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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

December 2020

“The Paradox of Blessedness”

Luke 1:39-45 (NIV)

“The Paradox of Blessedness” is a significant insight, which William Barclay writes about in his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke.

Mary visits her relative Elizabeth. Both are expecting an important child; Elizabeth, John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus. Led by the Holy Spirit Elizabeth speaks twice about Mary being blessed. We read, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Then she says, Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

What does it mean to be blessed in this sense? There is the tremendous joy of being the mother of the Son of God, Jesus, who brings God’s grace and salvation to all the world. There are many blessings in believing the Lord God. Yet there is also deep sorrow involved in faith. There is the suffering of Jesus dying on that cruel Roman cross. The calling of God is not an invitation to a life that is easy or comfortable. There is the cost of carrying the cross as one lives in faith. And so, faithful people experience great joy and profound sorrow.

Blessedness is both a joy and a challenge. Although there is a crown of glory, there is also a rugged cross. Angels announce Jesus birth, yet the Savior is born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. When Jesus calls us to follow him there is joy and purpose but there is also challenge and suffering as we become one with Christ Jesus. We see both in the Christmas story.

Prayer: Mighty and loving God, we thank you that you have blessed us in many, many ways through Christ. As we remember and are grateful for your blessings, help us to also endure the hardships and suffering, which come for all who seek to follow the Lord Jesus. We make this prayer in the suffering Savior’s name, Amen.

Preparing THE Way

Today’s Reading:  Click Here  –  John 1:19-28 (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)

Last week, we read about Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, who both were with child, and that Elizabeth’s son was to be named John and that he would be great. In our passage today, we discover that greatness that was foretold, of one to ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’ (Matthew 3:1-3).  As he baptized the people, the leaders kept pressing John to say who he was because the people were expecting the Messiah, but John only emphasized WHY he had come, which was  ‘to prepare the way for the Messiah,’ thus, the Pharisees missing the whole point. In wanting  to know who he was,  John would prepare them to recognize who Jesus was when he came.  John baptized with water – he was merely helping the people perform a symbolic act of repentance, that soon, one would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, truly forgive sins and save the world, something only the Son of God – the Messiah- could do, and John was preparing the way.

We are in the third week of Advent, the ‘Wonder of Love’. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without love. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t even exist without God’s love!  In John 3:16-17 we read:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Christmas only happens because God gave his son, Jesus, so that the world could be saved and our relationship with our Heavenly Father be restored.  And right now, we feel that we live in a world that needs to be saved today.  I’m not just talking about covid, or politics, but about each and every one of us as individuals.  You see, every human being was created by God with a plan to love and to be loved by Him.  But along the way, the entire course of humanity became tainted, God was ignored and people went their our own way – it’s what we call “sin”, and sin separates us from God and from the real meaning of life, which is to love God and to be loved by Him. 

God SO loves you and me, more than we could ever imagine. That’s why he sent Jesus, to save us from that unintended separation. We were created to be with God.  Jesus died for our sins, took our place so that our broken relationship with God could be restored.  And He didn’t just stop there – he conquered death and rose again – so that every person who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be with God forever, even after our human bodies have passed away. This life on Earth is temporary.  Just like a woman’s womb is a temporary home for a baby until it is born into this life, not meant to remain there forever.  We too are not meant to remain here forever. God wants each of us with him in eternity.

And that is what we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus, who came to this world to die, so that we could be saved. And Jesus only came because of God’s LOVE for us, created in His image.  This love, taught us to love one another.  Amazingly, we are God’s treasure and if we follow Him, He is truly ours.

Love consists in this: “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10). “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).

If we  want to know how to love one another, we can look at the love that sent Jesus to earth to live a life of love and pay the price for all of our sins.  THAT is LOVE in the purest form.  This isn’t a love of fancy words and impossible tasks. This is a love that says, ’I am willing to love you no matter what.’  We CAN love BECAUSE He first loved us!  The way has been prepared!

We express that no matter what the church tradition, we can assuredly know that virtues such as love, hope, peace, joy, and faith are important in the Christmas story as well as in our daily walk with Christ. Whichever we celebrate on whatever Sunday in Advent, we realize all of them are important hallmarks of the Christian faith and the focus is Love this week, known as the Message Candle, as a time for one to convey LOVE or thank those special some ones during this Advent week.  

            Share: a special Christmas memory.

            Encourage: one who is struggling this season, point them to Jesus.

            Evaluate: if your heart set right to love people the same way Christ loves you?

            Pray: for wisdom and direction to strive to be ‘righteous in God’s eyes’.

            Search: for LOVE so amazing this Advent week.

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

“The Light of the World (Sing Hallelujah)’ by We the Kingdom

‘O Come, All You Unfaithful’ by Sovereign Grace Music

‘Miracle of Love’ by Chris Tomlin

‘Make Room’ by Casting Crowns ft. Matt Maher  

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you have always been all about LOVE, Love pure Love. Your precious gift of your Son Jesus was of that pure love. Keep us safe from the thieves who come to steel the message of love, joy, faith, hope and peace at Christmas.  For you have taught us to LOVE one another from this Holy Night and always.  May LOVE be what fills our hearts this Christmas and every day.  Amen.

Kris

Resources: lifeway.com/Matt Tullos /Festival.church/Kerry Perry

The Word

John 1:1-14

When setting out to write a story, it is important to grab your reader’s attention as quickly as possible. The best novels and movies grab your attention from the very beginning and draw you into the story. The main conflict of the story is defined very early on, usually in dramatic fashion. If we think about John’s Gospel and how it is written, it does just that. It is written unlike any other writing that was already circulating in its time regarding the life of Jesus. And there is a lot to unpack in this passage.

There is the part about how Jesus has always been since the beginning. There is also the part about Jesus being the Light that darkness could not overcome. There is the part about John (the Baptist) who was sent to set the table for Jesus’ ministry. There is the part about how, even though all of this was true, and even though the Jews were waiting expectantly for The Messiah, they didn’t even recognize it when He was right in front of their faces. And finally, there is the part at the end about how he was fully human and also fully God. 

But out of this entire passage, I want to focus on one word: Word. To prepare for this writing, I read a commentary on John 1 because I wanted to see what new perspective I could get and give to a passage that is very familiar. The paragraph providing commentary on “Word” was something that resonated with me. 

That commentary states that John probably chose these words very carefully to introduce this man, Jesus, because referring to him as The Word would have made sense to both Jew and Greek alike. The Greeks believed that the universe (kosmos) is an ordered place, and behind this order is reason. Reason comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from logos. For the Jews, creation took place through God’s spoken word. The commentary also states that in John’s day, word was associated with wisdom. And from Proverbs 8, we read that Wisdom was at God’s side at the creation. And it is THROUGH the Word that all things were created, meaning that Jesus is an agent of creation. 

This opening sets the tone for the all that is to come in this Gospel story; that it is going to be much different than the rest that has been written about Jesus. John hammers home time and time again the divinity of Jesus, leaving us without a single doubt that Jesus is the Son of God; the Messiah. And this opening message about who exactly Jesus is and was would have made sense to both Jew and Gentile alike. 

As we continue our journey toward Christmas Day, let us remember that Jesus is even more than just the Messiah; the one whose coming was foretold by the prophets of old. He was more than just the person who performed miracles and taught in the synagogues. He isn’t separate from God. He IS God. And He has existed longer than time itself. All power and glory lies in Him. 

Elohim Yishi

Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25 “Now the birth of Yeshua Messiah, was as follows: ” When His mother Miriam had been betrothed to Yowceph,” (these are the Hebrew names of Yeshua’s family, which was their nationality) “before they came together she was found to be with child.” (Being betrothed was a pre-marriage agreement between two people, with the full knowledge and blessing of the parents. The husband would take up to a year of time to prepare a home for his betrothed, which could be an addition to his fathers house, or his own home on a separate piece of property. While the father of the bride had a responsibility to protect and preserve his daughter from all other suitors during the betrothment.) “And Yowceph her husband,” (called husband because this betrothal was a formal agreement between the two, taken much more seriously and legal than modern engagements) “being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her to open shame, planned to put her away privately.” ( That would mean to send her to live with family members in a distant village until the birth of the child.) “But when he considered this, behold, an angel of the Yahweh appeared to him in a dream, saying; “Yowceph, son of David,” (He was of the royal lineage of King David,) “do not be afraid to take Miriam as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Now Yowceph is faced with a problem, being a righteous man, does he follow the Law of Moses, or does he believe a dream? Can such things actually happen, does Yahweh actually, enter into the affairs of a common, ordinary man? Could Yahweh be intimately working in the lives of a lowly, ordinary, unspecial couple, in a lowly town like Nazareth? Should I trust in an Angelic vision or should I trust what I can see and touch? Yet this dream and visitation is so specific, a name is being ordered, a purpose for the life of the child is told, along with the gender being spelled out.) “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by Yahweh through the prophet” (in Isaiah 7:14;) ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.'” And Yowceph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of Yahweh commanded him, and he took Miriam as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Yeshua.”

In this Hebrew culture and time period, it was a terribly brave thing for Joseph to take Mary as his wife, for everyone in the community can count, and the suddenness of the marriage all pointed to a shameful beginning to their life together. People being as they are, are glad to tell tales and point fingers, not only shaming the parents, but the child as well. As it turned out the accusations continued even into the ministry of Jesus, the Pharisees knew of his so-called shameful heritage, John 8:41, “They said to him. ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.'” Yet Joseph trusted Jehovah beyond the Law of Moses, and acted on his faith in Jehovah, that the visitation from the Angel in the dream was true. After all, God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth. Joseph truly was a man of faith, and was willing to suffer for and live by his Faith. His faith was not a flesh response, momentary lighthearted response, but rather a deep, abiding, Spiritual faith. We then should be like Joseph, and live by faith, for we surely trust in the same God as Joseph, Elohim Yishi, Psalm 18:46, the God of my Salvation.

Karl

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26-38

Review & Remarks: To start, the same angel, Gabriel, who announced the birth of John to Zacharias does the same to Mary (vv. 16-28, cp. vv. 11-19) … In the case of the one who would later be known as John the Baptist, the father Zacharias is the focus of attention … In Jesus’ case, the focus is on mother Mary … Mary is a woman of very meager means who is betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter – what we would term a stone mason, from a little village in northern Israel of Galilee … Recall, those in northern Israel are held in contempt by those living in and around Jerusalem, in southern Israel … Gabriel salutes Mary telling her of a coming blessing, Jesus – the Son of the God Most High. To this all, Mary expresses fear (vv. 28-33) … Fear, what human would not be afraid? … Mary confirms her virginity, possibly her unbelief (v. 34) … Unbelief, what human would express perfect faith in this situation? … Gabriel tells Mary in a mysterious way the Holy Spirit will bring Jesus within her (v. 35) … The explanatory note in my Bible says as the Shekinah made itself known previously at various times on behalf of God (cp. Ex. 33:7-11, 1 Kings 8:10-11), so It would again to Mary … Gabriel continues by telling Mary her previously barren elderly relative Elizabeth is now six months pregnant (v. 36) … This was to demonstrate, once again, nothing is impossible with God (v. 37) … Mary’s reply is one of humility – referring to herself as a “maidservant,” and of trust (v. 38) … In spite of her confession of faith, there is little doubt Mary was aware that the fulfillment of said promise could result in suspicion, scandal, and suffering to her personally.

It’s Good News

Mark 1:1-8 (NIV)

Mark starts his Gospel very quickly without any of the Birth of Jesus stories, which we find in Matthew and Luke. Yet the first verse goes right the heart what Jesus’ life means, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,…” Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ is Good News to us and to all of the world.  The Good News is that God has provided salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist appears to help people prepare for Jesus. Johns’ message, dress, and presence reminds us of the Old Testament Prophets who foretold the Messiah’s coming with one exception. John announces the Messiah who is already present on earth in Palestine, while the prophets always looked forward to the time when the Messiah would appear.

We too need time to prepare once again to revisit the birth of Jesus and consider the significance of the Good News of great joy, which is Christ the Lord. Advent is a season to ponder just how much we need the Messiah who is the Savior. We too need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness from God.

The promise of the Holy Spirit is already a part of our lives. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus gives makes the Lord present to us, always. We need not live apart from God for the Lord is present through the Holy Spirit within us.

This Advent Season we can celebrate new life in Jesus, the forgiveness of all of our sins, and very presence of God with us through the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Lord God, we stop right now to thank you for your saving mercy and love in and through the Lord Jesus. We are grateful for your grace and presence this day. Guide us to love you more and serve others in your love. We make this prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let FAITH Be Born In Me

Today’s Reading:  Click Here  –  Luke 1:5-25 (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)

We have entered into the second week of Advent with our attention centered on ‘The Wonder of FAITH.’  Our passage today paints a picture of one being ‘righteous in God’s eyes.’  Zechariah and Elizabeth were well into their years and without children. They remained faithful in following God’s laws with an outward compliance stemmed from their inward obedience that was from the heart, hence being called ‘righteous in God’s eyes’.  They were chosen to fulfill the prophesy and  promise of a Savior. They would bear a child, name him John and he would be great, set apart for a special service to God, and prepare the way for the Messiah.  It was here, when Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, both righteous in God’s eyes, were pregnant through the miraculous will of God, that Elizabeth’s baby, while still in the womb, rejoiced at the news of a Savior, Jesus. Luke 1:39-45:  A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town  where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby leaped within her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we experience and witness answered prayers and God’s mighty work within and around us with a ‘Right Heart’ to be open to what God can do IN impossible conditions, and wait for God to work in His way and in His time.  Waiting on God can sometimes make or break our faith,  but when our hearts are right and tuned in to His promises, we realize that faith AND waiting go hand-in-hand.

One waits to hold their newborn child.

Some wait for their prodigal child to come and return home.

Many wait for that much needed job.

Countless wait for an eye-opening spiritual breakthrough.

All are waiting for the healing of our land, spiritually and physical, the hope of a Savior.

We all wait for something. It is the genuine embodiment of faith. We are to remain faithful in our waiting. Advent IS about faith and waiting.  What are you waiting on God for right now?   I’m sure most of us have the same prayerful mindset as 2020 looms to an end, anxious to put it all behind us. Waiting for a new day that will shine God’s light with healing and restoration.

As we recall the years of silence as God’s people waited for the Messiah, take time today, right now, to reflect on the fact that God’s timing is quite different from our own.   When we recognize this, it eases the restlessness in the waiting and the rejoicing becomes that much more exuberant, which then fortifies and enriches our faith.

The story of Jesus’ birth gives us assurance and joy because even though the waiting lingered for decades, God broke through at just the right time, fulfilling prophesies and promises, bringing hope and eternal life!

Are you struggling with a questionable faith?  That’s OK. It doesn’t take much faith to get God’s attention. In fact, he is always right there, just waiting, waiting for you.   Jesus encouraged his frustrated followers this way: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Our mountains are our struggles, fears, doubts, challenges, even our sins.  Every single one of these can be overcome by the faith we cultivate, the condition and claim of our heart, and the relationship we nurture and make personal with Jesus.

It’s our nature to start big, to try to grow a forest, so to speak, in one day.  Jesus, however, invites you to begin with a tiny seed.  Watch it grow and wait for it to become all that you dreamed it would be. Let faith be born in you, nurture it and watch it soar within your heart.

Today, examine how waiting affects you. How do you do in the waiting?  Share with a friend or family member something you are waiting for.  This opens a channel of communication through the waiting.  Encourage someone you know who is weary and waiting to remind them of God’s promises, and wait together.

Evaluate and take inventory of your relationship with God.  Are you struggling with His silence?  Are you open to a life eclipsed with His goodness and direction, with an understanding that requires a relationships with his Son Jesus?  He want’s nothing more than for you to open your heart to Him, to be the center of your life. What do you have to lose?  Actually, a lot, because it’s worth it all, it’s worth the waiting. Always. Every day is the perfect day to take that first step, and  the rest just falls into place and faith grows.

I’m often quite impatient with my life. I rush to fill my time and thoughts with all things good that bring glory to God.  I seek the Lord’s precious and gentle examples that teach me to enjoy Him and not just the blessings in these days filled with laughter and joy, but also through seasons of hardship and uncertainty.  I am reminded to start and end each day with a ‘Right Heart’ that is attentive to the One who loves and leads me in this Advent season, now and every day!  Right your heart today and wait… wait on God to fill your soul with the love and compassion of His son Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Be born to FAITH, this day.

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

‘While I Wait’ by Lincoln Brewster

‘Let Faith Arise’ by BridgeCity

‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship   

‘Born Is A King – It’s Christmas’ by Hillsong Worship

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, little did I know I needed a savior, until that day I opened my heart and Jesus was there. Faith was born in me that day. In every moment of every season, there is a purpose for me.  Let my eyes be wide open and my heart be right in relationship with Jesus,  to cherish and grow that faith born in me. I pray in this moment of waiting for the stillness of the season to cover me with a gentle caress of God’s perfect goodness. In the name of Jesus, our King and Prince of Peace. Amen.

Kris

Resource: lifeway.com/Matt Tullos

Joy in waiting

Zechariah 2:10-13

10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord.11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

What is the feeling that grips your heart when you are “in waiting”? Is excitement? Or anxiety? Or maybe fear? How about joy? Or maybe you become impatient? How about something that you cannot put your finger on but has your whole person and body on the edge?

Waiting is something that hits all of us differently. In part because we come to that “in waiting” time of our lives from different point of views, and sometimes with different expectations, or different foundations. And Christmas is a reminder to us all that “in waiting” is about our heart, and how we respond each and every year to the birth of Jesus.

For the people of Israel, the prophets spoke time and time again about that promise, and the wait for that promise was passed on generation to generation. With each prophecy, with each new reminder of the promise, their hearts were faced with the question: Will this ever come to pass? Will I ever be able to see the promise of God?

For us the answer to that question is really simple: We had seen the promise come to life in Jesus. And yet we still look at Christmas with great anxiety, waiting for a new miracle to come alive in our hearts, but maybe we just need to look into our hearts and discover the inner joy, the peace, that is already there because of what God has done.

In a way Christmas is our pep rally, reminding us of all that God has done, as a foreshadow of what can do. So let this season be a season of joy, peace and great excitement for the things to come, because the Lord has come.

Be blessed,

Bo M.

Peace on Earth

Silent night, holy night - Blog - Dotten Collision, Inc.

Philippians 4:4-9 says “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

This is one of my all-time favorite Bible passages because it’s a very reassuring message in a broken, beaten, scarred world. But as I read it for this writing, at first glance, I was wondering how I would connect it to Advent. Thanks to the magic of Google, I was quickly directed to the message of peace in these six verses and the connection to the second candle of the advent wreath, which is also the peace candle. Sometimes I guess I just need God to work through Google to help me make connections. 

But it all makes sense. In Isaiah 9:6, we read that the One to come will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And when angels appeared to shepherds in the fields, they proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” If you just stop to think about that phrase “and on earth peace,” literally, Peace was born and lain in a manger as those angels were making their big announcement. 

As I read more about it, I found that peace is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible. So many people read the Bible and hear stories about a God of vengeance. But in reality, He is a God of peace. And He proved his point by coming to Earth in the most humble of ways. The Jews were awaiting a “savior” that would come with vengeance and free the Holy Land from the reign of terror by the Romans, and finally eliminate all of the enemies of the Jews. But He did just the opposite. Instead, He sent just a regular looking man with no military force. No violence…well, ok, I guess there was that whole table flipping thing in the temple courtyard. But Jesus was also fully human after all. But that “regular man” had all the power necessary to fulfill His ministry and overcome death. 

One final note on peace. My favorite part about Christmas Eve has always been that late night worship service, with all of the Christmas decorations providing most of the light in the sanctuary, and the singing of the closing hymn of Silent Night in the candle light. And the final words of the first verse say “sleep in heavenly peace.” It is that final hymn by candlelight that I truly feel at peace with everything in the world, even if only for a few fleeting moments before I return to the waiting world and all of its craziness. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this year, I need to try to focus more on finding at least a small slice of peace in each day. 

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