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New Year Prayer

Stick to the Fundamentals – For Best Results

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. 1 Timothy 4:7

Bonus Reading: 2 Peter 1:5-8

When I began my relationship with Christ, I was “discipled” as to what I needed to do: pray, read my Bible, go to church, tithe … At the same time I was trying to stop swearing, manage my hormones, and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.

I was also encouraged to join a small group and expected to begin a ministry. I tried, but it was too much to begin at the same time. I failed miserably—and came perilously close to abandoning all spiritual investments.

It’s best to begin with one thing. Whether it’s to rise at 5 a.m. or have a family meal three times a week, we should drive that single stake into the ground and do all we can to establish its place in our life. Once a behavior is maintained for six weeks, we’re told, it has become a habit.

And once a habit, it no longer demands emotional, physical, and mental energy to sustain. It’s become part of who we are. Then we rise naturally at 5 a.m., or we naturally sit down together as a family to eat a meal on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Once a single practice reaches this point, we’re ready to add another to our life … then another.

—James Emery White in Serious Times

My Response: What one thing will I concentrate on for now?

Thought to Apply: Instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. But gradual growth in grace I see clearly taught and urged.  —Ryle (British pastor)

Adapted from Serious Times (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Keep me, Lord, from settling for a holding pattern. Help me to realize steady growth in my walk with You.



Stick to the Fundamentals – Letdown Setup

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: You couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready.  – 1 Corinthians 3:2

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

What if you developed a daily schedule this way? You decide: Here is what I want in my life. I want to work out at the gym, have a quiet time, eat a cooked breakfast, get to work early, come home, sit down with the family for dinner, help my children with homework, read, write a letter to a friend, catch the game on TV, and be in bed by ten.

You do the math and find it takes a 34-hour day. You do more math, a little cutting here and there, and figure you can squeeze most of it in by rising at 4 a.m. You fill in the time blocks, set the alarm and go to bed, ready for your new life to begin.

At 4:20 a.m., after you’ve hit the snooze button for the second time, you wonder what you were thinking. You skip the gym, settle for a toasted bagel, and pray in the car on the way to work. You push on through the day, but it only gets worse. You throw in the towel by noon.

It was simply too much to do at once, so you end up in defeat, going back to life as lived before.

It’s seldom wise to attempt a regimen that begins with everything you can think of doing.   [continued tomorrow]

—James Emery White in Serious Times

My Response: What can I learn from my big plans for a disciplined life, and miserable failures?

Adapted from Serious Times (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Keep me, Lord, from settling for a holding pattern. Help me to realize steady growth in my walk with You.



Stick to the Fundamentals – Inches Theory

Spiritual GrowthWho Said It … Tony Dungy

Tony Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory on February 4, 2007, the first such win for an African American coach. He is committed to the importance of Christian parenting, strongly supporting the All Pro Dad organization.

To build his teams, he urges players to avoid concentrating on individual players, specific teams, or emotional highs and lows; instead they should focus on steadily refining the fundamentals of the game.

What He Said … Inches Theory

In the first meeting of the Colts 2004 training camp, I showed a clip from the movie, Von Ryan’s Express. In this film, a man who has fired a machine gun and thrown grenades at his pursuers—Nazis—sprints to catch up with a transport train that he and his fellow POWs have commandeered. He closes in on it, running with his hand out … and is shot and killed with his hand just inches from his fellow prisoners and only feet from the Swiss border and safety.

When the clip ended, I explained to the team the theory of death by inches. It wasn’t big things that had tripped us up in previous years but a combination of details. One detail at a time builds the whole. By focusing on these—inches— we could, rather than coming up just short, reach our Super Bowl goal.

“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” I told them. “We’re going to do what we do, only better. We’re going to make it by doing the little things right.”

Adapted from Quiet Strength (Tyndale, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Keep me, Lord, from settling for a holding pattern. Help me to realize steady growth in my walk with You.


How long is the Christmas season?

Central Church’s Sanctuary Decorated for Christmas

Christmas is not just one day, but a season of twelve days from sunset Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) through Epiphany (Jan. 6).

The twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany, an even more ancient Christian celebration than Christmas, originally focused on the nativity, God’s incarnation (God made flesh) in the birth of Jesus Christ and Christ’s baptism.

Today, it commemorates the visiting of the Christ Child by the Magi (Wise Men) with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gift giving in some cultures extends throughout the 12 days of Christmas; elsewhere, gift giving is limited to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or Jan. 5 or 6.

See 12 creative, simple ideas to help celebrate the season.

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

25 Christmas Jokes You Can Tell Kids

Have fun using some of these jokes this Christmas season to connect with kids of all ages.

All it takes is one funny joke to bring down the wall a child may have put up.

Once that wall is down and they’ve decided to engage with you, you can share God’s Word with them heart to heart.

Start with a joke that gets kids to laugh and helps them connect with you. Which means you will have a great opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas.




  1. What do you call a greedy elf? Elfish.
  2. Which of Santa’s reindeer has bad manners? Rude-alph!
  3. What is a skunk’s favorite Christmas song? Jingle smells!
  4. What name did Santa give his dog? Santa Paws!
  5. Where do snowmen keep money? In a snow bank.
  6. What’s the best thing to put into Christmas dinner? Your teeth!
  7. What did Adam say on the day before Christmas? It’s Christmas, Eve!
  8. How much did Santa pay for his sleigh? Nothing. It was on the house.
  9. Why is Santa so good at karate? Cause he’s got a black belt.
  10. What’s Santa’s favorite candy? Jolly ranchers.
  11. What does the gingerbread man put on his bed? Cookie sheets.
  12. What is an elf’s favorite kind of music? Wrap music!
  13. What do monkeys sing at Christmas time? Jungle bells…Jungle Bells.
  14. What do you call Frosty the Snowman in May? A puddle!
  15. Why are Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen always wet? Because they are rain deer.
  16. What did the beaver say to the Christmas Tree? Nice gnawing you!
  17. What do you get if you cross a bell with a skunk? Jingle Smells!
  18. Why did Rudolph get a bad report card? Because he went down in history.
  19. What is a Christmas tree’s favorite candy? Ornamints.
  20. What do you get when you cross a snowman and a dog? Frostbite.
  21. What do you sing at a snowman’s birthday party? Freeze a jolly good fellow!
  22. What goes “oh, oh, oh”? Santa walking backwards!
  23. Knock Knock.
    Who’s there?
    Mary who?
    Mary Christmas!
  24. What does a cat on the beach have in common with Christmas? Sandy claws!
  25. Mason says to his mother: You can delete the train set from my Christmas wish list. Mother: Why is that? Mason: Yesterday, I found one in the closet.

    Your turn. What other Christmas jokes or riddles do you use to break the ice or to connect with kids at Christmas? Share in the comment section below.


4 Reasons to Believe in the Christmas Miracle

Why the supernatural events of this season are both credible and incredible.

4 Reasons to Believe in the Christmas Miracle

“I don’t believe that.”

I’d just read my four-year-old the story of the angel Gabriel meeting with Mary. I tried not to panic.

“Well, do you believe that God made you?”

“Yes, I believe that.”

“And do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?”


“And that he rose from the dead?”


After more gentle probing, it turned out it was really just the angel that she didn’t buy. But nonetheless, my daughter isn’t alone in her natural skepticism about the supernatural. When we stop to think about it, Christmas stretches our credulity. It comes complete with an angel appearing, a virgin conceiving, a star guiding, and heavenly hosts singing. How can rational, scientifically literate, 21st-century people like us believe such things, when even a child finds them hard to take?

Here are four reasons to believe in Christmas in all its supernatural glory.

1. Miracles aren’t hard for God.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’re familiar with an a fortiori or “how much more” argument that draws secondary conclusions from a greater first point. For instance, Paul reassures the Christians in Rome of God’s care by saying this: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Paul argues from the greater thing to the lesser. If God gave up Jesus for the sake of believers, surely nothing else will be too hard for him to give!

By similar argumentation, to believe in the God of the Bible who created the universe and not to believe in miracles is rather obtuse. It would be like my daughters believing their dad could make bread from scratch (which he can) but that he couldn’t toast a Pop-Tart. In fact, if you are a Christian (or a Jew or a Muslim, for that matter) you are already signed up to believe that the universe and everyone in it is God’s handiwork.

At one level, the miraculous conception of a human baby is but a drop in the ocean. What’s incredible about the Incarnation is not so much that a virgin conceived (remarkable though that might be) but that God became man. “What is truly amazing about the Christian faith,” says the physicist Jonathan Feng, “is the idea that God made the universe—from quarks to galaxies—but at the same time cared enough about us to be born as a human being, to come down, to die and be crucified in the person of Jesus, and to bring forgiveness and new life to broken people.”

2. Miracles aren’t ruled out by science.

In his excellent new book, Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? MIT professor Ian Hutchinson observes that “We tend to view God as mostly hands-off, standing on the sidelines, letting nature look after itself, but then on rare occasions reaching in to tweak things by the odd miracle here and there.”

But this, Hutchinson points out, is not the biblical view. The Bible reveals Jesus as the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:1, 3) and by whom all things are sustained (Heb. 1:3). Rather than standing on the sidelines, therefore,

[God] continuously hold the universe in the palm of his hand…It exists because of his continuous creative power and will: If he were to stop exerting that upholding power, stop paying attention to every part of the universe, it would instantly cease to exist.

In line with Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, Hutchinson suggests we should not see miracles as God intervening in the natural order of things. The regular order of things that we explore through science is utterly dependent on his will. A miracle, therefore, is “an extraordinary act of God” by which God “upholds a part of the universe in a manner different from the normal.” Thus, the extraordinary acts of God that we celebrate at Christmas should not cause doubt for the scientifically minded. As Princeton philosopher of science Hans Halvorson points out, the modern scientific method was first developed by Christians precisely because they believed the biblical revelation of a Creator God.

3. The gospels aren’t mythologized.

It’s a common misconception that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were written down so long after the events they record that the figure they describe has been mythologized. The story goes like this: Jesus started as a great preacher with some groundbreaking ethical ideas, but over the years, exaggerated claims crept in. A virgin birth here, a resurrection there, and voila! the prophet of Nazareth becomes the Son of God.

But in his powerful new book, Can We Trust the Gospels? New Testament scholar Peter Williams argues that there simply wasn’t time for Jesus to be mythologized. The gospels were written when eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life were still around. They include a wealth of geographical and cultural detail about the precise area in which he lived—details that would not have been available to remote authors fabricating stories. And in the rapid spread of Christianity, the accounts of his life traveled so far and fast and with such remarkable consistency that there would have been no opportunity for later editors to add miraculous claims. Moreover, as Williams reminds us, we have more and better manuscript evidence for the life and works of Jesus than for those of Tiberius, the Roman emperor who ruled during his ministry.

In other words: We can disbelieve the claims about Christmas if we choose. But let’s not do so on the weak premise that they were made up hundreds of years after Jesus’ actual birth.

4. Forgiveness is the greater miracle.

My daughter was willing to believe that Jesus died for her sins but unwilling to believe that God could send an angel to tell Mary about the Virgin Birth. Forgivable though it is, her disbelief betrays a lack of understanding for what is truly remarkable. How often do we find ourselves making the same mistake? “Sure, Jesus can forgive my sins,” we think, “but could he really walk on water?”

When we read the gospels, however, this hierarchy of the unbelievable gets flipped on its head.

In one of my favorite gospel moments, Jesus is confronted with a paralyzed man. His friends have gone to great lengths to get him in front of the healer, and his physical need is obvious. But the first words out of Jesus’ mouth are, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The crowd must have been confused by his response. The paralyzed man had come to Jesus for healing, not forgiveness. But Jesus saw a greater need and one that was far harder to meet. Healing this paralytic’s legs would cost Jesus a few words. Purchasing his forgiveness would cost Jesus his life.

This Christmas, when you’re tempted to wonder if the Virgin Birth and the singing angels could be historically true, remind yourself how much more incredible it is that the eternal Son of God became a baby for our sakes and that the sinless Savior suffered for our sin. That’s what’s truly unbelievable about Christmas.

– Rebecca McLaughlin holds a PhD from Cambridge University as well as a theology degree from Oak Hill Seminary. Her first book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Worldview, will be published by Crossway in 2019. Follow her on Twitter or at

Merry Christmas from Central Church!

10 Fun Christmas Trivia Questions and Answers

Here are 10 fun Christmas trivia questions and answers for you.

Was Christmas observance ever illegal?

Yes it was. In England, Christmas was banned for a time by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell in 1649 who outlawed both Christmas carols and Christmas celebrations. This ban lasted until 1660. Even in the Colonies, it was illegal in Boston to observe Christmas from 1659 to 1681.

There were three wise men or magi?  True or False?

False. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many wise men or magi came to bring gifts to Jesus. The Bible only tells us that they brought three different kinds of gifts and those gifts had special meaning (Matt 2:1-11). The gold was a customary offering or gift when visiting a king. The frankincense was burned in worship service as a fragrant pleasing to God and represented prayer but also worshiping God. The myrrh came from Arabia and was typically used in burials but sometimes it was mixed with wine and offered to those being crucified.

Did Christmas carols originate in churches?

No, Christmas carols were always sang outside and never sang inside the church until the 13th century when St. Francis of Assisi introduced the idea of bringing them into the church as part of the worship services.

Did the angels sing at Jesus’ birth? Do angels sing?

No, there is not Bible verse anywhere that says angels sing. They rejoice, they shout, and they speak, but never does it say they sing.


What does the word “noel” have to do with Christmas?

The word “noel” is derived from the French saying “Les bonnes nouvelles” and means “the good news” so the first noel was the good news of Jesus Christ being born as a King and later, becomes our Savior.

Who had the first Christmas tree?

According to church legend, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree that he brought home an evergreen tree and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children, so was he the first person to decorate a Christmas tree? No, we have no proof of that. Nobody knows who the first to use a Christmas tree was but it may have been the Germans who made the first artificial Christmas trees out of dyed goose feathers.

Was Jesus was born in a barn or stable?

Neither; the best biblical scholarship says that Jesus was probably in a cave where they also kept the animals at night.

Was Jesus born in December?

Even though Pope Julius I chose December 25 for the Feast of the Nativity, it seems improbable that Jesus was born in December, particularly on the 25th. When the shepherds heard the announcement of Jesus’ birth from the angels, they were still living in the fields as night (Luke 2:8), which would not be a good time of year to tend sheep and on top of that, to be out there in the middle of the night. Bible scholars believe Jesus was born in September and around 5-6 B.C.

What does the holly represent?

Even the world “holiday” is derived from “holy day” so “holly” is rooted in the word “holy.” The Christmas holly decoration represents Christ’s crown of thorns and the red berries, His very own blood.

Did Christmas stop a war?

Yes, Christmas did stop a war. It was World War One and a “Christmas Truce” was declared in 1914 between the British and the Germans. This began when troops on both sides took Christmas Eve off from the war and then began singing Christmas carols. Later, they came out to greet one another and shake hands while some even exchanged cigarettes as gifts.


We hope you can get some enjoyment out of these questions and answers about Christmas. There’s still a lot we don’t know but we do know the most important thing about Christmas. It’s where the Word of God was dwelling with God and becoming flesh (John 1) to live a sinless life to offer Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice (Rom 5, 10) for those who have repented and believed.

If you believe in Him, you have eternal life (John 3:36a) but if you reject Him, you have the wrath of God abiding on you at this very moment (John 3:36b).

Christmas: The Fairy Tale That Must Be True

Here is an important article for today and every day from Pastor Scott Sauls.  He is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is the author of several books including his latest, Irresistible Faith.

Have you ever stopped, just for a second, and considered the far-fetched claims of Christianity at Christmas time?  During this particular holiday, Christians all over the world—millions and millions of them—pause to contemplate a first-century middle eastern infant, mothered by a teenage girl who had never been with a man, born dirt poor and from a small, obscure hick town called Nazareth.

This little boy, this underdog whose life was allegedly surrounded by miracles such as a virgin birth, unexplainable healings, and resurrection, Christians say, is the answer to all the world’s problems. The hope of the universe rests on the belief that this seemingly far-fetched fairy tale…

…is actually true.

Come on.  Really?  Yes, really.

Jesus, that little baby boy from the obscure hick town and virgin womb…he would grow up and speak these words about himself for anyone who would listen:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he said, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

  • Why did Jesus claim to be the truth, versus one single truth among many other truths?

  • Why did he say that he would not share his glory with any other god or any other religious leader?

  • Why was he unwilling to accept the mere designation of Rabbi or of a good moral teacher or of an exemplary human being?

  • Furthermore, why do his followers seem stuck on the idea that Jesus, in being the truth, is the singular path to God?

CS Lewis, a secular atheist intellect turned Christian, answers this question as well as anyone in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

But what is it, exactly, that has made Lewis so certain that Jesus is more than a great human teacher, but is instead the Son of God, the Word who has become flesh, the Incarnate Deity?

I believe the answer to this question rests in a single word:


Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried, rose again bodily from the dead.

But is there evidence, any evidence whatsoever, that these claims are true?  I think so.  Do you?

The message to Saul was clear.  In standing against Christians, he was standing against Christ, the risen Messiah.  And in standing against Christ, the risen Messiah, he was standing against the truth.

In an instant, Saul, once a big shot among the Jews, became small in his own eyes.  Saul, a great teacher and leader, was at a loss for words.

Instead of striking Saul down, Jesus forgave him.

From that point forward, Saul of Tarsus was also Paul the Apostle, the inspired writer of approximately one third of the New Testament.  He later wrote these words:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly and in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

This is why the little boy came into the world at Christmas time.  To save sinners.  Even the foremost of them.

But how did Paul know that his words were “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance?”

How did Paul know that his belief in Jesus was belief in the truth versus a belief in one of several legitimate, competing “truths?”

He knew his words were trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance because Christ had risen from the dead.  Because Christ had risen from the dead—a claim that cannot be made by any other religious founder or leader.

And if Christ has risen from the dead, everything else that Jesus said and did can be accepted as true.  This includes things like the virgin birth, the healings, turning water into wine, and all those other wonderful things about the fairy tale that is true.

But what if the resurrection of Jesus—and thus everything else about Jesus—is actually not true?  What if it is a myth?  What if in the end, it turns out to be a cleverly made up hoax?

If it is a hoax, Christians are the most pitiful people in the world.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

“If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most of all to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

In fact…Christ has been raised.

How can we be so sure?

As Simon Greenleaf, distinguished professor of law at Harvard discovered, the evidence is overwhelming.  Based on the evidence alone, it takes more faith not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead than it takes faith to believe it.

As the Apostle Peter once wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).

Eyewitnesses.  Of his majesty.

What eyewitness evidence to Jesus’ resurrection was so convincing to the likes of Simon Greenleaf?

There are several excellent books that have been written on the subject, including Who Moved the Stone? by an English journalist attorney named Frank Morrison. Also, The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee StrobelMore Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, and Tim Keller’s The Reason for God are excellent, more detailed treatments of the subject.

It may be helpful to highlight a few of these so-called “evidences.”

One such evidence is the Apostle Paul’s undisputed claim that there were over five hundred, real-time eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ in the first century, “most of whom (were) still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11).

Another evidence is the historical record of how each of the twelve disciples of Jesus died.

Judas, the one false disciple, hanged himself over guilt related to his betrayal of Jesus.

Ten of the others died as martyrs because of their unwillingness to recant their Christian faith to show ultimate allegiance to the Roman Caesar.

The disciple John, exiled to the island of Patmos for the same unwillingness to recant, died of old age as a prisoner for Jesus.

With this historic record in mind, Josh McDowell wrote the following in More Than a Carpenter:

If the Resurrection had not happened, obviously the disciples would have known it.  I can find no way that these particular men could have been deceived.  

Therefore they not only would have died for a lie—here’s the catch—they would have known it was a lie.  It would be hard to find a group of men anywhere in history who would die for a lie if they knew it was a lie.

Other evidence for Christianity includes the countless lives over the centuries that have been changed.

In a candid interview about his Christian faith, Bono issued a challenge to his skeptical interviewer with these words:

Either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase.  I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson…This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go.  Bring on the pain!  I can take it.  I’m not joking here.  The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.

Bono’s point is that the best case for Christianity is the lives that have been changed by Jesus.

Liars becoming more honest, crooks returning what they have stolen, anxious and dying people finding peace, cowardly and fearful people finding courage, hurtful people asking forgiveness from those they have hurt, bodies wasting away as the souls who inhabit those bodies become more alive, business people doing the less profitable thing because it is the right thing, aimless people finding meaning in their lives, spouses staying committed to each other through the hard and dry seasons, addicts becoming sober, adulterers becoming chaste, pregnant mothers continuing their pregnancies knowing that they are carrying a child with Down Syndrome, rejected and unappreciated parents persisting in unconditional love toward their straying, entitled children.  These are only a few examples of how the Jesus Christ of Christmas and Resurrection changes people.

The same power that Christians believe spoke the galaxies into being, that parted the ocean, that caused a blind man to see, that enabled a paralytic to get up and walk, that conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb without a sperm cell, and that raised Jesus from the dead—accounts for the billions of people who, having been brought into relationship with Jesus, have become better versions of themselves.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Perhaps you have been turned off to Christianity because of intellectual roadblocks.  Perhaps, like Francis Schaeffer, you have been turned off by a “lack of reality” that you perceive in the lives and behavior of Christians around you.

Amid your questions, doubts, and disappointments, are there any Christians in your life who have shown you glimpses of something different, something more beautiful and lovely, even something admirable?  Have you ever seen in Christians something that gave you pause about your doubts, that led you to consider that perhaps there is something to this Jesus character?  Something like forgiveness of a hurt, compassion shown to a sufferer, generosity toward someone in need, or perseverance in a hard marriage?

If so, could this be Jesus reaching out to you, inviting you to consider, or perhaps reconsider, his claims?

If there are no such Christians in your life and if there is no such longing, would you consider, as the Harvard student Jordan Monge did, investigating “the works of the masters” such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Pascal, and Lewis?

Better yet, would you consider reading through each of the four “Jesus biographies” in the Bible—the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—each written from the perspective of a first-century believer whose life had been made new by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?

If you are not ready to open yourself to the possibility that Jesus is the truth, would you consider embarking on the journey that Simon Greenleaf once did?  Would you accept the challenge, as he did, of attempting to prove that it is false?

Perhaps in your quest to prove Christianity to be false, you might discover, as Greenleaf and Francis Schaeffer did, that there is only one reason to be a Christian: because it’s true.

Or perhaps you won’t.

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 25, 2019 – Look to the Star

Scripture: Isaiah 11:6

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.

When I look for moral guidance, I remember that “a little child shall lead them.” So I look to a little child, not just the little child laying in a manger over 2,000 years ago, but also the little child who lives under my roof, my daughter Esther.

I look to her, and I think about what I want the world to look like for her. I think about the world God designed for us, full of love, justice, bounty, and beauty. I think about the lessons I want her to learn from my actions and inactions. I think about how we can make this broken world look a little more like the one God has planned.

“Esther” is sometimes translated to mean “star.” It’s an apt name for this one who helps me seek God’s realm, divine justice, holy beauty, and gracious love. Just like the star in the East was for the Wise Ones, my little star is a guide on the path to Christ who is the true Light.

Prayer: God of light, we look to You. Guide us in Your way, so that our communities look more and more like Your Kingdom. Amen.

  – Jeannie M. Hunter – Nashville, TN

Merry Christmas Eve!

This time of the year is always special.  Spending time with family and friends is both a joyful occasion and a blessing.  Whatever your traditions are and however you celebrate, let us not forget the true reason for the season – God’s one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

His birth is the sign of God’s grace and love to the world.  He is the greatest gift anyone could receive!  Let’s be sure to take time today to remember what God has done for us and to worship Jesus, who is worthy of all our worship. 

Central Church’s Christmas Eve worship service begins tonight at 6:30 pm with a 30-minute piano and organ concert, followed by our traditional candlelight service.  Come and join us!

This Christmas, we also want to take a moment to thank all of our friends and partners in outreach for the faithful work you’re doing for the Kingdom of God.  All of us at Central Church are so privileged to serve you along the way.  It is an honor.

We pray the joy of the Lord fills you and your family this holiday season. 

From our family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Luminaries at Central Church

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 24, 2019 – What Gift Can We Bring

Scripture: Matthew 2:10-11

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Many years ago, my office overlooked a nearby bagel shop. Often, late in the day, I would observe a worker there throwing bags of bagels in the dumpster, presumably because they were past a freshness date. That picture of food being wasted remained seared in my mind.

As years passed, I began to participate in mission trips with our church youth, working for the Appalachia Service Project. It was humbling and heart-wrenching to see poverty and hunger here in our own country. Serving others was also a great blessing, and I became more resolved to put my discipleship into action. My love of writing, led to opportunities to offer devotions for the Society of St. Andrew.

Our church has a food pantry and six years ago, we hosted a potato drop, followed by another drop this past March. During planning for our most recent drop, we wondered if we would have enough volunteers or find enough funding. Yet, as the day unfolded, I will never forget the sight of circles of youth and adults, numbering over 200 and representing not only our church members but also faith communities from throughout the area. All were working together to bag potatoes for our neighboring food banks and pantries to help feed our hungry brothers and sisters.

During Advent, we often find ourselves asking, what gift can we bring to the Christ child? I believe Jesus is calling us to open our hearts and minds and find ways to serve others, to be “His hands and feet.”

Prayer: Lord, help us discern where we can bring gifts of service to those less fortunate then ourselves. Amen.

  – Bob Brooks – Fredericksburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 23, 2019 – Unqualified Evangelists

Scripture: Luke 2:18

18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

In my 20s, I told my pastor “I’m happy to serve where needed, but don’t expect me to enroll anyone.” Unmentioned was my insecurity about asking people to share their time and talent – it felt too much like being an evangelist. I didn’t feel qualified.

For the next three decades, the Lord then placed me in positions where I had to trust the Holy Spirit for the prayerful enrollment of hundreds of people. I came to realize that folks who’d been on the fringe grew closer to Jesus as they shared their God-given gifts in service to Christ’s Church.

We need only to look within our own families and neighborhoods to recognize the spiritual hunger of people trying to numb their pain and fill their emptiness with things of this weary world. No matter our age or the choices made in the past, we all can be evangelists, pointing those who hunger and thirst to the Savior!

God chose as the first bearers of the Good News those who were among the lowliest of society, shepherds. Those shepherds remind us that one does not need a college education, or ordination as a deacon or elder, to proclaim the Gospel. Anyone who encounters God’s Son is qualified to share the hope that He offers.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be like the shepherds, telling everyone we meet of Your arrival. Help us to partner with You: comforting the brokenhearted, offering hope to those in despair. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

  – Katy Yates Brungraber – Chambersburg, PA

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 22, 2019 – An Underappreciated Parent

Scripture: Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Growing up, we did not have the nicest things. I remember thinking my friends had more of this and a better that. I knew our family income was lower than average, and I felt my parents couldn’t have cared less about my wants and needs. Like the time we ate Spam® every night for dinner, for a week…

My mother dressed it differently and added sides, but there was no disguising that square meat on my plate. I assumed she cared nothing for my taste. As an adult, I know the truth of those meals: they had come from a food pantry.

Remembering that Spam®, I recognize the truth: my mother, underappreciated, set her pride aside to feed her children every day. I was so self-focused as a youth that I overlooked my blessings. I had a home, siblings, and parents who ensured that we ate a hot meal every night that week.

Now, I believe that it was written in the stars that hunger would be a cause near to my heart. I work every day to ensure other families have fresh food to eat when they are hungry. I believe there is more than enough to feed people who are in need. It requires us to put others first by giving our time, talents, and resources, but I’m dedicated because everyone deserves to eat, every day.

Prayer: Perfect Father, without recognition and appreciation, You sent Your Son to be born into this world, to lay down His life and to provide for us. Thank You. Amen.

  – Andy Lemmon – Brandon, MS

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 21, 2019 – The Share Table

Scripture: Psalm 36:7-8

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.

One of the distinctive things about my seminary is the “share table.” It’s a table that people put leftover food and drinks for students to take for free. When someone passes the share table, you can tell whether they are an undergraduate or a graduate student: the graduate students always stop. Not everything that’s put on the share table is good, but sometimes something’s put there that’s so delicious that people don’t just get some—they go and tell their friends.

In Psalm 36, the Psalmist writes that God’s people “feast upon the abundance” of His house and “drink from the river” of His delights. The table that God sets is always full of good things, and those good things are always for sharing. Much like the share table at my school, those who have tasted God’s good gifts can’t help but go and tell others about them.

This season, many of us will set our tables for feasts with family and friends. As we do, we’ll do well to remember all the ways God has fed us and to look forward to the opportunity to invite others to the table to share.

Prayer: God, you sent Jesus to be born in a barn and to sleep in the place where animals are fed. Make us always ready to taste your goodness and to welcome others to the banquet you have planned since before the beginning of the world. Amen.

  – Micah Dennis – Durham, NC

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 20, 2019 – Radiance and Risk

Scripture: Matthew 2:2

and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

I remember a night so quiet that I could actually hear my heartbeat. It was as if God and nature were conspiring to captivate my senses by the deprivation of a few of them. The stars were close enough to touch, or so it seemed, and I stood bathed in their brilliance and my insignificance.

I can only imagine the radiance of His star, seen by wisdom seekers on that long ago journey. Perhaps it was the shared DNA of stardust that caused them to look up in awe and absolute recognition. Intuited and driven from a knowing deep within, they stepped out into the unknown darkness guided only by faith and starlight.

Whether faith pulled or pushed me, I entered a spiritual formation program many years ago. I was seeking direction for my life, having no clear-cut idea what that would look like. Each diverse offering in that course fed me, opened every sense, most acutely my hearing. Now, listening deeply is what I do. It is a most humble blessing to accompany others on their journey as they look to follow the Starmaker.

Prayer: Infinite and loving God, open our awareness and continue to guide us by Your light. Reach into our lives, fill us with your radiance and bless the risks we take for love’s sake. Amen.

  – Nancy Severin – Fort Morgan, CO

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 19, 2019 – Searching…

Scripture: Matthew 7:7

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? For me, searching is a valuable part of faith-building. An agnostic friend has spent many hours, often long into the night, asking me why I believe in God. Often, he exasperatedly says something like “If there was really a God, why wouldn’t He just reveal Himself? Write it up in the sky so that there wouldn’t be any question?”

My friend wants to throttle me when I say “then there would be no need for faith.” I love Gary, but he just doesn’t get it. God wants us to choose to believe. God didn’t want us to just pop out into the universe and grovel at His feet. He could have made beings like that… but then where would the joy be in that? He created all these unique and interesting beings and wants to have an individual, unique, vibrant relationship with each one, by choice.

My choice to be in relationship with God changes the way that I interact with the world because I recognize others as ALSO beloved by God. Is it always easy?  No.  Is it worth the effort?  Yes.

Prayer: Lord, give me the strength and patience to be a real representative of Your lovingkindness in a hurting world. Help me to continue my quest to grow closer to You, trusting that You are always near. Amen.

  – Chris Howell – Lynchburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 18, 2019 – When Did You See Him?

Scripture: Matthew 25:42-45

42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

I remember taking my young daughters to Tijuana, Mexico for a day trip. We gave them each an amount of money that they could use to buy a souvenir of their visit. As we walked the streets of Tijuana, we saw evidence of so much hunger: hunger of the heart, hunger of the body and hunger of the soul.

My daughter, Jennifer, stopped in front of a young mother who was sitting on the ground cradling her very young baby and holding out a cup asking for help. Jennifer’s eyes filled with tears. She looked at the purse that held her money, took all of it and poured it into the woman’s cup. Jennifer “saw the light” of the truth that Jesus brought.

It is when we feed each other in heart, body or soul that we see Him; we see the light of Christ alive in our world. The Wise Men searched for the light until they found the truth. So may we.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, hear our prayers. May the dark corners of our world and our lives be transformed by Your way of loving one another as we have been loved. That is the truth that is written in the star of Your birth and shines in the hearts of those who live this truth. It is in Your Holy and brightly shining name that we pray.  Amen.

  – Diane Zehr, – Carmel, IN

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 17, 2019 – Man Plans, and God Laughs

Scripture: Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

I’ve always loved the Yiddish expression: “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”  We are a planning people, setting goals and working to achieve them.  I wish I could go back to my 18 year old self and see where she thought I would be at this midpoint in my life.  I had a lot of plans then and felt like my life had a purpose.

But life has taken me on some twists and turns. In 1987, my husband and I moved to Charlotte, NC more than a thousand miles from home. We knew no one. He went to work each day, and I was home with my beautiful baby, but so lonely.

Flash forward: I joined a church, made friends, wrote for the local paper, and did hundreds of hours of volunteer work, from building houses to tutoring adults in English as a Second Language. After a while, I went to work full-time. I had found a purpose and a place.

Eventually, unhappy in my private-sector job, I took the plunge and came to work for Society of St. Andrew. I had grown up on a farm, organized volunteers for church and PTA, and was passionate about hunger issues. It helped me find a renewed purpose. Purpose is the path that passion finds to accomplish its goals.

Prayer: Like the Wise Men following a star, let us follow our passions to do Your will.  Amen.

  – Jean Blish Siers – Charlotte, NC

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 16, 2019 – Wonders Will Unfold

Scripture: Psalm 150:6

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

I’ve always loved dogs, from my childhood dog, Penny, to all the sweet puppies we’ve had over the years. The dogs that brought my purpose in life into focus, though, were a couple of littermates that “accidentally” helped us start a pet ministry in our church.

After losing our favorite dog, we were looking for a new puppy. The night before we met her, my daily devotional said “Wonders will unfold…” When we saw the litter, one was just beautiful, but, surprisingly, we were also drawn to one that looked a little different, the one that wasn’t “perfect.” When we held her, she nibbled our ear in a way that was like God whispering “Choose this one.” So, Angel came home with us too!

Later, my husband encountered a friend who said “If you want to get your dogs certified as therapy dogs, let me know.” The next week my minister offhandedly mentioned that a member suggested we get our dogs trained as therapy dogs so we could take them to nursing homes. Immediately, I said: “I can make that happen!” Over the last 12 years, through the church, we have trained many dogs to become therapy dogs.

Our therapy dogs visit the homebound and nursing homes. They greet the children at worship and console hurting people at the Advent “Blue Christmas” service. God uses our dogs to bring joy, comfort and healing. Wonders will unfold…

Prayer: Oh God, let every living thing praise Your Holy name.  Amen.

  – Gayle Fiser – Little Rock, AR

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 15, 2019 – No Blind Faith

Scripture: Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The Magi took a “leap of faith,” okay, a ride of faith, as they set out to find the one born King of the Jews. It was not a blind leap. Working with what they knew of the God-created natural world, they were able to read the unique signs and follow a-once-in-a-lifetime event to the King of kings.

What led me to my Christian faith was that I was never expected to offer a blind faith. I grew up with an inquiring mind and a love of science; I have always asked “Why?” God, through His Word and my experience, has never been put off by those questions. Yes, there are times when God has to respond to my “Why?” with “Because My ways are not your ways,” but those times of faith come only after many times of him patiently honoring my seeking heart, often answering the same question more than once.

In leadership, I have tried to feed peoples’ hunger by encouraging them to examine what the Bible says and never be afraid to ask questions. I help them recognize that there is faith involved in following the King. God does amazing things to bring us His Good News but always with logic and purpose. We have to trust previous signs, answer and eagerly go where He leads us.

Prayer: Lord, challenge us each day to follow wherever You lead and help us remember You are always trustworthy and faithful. Amen.

  – Joe Phipps – Fairfield, IA

A Merry Christmas at Central Church!

Central Church is known in our community as the Church that provides hot, nutritious and free meals to anyone coming through our doors – from our Luncheons every Tuesday to the Dinners every Friday, and even Breakfasts on two Saturdays each month.

So far in 2019, with the help of dedicated volunteers and generous partners, we have provided over 13,000 free meals to the members of our community, and more continue to come to us as we move into the heart of Advent and the Christmas season.

It’s at Christmas time that need is especially felt, particularly with the little boys and girls who come with their parents to eat with us.

Central Church’s doors decorated for Christmas

This year, something special is happening at Central.  Today we received over six large boxes filled to the brim with Christmas toys and stocking stuffers from the Dollar Tree stores in our area.

These toys were given by our local Lions Club for distribution to children in our area, and, due to the extensive community offerings that we provide, the Lions Club tells us that they look to Central Church as the “pulse of our community”!

We have shared some of these gifts with our friends at the SOMA Gathering on 14th Street to help support their own, distinctive outreach ministries, and with Jayme Dickson to help support her Church’s outreach to the youth of downtown Beaver Falls.  (As you may know, Jayme and her group provide a Sunday evening meal and worship service once a month at Central Church for our downtown youth and their parents.)

Our grateful thanks to our friends at our area Dollar Tree stores, and to the continuing, generous community outreach and spirit of our local Lions Club.  Together, we continue to strive to extend a very Merry Christmas to all of our friends and neighbors in downtown Beaver Falls.  As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, everyone!”



Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 14, 2019 – Written in the Stars

Scripture: Psalm 19:1

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

What is written in the stars? In 1949, as a junior in high school, I wrote my first research paper entitled “Cosmology.” I could find almost nothing on the subject apart from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Today, with the help of land and space-based telescopes, those same stars proclaim the all but unfathomable glory of God’s Creation. Those man-made lenses, like our own at night, bring together information from sources thousands and millions and billions of light years away; they come together in our eyes to make up the present in which we live. All that stupendous amount of data tells us there are trillions of planets “in the habitable zone”— like our earth.

But from all this astonishing and fascinating data, we glean nothing at all about how to live with others or even with ourselves. That knowledge came to us from another star, seen two thousand years ago and shining still in our hearts. By that Light, the darkness of sin and evil can be overcome: to feed the hungry, to give sight to the blind, to heal the sick and visit those imprisoned, to bring justice to those harmed by prejudice and enmity—and, most of all, to save us, by the enlightenment of Christ, from narrow minds and constricted hearts.

Prayer: Lord, take our minds and think with them, take our lips and speak through them, and take our hearts and set them on fire for love of You!  Amen.

  – Richard N. Soulen – Williamsburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 13, 2019 – Festive Feasting

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

I like to eat. Do you? I am not a “foodie” in any cultivated sense with an appreciation of expensive or exotic cuisine, but as my former parishioners know, I do like to eat.

Reared by my family from North Mississippi, I grew up relishing seconds and thirds of homegrown vegetables and cornbread with fried chicken on Sundays. As a boy, I enjoyed homemade biscuits freshly baked by my mom every morning. With that background it might be no surprise that I would become a United Methodist minister and that the importance of food would mark my lifelong ministry, especially through the Society of St Andrew.

Likewise, as I completed my doctorate in liturgy at the University at Notre Dame, John Wesley’s distinctive emphasis upon constant communion at the Lord’s Supper, both as a means of grace and forgiveness and as a converting ordinance, came to be the focal point of my local church ministry and teaching as an adjunct seminary professor.

Underlining the direct commands of Jesus in my Bible one day, I was astonished to realize how few and simple they were. “Do this in memory of me” in the Upper Room and “you feed them” by the lakeshore are words that we all can obey with thanksgiving as we gather at the Lord’s Table and feed the hungry.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, like the Magi, we seek to worship Jesus. Help us share His love with all who hunger in body or soul. Amen.

  – William Nash Wade – Strasburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 12, 2019 – From Seed to Bloom

Scripture: Proverbs 16:9 –

In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.

I had great plans for myself: I was going to become a geophysical engineer and study earthquakes and volcanoes. Now, 40 years later, I reflect on my life and see where God planted the seeds for me to grow into what He intended me to be.

Growing up, I periodically drove past a tent city. During the winter, I would see the residents hovering around fires. I wanted to collect blankets and deliver them to the residents, but I had no resources to accomplish this. Several years later, I learned about Habitat for Humanity, although I was not in a position to get involved at that time.

After my first retirement, I moved to rural North Carolina and held a variety of part-time positions. These jobs allowed me to be more involved in church life and volunteering. My church partnered with other churches in town to support a feeding program, and I volunteered in that program which offered a free dinner one day a week.

When I retired for the second time, I had time to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, and now I work part-time with them, helping applicants become homeowners. I had planned to spend my life in engineering, but the good Lord had another purpose for me, steadily guiding me to the concept of “everyone deserves a home.”

Prayer: Lord, as I look at the opportunities ahead of me, may I always pray not my will, but Thine be done. Amen.

  – Susan Keith – Rutherfordton, NC

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 11, 2019 – Following His Will

Scripture: James 1: 17-18

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

After graduating from college, I returned to school to become certified as an elementary school teacher. It was a job I thought I’d have for many years, but when my children were born, I felt led to stay home with them. As they grew older, I considered returning, but no longer feeling led to deal with the shenanigans of second graders, I wondered if I would ever teach again.

Then, miraculously, later in life when most teachers are retiring, I was offered a job as an English as a Second Language teacher in a county adult education program. The job required all of the knowledge I had used academically, as well as skills I had learned as a mother. As a literacy teacher, I had classrooms filled with people from all over the world, who not only needed to learn English, they needed love, patience, encouragement, and someone to tell them it was okay to make mistakes, like I had taught my children.

Sometimes our purpose in life changes. But at every stage of our life we can be sure that God, Who never changes and Who is the giver of every good gift, will give us opportunities to use our gifts and equip us with abilities necessary to fulfill His purpose for us.

Prayer: Father, thank you for Your many gifts, the greatest among them being your son, Jesus. Help us to be wise enough to always seek Your will. Amen.

  – Regina K. Carson – Chesterfield, VA

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 10, 2019 – Growing into Leadership

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-2

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Well, Miss Overby, what do you think?

That was the question put to me that summer. It was a defining moment in my ministry, though truth be told, most everything that summer was. I had just graduated from seminary, and was within my first month as the pastor of the four-church charge.

The question was about the roof… should they replace it or repair it? In that moment, I was so surprised to be asked and so unprepared for that question. Yes, I felt equipped to be in the pulpit and to lead Bible Study; I was eager to baptize babies; and I was prepared to make hospital visits and conduct funerals. But roofs, I knew nothing about roofs! So, I turned the question back to them, “I don’t know.” Then I asked: “What do you think you should do?”

In that exchange, I discovered ways of leadership that have continued to guide me in ministry long past the time that I was 24 and untested as a clergy leader. I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know,” and I seek to empower those who are invested. The leaders at that small church had everything they needed to make a decision: they knew their need, what it would take to fix the problem, and what resources they had.

Prayer: Gracious and holy God, give us Your wisdom so that others may lead from their gifts in service to Your Kingdom. In Christ incarnate, we pray. Amen.

  – Kathleen Overby Webster – Roanoke, VA

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 9, 2019 – Feeding Hungry People

Scripture: Matthew 25:40

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Wednesday dinner for about forty church members was progressing as usual when two men entered the hallway, and one of them said, “We hear that you serve food here.” “We do,” I replied, “Won’t you come and join us”? That was how it all got started.

One man was white and one man was black. One could hardly tell the difference. They appeared to have been working in asphalt or some other dirty job all day. I imagined that their appetites were active so I fed them generously, and they responded to the challenge of eating a hearty dinner.

They thanked us graciously, and I invited them back for next Wednesday’s dinner. They came and each brought a friend. It has all been in God’s hands since then. In fact, it was in His hands before this point, I just didn’t realize this was the start of Lynchburg, VA’s Parkview Community Mission, whose programs and outreach extend throughout Central Virginia. It is no secret what God can do!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the many ways that You surprise us, the many ways that You use us, and the many ways that You show us Your love. Amen.

  – Dodie Fauber – Lynchburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 8, 2019 – Celestial Navigation

Scripture: Psalm 32: 8

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Navy ship navigators have often relied on the stars to determine the ship’s position. Of course, over the years with all of our technology improvements, navigating by the stars has become a bit of a lost art.

When the Magi saw the star in the East so many years ago, they immediately began their trek to find the Baby while following the star. Often today, many of us wish it was that easy. Our lives get busy, and we forget to look for that piece of guidance that we need.

In the pitch-black of the night, looking up to the heavens allows us to see how hard it must have been for the Magi to see the star and continue on their way. But then we go back inside into the light, and we tend to lose our way.

Time spent in solitude studying the Word helps us each day to get a little closer to finding our Lord and Savior. Only then do we realize that He was never far away but actually right beside us all the time…

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for always being there to guide me when I falter and lose my way in both the good times and the dark times of my life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

  – Denny Engle – Gautier, MS

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 7, 2019 – Artistic Identity

Scripture: Genesis: 1:1-5, 31

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Artists identify their creations with a distinctive signature or mark; so why shouldn’t God, the Master Artist, do the same? I see His signature on unfolding flower buds and tiny hummingbirds. The ever-changing shapes and colors of the daytime sky display his unmistakable handiwork as do the awesome lights in the night sky. Moon, stars, meteors, comets . . . we know what they are, but their creation is still beyond the limits of most people’s imagination.

The Star of Bethlehem was likely a comet. I watched the Hale-Bopp Comet’s journey when it was “in my neighborhood” and understand the fascination and urge to follow it. I would have had no reason to follow except to keep watching!

The Magi believed in the prophecy of a Messiah, and they recognized the celestial sign when they saw it. They did not just sit around and talk about it. They acted upon their belief and followed the star.

Prayer: Thank You, God, for sharing the awesome beauty of Your creation with us. Remind us to say “Thank You” more often. Amen.

  – Carolyn P. Maness – Lynchburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 6, 2019 – The Work of Faith

Scripture: Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

As a seminary student while sitting in an auditorium, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart saying “God’s Hands & Feet Global Ministry will feed my sheep.” I had never heard of that ministry, and there was a good reason for that: it was the work that the Lord was calling me to, but it hadn’t been birthed yet.

Years later, I stepped out in faith. Answering the call I had heard from the Lord, I began gathering food, placing it in baskets, and giving those baskets to individuals and families at holiday time. We also began to stock a food pantry for those facing hunger on a regular basis. Along with the physical food, we always included spiritual food in the form of devotional booklets and prayer.

Over the years, God’s Hands & Feet Global Ministry has been blessed to minister to and feed thousands who were hungry both physically and spiritually by the grace, mercy, and provision of God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the birth of baby Jesus and the star that guided the Magi seeking to worship Him. May we continue to worship Him in thought, word, and deed in Jesus name. Amen.

  – Tracy Porter – Pasadena, CA

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 5, 2019 – Dreams Interrupted

Scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

In my sophomore year in college, I received an ROTC Nurse’s Scholarship. I was elated at the thought of having a great career, a chance to travel and carry on a family military tradition. Yet my plan was not what God had in mind.

With the added demands of ROTC, my first year of Nursing School was extremely stressful. By the following December, I couldn’t do it anymore and was forced to make some big decisions. Over Christmas break, I heard a “still, small voice” say “Go back, no questions, trust me.” Despite discouragement from family, I headed back to campus.

As I explored different professions, I found a major that seemed to be a match—Rehabilitation Counseling. The idea of helping people with disabilities become employed intrigued me. Within 3 years I had my master’s degree. Flash forward 25 years: I’ve lost count of the number of students and adults I’ve had the privilege to serve!

Isn’t it just like God to use broken dreams to re-awaken our spirits? Only after our struggles, can we be open to fulfilling His purpose for our lives.

Prayer: God of us all, we thank you for awe-inspiring insight. Like that bright, shining star in the East, remind us of the gifts You’ve bestowed on us so we can further enhance Your Kingdom on Earth. O, come, O come Emmanuel. Amen.

  – Kelly Desclos-Estes – Montross, VA

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 4, 2019 – The Circuitous Route

Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11-14

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[a] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Before coming to college in Virginia, I read a LOT of John Grisham novels and was certain that God was calling me to be a firebrand, pro bono lawyer for those poor souls who were innocent but unable to hire a good lawyer. Then reality kicked in, and I found myself instead an English and religion double major… who was called to ministry.

Thanks to my involvement in campus ministries, I saw two broad groups of adult leaders: either adults who knew the Bible really well and judged others because of its rules and regulations, or adults who were free-wheeling, love everyone types… who couldn’t answer any difficult questions.

I wanted to provide a different option, and asked God what I should do. One by one, people emerged to point me in the direction of seminary. I went sight unseen to a theological school and learned quite a bit in the classroom while also learning even more from the relationships I experienced.

Twenty years later, I’ve served in varying capacities in the United Methodist Church, including now as an elder, sharing the gospel as best I can. I’m no lawyer, but without John Grisham, I might never have ended up here in Virginia. This is where God’s purpose for my life found me.

Prayer: Holy God, help us to hear You even if we can’t see You and to know Your peace as we wait to see the way. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

  – Jacob Sahms – Midlothian, VA

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 3, 2019 – The Heavens Declare

Scripture: Psalm 19:1-4a

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

On a clear moonless evening one person looks up and sees a multitude of stars and says, “Wow!”

Another person looks up and names the stars and galaxies.

A third person looks up and sees God’s marvelous handiwork, like a fine Swiss watch, every star on its path and time schedule, so accurate sailors have used stars to guide them!

So it is with God’s love and care for us, dependable and on schedule. The Wise Men read it in the stars and acted upon it.

During this season of Advent, we can trust that God will be with us and provide. God may use you and me to show His love to a weary and waiting world. The heavens declare His glory and love to a waiting and weary world that is waiting for us to interpret God’s love in the birth of His son, our Lord and Savior.

When you look up into the sky, what do you see?

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for revealing Your glory to us and asking us to share it to a hurting and waiting world. Amen.

  – Sam Ramirez – Lakeland, FL

Effective Stewardship – Month #16

God expects us to pay our debts.

“The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,

but the righteous are generous and keep giving” (Psalm 37:21).


The Scripture does not forbid debt or borrowing. Nor does it in any way encourage us to borrow or to go into debt. In fact, debt in the Bible is frequently referred to in a negative connotation.

But the Bible is very clear in describing how we should deal with debt. Simply stated, we are to pay our debts. Psalm 37:21 uses an old-fashioned word to describe borrowing money or creating a debt and then failing to repay it. The Psalmist describes such behavior as “wicked.”

One of the most important questions to ask when considering creating a debt is whether or not we have the ability to repay it. To go into debt without the ability to repay or a plan for repayment is actually presuming upon the grace and goodness of God.

Honesty and integrity — especially concerning our debts — should be the hallmark of every Christian. How we handle our financial obligations can and does speak volumes to our family, friends, and business associates. There is simply no way we can expect to receive God’s full hand of blessing in our lives when we have failed to show His love to others by paying what we owe them. That’s why the Psalmist added this striking contrast to his description of the wicked man who borrows and fails to repay: “ . . . the righteous are generous and keep giving.”

In his instructions to Christians at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul urged them to walk in an honest manner, especially with respect to those outside the church. When we pay our debts, when we live lives marked by integrity and honesty, then we literally fulfill Matthew 5:16. Our good works (including paying our debts) shine as lights in the world, which men see and in turn glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Or as Larry Burkett put it, “Money merely reflects to the outside world what is going on inside each of us.” And that is nowhere more apparent than in how we deal with our debts.

Annie Johnson Flint wrote:

            Christ has no hands but our hands

                        To do His work today;

            He has no feet but our feet

                        To lead men in His way;

            He has no tongue but our tongues

                        To tell men how He died;

            He has no help but our help

                        To bring them to His side.

            We are the only Bible

                        The careless world will read;

            We are the sinner’s Gospel,

                        We are the scoffer’s creed;

            We are the Lord’s last message

                        Written in deed and word.

            What if the line is crooked?

                        What if the type is blurred.

John Wesley summed it up this way: “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.”

As you give to the ministry here at Central United Methodist Church this morning, is your giving to God in any way in conflict with how you pay your bills?

Or, stated another way, do people know you’re a child of God by how you handle your debts?

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 2, 2019 – Star Light, Star Bright…

Scripture: Matthew 5:16

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I love looking at the stars on crisp winter evenings. I am amazed when I think that the light I see is not the light they are shining now, but from years ago. Many years. The light from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth, takes four years to reach here. Light from Polaris, the North Star, takes 680 years.

Most of the stars we see without a telescope took a few hundred years for their light to reach us, though some of them took up to 2,000 years. When we look at a star, we are seeing light from the past. What the star shone before lights our dark night.

In the same way, our good deeds light up the dark nights for the future. People will remember how we fed, healed, taught, welcomed, and forgave others long after it happens. That’s why we remember the loving deeds of the past. They light our nights, and ours will light the future.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before people, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) 

When we share our food with others, when we give them hope for the future, we are lighting up their night sky and the sky for years to come. Star light, star bright…

Prayer: Almighty God, Creator of the stars and Father of Jesus, let us do things in Your name that light up the world. Amen.

  – Michael Henderson – Florence, SC

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 1, 2019 – A Baby Changes Everything

Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

My long time girlfriends and I have always met several times each year. We grew up, attended school and experienced life together, the good as well as the bad. One particular Christmas, we met at a centrally located dinner theater, arriving early to exchange gifts and catch up on each other’s lives.

As we shared around the table, the news was upsetting. A husband’s cancer had returned, a daughter, a young mother herself, was in her last days of fighting her terminal illness. A family member of another friend, was falsely accused, arrested, jailed, and then released with all charges dismissed. As I considered sharing about one of my son’s serious health issues, unemployment and marital problems, another friend spoke up. She avoided mentioning her own recent life-changing surgery, but instead, she shared pictures of her beautiful new grandchild. The mood went from somber to celebration. A baby changes everything.

Over 2,000 years ago, during challenging times, God sent a baby, His only begotten son, to save the world. The mood changed then too, to one of joy and hope, just as my friends and I had experienced.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for the most precious Christmas gift ever given, Your son. Amen.

– Carolyn Lee Purdy – Harrisonburg, VA