Christmas Reflection: Praise God!

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He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke, blessing God.

Luke 1:63-64

Take a moment to praise God for the life he’s given you–for the blessings and the challenges, for the things that make sense and the things that don’t.

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:63-80.

Zechariah had been mute since his encounter with the angel Gabriel more than nine months before. What did he do first when he regained his voice? He praised God.

What is the first thought in your head when you wake up in the morning? When you get in the car? When you get out of a long meeting? When you leave work? When you lie down in bed at night? When you feel angry or grateful or frustrated or content? How would your life be different if your first thought was a prayer of praise?

I challenge you to begin every day of the next week praising God. Pick a favorite song or prayer of praise. Write down the words and post them in a place where you will see them first thing in the morning—maybe on your bedside table or in your bathroom. Try to make those words of praise the first thing you say (or sing) each morning.

Here are a few ideas:

Songs

Prayers

Christmas Reflection: John the Baptist’s coming announced

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But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Luke 1:13,16-17

What can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous?

Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:5-25.

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A quick glance through the headlines on CNN.com reveals stories of murder trials, civil wars, a newborn baby left in a cardboard box next to a trash can, pornography, and kidnapping. It seems now, more than ever, we need someone like John to “turn many…to the Lord their God,” “turn the hearts of fathers toward children,” and turn “the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous.”

John the Baptist lived a lifestyle that was counter-cultural. He hung out in the desert, abstained from alcohol, ate bugs, and wore camel’s hair clothing. I’m quite certain that the average dinner party in Jerusalem did not feature a dish of locusts and a glass of water.

John didn’t dress or act like everyone else. He didn’t deliver a comforting “I’m ok, you’re ok” message. In fact, he called those who came to see him a “brood of vipers,” warning that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (from Luke 3:7,9). And yet people flocked to the desert to see him. They recognized the truth that John spoke and their need for repentance. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if we all followed John’s call to repent and turn back to God?

So, does that mean we need to pray for God to send another John the Baptist to transform our world? Maybe. Prayer is our first and best defense against the evils we find in our world. But we also need to take action. It might be that God doesn’t plan to send a new messenger; maybe he plans to use you to spread his message. Jesus did challenge us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a).

How can you, like John, turn people’s hearts toward God? God is probably not calling you to move to the Sahara and replace all of your fresh veggies with wild honey. But he may be calling you to live your life in a way that shows that you value the things of heaven more than the things of this world. Something as simple as refraining from gossip or profanity can serve as a powerful testimony.

I wouldn’t recommend that you adopt “brood of vipers” as your standard greeting for your neighbors. But God may be calling you to share with them the truth about how God is acting in your life. Just as important as sharing where God has brought you, you need to be vulnerable enough to share where you were when God reached down and touched your life.

So, what can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous? There are many answers to this question, including prayer, living counter-culturally, and speaking the truth about your own encounters with God. Pick one thing that you will do this week, in imitation of John the Baptist, to draw other people closer to God.

Advent Reflection:Let Go and Let God

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The Lord favored Hannah so that she conceived and gave birth to three more sons and two daughters, while young Samuel grew up in the service of the Lord.

I Samuel 2:21

Recall a time when you had to give up something or someone that was very important to you. Have you seen the Lord turn that sacrifice into an even greater blessing? Do you trust that he will?

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Going Deeper

Read I Samuel 1:9-28 and I Samuel 2:18-21.

Hannah prayed that she would conceive a son, and promised God that, when she had a son, he would be dedicated to the service of the Lord. I wonder, when the time came to drop Samuel off at the house of the Lord in Shiloh, if Hannah was reluctant to keep her promise. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for her to leave her young son under the care of the priest, Eli, knowing she would only get to see him once a year.

Has there been a time in your life when you have relinquished control and turned someone in your life or some aspect of your life over to God? When we truly let go and admit that we can’t do it on our own, there can be a great sense of loss. But we are confident that God knows what’s best for us and our loved ones, and that he can handle our problems much better than we can.

Hannah longed for a child. In response to her faithfulness, God blessed her with not just one child, but six. When God calls us to let go, he promises abundant blessings in return. We may not always be able to see the connection between the sacrifice and the blessing, or it may seem like God takes a long time getting back to us with that blessing, but we know that God will be true to his promises.

Join Hannah in her prayer of praise to God (from I Samuel 2:1-10).

Advent Reflection: Discerning God’s Will

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So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

She answered, “I will.”

Genesis 24:58

Where is God calling you today? Will you go?

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Going Deeper

Read Genesis Chapter 24.

Sometimes it seems like it was so much easier to discern the will of God during Old Testament times. Abraham’s servant just named the sign he was looking for, and the first woman who came to the spring did exactly what she was supposed to. Once he explained his story, Rebekah left her home and family and followed the servant. It all seems so simple and straightforward.

When I try to seek God’s guidance as I make decisions, it is rarely that clear. If I presume to ask for a specific sign, I rarely see it. When I watch for signs, I often see multiple contradictory signs. And I can’t tell if the signs I see are coming from God.

Though it may not seem as easy as it used to be, we do have tools at our disposal to help us determine God’s will. Here are just a few:

  • Pray all the time, not just when you need something or have a question. A habit of prayer will make it easier for you to recognize God’s nudging when you experience it.
  • The Bible. Read the scriptures. God will not ask you to make a choice that contradicts his word. You have to know God’s word to know if the decision you make is consistent with the Bible.
  • Other people. Discuss the situation with people you trust, people whose lives reflect the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). That doesn’t mean that you do whatever the other person tells you to. Instead, let the person help you to understand the situation better, so you can make a wise decision that is consistent with God’s will.

Pray this excerpt from Psalm 27:

Hear my voice, Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.

“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”;

your face, Lord, do I seek!

 

Lord, show me your way;

lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes;

malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.

 

I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:7,8,11-14

A Hug From Jesus

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The summer after my junior year of college was a lonely one. Most of my college friends had graduated and gone their separate ways. I was living with my parents for the summer, but saw very little of them because I was working second shift. By the time I woke up in the morning they were gone to work, and by the time I got home from work, they were in bed. I was working as a nurse’s aide in a care center with a major employee absenteeism problem. Because we were almost always short-staffed, I never felt like I had time to take care of the residents in the way they deserved. I frequently had to stay an extra four to eight hours after my shift to cover for people who didn’t show up for the next shift. It was a frustrating time that left me feeling discouraged and inadequate.

I tried a variety of things to bring me comfort and lift my mood, but nothing worked. Finally, I turned to God. (Why is it that we so often make God our last resort, when he should be our go-to guy?) I tuned my car radio to the Christian station. I tried to pray on my way to and from work. Even when it was hard to find the words to say, I did my best to surround myself with things that reminded me of God. After placing myself in God’s presence over a period of time, I was actually able to feel his arms around me, comforting me. That was the first time I realized that God really could meet all of my needs—even my need for a hug.

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I still have to remind myself often that God is enough, especially when I find myself longing for a husband and children of my own. Sometimes God chooses to use other people to fulfill our desires. Other times he calls on us to trust and depend on him alone to meet our needs. Think about that as you listen to this Josh Turner song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpNyMo82ulE.

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What do you most need or long for?

Pray that God would fulfill that longing.

Then watch for him to do it on his timing and in a way you may not expect.

Finding God in the Busyness

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ADVENT REFLECTION 12/1/14

I know what you’re thinking–There is so much to do before Christmas. I have to get it all done. I can work on getting my priorities straight in January when things slow down.

The expectations of our family and friends and the pressures of society can make it hard to say “no” to the busyness of the Advent season. Sometimes we can’t declutter our calendars and to-do lists as much as we would like.

Listen to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Do Everything” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW2Cz4dmz8o

Little stuff, big stuff, in between stuff

God sees it all the same.

And while I may not know you,

I bet I know you wonder sometimes

does it matter at all.

Well let me remind you it all matters

just as long as you do everything you do

to the glory of the One who made you.

No matter how important or insignificant your daily activities seem, offer them up for the glory of God. Pray your way through the shopping and cleaning and wrapping and cooking. Dedicate your holiday activities to God.

Don’t forget to prepare your heart for Christmas.

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ADVENT REFLECTION

First Sunday of Advent, 11/30/14

One look at the lines at the mall parking lot on Friday morning and you know the hustle and bustle has begun. It’s time to get ready for Christmas.

How are you preparing for Christmas? Are you . . .

-shopping

-writing Christmas cards

-cleaning

-cooking

-decorating

-wrapping presents

-baking

-trying to figure out a way to be in two places at once, so you can keep everyone happy

-preparing for final exams

 

Are these things helping you to prepare your heart for Christmas?

While shopping and wrapping presents, think about what you will give to Jesus for his birthday. Will you commit to daily prayer or Bible reading? Will you find a new way to serve God’s children? Are you ready to turn your whole life over to God?

While cleaning and decorating, think about the condition of your heart. Jesus wants to live there. Is it in good shape? Is there sin tarnishing your heart? Is there something in your life that is more important to you than God? What can you do to demonstrate that God is number one in your life?

While sending Christmas cards to friends and family members across the miles, pray for the people you are sending them to, and for the people who won’t receive any cards this Christmas. At the same time, don’t forget to be fully present to the people around you. Are you enjoying the present, or stuck in past regrets or worries about the future?

While studying, writing papers, and preparing for final exams, think about the biggest test you will ever take. After you die, God will ask you, “Did you know my Son?” How will you answer? Will Jesus be able to corroborate your “yes?”

While cooking and baking, think about those who don’t have enough to eat. Pray for them. If you are able, give to a local food pantry, national or international charity that helps to meet people’s basic needs.

 

This is a busy time of year. Choose one thing you can do to simplify your superficial preparations and allow more time to focus on preparing your heart. Gifts, decorations, food and time with family are all wonderful things, but they are not the main thing. More than 2,000 years ago, God came to live among us, as one of us, to show us how to live and to open the gates of heaven. That’s what this season is all about.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”