Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Week Five ~ Seek ~ Day Four

Matthew 2:9-11a
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

So why talk about the wise men when Christmas has come and gone? We usually include the story of the wise men as part of the Christmas story, bringing them to the manger right along with the shepherds. Most scholars believe that they probably did not see Jesus until around two years after His birth.

Yesterday we considered the possible significance of the gifts the wise men brought to the little King. However, there are other interesting things that often are overlooked. Have you noticed in the story that the wise men came eagerly looking for God? How often do we "go looking" for God? Many of us sit around and wait for God to come looking for us.

And does it not seem strange that they are anonymous? Tradition names them Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar, but the Bible nowhere tells us their names. They found the child, worshipped, gave him gifts, and then they quietly left to return home. What? Didn’t they understand what a news opportunity this was? They probably could have at least garnered some endorsements for camel feed companies or something!

Perhaps they, being wise, understood a principles that Jesus spoke of later. "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men." (Matthew 6:2)

Prayer: Lord, help me to seek you with purpose and passion. When you allow me to do something significant, help me not to make sure everyone I know hears about it. Amen

Challenge: Spend some time seeking God. Read a short scripture passage, watching for what word or phrase stands out to you. Then meditate in silence for awhile. Then pray whatever is in your heart.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Week Five ~ Seek ~ Day Three

How strange it is that I am posting this right now. I just booked my flight to Texas for my mother's funeral, after many screw ups, delays, and frustrations. It has been a long and exhausting day, and I am beyond tired. I have also been questioning many things today, asking God to please speak to me some way --and then I read the prayer at the bottom of this devotion -- that I wrote weeks ago. I was praying for myself and did not even know it, of course. Blessings, friends.

Matthew 2:11
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Why does scripture record the specific gifts? We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that each of the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus signified something special about His birth. Gold was a fitting gift for royalty, and it may have symbolized the fact that He was (and still is) the King of Kings. The gift of frankincense, a type of incense often burned at altars, emphasized His divine nature. Myrrh, which was often used in embalming, perhaps pointed to His death on the Cross.

How strange to think that even as the distinguished visitors from the East rejoiced to find the king for which they had searched, a shadow fell across the happy scene. How tragic this seems, as we look back and ponder how the little boy, Jesus, must have looked and behaved. Perhaps he pulled on a beard or played with the bright coins as any curious little toddler might do.

God’s ways are mysterious. Sometimes life’s events are painful and inexplicable. Even though the Christ Child would grow up to be rejected, and ultimately tortured and killed, the shadow of the cross was the beginning of victory. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John understood that Jesus came to be the One who would open the way to victory. Glory turned to tragedy--and then tragedy became glory!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Prayer: God of Mystery and Wonder, grant that aching hearts will be comforted, heavy heads will be lifted, and that those who grow weary will be strengthened. Help us to lay aside our questions and rest in your peace. Give us eyes of faith to see what lies beyond. It will be worth it all when we see you. Amen

Monday, December 29, 2008

Week Five ~ Seek ~ Day Two

Matthew 2:3-4
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

The people of the East had a prophecy given by Balaam (Numbers 24:17), “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nearby; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel..” The wise men evidently knew of the prophecy, so they set off on a long, hard trip to Jerusalem, seeking this new King.

Arriving there, they found Herod the Great. King Herod was an evil and murderous egomaniac who had bought his position. He was not about to tolerate competition. He called the Jewish religious leaders together and asked what their scriptures had to say about where a Messiah would arise. They quoted Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

They knew all about the coming of the Messiah. According to the scripture, the people of the city heard about the question as well. Wouldn’t you think the religious leaders would have whooped for joy, found the wise men and said, “We know where our Messiah was to be born! Could it really be that at long last he has come? Let us ride with you and we’ll show you the way!” Apparently their knowledge of prophecy did not affect their hearts’ expectations.

Are we really looking for the Messiah? We read about the prophecies, the angels, the stable and the manger scene. We go to church and we sing carols about it all, but would we really like to see Him right now? What would you have to change if Jesus showed up at your front door?
Are we, like the wise men, willing to do whatever it takes to find Him? Or are we like those who were content just to know the story? That’s a question that each of us must answer for ourselves. His star still shines for seeking hearts.

Challenge: Spend some time thinking about what would you’d change if Jesus showed up. Then change something.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Memory

Leta Viola Burson Norman
Born: January 25, 1917
Died: December 28, 2008

On the back deck with the flowers, a place she dearly loved. This was about three years ago.

At her "Texas Birthday Party" -- 90 years!

At Trinity's dedication, with the family.

In September. She couldn't talk and rarely smiled, but a visit from Trinity always made her smile.
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Week Five~ Seek God's Purpose ~ Day One

Here we are the week after Christmas Day, which brings us to the S in O.A.S.I.S. --Seek. This week we will read about the mysterious visitors from the east who came seeking a king.

Matthew 2:1-2
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

Today’s scripture passage records that wise men from the east arrived in the city of Jerusalem with an important question. Much could be written and debated about these wise men. First of all, how many were there? Christmas cards never depict a number other than three. They’re consistently drawn as kings. Then there’s that carol we sing: “We Three Kings.”

Some translations call them “magi,” which could mean that they were Zoroastrian priests of ancient Persia, reputed to possess supernatural powers. Perhaps they were Jews, descendents from a time when Jews were forcibly removed from Judah to Babylon. Who knows? The Bible doesn’t give a number or specify whether they were kings, astronomers, or just learned men; it simply states, “…wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” However many there were and whatever they did, they were wealthy enough to finance an incredible journey and there were enough of them for their arrival to be noticed.

They had been on the road for a long time, probably a year or two. These wise men were experts at studying the stars, and when the new star – whether actually a star or an alignment of several planets – appeared at Jesus’ birth, they were certain that this star proclaimed the birth of royalty.

The question they asked when they arrived in Jerusalem rings with certainty. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star…”

How did they know about this new king, and what did a star have to do with him? We will discover that tomorrow.

Prayer: God Who Gives Wisdom, I ask that I will be like the wise men of old—determined to seek and to find you. Amen

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Mother--UPDATED

My mother (92nd birthday is in January) has pnuemonia. I've spent most of today at the nursing home with her. She is occasionally awake, but not much. She cannot talk and cannot swallow, so I believe her time is very short. She saw my daughter, Kris, today, and sweet little Trinity who climbed up on the bed and gave "Grandma-Mommy" a kiss. Three others who love her dearly were able to come in today and be with her. I'm very tired, and feeling sick with a cold, so am off to bed. I am supposed to preach tomorrow, and I have a wedding coming up...ah, God knows all these things. Please pray with me for a peaceful homegoing for my precious little mother. Thank you.

Update: After a long night and day, she went home to the Lord this afternoon. The funeral will be in Texas.

Joy ~ Day Seven

Luke 1: 39-45
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Not long after Gabriel announced that a miraculous pregnancy was happening to Elizabeth, he visited Mary (Luke 1: 26-38) and told her that she was the one chosen to conceive and bear a child that is from the Holy Spirit. Mary submitted to God’s plan, but she would certainly have known her task would be far from easy. She was young, unmarried, and pregnant. Her emotions must have been tumultuous, at best! She took a journey to share her heart with someone more mature, her relative, Elizabeth.

Our passage for today tells of their meeting. The joy seems almost to leap from the scripture! Elizabeth gives a glad cry, and even the baby within her is joyful. Mary rejoices too, and she praises God for her unique place in His plan.

God had prepared Elizabeth to bear a special child, but God had also prepared her to minister to the young woman who would bear the Messiah, Elizabeth’s young relative, Mary. Who could understand or believe Mary’s fantastic story? Mary must have rehearsed her story many times as she journeyed to visit Elizabeth--and then she did not have to say a word! When Mary came to call, Elizabeth knew what had happened to her without a word of explanation. Because she had seen God’s work in her own life, Elizabeth was able to give affirmation of God’s work in Mary.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home, probably after Baby John was born. How I would love to know what the two women spoke of during those weeks!

Elizabeth's miracle boy, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for Jesus. Elizabeth had to raise a son who could stand firm in his faith despite criticism, rejection--even prison and death. God had prepared her to be the mother who welcomed such a special son into the world.
In addition to preparing Elizabeth to be John’s mother, God had prepared her to be a blessing to Mary, the promised virgin who was to conceive and bear a son--Emmanuel--God with us! John prepared the way for Jesus, but in a very real way, Elizabeth prepared the way for his mother, Mary. She believed Mary's crazy story because she had a story of her own.

Our OASIS theme for this week is “Invest in People.” One of the simplest, and perhaps best, ways to invest in other’s lives is to share your own journey of faith.

What has God done for you? Who is waiting for you to share your own joyful story? Who is waiting for you to invest in their life?

Prayer: Dear God, help me to recall your miracles, your presence, your joy in my own life. And then, Lord, help me to overflow with the story, not to hoard it to myself, but to share it and to spend my life investing in what is eternal—people!

Challenge: Write out a testimony of what God has done for you. Condense it to one page. Be ready to talk about it as God’s Spirit gives you opportunity!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another Prison Christmas

Almost every Christmas for the last 17 years, I go to the prison where Ken is the chaplain. Pictured here is a photo I found on the web. It is one of the housing units there. You can see the lovely setting for this prison, rolling hills. You can also see the razor wire. The prison chapel is just a short way down the road in front of you.

Every year has been different--different faces, insights, observations, emotions, and joys. But some things are the same, year after year. Every year, without fail, going to prison on Christmas Day puts a crimp in my schedule. This year our son Josh left before eating our wonderful Christmas dinner because he knew dinner would be after we returned from prison. He did not want to encounter the forcasted ice storms, so he left about noon.

Sigh. Why do I have to go every single year? One would think I'd learn, but I never do.

What do I never learn? Well, every Christmas I travel to the prison chapel and every year I wish I didn't have to go. And every year the prison visit becomes one of the highlights of my Christmas.

I didn't want to leave our daughter's home, but the drive had been pleasant--a trip through fields, woods, and farmland. The trees were frosted and the snow was deep everywhere but the sun had come out after many days of dreary clouds. It was cold, but that wasn't so bad because the snow-covered countryside was beautiful in the sunshine. I prayed and then I sang loudly all the way to the prison, practicing a song I would share during the chapel service.

Last year I posted about the people I met who were waiting, in an overcrowded, overheated room, to be called for a visit with their loved one. I was sitting there with them because of the decision of a cranky prison guard who probably did not want to be working on Christmas Day. Getting through the gate and into the prison is sometimes the most stressful part of a prison visit. This year I was greatly relieved that I passed through without incident.

A van carried me from the gatehouse to the prison chapel. The guard/driver was young and fairly cheerful, talking about the holidays, the weather, driving too fast for the road conditions, and blaring rock and roll on the radio. We careened up the hill to the chapel. Whew...glad to arrive and hop out. As I stepped into the back of the chapel, where Ken smiled a welcome, I heard Father Joe concluding the Catholic Mass. Later he greeted me warmly. We see each other once a year--on Christmas at the prison chapel. His voice is about gone, and he tells me that he conducted four masses yesterday and three so far today with more to come. He looks exhausted, but he smiles, his deeply lined face creasing, and he pats my shoulder, wishing me a "Blessed Christmas, dear girl."

The cheery greetings from inmates never fail to make me smile. "Merry Christmas, Pastor" or "Hello, Mrs. Chaplain" or "Hi, Pastor Chaplain, ma'am" and so on. They are never sure what to call me.

The Protestant choir practiced a version of "Silent Night" that sounded like a military march (I kid you not). The drummer did his best to play with enthusiasm if not skill, the choir members swayed in rythm, the guitarist played with concentration and the director did his best to keep it all together. Prison church is a lot like a junior high classroom on the verge of explosion.

The worship service was not as crowded as usual, perhaps because this year there are two chaplains so there was a Christmas Eve service as well as the usual one held on Christmas Day. As always, I am struck with the faces that pass: the happy smile from a very old man with no teeth, a middle-aged black man with a grizled beard and a warm handshake, a somber redhead, bushy hair pulled back in a ponytail, the downcast eyes, limp handshake and stooping posture of a large man with sweaty hands, the ones who avoid eye contact, the ones who make a point to smile and nod, the one who told me Christmas is the best time of the year, even in prison, because that is when Jesus came.

Some men sit silently with eyes downcast. However, many inmates respond vocally to my song and to the message. I love preaching at the prison. Who couldn't preach with passion and joy when being urged on by comments, amens, applause and words of affirmation? The singing, as always, made me smile. The presence of God was with us, as always. Why is it that I so often sense God at the prison chapel in a way I do not find elsewhere? I don't know.

This year I noticed the young mad sitting beside me during the singing. He looked remarkably like a young, dark version of my husband's brother. His face was smooth and his beautiful eyes sparkled as he sang. He looked like a wholesome, teenager, handsome and sporting an Afro. (Afros, it seems, are coming back in style.) During a particularly loud, "Ooohhhhh" from the choir, he turned to me and grinned. I wondered what this young man, full of life, had seen and done to be in this place. I thought, "He should be enjoying Christmas dinner with a family, opening presents, perhaps planning a Christmas visit to his girlfriend. He should be singing in a church choir, or playing the part of one of the Wise Men in a Christmas pageant." Instead, he wore drab green prison garb and sat in a prison chapel with broken, lonely, often wicked men.

When the service ended, I stood at the back to send the men back to their units with a smile and a "Merry Christmas." The young guy with the Afro shook my hand and told me to enjoy the rest of my day with the family.

I drove back to my daughter's warm home in the country, acutely aware that Ken was not far behind and that we would arrive to find Kris, her husband Daryl, beautiful little Trinity, a decorated tree, good food, and fun. My thoughts returned to the young Black man who had sat beside me in the pew. I wondered about his life. He couldn't have been more than 19 or 20.

I thought about the children I had seen in my days of working in Milwaukee's inner-city neighborhoods and elsewhere. Beautiful children who were old beyond their years, who roamed the streets and spoke of things they should not have known about, who came to the park unsupervised, who stole and swore and swaggerd, and begged for attention in ways both positive and negative. These were precious children who were not really children, people who went, seemingly, from being toddlers to fending for themselves.

I wondered if that young man had been one of those? Had he ever just been a child? Did he have a mother who went to church and prayed for him? A father who wondered what happened? Did a grandmother send him money and Bible verses when she wrote? Or did he have no family that counted? Had he ever known the love and care of his daddy? Had he graduated from high school, or did he (like over 65% of prisoners) read somewhere below a 6th grade level?

What had he done, this fresh faced "youngster" to land himself in prison? What would happen to him? Would my friend Much2Ponder, have him in one of her classes? I know how much she wants to encourage her students at the prison school to hope and to work for a better life. Would he hear and absorb the message of Jesus' love that my chaplain husband tries, day after day, to share?

I can't stop wondering about him. He is the other end, the result of the too-soon-old children of the city.

Be near them, God of Love, Lord Jesus our Hope, Sweet Holy Spirit of Comfort. I weep and I pray for the young man with the Afro, for the toothless elder spending his life in prison, for the sad redhead, the ex-carny guitar player, the choir director, the one who asked me to autograph his devotion book, for Father Joe, the guard, my chaplain husband, my teacher friend. Oh God, have mercy on us, your fragile creation. Save us. Give us wisdom as we work to make this world a better place. Sustain those who seek to be your hands, your feet, your words, your face. Amen

Joy ~ Day Six

Ooops! I posted today's post yesterday, and this is the post that should have been posted for Christmas Day. We will return to the story of Zecharias and Elizabeth tomorrow.

John 15:9-11
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

The pastor of my childhood church had a banner behind his desk. It pictured a figure jumping for joy. Across the bottom of the banner were the words, A Christian Should be a Hallelujah from Head to Foot!

What makes people happy? Where does joy come from? Is there a difference between happiness and joy? Everyone asks these sort of questions at times, even people of faith. Christians are people who have discovered that true happiness comes from knowing and serving Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to live life among us and to bring us joy that overflows. Today's scripture contains a powerful principle: Joy come from obedience to God and to a life lived in love. I'll be honest in saying that the most miserable times of my life have been those times when I knew I was not living in obedience to God's love.

The joy we speak of during this season is not the kind of happiness that might come from presents, family gatherings, shopping and lights. Those things can be a wonderful part of our celebration, but they are not the true joy of Christmas. The joy of Christmas is knowing that our Savior came to free us from sin and death. He came to give us life, a life that comes from God both now and forevermore! When we understand this, our obedience to God can flow out of a willing and obedient heart.

Prayer: Joy to the world! You, Lord have come! Let my heart prepare a place for you to live. I love you, Lord, and I want to walk in obedience to you. As I do, may my joy overflow to all those around me! Amen

Thursday, December 25, 2008

It is Christmas!

Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
Thank you for visiting the Owl's Song this year.
I wish each of you a wonderful Christmastide, and God's richest blessings as we come into the year 2009!

Christmas Day ~ Joy ~ Day Five

Luke 1:13-17
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Today we step back a bit to the days before Jesus’ birth. Luke vividly describes the uncommon circumstances of how an angelic visitation happened not just once but twice in a short space of time. Here is how the first one came about.

Zacharias, a priest, has an angel encounter while performing his duties in the temple. The Angel Gabriel tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a son. Angel or not, the good priest is skeptical. After all, he and Elizabeth aren’t young anymore, and they have been childless for many years.

Because of his lack of faith, Gabriel tells Zacharias he will not be able to speak until his son is born. And, sure enough, Zacharias is struck dumb. While suddenly becoming mute is not a joyful development, it certainly must have gladdened the hearts of the elderly couple to have confirmation that the angels spoke the truth about their unusual child!
How joyful Elizabeth would have been! At last, when hope seemed gone, she would be given her heart’s desire. A baby boy was on the way, and not just any baby, but one with a special task and a special anointing from God’s Holy Spirit. Nine months after the angelic visititation, Zacharias vocally praised God that their son would herald the coming of the longed-for Messiah!

Prayer: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for using us who are ordinary humans. Even flawed and sometimes faithless, you choose us to do your work in the world. Help us to accept your words, your call, your provision, with joy and belief in the impossible. Amen

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Week Four ~ Joy ~ Day Four

Today's devotion is from guest blogger, Kris. SingingOwl is back tomorrow.

1 Chronicles 29:9
The people rejoiced over the offerings, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord, and King David was filled with joy.

We as the church are called to invest in people. Why keep the good news to ourselves when those around us can share in the joy of salvation? One of the ways to help share the joy is to give offerings to the Lord.
In the passage above King David asked his people to help pay for the temple. They gave with generosity and all hearts were glad. We often think of money when we hear “offering.” Sometimes that is an easy offering to give. For others it can require faith in God's faithfulness, even when money is "tight."
Money given to the church supports the leadership and goes to missionaries who spread the word to those who might otherwise have no one to tell them about Christ. Money is used to help others in need and to reach out in compassion to our communities. Everyone in the church should give freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.
Time is another great offering! Anything in which you invest your time is a priority in your life. What is given the most time? What is second, and so on? If you are honest about this it will reveal your priorities. Work is usually a big priority, because we need to pay for our homes, food, and clothes. In addition, work is for providing money to support the thing that gets most of your time.

If you spend every extra dime and every extra free moment with your car, then your car is a priority in your life. A priority might be shopping, sports, friends, church or family— anything that you decide is important enough to expend your time. Time is precious because there is a limited amount to use each day. Therefore, when you give your family time, you are saying that they are important to you.

The church also needs your time. When your church holds a function to benefit the community and you give of your time to help, you are telling the Lord your church and your community that they are important. Everyone knows that time is precious. Where are you spending yours?
Sometimes God will ask us to give an offering that is hard to give up. Evangelist Paul Olson tells of a time when his ministry was very short on funds. Paul owned a very nice little sports car that he loved and had possesed for many years. Paul sensed that the Lord was telling him to sell that car for the money his ministry needed. It was a hard thing to do, but after praying he told the Lord he would be obedient. He sold the car, and the very next day the money pledges he was missing started to come in. He was able to make all his commitments.
When asked if he missed the car, he said, “Not really. I was more happy that I was able to do the work God called me to do then to have a car that I could only use once in awhile. I haven’t regretted once in the years since I sold it.”
Prayer: Lord help me to give freely, wisely, and wholeheartedly everything you ask of me. Amen

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent Week Four ~ Joy ~ Day Three

Today's post is from guest blogger, Kris.
Habakkuk 3 17-19
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!He makes me as surefooted as a deer,able to tread upon the heights.

This can be a difficult time of year for many of us. Did you know joy is a choice? Do you choose to look for joy regardless of your surroundings? In our scripture for today we see similarities to our current economic situation. Perhaps if Habakkuk wrote this today, it would go something like this:

Even though the price of oil is going up,
and the cost of food is higher than it has ever been before;
even though the future is unsure and I have no job security;
even though my house won’t sell and I can’t get a good loan:
Yes, even in all of this I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God that has saved me.
The King of Heaven is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer able to escape the deer hunter’s sight...

...Or something like that.

We can choose to find things to be happy about, or we can choose to focus on the negative. The joy of the Lord is our strength, but if we choose to ignore the good and focus on the bad we will never have the strength to laugh in spite of hard times.

Prayer: Lord help me to find joy in all the things you do for me as your son or daughter. Whether the blessing is large or small, may nothing rob me of the joy you intend to give me. Grant me mercy in the sad times, and fill my life with laughter, peace and joy. Amen

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent Week Four ~ Joy ~ Day Two

Today's post is from guest blogger, Kris.

Psalm 100

Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Have you ever been to a “good old fashioned” Pentecostal meeting? The Pentecostals used to be (and sometimes still are)looked at strangely by other more mainstream denominations. Some called us “holy rollers” and said we “jumped the pews” and “swung from the chandeliers.” Why did they call us names and think we were strange? Excesses occurred sometimes, it is true, However, at least in part, it was because the church was filled with joy and folks were NOT going to be quiet about it.

Those early Pentecostal wanted everyone to know that Christ had died for our sins, risen from the dead and was living in our hearts. If you have ever watched a child that has happy news, he is tripping over his words to tell you about it. That is the kind of joy we should have.

Psalm 100 is a chapter I highly recommend memorizing and repeating to yourself when you are feeling blue. It is good to give the Lord thanks, to praise his name and to sing for joy. Even on those days when you aren’t feeling joyful, these three things help to bring a smile to your face:

1. praise him
2. thank him and
3. sing out loud with joy!

When you focus on the Lord and all he is and all he has done, it is hard to stay down in the dumps.

Challenge: Today tell someone, anyone, something that God has done for you. Share it and watch the joy grow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent Week Four ~ Joy ~ Invest in People

Today's blog post is from guest blogger, Kris.

A detail from the creche at Jubilee Church

Luke 15:9-11
And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.

One of the greatest joys in life is helping someone find Christ. When someone asks Christ into his or her life, all of heaven rejoices and you can be a part of heaven in that moment.

A pastor of a small church in an inner-city area that is highly religious, but also highly anti-church, says that the only way they are going to see a change in that area and in the lives of the people around them, is to ‘do life’ with them--and not preach at them.

By investing in people’s lives, talking with them, sharing with them, learning about what is happening in their lives, we are investing in people for the future. You don’t have to approach everyone you meet and ask if they have said the sinner’s prayer (though some people are very good at that), but instead you can show your interest by being with someone through good times and hard times.

When you invite people into your life you allow them to see how you handle times of crisis and times of joy. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends how God has influenced and blessed you. A story is powerful, and people can’t argue with your story, especially if you live it for all to see.
We MUST “do life” with those around us in order to have any influence their lives.

When you get the opportunity to lead someone to the cross, remember that all of heaven rejoices with you, and your heart will be filled with joy.

Prayer: Lord help me to be aware of those around me and to listen for the prompting of your Holy Spirit. May I be transparent with nothing to hide, but have a life open for inspection. Amen

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

This is week four in the OASIS theme. This week we'll consider how God's gift of joy inpacts how we affect the lives of others.

Here is Phil Driscoll with a trumpet rendition of "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" to start our week.

And the great acapella group, Take Six, singing a "Joy to the World" medly.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Seven

Today's devotion is by guest blogger, Kris.

2 Timothy 4: 1 & 2
I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

I recently met a young man who didn’t know how to do laundry, pay his bills, clean his house or cook his meals. He was 24 years old and didn’t have any skills needed to live on his own. His mother “loved” him too much. In her desire to show love to her son, she robbed him of the skills he would need to live well on his own in the world.

Now you may wonder what this has to do with you and with today’s verses. This past week we have been reading about love. We read about perfect love, and we thought about God’s love, and now we learn about another expression of love, “tough love.” We must take what we have learned in previous devotions about love and apply that to helping the church body grow in spiritual maturity. And it is tough both to give and to receive that kind of love.

Often times in a church setting we know each other’s faults, especially in a close-knit church. Sometimes jokes are made about those faults, or gossip or back biting, but how often do we correct those faults? How many times have you taken someone aside and lovingly and patiently told them the truth? Once? Twice? Never? Tough, isn’t it?

On the other side of that coin is how we receive correction. Proverbs says, “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (10:17); “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” (12:1); “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (13:18); “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die” (15:10) Get the idea?

Don’t shy away from either giving or receiving needed correction. To deny either one is foolish.
While it isn't your job to "straighten everyone out" it is important that you care enough to be honest. Pray before confronting someone, examine your own heart and attitude and always proceed humbly, gently and with love. If someone corrects you, listen, pray about it, evaluate it honestly, and work on it as appropriate. Do not respond in anger, but instead use the correction as a chance to grow and mature.

Prayer: Help me to be brave and to love enough to gently correct others when I see a continued wrong—and to be brave and humble and take the correction that is given to me. Amen

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Six

I John 4:19-21
We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another.

I like the gentle humor of the late Charles Schultz’s comic strip, “Peanuts.” Linus is my favorite of the strip’s characters, perhaps because he seems the most like me. I once had a poster that showed Linus with his characteristic blanket held to his face. He looked unhappy. Under the drawing were these words:

“I LOVE mankind. It’s PEOPLE I can’t stand!”

Ouch! Does that hit a nerve with you as it does with me? How much easier it is for me love a crowd and to weep for multitudes than it is to love one person who annoys, frustrates, misunderstands, disrespects, or hurts me. And to make it tougher yet, this passage is speaking of some of those closest to us, our “brothers or sister” in Christ, our fellow-believers.
Hurt that comes from another Christian often cuts deeper than wounds from someone “outside.” We expect more from each other, after all! We are supposed to be following Christ’s example, right?

For good or ill, none of us are yet made perfect. Even those who care most for us will sometimes disappoint us—it is part of the human condition. Then it is time to remind ourselves that love is not a warm feeling. It’s nice when that feeling is present, but God’s love showed itself in action. This passage is quite blunt, isn’t it? You say you love God? Well, that’s easy enough. How are you doing with the person next to you in the pew?

Prayer: My own love is not always enough, God. Grant me the grace to choose loving actions even when I don’t particularly feel like it. If I get proud about this, remind me of those times when I acted in a less than loving way towards my brother or sister. Amen

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Five

I John 4:9-12
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the little boy who was terrified of thunderstorms. One stormy night as he cowered under his covers, his mother said, “Dear, God is with you, and if you pray to Him you will not be so afraid.” From under the blankets the boy replied tearfully, “I know that, Mommy, but sometimes I need someone with skin on!”

God showed his great love for humankind by sending Jesus to give us eternal life. Jesus of Nazareth was “God with skin on.”

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, love divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.

Christina Rosetti

Our Lord was sent from God, lived as God-made-flesh, atoned for our sins, was raised from the dead and then left the earth to return to his heavenly home, sending the Holy Spirit to us. Wonderful as that is, it seems that sometimes, once again, we need a representation of God that is touchable. No one can see God, but if we love others, we can show God to our world. “His love is made complete in us.”

Prayer: Thank you, God, for sending love in the form of Jesus. I am so forgetful, God of Love and so prone to act in ways that are not loving. Help me to remember that people, including me, make your love “complete.” Help me see with your eyes and love with your heart today.

Challenge: Think of a specific person in your life. Now think of a specific way you can show love to that person. Make a plan, and do it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Four

Today's devotion is by guest blogger, Kris.

I Corinthians 13:13
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Have you ever wondered at this verse? Have you ever thought, “Why is ‘love’ more important than faith or hope?” I think one reason love is “the greatest of these” is because love is forever.

When the time comes that we are called away to live eternally with Christ, love will be the only thing that remains. We will not need faith in heaven; what was once hidden from us will now be revealed. Hope will be a thing of earth and the past. We need not hope for Christ any longer as we will be fellowshipping with him continually. Love is eternal, and when we are in Heaven we will be surrounded by the perfect love described in verses 4-7 (what we talked about in yesterday’s devotion). The love of God will be like a blanket all around us in heaven. Heaven will be the proof of his love.

Not only that, but the people we have loved here on Earth, and those who have loved us in return, can still love us! Can you imagine being surrounded by people who love you always with no limitations? Imagine a moment when you felt great love. Now imagine that feeling a thousand times greater — and to feel that at all times. That is Heaven to me!

Jesus loves us with perfect love right now. Sometimes it is hard to believe or see or feel this love, but that is only because we are in a sinful world which causes a barrier between us and God. In eternity that barrier will be gone. We will feel his arms wrap around us and hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Lord, please help me to be aware of your love and to know that even here, when I am less than perfect, you love me. Keep the prize of heaven before my eyes, and bring the desire to share that love with others into my heart. Amen

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Three

Today's devotion is from guest blogger, Kris.

I Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Aww, those are “the wedding verses.”

So many people know these scriptures as the wedding verses that even those who don’t claim to read the Bible often use this passage, or a rough translation of it, at their wedding. What is it really saying? Is it only for married couples?

This is a chapter for all of us. These verses are instructions on perfect love. We use the word love a great deal in our society: I LOVE chocolate, I LOVE your hair cut, I LOVE my motorcycle, I LOVE my baby, I LOVE my spouse, I LOVE my ducky. I think you get the point. We have love for so many things! How can we possibly practice perfect love? Where can we go to see examples of perfect love?

I believe we have three very good examples to study when it comes to loving relationships. One is the life of Christ. We have the scriptures to allow us to study his actions, his words and the way he treated people. And even though it is a cliché now, you can still ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Let's have some fun with these next two examples. Consider your family dog. Man’s best friend is a pretty good example of perfect love! Our dogs adore us, worship us and even learn tricks to make us happy. A good dog will wait patiently for you to come home and then will shower you with affection. Often times, even abused dogs will still not react in anger, but instead will simply withdraw. If you forget to walk your dog, he won’t hold a grudge. A dog will forgive and move on. Maybe we should all try to live as the T-Shirt says, “Lord help me to be the person my dog thinks I am!”

Thirdly, watch the movie “March of the Penguins”. There is a scene where the males and females come together and sing for a mate. Yes, sing. People can’t differentiate between individual voices, nor can we understand just what the penguins are looking for. But the male and female penguins know, and that is all that matters. After hours of crooning, a hush falls on the group of birds as each of the new pairs huddle together and snuggle. They go through amazing hardship to take care of their little egg and the resulting baby penguin. They sacrifice for each other and are constantly showing affection for the family group.

They also must work together as a group in order to survive the cold arctic winds, each taking turns, both in the middle of the crowd where it is warmest and at the outside where it is the coldest. Without the group they would not survive. Are we smart enough to learn from a penguin?

Challenge: Pick one part of today’s scripture passage, and practice it all week.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day Two

Today's devotion is by guest blogger, Kris.

I Corinthians 13:1-3
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Have you played that game? You know, the one where you imagine what you would do if you won the Lotto or the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes and became an instant multimillionaire? Most of us have at one time or another imagined what we would do if we were as rich as Bill Gates. Did you know that many of those who win the lottery later say they regret having won? Did you know money doesn’t make you happy?

What if you were super-duper smart? Then would life be better? Some of the happiest people I’ve ever known had neither money nor “smarts; in fact, they had Down’s Syndrome. They were happy with a roof over their head, a meal to eat, some crayons and paper and someone to love and pay attention to them.

Love is something that grows the more you give it away. The more love you give out, the more love you will receive—and the more blessings from God you will receive as well. Have you ever met a person that at first glance seemed good looking, but as you got to know his or her personality, that beauty seemed to disappear? Or do you know someone whose loving heart so shines out that you think of them as beautiful even if you can’t say that of that person’s physical appearance?

The Bible says that money, gifts, talents and abilities are all worth nothing without love. Love makes everything better and quite often can help you grow content with what you have. If you focus on what you lack and what others have you will likely find yourself growing envious. It becomes all too easy to lose love and appreciation for the blessings that you do have.

Prayer: Jesus help me to allow Your love to fill my heart. May it influence my choices. Let my love of you, home, family, friends, church and all people be my guiding influence. Remove envy and discontentment from me and give me satisfaction with life. Amen

Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Love Came Down

Christmas at the OASIS

Devotions for Advent week one focused on the O of OASIS--Offer Hope. Then last week we considered how the theme of PEACE relates to our letter A of OASIS--Advance God's Kingdom.
This week we will light the love candle on our Advent wreath. The S in OASIS is for Share God's Love. Here are two very different videos to start off Advent Week Three here at The Owl's Song.

Advent Week Three: Love ~ Day One

Today's devotion is by guest blogger, Kris.

John 3:16 & 17
16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Verse 16 is one of the most well-known scriptures in the world. We see it everywhere, even on signs at ball games. Too often we forget verse 17, which is just as amazing as verse 16. Jesus came to save us not judge us—words to live by.

Jesus can save the whole world. The WHOLE WORLD! That is amazing! In one selfless act, Jesus saved everyone. The old, the young, brave people, scared people. Smart ones and foolish ones. People from every race and every nation that ever was or ever will be. People with tattoos and people without, Everyone! Are you starting to understand?

That is who Jesus died for. Those of you with children, can you imagine sacrificing your child for people you haven’t even met? Or those without children, could you give up the thing you cherish the most for people who aren’t even born yet? That is what God did for us.

Every person you come in contact with is eligible for God’s salvation. There is no such thing as a lost cause when it comes to people and God. And how do we reach those people? It is important to remember that every person is an eternal being that was created and is loved by God. If God loves them, then as representatives of Christ we should love them too.

Is there someone in your life you don’t really care for? Is there maybe a person at work that just rubs you the wrong way? Or that weird kid in the hall that isn’t “quite right”? Maybe all they are looking for is someone to love them as they are.

Jesus never required us to get everything right before he forgave us. Neither should we hold up a standard for others to become our friends or to reach some measure of achievement before we will invest in their lives.

Prayer: Lord of Love, help me to value everyone I cross paths with and to see them as the beautiful creations you have made. Help me to love the unlovable and to be a living example of your grace and goodness. Amen

Challenge: Think of one person in your life that you don’t especially like, and pray for him or her every day this week. Do something nice for that person at the end of the week. Anything-- a note, a gift card to a restaurant, anything that says “I care.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent Week Two: Peace ~ Day Seven

1Thessalonians 5:12-19
Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.

Too often, people are looking at those who claim to be Christians and don’t see anything very appealing. People in the church look about the same as people outside the church. There is gossip, back biting, strife and unease. Why should anyone come to church if they see nothing greater then what they already have?

If we, the people of Christ, would genuinely have peace within the church and love for each other as created beings of Christ, I suspect many more of our churches would be full. People are searching desperately for peace and acceptance.
You are a representative of Christ and His Church every day, to everyone you meet. While that might sound daunting, it need not be. If you seek to live as Christ directed, it will not matter if someone is watching you or not. People will know there is something different about you. When you have peace while others are in chaos, they can’t help but notice. When you have love when everyone else has hate, people will see that too. When you have rest while others have fear, God will bring people to you that want that same rest, peace and love. Will you be ready to share it? Will you advance the kingdom of God and bring His peace wherever you go?

Challenge: This week try to show peace in chaotic situations. When a co-worker or friend talks about the unrest that they feel for the future, tell them that you aren’t worried because God has given you peace. Don’t feed into the fear of the unknown, but instead tell of the known—that God is in control, and you are willing to let him handle the future.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent Week Two: Peace ~ Day Six

Colossians 3:12-15
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

This Christmas you can give the gift of forgiveness. This is a two-fold gift. God asks you to forgive partly because to hold on to resentment often hurts you more than the person you are angry with. Jesus, who did not sin and was perfect, died for your sins. He suffered a horrible death to prove his love for you and to wash your sins away. So, who are you to be greater than God and not forgive? Will you forgive others? Will you forgive yourself?

If someone has sinned against you, you have a choice to make which holds great power —power to forgive and release the hold that person has on you. If you choose to hold on to the hurt, anger and pain, you allow that person continued control in your life. We do not live separately from each other, and sometimes people will hurt you. Humans are not perfect, they will disappoint you and let you down. It is a fact of life. Decide now how you will handle it when this happens. Decide if you will live in mistrust and anger or live in forgiveness and grace.

Jesus instructed and corrected his disciples. He did not give up on them, nor did he harbor unforgiveness at their sin and foolishness. We can choose to forgive those who hurt us and acknowledge that they, like us, are not perfect. We are to make allowances for each other’s faults, including our own.

Those who live in a state of forgiveness towards their fellow humans live in peace. Have you ever seen someone who is unforgiving living in a peaceful state? It is impossible! And how much more should we forgive each other in the Church? Christ has said the Church is His beloved, so to not forgive those in the Church is to indirectly hold a grudge against God.

Challenge: Forgive those who have hurt you. This can be one of the hardest things you have ever done, but it will also be one of the greatest. God honors those who forgive.

Prayer: Father, please bring peace into my life. Help me to forgive, and help me to take the power of my life back from those who have hurt me. Heal my heart and spirit from pain others have inflicted upon me. And as I forgive, please forgive me for the pain I have given to others. Amen

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Week Two: Peace ~ Day Five

Today's devotion is from guest blogger, Kris.

Luke 10:2-6
Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.

How would you like to impact every house you enter, every place of business, and every person you meet? Sound impossible? It isn’t. Jesus sent out his disciples to go among the people. He gave them a few instructions: carry neither purse or money or extra shoes because, Jesus was saying, God would provide for them. And the second set of instructions was to bring peace everywhere they went by saying “Peace be to this house.” If the household was one of of peace they would be blessed, but if not, then the blessing would return to the disciple.

If everywhere you go and to everyone you meet, you give a blessing of peace you can influence lives for good. If they do not want your blessing, no problem, it will come back to rest on you.

How would your town be different if there was true peace? How would your neighbors be blessed if you brought peace with you on a visit? No one is insignificant. You can make a difference. You do not have to be brave or loud, nor bold and brash, but you can be you and share the gift of peace.

Prayer: Lord help me to be a bringer of peace to those around me. Remind me when I enter a house to bless them. May my teachers know me as a person of peace, may my employers see that peace follows me at work, and may neighbors want me to visit because of the peaceful nature that comes with me as I walk in your instruction. Amen

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Week Two: Peace ~ Day Four

Today's devotion is from guest blogger, Kris.

Romans 2:6-11
God will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

Would you like peace in your life, your job, your family, your heart? Romans 2:10-11 simply says, “Do good and God will give you peace, glory and honor.” Wow! By doing good we get all this?

The flip side is also true; those who refuse to obey the truth will be judged by their actions. If you read verse 3, you will see that if we judge others for things we do ourselves we can expect God to judge us. Verse 4 adds, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

We can also use kindness to help others turn from their sin. How much more will we bless someone’s life if we treat them with kindness and patience? When we treat others with distain and a “holier than thou” attitude, they shut us off. They will not likely hear the words we speak, even if the words are right. But if we show kindness we may have much more opportunity to share the truth of God’s love. How many people do you think changed their mind about abortion because of those who called them killers or used a gun on the doctor? I know a woman who waits on the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic for a few hours every day. She isn’t angry; she just offers a kind smile and someone to talk to if the woman is willing. She has seen hundreds of women change their minds and choose life for their unborn child.

Smile at your mean coworker. To the clerk at the store having a bad day, be patient as they check out your groceries. Compliment the barista at the coffee shop on a job well done (maybe even if it isn’t), and learn her name. Show kindness and patience wherever you go and God will give you glory, honor and peace. Others will be blessed and so will you!

And remember that God doesn’t show favoritism, so neither should you. Whether a person is old or young, male or female, or has white, yellow or green hair, be kind and do good to all. Sometimes those who look the strangest need it the most.

Challenge: Smile at everyone you make eye contact with today.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

This picture was out my back door this morning.

And this one was out the front door. Poor Mary and Baby Jesus must be terribly cold! We had a good bit of snow on the ground, and it looks like we got about six inches more, at least. And it is still snowing. Yep, I'm working at home.
Posted by Picasa

Advent Week Two: Peace ~ Day Three

Isaiah 9:6-7
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

John 16:33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

For our devotion on the first day of Advent we read the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 9, a word of hope about the One who was coming to show God’s glory. Today we read the second part of the message. From a 21st Century vantage point we can look back and see that Isaiah was correct when he said that Light would come into the darkness and that God’s glory would appear in the region of Galilee. We sometimes wonder how so many people could have missed Jesus’ appearing and not understood who he was. Looking into our past is one thing; looking into the future with confidence is something else again.

America has a system of justice and courts that at least allow for the truth to be told. Nonetheless, even in America and other democratic countries, we are troubled by injustice and we hear of judgment that is anything but certain and wise.

None of the world’s present governments rest on the shoulders of Jesus Christ, nowhere is His name universally proclaimed and nowhere in the world are people living in continual peace. So where is this Kingdom anyway?

The full culmination is yet to be. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ promise that even in a world of trial and sorrow we can have peace. How? By trusting in the promise that our Lord has overcome the world, and that the promise of peace on earth will come. It seems delayed, but just like the first half of the prophecy, it will happen, and it will be right on time!

Advancing God’s Kingdom is something we pray and work for now, but the final results will be known in the future—a future that God will bring!

Prayer: Lord, let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me. Amen

Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent Week Two: Peace Day Two

Today's devotion is from guest blogger, Kris, my daughter.

Daniel 6:25-27
Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: “Peace and prosperity to you! I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

These verses in Daniel follow the well-known story of Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:15-22). They show that King Darius, a pagan, was so impressed with Daniel’s God that he sent out a decree to the nations saying “Peace to you.” King Darius was not known as a king of peace; in fact he warred on the neighboring nations a great deal. Most historians consider King Darius the greatest, at least militarily, of all the Persian kings. He extended the empire's borders into India and Europe and fought two wars with the Greeks.

It is significant for this king to send greetings of peace and prosperity. He was so impressed by God’s greatness that he had to share it everywhere!

Often we feel overwhelmed by the lack of peace that surrounds us. There is war, rumors of more terrorist attacks, lack of job security, etc., but Daniel’s God is still the same today, and He will be as faithful to us as He was faithful to Daniel. We may feel as though we are, figuratively speaking, in a lion’s den, but God is able to save us and keep the lion’s mouth closed. When God does this, we must share it with others. Perhaps they, like King Darius, will be impressed by God. Perhaps this will help them to know that if our prayers are answered, then theirs can be answered too. God doesn’t bless us just so we can keep the blessings to ourselves. Do you have peace in your life because God is a God who answers prayer? Are you secure knowing He will protect you in these times of unrest? Then share that assurance. Share peace and prosperity with your neighbors, just like King Darius did.

Prayer: Lord, make my life an example to others of your greatness and faithfulness. May people watching me be so impressed by what you do for me that they have to find out who this God is for themselves. Help me to be brave and share the good things you do for me. Amen

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent Week Two: Advance God's Kingdom ~ Peace ~ Day One

Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Are you wondering what the theme of “peace” has to do with advancing God’s Kingdom?
My grandparents endured World War I (the “war to end all wars”) and my parents’ generation has vivid memories of World War II. During the war my father worked at Lockheed Aircraft designing military aircraft. Later, during the “cold war” of the late 50s and beyond, he worked behind what Lockheed employees dubbed “the iron curtain”—not the Russian one—the invisible but very real one which meant only workers with sufficient clearance were allowed to see plans of super-sonic spy planes. My dad used to tell us that he was making “baby buggy bumpers.”
There was an air of fear in those days of drills--when we crawled under our desks and covered our heads—as if that posture would have saved us from a Russian-sent atomic bomb! I remember seeing the three-triangle signs that popped up everywhere noting that a certain building was a shelter in case of nuclear attack.
There was the Korean war, and then the war that still scars our American psyche, the ill-fated Viet Nam conflict. Now there is war in the Middle East, fears of terrorism, and a world continually full of violence, war and rumors of war. I recall a line from a popular Christian song of the 70s, the era of peace accords. “There will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table.”

While Christians can and should work for peace in many ways, we know that all efforts at lasting peace will ultimately fail unless the Lord rules in our hearts and in our world.
Peace on earth? Yes, Jesus was the one Isaiah had called “the Prince of Peace.” Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s peace on earth, and just as surely as he came to earth the first time, he will come once again to rule forever. We are given the message now, the message of peace that goes far beyond what can be found in this world. Jesus can bring peace to troubled hearts.

Jesus said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27). That is the “good news” of God’s Kingdom. Let’s share it with those we meet. As we do, God’s Kingdom of Peace advances.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, help me to trust you with my fears and concerns. As you give me peace, help me to be bold in sharing it with my world. Amen

Saturday, December 06, 2008

My Redecorated AND Clean Office

I wonder how long it will stay this way?

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Advent Week One: Hope Day Six

Romans 5:2-6
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

I hope I’ll lose weight this year. I hope the winter is not too harsh. I hope I find a better job. This is the way we normally use the word hope, a wish or desire for something that may, or may not, happen. This is not the kind of hope the Apostle Paul was writing about in his letter to the Romans. The hope of which he speaks, and the hope we read, speak and pray about during this first week of Advent is a sure and certain hope.

The letter O in O.A.S.I.S. stands for “Offer Hope.” In a world of hopelessness, we long to share the glorious hope we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. A question to ponder is, “Just how confident and joyful is my own hope of sharing God’s glory?” Can we rejoice in troubles, knowing that as we press on we grow in endurance and our character is strengthened?

Do you know someone who is full of hope, in spite of difficulty or pain? Someone who has walked with God through trials and has developed endurance such that they are able to share hope no matter what life brings? As we mature in our faith, there is a place of confident assurance that comes, a hope that says “Even if God kills me, I will trust in Him...He also will be my salvation” (Job 13:15-16).

Hope in earthly things, and even in people, often disappoints us. Paul reminds us that if our hope is in God we will not be disappointed. This does not mean that nothing bad can happen. In the words of an old hymn, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.” We know how dearly God loves us because at just the right time God sent Christ to us. What wonderful hope we have to offer as we share Christ with the world!

Prayer: My hope is in you, Lord Jesus Christ! I ask for grace to endure and to mature in the sure and certain hope I have in you!.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent Simplicity, Light and Beauty Friday Five

This Friday Five is brought to us by Sally from Eternal Echos.

What do you long for this advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today? In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five advent longings....

1. I am longing for people who are broken to be mended. There are some in my personal life, and there are many I see but do not know.

2. I am longing too, for my mother to be released to God. I will miss and mourn her when she is gone, but I will rejoice that she is free from the constraints of a failing body and (so much worse) a failing mind.

3. I am longing to see my remaining sister, Paulette, who lives far away in Georgia.

4. I am longing for my dear son, Joshua, to find God's direction for his life and future. I hope that will include marriage and a grandkid or two before it is too late!

5. I am deeply longing for clear direction for me.

Advent Week One: Hope Day Six

Psalm 31: 24
Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

At Jubilee Church we often sing the chorus,

My life is in you, Lord,
My strength is in you, Lord,
My hope is in you, Lord,
In You, it’s in You.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty singing those words because I know how easily I tend to hope in everything but the Lord. I live in a world, a nation, a culture and even a town (founded by staunch German immigrants) that all tell me to put hope in myself.

We can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” We put hope in our hard work, our jobs, our nation, our military, our money. That is “the American way” after all.

Our Yankee emphasis on rugged individuality has often come in handy. It is not a bad thing to learn personal responsibility or to discover our strengths. But when the day comes, as it inevitably seems to do, that tragedy weakens us or empties our bank account, gas prices rise, the stock market crashes, a natural disaster destroys our home...then what? Life is nothing if not uncertain.

I saw this uncertainty with distressing clarity when I travelled to a town on the Gulf Coast just days after Hurricane Katrina struck. One area along the beach had been the “rich neighborhood.” Now, a place known for oak trees, wide streets and beautiful southern mansions was merely an empty stretch of sand. Only a few twisted branches and some steps leading nowhere remained to indicate what had once been. I will never forget the eerie unreality of that scene. I talked with people who said dazedly, “What do I do now?”

The hope of Advent is not a hope in ourselves. In these weeks before Christmas Day we remind ourselves that our hope is in the Messiah’s coming. As the Psalmist tells us, the Lord will be our strength.

Our hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand. **

Prayer: God of Hope, strengthen my heart as I trust in You. Amen

* "My Life is in You" Daniel Gardner
** "The Solid Rock" Wm. Bradbury

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advent Week One: Hope Day Five

Luke 2:36-49
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple...and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Why did such a young widow remain alone all her life? Perhaps Anna’s husband was so terrible she vowed never to marry again. Or perhaps he was so wonderful that no one man could ever replace him. Either way, Anna could have spent her life in sorrow or resentment for the pain and tragedy that had come to her. Instead, she spent her life in prayer and fasting in the temple. She made a commitment to put her hope in God.

One day she saw Mary, Joseph and Simeon holding the baby Jesus in his arms. When she saw the couple with a baby she could have felt sorry for herself. After all, she had long ago lost her dreams of a husband, a home, and children.

Instead, “..she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” When she saw Jesus she saw the one God had sent to answer her prayers for redemption. Only God knows the powerful effect Anna’s prayers had.

Simeon waited on God to fulfill his promise to see the consolation of Israel. Anna hoped in God by a life of prayer, fasting and worship. God answered both their lifelong prayers through a baby, Jesus.

Let’s be like these two faithful people. Let’s keep eagerly placing our hope in Jesus. Let’s offer that hope to those we meet!

Prayer: God of Hope, thank you for sending Jesus as our consolation. Help us to be faithful in prayer like Anna. We pray for the redemption that comes through Christ. We pray for the redemption of Jerusalem, for our own nation, and for our world. Our hope is in you. Amen

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Georgia Baptist Convention Misses Again--Shuns Woman Preacher

Thanks to The Tentmaker for a post linking to this article. And hooray for the church standing up for their pastor and what is right. The SBC continues to make me sad and angry. If I hadn't left a long time ago, I would have to be making an exit now.

Advent Week One: Hope Day Four

Luke 2:26-32
That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Let’s look just a little more at the passage we read yesterday. Simeon, speaking prophetically, declared that the Christ Child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” A Gentile is someone who is not Jewish. In Jesus day, most Jews did not associate with Gentiles. Even the great Apostle Peter had a struggle with the idea, as we see later during the early days of the Church. Evidently Simeon did not share such a strong distaste for the Gentiles. In fact, his words seem to indicate he was praying for the Gentiles to find salvation as well as praying for the glory of Israel.

In Mark 5 we encounter one man who found a light of revelation in Jesus. The gospel records that this man had many demons living in him. People had tried to chain him so that he would not hurt himself or others, but he kept breaking the chains. No one could stand being around him. He was a hopeless case if there ever was one! Then one day he met the Light of the World.
This poor man was an enemy of God, an enemy to people and he was his own worst enemy too. Nonetheless, Jesus walked right up to him and asked, “What is your name?” Next, Jesus (at the cost of a whole herd of pigs) drove away evil and gave back to the man a peaceful, right mind. The man later testified how the Lord had mercy on him and shared with others how Jesus was a great light of revelation to him.
It doesn’t matter how deep into darkness we may find ourselves. Jesus Christ is willing to have mercy on us. He is a “light of revelation to the Gentiles” and in His holy presence darkness will flee.
Challenge: Is there someone in your life you find particularly distasteful or difficult? Look beyond the surface, to see the hurting soul behind an annoying exterior.

Prayer: Dear God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Shine the light of truth into my life, and let me surrender the dark corners to you. Help me to show that same mercy to others and to offer the hope found in you. Amen