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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Tackling the TV Threat – Why TV Threatens Families

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: We are … fighting against … the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. Ephesians 6:12

Bonus Reading: Psalm 128:1-6

What societal threat poses the greatest threat to Christian families?  According to a survey of FamilyLife Conference guests we conducted, it’s television.

Why?  Because …

  • TV replaces real relationships.

Communication ceases when the TV is turned on. Who can compete with million-dollar commercials, and programs that parade sexy bodies in front of us? I agree with Erma Bombeck, who said that if a woman has a husband who watches three consecutive TV football games on a Saturday, she should have him declared legally dead and have his estate probated!

  • TV often undermines the commitments and moral integrity that bind a family together.

Shows that honor the family have been replaced by sitcoms that glorify adultery, premarital sex, and perverted behavior.

  • TV robs families of time—both in quality and quantity.

After attending a marriage conference, one dad went home, unplugged the TV, and lugged it to the garage. In its place he hung a picture of the family. Their five-year-old-son stared at the portrait; then he looked up at his dad and asked, “Does this mean we’re going to be a family now?”

—Dennis Rainey in Moments Together for a Peaceful Home

My Response: A positive alternative to tube time I could lead my family in is …

Thought to Apply: It is not that [TV content] is always directly hurtful. The evil lies rather in the forfeiture of what the child might be doing if not watching. —George Kennan

Adapted from Moments Together for a Peaceful Home (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.

 

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Tackling the TV Threat – TV Takeover

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.  – Proverbs 4:23

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 4:18-27

For years Barb and I had two TVs in the home—the family room and the master bedroom. We’d routinely invite the kids to plop on our bed just before bedtime. On occasion, if there was something interesting on, we’d watch TV together.

When Scott turned 15, he asked if he could have a TV in his bedroom. Because I wasn’t as sensitized to this issue as I am now, I discounted Barb’s concerns and told Scott he could get a TV as long as he bought it with his own money.

What a mistake!  That TV was like a large magnet for Scott, who was sucked into his bedroom about 15 seconds after he finished his last bite of dessert, and we wouldn’t see him again until the next morning.

It pulled him away from our family, and we had no idea what he watched. I have a sneaking suspicion Scott succumbed to the temptation to watch late-night television shows on school nights, which cut into his sleep time and made him more tired in the morning.

Allowing teens to watch what they want when they want is like inviting a total stranger who doesn’t share your values to spend a lot of quality time with them.

—Walt Larimore in God’s Design for a Highly Healthy Teen

My Response: How am I exercising spiritual leadership of my family’s viewing habits?

Adapted from God’s Design for a Highly Healthy Teen (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.

 

Tackling the TV Threat – 3 Entertainment Industry Lies

TV InfluenceWho Said It …Michael Medved

Michael Medved is a radio talk show host and veteran film critic.  After his Hollywood vs. America was published in 1992, the entertainment establishment denounced him as “a Nazi” and “a fundamentalist Christian fanatic.”

That, says Michael, is “no way to talk about a nice Jewish boy.”  As a Yale freshman, he suffered frostbite in Omaha while hitchhiking home to California in tennis shoes. By the time he graduated, Michael had hitchhiked more than 80,000 miles!

What He Said …3 Entertainment Industry Lies

1.  It’s only entertainment; it doesn’t influence anybody.

Advertisers wouldn’t be paying multiple millions of dollars airing commercials and supporting programs that influenced no one. Networks wouldn’t be pulling out all the stops to increase their shows’ ratings if it truly were “only entertainment.”

2.  We just reflect reality.  Don’t blame us, blame society.

About 7 of the approximately 350 characters appearing on primetime television each evening are murdered. If this homicide rate reflected the real world, then in less than two months every person in America would be killed and the last left could turn off the TV.

3.  We give the public what it wants.  If people don’t like it, they can turn it off.

For over two decades, G- and PG-rated films for family audiences have earned twice as much as R-rated films. But instead of increasing production of lower-rated films, Hollywood has upped the number of R-rated films to nearly two-thirds of all releases. Many of these R titles never even earn a profit for their producers.

Adapted from Reader’s Digest (10/95)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Loving Spouse and Family

FamilyThe religious experts arrived from the big city to check out reports of irregularities in the hinterland.

But in response to the first question on their checklist, Jesus countered with a more basic question: what was the basis for the checklist itself?

He then condemned their nifty attempt to checkmate the clear teaching of the law by misapplying another regulation (Numbers 30:2).

Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 15:3-6

  1. What are some traditions that add richness and meaning to life?
  2. When do traditions cross a line from good to wrong (v. 3)?
  3. Is the biblical concept of “honor” limited to showing love and respect (v. 5)?
  4. Does our society’s tradition of living in nuclear rather than extended families release us from an obligation to care for them personally?
  5. Do our society’s “traditions” of corporate and governmental pension and health care provisions release us from an obligation to provide financially for our parents?
  6. Can you think of other ways in which we may have substituted man-made expectations for God’s commands?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you determine how you should observe the Fifth Commandment in a manner that honors Him, as well as your parents.

Matthew 15:3-6

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.’

5 But you say, ‘You don’t need to honor your parents by caring for their needs if you give the money to God instead.’ 6 And so, by your own tradition, you nullify the direct commandment of God.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Softened “Fence Post”

FamilyKey Bible Verse: His father said to him, “Look, dear son, you and I are very close … ” Luke 15:31

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12

Running a Kansas farm with his parents and six brothers and sisters taught Marvin solid values that would serve him well as a surgeon. But after he left the farm for college, Marvin began to feel an elusive void. It gradually took the shape of a simple sentence he and his father had never spoken to each other: I love you. Marvin knew his father loved him. But his love was understood, not felt. And it was something, like respect, to be earned. As he learned of better, deeper relationships, Marvin longed for more.

On a break from college, Marvin spoke those three words, “I love you,” and hugged his father. His father remained silent—cold yet compliant, unsure of what to do with his emotions. “It felt like hugging a fence post,” Marvin recalls.

But he repeated the scene during the next six months. The response to his words and hugs was always an unbroken silence. But after the tenth time, Marvin’s father looked his son in the eyes and said, “Son, I love you, too.”

This turning point “opened up unexplored territory in our relationship,” Marvin says. Over time, he and his father were able to share heart-to-heart their dreams, failures, and joys.

—Ken Canfield in The Heart of a Father

My Response: What “unexplored territory” do I need to probe with my father?

Thought to Apply: Love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.—Karl Menninger (psychiatrist)

Adapted from The Heart of a Father (Northfield, 1996)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Pumping Positives

FamilyKey Bible Verse: May God … give you grace and peace. Every time I think of you, I give thanks to God. Philippians 1:2-3

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 23:22-25

How many of us thank God every time we remember our parents? Almost everyone has negative memories of his childhood. But you can balance this with positive memories of your home. Here are pump primers to get these positive thoughts flowing:

  • Where did your parents take you on vacation, and what did you do?
  • What did you most enjoy doing with your dad? With your mom?
  • What was your favorite family tradition?
  • What were the family jokes?
  • What special phrases or nicknames did your family invent?
  • What was your favorite Christmas? Your favorite birthday?
  • What problems did your parents help you through when you were a teenager?
  • What values from your childhood home are you trying to pass on to your children?

As you think about these questions, thank God for the positive memories and their power to give your own home strength and stability. Write some of your thoughts down and send them in a letter to your parents. It’s a tangible way to let them know you wish them “grace and peace.”

—Dennis Rainey in Moments Together for Growing Closer to God

My Response: What are the positive childhood memories I’m grateful for?

Thought to Apply: The real histories of families aren’t the records of births, deaths, and marriages. They are the stories told after dessert.—Frederick Waterman (writer)

Adapted from Moments Together for Growing Closer to God (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Dad’s Mistake

FamilyKey Bible Verse: You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Colossians 3:13

Bonus Reading: Colossians 3:12-14

My love growing up was baseball. Dad worked long hours and didn’t come to my games. But my last year in Little League, we played the league-leading team in a real stadium! I was so proud to have Dad finally see me play center field. I got two hits off one of the league’s best pitchers. The game ended. I felt good, ready for Dad to congratulate me on my hitting. Instead: “You missed that fly ball. You should have charged it. You could have caught it.” I was devastated.

I held it against him for years. But then I started going to my son Sam’s games. As we’d drive home, it would take everything in me to not say, “You took a called strike three.” That’s when I really forgave Dad. Now I see that Dad saw the potential and wanted me to be better. He knew I could have caught that ball if I’d charged it. But all I could see back then was that I was a failure in his eyes.

Loving our parents means we quit holding their humanness against them. We let them be fallible, like us. God wants your parents to experience forgiveness from any place they can get it—especially from you.

—Paul Tokunaga in Faith on the Edge

My Response: I’ll ask God to dissolve resentment for how I may have been hurt by my parents.

Thought to Apply: Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.—Oscar Wilde (playwright)

Adapted from Faith on the Edge (InterVarsity, 1999)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Two Strings to Cut

FamilyKey Bible Verse: There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Luke 12:53

Bonus Reading: Exodus 18:13-27

The first apron string to sever is the counseling string. When issues arise between a husband and wife, they should never first call mom and dad for advice. Rather, using the principles laid out in God’s Word, they should prayerfully work out their own problems, seeking outside counsel only if necessary.

Setting up your own household doesn’t mean you must terminate the relationship with your parents. You’re to leave them, not forsake them or forgo all their influence. Their hard-won experience can still play a vital role in your lives. Consider the biblical examples of Naomi, the mother-in-law who had a beautiful relationship with her daughter-in-law Ruth. And recall Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who pulled him aside and told him he was working himself to death. Taking his advice made Moses’ service to God much more effective.

The second string to cut is the economic string. It’s hard for some married children to leave behind the security of the homes and lifestyles in which they grew up. But if you want a healthy marriage, you must leave the “safety net” of your parents behind and create your own “home, sweet home.”

—Ed Young in The 10 Commandments of Marriage

My Response: One way I can still benefit from parental experience is …

Thought to Apply: Behind every successful man is a proud wife and a surprised mother-in-law. —Hubert H. Humphrey (American politician, vice president)

Adapted from The 10 Commandments of Marriage (Moody, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Commuter Marriage

FamilyKey Bible Verse: This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united. Genesis 2:24

Bonus Reading: Genesis 24:50-61

Doug’s dad had deserted, leaving his mom to sacrifice for her son’s welfare. So when Lisa, Doug’s new wife, began experiencing tensions with her mother-in-law, Doug sided with the woman who’d always been his hero—his mother. Whenever Doug suggested to Lisa changes in her behavior, she suspected he was parroting his mother’s concerns, and resisted. The icy intensity between wife and mother grew.

“How can I get Lisa to make these reasonable changes my mother wants her to make?” Doug asked his valued friend Sam.

“It sounds to me like you need to run away from home,” Sam said, quoting Genesis 2:24. “You’ve been trying to live in two homes. When you got married, you moved your stuff in with Lisa, but your heart never left your mother. This is your deal, my friend—not Lisa’s. Until you completely move in with Lisa, you’ll never get this fixed.”

Doug resolved that whenever Lisa and his mother were on opposite sides of an issue, he’d side with Lisa. Over the next months, Doug’s mother tried anger, tears, and guilt. Competing with Lisa, he told her, was a battle she’d lose.

—M. Robert Wolgemuth in The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life

My Response: Have I declared my primary loyalty to my wife in a way that’s clear to both her and my parents?

Adapted from The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

A Relationship Redefined – Forgotten Commandment

FamilyWho Said It …Dennis Rainey

Dennis Rainey is the executive director and cofounder of FamilyLife, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Dennis lives in Little Rock and has spoken at Promise Keepers events across North America. He serves as host of the daily radio program, FamilyLife Today, where Barbara, his wife, is a frequent guest.

What He Said …Forgotten Commandment

Honoring your parents is a command for children of all ages. There’s no exception clause that exempts you as an adult child from responsibility. But what does honoring your parents involve now?

Honoring your parents doesn’t place you back under their authority or give them permission to manipulate you. It’s not endorsing irresponsibility or sin by denying what they’ve done wrong as parents. It’s not flattering them by “emotionally stuffing” the mistakes they’ve made or denying the pain they may have caused you.

Honoring your parents does mean forgiving them as Christ has forgiven you. It means recognizing the sacrifices they made for you and what they did right. It means praising them for the legacy they’ve passed on to you. It means seeing them through the eyes of Christ, with understanding and compassion. It means taking the initiative to improve your relationship.

It’s an attitude accompanied by actions that say to your parents, “You are worthy. You have value. You’re the person God sovereignly placed in my life.”

Adapted from Moments Together for Growing Closer to God (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.

 

How God’s Word Works – Reading the Bible

Bible 2Timothy’s Jewish mother had made sure that he was taught the content of our Old Testament.

Some materials included in our New Testament weren’t yet written when Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy.

But others were already considered equal in authority to the Old Testament.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, for instance, he identified (in5:18) quotations from both Deuteronomy and Luke as Scripture.

Interact with God’s Word

2 Timothy 3:14-17

  1. What are some Old Testament truths about God and mankind that lay the groundwork (v. 15) for trusting in Jesus as the Messiah?
  2. How does the assertion of verse 16 that all Scripture is God-breathed make the Bible different from every other book?
  3. So what weight should you give its pronouncements as you evaluate other truth claims?
  4. How systematically are you internalizing truth benchmarks from God’s Word?
  5. How has Scripture made you realize that an area of your life has been deficient?
  6. How has Scripture prodded you to straighten out some aspect of your behavior?
  7. How fully equipped do you feel (v. 17) for living as a disciple? … for defending God’s truth?
  8. What influences could tempt you to not remain faithful (v. 14) to the truths of Scripture?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to use His Word in your life for its purpose: to strengthen your faith and lead you to do good.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17 It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

How God’s Word Works – Fade or Flourish?

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: These instructions are not mere words—they are your life! Deuteronomy 32:47

Bonus Reading: Psalm 19:7-11

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Fort Myers, Florida, is home to a small fern that grows on the trunk and limbs of many swamp trees.

The Audubon Companion Field Guide I bought at the entrance to the sanctuary asked, “Can you tell when the last rainfall occurred at Corkscrew? Check the resurrection fern.

If the leaves are curled, brown, and dead looking, rain has not fallen recently. However, within 30 minutes of a rainfall, the ‘dead’ leaves uncurl and return to a vibrant green.”

I am like the resurrection fern. Without the daily spiritual nourishment that the Scriptures provide, I’m often “curled, brown, and dead looking” too. At least that’s how I feel.

I’ve discovered that just six minutes a day with my Bible can make the difference between a dry, ordinary day and a refreshing, vibrant day.

It was a simple decision.

My wife Jane and I made the choice together. We stopped watching television. We cancelled the subscriptions to most of the magazines coming into our home.

Overnight, we created the free time we needed to devote to God. Now we begin each day in Scripture study and silent prayer. This spiritual resurrection has changed our lives!

—Cliff Denay Jr. in Michigan

My Response: In order to keep a time-slot reserved for refreshing from God’s Word, I’ll …

Thought to Apply: The Bible redirects my will, cleanses my emotions, enlightens my mind, and quickens my total being.—E. Stanley Jones (missionary to India)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

How do United Methodists understand Epiphany and Three Kings Day?

Epiphany is the day Christians remember the coming of the Magi to visit Jesus, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It occurs on January 6 every year, the 13th day of the Christmas season. The word “epiphany,” from the Greek word epiphania, means appearance or manifestation.

The arrival of these visitors was a sign that the incarnation of God in Christ had been made known and was recognized by the heavens to the whole world, so that even Gentile wise men from the East came to pay him homage. This is an observance of great majesty, solemnity and awe.

An even more ancient Christian celebration than Christmas, Epiphany originally focused on the nativity, God’s incarnation (God made flesh) in the birth of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s baptism.  After the late fourth century, as Advent developed as a season of baptismal preparation in addition to Lent, Epiphany became associated with baptism.  This is why we see images of the three Magi on many older baptismal fonts.

In many Hispanic cultures, Epiphany is a day of great rejoicing and celebration, often kicked off by a parade the night before in which people dressed as the three kings or carrying statues of the three kings pass through the towns and villages throwing out candy and small gifts to all around.  Families and children alike look forward to Dia de Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) as a time for presents, feasting and celebration.  Attending church services that include the celebration of communion is also common in many of these cultures, even for those who may not attend worship regularly.

In England and some other European cultures, January 5 is known as Twelfth Night, the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas feasting and partying.  On Twelfth Night, many families gather in homes to celebrate with friends, food, singing and gifts.  It is at these Twelfth Night celebrations that “Chalking the Door,” asking God’s blessing on those dwellings and upon all who live there, is most often observed.

In New Orleans, Twelfth Night begins another season of celebrations that comes to fulfillment at Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday). Epiphany itself, January 6, becomes the kickoff day for that season, but is also often observed with a full celebration in church, complete with incense, elaborate processionals, choral celebrations, and Eucharist.

Some United Methodists in the United States, who are not part of these rich traditions, tend to recognize Epiphany on the Sunday nearest January 6.  There may be a pageant of the three kings as part of worship that day and a small party afterward.

How God’s Word Works – Pay Dirt

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: I rejoice in your word like one who finds a great treasure.  – Psalm 119:162

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 2:2;2 Peter 3:15-16

Launching into my treasure-hunting hobby, I bought my first metal detector. The salesman gave me two pieces of advice. Once I found something buried, he told me, before filling in the hole, I should always scan the hole again. Where there was one coin, there’d often be others.

And secondly, he told me, never believe that a place has been “hunted out,” meaning that all the treasure has been taken. “For the patient hunter,” he said, “there’ll likely be another treasure waiting.”

I soon proved him right. I’d been told the site of a home built in the late 1700s was hunted out.

I obtained permission to hunt the property. I started scanning early one morning, and hunted for six hours without finding a thing. But just as I was ready to give up, I started getting signals—one right after the other. I dug out so many coins that they filled both of my pants pockets. One was an 1865 three-cent piece, worth about $70.

In the same way, new Christians desiring the milk of the Word can sweep over the Scriptures and find a host of marvelous treasures. And veteran students of the Bible can be sure that, no matter how much we dig, it will never be hunted out.

—Van Morris in PreachingToday.com

My Response: What very familiar parts of Scripture should I revisit?

Thought to Apply: If you want to grow in the Word of God, become a person with a chisel and quarry the Word—look, explore, seek.—Max Lucado (Texas pastor & writer)

Adapted from PreachingToday.com (12/05/05)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

This New Year, Build Character

We make New Year’s resolutions about money, fitness, diets, and technology.

But what about personal character?  And when choosing virtues to emulate, where should we start?

The Bible, Aristotle, and Aquinas aren’t bad places to start, says Jay Wood, a philosophy professor at Wheaton College, who has frequently written about this topic.

“What Christians have said about Aristotle is that he gives us good advice for how to flourish in a common human life,” said Wood.

“Aristotle’s virtues do not, however, prepare us for the life to come.  The great Christian teachers about virtue said we need to have the gifts that the Holy Spirit confers upon us in order to achieve the virtues.”

Just for reference, here’s Galatians 5:22–23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

 

How God’s Word Works – 31-Day Trial

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: For these commands and this teaching are a lamp to light the way ahead of you. Proverbs 6:23

Bonus Reading: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“I can’t read the Bible,” Brian said. “It’s way over my head. Nothing in it has anything to do with my life.”

“Brian,” his pastor responded, “why don’t you read just one chapter of the Book of Proverbs a day and see what happens?” The pastor knew that Brian had sat in church for years but never really tried to dig into the Bible.

Brian took the challenge. After a few weeks, he met with his pastor. “Well, Brian, did you learn anything?”

Brian looked embarrassed. “Yes,” he said, “I learned that I’m a fool, and so are most of my friends!”

“Why do you say that?” asked the pastor.

“Because most of the things Proverbs says about a fool apply to me and those I hang out with. Very few things it says about a wise person sounded like me and my friends.”

“What are you going to do about it?” the pastor asked. Brian had lots of answers that led to great conversation and, more importantly, to changes in his lifestyle.

“Do you still think the Bible has little to say to your life?” the pastor asked.

“Now,” Brian admitted, “I’m worried that it has too much to say!”

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: To more deliberately dig into the Bible, I need to …

Thought to Apply: It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.—Mark Twain (author)

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

How God’s Word Works – Active Ingredients

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: The word of God is living and active. … It penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  – Hebrews 4:12, NIV

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Like any father of three, I’m experienced at dispensing medicine. If he has a fever, give him Tylenol, or maybe Advil. If she has an ear infection, administer an antibiotic. If you’re going on a long plane ride, and really want them to sleep, give them Benadryl.

Medicine labels list active and inactive ingredients. Active ingredients address the problem at hand; inactive ingredients are extras, like flavorings and colorings. (We have a big red stain on the carpet upstairs from an inactive ingredient!)

Ever heard of the active ingredient Guaifenesin? If you’re not a pharmacist and you knew it was an expectorant, chances are you’ve spent bleary-eyed nights reviewing pharmaceutical names on the cold-medicine row at your local drug store.

We fill the rest of our lives with active and inactive ingredients. What better cure for life’s problems than the most active ingredient of all, the Bible?

It has a unique supernatural ability to address any problem you might have. But just like a medicine, it can’t work if it’s left on the shelf. Medicines must be taken to start working on the cells and tissues of the body.

The Bible must be taken—not just read, but consumed—if it is to go to work in the way God intends.

—Mark Geil in Georgia

My Response: I know God’s Word is at work in my life because …

Thought to Apply: Apply yourself totally to the text; apply the text totally to yourself.—Johann Bengel

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsHappy New Year!  2018 is officially in the books, and 2019 holds unlimited possibility.

The most common resolution is to get healthy—whether that means losing weight, working out, or a combination of the two.  But most plans for getting healthy lack a critical element: God’s Word.

While it might seem strange to consult the Bible for weight loss advice, Scripture has a lot to say about body issues.  God cares about our physical bodies.  We’re created with a purpose, and we must learn to take care of our bodies so we can fully live out that mission.

Why not make one of your resolutions this year to spend some time each day in God’s Word and learn what God has to say about our purpose and our bodies, and learn how to set realistic, achievable goals for living a healthy lifestyle?

 

How God’s Word Works – Cyber-Search Results

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: “My word … will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” Isaiah 55:11

Bonus Reading: Jeremiah 29:11-14a

Spiritual matters had never concerned George Ponsford. But now doctors had determined he had lymphoma and gave him only a few months to live.

Fear awakened concern about his standing with God. He began searching the internet for answers. A key word search using “religion” then “Bible” led him to the Net Bible website (http://www.bible.org). He downloaded passages on heaven, sin, and forgiveness, and memorized several.

Seminary prof Michael Pocock had come to know George and his family through one of his sons. Mike’s son told him that George, now hospitalized, wanted to speak with him.

Though in pain, George was able to talk. He told Mike about his computer search and quoted what he’d memorized. Mike asked George if he believed the promises those passages contained. “Yes,” he replied. As nurses worked on George, Mike led him in a simple prayer of thanksgiving for God’s salvation.

Two days later—with George feeling much better—they talked alone. Mike asked George if he deserved to be admitted into heaven. “No way,” he replied. “I’m a sinner.”

“So that’s it? You don’t get to enter heaven?”

“Oh yes I do,” he said, “because Jesus Christ died for my sin.”

—Douglas McConnell in The Changing Face of Missions

My Response: The way God’s Word invaded my life was …

Adapted from The Changing Face of Missions (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

How God’s Word Works – Bible Boycott

Bible 2Who Said It…Kevin Harney

Kevin Harney is the teaching pastor at Corinth Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He and his wife, Sherry, have three teenage boys: Zach, Josh, and Nate.

In the summer Kevin enjoys golfing and in the winter he loves to snowboard.

In his book Seismic Shifts, Kevin has written about “the little changes that make a big difference in your life.” He’s co-authored an Old Testament curriculum and, with Sherry, written or co-written many small group study guides.

What He Said…Bible Boycott

Bill had grown up in a home with no faith but met Jesus and became a new man. He fell in love with the Bible, read it every day, and gave his best effort to following what it taught. Then one day he put down his Bible and refused to read anymore.

When a Christian friend asked him why, he was honest. He said, “I really like reading the Bible, but when I read it, it keeps pointing out things I’m doing that I shouldn’t do. Or sometimes it tells me to start doing things I don’t think I really want to do. I started feeling uncomfortable, even a little guilty, so I thought I’d stop reading.”

Bill’s response is sad because he gave up reading the Bible, at least for a time. But it’s refreshing because Bill said what many people feel but rarely articulate.

He didn’t complain that the Bible was unclear or ambiguous. He admitted that his problem was that the words of Scripture cut like a knife and revealed things he didn’t want to see.

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.

 

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.

A Christmas Prayer

Our Christmas Prayer for You

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Luminaries at Central Church

Merry Christmas to everyone from the kind folks of Central Church!

May knowing JESUS bring you

PEACE to bless each day,

HOPE for each tomorrow,

and JOY for every season.

Central Church’s doors decorated for Christmas

Our doors are open for you

Why not make a New Year’s Resolution to join us each Sunday for worship? 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  – Luke 2:14

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Central Church!

 

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 25, 2018 – The Child Made Us Children of God

Scripture: Galatians 4:4-5 –  But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

I stopped to visit at the farmhouse of members of my rural parish. The wife and mother saw me arrive and greeted me, then said, “Follow me and we’ll visit out here.” She had on rubber boots. I tiptoed behind her into a muddy field.

She stopped beside a calf that had died during the night. She knelt and began to skin it, stopping long enough to explain to city-raised me that another calf had lost its mother, and she would tie this hide to the orphaned calf.

The cow that had lost its calf knew its smell. Chances were that when the orphan calf approached her, blanketed in the smell of her calf, the cow would adopt it as her own.

I’d studied and preached a lot about how Jesus, the child of Bethlehem, would one day redeem us to God through his death. Now I understood how astonishing and heart-wrenching the act of grace that made us acceptable to God would be.

Prayer: God of grace, thank you for the gift of your son, who made me acceptable in your sight. Amen.

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, NC

 

 

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 24, 2018 – Still in the Miracle Business

Scripture: Matthew 15:2828 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Often, when I think of things happening suddenly – it is something negative. Sudden death, sudden accident, sudden rift in a relationship. Things rarely go suddenly good, right? But maybe that is a matter of perspective?

If we truly believe all things work together for good, then even a sudden trial is a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it is hard to see through the camouflage.

About six years ago I was fired (by email, while on vacation) from a job that I loved. I was suddenly devastated. It took a while for me to find the blessing. It was REALLY well disguised. But as time passed, more of God’s plan was revealed.

Now I work as a valuable resource in the community, housing people with permanent disabilities who mostly live below the poverty line. My experience of having the rug pulled out from under me helps me relate to people who feel that instability.

We connect through that shared emotion and…suddenly… there can be hope.

God is still doing miracles. Sometimes you have to look harder. And be patient.

Prayer: Father God, you are always greater than our biggest stumbling blocks. Sustain me while your plan unfolds. And help me see opportunities to be the miracle someone else is waiting for. This is how your kingdom comes on earth. Amen.

  – Chris Howell – Lynchburg, VA

 

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 23, 2018 – Too Old for Christmas?

Scripture: Luke 2:36-3836 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[a] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Are you an Oldster? I am, or at least that is what my young eleven-yearold “adopted” granddaughter, Natalie, calls me. I’ll take “oldster” over “grumpy old man” any day, wouldn’t you?

As a pastor, I have made innumerable visits to nursing homes and to homebound folks. The cookies and small gifts that my wife, Laura Ellen, and I would bring always seemed so inadequate. But now, having been caroled by a church group while homebound because of heart surgery after my retirement, I realize the best presents don’t come in boxes.

If you are a youngster, then please realize that a simple visit, a card, even a pair of socks can represent a priceless gift. The acknowledgment that we oldsters are still people of value and worth–that God is still with us–is the gift of Christ you bring with your visit.

If you are an oldster, be like my friend Iris, who just celebrated her 100th birthday, and still tells everyone who visits her that God has blessed her all her years and we should love one another. You, like her or the prophetess Anna in Luke’s gospel, can still declare the good news of God’s love in Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are all little children in your sight, whatever our age may be. Thank you for your son, Jesus, who promised that you would be with us always. Amen.

  – William Nash Wade – Strasburg, VA

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.
    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.

 

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 22, 2018 – Perfect Timing

Scripture: Jeremiah 29:1111 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.

Everyone from elementary to high school was certain I would become an artist, including me. But the ink was barely dry on my college degree in “commercial art” when I found the commercial art industry was giving way to computerized graphic design. All of my training was rapidly becoming obsolete and I saw my bright future in advertising fading away.

Some 20 years later I earned another degree—in “divinity.” Virtually no one would have predicted I would enter the ministry, including myself. But a God of surprises had designed a plan for my life long before I realized it!

Sometimes we think God has no plan for us. The people of Israel felt that way. They waited centuries for a Messiah. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah wept and wondered if God was going to do anything to restore the fortunes of Israel and Judah. However, God’s timing is seldom our timing. And when God decides to fulfill a promise, it happens exactly when it should—quickly and assuredly!

Advent is a season of waiting, hope, and expectation. We are reminded that the coming again of Christ Jesus is still in the future at a moment only God knows. Yes, he will come suddenly, decisively, and precisely as God intends. Then it will be clear that God’s plan for our welfare—indeed our well-being—has always been in place.

Prayer: God of promises and surprises, fill us with hope and anticipation that as we recall the wondrous gift of your son, we may at every moment of our lives know that our times are in your hands. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

  – Chris Suerdieck – Emmitsburg, MD

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 21, 2018 – Interwoven

Scripture: Luke 2: 13-14

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The “King James Version” has always been my favorite Bible translation. Its rhythmic language provides material for easy memorizing and the lyrics inspire composers, hymn writers, and artists of every kind.

Recently, I was involved in planning a “modern day” Christmas pageant. Although reluctant to move away from the familiar manger scene, I was very surprised at what unfolded as we discussed the story. The beauty of the ancient scripture was not lost in the updated presentation. As different colors and textures became part of the finished product, a beautiful image appeared.

And we were reminded that, even today, we can be startled by the sudden appearance of “a multitude of the heavenly host.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, life would, indeed, be dull, if there were no surprises! Keep on surprising us, with your blessings and your sense of humor. Amen.

  – Carolyn Pace Maness – Lynchburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 20, 2018 – Surprised by Life

Scripture: Luke 1

Introduction

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Mary’s Song

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

The Birth of John the Baptist

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Zechariah’s Song

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Mom always said I was a surprise. I have the diary she kept, way back there in the 1930s. At the time she still had a babe in arms, and that had something to do with it. But it is interesting: she was surprised; nature wasn’t.

Surprises can be troubling or joyful. In Luke’s account, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are all troublingly surprised. But the messengers (the angels) aren’t. They know something is at work the two couples themselves cannot comprehend.

Odd, isn’t it that we only slowly wake up to life, to find things going on we hadn’t imagined.

When Mom told me I was a surprise, she always seemed surprised just thinking about it. Luke is certainly surprised. He wouldn’t have written his “good news” if he hadn’t been. Yet, Elizabeth’s son is beheaded and Mary’s son is crucified.

That’s not the surprise they, or we, are looking for, nor was it the divine intent. Those events were the consequence of human sin. At first these facts surprise and trouble us. But the angel says, “Do not be afraid!”

Something is at work beyond human ignorance and sin—even beyond comprehension. It is the power of God around us and in us to work God’s will. In that surprise there is joy and peace!

Prayer: Lord, at this Christmas time, take this little light of mine, let it shine. Let it shine!

  – Richard N. Soulen – Williamsburg, VA

 

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 19, 2018 – Be Prepared

Scripture: Matthew 25:1010 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

We were thrilled when our daughter landed her new dream job. To support her, I offered to cook breakfast each day. All went well while she worked the 9 am-5 pm schedule. But when her start time changed to 7 am, breakfast moved to 6 am, a challenge for this non-early-bird mom.

A homeschool friend had shared her secret to starting morning classes on time: prepare as much as possible the night before. I applied this to cooking breakfast. Before bed, I set the table, assembled needed utensils, and prepped the food. Pre-poured drinks were stored in the refrigerator.

This practice enabled me to sit and savor morning time with our daughter. But one night I got lazy, skipped my routine, and went to bed. Surely I could get everything done if I woke up 15 minutes earlier.

The next morning held several surprises. The extra time was simply not enough. It took longer to complete each task than I thought. As I rushed around, I reflected on how the unprepared people in the Parable of the Ten Virgins missed joining the bridegroom for the wedding.

My lack of intentional preparation robbed me of my relaxed morning visit. With the busyness of doing, I forfeited the full blessing of precious moments with our daughter.

The spiritual lesson of being prepared is evergreen. Carpe diem: be prepared.

Prayer: As we experience this Christmas season, may we discern what is important, and spiritually prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  – Marylane Wade Koch – Byhalia, MS

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 18, 2018 – Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Scripture: John 8:12

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

For many years, I have enjoyed walking as a form of exercise and as a time of prayer. I have especially enjoyed walking in the battlefield park nearby and on the beautiful path along the Rappahannock River. It is inspiring and peaceful to see God’s creation in all of its splendid glory, through every changing season.

My prayer life has consisted of gratitude for the wonders I see, and intercessory prayer for others. After my Emmaus Walk, I envisioned a new way of walking and praying in which I invite Jesus to walk side by side with me. I no longer think about waiting for Christ’s second coming or meeting him in heaven.

He is already here! There is opportunity for conversation, friendship, and companionship; though I must admit I have to work on not talking so much so I hear what Jesus is trying to say to me. My prayer life has been more conversational and alive, and I never walk alone anymore.

Many times in the past, especially around Advent, I heard about having a personal relationship with the living Christ, but I never quite understood how to get there. Now my walks continue to provide new experiences in what I see, but, with Jesus by my side, they are transforming my prayer life with fresh wonders and spiritual growth in amazing new ways, every single day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have stood at our spiritual doors and knocked. Let us remember to invite you in and let us walk life’s journey together. Amen.

  – Bob Brooks – Fredericksburg, VA

 

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 17, 2018 – Surprises Along the Way

Scripture: Isaiah 48:3

I foretold the former things long ago,
    my mouth announced them and I made them known;
    then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

Along the holiday road, we begin to prepare earlier rather than later. The stores in the malls tell us it’s time to think about giving. It’s fun, festive, and full of surprises! Usually families enjoy the hubbub and excitement.

On our faith journey, we are reminded about those who have so little: not enough food, not a warm place to sleep, not a family to share love and time together, maybe not a job either, or encouragement.

For me, the story of the baby Jesus emerges as the most important part of the celebration. “The Messiah is coming!” we hear. And deep down, we suddenly realize that “Whoops! He’s already here!” The most important part of the Jesus story in our lives, and the part that needs nurturing every day, not just at Christmas, is the that part! It’s a total wondrous discovery to find out that the gift of Jesus keeps on presenting itself in so many ways.

What can we share of ourselves that will be a gift for someone who needs encouragement? Where is the moment where we can “Love (y)our neighbor as (y)ourself?” And where-oh-where is the opportunity today to “Love (y)our God with all (y)our heart, and with all (y)our soul, and with all (y)our mind?”

We, ourselves can be part of the gift. The type of gifts that come to others because we come to the Messiah!

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to recognize you every day, and serve as your hands and feet to people in need.

  – Lesley Green Huffaker – Coronado, CA

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 16, 2018 – Keep Asking

Scripture: Matthew 7:7

Ask, Seek, Knock

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

We’re told that God loves us and wants what’s best for us, and that nothing is impossible with God. I know that intellectually, and believe it in my heart, but sometimes… it seems like the needs are so great.

Our church has recognized a growing need – or maybe it’s that we’re more aware of the need, for children who need coats and families who need assistance, throughout the year and the holidays.

As the pastor, I find myself asking over and over again for people to help, to give financially, to make connections to bless random strangers. And I think that maybe, just maybe, as the need grows, that the community might experience “giving fatigue.”

And yet, just like the moments when God gives to us directly, against our expectations, I find that the church continues to find ways to give, that the community-at-large shows up in essential, unexpected ways, and at the end of the day – especially on Christmas Eve – that God has answered the requests, has made God known to us, and has opened doors that seemed nailed shut.

We can’t “out give” God – and we can never expect too much either. God’s generosity is endless.

Prayer: Loving God, remind us to ask, to seek, to knock, and to pray. Help us to recognize your movement in our lives and to challenge others to move, too. In Jesus’s holy name. Amen.

  – Jacob Sahms – Midlothian VA

 

Reflecting on Family Time and Christmas

During the Holidays, many of us reflect on spending time with family.

Ideally we hope for meaningful family experiences of love, belonging and celebration. These images are portrayed in popular art such as this classic Norman Rockwell’s portrait.

Originally appearing in the Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell portrays a joyous family homecoming at Christmas.  We love the picture of an entire family together, having a wonderful time.

Although we should never compare our family to these types of portraits, the images fascinate and compel us to imagine what our own families could be like. Wouldn’t it be great if somehow we could experience the kind of closeness, warmth, and support of the classic “All-American family?”

Unfortunately, some families that may seem to be healthy to outsiders, upon an honest examination are on the verge of crisis (or in active crisis already).  Even more families face an epidemic of disconnection, chaos and separation. When family connections are suffering, it can be most apparent and painful during the holiday season.

Leading a family during the Christmas season is one of the most important roles in life. Whether you are a mother, father, son or daughter, you can contribute to the strength of your family.  If you are single, or currently without children, keep in mind that your contribution to the church community is also like taking on a role in a family.  Making the decision to make family a priority is available to everyone.

Finding victory in your family experience means setting priorities, as well as seeking a new perspective on a daily basis.

Whether you are the family in the Norman Rockwell picture above, or you face a difficult and complex situation this Christmas, focus on this truth:

 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds

are steadfast, because they trust in You. Trust

in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the

LORD Himself, is the Rock eternal.”

– Isaiah 26:3-4

We can never avoid strife in the world around us, but we can choose to fix our thoughts on God.  When we make this choice, God promises us perfect peace, even in difficult times.  The above scripture counsels us to focus our mind on God and His Word.  As we do this, our mind becomes steady and stable. This stability can become a powerful influence in any family situation.

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 15, 2018 – Learning to Pray—Again

Scripture: Jeremiah 17:7-8

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

I learned to pray by being a part of a prayer group. Meeting in each other’s homes, that group of women came from at least four different churches: Baptist, United Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian. Each prayed in their own voice, rooted in their own faith traditions.

The language of the Book of Common Prayer came immediately alive as one woman prayed prayers that had become second nature to her, not with the racing cadence of getting through something learned by rote, but with the quiet confidence of someone who was steeped in and shaped by this language and relationship.

I knew, sitting in that weekly circle, that these women knew and were known by God. That prayer group was not the first, the only, or the last place or time I learned to pray. Growing up, I learned the rhythms of daily mealtime and bedtime blessings and weekly communal prayers in worship.

Later, retreats and seminary introduced me to silent contemplation. After the first funeral I conducted, the widow thanked me for saying her husband’s name in the prayers of the service.

A few years later, as my father lay dying a hundred miles away, another prayer group asked me, as their pastor, to lead them in prayer…only tears and choked-out words emerged…but it was a safe and sacred place for such a holy moment.

Prayer: Most holy and gracious God, we thank you for those who have modeled living prayer for us. Help us model it for others. Amen.

  – Kathleen Overby Webster – Roanoke, VA

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 14, 2018 – Signs of the Times

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 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.”

We see the signs of the times, starting with last year’s New Year’s resolutions; we see Christmas decorations go up before Halloween; Black Friday and Cyber Monday after Thanksgiving. Yet some rush out the night before Christmas hoping to find an open store to buy the perfect gift for a loved one.

What if the wise men had waited till they arrived at Bethlehem to get their gifts for the new born king? Would the gifts still have been gold, myrrh, and frankincense?

We need to prepare ahead of time and experience the peace of the season in our devotion and prayer life with the new born king. The wise men studied prophesies, they understood the signs, they set out to find the king–they prepared.

Wise men and women still search for the new born king. Have you prepared your heart for his coming, or are you waiting until the last minute to have that relationship with him? I have found that an ongoing devotional and prayer life is more meaningful than trying to catch up at the last minute–less stress and more peace.

Prayer: Lord, help me prepare my life to experience your presence on Christmas day and beyond. Amen.

  – Sam Ramirez – Lakeland, FL

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?”

“Yes.”

“And that he rose from the dead?”

“Yes.”

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 rebeccamclaughlin.org.

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 13, 2018 – God is Faithful

Scripture: Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In 1990, I had surgery, which was followed by an infection lasting for months. I had a temporary colostomy, and eventually the infection cleared, and the colostomy could be reversed. I was thankful to God for the healing that took place.

Through the years I had been a very faithful believer, having participated in church activities from an early age. I had worked for a church as educational director. The Lord was a very real presence in my life.

One morning as I was working in my kitchen, I sang to myself the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Suddenly the refrain took on new meaning for me. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. All I have needed. The healing that had occurred. The many blessings the Lord had provided.

Now, whenever we sing that hymn, tears of joy come to my eyes.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, forgive us for the times we complain. Help us always to remember that you are concerned for all of our needs. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

  – Dodie Fauber – Lynchburg, VA

Advent Devotional – Wednesday, December 12, 2018 – Breath of Heaven

Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-171All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I read the Bible every day, but the vast majority of that time is spent in preparation for preaching on Sunday morning. Indeed, until recently it could be argued that the entirety of my Bible reading has been for sermon prep. Reading God’s word to get ready to speak about God’s word is very different from personal reading. At least it is for me.

Even though I know God is still speaking to me through his word, at those times, I get too caught up in trying to hear what he has to say to me to preach, and I miss what he has to say to me specifically.

At the beginning of the season of Pentecost, I pledged to myself and, more importantly, to God, that I would read through the Bible in 90 days. I set aside time each day (Sundays included) to read from Genesis to Revelation.

And I did not “bank” the passages I read during study time. God breathed new life into what had become a routine practice. He spoke to me in fresh new ways; some of which have found their way into my Sunday message, but most were just for me. As we again celebrate God with us – the word made flesh; I am celebrating the word made alive again in me.

Prayer: God, as we celebrate the gift of Emmanuel, renew in us a love for the gift of your word – spoken, read, and heard.

  – Joseph Phipps – Fairfield, IA

 

Advent Devotional – Tuesday, December 11, 2018 – Holy Communion

Scripture: Revelation 1:8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

As the wife of a minister, I have had the opportunity to help serve communion on various occasions. I have always felt honored to participate, but one Christmas Eve the experience took on new meaning for me.

My husband was conducting the service when suddenly his nose began to bleed profusely. Paramedics, who attended our church, could not stop the nosebleed. An ambulance arrived.

As paramedics worked with my husband in the hall, the organist played Christmas hymns. People sang quietly, but mostly they looked concerned. It soon became apparent he would not be able to return to the service.

Now it was up to me to distribute communion. Reentering the sanctuary, I mounted the steps to the altar worrying that I would not remember everything to do or say. I was standing before the candlelit altar, uncovering the bread, when suddenly I felt a strong assurance.

I forgot about serving communion properly. I knew I was now connected to something holy, something that had always been, and always would be. What I was participating in was much bigger than any mistake I could make.

As Christians, we pray and ask forgiveness before we take communion. Rarely, however, do we consider that we are actually making contact with God. Because of that Christmas Eve, I will never forget.

Prayer: Thank you God for bending low to touch our hearts, calm our fears, and remind us that you are the Alpha and Omega. Thank you for communicating with us still.

  – Regina K. Carson – Chesterfield, VA

 

Advent Devotional – Monday, December 10, 2018 – God’s Love for Me

Scripture: John 3:1616 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Like you, I’ve read this scripture a thousand times. When I began my journey back to Christ I understood intellectually that Jesus is the Christ and that he died for the sins of the world. What I could not understand was that he died for me. That God’s love included everyone, even me. I could not accept his love for me.

For years my wife, Marilyn, and I were very good friends. We spent time together, talked a lot, and shared our dreams. But for many of the same reasons I could not accept God’s love, I did not expect her to love me. But eventually I came to the realization that she did…that what we shared was more than friendship.

I didn’t understand it. (I still don’t.) But what I did understand was that it was true. It was not necessary to understand it – I simply had to accept it. Now I know that God so loved me that he gave his one and only son, that if I would believe in him I should not perish but have eternal life. For more than 32 years now I have had an amazing journey with my best friends – Marilyn and Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Creator God; thank you for loving each one of us – so much that you sent your son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sins so that we might spend eternity with you. In Christ’s most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.

  – Johnnie Draughon – Virginia Beach, VA

Advent Devotional – Sunday, December 9, 2018 – I’m Praying For You

Scripture: Jeremiah 33:2-3

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

The number of times someone has said to me, “I’ll be praying for you,” is uncountable. Most folks are sincere, and some – you just know – will pray actively, intentionally, faithfully.

I don’t remember the crisis I was in years ago when I sent an e-mail, seeking the support of my twelve prayer warriors. (They’re the ones who have seen me through seminary, conflict, health concerns, unemployment, grief, and all life’s challenges.) I do remember that one of them replied in a way that changed my life. She replied with the actual prayer she was praying. It brought me to tears.

Separated physically from my sister in Christ, suddenly I felt connected. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was lifted emotionally and spiritually. I returned to that e-mailed prayer over and over for strength.

In the years since, as a spiritual practice, I often have felt prompted to do the same – to actually send in writing the prayer that I’m praying over a situation. Or to take time to pray on the phone right in the moment. I still say, “I’ll be praying for you.” But more and more, I’m opting for, “This is my prayer for you right now.”

Prayer: God of the past, present, and future, help us pray right away. When we wait to pray, we often forget, or find ourselves too tired for a litany of petitions at the end of the day. We yearn to partner with you in the wonder of “suddenly.” Amen.

  – Katy Yates Brungraber – Brownsville, PA

Advent Devotional – Saturday, December 8, 2018 – A Surprise in Prayer

Scripture: Philippians 4:6-7

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.

In my early twenties, I looked down on myself as a failure, unable to accomplish anything of worth. I lived for the days when I could drink myself into the only ecstasy I ever knew, separated from the misery of my self-condemnation. I continued the habit of church attendance and choir singing, but prayer had long since ceased.

Then church leaders, who could see that I needed an accomplishment outside myself, invited me to a retreat. I refused, right to the last moment, when what I now know was God’s presence pushed me to go. Solitary meditation was part of the retreat. I walked far away from the others to the borders of the retreat property.

My despair at failure, at depending on alcohol, descended on me. But this time it did not defeat me. I felt the presence of one who did not accept me as a failure, of one who cared for me despite it all. Looking back, I know that I had prayed and my prayer had been answered, without words, but with the peace that God promises in Philippians. I had yet a long journey away from the depths, but prayer, my friends’ concern, and God’s surprising presence, had set me on the way.

Prayer: God of surprises, bring to all who despair the promise of new life. Help us to work in love with all who need you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  – Bill Olewiler – Fleming Island, FL

 

Encouraging One Another Through the Holiday Season

Colossians 4:7-18

Final Greetings

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant[a] in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our[b] circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews[c] among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

During the Christmas holidays, people will send various greeting cards to many people. The purpose of the greeting card is to encourage other people during the holidays. Here, we see that Paul is writing in this section one large greeting card addressed to different people. How would you use your greeting card to encourage others during this holiday season? You know that you don’t have to stop with just greeting cards. You can encourage others who need to hear and read a word of encouragement during this holiday season.

This section is made with a set of greetings. Like a set of greeting cards, Paul shares words of encouragement with others. Since as Christians spread the good news, we should encourage one another.

This section deals with various people in the church. Paul lists groups of people who are associated with the church at Colossae. He shares important insights about each group listed. His purpose is to remind the church that they should encourage one another.

Why?  Because life is challenging.  We all go through various challenges and we need to encourage one another.

10 EXAMPLES OF ENCOURAGING OTHERS

1. Encourage others who serve – Tychicus

The first example of someone I need to encourage are those who serve around me.

“Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and so that he may encourage your hearts.” (Colossians 4:7–8, CSB)

Tychicus is an example of a servant. Tychicus encouraged others by serving. He was very dependable. He served Paul and helped him in his work. He also served other people and the churches. Paul sent Tychicus on various missions to different churches:

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me in Nicopolis, because I have decided to spend the winter there.” (Titus 3:12, CSB)

I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

There are people whom God sends in our lives to whom we become servants. He can encourage other people by the way we serve them.

2. Encourage others to grow in their faith – Onesimus

A second example of people I need to encourage as a Christian, who are new to the faith.

“He is coming with Onesimus, a faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.” (Colossians 4:9, CSB)

Onesimus is an example of someone who is younger in the faith. He was from Colossae and he was new to the faith.

Paul also mentioned Onesimus (“one of you”) who himself came from Colossae. He was the runaway slave who belonged to Philemon and who had been won to Christ through Paul’s ministry in Rome. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with a letter asking Philemon to receive him and forgive him. It is interesting to note that Paul also called Onesimus faithful and beloved. Onesimus had been a believer only a short time, and yet he had already proved himself to Paul.

3. Encourage others through difficult times – Aristarchus

Aristarchus stayed with Paul during what seemed like very difficult times. He stayed with Paul during thick and thin. He was probably a prisoner of war, who understood what imprisonment was like. Aristarchus stayed with Paul no matter what the circumstances were—a riot in Ephesus, a voyage, a storm, or even a prison.

4. Encourage others through times of failure – Mark

Mark failed Paul earlier in ministry. Paul makes a special note here to encourage and welcome Mark when he comes. Mark is a reminder of people who have failed you in the past. People who have made mistakes need encouragement as well. They may feel sensitive about their failures and they need to be encouraged to continue in the faith and ministry.

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11, CSB)

5. Encourage others to build bridges and work together – Justus

Justus, Mark, and Aristarchus were all Jews. Luke, Epaphras and Demas were all Gentiles. So here in this letter, we have a reminder that we need to encourage other people, even if they are different than ourselves.

In other words, Paul may well be declaring that some are now cooperating with him as a result of an ecumenical agreement. I intuit from “co-workers for the kingdom of God” a closer than competitive kind of mission with “those who were of the circumcision.”

Paul makes the claim that these people were co-workers for the kingdom of God, even though they were Jewish. In today’s context, that shows that there will be people whom we work with who have different flavors of Christian belief, yet they want the same goal: to encourage others in the faith. We should be willing to encourage others even they see the Bible differently.

Language, national animosities, and differences in religion and culture had divided the world of that day into hostile camps which could only be held together by the sword. Here under Paul’s aegis both camps were meeting together willingly and lovingly—an amazing unity!

We need to be reminded that as Christians, we are in the business of building bridges with others, not dividing into different camps. When it comes to encouraging others, race, differences in opinion, and differences in religion and culture should not destroy the unity in the church. We should not use these forms of separation to discourage one another.

6. Encourage others through prayer – Epaphras

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills. For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:12–13, CSB)

Epaphras was a prayer warrior. You and I can pray for other people. Epaphras gives us a model prayer warrior. What were the characteristics of his prayer life?

CHARACTERISTICS OF A PRAYER WARRIOR

A. Pray constantly (“always”)

Epaphras is an example of someone who prayers with devotion. He prayed not only when he felt like it. He did not pray when he was told to pray. He consistently prayed.

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2, CSB)

B. Pray fervently (“laboring fervently”)

Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44, CSB)

Like Jesus, Epaphras was in agony as he prayed. This is the same word used to describe athletes as they give themselves to sports. If church members today put as much concern and enthusiasm into their praying as they did into sports, we would have revival!

C. Pray personally (“for you”)

Epaphras interceded for the Christians in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. He prayed for people by name.

D. Pray definitely

Epaphras had a desire that these three churches may mature in their Christian faith.

7. Encourage others through faithfulness – Luke

Luke is faithful to the end of Paul’s ministry. He continued to encourage and helped Paul through Paul’s final imprisonment.

“Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas send you greetings.” (Colossians 4:14, CSB)

“Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.” (Philemon 24, CSB)

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11, CSB)

8. Encourage others now no matter what the future may hold – Demas

In contrast to the faithfulness of Luke, Paul reminds us to encourage others, even when you don’t know how faithful they may be. Demas was a fellow laborer who later was caught up and loved the world, so he abandoned the faith.

because Demas has deserted me, since he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” (2 Timothy 4:10, CSB)

Demas thought that he could serve two masters, but eventually he had to make a decision; unfortunately, he made the wrong decision.

Demas is an example of someone who we can encourage, but whom we will never understand why things happen in their lives.

9. Encourage those who work with other churches – Nympha

I need to encourage as a Christian are those who serve alongside me in other churches. As a church, we need to encourage the work of the Gospel in other churches. Churches need to encourage the work of other churches. Paul did that by asking this church to pass along the word to other churches.

“For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:13, CSB)

“Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home. After this letter has been read at your gathering, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:15–16, CSB)

Churches should not be in competition. Instead, we are called to be in cooperation to share the Gospel.

10. Encourage others to stay on mission – Archippus

Archippus has some work that God has commissioned him for the church. Whether it is financial, pastoral, or a form of evangelism, there are people whom we can encourage to continue in the ministry God has called them.

“And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”” (Colossians 4:17, CSB)

“to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.” (Philemon 2, CSB)

I saw them tearing a building down,

A gang of men in a dusty town.

With a “yo heave ho” and a lusty yell,

They swung a beam and the sidewall fell.

I asked the foreman if these men were as skilled

As the men he’d hire, if he were to build.

He laughed and said, “Oh, no indeed.

Common labor is all I need.”

For those men can wreck in a day or two,

What builders had taken years to do.

I asked myself as I went my way,

Which kind of role am I to play?

Am I the builder who builds with care,

Measuring life by the rule and square?

Or am I the wrecker who walks the town,

Content with the role of tearing down?

  • What kind of encourager are you?

Advent Devotional – Friday, December 7, 2018 – Something New

Scripture: Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

The new…I love new! I always expect great, new things in a new year. God will do it, and I want to join him. I have realized through the years that many times the new that needs to spring up is in my own heart.

I often desire for the change to occur in my circumstances, not in my own life and attitudes. It can be humbling to realize that I am looking for the new in the wrong place.

God, too, will make a way where there seems to be only roadblocks, and he will make living water spring up in hearts, including my own, where he sees fit. Sometimes the drought seems too extreme to conquer, but the Lord can do it. I desire, in this New Year, more so than anything else, to bask in his goodness, in his provision, and take comfort in his way. It will be new, I just need open eyes to perceive it and a willing heart to experience it.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your promises to make new things happen to fulfill your amazing plan. It’s going to be a great ride in this New Year that may not always be easy, or go my way, but I do know it will be good, because you are good.

  – Amy Williams – Skopje, Macedonia

10 Differences between a Believer and a Christian

Warning: This might shake up your faith.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:19

Here are 10 differences between a believer and a Christian.

1. A believer believes in Jesus.  A Christian follows his commands.

2. A believer goes to church on holidays.  A Christian knows that a church community is the paradigm for their faith.

3. A believer reads their Bible when things get tough.  A Christian reads their Bible regularly.

4. A believer prays when things get tough.  A Christian gives thanks no matter the circumstance.

5. A believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle.  A Christian works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

6. A believer will sacrifice when it’s convenient.  A Christian will sacrifice no matter the potential outcome.

7. A believer tithes when there is no risk.  A Christian will tithe no matter the risk.

8. A believer conforms under the pressure of culture.  A Christian holds fast against temptation.

9. A believer will share their faith when it’s comfortable.  A Christian will share his or her faith regardless of the scenario.

10. A believer knows about Jesus.  A Christian knows Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior.

This article originally appeared here.

 

9 Common Christmas Myths Christians Believe

9 Common Myths Christians Believe At Christmas
Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year, because it calls our attention to one of the most beautiful teachings of Scripture—the Incarnation of Christ.

When you realize the incredible truths behind the reality that God came and dwelt among us, it can’t help but impact the way you live.

Plus, it’s an awesome reminder that God kept His promises from the Old Testament to send a Messiah to rescue His people from their sins.

However, since that time, many myths have been added to the greatest story ever told.

Here are nine common myths Christians believe at Christmas:

The Bible Says That Jesus Was Born on December 25

It’s the age-old question, “Is December 25 Jesus’ birthday?” The answer is that we really don’t know when His actual birthday was. The Bible doesn’t tell us an exact date. So, it begs the question, “How did Christmas land on December 25”? Some historians believe that it was a Christian reaction to a Roman pagan holiday, while others believe the date is a response to the traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion in March. Honestly, we don’t really know when Jesus was born, however, two things are certain—Jesus was born of a virgin, and the Bible doesn’t give us an exact date.

The Bible Says Mary Rode Into Bethlehem on a Donkey

An extremely pregnant Mary riding into town on a donkey is definitely a common myth most Christians believe is in the Bible. Now, she very well could have made the 65-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. Nevertheless, the account of this story, in Luke 2:1-6, does not specifically teach this. Nevertheless, we all should consider how tough Mary was to make this trip while being pregnant, because most of us men can’t get out of bed if we have the common cold.

The Bible Says There Were 3 Wisemen

One of the most popular Christmas carols, We Three Kings, shows the commonality of this particular myth. The Gospel of Matthew describes these men as magi or wise men. People commonly think there were three in number, because the Bible details the fact that they brought three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. But, this doesn’t mean there were three magi; there could just as easily have been four, eight or 10. Also, one could ascertain that these guys were the very first Essential Oils dealers.

The Bible Says a Star Hovered Over the Manger

You’d be hard-pressed to find a nativity scene that doesn’t include a bright shining star hovering above it. It’s definitely a nice sentiment and symbol. The problem is there’s no reference to this in Gospels. The magi were given a star that first lead them to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1 – 2), then on to Bethlehem (v. 9 -10) where they found the child. In jealousy, King Herod gave a command that all babies in the region younger than 2 years old to be killed (v. 16). This suggests that Jesus had been in Bethlehem for some time at this point, so neither the wise men nor the star were hovering over the manger the night Jesus was born.

The Bible Says Jesus Was Born in a Barn or Stable

Just about every nativity set places the baby Jesus in a barn, surrounded by animals. Once again, this is an assumption because the Bible does not specify this. The Scriptures actually say, “And she gave birth…and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).” It’s easy to assume that Jesus was born in a barn or stable, because of the manger mention. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. However, these feeding troughs were also commonly used inside homes, because families would sleep upstairs while small animals were kept downstairs on cold nights.

The Bible Says There Was a Little Drummer Boy

A little drummer boy playing his drum—pum pum pum pum. That’s what all first-time parents want, right? Mary and Joseph haven’t had any sleep. The birthing arrangements and location haven’t been ideal, but yes, please come play your drum for my newborn baby boy. Just make sure you play it as loud as humanly possible. It doesn’t make much sense, and there is no account of this ever happening.

The Bible Says Jesus Was Born in 0 A.D.

“B.C.” stands for “before Christ,” and “A.D.” stands for a Latin phrase anno domini; which means “in the year of the Lord.” However, according to Matthew 2:1, Jesus was born during the days of Herod the king. Most historians place Herod’s death at 4 B.C. With Herod ordering all boys 2 years old and younger in the area to be killed before his on own death. It seems as though a more proper estimate of Jesus birth would have sometime between 4 B.C. and 6 B.C.

Saying Merry X-mas Is “Taking Christ Out of Christmas”

Over the last decade or so, many Christians have felt like there is a “War on Christmas.” Some believers see the phrase “Merry Xmas” as an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas. Although some people may be deliberate in their attempts, the statement by itself is not offensive. The first letter in the Greek word for “Christ” is chi. In the Roman alphabet, chi is represented by the symbol X. Therefore, Xians don’t have to be flustered by hearing or seeing “Merry Xmas!”

Saying Happy Holidays Is “Taking Christ Out of Christmas”

This statement may be an attempt at being “politically correct.” However, holiday literally means “holy day.” Celebrating the birth of Jesus definitely makes it a holy day. Thankfully, because of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus; every day can be a happy holy-day. To the believer, Christmas shouldn’t be a one-day celebration, but rather a lifestyle of celebrating the truth that Jesus is Immanuel—God with us.

This article originally appeared here.

 

 

Advent Devotional – Thursday, December 6, 2018 – Guess Who’s In Front Of You?

Scripture: Matthew 25:3737 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

About thirty years ago, my mother was shopping in a small antique store in the Pennsylvania countryside. Because of her deep southern accent, whenever she was out of the south, people would ask her where she was from. The proprietor asked, and she answered, “A small town in upstate South Carolina.”

Another shopper said, “Oh, my wife is from upstate South Carolina.” My mother said the man looked to be about her age, so she asked where his wife was from. “Greenville.” “Oh, I know a lot of people from Greenville. What’s your wife’s name?” “Joanne Woodward,” he said.

Mom said it was not until that point that she realized she was talking to the famous actor, Paul Newman. She told me, “It was like scales fell from my eyes. I never expected to see him there.”

Jesus, too, is found all around us. We just do not notice because we do not expect to see him there. But he is.

Prayer: Dear Lord, you who gave sight to the blind, during this season of Advent, remove the scales from our eyes so we may see you. Amen.

  – Michael Henderson – Florence, SC