14 and meditate on the words.

2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    Mediate on the grace of the Lord Jesus. 

3)    Experience the love of God.

4)    Fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Tell the Christ Child about what rules you this Christmas. 
i)    Offer him your grief, frustration, and worries. 
ii)    Tell him about your busy schedule.
iii)    Ask Him to “rule” your heart and your activities during the season.  . 
b)    Have you been trying to make the “Christmas Rules” for others?  (Write your answers in your journal.)
i)    Have you been trying to tell people what to do?
ii)    Have you been insisting on having Christmas “your way?”
c)    Have you been letting people (as opposed to God) control or influence your celebration of Christmas season?  (Write your answers in your journal.)
i)    Are you doing too much?
ii)    Are you spending too much?
iii)    Are you participating in Christmas celebrations that are unnecessary, counter productive, or harmful?
d)    Ask God how he wants you to celebrate Christmas.
e)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

2)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Praise God that he is God. 
b)    Sing Glory to God in the highest.
c)    Praise him for sending Jesus to give us peace on earth.  Write it in Appendix 2.
d)    Praise him for sending Jesus to give us good will to men.  Write it in Appendix 2.

3)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer Him your loyalty.
b)    Offer him your steadfast heart. 
c)    Offer to be his peacemaker on earth.
d)    Offer to be his ambassador of good will. 
e)    Appendix 3: Pray and update.

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

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

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

This devotion is for those whose “to do” list is longer than their “time left” list.  It is for those good-hearted people who want to make Christmas good for everyone and are trying to be all things to all people.  It is for those people trying hard to live life by the right rules and finding themselves overworked and overwhelmed.  This devotion is also for those people who feel trapped into Christmas celebrations for which they have neither the heart nor the energy.  If your Christmas season is going perfectly and you are thrilled with everything about it, you may either skip this devotion or merely review it so that you will have more compassion for all those who are still suffering. 

What is ruling your life this Christmas?  Perhaps it is time.  The newspaper says 50% of Americans have stopped putting up a Christmas tree.  Most give time as the reason.  Money or the lack thereof, rules many homes at Christmas.  Maybe worry, fear, family pressures, or a sense of duty is driving you forward. 

Have you found yourself secretly wishing Christmas was over, or even wishing you could skip it entirely?  You are not alone in those thoughts.  While children’s eyes light up at the thought of Christmas, many harried people anticipate it with some dread.  Most do not skip Christmas, even if they fantasized about it.  They take a deep breath and forge ahead, hoping this year will be different.  They follow the rules established generations before them.  They find themselves resenting the family pressures that dictate their Christmas activities.

For example, one family meets every year at 8:30 AM at Grandma’s for a Christmas breakfast.  Everyone dreads it.  They wake their children early for gift giving.  At 8:00 AM, they drag their family away from new toys and rush into the car.  By mid-morning, everyone is exhausted and grumpy.  At one point or another, every family member (including Grandma) has complained about this family tradition.  No one is willing to change it.  If families are not careful, what started out to be an enjoyable family tradition becomes a set of Christmas rules that govern the family and steal the Christmas spirit. 

Background Scripture

Read Psalms 100:3.  What does it say?  How do you think this applies to the Christmas season?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read Luke 2:14.  The angels tell us why Christ came.  They describe the Christmas Spirit.  The King James translation (below) says it most clearly.  Christmas is about giving glory to God, peace on earth, and good will towards men.  That is worth celebrating.

Luke 2:14 (KJV)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

How did the birth of Jesus accomplish all of this?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Psalms 78:8.  God speaks to us through our longings.  Everyone longs for peace.  When we allow the very season of peace to become frantic and nightmarish, what have we become?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

What do you think it means to be loyal to God at Christmas?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What do you think it means to have a faithful or steadfast heart at Christmas?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Psalms 51:10.  David’s ancient prayer is relevant to what we all need for a holy and peaceful Christmas season.  What two things is David asking for?  (Write your answer in your journal.)  Pray this prayer along with David. 

Top Ten Christmas Rules

There have been times in my life when I acted as if I thought I would make a decent god.  I believed that everyone’s well being depended on me.  I worked hard to try to take care of everyone.  I may have even believed that if everyone would just do as I say, then everyone’s life would work out just fine.  I tried to explain it to everyone, (tactfully of course.)  This character trait particularly manifested itself at Christmas.  Most Christmases found me frustrated, disappointed, and full of self-pity. 

Then I realized that no one was paying any attention to me.  To my utter humiliation, I had to admit that it was all I could do just to take care of myself.  Alas, I resigned from playing god and decided to let God be God.  At Christmas, I turned to God and began getting out of his way.  My life and my Christmas seasons have been more peaceful.  Family members seem to like me better.  The irony is that now, I seem to have more influence on my family’s Christmas season. 

Still, I must confess to occasionally thinking that I know how God ought to do things.  I still want life on earth to be fair.  When it is not, I sometimes grow indignant.  I am particularly saddened when things are not fair at Christmas.  I have been known to pout with God and the people around me when things did not go my way.  If I were allowed to be god at Christmas, I would institute some Christmas Rules. 

Cheryle’s Top Ten Christmas Rules

1.  Jesus: Everyone would know Jesus.  He is awesome.  It seems like a “no brainer” to just decide that everyone should know him.  I guess that means I would probably take away your free will.  You would most likely react just as my family did. 

2.  Health: No one would be sick at Christmas. I would not even allow colds (particularly when people are trying to sing in their church’s Christmas presentation). 

3.  Home: Everyone that wanted to could go home for the holidays.  Beloved and nice relatives in heaven could visit earth on Christmas.  (Ornery ones could stay wherever they are.)  Grandparents could always be with their grandchildren on Christmas.  Of course, we would all have to get much larger homes and cook more.  Possibly, I could institute a corollary Christmas Rule that the people visiting from heaven ate no food and did not take up any room. 

4.  Equality: Gifts, food, and other resources would be distributed equally to everyone.  So much for free enterprise! 

5.  Self Control: No one would overeat, get drunk, or participate in other damaging activities.  Now you are thinking I have gone too far.  You probably enjoy that stuffed feeling on Christmas day.  In my world, I might do away with pie, cake, and certainly all alcohol.

6.  Time: The days would be longer at Christmas.  I talked to an exhausted woman who had just worked a twelve-hour day.  She is against this rule. 

7.  Unity: Wars would stop.  There would be no fighting between countries, families, friends, and neighbors.  Everyone would get along.  One wonders how I would enforce this since the very principle of this rule means I could not threaten them with a “nuclear bomb” if they started a war. 

8.  Employment: Everyone would have jobs.  No one would get laid off just before Christmas.  Of course, if resources were distributed equally, why would we even have to work at all?  Yes, life might get a little boring.

9.  Love: People would love each other.  One has to wonder if I forced everyone to love, how we would recognize and appreciate the feeling. 

10.  Weather: The weather would be warm.  It would be 90 degrees outside.  I cannot help it.  I love Florida.  This is my fantasy!

You probably would not like living by my rules.  Some of them might be all right but many of you would prefer a White Christmas.  I know from watching some of you eat that you would prefer a Christmas with pie. 

The problem is, I would not stop with my rules.  I would also include some “Christmas Suggestions.”  These are only suggestions; people could choose to do just because they wanted to “delight” me.  Have I mentioned that I would be willing to “reward” people that “delight” me?  Would that make me a god of “works” rather than a god of “grace?”  This is sounding worse by the minute.

Cheryle’s Top 10 Christmas Suggestions

1.  Lighten Up: People would stop turning off all of my many singing, dancing, ringing, jingling, and snoring Christmas toys.  I have never really understood why the noise annoys so many people. 

2.  No Housework: I would have my housekeeper back.  Of course, that means she would have to give up that exciting career she is enjoying so much.  Oh, and I would probably have to stop writing these devotions to go back to work to pay for her. 

3.  Bubbles: Everyone would play with bubble toys.  Surely, there is nothing wrong with that suggestion!

4.  Schedules: People would be on time for Christmas dinner - the time I set.  I do not eat between meals.  It is part of a “self-control” commitment.  On Christmas, I eat breakfast early.  I do not like getting ravenous before Christmas lunch.  Of course, if I were god, maybe I would not get so hungry. 

5. Music: The family members would actually practice for the family Christmas recital.  These are talented people.  Is not there a scripture that says, “To whom much is given, much is expected?”  Since I gave them longer days, they would have time to practice. 

Luke 12:48 (KJV)
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. 

6.  Food: Aunt Catherine would always make her dressing on Christmas.  One day, my Aunt Catherine would probably prefer to be allowed to go to heaven.  I guess to enforce this rule, I would have to make cooking a part of the work in heaven.  Some might take exception to that. 

7.  Cooking Lessons: Someone would teach me how to make whipped cream without it ending up on the ceiling.  I need to learn to not cut my fingers with the sharp knives my brother gave me.  I want the string beans to stop boiling over.  In fact, I want the string beans to taste like my mother’s string beans.  I even wish I could make dressing like Aunt Catherine.  I seriously believe that my mom and aunt leave out an important “secret” ingredient when they share recipes.  Of course, if I were god, I could just read their minds and find out the ingredients. 

8.  Gifts: The family would open presents one at a time.  We spend months buying Christmas presents.  It is over in 20 minutes of paper flying and packages ripping.  There has to be a better way. 

9.  Courtesy: People would remember the Christmas gift idea, phone number, address, etc. that I just gave them last week.  Or, I could stop keeping all of those phone numbers and addresses in my hand held computer. 

10.  Grace: No one would ever get mad at me.  That probably will not work.  People are always getting mad at God.  At least when people are mad with me, I deserve it.  Thank God that his grace is perfect! 

But, alas, my family will just continue to turn off my noisy Christmas toys.  The world will continue to fight with one another until Jesus returns.  People will get sick at Christmas and we will miss seeing people that we love. 

When things do not go the way we think they should go, many of us find our faith tested.  I have come to realize that this questioning means that we think we could do a better job at being god than God.  You have heard my best efforts at playing god.  It certainly left much to be desired. 

This Christmas, do not let yourself or anyone else become god in your life.  Go to God’s dwelling place and worship at his footstool.  (Psalms 132:7.)  Examine all of your Christmas traditions, using the three rules:

1.    Glory to God.
2.    Peace on Earth.
3.    Good will to men. 

If they do not pass the three rules above, do not participate.  Let God rule your Christmas season.  This Christmas, gather around him.  Let him rule over you from on high.  He gave us Christmas.  From Christmas, we see his glory.  From Christmas, we find peace on earth and good will to men.  Thank God for Christmas.  Christmas Rules!

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    Write your own set of 10 Christmas Rules in your journal.  This is your fantasy.  Write what you would do if you were allowed to make the rules for Christmas. 
b)    Now, write the potential negative side effects of your Christmas rules.
c)    List each of your planned holiday celebrations.  How can you make them:
i)    Give glory to God?
ii)    Spread peace on earth?
iii)    Generate good will to men (or women)? 

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    As you go through your day, when you do something well:
i)    Thank God.
ii)    Find some way to give glory to God.
b)    As you go through your day, when you see any tension or conflict:
i)    Pray first.
ii)    Be a peacemaker.
c)    As you go through your day, look for ways to generate good will between people. 
i)    Ask God to show you how.
ii)    Be an ambassador of good will.

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Have you been trying to play god? 
i)    Did you think you knew what was best for people around you? 
ii)    Have you been sharing your “not so helpful suggestions” with those close to you? 
iii)    Are they annoyed? 
iv)    If necessary, confess.
b)    Did you give glory to God?  If not, confess.
c)    Were you a peacemaker?  If not, confess.
d)    Were you an ambassador of good will?  If not, confess.
e)    Ask God if you owe anyone an apology.
f)    Praise God for Christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Day 18: Keep In Step With the Spirit of Christmas

Day 18: Keep In Step With The Spirit of Christmas

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read Psalms 5:11-12 and meditate on the words.

Ps 5:11-12 (NIV)
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them,  that those who love your name may rejoice in you.  For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    Be glad you can take refuge in God.

3)    Sing for joy.

4)    Enjoy him spreading protection over you.

5)    Rejoice in him.

6)    Think of his blessings.

7)    Feel him surrounding you with favor as with a shield. 

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Ask God to help you “Keep in step with the Spirit of Christmas.” 
b)    Ask God for:
i)    Love
ii)    Joy
iii)    Peace
iv)    Patience
v)    Kindness
vi)    Goodness
vii)    Faithfulness
viii)    Gentleness
ix)    Self-control
b)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Thank God for the Spirit of Christmas.  Add to Appendix 2.
b)    Thank God for the promise of the Fruits of the Spirit.  Add to Appendix 2.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    This Christmas, offer God your:
i)    Love
ii)    Joy
iii)    Peace
iv)    Patience
v)    Kindness
vi)    Goodness
vii)    Faithfulness
viii)    Gentleness
ix)    Self-control
b)    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)

How is your Christmas Spirit this year?  Are you experiencing the joy of the Holy Spirit?  Are you bearing the “Fruits of the Spirit?”  As Disciples of Christ, we can choose to “Keep in step with the Spirit.”  God the Father sent his son to earth.  His son, Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas.  The Holy Spirit remains on earth and is the Spirit of Christmas. 

Background Scripture

Read Galatians 5:22-25.  When we accept the love of Jesus Christ our sinful nature is crucified.  Our gifts, if we accept them, are the Fruits of the Spirit.  List the nine Fruits of the Spirit in your journal.  As you list them, ask your self the question, do I exhibit them? (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read the scripture carefully.  Whose attributes do you think these nine characteristics describe?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What do you think it means, “Against such things there is no law?”  (Write your answer in your journal.)

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord, the Holy Spirit enters our heart and life.  What do you think it means, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit?”  Does it imply a choice on our part?  (Write your answers in your journal.)


The world is at war.  There is pain and suffering everywhere.  Greed infiltrates the holiday season.  People are difficult during the holidays.  There are layoffs at Christmas.  People are rude in the stores and in traffic.  You wonder how the world can be so hateful, especially at Christmas. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose love. 

See the world as God sees the world.  God is the God of our circumstances.  What is going on around you is God’s business.  Give him every circumstance in your life.  Accept your surroundings and allow nothing in your heart except love.  Nothing justifies your bitterness.  Love God.  Love what God loves. 

Read Galatians 5:13-15.  God sums up the entire law in a single command.  What is it?  What will happen if we ignore this?  (Write your answers in your journal.)


Memories from previous Christmas’s flood your mind.  You remember people that will not be with you this year.  Grief washes over you.  You remember happier Christmases.  Maybe you cannot go home for Christmas.  Self-pity threatens your Christmas Spirit. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Joy. 

Give Him your grief and loneliness.  He understands.  It will pass.  Do not allow self-pity to have one single moment of your Christmas!  Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.  Honor your grief.  Take a few moments every day to remember your loved one.  Look at pictures.  Cry if you need to.  Then get up and have a glorious day. 

Read Psalms 98:4-6.  Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Spend your days bursting into jubilant songs. 


People around you may be tense.  They are demanding.  Children add requests to their gift list.  Spouses may be complaining about expenses.  You may be worrying about the money spent this Christmas.  Bosses may be asking for more from you.  No one around you seems satisfied with your best efforts.  Hopelessness overwhelms you. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Peace. 

Your best is good enough.  You are perfect in God’s eyes.  Claim that perfection.  If the people around you are telling you that you are not good enough, laugh at them.  They are wrong.  Live as if you are forgiven for everything.  Ask God for knowledge of his will for you and the power to carry that out.  Check His instructions against the Bible.  Follow God’s commands.  Your confidence will be a witness.  Live in God’s peace. 

Read Isaiah 48:17-18.  How do we find peace?  What will it feel like?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 


Today is going to be busy.  Christmas is almost here.  There is shopping.  People will want to break in front of the line.  There are presents to wrap.  No one wants to help.  Family is coming to visit.  No one wants to clean house.  There is food to prepare.  The lines at the grocery store are long.  Your work pressures have not stopped just because it is Christmas.  Health issues have not suddenly improved just because it is Christmas.  Everyone is tense. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Patience. 

Pray while you are waiting in line.  Invite people to go first.  Find a way to make gift-wrapping, cooking, and cleaning fun.  If people simply cannot help, accept it with grace.  Do not complain.  Smile.  Remember your priorities and be patient with people that are not feeling well or are overwhelmed.  Persevere through your difficulties.  Have the compassion and mercy that comes from the Lord. 

Read James 5:10-11.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.  He is willing to share that with us.  How do we manifest patience?  Blessed are those who have _________.  (Write your answer in your journal.) 


You remember your disappointments with Christmas.  People may have hurt you this Christmas season.  Family dynamics are often difficult during the holidays.  Are you dreading seeing certain people on Christmas Day?  Yes, that family member was rude.  You get aggravated and are tempted to respond in the same way. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.”  Choose Kindness. 

The future can be different from your past.  If people around you are rude, respond with kindness.  Do not allow rude words to hurt.  Tell those closest to you that this year, your goal is to model kindness to everyone.  No matter what, be kind to those around you. 

Read Hosea 11:4.  Do you see anyone who has a yoke on his or her neck?  How can you lead others this Christmas?  (Write your answer in your journal.)


People are rushing.  Cashiers make mistakes.  You just realized you have been undercharged.  You are tired and the line is long.  You do not want to go back.  People at work make mistakes and you are tempted to point to them.  You make mistakes.  Now the temptation is to hide the truth to make you look better.  Your boss invites you to go somewhere or do something you believe is immoral.  You feel the pressure of keeping your boss happy. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Goodness. 

Make a decision to go without a dollar before taking a dishonest one.  Confess all of your mistakes before confessing the mistakes of others.  Do the right thing even if it hurts or inconveniences you.  It will be worth it in the end.   Sleep this Christmas with a clean conscience. 

Read Romans 15:14.  What are we to full of?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 


You were probably up late last night preparing.  You know tonight will be no better.  You are facing parties and shopping on the weekend.  Exhaustion threatens your Christmas Spirit.  You are tempted to miss an event where people are depending on you.  You may want to give up. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Faithfulness.

There are twenty-four hours in every day.  Christmas will come and go.  Things will get done.  Give God your exhaustion.  He will give you extra strength.  Get eight hours of sleep.  Our bodies are God’s Holy Temple and we must care for them.  Accept that every minute of your waking hour will be busy.  Know that you will be able to rest after Christmas.  God is faithful.  He is faithful to the faithful.  Decide that he will be able to call you faithful at the end of this Christmas Season. 

Read Psalms 108:4-5.  How far does God’s faithfulness reach?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Psalms 18:25.  What is the simple way we are faithful?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 25:23.  What do you want Jesus to be able to say to you at the end of the Christmas season?  (Write your answer in your journal.)


The unexpected will probably happen today.  Someone will leave something undone.  You have no time for sloppiness.  Someone may need an explanation you have given before.  People ignore your good advice.  You want to speak sharply.  Time is of the essence.  You are tempted to push people harder than ever. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Gentleness. 

Correct those that need correcting, gently.  Only raise your voice in praise today. 

Read Galatians 6:1.  How are we supposed to restore someone?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Self Control

You look at your Christmas gifts.  They seem small.  You want to run to the store and buy more.  You think of food that you could add to the Christmas menu.  Have you let your Christmas Season become too complicated?  You may be tempted to take your frustrations with the season out on your family.  You may be eating or drinking too much at celebrations. 

Stop!  “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Choose Self Control. 

The brief moment of elation is not worth the aftermath of bills that are difficult to pay.  Avoid temptation and keep your life and season simple.  Do not allow too much food or drink to dull your ability to feel joy. 

Read Galatians 5:16.  If we live by the spirit, we will not gratify the desires of our sinful nature. 

Fruit of the Spirit:  A Chance to Witness

The line was long.  I was busy and tempted to just leave my gifts and just go.  I persevered.  As I got closer, I realized that the cashier was new and making mistakes.  On more than one occasion, she had to call a manager to help.  Finally, it was my turn.

As the young lady began to ring up the purchases, I remembered seeing a Christian Bookstore nearby.  “I saw a Christian Book Store somewhere.  Do you know where it is?”  I asked.  She did and gave directions. 

While she checking me out, she made several mistakes.  The scanner would not work and she had to call the manager.  I was tempted to sigh but had just asked about a Christian Book Store.  I suspected exhibiting patience and self-control was important.  She apologized and I responded with, “You are new.  You will get better.” 

She took so long correcting her mistakes that people in the line were complaining and glaring at both of us.  For some reason, I felt guilty.  I just wanted to leave.  I signed my receipt without really thinking about it.  As I took my bag, I realized that the bill was $25 less expected.  There were at least 10 people in line behind me.  She had closed out my account and was punching in the numbers for the next person.  Normally, honesty is easy for me, but this time, I almost left.  The voice of temptation said, “This was their mistake and going back will inconvenience all of those other customers.” 

I felt God speak, “Do the right thing.”  This time, I did sigh as I turned around. 

“I don’t think you charged me enough.”  Audible sighs came from the line.  I had visions of a riot breaking out.

“You are right,” she said, going through my bag and scanning the receipts.  Correcting the mistake took fully as long as everyone was dreading it would.  She had to call the manager to help. 

As the manager showed her what to do, she apologized.  “I am so sorry.  $25 is a significant amount of money and this is taking a lot of your time.  I can’t believe you came back.  Most people would have just left.”  Suddenly I knew why God had put me in this circumstance. 

“I am a Christian.  My opening question to your cashier was about finding a Christian Book Store.  What kind of Christian would I be if I had not come back?” 

“Besides,” I joked, “If I had left, God would have just continued speaking to me.  Eventually, I would have confessed and then have to drive all the way back to this city just to pay you.  Believe me, coming back now was easier.  No amount of money is worth putting distance between God and me.” 

The cashier gasped.  “You did ask me about a Christian Book Store.  Thank you for being honest.”  The people in the line heard the conversation.  I do not know to whom God was speaking but I felt honored to be used.  I was glad I had “Kept in step with the Spirit.”  In all honesty, if I had not asked about the Christian Book Store first, I am not sure I would have been so patient.  I left the store with the “Spirit of Christmas.”

Demons like discouragement, self-pity, frustration, greed, and perfectionism are alive and well at Christmas.  This Christmas, do not allow these demons to have control of your Christmas.  Just say no!  If you have found yourself giving in to demons, take heart.  None of us “keeps in step with the Spirit” perfectly.  When you falter, depend on grace.  Celebrate your victories.  This year, choose to Keep in step with the Spirit of Christmas.

Application (5-10 Minutes)

2)    Making It Personal
a)    What do you think Christmas Spirit is?  Do you have it?  (Write your answer in your journal)
b)    Check Yourself.  How can you exhibit more: (Write your answer in your journal.)
i)    Love?
ii)    Joy?
iii)    Peace?
iv)    Patience?
v)    Kindness?
vi)    Goodness?
vii)    Faithfulness?
viii)    Gentleness?
ix)    Self-control?

3)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    Pick one of the “Fruits of the Spirit” to work on:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  
b)    Throughout the day, ask God to help you. 
c)    As you go through your day, pay special attention to the “Fruit” you picked. 
d)    Choose to “keep in step with the Spirit of Christmas” through this “Fruit.”

4)    Ending The Day
a)    Did you keep in step with the Spirit today?
b)    If not, confess to our God of grace. 
c)    Do you owe anyone an apology? 
d)    Commit to allowing His leadership in your life tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Day 17: Needing Baby Jesus

December 17th: Needing 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.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Day 16: Believe, Belong, Become

Day 16: Believe, Belong, Become

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read Ephesians 1:20-23 and meditate on the words.

Eph 1:20-23 (The Message)
All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule.  And not just for the time being, but forever.  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.  At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.  The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.  The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    Let the energy from Jesus Christ fill your body.

3)    Praise his power.  Nothing is exempt from his rule. 

4)    Meditate about Christ’s church. 
a)    Christ rules the church.
b)    The world is peripheral to the church and not the other way around. 
c)    The church is Christ’s body in the world.
d)    Christ speaks and acts in the church.
e)    In Church, Christ fills everything with his presence.
f)    Experience the wonder of being a part of Christ’s church.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Do you know that you “belong” with the family of God? 
i)    If yes, praise God for your church.
ii)    If no, ask God to help you find a church. 
iii)    If you are living on the “fringe” of a church, confess. 
(1)    Ask God to show you what He wants you to do. 
(2)    If you feel you have no time, ask God for the time to “belong.” 
iv)    Write your request regarding the church in Appendix 1.
v)    If your church is having difficulties, pray for your church. 
(1)    Ask to see the situation with clear eyes. 
(2)    Ask God to help you be part of the solution and not part of the problem. 
(3)    Write your requests in Appendix 1.
b)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

2)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Write your church’s name in Appendix 2. 
b)    Praise God for belonging to his family.
c)    Praise God for speaking through the church.
d)    Thank God individually for meaningful people in your church family. 
e)    List their names and the lessons they have taught you in Appendix 2. 

3)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer God your service to the Family of God. 
b)    Appendix 3: Pray and update.

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

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

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

Christmas Eve worship services attract people all over the world.  For many, this is their only church service for the entire year.  Christmas is a busy time.  Why do so many go to church on Christmas Eve?  I believe it is because people instinctively know that is where they belong.  Christmas raises awareness about Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the church.  At Christmas, people long to be near such sweet truth.  Possibly, they remember and seek what they once found in church. 

Churches are a place to believe, belong, and become.  We believe in Jesus Christ.  We belong in a church.  The church helps us to become the person God intends us to be.  Christians desperately need to be with other Christians, particularly at Christmas. 

Background Scripture


Read Mark 1:15.  What are we supposed to do before we believe?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What do you think the good news is?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Mark 5:36.  Believing is a command.  What does the scripture tell us?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Mark 16:16.  What is the consequence for not believing?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read John 14:11.  Sometimes it is hard to believe based on faith.  What does Jesus offer as an alternative?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Acts 15:11.  How are we saved?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What does the first Christmas have to do with being saved?  (Write your answer in your journal.)


Read John 15:19.  Where do we belong?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Ephesians 2:19-22.  Once we believe, we are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.  Our temporary dwelling place is a difficult place to live.  We need our communion with God and God’s people to keep our vision of the Kingdom of God.  The family of God gathers in his church.  Who was the foundation?  Who is the chief cornerstone?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read 1 Timothy 3:15.  What is the church?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read John 4:23-24.  How are Christians supposed to worship when they come together?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Refer back to 1 Timothy 3:15.  Where do we learn truth?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 7:15-20.  We have a church because Jesus came as a baby, died, and returned from the grave.  Jesus himself instituted his church.  Be warned.  There are many false prophets.  A true church has Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  How can we recognize truth?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

This time read Ephesians 2:19b from the Living Bible (see below).  Where do we belong?  (Write your answer in your journal)

Ephesians 2:19b (Living Bible)
You are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.


Read John 1:12-13.  If we believe in Jesus’ name, what is our right to become?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read 2 Peter 3:17-18.  What are we supposed to be on guard against?  How do you think the church helps with this?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

How are we to grow?  How do you think the church helps with this?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Luke 3:5-6.  Do you have any valleys in your life?  Do you need any mountains leveled?  Are your roads crooked?  What is the promise in this verse?  How do you think the church helps with this promise?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.  Our commission is to tell others about Christ.  What are we to become in order lead people to Christ?  What do you think this means?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read Matthew 27:57.  Joseph was the man who asked for Jesus’ body.  He washed our Lord and prepared him for burial.  He laid him in his tomb.  What had he become?  Are you one?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Belonging in Church

I have “belonged” to four churches over the course of my life.  I have loved them all.  I grew up belonging to Murray Hill Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.  We lived two blocks from the church.  My parents still belong and minister in their nursery.  I love visiting Murray Hill.  I feel like I am going home.  The halls that I used to play in look the same.  The sanctuary looks identical to my wedding pictures.  Most of the men that are collecting the offering are the very same men that took up the offering when I was a child. 

The church holds special memories for our family.  The church taught me to love Jesus Christ.  My husband, son Chris, and I accepted Christ and were baptized in this church.  Bob and I were married there.  My late son David sang on their stage many times. 

The people in this church are a family.  I am a part of their extended family and they welcome me when I come home.  They care for one another and have worshipped together for years.  When I go home, I see many people that helped shape my spiritual life.  Mrs. Anderson helped me discover a talent for public speaking.  I have used that ability throughout my life and ministry.  Mrs. Jerrial helped develop my love for sharing Jesus Christ with others.  Mrs. McGuffin taught me about being a Godly wife.  Mrs. Gunn taught me to laugh.  Mr. Bagnal lead me to Christ through a summer camp he directed.  Dr. Carl Howell baptized me.  Rev. Paul Wren helped my family through a difficult time. 

My college church was North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida.  This church made leaving home for the first time easier.  In 1974, we moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There, we “belonged” to Monroeville Baptist Church.  My son David accepted Christ in that church.  My son Chris was dedicated there.  While traveling across America on the journey, Pocket Full of Quarters, I was able to visit there.  Their marquee said they were a church to “believe, belong, and become.”  That church was truly such a place for our family. 

Now, we belong to Southside Baptist Church.  We have been part of this family for eighteen years.  My daughter Kelley accepted Christ and was baptized in this church.  My son Chris was married there.  My son David’s funeral was in this church. 

This church is my family.  I learn every time I walk through the doors.  Rev. Mark Willbanks taught me to remember “who and whose I was.”  Vivian Goodwin’s love for everyone around her became a model for my life.  A class taught by Rev. Ron Henson gave me understanding that became the cornerstone for God’s ministry call in my life.  Rev. Eddie Lockamy helped me learn how to truly worship.  Jim Gandy taught me how to be faithful to my church family. 

As I was describing my beloved churches, I noticed myself using the words “belong” and “family.”  One of the definitions of “belong” is to fit into a group naturally.  A “church of the living God” is a place to “belong.”  “Belonging” to a place that is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” is a privilege. 

While traveling across America, I visited churches of all sizes and denominations.  The worship styles varied greatly.  The message was mostly the same.  The churches talked about God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  They used the Bible.  They talked about a God of love.  For the four months I traveled, I only attended one church where I did not have an instant feeling of “belonging.”  Because I was worshipping with Christians, I had family everywhere I went.  Nowhere was I a “foreigner or alien.”  I was a “fellow citizen” with God’s people all across America. 

As I visited churches across our nation, I came to believe that most churches are sincerely trying to be “Christ-like.”  I was astounded by the “truth” that transformed me as I visited a wide variety of churches.  I saw their faults.  They shared their struggles.  I saw their victories as they are being “transformed.” 

Most of the churches I visited across our nation were making Disciples of Christ.  Yes, I’ll admit that some were moving slower than others.  Some were certainly more interesting than others.  But I am convinced that the church a block from your house is probably making Disciples of Christ.  This Christmas, let a church help you to become a Disciple of the baby Jesus.  Jesus is the purpose of Christmas.  Attend his Church.

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    Write a letter (in your journal) to God thanking Him for establishing the church. 
i)    Thank Him for your church. 
ii)    If you have lost faith in the church, confess and ask him what to do. 
iii)    If you have not been faithful to your church, confess and promise to do better. 
iv)    If your church is having difficulties, tell him about it. 
v)    Write all the things you love about your church. 
vi)    Ask him how he wants you to serve his church.  

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    There are churches everywhere. 
b)    Notice them. 
c)    Look at the Christmas decorations surrounding them. 
d)    When you see a church or hear a reference to a church, praise God for establishing his living church. 

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Are you faithfully attending a church?  If not confess and ask forgiveness.
b)    Do you love your church family? 
i)    If yes, praise God for them.
ii)    If no, ask God for help.
iii)    If you have been participating in arguments and dissension in your church:
(1)    Confess. 
(2)    Promise God that you will stop. 
(3)    Ask him to restore your vision for his church. 
c)    If you do not have a regular place of worship, commit to your Father that you will begin the process of finding a church this Sunday.