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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

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December 2020

Choose Light!

Today’s Reading:  Click Here  –  Psalm 148; 1 Kings 3:5-14; John 8:12-19 (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)   brave

As 2020 rolls to the finish line and a new year awaits, we reflect on all we have experienced; a deadly virus, lock-downs, isolation, mask wearing, unemployment, shootings, BLM protests, a presidential election, and our own personal experiences on what this year has revealed.  As winter frigidly arrives, we find ourselves still experiencing the darkest days of the year, we can rest assure that scripture sustains us and faith remains, even in darkness as a child of God.  Christ proclaims He is the Light of the world. He promises us that as Christ followers we have the Light of Life before us and within us, as our scripture passage today (John 8:12) declares.  What a gift to be shared in these dark and uncertain times.

Jesus’ claim to deity throughout the scripture, demands a response. A response of obedience by following Him.  (James 1:22, John 14:23, 1 John 2:17, Matthew 7:24, Proverbs 10:17) .

As we enter into a new year, this usually warrants some resolutions laced with challenges, and this year brings  its  own alterations rooted by our unsettled and disturbed world.  We read in our 1Kings passage today that, when Solomon was beginning his reign as King, he was seeking guidance.  In a dream God asked him a question, “What shall I give you?”  Wow!  How would you respond?  He could have asked for anything, but in his faithful love for the Lord, Solomon humbly requested an understanding mind, and the ability to discern between good and evil in order to govern well.  What an inspiring and direct request with such a simple plan, to govern well.   We too can pray for that same wisdom that Solomon asked for, the wisdom to live well in these new ways of living that has plagued our nation and is required of us all, when we can step back into our life of normalcy, whenever and whatever that may be.  Until then, we have a choice to seek God’s strength and wisdom in all situations to see the LIGHT ahead, keeping it in focus, always.

A friend shared with me this week that as upsetting and unbearable that 2020 has been, she reminded me of the importance of focusing on the blessings and presence of God.  They are there, we just have to look a little harder for them.  Her heart embraced the blessings of finances, good health, a warm house, return to a job she loves, mind-blowing technology to worship online and keeping in touch with family and friends. This brought me to do the same, looking back through the year to see God in the midst and through every dark corner. I am grateful and blessed.

Today, being December 31st, 2020 , we approach the end of one race as the beginning of a new race unfolds before us, just like that!   We have a choice to make, a choice to choose how we plan to step into the new race of the new year ; with demise and regret from the past, OR  with eyes wide open ready for whatever lies ahead with confidence and trust in an omniscient God with one step and one day at a time?   Bring on 2021, we can AND will prevail!  Our Lord Jesus goes before us and prepares the way through the darkness, with an illuminating Light that we cannot deny.  May we undeniably trust in Him as if it’s the first day of the rest of our life, secure in the Light of the World!  Immeasurable faith, hope, peace, joy and love to you in the coming New Year! Choose Light!

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

‘Let The Light In’ by Kari Jobe

‘Best News Ever’ by Mercy Me

‘All Things New’ by Big Daddy Weave

‘Day One’ by Matthew West

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, as we close out this year, sadly being so apart, we light a candle and give thanks for all the gifts and blessings received: health, safety, support, love, family, friends and our forever gracious and loving Lord of Light.  In this new year, may our faith and spirit be renewed to sing praises to you, Lord, who loves and guides us towards your Light.  Light of Life, thank you for your ever saving grace. May we be the bearers of your Light and grace throughout the new year, now and always. In the name of our Lord Jesus, we pray this and so much more. Be still our hearts, AMEN.

Kris

God’s Family

Psalm 148; Isaiah 49:5-15; Matthew 12:46-50

Psalm 148 is an excellent prayer of praise for God, who created all things. All of God’s creation should praise His name for what He has done. There is no one greater than He who brought all things into being. 

Isaiah 49 (v. 5-15) is a foretelling of the coming Messiah and what He will mean to the world. And because of the One who will save us all from sin, we should praise the Lord. But, instead, correctly foretold, Israel rejected the One sent. People will say that God has forsaken them. But how could God, the Father, forget his children? Does a mother forget the children to whom she has given birth? No! And neither would God forget any part of His creation. 

In Matthew 12, Jesus defines who is His family. It’s not just his earthly mother and brothers, but all of those who follow Him. We, as part of The Church, are part of the family of Christ, and therefore of God. 

There will always be those who reject God, but then instead of looking at themselves in the mirror, will blame God for all of their problems. Not everyone will be part of the Family of God. But that’s not because He has left them out or forgotten about them. Rather, it will be because they walked away from the ultimate prize; salvation. As long as we keep our sights set on Him, then He will be there for us. We shouldn’t forget that…ever. 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, today and always, I pray that my heart and thoughts be open to you and your path set out before me. I pray that I never lose sight of the real prize, which is eternal life and salvation found only in you through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Out Of Egypt

Psalm 148

Jeremiah 31:15-18

Matthew 2: 13-18

Matthew 2:13-18 Continuing with the birth and childhood of Jesus, the Son of God, and the miraculous fulfillment of prophecies concerning Him. When King Herod, who had inquired of the visiting Babylonian Maji as to where this prophesied King of Israel was to be born, found out that the Maji had taken another way home, he became enraged. It’s comical when an accomplished liar finds out not everyone believes them and they become angry at the person who disbelieves. King Herod then demands that all male youth under the age of two, in and around Bethlehem are destroyed, for he wants no competition to his throne. This act then has been revealed to Joseph, by an angel of the LORD, prior to any action by the soldiers sent to destroy, to move his new family to Egypt for safety, until Herod dies. This also fulfills a prophecy, Hosea 11:1, describing both Israel as the beloved son of Jehovah, and the Greater Son, Jesus the Savior of Israel and mankind, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” A near and far fulfillment of the prophecy.

Another prophecy is then described in verse 18 as being fulfilled, Jeremiah 31:15-18, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” This is again a prophecy describing the agony that the women of Bethlehem incurred because of the actions taken by the demonic King Herod.

But again, as so many prophecies reveal, there is more than one fulfillment to them. Jeremiah said these were things to come, yet until this time there were no mass killings in the city of Ramah. Ramah is a city in Ephraim, to the north of Jerusalem, and of the southern kingdom, Judah. In the now divided kingdom, there are two southern tribes, Benjamin and Judah. The northern ten tribes, that broke away under the reign of Rehoboam, are known as Ephraim, it has been this way for centuries. Jeremiah in his prophecy in chapter 31, is unknowingly describing a prophecy of the Christ, yet also symbolically describing in near times, the breaking apart of Gods chosen people, and ultimately their restoration. Rachel being the wife of Jacob, is known as the mother of Israel, the entire nation, and there is great lamentations over the divided kingdom. Yet Jeremiah continues in verse 17, “there is hope for your future, and our children will return to their own territory. I have heard Ephraim grieving, You have chastised me, and I have been chastised, like an untrained calf….” A near and far fulfillment of the prophecy.

Psalm 148 “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, Praise him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His Hosts!” The psalmist calls for all creation to Praise Jehovah, everything that He created, everything that He established, everything that has breath and those things that don’t. “His Glory is above earth and Heaven. He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise formal His Godly ones, even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD.”

We can be sure of this, that Jehovah fulfills His word, His prophecies. In all times, in all circumstances, in all current events, in all the world, God is sovereign, nothing escapes His notice. He works all thing to the good, for the complete salvation of this who love Him and are called according to His Purpose. Rest assured that as prophecies have near and far fulfillments, all bring Praise to the Father, and instill hope in we who believe and love Him.

Karl

The Greatness of Christ

Isaiah 53

Review & Remarks: This section of Isaiah (Isa. 40-56) deals with Israel in exile, due in large measure to their committed sins towards God and one another … This recurring history exists outside of Israel too, both on corporate and individual levels … These exile episodes recur until said sin issues are dealt with, once and for all … To address these sins, God calls out a Servant (v. 11) … This Servant is of lowly status and appearance (vv. 1, 2), one hated and cast aside (v. 3), one acquainted with sadness and difficulties (v. 4) … This is not someone to whom people are drawn to … This despised Servant, seemingly rejected by God, bears our wrongs (v. 5) … On Him, the LORD has laid all the ugliness of our sins (v. 6) … To this, He accepts His death fate silently, without a hint of protest or revolt (vv. 7-9) … Subsequently, God approves, willing this suffering to the Servant (v. 10) … The chapter concludes by summarizing the successful mission of the Servant, that of taking the “sins of many” and interceding for them all (vv. 11-12) … This passage seems more fit for Lent rather than Christmas Day, yet it is what the liturgy has planned for us on this day … It must be that this was the plan for Jesus’ death. Hence the main, but certainly not only, reason for His life … The first day of which is Christmas Day … Merry Christmas!

LIVE IN THE LIGHT

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NIV)

In dark, dark days, when the ‘Assyrian nation was sweeping through Israel in the North, (the nation is divided into Israel in the north and Judah to the south) God’s people in Judah are given a bright vision of hope. Isaiah provides this vision of light in one of the best known passages in the Bible.

First we read of a nation victorious as it emerges from war, in verses 2-5. God opens a new future for his people. There will be increased joy.

Then we read the remarkable prophecy of the child. “For to us a child is born.” This refers to Immanuel, God with us, mentioned in Chapter 7 of Isaiah. The child is the Messiah who will usher in an age of peace and righteousness, as we read in verse 7.

At the heart of this vision of light and hope, we learn of the divine qualities of the child, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

As Wonderful Counselor, he is all wise and counsels all those whom he loves, in the way of life. As Mighty God, he protects his people. As Everlasting Father, he cares for his followers. As Prince of Peace, he brings lasting peace.

We celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, the Lord who is far greater than we can imagine or even fathom. This passage in Isaiah helps enlarge our understanding of just how great and wonderful Jesus truly is as our Savior. May you have a blessed, renewing, and meaningful Christmas celebrating the Savior.

Prayer: Amazing God, we thank you that even in dark, dark times you bring the light of your love and grace into our world. We are most grateful for the life, love, and light of Christ Jesus given to us and to all the world. Sustain us and all of your people through your Spirit and presence. Lift the darkness of the Pandemic and sorrow of all sin. We make this prayer in Jesus name, Amen.

Peace Begins With Me

 Today’s Reading:  Click Here  –  Matthew 2:1-12  (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)

Looking at our scripture passage today, it tells the story of the Wise Men and their travels far and wide to see the King of the Jews, and how they responded with adorning joy, pure worship and extravagant gifts, which is quite a different approach we may see these days. Often, one may expect God to come looking for them, to explain Himself, prove who He is, and give them gifts.  But those who are WISE will seek Him and worship Him, NOT for what they can get but for WHO Jesus is.

It was the acknowledgement of a future king that the wise men sought after the news of a king born in Bethlehem, and presented exquisite gifts. These gifts symbolized Jesus’ identity and what greatness He would accomplish;  Gold was a gift of royalty; Frankincense was a gift of deity; and myrrh was a spice used for anointing a body for burial.  They brought gifts and worshiped Jesus for who He was, even as a baby, born in stable.  The true essence of worship is honoring Christ for who He is and being willing to give Him all that is valuable to us.  As the perfect almighty Creator of all,  He is worthy of the best we have to give.

Just like the wise men were warned by God to not return back the same path traveled after finding the baby Jesus, we too may be called to take a new direction or path in life when we experience and find Jesus, one that is responsive and obedient to God’s word. A path that is most rewarding and full of life. A new life we choose when we acknowledge, trust and follow Jesus.

As we come into our final week of Advent, and Christmas is just days away, we light the Advent candle of PEACE and we recall what the angels proclaimed “Peace on Earth” when the Baby Jesus was born. Today, we wonder, as we listen to the evening news, is peace really possible? I believe it is and that two kinds are of peace exist and are needed in our lives; inner peace; peace of mind, heart and soul. The second being an outward peace; peace with others.  Through scripture, God addresses both and He tells us how to acquire and experience them.  

Inner peace hinges on our trust in God (Matthew 22:34-40)  and begins with a personal relationship with Jesus. (Make it personal). As we cultivate our relationship and faith, exchanging our weaknesses for His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9),  we can cling to God’s words from Isaiah 26:3, and personalize it ;  “[God] will keep [me] in perfect peace as my mind is devoted to Him and I fully trust in Him.”  

Perhaps, inner peace is eluding you these days and anxiety is spilling over in your life.  It’s no surprise given the circumstances and situations all around us that we all seem to be experiencing, this year especially.  We have to CHOOSE to trust God and draw from His source of power for patience and wisdom to move forward as He guides us through our maze of life. And when we CHOOSE to trust Him in those blind corners of anxiety, stress and worry, we can begin to experience inner peace as he leads us down that road.  Choosing not to trust Him can create a downward spiral to disaster, unsettled stress and discontent.  Inner peace is there for the choosing when our heart and mind aligns with what God’s word confirms. Various forms of training, techniques, or practices such as, centered prayer, meditation  breathing exercises or journaling are just some ways to help settle our mind, heart and soul as peace sets in.

The Second kind of peace mentioned is defined in Matthew 5:9,  “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God”.  God has called each of us to be peacemakers in our world. This is no easy task, but when we understand what God is calling us to do, we can accept and embrace this call to love others and bear peace in broken relationships, shattered lives and our imperfect world.  Don’t miss the blessings that God promises to us when we respond to His call to be a peacemaker, bearing peace, one heart at a time.  

With our attention on being a peacemaker and wondering what does that look like, I am reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me show  love; Where there is injury, show pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; and Where there is sadness, joy… Divine Master; Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Be the source of peace and light in a darkened world that so desperately needs more Jesus, and with more Jesus, He is our perfect and unfailing portion of love, hope and peace to share with the world. May the HOPE, LOVE, FAITH and PEACE that is born on Christmas day, be the REASON for the season to celebrate the birth of our Messiah, Eternal Savior, Almighty Son of God, Good Shepherd, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.

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

‘Peace Has Come’ by HIllsong Worship

‘Glory – Let There Be Peace’ by Matt Maher

‘Light of the World’ by Lauren Daigle

‘Christmas Offering’ by Casting Crowns

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, regardless of our circumstances or our situations, you offer us peace that surpasses all understanding, now through the Christmas season and always, no matter what our chaos or situation bids us otherwise.  Lord, keep us in your perfect peace as our hearts and minds are secure in your love. We look to you for our guidance, wisdom, hope and peace this day. We pray this and so much more in our mighty Savior, Jesus’ name. AMEN.

 Merry Christmas, Kris

Zechariah’s Song

Zechariah's Song - Dee Brestin Ministries

Luke 1:67-80

This passage is titled Zechariah’s Song, and his song of praise for God for what has transpired and what is also to come. Zechariah and Elizabeth are in their later years of life and have been without children of their own, when an angel came to them to say that Elizabeth would bear a child to be named John, who would pave the way for the coming Messiah. Zechariah did not believe it was possible because of his & Elizabeth’s age. The penalty for his unbelief was that he lost his ability to speak for Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy. Just prior to this passage today, the baby was born, and everyone looked to Zechariah to see what the child’s name would be, and he wrote on a tablet that his name was to be John. At that exact moment, Zechariah’s ability to speak returned immediately. And that’s when what is called Zechariah’s Song came to be. 

It took Zechariah being hit with immediate loss of speech, and to have it return immediately after falling into the faith line, to realize the power of God. Isn’t that how it is with all of us too? Even when God is present right before our very eyes, we still don’t believe sometimes. At times, it takes until much later to realize how God’s hand was involved in an event in our lives. In the time between our faith shortcoming and our realization about what happened, we live in a state of confusion and feeling lost. And then we have that ah-ha moment and realize our mistake. But despite that, God is still there waiting for us to come around and come to the realization that He is still leading us. 

As we are into our last week of Advent, continue to look out for those God moments that we have everyday and be grateful, even when they are things we don’t completely understand. Just like Zechariah couldn’t possibly believe that Elizabeth could bear a child, there are going to be times that just don’t make even close to any sense at all. Just like it didn’t make sense that the Messiah would come in the most humble of ways, and live amongst us as a regular looking man, preaching to forgive our enemies and all sorts of other things that didn’t make sense. As the old saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways. But if we keep our eyes open and our hearts open to God, they may not be all that mysterious afterall. 

Merry Christmas to all of you. 

Yohan the Forerunner

Luke 1: 57-66

This passage is the very birth of Yohan, son of Zacharias and Elizabeth. The Angel of the LORD had appeared to Zacharais while he was in the Temple of the LORD, performing his priestly duties, which included offering incense in the Holies of the Temple. The three areas of the Temple were the outer court, the inner court called the Holies, and the second veil which secluded the Holy of Holies, where only the High priest entered once a year at The Atonement Sacrifice. Zacharias was struck mute at the announcement of his son to be, and given instructions about the child’s name, the duties he will perform, the lifestyle he would choose to live, and the role he would play in announcing the coming Messiah.

Luke 1: 57-66 We now fast forward to the birth of Yohan, as Elizabeth had come to term for the birth of her son. Friends and relatives were gathered around and rejoiced that Jehovah had displayed mercy toward her. Now it came to be the eighth day and they came to circumcise the child, and they were about to name him Ben-Zacharias, (that is Son of Zacharias.) Yet Elizabeth announced that he would be named Yohan. No one could understand that, especially when this child was a miracle baby, born so late in life to the parents. Yohan was not a family name, so they made inquiry to Zacharias as to what he thought, since he was unable to speak. Zacharias called for a tablet to write on, and to their astonishment, he said the child would be called Yohan, as the Angel of the LORD had instructed. Zacharias had doubted when the announcement of the son’s birth had come to him, he was not going to invite any more displeasure from Jehovah by not following exact instructions given. It was then that his tongue was loosened and the first auditory sound he made was in Praise of Elohim.

Fear then came upon all who were witnesses, and as they spread the word, the whole hill country had heard and were talking about these matters. Like their Father Abraham, this devout priest and his wife, well beyond child bearing age, had conceived and bore the child to full term and gave birth. It truly was miraculous, the hand of Jehovah had been upon them and been merciful to them. The announcement had been in Jerusalem at the temple, to a priest, and many there had heard and there was some interest, but where the couple lived it was really broadcast around to the common folk. Jehovah was active in their community once again after four hundred years of prophetic silence. The Question on everyone’s mind was then, “What will become of this child, what will he turn out to be, this miracle baby?” For the hand of the LORD was certainly upon him!

Malachi 4:5-6 A prophecy concerning Yohan, “Behold , I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” Yohan had been sent to prepare a way for the Christ, to set men on a path of repentance and acceptance of the Christ. For Jehovah had not wanted condemnation for His people but Salvation. Yohan 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Karl

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-56

Review & Remarks: Mary pays her cousin Elizabeth a visit in Judah (vv. 39-40) … When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, John leaps in her womb, the Holy Spirit fills her (v. 41) … This is an example of Spirit knowing Spirit … It may explain the feeling we Christians have when we see and visit with one another, that of felicity … I personally do miss the felicity I’ve experienced visiting with folk at FPJ during this COVID-19 interruption … Elizabeth expresses wonder for their situation, and gladness in accepting what the Lord has and is doing to and for them (vv. 42-45) … The experience these woman share, that of carrying a child is something I’ll never know … Nor do I care to, actually! … Mary responds with her “Magnificat,” her sayings echo those of Hannah who gave birth to the OT prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 2:1-10) … Expressed is the LORD’s remembrance of the poor and downtrodden to save them, how he has raised the lowly and lowered the proud, sending the rich away empty (vv. 46-53) … He has remembered Israel through His mercy (v. 54) … He has remembered and fulfilled His promises to Abraham (v. 55, cp. Gen. 13:14-18, 15:1-6, 17:6-8, 15-19) … Afterwards, Mary stays with Elizabeth, in the residence of Zacharius for around three months (v. 56) … No doubt some of this time was spent in chitchats only women would appreciate.

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