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Broken Wholeness – Shell Shocked

God will hlep youKey Bible Verse: You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me. Jeremiah 20:7

Bonus Reading:  Jeremiah 15:10-21; 20:7-18

I vacationed on a South Carolina barrier island when the 300-pound loggerhead turtles were coming ashore. One night I watched one drag herself onto the beach to lay her eggs. Afraid of disturbing her, I left but returned next morning to see if I could find where her eggs lay hidden.

Alarmingly, I found her tracks headed in the wrong direction. She’d lost her bearings and wandered into the hot dunes and certain death. Following the tracks, I found her, exhausted. I poured water on her, covering her with seaweed, and ran to notify a park ranger.

He returned in a jeep, flipped the turtle on her back, wrapped tire chains around her front legs, and hooked the chains to his trailer hitch. Then he sped off, dragging her through the sand so fast her mouth filled with sand and her head bent back as if it would break.

I followed the path that the prow of her shell cut in the sand. At the edge of the ocean, he unhooked her and flipped her right side up again. At first she didn’t move. But after a large wave broke over her, she slowly moved, pushed off, and disappeared.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.

—Barbara Taylor in Leadership

My Response: Am I confused about what God’s doing in my life now? Can I trust Him anyway?

Thought to Apply: We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.—Henry Ward Beecher (New York preacher)

Adapted from Leadership (Spring 1992)

Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

Broken Wholeness – Art Therapy

God will hlep youKey Bible Verse: You have engulfed us with your anger … You have hidden yourself in a cloud.  – Lamentations 3:43-44

Bonus Reading:  Lamentations 3:1-26

On my office walls are several colorful mosaic crosses made of broken tiles, dinner plates, and stained glass. It was about four years ago, during my slow crawl out of depression that I began making mosaics.

After seven years of chronic pain, I’d hit a physical and emotional wall. I felt like the broken mosaic of a shattered windshield, my life splintered into a zillion tiny pieces. Every day was a strange, surreal experience, as I begged God for help and strength.

When I could see absolutely no purpose in my brokenness, God used it to bring me to a new place of wholeness. My identity had been tightly wrapped around my writing career. Hitting my lowest forced me to discover that God loved me for who I was.

So I took a year and a half off from writing. I now write my books with a pen in each hand, hunting and pecking because it eases the strain on my wrists. For someone who knows how to type fast, this is a very slow way to write a book.

The pain in my life pushed me to utter dependence on God. It taught me more than all the blessing I’ve ever received: a whole new understanding of who I am as God’s child. He began to shape the brokenness into something beautiful He wanted to use for His purpose.

—Joey O’Connor in The Longing

My Response: What lesson has God used pain to teach me?

Thought to Apply: When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.—Charles A. Beard (historian)

Adapted from The Longing (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

Broken Wholeness – Ask for Help? Me?

God will hlep youWho Said It…Joey O’Connor

As he sat at the keyboard, Joey, a writer, felt like “someone was pushing pins in my wrists, dousing them with gasoline, and then whoosh, lighting the whole mess into a finger-burning wrist flambé.”

He searched for a cure for years, then turned to voice-activated software. “After talking like a robot into a computer for a year, I wore out my vocal cords.”

Depression followed for Joey, now a pastor at Coast Hills Community Church in San Clemente, California, who also directs the Grove Center of the Arts.

What He Said…Ask for Help? Me?

“Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” How often do you hear that when you’re going through a rough time? Really? Show me where that verse appears in the Bible.

In this fallen world, God allows far more than we can handle to show us our true need for Him. Brokenness brings us to the end of ourselves. It brings us to our knees. It’s the very thing we need to lead us to the wholeness found in Christ.

God isn’t an almighty Advil for pain and affliction. He offers us more than relief, rest, and restoration in the midst of our pain. He offers us His presence.

As long as we’re strong, independent, self-reliant, and self-sufficient, we’ll continue to depend on our own devices, ingenuity, skill, resourcefulness, and spiritual entrepreneurship to work out our salvation. We’d rather save ourselves than appear weak and needy by depending on God. We give help. We don’t ask for it.

Adapted from The Longing (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

Broken Wholeness – When Your Wheels Fall Off

God will hlep youKey Bible Verse: Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again show me favor? Psalm 77:7

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 77:1-10

Our view of the victorious Christian is a bulletproof Superman who never doubts, always smiles, never struggles, and leaps tall churches in a single bound.

We want strong Christians who are always strong—not puny, weak ones who get sand kicked in their faces. In our society and even in the church, we’ve erected elaborate defenses against vulnerability, weakness, and suffering.

You and I need permission to be broken. To have seasons in our life when we don’t have it all together, just like in winter when the trees are barren of leaves. To have periods in which it’s okay to struggle.

To search for the wholeness that can come out of brokenness. To know it’s okay to have a bad day. Or week. Or month. Or year. To not have all the right answers or be able to explain why God is doing what He’s doing. To be broken simply because brokenness is part of the human condition.

But people get uneasy if your brokenness hangs around longer than a bad day. They still know the old you, the “you” before you were broken. They don’t know the new broken you and neither do you, because you’re numb just looking at all the broken shards of your life scattered at your feet.

—Joey O’Connor in The Longing

My Response: Have I equated brokenness with failure?

Adapted from The Longing (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

Our Apple Dumpling Dollars at Work!

Making our famous Apple Dumplings!

Making our famous Apple Dumplings!

Our Fall fundraiser of selling our delicious apple dumplings was a big success.

Now that most of the proceeds have been collected, our Administrative Council gathered briefly today in our most enjoyable meeting of the year to distribute the proceeds.

First, additional cash will be sent to our Annual Conference toward our 2014 Mission Share apportionment to support missions and outreach throughout the world.

Closer to home, donations will be sent to support important missional outreach initiatives in our greater community, including:

  • Christ’s Lutheran Cold Weather Men’s Shelter, which provides emergency housing to the homeless in our community;
  • Tiger Pause, which provides after-school educational support and Christian fellowship to our at-risk youth; and
  • Meals on Wheels, which provides home delivery of nutritious meals to our elderly.

Community OutreachFinally, right here at Central Church, funds were designated to support our Soup Tuesday mission outreach, which provides nutritious hot lunches and Christian fellowship every Tuesday to anyone who comes through our doors.

A big thank-you to everyone who contributed time, talent, and treasure toward making our 2014 Apple Dumpling Project a success.  As we move into 2015, the fruit of our investment will continue to support these important missional outreaches in our Church, our community, and in the world.

As part of our project, we also froze some of the apple dumplings for later sale.   If you would like to enjoy our seasonal treats, they are available for $3 each while supplies last.  Just call the Church Office at (724) 846-3474 to make arrangements to drop by the Church to pick up one (or a few!).

 

Christmastide – Make Room for More

Christmas DaySomehow, not only for Christmas,
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others,
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing,
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing,
Returns to you glad.

– John Greenleaf Whittier

“If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving–large or small–it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” Luke 6:38 (NLT)

 

We have heard people say, “You can’t out-give God.”  Well, you can’t out-give yourself either!

You don’t need to be wealthy to possess a giving heart.  Give a smile, lend an ear, extend a hand.

No matter how you give, God’s promise is tried and tested, and you’ll see the blessings multiplied and returned back to you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Central Church!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Central Church!

The Meaning of Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Christmas has come and with it all the joys of Christmas. But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the cards in the mail, turkey dinners with family and friends, snow in the yard, stockings hanging in the living room, and shouts of “Merry Christmas” to those who pass us in the streets? Is this really Christmas?

For many people, Christmas is a time of sorrow. They don’t have the extra money to buy presents for their children, family, and friends. Many are saddened at Christmastime when they think of their loved ones who will not be able to come home for various reasons. Turkey dinners may be only a wish and not a reality for some.

Yet, Christmas can be a season of great joy. It is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be a time of healing and renewed strength. You see, Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to be born. His birth brought great joy to the world. Shepherds, wise men, and angels all shared in the excitement of knowing about this great event. They knew this was no ordinary baby. The prophets had told of His coming hundreds of years before. The star stopped over Bethlehem just to mark the way for those who were looking for this special child.

Luke 2: 4-19 says:

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Why did He come? Why did God send His son to this sometimes cruel and hard world? He sent Jesus to us so that one day, He would grow up to become a very important part of history. His story (history) is one of truth, love, and hope. It brought salvation to all of us. Without Jesus, we would all die in our sins.

Central Church's Sanctuary Decorated for Christmas

Central Church’s Sanctuary Decorated for Christmas

Jesus was born so one day the price could be paid for the things we have done that are wrong. The Bible says that all have sinned. We are all born with a sin nature. We do things that do not please God. Through the sins of Adam and Eve, we have all inherited that sin nature. We need to have that removed. The only way is through Jesus. Jesus came so He could die on the cross for ALL of our sins. If we believe that Jesus died for our sins, we can ask Him to come into our hearts and forgive us. Then, we are clean and made whole. We can know that heaven is a place where we can go to when this life is over.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” –  I John 1:9

We can truly be happy at Christmas! No matter what may be happening, we can know that we are His children. We then become sons and daughters of God. Heaven will be our home one day.

Look at Christmas in a new way this year. This is the year to invite Jesus into your heart. You will then have a “Merry Christmas.” The joy and peace you will receive will last all year as you look to God for all your needs to be met.

Jesus Is The Reason For The Season! Rejoice!

 

 

Advent Devotional – Christmas Day, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day 2
Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good tidings,
who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice,
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

What’s the best news you ever received? A wedding announcement? A dream job? The birth of a baby?

According to Isaiah, there’s no news quite like the announcement of peace. Our striving is over, tensions have ended, conflict has ceased. “How beautiful … are the feet of the messenger who announces peace” (Isaiah 52:7).

Clearly, for Isaiah this isn’t just any peace. God’s messenger announces salvation, the breaking in of the very reign of God. Christ the Savior is born!

In a world of seemingly endless conflict, we join the angels in singing of peace, goodwill to all. We give thanks for a light shining in the darkness. And we long for the day when “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

All hail the Lord’s appearing!
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams so cheering
And guide us safely home.

Enjoy Your Christmas Day with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix 5  Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Angels We Have Heard on High

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the folks at Central Church!

 

Christ Bell

 

 

Advent Devotional – Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Candlelight ServiceThe Birth of Jesus

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”[a]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

One of the delightful surprises of Luke’s nativity is the shepherds. Inspired by a choir of angels, they hurry off to Bethlehem. They find Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manager.

Upon seeing the family, they bear witness to what the angels have told them about this child, starting first with the parents. This is really quite amazing.

It’s as if Mary and Joseph, tied up with the demands of the baby, can’t consider the cosmic implications of this humble birth. That role falls to the shepherds.

Thus, the shepherds are the first to tell the “good news of great joy for all the people.” Eventually the shepherds return to their sheep, glorifying and praising God for all they have seen and heard.

A question arises: If God can use a band of lowly shepherds to bring good news of great joy, what do you suppose God might want to do this Christmas through you and me?

Prayer:  God of heaven and earth, we come to Bethlehem looking for the one of whom the angels sing. Give us joyful hearts as we worship the newborn king.  Amen.

Enjoy Your Christmas Eve with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix 3  Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Oh Holy Night

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent DevotionalA Song of Joy

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has cast out your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear evil no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18     as on a day of festival.[b]
“I will remove disaster[c] from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you together;
yea, I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Are you preparing for some sort of homecoming this Christmas? If so, your plans are likely filled with a sense of joy and anticipation.

The thought of going home can stir deep feelings inside. The same is true for the Israel of old. God shares an incredible promise through the prophet Zephaniah: “I will bring you home.”

The beginning of Zephaniah links these words to the days of King Josiah in Judah. Like most prophetic writings, however, the words continue to speak to subsequent times and places. “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”

There will come a day when there is no more judgment, no more fear, no more hunger and want. In whatever context these words are heard, the thought of going home leads to feelings of care and safe-keeping.

God will gather God’s people. All will be well. What more could we want?

 

Prayer:  Lord God, as many families journey home this Christmas, we ask you to come and make a home with us, and tenderly care for your people.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent DevotionalPraise to God Who Comes in Judgment

Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13

96 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth.

“The Lord is coming.” That’s what the psalmist announces. The arrival is so close we can almost taste it. We are invited to sing and rejoice at the universal reign of God.

The nations witness it. All of creation—heaven and earth, field and forest, sea and dry land—are called to join in praise of the Lord. This psalm is sometimes linked with God’s return in glory to Zion after the exile. It speaks of God coming to judge the world in righteousness and truth.

“The Lord is coming.” Whether then or now, we wait and watch for signs of God’s coming. We yearn for the day when God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness and we will see the salvation of our God.

Prayer:  God our King, we wait for you in hope. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent - Week 4Mary’s Song of Praise

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

The fourth verse of our hymn talks about rejoicing: “Rejoice then, you sad-hearted, who sit in deepest gloom, who mourn your joys departed and tremble at your gloom.”

Truth be told, we often know more about being sad-hearted than actual rejoicing. The world promises happiness, but it often doesn’t deliver. With joys departed, we wait for God to come and make things right. Luke tells us that the baby inside Elizabeth leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting.

Soon Mary is singing her heart out because of God’s gracious actions to redeem the world. Mary’s song expresses great confidence in what God is about to do. As a way of suggesting that salvation is already at hand, the song uses past tense verbs to describe God’s actions in the future.

Without a doubt, Luke is saying, God’s promises can and do come true.

Prayer:  My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

Enjoy Your Advent Season with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix 3  Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Angels We Have Heard on High

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Devotional
John 3:16-17

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

When someone mentions John 3:16, we might think of a painted sign behind the goal posts or even Jesus being lifted up on the cross, but chances are that we won’t think of the Incarnation.

Yet that seems to be at the heart of this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus: God sending the Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

Love is at the center of God’s actions. The purpose is to share eternal life, which for John has less to do with a future life in heaven and more to do with a rich and abundant life in God’s love even now.

When we stop to consider the incredible gift of God’s Son, our observance of Advent is a little richer than before. And we are more certain than ever that only God can come and give us the life for which we’ve been waiting.

Prayer:  Almighty God, thank you for sending your Son in love. Fill our hearts with expectation at his coming.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 19. 2014

Advent DevotionalThe Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”[a] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born[b] will be called holy,
the Son of God.

36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

If you were to imagine God’s favor being extended to you, what would it look like? An unexpected blessing, a remarkable turn of events, a surprising answer to prayer?

It’s unlikely that many of us would envision a visit from an angel and an assignment that involves being used by God to change the world. Yet Luke seems to specialize in these
life-changing stories. First Zechariah and Elizabeth, and now Mary, are the unlikely recipients of God’s attention.

Why does God choose them? We don’t know. Mary is portrayed as obedient, believing and worshipful, but that isn’t necessarily why God chooses her. The reason is hidden in the mysterious purposes of God. All Mary can do is respond in humility: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

How do you respond to God’s favor? You might be humbled to think that God wants to use you to carry out God’s purposes. But if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Prayer:  Almighty God, thank you for visiting us in our time and place. Use us, as your servants, to change the world.  Amen.

The World’s 10 Most Popular Bible Verses of 2014

2014 Top Bible VersesChristianity Today reports this afternoon that YouVersion has studied which scriptures 164 million users shared and remembered most this year.

Philippians made out well this year. The New Testament letter authored by the Apostle Paul contained 3 of the top 10 Bible verses that were most bookmarked, highlighted, and shared with YouVersion’s Bible app in 2014, according to an end-of-year analysis released today (see the infographic below).

The No. 1 spot went to Romans 12:2  – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind....” (NIV).  But the fourth chapter of Philippians took No. 2 with verse 8, No. 3 with verse 6, and No. 6 with verse 7.

In order, the verses read:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The entire Top 10:

1.  Romans 12:2

2.  Philippians 4:8

3 . Philippians 4:6

4.  Jeremiah 29:11

5.  Matthew 6:33

6.  Philippians 4:7

7.  Proverbs 3:5

8.  Isaiah 41:10

9.   Matthew 6:34

10. Proverbs 3:6

These verses, and others, were shared nearly 69 million times this year. In fact, every second sees two verses shared through Twitter, Facebook, text messages, and email around the world, YouVersion said.

Philippians 4:6 was the only verse to stay on the top five from last year’s list, which featured Philippians 4:13 as the No. 1 verse (“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV)).  Rounding out the top five most popular verses of 2013: Isaiah 40:31, Matthew 6:13, and Joshua 1:9. (Philippians 4:6 moved from No. 5 last year to No. 3 this year.)

Out of the 10 countries with the most YouVersion usage, Philippians 4:8 was the most popular verse in the United States, Brazil, and Nigeria in 2014, while Jeremiah 29:11 was the most popular verse in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Jeremiah 33:2-3 was the most popular verse in South Korea. Isaiah 41:10 was the most popular verse in Mexico and Colombia.

The verses that users share most are quite different from what they bookmark and highlight most. Philippians 4:8 was the only verse to also make the top 10 list of verses shared in 2014, placing fourth after Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Chronicles 16:34, and 2 Chronicles 7:14.

None of the top 10 most shared verses of 2013 made this year’s list. Last year, Psalm 118:24 was the most shared verse worldwide.

CT previously noted how the Web’s most-popular Bible verses match up—except for John 3:16. Once again, the key verse, which ranks high among other digital Bibles, failed to make YouVersion’s top list of verses shared. But it does top recent lists of verses searched.

CT has spotlighted YouVersion’s volunteer army, profiled its rise among other “social network gospels,” and offers a Who’s Next profile on founder Bobby Gruenewald. This fall, CT reported when YouVersion hit 1,000 offered translations, enabling 7 out of 10 of the world’s inhabitants to read the Bible in their own language.

YouVersion’s other top stats of 2014—including most popular verse by country and number of chapters read—are in the infographic below.

2014 Top Bible Verses 2

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent DevotionalRestoration and Protection Promised

Isaiah 43:1-7

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
every one who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

There’s tremendous power when we say the words, “I love you.” God speaks powerful words of love over and over in Scripture, but perhaps never so powerfully—and tenderly—as in Isaiah 43: “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

The exiles in Babylon are reminded that they belong to God. They desperately need this reminder. They’ve been waiting a long time for God to come and bring them home. The prophet goes further. In an allusion to the exodus, Isaiah proclaims that God willbe with them as they pass through the waters, that their offspring will be gathered from east and west, from north and south.

If they listen closely, they can hear the words: “I love you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” There is power in these words—for Israel, and for us. As we hear them, we are reminded that we matter supremely to God.  And we begin to imagine a future that we did not have before.

 

Prayer:  Loving God, give me ears to hear your powerful words of love for me. And give me eyes to see a future that is grounded in the new thing you are doing.  Amen.

Sierra Leone bans Christmas, New Year’s celebrations to prevent spread of Ebola

The Rev. Pauline Njiru of Kenya displays a poster showing how Ebola can be transmitted.

The Rev. Pauline Njiru of Kenya displays a poster showing how Ebola can be transmitted.

As we hurry about with our preparations to celebrate Christmas this year with family and friends, it would be helpful for us to pause for a moment to think and pray about the challenges being faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone.

The government of Sierra Leone banned public Christmas and New Year’s celebrations because they may exacerbate efforts to eradicate the Ebola virus.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that despite immense help from the international community, the number of people infected with the virus continues to rise.

Ebola infections in Sierra Leone recently surpassed those of Liberia and Guinea.

“The illness started at the border and now is in the cities and close to 2,000 people have died from the outbreak,” Koroma told reporters. He asked traditional leaders and tribal chiefs to quit performing rituals in hopes that will help curb Ebola.

The majority of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people are Muslim, but Christmas is widely celebrated among the 27 percent of people who are Christian.

Officials said soldiers will be deployed on the streets and people are advised to stay at home with their families.

Ebun James-Dekam, general secretary of Sierra Leone’s Council of Churches, said Christians should be allowed to pray in churches on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and then go back home.

“If we have a quiet Christmas, that does not make us less believers,” she said. “We must break the chain by avoiding body contacts.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Roman Catholic Church lifted the ban on shaking hands and receiving the Communion wafer on the tongue. It also ordered the refilling water fonts at church entrances.

The practices were suspended in August over Ebola. The World Health Organization declared Nigeria Ebola-free in October.

As you prepare for Christmas this year, please remember the people of Sierre Leone in your prayers.

 

 

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Devotional
Lamentations 3:22-26

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[a]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is thy faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

How did you start your day? With a quick push of the snooze button? A desperate search for a cup of coffee? A rushed commute to work? By any chance, did your day start with this reminder? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

What makes these words particularly poignant is that they were part of a lament bemoaning the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  If ever there was a time to doubt God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, that was it.

Still, the poet held out hope for the future. This hope was based not on a pie-in-the-sky optimism that their troubles would soon be over, but rather in the abiding sense of who
God is and how God will act on behalf of God’s people. We need that hope too.

How about waking up tomorrow with a prayer on your lips: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

Prayer:  Lord, give me eyes to see the wonders of your love for me and for our world.  Amen.

Sad at Christmas? Advice for coping with holiday blues

Blue ChristmasIn December, we watch “magical” Christmas movies, shop from stores promising a special season, and hear songs proclaiming this as “the most wonderful time of the year.” We feel pressure to be jolly, but sometimes we’re not.

If you or someone you love is struggling with the Christmas blues, you are not alone. Many people find the season difficult. To help you through what may be a challenging Christmas season, we sought sound advice from United Methodist pastors, counselors, and others.

Accept feelings

Though you may feel like you are supposed to be merry, don’t force it. “You just can’t be where you’re not,” says retired United Methodist state correctional chaplain, The Rev. Ben Wright. “So if you feel down,” he continues, “feel down.” As he tells the members of the grief support group he facilitates in his United Methodist congregation, “When we acknowledge that we are down, it helps us.”

We ought to give others space to feel whatever they are feeling as well. United Methodist counselor Cindy Elrod cautions, “be in touch with your own anxiety that may surface when you are in the presence of someone who appears to be in distress, so that you are not trying to ‘fix’ them in order to ease your own distress.”

Manage expectations

There can be a lot of pressure to make Christmas perfect. Megan Forshey, program manager of Gilda’s Club Nashville, reminds us to, “try to let go of how things have always been or are supposed to be and allow this holiday to reflect your current reality.” If you are feeling blue, the goal of perfection can lead to stress or disappointment. Keep expectations realistic, and receive the season as it comes to you.

When supporting a friend though a difficult period, help keep the pressure low. Don’t push the “holiday spirit” upon your loved one. Give space and permission for them to cancel a day of shopping, or to initiate a deep conversation on a day you had planned for celebration.

Be selectively social

While everything in you may want to be alone, fight that urge sometimes. Retired United Methodist Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel H. Nigolian of the United States Air Force, encourages those who are struggling to “get with other people.” When serving those deployed far from family during the holidays, “Chaplains work very hard to provide fellowship opportunities for the troops whenever and wherever they happen to be,” Nigolian continues. Don’t feel obligated to attend every Christmas event, but make sure you make time to be with other people.

Nigolian also recommends others stay connected with those who are feeling blue during the holidays. “I always worry about the person who is alone,” he says. “I would stay with that person until relieved by someone close to him or her. I think it’s that important.” So stick close and remember, not everything you do together needs to be Christmas related. Mundane chores like laundry and grocery shopping can be lonely times. Offer to help.

Care for the body

Physical factors such as fatigue and low blood sugar, can contribute to a sense of sadness. When feeling down, extra attention to your health is helpful. “Take care of yourself,” Forshey urges. “Adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition relieve stress, deter depression and improve self-esteem.” That doesn’t mean you have to avoid every Christmas cookie, but take care of your body.

Healthy habits are sometimes set aside during the holidays. When supporting one who is struggling, you can help by offering to go for a walk together or by making healthy eating choices. The disciplines of diet and exercise always seems a little easier with a partner. Be that partner.

Watch your language

Be mindful of times you talk to yourself in ways you would never speak to another. Thoughts like, “I should be over this by now,” or “I’m ruining Christmas for everyone,” add guilt, which exacerbates the sadness. Instead, look for things to celebrate. When you get yourself to go to that party, pat yourself on the back. When you turn down that third cup of eggnog, tell yourself how proud you are of your accomplishment. Be your own cheerleader.

Cindy Elrod reminds us also to be cognizant of what we say to others. “Avoid these phrases: ‘It’s Christmas! Catch the spirit!,’ ‘You’re just sad because you WANT to be sad!,’ ‘I know just how you feel.,’ or ‘If you really believed in the reason for the season, you wouldn’t be sad.’” None of these is helpful. “Giving advice,” Elrod continues, “often results in the other person feeling minimized, dismissed, judged, or unheard.” Focus your attention on listening rather than talking during this time.

Worship

While typical Christmas worship services and programs may not be appealing to you, many churches offer special Blue Christmas or Longest Night worship gatherings. Churches design these services to offer those in attendance the hope of Christmas even while feeling a sense of sadness.

Joyce Kieffer has been planning “Blue Christmas: A Service of Hope” for Community United Methodist Church of New Cumberland, PA for ten years. The service, followed by a time of prayer and fellowship, has been valuable to those participating. “The Blue Christmas service gives people a place to validate their sadness, and to find kindred spirits,” she says, in others who are also sad. This year, she continued, “people stayed and stayed. Talking to each other. They didn’t want to leave, but needed time to linger and relax.”

To find a United Methodist church near you offering special worship gatherings, use Find-A-Church to check websites and other contact information for congregations in your area. Then, invite someone to join you for worship. Both of you will find comfort, healing, and peace during what is often a hectic season.

It is unrealistic to expect you or your loved ones to feel better simply because it is the season to be jolly. Be intentional in addressing the sadness. Although it may not feel like the most wonderful time of the year, the event we are celebrating – “The Word became flesh and made his home among us” (John 1:14 CEB) – reminds us that Jesus is near, even when we are feeling down.

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Devotional
Psalm 86:11-13

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in thy truth;
    unite my heart to fear thy name.
12 I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify thy name for ever.
13 For great is thy steadfast love toward me;
    thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

In Psalm 86 the psalmist asks for something quite remarkable: an undivided heart. We’re in the midst of a season that pulls our hearts in every direction: buy this product,  consume that food and drink, find happiness in all this merrymaking. More often than not, it seems, we find ourselves chasing after the very happiness that’s being promised.

So … does it help? Maybe for a while. But after an hour or two, or a day or two, the feelings come back—and so does that sense of being pulled in too many directions. How about praying for an undivided heart?

An answer to that prayer will mean different things to different people—perhaps a few moments of quiet in a busy season, an act of intentional generosity, a focus on God’s larger claim upon your life—but you may end up with a sense of peace that you did not have before.

You may even end up with a heart that feels whole.

Prayer:  Give me an undivided heart, O God. Help me walk in your way for me.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent DevotionalLonging for God and His Help in Distress

Psalm 42:1-8

42 As a hart longs
    for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
    for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while men say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me,
    therefore I remember thee
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.

 

Some scholars think Psalm 42 comes from the time of the Babylonian exile. Enemies cruelly taunt the exiles: “Where is your God?”

In the face of overwhelming sorrow, the psalmist remembers how they went in joyful procession to the temple. There is yearning for those times to return: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Memory seems to be one of the keys to waiting, memories especially of God’s never-ending love. The psalmist speaks confidently: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me …”

Is this a claim that you are able to make? Maybe at some times more than others? We have our share of sorrow and tears. If anyone asks, “Where is your God?”—or even if you ask it yourself—try remembering some of the ways that God’s love has been present for you over the years.

And as you name these things, ask God to fill your heart with longing.

Prayer:  God of steadfast love, help me remember those times when you have come to me. Fill my heart with a longing for your presence.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent - Week 3
Malachi 3:17-18

17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

Stanza 3 of an old hymn makes a bold claim: “Love caused your incarnation; love brought you down to me.”

These words catch our attention. We are promised that God’s primary activity is love. People in Malachi’s day, in the hard years of rebuilding following the exile, questioned whether God really loved them.

The prophet assured them of God’s care and affection: “I have loved you.” But still the people wondered: “How have you loved us?”  Show us!”   (Malachi 1:2)

Aren’t there times when we ask the same thing? Prayers seem to go nowhere, troubles linger, we long for God to come and make the world right.

God’s word through Malachi is meant to lift our sagging spirits: “On the day when I act, I will spare them as parents spare their children …” (Malachi 3:17).

In the midst of questions and doubts, we put our trust in God’s enduring love.  God our parent, thank you for promising to love us always.

Prayer:  Help us to trust in your promise to come to us.  Amen.

Enjoy Your Advent Season with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix 2Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Carol of the Bells

Enjoy Your Advent Season with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix 4  Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Devotional
Philippians 4:4-6

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Lord is near: This is the message of Advent. No matter where you are, no matter what doubts and worries and fears keep you up at night or fill you with anxiety during the day, the Savior is close at hand.

Do not worry. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. The Lord is near.

Nestled in the middle of this wonderful, familiar passage of Philippians are these words of unbelievable promise and comfort. They are for the single person dreading facing the holidays alone.

They are for low-income workers who don’t have enough to buy presents for their children. They are for the grieving, who can’t imagine a family dinner with an empty chair at the table.

They are for anyone who finds their hearts filled with longing.

The Lord is near. And He will give you peace.

 

Prayer:  Fill us with your peace, O Lord, and draw near to us today.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent DevotionalPaul’s Prayer for the Philippians

Philippians 1:3-6

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Imagine that today is bread-making day. It starts with a little yeast and warm water dissolved in a bowl. Cups of flour and spoonfuls of salt are gently mixed in. It’s a mess on  the counter until the kneading process blends everything together.

Finally, a lump of dough is carefully turned into a bowl and set aside to rise. It doesn’t look like much … but with time and patience, that lump of dough will expand until it becomes a loaf of tasty goodness.

The promise that something beautiful will come from an unfinished “mess” isn’t limited to bread dough. Paul writes that God “who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completeness.”

The truth is, God isn’t finished with any of us … thank goodness. But it takes patience, faith and confidence to trust that wherever you find yourself—even if it feels like a mess—is not your finished destination.

 

Prayer:  Thank you for working in my life, Lord, and promising to bring forth something good from my messes.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent DevotionalTriumphant Song of Confidence

Psalm 27:1, 4-5

27 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent,
    he will set me high upon a rock.

 

In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, could you be satisfied with just one thing? This season seems to celebrate more, more, more. But what if there was just one thing on your Christmas list; just one wish your heart could make? What would it be? Good health? Enough money? A life companion? World peace?

The psalmist wishes for just one thing: to be fully immersed in God’s beauty and truth. “One thing I asked of the Lord: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”  (Psalm 27:4).

Perhaps he imagines that doing so would lead his every action to reflect God’s heart of love and mercy; that his every thought would center on the good and upright, every night’s sleep be free from fear and worry.

Perhaps if we pursued God like we wish for so many other things, we would be less consumed with the thought of more, more, more and instead find peace in the one who truly satisfies our deepest need.

Prayer:  Give me a laser-like focus on you, O Lord, so that my life might revolve around and be guided by your love.  Amen.

Angels We Have Heard on High

The a cappella group, Home Free, sings "Angels We Have Heard on High"

The a cappella group, Home Free, sings “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Here to help us enjoy the Advent season is Home Free, a talented a cappella group who enter a beautiful church and begin singing the Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” with such harmony it is drawing in everyone who hears it.

The acoustics in the church add to the song and their talented voices – what a beautiful rendition of this treasured Christmas carol!

Click here or on the image to link to the video.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Devotional
Isaiah 40:9-11

Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
    lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young.

Waiting. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a baby to come, or the check to arrive, or the doctor to call or simply for the light to change. Waiting can be one of the most challenging things we do.

Isaiah’s people were waiting, too. Their misery was justified: Jerusalem and the temple in ruins, the people exiled from their homeland, prayers seemingly unheard.

They were waiting for some sign that God had not abandoned them, for something to give them hope. The prophet paints for them this picture: The Lord is coming.

He is strong, able to defeat every enemy. He is gentle, ready to gather the people into his arms. Imagine what the future will be like! Take heart. It will come.

During times of waiting, we need words that give us something in which to believe. The next time you find yourself waiting, try breathing deeply. Imagine the Holy Spirit filling you with patience and peace. And trust that God’s goodness will come.

 

Prayer:  For all people waiting for a sign of your presence, O Lord, we pray that you would send your Spirit and give them hope. Amen.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 9. 2014

Advent Devotional
Isaiah 40:3-5

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Last year’s Oscar-nominated movie “Nebraska” told the plaintive story of Woody, a man who journeyed home to claim what he was sure was a winning sweepstakes prize.

Who among us hasn’t been enticed with words like, “You may already be a winner!” Like Woody, at times we desperately want to believe that there’s something better for us out there—a life that’s more satisfying, more comfortable, more fulfilling than the one we have now.

And sometimes that belief leads us on a long—if not entirely productive or pleasant—journey.

The prophet Isaiah isn’t telling the people they’ve won the lottery. He’s bearing an even more enticing message:“Your exile is over! The traveling road home will be smooth and easy. You will see the glory of the Lord.”

These words send their desperate hearers on a journey. They need to believe that something better is out there, and that God will deliver them.

What messages have you been listening to lately, and where have they been leading you?

Prayer:  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Guide my steps today, that I might walk in your path.  Amen.

Advent Quiz: Test your knowledge of the season

UMC.Org Advent Quiz

Advent is a special time in the life of the church. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.

See how much you know about the traditions and symbols of the season by clicking on the daily questions below.

We encourage you to share the link to this page with others. Our goal is to make the quiz enlightening and entertaining.  Good luck!

Click here to go to the Quiz Page, and then click on a date to take that day’s quiz!

 

 

 

Giving Tuesday - Thank You

Thank you for making #GivingTuesday a very good day for The United Methodist Church and the many missions we initiate, grow and support.

You did something important. You generously supported the Imagine No Malaria and ICT4D ministries of United Methodist Communications. Because of good wishes expressed through your giving, the communications agency of The United Methodist Church can continue to work on your behalf.

Struggling countries will continue to help people heal. Isolated communities will benefit from communications technology that provides help and hope. Families will be empowered to leave legacies of survival.

You helped your church, your global neighbors, Imagine No Malaria and ICT4D (Information & Communications Technology for Development). Jesus called us to “do unto others,” and you did. On #GivingTuesday, angels in heaven and on earth jumped for joy.

We give thanks for you.

United Methodist Communications

Although #GivingTuesday is officially over, GivingAnyDay will always remain on the calendar.

GIVE NOW to Imagine No Malaria                 GIVE NOW to ICT4D

Thank You

 

 

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent DevotionalGod’s People Are Comforted

Isaiah 40:1-2

40 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

My colleague has a delightful 3-year-old son. He’s cute asa button. Twice a week, he comes to work with his dad before going to preschool.

When I hear those little feet scampering down the hall, my heart perks up. There’s no better way to start the day than by holding out my arms and having him run into them to give me a hug.

No matter how long my to-do list or how stressful my morning, spending a few minutes with my little buddy always sends me back to my desk with a smile on my face.

Do you have times of anticipation that lift your spirits?

Daily devotions can be those moments. They center ourhearts in the word and attune us to God’s voice. We need to encounter God in Scripture because we can forget God’s life-giving power.

The Bible’s words can breathe peace and hope: “Comfort, comfort.” “Do not be afraid.” “Lo, I will be with you always.” They can give our days much-needed perspective.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for lifting our spirits with your reassuring word. Draw us close and refresh us today.  Amen

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 7

Advent - Week 2The Proclamation of John the Baptist

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,[b]

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight—”

John the baptizer appeared[c] in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The second stanza of our hymn is a story of unexpected salvation. “I lay in fetters, groaning; you came to set me free.” In the midst of life’s struggles, when we feel the most lost, broken or alone, Jesus comes to bring hope and second chances. The news is almost more than we dare to believe: Is it true? Is it true for me?

The Gospel of Mark begins not with a trip to the manger, but with the story of John the Baptist. John is calling the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The people have been waiting for God to come and help them. And now, John says, the long-anticipated Messiah is here.

The news is almost more than the weary people dare to believe. But John’s call will lead to salvation for them—and for us: Repent, for the one is coming who will forgive your sins.

Prayer:  Lord, we wait for you to come and set us free from despair, shame, emptiness and suffering. Come quickly.  Amen

 

Enjoy Your Advent Season with This Pentatonix Video

Pentatonix’s a cappella version of “Pentatonix - The Little Drummer BoyThe Little Drummer Boy

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent DevotionalPsalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.[a]
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 Yea, the Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
    and make his footsteps a way.

Anytime problems arise it’s easy to question the natureof a relationship. Is the pain worth it? Can we really work things out? What if I get hurt again? And yet, when your heart is invested and the love you feel is real and deep,all you can do is make yourself vulnerable, reach out inhumility and pray for healing to come along.

The analogy doesn’t fit perfectly, but much of the same can be said of our relationship with God. God firstreaches out to us. Yet we have an important role to playin ensuring that our relationship with the Lord is healthyand life-giving. We need to seek forgiveness for the times we have neglected or turned away from God. We need to recommit our hearts to Jesus.

We never know for sure what reconciliation will look like—with the Lord or with others. But the psalmist’s words describe one possible result: “Love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss.”  And slowly, slowly, healingbegins.

Prayer:  Protect my relationships, Lord, and help me treat the people I love with care and respect.  Amen.

Billy Graham Christmas Special

Billy Graham - Christmas SpecialTune in to this month’s Billy Graham Christmas Special as we celebrate God’s gift of Jesus Christ and look back on His work in 2014.

Go behind the scenes with Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope tour and the Rapid Response Team chaplains.

Find out more about our nationwide outreach, My Hope with Billy Graham—plus, take a look back at Billy Graham’s family Christmas celebrations through the years.

Billy Graham - Christmas Special 2

 

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 5

Advent DevotionalPrayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

Psalm 85:1-7

85 Lord, thou wast favorable to thy land;
    thou didst restore the fortunes of Jacob.
Thou didst forgive the iniquity of thy people;
    thou didst pardon all their sin. Selah
Thou didst withdraw all thy wrath;
    thou didst turn from thy hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
    and put away thy indignation toward us!
Wilt thou be angry with us for ever?
    Wilt thou prolong thy anger to all generations?
Wilt thou not revive us again,
    that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Show us thy steadfast love, O Lord,
    and grant us thy salvation.

The anguish of a broken relationship is particularly gut-wrenching. Whether it’s the disappointment of unmet expectations, the hurt of betrayal or an unexpected break-up, our hearts take a beating.  Amidst the pain, though, there is often an underlying wish that forgiveness and reconciliation will take place.

Sometimes—with a lot of hard work and trust—those things do happen. Sometimes, when one person wants to work it out, but the other doesn’t, they don’t. And sometimes—as in situations of abuse and violence—maybe they shouldn’t even be attempted, at least not without professional help. Whatever the situation, one thing seems certain: We have to face the hurt before we can begin to heal.

The psalmist speaks of this sad reality with longing. The love God once showed has seemingly disappeared. The close bond the people felt has slipped away. The psalmist’s cries are our cries: “How long?” “Will you be angry forever?” “Will you not come back?” The words are plaintive: “Please, can I have another chance?”

Prayer:  Lord, I ask forgiveness for the times when I have hurt another. Guide me with your mercy and compassion when I strive to make things right.  Amen.

 

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 4

Advent DevotionalWhat God Requires

Micah 6: 6-8

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has showed you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
    and to walk humbly with your God?

A favorite premarital counseling exercise of mine is to have each person write up a list of 15-20 things they expect of their partner. Those expectations can be big (like contributing to household income) or small (like not leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor). Couples report that it usually takes a while to get started, but then the list grows quickly. My hope is that as they share their lists, they will understand one another a little more deeply, and maybe even avert a future conflict. As a wise person once said, “Unspoken expectations are disappointments waiting to happen.”

In Micah 6:8, God is perfectly clear about what is expected of God’s people: that we will do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Are these things always easy to do?  Of course not. Nor are they one-time accomplishments to be completed and checked off a list. But they can help us understand God’s heart, and shape our own hearts as we put them into practice.

Prayer:  Lord, help me live up to your expectations today as I encounter those in need of your mercy and love.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 3

Advent DevotionalThe Ruler from Bethlehem

Micah 5:2-5a

[a] But you, O Bethlehem Eph′rathah,
    who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.

And this shall be peace,
    when the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads upon our soil,[b]
that we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;

Where are you from? How you answer that question gives people an insight into your past. It might explain your accent, or hint at your cultural heritage or point to your favorite sports teams. But it might also evoke stereotypes or preconceived notions about you—notions that often can only be overcome through a personal relationship.

When the prophet names Bethlehem as the place from which salvation will come, our Christian ears hear “birthplace of Jesus.” But if we were in the prophet’s day, we’d likely hear “home of King David.” That’s what Micah’s listeners would have held on to—that out of this tiny village came Israel’s greatest king. And that king himself was a surprise: The youngest and smallest of Jesse’s boys seemed more fit to tend sheep than lead a nation.

It’s a reminder that with God the least can become the greatest, and that we should expect the unexpected. Perhaps where we are from is not nearly as important as whom God is creating us to be.

Prayer:  Wherever we are from, O Lord, and wherever we may be going, may we find our home and our future in you this day.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 2

Advent DevotionalPeace and Security through Obedience

Micah 4:1-5

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide for strong nations afar off;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and none shall make them afraid;
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    for ever and ever.

 

Do you have a truth-teller in your life? Someone who you know has your back but also isn’t afraid to say that you’re headed in the wrong direction? Truth-tellers can be hard to listen to, but hopefully they can be trusted—because they deliver that truth in love.  Micah was such a truth-teller. Israel was facing certain defeat at the hands of the mighty Assyrian army. Their only chance for survival was to put their trust in God. Yet their worship had become hollow, their sense of justice distorted. Micah’s words both call the people to account for their failings, and cast a vision for what life could be like if they change their ways.

Advent can be a truth-telling time—a time of reflection and repentance, a chance to focus on how your priorities and values align with those of Jesus. What might Micah’s
call to “return to God” say to you this season?

Prayer:  Help me take a good look at myself, Lord, and see those places that reflect your will—and those that draw me away from you. Amen.

Giving Tuesday – December 2

Giving Tuesday 3

Christmas Flash Mob

Christmas Flash Mob 1Here is a wonderful, short video to help us with perspective and focus as we journey through Advent to Christmas.

Click here or on the image to link to the video.

Enjoy and remember – it’s never too early to wish someone a Merry Christmas! Christmas Sleigh Bells

Imagine No Malaria

Imagine No Malaria 4

An Advent Message from Our Pastor

Pastor Wayne Cleary 1Peace and Grace to you and your families,

As we enter this time of year that is full of sounds and lights, parties and gifting, it is easy to be distracted from the core of our lives.

Jesus is the core, our beginning, and our end, and all in between.  That’s why we are called Christians.

Take time with your family and remember His story, His nativity, and let this Christmas truly have our Lord at its center.

As we remember the stories of His birth, consider the inconvenience and danger to the lives of Joseph and Mary, the wise men and shepherds.  Meditate on the grace of God to come into our fallen world as a helpless baby.  All that so He could show His eternal love for us.

Let your life this season and beyond reflect your appreciation and Thanksgiving.  Let your life shine bright with His love, and offer Jesus your life by following Him.  It’s the best recipe for a “Good Christmas.”Advent - Week 4

Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas Season.

Pastor Wayne