Daily December Devotional — Day 19

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:67-75

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

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and
redeemed them.

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David

(as he said through his holy prophets of
long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us –

to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father
Abraham:

to rescue us from the hand of our
enemies
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before
him all our days.”

Today’s Questions:

What does “redeem” mean?

Why did God come to redeem us?

To __________ mercy to our ancestors;

To _______________ his holy covenant;

To _______________ us from the hand of our enemies; and

To _______________ us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness.

Do you live like you have been redeemed – like you have been rescued and like you have been enabled to serve God without fear? Or, do you live like you are still waiting to be rescued and enabled?

Today’s Prayer:

Thank you, Lord God, for coming to redeem us! Thank you that you have redeemed me – that I am now in your hands, bought back, rescued, freed, and able to serve you without fear. Forgive me when I forget and live as if you never came, as if you never purchased me with the blood of Jesus. Forgive me when I act out of fear or wear my old rags instead of the righteousness of Christ. Help me get back on track when I get fuzzy on the mission – to serve you. You redeemed me so that I am able to serve you. I live to serve you, Lord. Use me. Empower me.

Daily December Devotional — Day 18

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:59-66

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

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

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

The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious” or “The Lord shows grace.”

Today’s Questions:

Why do you think it was important that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son be named John?

In Luke 1:17 Zechariah was told that John would “bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God” and “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” How might understanding or seeing God’s grace make us ready to turn our hearts toward him?

Can you identify the last time you were astonished or awed by an expression of God’s grace in your life? What was your response?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, let me see your grace. Keep my heart ready and free my tongue to praise you. If you need to shut my mouth and make me silent, do it. If you need to bring me low or break my heart, do it, Lord. Do whatever it takes if I turn away from you. Prepare the way by your grace for my return.

Daily December Devotional — Day 12

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Today’s Verses:

Jeremiah 23:5-6

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.

In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteous Savior.”

Today’s Questions:

What must it have been like for Joseph and Mary, who had spent their lives hearing these words of Jeremiah recited over and over from the time they were small children, to learn that they were going to have a son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, who would save his people from their sins?

What do you think the Israelites believed their promised king would save them from?

In a typical day, do you give more thought to your need to be saved from your external circumstances or your need to be saved from the darkness, lust, greed, judgment, or self-centeredness in your own heart?

Today’s Prayer:

Lord God, thank you for your righteousness. Thank you that you came to save me and make me clean. Thank you that you came down low, and were then raised up as King. What amazing love you have for me that you would intervene in this way! Help me to remember that what you seek to transform is my heart. My circumstances will come and go, but the person you are making me through my circumstances will live with you forever. Please don’t stop conforming me into the image of Christ.

December Devotional Day 1

Ironically, Christmas is a season in which you could look around at our culture and ask: “What does Jesus have to do with Christmas?” and conclude that the answer is “nothing.” I am not getting pulled into that trap. So, I’m seeking to bathe myself in the story of Jesus’ birth as told in God’s Word.

For the month of December, I am reading a segment of Scripture each day that relates to the story of Jesus’ birth and the time just before he arrived. The Jews who lived before Jesus came into this world waited in expectation for the Messiah, the one who would save them. I am seeking to enter into this “waiting in expectation” state in which they lived not only to increase my understanding of that time, but also because that is where we find ourselves today – waiting in expectation for the second coming of Christ. I think there is much to be learned and I pray I won’t be the same at the end of this month.

I will post the Scripture I’m reading each day as well as some questions I am considering and meditating on in connection with my reading.

Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:1-4

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled 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.”

This is the first paragraph of the gospel of Luke, who was a doctor and a traveling companion of the apostle Paul. Luke wrote his gospel, scholars believe, sometime between 60 and 80 A.D., about 30-50 years after Jesus died. It is not definitively known who Theophilus was, but scholars believe he may have been Luke’s patron, the person responsible for ensuring that Luke’s writings were copied and distributed. What follows immediately after this first paragraph is an account of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus and then, of course, an account of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus.

Today’s Questions:

How does the fact that Luke says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” impact my view and understanding of the rest of what he says?

What did Luke mean by “the things that have been fulfilled among us?”

Who would I have talked to or interviewed to be sure I could write an orderly account of what had happened? What types of questions would I have asked?

What was Luke’s purpose according to this introduction in writing his account?

Today’s Prayer:

Father in heaven, help me to enter into this season with my eyes focused on your Son, Jesus. Keep me from the temptation to forget you, put myself at the center, and get caught in the trap of consumerism. Help me to see, hear, and feel what it must have been like for those I read about in your Word just before the birth of Jesus. Help me, Lord, to wait in expectation for the second coming of Christ.

Life This Week

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This is a short work week for most people in the United States because of Thanksgiving. But it can be a tough week because for every perfect, turkey-laden table out there, there is a person sitting alone at home overcome with loneliness and sadness. For every smiling, happy family, there is a family in tatters, ready to fall apart because of old hurt, long-held grudges, and un-grace. There are three things I’m focusing on this week:

I’m trying to live out Ephesians 4:2. This is one of those verses that is easy to agree with and seemingly impossible to live. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” I want this to be true of me – that I would be humble and gentle with the people I see this week, including my family and friends. I want to be patient and make allowance for the faults of those around me; and I want to be met with patience and gentleness, and allowance for my own faults.

I’m inviting someone. I have been alone on Thanksgiving and I have looked around at my friends and wondered why no one invited me when they knew I would be alone. Inviting someone to your family meal changes the dynamics, and it may make other people uncomfortable, but the potential for demonstrating Christ’s love through an invite like that is sky-high. To be welcomed and loved, even for a short time, can change a life. It’s not a matter of feeling sorry for someone, it’s a matter of feeling love for them. I’m doing some inviting.

I’m thanking God on my knees with a list. This has been quite a year. As I think back over my year, I can’t do anything but fall on my knees in thanks, awe, and humility. This week, I’m going to be intentional about kneeling and listing out in thanks all the incredible blessings God has poured out on my life this year.

What does your week look like?

Is there someone you can invite?

Life This Week

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My friends Lawrence and Martha Temfwe, who live in Ndola, Zambia, strengthen my faith and encourage me to continue to grow and surrender my life to God. They don’t do it through words, but through their lives, their example. I don’t mean their courageous acts (visiting people suffering with HIV/AIDS, carrying for orphans, building the local church), although those are important too. I am encouraged most by their faith in the small moments – when they pray together in the car before going anywhere, their devotional time at breakfast, the conversation with their boys at dinner, and their deep care about my relationship with and growth in Christ. Any time I falter, I can think of them and get back on track. What a gift it is to look around and find someone who is standing firm in faith, growing in their relationship with God, and filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Even Paul said to a church in Thessalonica, “[k]nowing that your faith is alive keeps us alive.” (1 Thess 3:8) This week,

I’m thanking God for Lawrence and Martha Temfwe. They have been such a gift to me and they model faith, courage, and love. Their faith is so alive that they keep me more alive.

I’m praying for those who are faltering. I know that there are those around me whose faith is faltering today. I’m praying that God will open my eyes to those people and that I could be their Lawrence and Martha – that I could encourage them and strengthen them through my faith.

Who encourages you in your faith?

Who can you encourage today?

Life This Week

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Today in my Scripture reading, I read Colossians 3:1-17 and realized immediately that I needed to memorize these verses. They are powerful, and convicting, and hopeful. I want to know them deep in my soul. As I read these verses aloud several times, these are the phrases that I circled or underlined with my pencil, the ones that jumped off the page or cut me just a little:

“Think about the things of heaven…” (v. 2)

“[Y]our real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (v. 3)

“lurking within you…” (v. 5)

“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (v. 10)

“he lives in all of us.” (v. 11)

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” (v. 13)

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.” (v. 15)

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (v. 17)

I’ll need to take in this Scripture in chunks. Here’s how I’ll do it with the first four verses and then will follow the same pattern for the remaining 13 verses:

I’m reading verses 1-4 aloud three times today and tomorrow. Reading Scripture aloud helps me take it in and not skip over any words. It helps me identify which words trip me up and allows me to hear what words I naturally stress based on the sentence structure. One of the times I read it aloud, I will personalize it (“Since I have been raised to new life with Christ, set my sights on the realities of heaven…”) to feel its import on my life.

I’m asking questions. Each sentence in these verses is full of meaning and there are several phrases that I don’t necessarily understand. For example, the first sentence includes, “the realities of heaven,” and the second sentence refers to “the things of heaven.” To set my eyes and thoughts on these “things” I need to understand what they are. So, I’m turning back to Jesus’ words about what the “kingdom of heaven” is like, looking through Scripture for other references to “heaven,” and reading some commentaries to see what others have said.

I’m praying. I am asking God to show me what he wants me to understand about him from this passage and how I can apply it on a daily basis as I walk in the world.

I’m writing down each verse on one of my memory cards. I carry around these colorful cards on a ring and write down Scripture I want to know or memorize. I’ll start with the first four verses, one sentence per card. I will read through them as I notice them throughout my day and practice repeating them by memory.

What does your week look like?

Is there a particular passage of Scripture you could memorize this week? How will you do it?

There Are Some Things I Don’t…

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(photo source)

I have been writing this series of blog posts responding to fears that a friend of mine raised about becoming a Christian.  I am grouping the next three together because they are related:

  • I don’t know enough.

  • I don’t want to give up stuff I love.

  • I don’t really think I need it.

This is such an interesting group of fears, and maybe “fears” isn’t exactly the right word.  I struggled with each of these as I considered Christianity and so now when I respond to someone who raises them, I try to do it in a way that, looking back, did or would have helped me.

I don’t know enough. The Bible is the key to this one, but it is intimidating if we don’t know where to start.  If you start in Genesis, you’ll lose interest and comprehension quickly.  A suggestion that helped me most was to read the books of Luke and Ephesians first.  Luke gives an understandable and accessible description of Jesus while he was on earth.  Ephesians explains the significance of Jesus and what belief in him means and looks like.   I also found “The Case for Christ,” by Lee Strobel and “The Jesus I Never Knew” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” by Philip Yancey helpful.  There are only so many books to read, though.  And we will never know everything or have the answer to every question.  There is a passage in Psalm 34 that says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  (Psalm 34:8)  At some point, you just have to try it and see.

I don’t want to give up stuff I love.  Somehow following Jesus, or being a Christian, has become associated with rules that impinge on our freedom.  The thought that comes to mind immediately upon hearing the term “Christian” probably starts something like, “If you’re a Christian, you’re not allowed to…”  This is so ironic because when Jesus lived on earth, and during the years of the early church, Jesus was criticized for being a violator of the law, not someone under which the world would be restricted.  The only things I have given up since I’ve become a follower of Christ are those things that hurt me and left me feeling empty and those things I idolized, putting my trust in, all the while knowing they would not last.  I have never felt so whole, at peace, or purpose driven.

I don’t really think I need it.  I used to look at my life, I think mostly subconsciously, compare myself to other people, and conclude: “I’m a good person overall.  I’ve made some missteps here and there, but nothing that bad.”  And so the notion that I needed to be saved seemed a little dramatic and unnecessary.  I could always identify someone who had done far worse things and the idea of them needing help seemed much more plausible.  But then I realized I had been drawing the wrong comparison.  The correct comparison is between me and God, not me and other people.  If I assume that God is holy in every way, not just like the best person I’ve ever known, but far, far better, indeed, perfect, I could see that I was not “pretty good” at all.  Far from it.  (Romans 3:23)  And if the goal was to be perfect and holy, I knew I had blown it very early on.  If the deep longing in me was a longing to be with God, all the evidence suggested to me that I could not bridge the gap my wrongdoing had created between God and me.  When I speak to friends now about this gap, I try to help shift the comparisons they make so they are no longer viewing their life in comparison to another person’s life but instead are comparing their life to the standard of a perfect and holy God.

What do you tell people who feel like they don’t know enough yet about what it means to be a Christian?

What have you given up since becoming a follower of Jesus?  What have you gained?

My Friends and Family Wouldn’t Get It

IMG_0386This is the second fear my friend identified as we talked about why the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus scared her:  her friends and family wouldn’t get it and she’d be alone.

The best response to the fear “my friends and family wouldn’t get it,” is: “Yes, that’s true.  Most of them won’t.  Some of them will distance themselves from you.  And it hurts.”  To say otherwise would be false.  The next question, quite naturally, is: “Then why would I do it?”

The only way I can think to answer this one is to explain why I did.  The truth is that for me, becoming a follower of Jesus did not originate with the thought that I had offended God and needed a way back to him.  I suspect this is true for most people today.  It did not cross my mind that I was separated from God because God was not my frame of reference.  My frame of reference was what the world taught me equaled success: a husband, a child, a house, cars, money, approval, gadgets, elite airline status, good wine, and a New York Times subscription.  Upon acquiring each of these, though, I became increasingly aware of their inadequacy to still me, and their tendency to create a craving for more.  I didn’t know what to do with my dissatisfaction, and so I unknowingly slid into a years-long period of disintegration and darkness.  There were still moments of light and laughter and hope, but really, I was lost, bouncing from one thing to another to fill my time and thoughts.

Eventually, I began to doubt that what I had been told by watching the world was true.  I could see that no matter how much I tried to love my daughter, and how many new things I acquired, trips I took, bottles of the best wine I drank, or men I loved, I still had a gaping hole inside of me.  I knew in the depths of me that my purpose could not possibly be to make money, acquire stuff, take some cool trips, and then die.  My purpose could not be just to give birth and raise my daughter because she would grow up and move out, and there I would be.  I also knew that my purpose could not be just to enjoy life because I had the sense that I was made to do something that mattered.  It crossed my mind that loving people could be my purpose, but I had not done that very well so far in my life and sometimes, I didn’t feel like loving people.

I became a follower of Jesus because I needed him.  I needed him even more than the acceptance, approval, or affection of my friends and family.  Still do.  In him, I found my purpose.  In him, I found eternal, unwavering, unconditional love.  In him, I found the power to love well and the ability to be still and content.  In nothing else could I find any of these.

So, knowing my friends and my family might reject me, why did I still decide to follow Jesus?  I needed to.  I lost some friends and some members of my family don’t get me or my decision.  But I’m not alone.

If someone asked you why you decided to follow Jesus, what would you say?

Did you know some people you cared about might turn their backs on you?  Then, why did you do it?