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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

November 2020

God Reaches Out

“The Whole Earth is Full of his Glory.”

ISAIAH 6:1-4 (NIV)

King Uzziah dies, from leprosy, and the people of God enter precarious times. An era of prosperity and well being comes to an end and uncertainty and anxiety begin to rise. Real fears of the Assyrian threat to the north begin to loom. Where is God and what is going to happen?

Isaiah sensing the possibility of turbulent times makes his way to the temple to pray and look to the Lord God. There he meets God and experiences a vision of the very presence of God. Isaiah is transported beyond the Jerusalem temple to the heavenly temple of the Lord which we read of in Revelation 4:1-8. In the next Chapter, Revelation 5, we meet the Lamb of God, Jesus, in the heavenly realm.

Isaiah sees the all powerful and awe-inspiring God of all, the God who is more powerful than any nation or power on the earth. In this vision the seraphim hide their faces from almighty God whom they worship calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” In the nations surrounding Israel, seraphim were depicted as powerful creatures surrounding the gods to protect the gods. Here the Lord God is so all powerful that the seraphim cover their faces and feet to protect themselves.

Here the almighty God of all, the Holy Other One, the One who is without sin or blemish, comes to reveal himself to a man, the prophet Isaiah. God comes and is present in a time of great need and in a season of fear and uncertainty to his people. God is present to us as well.

In Advent we stop in wonder to worship the God of all the Universe, the Lord God Almighty who comes to us in the Christ Child. Once again, God comes to us in Jesus assuring us of his presence, love, and care. Once again we can hear the word, “Be not afraid.” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away all of our sins. We can live in hope rather than fear.

Prayer: Almighty and Wonderful God of all, we thank you for the gift of the Savior, Jesus the Christ. Help us to celebrate his birth once again and to sense the wonder of your love come to us in the Christ. We make this prayer in the Savior’s name, Amen.

Let Us Begin Again

First Sunday in Advent – Today’s Reading:  click here  –  Hebrews 1:1-4        (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)

Welcome to our Advent Devotions for 2020! What is Advent, some may ask?  Good Question.  Like our Lenten season that precedes our Easter Resurrection Celebration, Advent precedes the Celebration of the birth of our Savior, a time of hope and expectation, prompting us to pause each day, bringing a slowness in the midst of a frantic season to remember Jesus’ birth at Christmas.  I like to think of it as a time of More-Christ; CHRIST-MAS, to practice patience and expectant waiting for a celebration with grand anticipation.

All through the Old Testament, God uses many approaches to bring light to the promises and prophesies of past and present generations of Saints longing for a Messiah, about the Coming of a King, a Savior for all. The book of Hebrews seems sets the groundwork to present the abundance, authority, and true identity of Christ Jesus.

 ‘ADVENT’ in Latin terms, means ‘Coming’; the coming of Jesus into the world. The first day of Advent is the first day of a new Liturgical (or church) calendar and begins with a four week period (Sundays) of preparation in anticipation of the birth of a Savior at Christmas through the stillness and observation of boundless Hope, Faith, Love, Peace, and Joy, even is such a time as this.

You’ll see images of what we call the Advent wreath. It is a symbol of the season. It can be created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death as the evergreen is continuously green. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and the eternal life He makes possible.  Pine cones confirm new life in Christ Jesus, as a child of God.  Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath, shining brightly in the midst of darkness, symbolizing and reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world. A candle is lit each of the four Sundays and the final fifth candle representing Jesus is lit on Christmas Day.  The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is:  “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).   

The Advent Season is a time of reflection and preparation to welcome Christ, the newborn King into our hearts and homes.  Prayer and fasting are common customs during Advent to help one concentrate on preparing and waiting on the Messiah’s coming, Jesus’ birth and His final return. Someone once suggested to me to read the Gospel of Luke, one chapter a day (24 chapters) as a meaningful journey through Advent, to remind us of God’s greatest gift, and refresh our perspective that God’s grander plan is that we would believe in His gift of His Son, to have eternal everlasting life.

If you can imagine for a moment, my startling amazement and wonder as a new Christian adult, hearing the beautiful hymns of Christmas as if for the very first time.  The ones I had sung every Christmas since a child, now  for the first time, came alive. The meaning of Christmas illuminated my heart bright like the Christmas star and the advent candles.  The hymns and songs were no longer  just words of a bright star,  a virgin mother, a little town in Bethlehem, a boy and his drum, a baby in a stable, shepherds wandering in the night, three kings from afar, joy in the world, or just a silent night.  This first Christmas as a new adult Christian was the beginning of something so wonderful, amazing and promising than I had never known or imagined.  Every year still, it’s an epiphany all over again of rediscovered scripture, a new song, or the wondrous love of family and friends that awakens my faith, revives my still heart, and uncovers renewed hope as I prepare and  celebrate again the extraordinary miracle of the birth of ONE baby boy for the whole world.  

So if you are like me, and did not grow up with the tradition of Advent in your family or church, consider now, today, to be the reassurance and promise to your Christian walk this season by joining your brothers and sisters in Christ, who have found great benefit in purposefully preparing and waiting during  Advent, through the glorious awaited celebration of Christmas, joining the voices of generations of saints past and present, let us encounter HOPE this day that is for all the world.

Let us begin again.  Come, let us adore Him.

Here are a few songs for your spiritual listening pleasure and Advent meditation:

‘Thrill of Hope – Advent Song’ by Christy Nockles

‘Hope For Everyone’ by Matt Maher 

‘Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song)’ by Amy Grant  

‘Graves Into Gardens’ by Elevation Worship w/Brandon Lake (turn up the volume ~this one’s so good!)

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, as I step into this season of preparation and waiting, I pray that my heart and eyes are unhindered to receive your many gifts that be-still my heart and ignite my faith in Your son, Jesus, our newborn King, the Savior of the world. Help me Father, to truly understand your great reward of not only giving but to joyfully receive as well. Prepare me as your righteous and holy child to walk each new day in the light and faith of your Son, my Savior, Jesus.  I want nothing more.   AMEN.

Kris

Much To Be Thankful For

61 Thanksgiving Facts | Mental Floss

Psalm 80:17-19; Zechariah 13; Revelation 14:6-13

Psalm 80 & Zechariah 13

These two passages are a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus Christ to the Earth to reconcile the world with God Almighty. And not a single one of the major players on God’s team prior to or following the coming Messiah have the same level of authority over Earth as Jesus who is called the Christ. The number of people who will accept the hearing of the Gospel will be a limited number of people, and those who do accept will be cleansed of their sins and restored as God’s chosen people. All the while, many more people will be left behind due to their unbelief. 

Revelation 14

This is the vision of what is to come at the second coming of Christ. Consistent with what is told in the prophets of the Old Testament and what was taught by Jesus during his ministry, those who follow will be saved, while those who follow the beast will also feel the same wrath on the day of judgment as the beast itself. 

Reflection

To say that 2020 has been a challenging year would be an understatement at the very least. We’ve had a global pandemic, tension relating to social justice, and political turmoil in our country, and also across the globe. On top of that, each of us has had our own personal struggles with life, whether it be job loss, job stress, health issues in the family, etc. As they say, THE STRUGGLE IS REAL! 

And yet, I still have so much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day. Despite all of the things that have happened to the Blaser family over the course of the past 2 months, the bright days still outshine the difficult days. There is the old metaphor that says if you imagine a donut as life and the hole in the middle as what you are missing, you can choose to either focus on the donut or the hole. Over and over again, scripture teaches us to focus on the donut. When we are in the thick of things, it may be nearly impossible to see beyond the hole, but the reality of it is that the donut isn’t far away, and much bigger than the hole. 

So find the things each day to be thankful for, even on the days that you are struggling the most. Even in my toughest days, when all hope seems but a figment of my imagination, I try to focus at the very least on the final words of Jesus at the end of Matthew (chapter 28:20), when he says “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” When all hope seems lost, God is still with us to see us through the times of trouble. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Repentance and Thanks

Psalms 7

Ezekiel 33: 7-20

Revelations 19: 1-9

Psalm 7. Cities of refuge were established in the Law of Moses for a place of sanctuary, if a man was guilty of the accidental death of another. That man could flee from a blood avenger and hide in the city of refuge and live there until the death of the High Priest, or year of Jubilee. Psalm 7, A Song of David, a Shiggaion, a Dithyrambic rhythm, meaning, ‘it gets your blood flowing, it’s exhilarating.’ “O Jehovah my Elohim, in you I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me, or he will tear my soul like a lion. Dragging me away, while no one else is there to deliver me, no one else seems to care.” “I am surely innocent of wrong doing, my conscience bears me witness. My shield is with my Elohim, and I know if a man does not repent of wrong doing, he will deserve judgement from on High.” “I will give thanks to Jehovah, according to His saving righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of El Elyon, (God Most High). “

Ezekiel 33: 7-20 A prophet of Jehovah while captive in the Assyrian exile, a partial exile for Israel, Ezekiel foretells the complete exile of Israel, including Jerusalem, the beloved city, to Babylon, unless national repentance occurs. Taking many forms and examples, Ezekiels prophecy here is of the warning of a watchman. If the watchman doesn’t do his job as a lookout on the wall, then the impending doom is on his head. So Ezekiel warns the captives. ‘ If this wicked, iniquitous generation doesn’t repent, then destruction of their beloved city of Jerusalem will surely come.’

So you ask, “How does that work, those to whom Ezekiel is prophesying are already captive and in exile, far from Jerusalem. How will their repentance affect those that live in Jerusalem?” The answer is twofold; 1. These exiles in Assyria have not yet repented in their hearts even though exiled, they have not yet seen any wrongdoing in themselves, so they are refusing to admit any sinful behavior. 2. As victims of misplaced justice, they blame God, but Jehovah is not on trial, they are. If in fact they repent personally, and live a holy and righteous life, and they tell those in their immediate company the importance of such a lifestyle, then they know Jehovah can change other hearts also. Truth: there is no heart more stubborn than our own. If God can make a change in me, He can make a change in you too.

Revelations 19: 1-9 The Great banquet; jump back to the prophet Isaiah 25: 6-8, he tells of a coming banquet that God is preparing, it’s lavish in all respects, with choice meat, and refined, aged wine and all peoples are invited. Jehovah will swallow up the veil which covers all nations, (a reference to the thin veil that separates the flesh from the spirit world), and he will swallow up death, and will wipe away tears of anguish, and the reproach of His chosen people.

Jesus then revisits this same prophecy in His parable in Luke 14: 15-24, of the rich man who held a banquet and all those invited came up with really lame excuses for not attending. So in response, motivated by grace, the host sent for all the ceremonial unclean persons to attend, the lame, blind, lepers, and disabled. But there was still room, so he sent his servants for the gentiles, “Go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.”

Now in the Revelation to John, chapter 19:1-9, the same theme is expressed, but here the Great Banquet is expanded to be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Death and temptation are cast into the lake of fire. Praise is shouted from all creation. “Jehovah’s judgements are true, and saving, and holy.” Hallelu-Yah is cried out over and over, The Bride is clothed in fine linen which is the righteous acts of the saints. (The clothing for us as the bride of Christ is in fact all of our righteous acts, which are the enduring obedient responses to the Holy Spirit moving in us, not merely good deeds, that clothe us, so we will not be shamed by nakedness, at the feast.)

The theme here then, is humility and repentance. Throughout scripture we are told, James 4.6, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” and v.10 “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you.” Humility and repentance are an active part of the Christians life, and it opens the door for God to work through us, and who then can know the work He will do?

Karl

A Psalm of Deliverance

Psalm 7

Review & Remarks: David puts his trust in the LORD, yet he laments his situation, apparently paranoid (vv. 1-2) … Leaders of all ilks typically suffer from some degree of paranoia … Not all of it is justified, some of it most likely is … David conditionally surrenders to his adversaries judgement of, through YHWH (vv. 3-5) … In effect, David claims innocence … He asks the LORD to judge his circumstances and decide for Himself (vv. 6-9), expressing confidence in His verdict (v. 10) … The wicked will face God’s wrath (v. 11) … Additionally, the violent will be judged violently (vv. 12-16) … Therefore, God should be praised for His righteous goodness by way of song (v. 17) … This writing brings to mind the subject of criminal activities … The number of perfectly and completely undetectable crimes are very few … My belief is our perfect LORD shines light on most of the dark criminal activities of people(s), bringing them to account and eventually justice (Ezek. 7:20-27).

We Can Count on God

Psalm 7; Esther 2:1-18; 2 Timothy 2:8-13

All three passages speak to us about how we can trust in the Lord God for our care, security, and salvation. The Lord comes through for his people.

In Psalm 7, we learn that David takes “refuge in” God. He trusts the Lord to protect him from all the enemies who pursue him. We too, can pray to God for deliverance from whatever seeks to undo us in life.

In Esther 2, we see how God works in and through a most challenging situation for his people, while at work through those who govern. God works to save and sustain his people. God is at work in our world at all times and we need eyes of faith to see what the Lord is doing.

In II Timothy 2:8-13, we are encouraged to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which we are saved. Jesus has lived for us, died for us, was resurrected, and reigns for us. “If we endure, [in faith in him] we will also reign with him.” Jesus remains faithful, always!

Prayer: Redeeming and faithful God, we are grateful for how you have loved us so deeply in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and how you love us still. Hear our prayers of Thanksgiving this day for your gracious love. We make this prayer in Jesus name, Amen.

The Mirror That Changes Us

Today’s Readings:  click here  –  Psalm 100; Isaiah 40:1-11; Revelation 22:1-9       (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)

As we approach this coming week of Thanksgiving, and given what 2020 has brought us thus far, searching our hearts for giving thanks might just be more difficult than we thought possible.  Psalm 100 is ‘A Psalm of Thanksgiving’, so appropriate and fitting for this coming week. This is an invitation to enter into the presence of God joyfully and His faithfulness is for us now just as it was and is to come.  David brings to mind that we are to acknowledge that the Lord is God, our creator.  How do we do that?  We shout our praises, bear witness to his authority in all the land and within our lives in accordance to his unfaltering guidance and we give thanks and praise for His unending and faithful love for us. He is worthy of our worship and praise, with heartfelt thanksgiving as we witness and claim his almighty goodness.

In the Isaiah passage today, there were many years yet to come of trouble and exile before the fall of Jerusalem, and God tells Isaiah to be gentle and tender and to comfort His people of Jerusalem as the seeds of comfort take root in the soil of adversity.  In a sense, that is a pretty fitting counsel for us today in this futile year we’re wrapped up in and our lives seem to be falling apart. We ask God for His comfort, love and protection as we go through hard times. His comfort gives us strength to endure each fragment of what we are facing, and this comfort is found in His word, His presence, and His people. This is comfort at its finest. Jesus is our great shepherd, gently tending to our every need.  Both Psalm 100 and the Isaiah passage uses the word SHOUT over and over. The message here is that we are to make noise, raise the rooftops, shake the walls, and let God’s glory and goodness be known  to all through our actions and praises.

Revelation flows through each chapter staging the scene, setting the foundation and preparing us for our eternal life when Jesus comes again. Metaphors and truths are widely used, restated and repeated so that we are certain to get the point and stay on task. Here, the river represents our eternal life. The tree symbolizes the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. The importance of worship is spoken here to John by the Angel.  Worship is the first step toward a meaningful bond and a deep desire to know God through a personal relationship with His Son Jesus. Scripture promises us, that when we trust and believe in Him, He draws near and His spirit is within us and our needs are satisfied.  This continues with confessing our sins and choosing to live a faithful life according to God’s laws and plan for us. Jesus is our living example, our hope.   As a Christian,  we are to do our best to be more like Him in every way. To mirror His life and actions is what changes us.  Thus, the world will see less of us and more of Him and to produce a gnawing sense and desire to seek His goodness.

Here are a few songs for your spiritual listening pleasure and meditation:

‘Your Love Awakens Me’ by Phil Wickham

‘Shout It Out’ by Vertical Church Band

‘This Is How We Know’ by Matt Redman   

Lord, I come to you with praises of thanksgiving. You satisfy my every need. You are with me through every mountain of joy and every valley of heartache.  I am so thankful for your example of a life of faith that binds me closer to you and my Heavenly Father.  May the reflection I see in the mirror be that of you, to guide and lead me every day. I pray this and so much more, with shouts of praises to you!  AMEN.

Kris

In Times of Trouble

Psalms 83: 1-4, 9-10, 17-18

Exodus 2: 1-10

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

Starting with the passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 Paul wrote to this church, which had undergone great turmoil and persecution from the local Jewish community. When Paul first arrived there, as was his custom, he went to the local synagogue and started proclaiming the gospel of Jesus as Messiah. From the beginning these men had not understood the prophecies and foretelling of the Messiah in the scriptures, and when it was revealed to them they rebelled, out of jealousy, and went out to hire thugs to disrupt all gatherings of ‘the church,’ with particular hatred for Paul and Silas, Acts 17:5-10. So Paul wrote to the church, in part, to understand and appreciate their leaders and pastors, who were in constant trouble and trials from the enemies outside the church, and even within, there is plenty of unrest. Even today all pastors and leaders have to deal with unrest from within the church. There are always unruly people to calm down, there are people who are strongly opinionated, and disagreeable, there are those who are timid and weak, and then there are those gentle souls that are easily frightened. So appreciate your pastors, not everyone is as kind and calm as you are. Also the church is called to be patient with all these personalities, and no one is to take things into their own hands and repay evil for evil, but rather look for the good in each other. Look for ways to rejoice, rather than complain, go outside and look at the sunset, there you can marvel at God’s grace in creation. When you see a brother who has recovered from an illness, thank God and rejoice with him for good health. Thank God at the grocery store for full shelves, and at the gas station for a full tank of gas. Never stop praying, for God hears our prayers and it glorifies Him when we pray, because it reveals our submission to Him, and our need for Him.

Exodus 2: 1-10 This is a select passage concerning the baby Moses whose mother defied the edict of the Egyptian Pharaoh to kill all the Hebrew male children. She hid her son, putting him a basket in the Nile river, only to have him be found by the Pharaohs daughter, who brought him into the palace to be raised as her own. There is great irony here, in that the King of Egypt is raising the very one who will return to set God’s people free. The bigger picture though, is that when trouble comes to us, God always provides a way of escape. In this example the mother thought of a basket to put Moses in, maybe it was a short term solution, but it was God who gave this mother the thought, she acted on it in faith, and Jehovah orchestrated the end.

Psalms 83: 1-4, 9-10, 17-18 An imprecatory psalm of Asaph. “O God, do not remain quiet. Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold Your enemies make an uproar, And those that hate You have exalted themselves….They have said let us wipe them out as a nation, That the name of Israel be remembered no more.” He goes on asking God to remember the mighty works He performed against other enemies of Israel, and for Jehovah to shame His enemies, so that they will know that Jehovah is El Elyon, God Most High over all the earth. The truth is that God understands our emotions, and He can handle it when we express our frustrations, anger, and desire for reciprocal justice. We are living in such times as these currently, and it’s okay to rant occasionally to our God. But ultimately we make requests and not demands, knowing that God has planned good for we who believe, and not destruction, Jeremiah 29:11-14.

When trouble comes our way, whether in the form of temptation, or mishap, or disaster, our response should always be to cry out to Jehovah for help. Concerning temptation, 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, so that you will be able to endure it.” That way of escape is called Grace, it’s available to us for the asking. Grace makes the way of escape, faith takes the way of escape. Concerning disaster, Job 2:10 ” But Job said to her..’Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity.”‘ No one likes hard times, calamity, or trouble but they are a part of life and it is our privilege to call upon the Name of our LORD for help in the time of trouble. We can ask for wisdom, James 1:5, which he freely gives, we can ask for grace, 2 Cor. 6: 1-2, we can ask for help in any way we can think of, and He will hear and answer our prayers according to His kind will.

Karl

Deborah Heads Israel

Judges 4

Review & Remarks: Israel’s evil has brought them under the control of Jabin, king of Canaan, and his 900 chariots for a period of 20 years (vv. 1-3) … Deborah, a prophetess, heads Israel (vv. 4-5) … She questions Barak regarding the LORD’s command to attack Canaan’s army headed by Sisera. Barak commands an army of 10,000 from the tribes of Jebulun and Naphtali (vv. 6-7) … Barak complies with the LORD’s command to attack under the condition that Deborah accompanies them in the expedition (vv. 8-10) … The armies of Jebulun and Naphtali completely destroy those of Canaan on that day with it’s General Sisera, the only survivor, fleeing the scene (vv. 11-16) … Sisera escapes to a foreigners tent of Jael, a Kenite wife of Heber and distant relative of Moses (vv. 11, 17) … There he sleeps and is killed by way of a tent stake driven through both his temples (vv. 18-21) … His remains are displayed to a pursuing Barak (vv. 22) … God leads Israel in its destruction and conquest of Canaan and it’s king Jabin (vv. 23-24) … God uses a woman, Deborah, to lead a military campaign … Barak endorses her authority by refusing to go without her (vv. 8-10) … Another woman, Jael the Kenite, finishes the job in her execution of Sisera (v. 21) … It would appear YHWH is equally adept at employing women to further His cause as men … It simply depends on the situation.

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