First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @


December 2019

Hearts on Pilgrimage

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Psalm 84:5

A pilgrimage is a journey–which is what this devotion is about. A journey through Advent. A journey to Christmas. A journey to Christ.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who journey to where the Lord sends them: Naomi and Ruth journey together to Bethlehem in The Book of Ruth, Abram leaves his homeland and goes where God calls him in Genesis, and Christ has a pilgrimage (a journey) to the Cross which begins with a glorious Palm Sunday in all the Gospels.

God wants our hearts to be open to the journey He’s taking us on. He wants us to say yes. He wants us to follow Him.

I think about Jesus a lot when I think about journeys and following Him. When Jesus commanded the men to drop their nets and follow him or whenJesus tells the rich man to sell everything and follow him. I mean. These people had to have open and trusting hearts that were ready to just go. Can you imagine leaving everything behind and trusting the Lord will care for you?

Sometimes I struggle. There are some attachments I have that I know I would be reluctant to give up. Honestly, I haven’t been asked to give up my everything in pursuit of Christ–but I have given up some things. I’ve lost some things. It’s part of the journey–part of trusting that the Lord knows what’s best for me.

Are you ready to go? Are you ready for a great adventure with Christ?


The Tree of Jesse

Matthew 1:1-17

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some extra time at home after the birth of my second son, Rylie. Coincidentally, about the same exact time period, a member of my extended family, out of the blue, decided to share her family genealogy research with me. I was immediately hooked, looking back through the generations through my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. The craziest part of the story is that one of the first men on that side of the family to come to this country first landed here in the 1640s, was married to a Native American princess, and helped found two different towns on the East Coast. I would love to spend more time (whenever I can manage free time) looking through the other parts of my family tree. I’m sure there are a lot of stories to be told in all of those generations. 

In a much more important way, the family tree of Jesus is chock full of lots of great stories. Some of the most notable names include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, David, & Solomon. Although each of these people were well aware of God working in and through their lives, I’m sure they never imagined that their family line would play such an important role for all the nations in the way that it has. Though God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, I don’t think being part of the family line of the savior of the world was ever part of the discussion. And yet, here we are. With Jesus coming from that long line of important historical and Biblical characters. Though they may have had no clue, God knew exactly what he was doing and knows now how this story will ultimately end. And it will end with Jesus coming once again to free us from all the chains that bind here on Earth. 


The Old and the New


Hebrews 12: 28-29


Heb.12:28  starts with, “Therefore, since we have a Kingdom which cannot be shaken, …” The writer here has been explaining for his audience, which are Hebrew, and know from memory of life experience and history the covenants of Jehovah with Israel.  There are seven such covenants ranging from Adam through David, and finally through the prophets an eighth covenant, which Jeremiah has called simply, a New Covenant, Jer. 31:31.

All of the old covenants were performance based, “if you, then I.”  Finally Jehovah revealed a covenant which was solely God based, which we understand to be grace, a gift.  Jer. 31:33, “I will put my law within them and on their hearts I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.”  Jehovah reiterates this in the prophet Ezekiel 36: 26 ” Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes…”

This New Covenant was to be implemented through the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus the Son of God.  So as we understand it, God offered himself, through His son to us for the forgiveness of sin, the gift of everlasting life, and an advocate in this life, the Holy Spirit which indwells all who believe.  This is the New Covenant, a spiritual covenant, not commands in the flesh without any enabling to keep those commands,  but rather an indwelling desire for Holiness, through the Holy Spirit placed inside us, which also empowers us to obedience and service.  His grace supplies all of our needs, for grace is an enabling attribute of Jehovah.

The Kingdom spoken in this passage from Hebrews is now Spiritual, not physical, as compared earlier in the text as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten Commandments, to Mount Moriah, where Jerusalem was built, and Jesus was crucified. So we can symbolically see the difference of the physical versus the Spiritual.  On the night of the last supper, where Jesus ate with His disciples in the upper room, He said of the bread “this is my body which is broken for you,” and of the wine, “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood..”

Hebrews 12: 28  “Therefore, since we receive  a Kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;  for our God is a consuming fire.”  This last line of God being a consuming fire is in reference to Mount Sinai, where the entire mountain that Moses ascended, to receive the Commandments, was ablaze. Hebrews 12:18.   We don’t have that fear the Israelites had in the wilderness, for the wrath of God has been assuaged by the acceptable sacrifice of Jesus, the very Son of God.  Fear is no longer the motivator for obedience for God’s people, but rather the love of God.

Romans 12.1  ” Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship.”

The love of God was first revealed in the town of Bethlehem, through a virgin, in a manger, to shepherds, who saw an angelic display of God’s glory, and in obedience to their instructions, saw the Son of God.


The Works and Word of God

Psalm 111

Review & Commentary:  This Psalm begins with individual and corporate praise of God (v. 1) … His works are “great, honorable, glorious, wonderful, to be remembered, and full of compassion” (vv. 2-4) … Charles Dickens reports the thing human beings do better than anything else is take things, as they are, for granted … Forgetting the whole lot of inhospitality not far beyond our 9000 mile diameter of existence … Our LORD’s provisions include “food, covenants, the heritage of nations, verity (truths), justice, and precepts” (vv. 5-7) … The psalmist comments on the previous saying their efficacy is “forever and ever…done in truth and up-righteousness” (v. 8) … “Redemption is to His people” (v. 9) … Does this logically imply no redemption to those who aren’t His people? … We conclude with “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” (v. 10a) something mentioned with some frequency elsewhere (Ps. 19:9, Prov. 1:7, cp. Luke 12:16-21) … Those with understanding know his commandments (v. 10b) … Our LORD has issued two books to humankind, the first the wonders and resources of creation, the second our Bible, both clearly examined here.


Psalm 146 (NIV)

The Advent Season is a time for rejoicing in the Lord.  We rejoice in who God is and what God does for us.  Psalm 146 gives us many, many reasons to rejoice in God.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them— 
    he remains faithful forever.

I encourage you to read through the ten verses of Psalm 146 and find reasons for rejoicing.  We rejoice in the Lord for we can put our trust and hope in God.  The Lord helps us, cares for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are down, watches over the foreigner, sustains the fatherless and the widow, and frustrates the wicked.

Each day as you journey through the Advent Season take time to find reasons to rejoice in God.  Pause for a few minutes each day to praise the Lord.  Advent is a time to rejoice.

Second Saturday of Advent – December 14

Second Saturday of Advent – December 14

Paving the Road –

Isaiah 40:3  A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”


This passage and picture brings to mind many times when my family drives down south. My turn to drive is usually late in the  night, when all is calm.  I recall this one particular night. There was no moon out, so the sky was very dark. The highway looked very similar to the picture above, but darker.  As everyone in the car slept, I (wo)manned the wheel with my ‘Jesus’ music (my kids call it) filling my mind, and praying as I followed the illuminated lines of the highway… the paved road.  At one point, the road and sky were so dark, I could only see as far as my headlights would shine.  I looked ahead and could not tell what was ahead; a curve, a hill, anything?   It was so dark.  Suddenly, fear washed over me.   I couldn’t see the road ahead or where I was going.   Like driving into a dark unlit tunnel, nothing but the glowing lines on the pavement. My heart was in a full swing panic and my palms became clammy while everyone else in the car slept peacefully.  It was in that moment,  God revealed to me that this is how life is with Him; like this road.  He has paved it before me, I just have to trust that He knows where I’m headed and that I am safe in His care.  Soon, my fears and anxiety began to settle and I stared out into that darkness,  being reminded that I just needed to keep my eye on the road in front of me, and Trust.  (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Scripture tells us that Jesus wants us right now, right here, just as we are,  that He has paved the road, to come to follow Him.  We just need to choose Him and allow our hearts to be transformed from the inside out with HIS love.  Once we know the peace that comes with placing our trust in Him, pieces of our lives start to fall into place because the PLANNING has already been done for us by our Heavenly Father, through His Son.  (Psalm 119:30).

Often times in our wandering when the pathway becomes a bit obscured and the warn outlines are no longer visible, we have to still trust that God is up to something good and we need to keep our hearts and minds ready because at anytime our paved road may split and a new direction we begin to take.  He is always with us, even when things all around us say otherwise and our paved road is not so clear and smooth.   We have to choose Him again and again, over and over every day, sometimes so often it seems as if all we do is pray, and that is good.    His unconditional love and forgiveness washes over us and we are set straight again.  (Isaiah 35:8)

I wholeheartedly believe that the power of prayer and trusting God through each day, signifies ‘paving the road’, setting our path straight, realigning our mindset, heart, and focus. So don’t just give up when you cannot clearly see the whole road before you, TRUST that it IS paved and each mile marker you pass is right where you need to be.  Through our prayers in ALL circumstances, we are to trust and follow our heart that leads to Jesus, the one who continues to pave the way.

Jeremiah 1:5 assures us that our paved road has been set before our very first breath;   “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”


Prayer:   Lord, help me to trust the road before me,  even when I can’t see what lies ahead. I know you are with me, but help me to be awakened to your presence around me with me with each bump and curve in the paved road of my journey.  Amen.



Are We There Yet?

“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… This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

Jeremiah 23:5-6

Waiting is difficult to say the least. Waiting in line gets annoying, waiting for your child to outgrow whatever funky (or snotty) phase they are in is agonizing, and waiting on the Lord is especially a long process.

God being God does not see time the way we do. Jewish calendars are different from Christian which are different from Chinese, which are different from even ancient calendars. If there is no consistent way for us to measure time as a people… well, doesn’t that make waiting seems even longer?

Like a child (or real talk: even us grown-ups) on a long road trip wondering where the end is, the Hebrew people Jeremiah was talking to were in a place wondering how long they would be captivated. They didn’t see an end in sight–even though the Lord told Jeremiah one was coming.

Even today, we grow impatient with God’s timing. We want things now and we want them a certain way.

The way a child must trust an adult who tells them it’s only a little while longer, can we trust God when He guides us? Are you willing to sit back, breathe, and allow God to drive your life?


P.S: It is really hard to wait and trust without a little whining. In the devotional our church is reading they suggest reading Psalm 61:1-5 for further reflection and I think that’s great. God hears our whines. He hears our pains, our sorrows, and anytime we cry out. Our whining is often time rooted in deep pain: anxiety, depression, trauma. God hears it.

God hears you.

Keep asking Him if you’re there yet. The answer is probably no, but He’s more than happy to keep guiding you on this journey.

Extraordinary Out of the Ordinary


Micah 5:2

This is going to sound like a John Mellencamp song, but I was born in a small town. Born and raised in Elwood, IL. Growing up, the population sign as you drove into town said 720. We used to joke that there were more cows than people. Fast-forward to 2019, and the middle school where I work has more students than the entire town of Elwood had when I was growing up. My 8th grade graduating class was 33. I teach 5 class periods a day that have about 30 students each. When you grow up in a small town, you never expect anyone coming out of there and going on to become world famous. For example, how would anyone from such a small town ever have a chance to get scouted for a professional sport or by an acting talent agent? In the age before social media, it just didn’t happen. 

Since then, Elwood has undergone significant changes. Lots of warehouses, and trucks. But also, we gained a national cemetery, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. And several years ago, for Memorial Day, President Obama came to little old Elwood as part of the Memorial Day festivities at the cemetery. In all my childhood, I never thought we would have a sitting or retired president ever come to my hometown, and yet it happened. 

In the same way, no one would have ever imagined anything amazing coming out of Bethlehem. It was just a small village built on an oasis in the Judean hill country. It was known for its excellent farmland. But, here in Micah, written 700 or so years before Christ, it is announced that little old Bethlehem is destined for something big. In the most unlikely of places, a savior for all humanity will be born. I’m sure as this was being read aloud for the first time, people were all looking at each other and giving the collective eye roll, the same eye roll I get from my middle schoolers every time I tell a good dad joke. Really? Bethlehem? 

Funny how God always has a habit of using the small, unassuming, unimportant places and people for his works. And, when he came to this Earth in human form, he stooped so low as to be born the same way as every other human before and after. He went through the vulnerability of infancy and the rest of childhood just like everyone else. Apprenticed in a carpenter shop. Had just a regular old life for the most part in his first 30 years. In all of his greatness, instead of coming down to Earth with clouds and lightning bolts, he came no different than any of the rest of us. Instead of being born in a palace into a wealthy family, he was born in a stable to a blue collar family. 

God continually has used ordinary people and places to make extraordinary things happen for his glory. And, if we stick with him, he also will use ordinary you and me to amazing things for his glory as well. Will you be ready when he calls your name? 

A Star Out Of Jacob


Numbers 24.17

1 Peter 1.10

Numbers 24.17  “I shall see Him, but not now;  I shall behold Him, but not near;  There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

This is one of those great prophetic passages that the prophets saw and heard from Jehovah, telling of the coming Messiah, yet they had little idea of the depth of what they were seeing or saying.   1 Peter 1.10 says, “as to this salvation the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating ….”   This prophecy in Numbers was through the prophet Balaam.  You know the story , Balaam, who tried to sit on the fence and speak only what Jehovah said to him, but tried also to make a little profit from it, from King Balak of Moab.  Yet Balaam, in prophesying of Israel’s coming victory over Moab revealed that he saw the Messiah, but His time was not now, and he saw that at some point in time he would see this Savior, but the time was not near.  Yet there was a Star coming, and a Ruler was to arise out of Israel.  He could see it, he didn’t understand, but there it is right in front of his eyes.

Friends, the outrageous idea that the immortal could become mortal, the eternal one could become flesh, is so marvelous it’s almost unbelievable.  How could the Creator become a creation.  Balaam saw it from afar and recognized its marvel.



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