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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

December 2013

2 Corinthians 5 – Ambassadors

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

This is a great passage, the first few verses are a super clear Gospel and the rest of the section is a real kick in the pants. The verse that’s been on my mind is verse 20.  Paul says that we’re ambassadors of Christ.  It’s a cool word picture; we represent Christ and its our job to bring others to Him.  If we look at the life of Paul, we get a sense of what that looks like; a life that revolves around bringing others to Christ.  He’s not always successful, but Paul’s always trying.  What’s been constantly bothering me is that my life doesn’t really look like that all that often. Sure, I’m pretty good at it with our students and their friends, but my neighbor doesn’t know the good news.

I think this is something a lot of us struggle with but we let ourselves of the hook because we feel incredibly awkward telling someone that they’re a sinner and need God. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of badgering my neighbors till they cringe whenever I’m around, but I do need to be the guy that cares enough about the people around him that he’s willing to experience a little awkwardness if it means others have an opportunity to have a relationship with God.  I guess this is less a life verse and more a resolution.  With God’s help, I want to be a more faithful minister of reconciliation.

Everything we do…

This week’s blogging will be a little different.  As we get ready for our study of 1 John beginning next week, we still want to keep you engaged in your daily study of God’s Word.  So, this week, Micah, Bo and I will look at a few of our individual life verses.  Please consider sharing yours with all of as well.

Life Verse:  Colossians 3:17 (NRSV) 

Paul, knowing that all wisdom comes in Christ, urged the Colossians to not get distracted by others.  You’ve heard the phrase “home is where the heart is”…Paul is telling the Colossians that they should set their hearts on those things above – or heavenly things and one does this by turning away from sinful worldly practices and, instead, clothing themselves with Christ’s virtues – this is a new understanding of “home is where the heart is”.

This past week we celebrated the birth of Christ…Christmas.  Col 3:17 is one of my life verses because it guides me in my response to this unequaled gift.  I don’t always get it right but it guides me and it can guide you as well.  Whatever you do…whether at the office, in the home, in the warehouse or the hospital, whether you serve coffee, usher, or greet on Sunday morning…or you pick up that stray piece of paper in the parking lot or on the floor…do it all in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, as we begin a new year – one full of potential and hope…As we contemplate where the road of life will take each of us…Let us remember that our response to the Christmas gift should always be in the virtues of Christ for this is truly where our home is.  Every day and every activity…In this way we respond to God’s gift of Love…to AND for us in Christ Jesus.

Happy New Year!!

Ephesians 5:8-14 – The Response to Christmas

Ephesians 5:8-14

The last few weeks we’ve been focusing on the fact that the birth of Christ brings light to the world. Its beautiful concept; that God, through Christ, provided a way for us to come out of the darkness and be in the light.  However, once we’re in the light, the game isn’t quite over yet.  We still have a tendency to love darkness. We may be free from always choosing sin, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. That’s why Paul encourages us here to walk in the light.  We’ve been rescued from slavery to sin, now we need to as children of God in the light.

“Create in me a clean heart…”

Today’s Passage:  Psalm 51 (emphasis on verse 10)

The Psalm of Psalms of penitence…we sing it in church as a response to confession many times.  This is a wonderful psalm – one that has, and continues to provide perspective on confession.  In my mind, Psalm 51 is the standard for confession.  David, a man after God’s heart, has stumbled…Bathsheba was her name and Nathan, the prophet, has pointed it out to David in a  clear and succinct way…”you are the man” David…

Because this psalm deals only with confession,  this psalm must be understood as a full meditation on the importance of confession. David has sinned, like all of us, he must obtain forgiveness if he/we is/are to enjoy full participation in the service of the Lord.  But, first is confession!  The overall message of this psalm is simple – no matter who we are or what we do…we can go to our God and tell him where we fall short…we can come seeking moral restoration.  And once restoration comes, joyful life…faithful service…fellowship…these are the promises of restoration in and with God.  How?  By grace…simple and with never a doubt!

How simple?  In Hebrew, the word for sin means to turn away from God.   More assuredly, the Hebrew word for forgiveness, is the same and means to turn away from sin…to turn back to God.  No, I did not make a mistake – in Hebrew, one word with two meanings…wrapped in grace!  So, the next time we sin, turn away from God, remember that by grace we turn back to God…simple?  Maybe it is more appropriate to place this in the category of love…God’s love – so great that grace comes through love.  “Change My Heart O God” – #654…a response to confession…”change my heart O God…may i be like you”.

When we come to confession in our Sunday services…keep this psalm central in your heart.  “Change my heart O God, make it ever true” – to the glory of God who can make all things possible…Amen.

Isaiah 29:19 – Fresh Joy

Isaiah 29:19

I’ve watched more than my fair share of sappy holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime channels this Christmas season.  A guilty pleasure in the glow of the lights from my decorated tree…  This year more than those past I’ve recognized an over-arching theme that is surprising coming out of Hollywood:  Simple is better.  Love, joy, peace, family.  Giving is definitely better than receiving.

Isaiah is talking to and about the people of Israel in Jerusalem in this passage, warning them that they cannot hide from God who is maker, protector, and giver of all good things. Sandwiched between the verses of warnings and promises comes this gem of good news, “The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.  The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (NLT).”

Not just joy.  FRESH joy.   And it’s the poor who rejoice; not the rich and powerful.  What great news!  What a great promise!  Simplicity brings joy. May you find your joy in the simple and humble things of life, remembering this is how our Savior came in and out of the world.  May the joy of this season continue in our hearts and relationships every day as we live, work, and grow in our faith.

Anna Johnson

Luke 2:1-7 – And God Comes To Earth

Luke 2:1-7

To a world marked with sin, corruption, shame, guilt, anger and lust.  During a time of deep regional social unrest, God incarnate came to a dumpy little town to be born in a cave to a pregnant teenager.  He was unknown and was faced with death from His first tiny breathes.  It wasn’t an accident, it was a sovereign God’s perfect plan from eternity past. The ruler of creation came to be born a baby; to save an undeserving people who God dearly loved.

Do two things today: 1. Spend time as a family thanking God for Jesus.  2. Sit down and read the Christmas story in Luke 2 as family.  Celebrate certainly, but celebrate in awe of a gracious God.

Merry Christmas!  The Messiah has come!

It was the night before Christmas

Luke 2:19

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

It is the day before Christmas, and for many of us, our abodes might not be the idyllic picture that the carols or the Christmas cards are trying to paint. But you know what? That is OK!

I can recall another place where things were not proper, where people were still trying to make it work, where family is coming to town and the rooms are not ready, where food is still cooking, and life just looks like a big mess.

And in the midst of all that, something marvelous happens! A baby is born! For a moment a glimpse of heaven can be seen in that little town of Bethlehem! As the story goes, a stable with all its mess, noise and unpleasantness becomes something so beautiful, so meaningful and might i dare say “heavenly”.

Here we find Mary, Joseph, shepherd and all, enjoying and taking in that very precious moment when the Son of God is born. Now that is something to ponder and treasure.

Christmas is messy! Christmas is stressful, full of things we want to control but cannot! Christmas is noisy! Christmas is ……

But with all that Christmas is also the place where heaven reaches down, where we can see glimpses of heavens in those around us, where peace and goodwill takes holds of our hearts and minds, and where you get to experience some precious moments with family and friends. And that is something that will help us remember Christmas all year-long. Because at the end of the night, when all is calm we understand the Child that was born is the Prince of Peace, Our Shepherd and Counselor not just for a night but for every day of our lives.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy your Bethlehem today! Make memories that you will cherish for a long time! Enjoy the peace that Christ brings!

Be Blessed

Bo M.

Praise the Lord…

Today’s Passage:  Luke 1:46-47 (NLT)

Ok, so what else do you say about these words…kind of gives me, and maybe you, a new perspective on a phrase that can often be overused…’praise the Lord’.  What do we really mean when we use this phrase?  Or hear this phrase from others?

Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ puts into perspective her love…her obedience…to the Lord – and there is tremendous joy in her heart!  How would you respond if you had just been told that your were going to be the mother of the Son of God?  Pretty heady stuff isn’t it?   Many today think of Mary as Catholic – but in this passage she is catholic – just like our confession the Apostles’ Creed states…the holy catholic Church – for all of us.  I’d say that Mary’s faith as depicted in her Magnificat gives credence to what many, and I, believe is her incredible faith.

Mary’s praise of God is tremendously personal – can you feel the emotion and passion in her words…her words comes from the core of her being.  She glorifies the Lord…she trusts the Lord…she loves the Lord.  Mary’s character is awesome and it sure sounds to me like her character comes from having an understanding of God’s character (reading the whole passage).  For a teenager carrying the Son of God, soon to travel 80 miles to reach Bethlehem…wow, what else is there to say!

There is a good question for all of us in Mary’s words…when we use the phrase ‘praise the Lord’, what is our intent – just another phrase or one that is filled with glory, honor, praise, trust and love for our God?

Sing to the Lord…

Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)

Musicians and vocalists will know this wonderful passage from Luke as ‘Mary’s Magnificat’.  Gabriel has told Mary of the coming birth of Jesus and Mary has just visited her cousin Elizabeth – the Magnificat or Mary’s Hymn of Praise is her response – she sings praising God’s favor on her and the people.  Mary’s song has similarities to Hannah’s song (1 Sam. 2:1-10). First, Mary praised God for His special favor on her (Luke 1:46-50). Mary saw herself as part of the godly remnant that had served Yahweh. She called God my Savior showing an intimate acquaintance with Him. She spoke of His faithfulness (v. 48), power (v. 49), holiness (v. 49), and mercy (v. 50). Second, Mary praised God for His special favor on Israel (vv. 51-55). Through the Child that she was to bear, God was being merciful to Abraham and his descendants. Mary was aware that the birth of her Child was a fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham and his people.

Mary proclaims her joy in God and she takes heart in the promise (here sung as a declaration of that promise) that the Lord considers, cares for, and acts on behalf of the lowly — despite what one might expect…it is not for kings or the mighty and powerful that the Lord has regard, rather it is for all the rest that God does great things.  Mary identifies what God is doing as being not just for her but also through her for the whole people.

This song can be and should be, our song in this Advent season.   We too can sing in thanksgiving…we can sing in celebration…we can sing in remembrance…  Christmas is so much bigger than what our western culture makes it to be.  As we approach Christmas Eve, let us have the celebratory joy in the promises that come to us in Christ Jesus.  Let us shout out magnifying our God!!

 

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