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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

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December 2017

A New Year’s Resolution

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Philippians 4:1-9

Somehow or another, we have reached the last few days of 2017. I blinked my eyes, and an entire year went by. And so now, as the year 2018 is about to begin, we have reached that time of year when we make our list of things we hope to resolve in the new year. Eat better. Exercise more. Quit a bad habit. Be a better listener. Be more patient. Any one of these would be noble things to work at for the next 365 days. BUT, how many of us fall off the wagon after about a month or two? Life just gets in the way of being successful on our new year’s resolutions sometimes (ok, maybe all the time). A while back, I made a new year’s resolution that I have stuck to every year since, and it has been amazing. I resolved to no longer make any new year’s resolutions. I’ve decided that I can make changes in my life anytime of the year, and not just on January 1st.

With all of that being said, this passage in the final chapter of Philippians is a perfect guide to a very worthy new year’s resolution. Rejoice in the Lord. Don’t worry. Pray about everything. Fix your thoughts on things that will bring you and those around you joy. Do all of this, and what will happen? “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Also, “and the God of peace will be with you.”

I know I often let life get in the way of too many things, including exercise, being a better friend, and my relationship with God. But maybe it is time for me to make a NEW new year’s resolution to live a life of Philippians 4:1-9.

Happy New Year!

Giving Living

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2 Corinthians 9.6-15

Exodus 25.2

Mark 12.41-44

This last week in his sermon Craig recalled a story from some men at the Morning Star Mission. One man had his shoes stolen in the night and awoke to that fact and was bent on revenge. As he was trying to locate his missing shoes, a buddy who had been in Bible study with him called across the room to him and reminded him of the lesson Jesus taught.  “If someone demands of you your coat,  give him your cloak also.”  With that base he cried out, “give him your socks John, give him your socks.”  As God worked in John’s heart, he put up his knife and took off his socks to give them away also.

As I ponder this lesson I find myself drawing application in other areas of Christianity too.  Giving is a gift of God to us, 2 Corinthians 9.15.  Normally we think of giving in the sense of tithing,  generosity to a charity, or perhaps giving in the area of time or talent to a righteous cause.  But to be required to give in this circumstance of loss really stretches the imagination.

In Exodus 25.2   The Lord spoke to Moses to ” tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me, from every man whose heart moves him.”  Mark 12. 41-44  In the story of  the widows mites, surely her contribution had little effect on the overall treasury of the temple, but God was overjoyed at her heart response.  2 Corinthians 9.7 “not grudgingly or out of compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Put this together and we find  a message that says from our inner most being, the heart, giving starts.  The world can’t begin to grasp this, as we see companies manipulating statements and contracts to keep more for themselves, people delaying payments for work done, withholding taxes being withheld but never sent to the government, thefts, embezzlements, the list goes on and on.  So in contrast to the world, Jesus says give your money away.  Don’t be greedy looking for return but from the heart as God has changed you, as you become a new creation, put it into action.  Be gracious.

The true Christian understands giving is relational to our view of God.  As we see the vastness of God, the grace of God, the love, the holiness, omnipotent, immutable qualities of God, how can we respond in any way but gracious obedient giving. 1 Corinthians 2.5  “For our faith does not rest on the wisdom of man, but on the power of God.”  All scriptural instruction assumes all scripture is being understood, established, and put to use in the life of the believer.  Sometimes we are literally shaken by God because of our shortsighted, myopic view of Him, and like Isaiah in the very throne room of Jehovah need to admit once again that we are a people of unclean lips.  Our selfish view of God needs to expand dramatically, and we need a simple lesson in humility.

As John was free to give away his socks also, so are we free to be graciously generous in our giving too, not out of duty, but out of love for God, our Savior.  As God calls each of us to obedience let the Holy Spirit into your wallet too.  We can’t out give God.

Thanks for a great sermon Craig.

Karl

The Servant

Isaiah 49

Review: This Servant is predestined to carry out God’s plan from his mother’s womb (vv. 1-3)…His words are likened to a sharp sword (v. 2)…Strangely, this Servant is not recognized by anyone (vv. 5-7), except God….The “light of the nations” and “covenant to the people” (v. 6, 8) is a retelling (42:2, 6)…We have what amounts to another exodus or regathering (vv. 9-13)…Zion expresses fear of abandonment (v. 14)…To this claim, God proclaims divine faithfulness to His child Israel (vv. 15-20)…Lastly, God states that He will overcome His adversaries (vv. 21-26).

Commentary: In answering the question “Who is this Servant?”; the easy answer of course is Jesus…That’s a good guess in any semblance of Bible study, for any question…It is true that Jesus “foots the bill” to the described Servant’s sharp wording (v. 2), whom God “called Me from the womb” (v. 1,5), He became “light to the Gentiles” (v. 6) and certainly was despised (v. 7) for any number of reasons…Yet, some of what is spoken to we have no record of Jesus addressing – the coastlands (v. 1), and the consolidation of Jacob and Israel (vv. 5-6)…That is on His first coming…This “covenant” (v. 8) evidently refers to the unconditional one God made with David (2 Sam. 7:4-17); fulfilled and to be fulfilled in Christ (Rom. 1:3)…Certainly there are some aspects of the Bible narrative, like nursing (v. 15), being a bride (v. 18), lost children and barrenness (vv. 20, 21) that are best identified with by women…The poetry of Isaiah is such that it gives images but not complete pictures, leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader.

Unlikely Witnesses

Throughout the Advent Season I was using an online devotional published by Gordon-Conwell Seminary, the Seminary I attended for my M.Div. degree to become a pastor.  I found this particular devotion to be very thoughtful and inspiring and wanted to share it with you.  May it remind us that any of us can be used by God to witness to the Savior.
                      Pastor Craig
2017 Gordon-Conwell Advent Devotional
Day 21 | Unlikely Witnesses

Luke 2:8-15 (NIV) 

When a great world leader makes a visit, he or she is greeted with much fanfare by other world leaders. Red-carpet welcomes and lavish state dinners announce the important event. At this season we celebrate a birth, a visit to our world from someone whom the Christian faith declares to be far more important than any world leader—our Lord himself, Jesus. But his birth was not marked by any direct announcement to the world leaders of his day (the Roman Emperor or his regent in Israel, Herod), or to the movers and shakers of his society (the Jewish religious leaders). Instead, Luke 2:8-14 indicates that an announcement was made to some shepherds who were tending their flocks at night. This was a most unlikely announcement, and yet a most appropriate one as well.

Because shepherds were always walking in sheep waste and touching dead animals, they were always ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law. So they were never allowed to worship in the Temple, and thus occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder of the day. They were the untouchables of their society, and so the angel’s action in Luke 2 is shocking. Why make such a stunning announcement to such an unlikely audience?

But this is not all. Those to whom the angel appeared in Luke 2 do not seem to have been ordinary shepherds. We have evidence that there was a designated group of shepherds whose task was to raise the lambs that were to be sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem. These “temple shepherds” and the lambs they cared for resided in fields outside of Bethlehem. Recognizing this enables us to see the appropriateness of choosing these shepherds as the first ones to whom the announcement of Jesus’ birth was made.

These people who raised the lambs for Temple worship but were never allowed to take part in that worship, who were outcasts even though they were indispensable to Jewish religious life, were the ones the Lord chose as the first non-family members to hear about, and to behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

By Dr. Donald Fairbairn, Academic Dean and Professor of Early Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte Campus

 

Twas the day after Christmas…

Well…the day so many had waited for…anticipated, has come and gone.  All day Christmas music on the radios returns to nearly everyday programming.  Today, there is the task of cleaning up or thinking about braving the stores for the inevitable returns.  Today, the memories of church choirs and candlelights still linger in our heads and hearts and we look forward to next year.  Now what?

For many…today brings the overwhelming thought of….exhaustion.  Now what?  It’s the day after Christmas…time to hop back on the treadmill of life…after all, Easter is on the horizon.  The celebrations have ended, the tree will soon come down and we find ourselves back in the ordinary world where no angels sing where there is little glory to God certainly no peace on earth and good will is a scarce commodity.  Now what?

How do we travel life’s roads after Christmas – the daily routines of home, work, school?  What do we do when we leave behind the joys, the traditions, the memories of Christmas and journey down the road of everyday life?  If we believe Christmas is only a day or, at best, a season, then life can be a struggle.  However, if Christmas is a purpose for life because of a baby, Jesus, who lives on today and promises to come again, then we can know real purpose.

On Christmas Eve we read the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel the conclusion of which provides for us a simple roadmap for the day after Christmas and beyond:

“When they had seen Jesus, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:17-20)

Ponder the wonder of Christmas in your heart and, you too, can tell the Christmas story time and again – in your words and in your actions even the day after Christmas and beyond!!  Merry Christmas to all!

 

Here’s a day after Christmas poem for all:

‘Twas the day after Christmas,
And all ‘cross the land
All the people were saying,
“Wasn’t Christmas just grand?”

The children were joyful,
The parents were tired,
And grandfolks, aunts and uncles
Had been really inspired.

The stockings still hung by the chimneys with care
But the toes were now empty; there was nothing left there.

All the presents were opened
The carols all had been sung
We’d enjoyed our big gathering
Where we’d seen everyone.

But beneath all the clutter, the leftovers and toys
Was the meaning eternal, and the source of our joys.
For we’d focused our time not on gifts, not on food
But on the true source of our holiday mood.
We read verses, we sang songs, we remembered and smiled
For the cause of it all was the holy Christ Child.

So may we proclaim ‘ere the year starts again:
Let’s promote peace on earth, and good will to men.

(Source: http://dailysignal.com/2011/12/26/twas-the-day-after-christmas/)

 

Merry Christmas!

Looking ahead to today’s Christmas Eve services, I thought we all should have something for tomorrow morning…Christmas Day!  It’s snowing outside right now and that will make some very happy – it will make Christmas…Christmas for them.  For others there will be presents…or family gatherings.  For others…this will not be a very festive day for many reasons.  And yet for far too many, we often forget that Christmas is not about us…Christmas is God’s doing – his action in a world he loves and cares for.  The following is taken from the book “Hidden Christmas” by Tim Keller:

Years ago, I read an ad in the New York Times that said, “The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.” In other words, we have the light within us, and so we are the ones who can dispel the darkness of the world. We can overcome poverty, injustice, violence, and evil. If we work together, we can create a “world of unity and peace.”

Can we? One of the most thoughtful world leaders or the late 20th century was Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. He had a unique vantage point from which to peer deeply into both socialism and capitalism, and he was not optimistic that either would, by itself, solve the greatest human problems. He knew that science unguided by moral principles had given us the Holocaust. He concluded that neither technology not the state nor the market alone could save us from nuclear degradation. “Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough,” Havel said. “A turning to and seeing of … God is needed.” The human race constantly forgets, he added, that “he is not God.”

God’s Spirit was at work in the creation of a new heaven and earth…again when the first Church was formed and, in a tiny little town called Bethlehem.  It is God’s Spirit that creates newness.  Newness comes when God “stirs the pot” in a very comfortable and settled world.  Christmas is not just about what happened but what can happen today and tomorrow as long as we remember that we humans are not God.  Merry Christmas everyone!!

Are you ready?

Luke 2:1-20

Are you ready for Christmas?  Today is Christmas Eve and there are many thoughts, hopes, dreams and expectations abounding out there.  Many of us can still remember the child-like wonder of Christmas.  Many have worked tirelessly to make Christmas special.  It’s snowing outside right now and for so many that will make Christmas, Christmas.  Just a little trivia here…According to the Guinness Book of World Records, White Christmas by Bing Crosby is not only the best-selling Christmas/holiday single in the United States, but also the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.

For many of you, you will head off to Christmas Eve services (3, 7 and 10:30 at First Presbyterian Church of Joliet) for your favorite songs/hymns, hearing the Christmas story told in Scripture and, of course, candles.

In the back of many will be thoughts of “did I get everything done?”…”what did I forget?”.  And yet, Christmas will still come whether you or I are ready of not won’t it?  So, for today, I’ll leave you with this thought from the devotional book I have been reading this Advent season:

We are “to be dazzled that at Christmas something happens beyond all our calculations.  This is a baby and a wonder and a gift that are designed to move us beyond ourselves”. (‘Celebrating Abundance” by Walter Brueggemann)  

So, instead of wondering if we are ready or not for Christmas, let us instead be dazzled by God’s gift to us – Jesus, born in Bethlehem but who is with us today and tomorrow.

A Christmas Prayer

John 1:14

 

Abba! Father!

How sweet and precious is Your son to us?

We lift up our hearts in praise. We rejoice in the Incarnation. We sing with the angels and thank You for sending us a servant King. We thank You, God, for loving us enough to journey with us. You know our struggles and You have walked this life as we do now.

On this Christmas we surrender to you our hearts. We ask that You create a new heart in us, God. We ask that you break the chains that may be part of a broken family, an addiction, a secret sin, or any other hurt, and give us peace in return. We ask that when the pain of loved ones loss becomes too much to bear You remind us that there is hope found in every circumstance because You are here.

I ask that You remind us of Your humbleness. Let that Truth and love sink into our souls. May we remember that the Creator of all things chose to be born out of His own creation. May we remember that Your love for us is so deep that You became our brother and friend despite it all–without obligation or complaint.

This Christmas, Father, I ask that You bless us. I ask the Holy Spirit bring peace, joy, comfort, and praise. May we sing with the angels this Christmas “Glory to God in the highest!”

May we be a people who are joyous not because of this world, our circumstances, or things, but because of You.

In Jesus’s sweet and precious name we pray,
Amen.

 

Getting ready for Christmas

Luke 2:1-20

Ohh Christmas!!! That wonderful time of the year when everything is about “being ready”! Am I ready for Christmas? Sure thing – I am as ready for it as for any other day of the year.

You see, it is my belief that we are living in an expectation driven season. Everything has to be just right. The right gift for a special someone will take hours and hours of looking around or numerous trips to the store. Or maybe we had drawn the short stick and we are the host for the family dinner this year, and boy everything has to be perfect. Or maybe in between all the parties we are invited too and all the people we got to see we might even have a little time to find ourselves.

You get the idea. A time when we need to be ready for something and expected to be all that. Maybe this season is here to challenge us to rethink expectations that people might have of us, and us of them.

Maybe this season is about finding peace and joy in the mundane, in the unexpected in the lost and found, in the in-between. Let me explain what I mean. For Mary and Joseph, this was a time of uncertainty, a time when everything was upside down when the idea of marriage and expecting a baby was met by a surprise angeling timeline. For the magi, the trip was long and tiring but also with an unexpected twist, the king they were looking for was born in a barn. For the shepherds the quiet night turned in to a concert hosted by angels. Maybe that is the message of Christmas: when we least expect it, God has a way to show up in our lives. When we let ourselves be caught up by the moment rather than planning it all out, maybe then we will encounter the meaning of this season: God close to us, in our anxiety, in our nervousness, in our joyful or unjoyful preparation, God is close to us.

Today I pray, that as “you get ready ” for Christmas that you might experience the joy and peace of the there and not ready yet, the joy of seeing God in your life in an amazing and surprising way.

Be Blessed,

Merry Christmas,

Bo M.

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