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Advent – Day 25: Take It Personally (Chris Francis)

It may not be a popular thought on Christmas Eve, but the very fact that Jesus came assumes something about us as individuals. It assumes we ares sinners in need of him coming. It assumes we are sinners in need of a Savior.
And that need never ends. We don’t pray a prayer one day in church and then have that need met once and for all. Yes, we are forgiven from our sins, but God’s love doesn’t leave as just forgiven. His love then goes to work on our hearts, saving us from the power that sin has over us, shaping and transforming us into the image of Christ.
So Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s Rescue Mission, and it is also a sobering indictment of our continual and constant and desperate need for his grace. We need Jesus every day to save us from our self-centered, self-exalting, self-glorifying flesh.
And so my encouragement is to take some time today to confess the areas of your life  that are still in need of his saving work, ways that your pride and selfishness still manifest (maybe they manifested this week while shopping for gifts…or maybe they will manifest tomorrow while hanging out with your not-so-favorite family members).
Now I know you may be thinking, “But won’t thinking about my struggle with sin make me depressed? I don’t wanna be depressed on Christmas Eve!”
Not if you know Jesus.
Confessing our current struggles with sin, and then confessing Jesus’ grace over those struggles, humbles us to the point where we can take Jesus’ coming personally.
And when we can take his coming personally, then we are filled with a renewed gratefulness for what he has done, with a renewed grace for others’ struggles with sin, and with a renewed confidence that Jesus will finish the work he came here to do in our hearts.
And that is definitely NOT depressing.
So take some time today to take it personally.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6). 
Amen.

Advent – Day 24: In the Middle of God’s Plan (Jill Cubbison)

Hello Friends! I wanted to share something with you. (If you have a minute…) Not sure if many of you know this but I was pregnant with twins between Liam (4) & Audrey (1). They were “monoamniotic” (in one sac) & their umbilical cords got tangled, cut off their oxygen & blood supply & they died when I was 12 weeks along. We were heartbroken. I felt alone, forgotten, I wondered where was God in all this and what’s the point of prayer etc. I’ve since experienced God’s love and comfort and healing, but the sadness still hits me sometimes.

I was getting ready for work a few days ago and just thinking about the crazy story of Mary having her baby in a freakin’ STABLE! Then I started to realize the reality of her experience. We hear, “Jesus was born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes”…beautiful. There were angels singing and Wisemen who brought gifts. He was snuggled up next to a beautiful white, gentle lamb to keep him warm…at least that’s what’s in all the manger scenes. But, I have a feeling that is not how it all went down.

First of all, it all started with someone telling Mary that she had to take a trip to Bethlehem because of this Census….and the only way there was a DONKEY…and she was super pregnant. I imagine she was at the very least not happy and probably nervous. So, after a ridiculously long, and painful DONKEY ride…she gets to Bethlehem. (how would you feel if someone told you that you have to ride for DAYS on a DONKEY at 9 mos pregnant?!) And she’s about to have this baby. The SON OF GOD. The one an Angel appeared to her AND Joseph to tell them that this was legit and this baby will save the world. Surely God has made arrangements for His son’s birth.

No rooms? Excuse me? Guys…really think about this. Remember when you had your babies or when your babies were born? This is not a beautiful “manger”….it is a STABLE where the animals stay. It smells like poop. Your “bed” is sticky hay. Finally when your baby is born…your tiny newborn, minutes old baby….the best place you can put him is a feeding trough…which we call a manger. At least you put some hay down to make it “soft” for him. :o/

Really imagine this experience for Mary.

This is what I feel like God taught me in that moment, while I was getting ready for work. “Don’t you think May felt abandoned and forgotten about?” Like God did not plan this…where was He in this whole birth thing? She’s at the end of this journey to birth the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD and this is how it all ends. This is the climax of the story? A stinky, uncomfortable animal stable with baby Jesus lying in a feeding trough because God didn’t even arrange for them to have a room?

We look for “signs” that God is in something. Mary would have felt good if God had miraculously arranged for there to be ONE last room left…just for them…and she’d say, “See how great my God is? He did this!” But there were no signs. Only pain, discomfort and a feeling of being forsaken.

But this was exactly God’s plan. Jesus had to be born this way…it was God’s plan to save the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE. Jesus was born humbly, in the lowest of low places….and this begins His amazing journey of REALNESS. Mary wasn’t forgotten…God HAD made arrangements for her. She had to trust Him and know that he is GOD.

And then God gently reminded me that, although we see this amazing story of Jesus birth, it may have felt less amazing for Mary…a real woman in labor feeling forgotten. But God was in it the whole time. And in my pain and sorrow…in my deep sadness and heartbreak…in my confusion and anger…God is there. The whole time. Whether behind the scenes or moving obviously for me to see…He is there…and He never left me. Even in the darkest time; He was right beside me. I still don’t understand it all or why we go though things in life. God didn’t promise an “easy” life as a Christian…he promised that he would NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. And through our pain and hard times, can come great joy.

Have you felt forgotten, alone, heartbroken, angry, confused? You are not alone…God is here and sent His son as the ultimate sacrifice and gift. Accepting the gift of Jesus is accepting eternal life in Heaven and true FREEDOM. You will experience got’s amazing love and peace…and it’s awesome. Even when we don’t understand, that peace and joy from God shines through and carries us through our hardest times. THIS is the story of Christmas.

Advent – Day 23: Don’t Drown Out Jesus This Christmas (Rick Warren)

Dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42 NLT)

You and I love to overcrowd our lives. We overbook, overspend, overestimate, and we often walk around tired all the time. As a result, God’s truth often doesn’t get the chance to blossom in our lives.

Too often God teaches you a kernel of truth — maybe through your morning Bible study or a Sunday sermon — and you think you need to do something about it, but almost immediately it’s crowded out of your life and forgotten.

The truth isn’t crowded out of your life because of evil. Often, good things in our lives crowd out the truth that God wants to plant in us. To fulfill God’s destiny for your life, you likely don’t have to do more; you have to do less.

Take Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha for example. One day they invited Jesus over for dinner. Mary spent her evening listening to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, was busy being a hostess and worrying about the hors d’oeuvres and whether everything was in its place.

Martha got upset that she had to do all the work while her sister got to sit with Jesus. That’s when Jesus said to her: “Dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41b-42 NLT).

When your life is over, only one thing will really matter: Did you get to know the Son of God? The extra Christmas presents you were able to buy because of your long hours at the office won’t matter. All the time you spent preparing the perfect holiday meal won’t matter either. But whether you spent your time getting to know Jesus will matter for ages and ages to come.

So enjoy the Christmas season. Wrap the presents. Prepare your home in a festive way. Make memories with your family. But don’t let this Christmas pass without spending some time at Jesus’ feet. Long after everything else fades from this Christmas, worshiping Jesus is all that will truly last.

Advent – Day 19: God With Us

A great video devotional.

God With Us.

Advent – Day 16: The Little Drummer Boy In All Of Us (Jonathan Parnell)

The Little Drummer Boy in All of Us

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)

We know about the shepherds keeping watch by night, and then the magi from the east who came to Jerusalem. We know about the innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph there wasn’t any room, and we know about Herod’s malicious edict to kill the male babies of Bethlehem.

But then there’s the little drummer boy, the fictitious character of the popular Christmas song first recorded in 1955. This drummer is, of course, not in the biblical story, but his presence has become legendary in our modern Christmas imagination. And we can learn from him.

So the Song Goes

At a casual listen, though, the song is so simple, and clouded with so many pa-rum-pa-pum-pums, that it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on.

The song opens, as the drummer boy narrates, with the magi recruiting him to join their journey to see Jesus. “Come, they [the magi] told me . . . a newborn King to see . . . our finest gifts to bring.”

Apparently, the drummer boy agrees to come along, and the lyrics fast-forward to him gathered around the young Jesus, acknowledging his poverty, admitting he has no gift to bring that’s really fit for a king. But he does have this drum. And so he asks, “Shall I play for you?” To which Mary nods her approval, and then the drummer boy plays, and plays his best. Then Jesus smiles. Pa rum pa pum pum — which is clearly French for felix navidad.

Me and My Drum

At this point, even though we know this isn’t historical, we know it could have happened. In fact, in different forms, this sort of scenario has played over and over for thousands of years. Worshipers of Jesus (like the magi) compel their neighbors (like the drummer boy) to consider Jesus — to come and see him, as it were. And when the neighbors do, if they would believe, a moment happens when they realize their bankruptcy is exposed. They see Jesus and comprehend his glory, and then they look at themselves: But I am broken. I am empty and poor. I’ve got nothing to bring this King that even comes close to representing the honor that is due him. All I have is this drum.

It starts this way for all of us, you see. I was that little drummer boy, and so were you. Before we can be the magi inviting others to come along, we’re the ones who feel completely inadequate, and in one sense, we always will. If we would see Jesus, and understand his significance, we can’t help but sense our own frailty. All we have is this drum. What in the world could ever be enough for this King? We’ve just got this drum, so we ask, do you want that? Do you want this stupid drum? And he says, Yes, bring your nothing, play the drum.

And so we play it for him, and we play our best for him, declaring that we are small, that we are weak, that he doesn’t need us in the least, but that with all that we are, with every little speck of nothing we have, we are giving it to him. To him.

We know that this King has no lack, that he doesn’t need anything, but that we,because of him, are absolutely, completely, wonderfully his. Me and my drum —all his.

Advent – Day 13: The Birth of the Ancient of Days (John Piper)

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” —John 18:37

This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the end of Jesus’s life on earth, not the beginning.

The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Naz- areth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.

The theological word to describe this mystery is not cre- ation, but incarnation. The person—not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus—existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new per- son, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.

Micah 5:2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to wit- ness to an even greater one—namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”

Advent – Day 10: The Advent of Humility (Tim Keller)

Innumerable Christmas devotionals point out the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth—among shepherds, in a crude stable, with a feed trough for a bassinet. When Jesus himself tried to summarize why people should take up the yoke of following him, he said it was because he was meek and humble (Matt. 11:29). Seldom, however, do we explore the full implications of how Jesus’ radical humility shapes the way we live our lives every day.

Humility is crucial for Christians. We can only receive Christ through meekness and humility (Matt. 5:3, 5; 18:3-4). Jesus humbled himself and was exalted by God (Phil. 2:8-9); therefore joy and power through humility is the very dynamic of the Christian life (Luke 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:5).

The teaching seems simple and obvious. The problem is that it takes great humility to understand humility, and even more to resist the pride that comes so naturally with even a discussion of the subject.

We are on slippery ground because humility cannot be attained directly. Once we become aware of the poison of pride, we begin to notice it all around us. We hear it in the sarcastic, snarky voices in newspaper columns and weblogs. We see it in civic, cultural, and business leaders who never admit weakness or failure. We see it in our neighbors and some friends with their jealousy, self-pity, and boasting.

And so we vow not to talk or act like that. If we then notice “a humble turn of mind” in ourselves, we immediately become smug—but that is pride in our humility. If we catch ourselves doing that we will be particularly impressed with how nuanced and subtle we have become. Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves. To even ask the question, “Am I humble?” is to not be so. Examining your own heart, even for pride, often leads to being proud about your diligence and circumspection.

Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is “blessed self-forgetfulness.”

Humility is a byproduct of belief in the gospel of Christ. In the gospel, we have a confidence not based in our performance but in the love of God in Christ (Rom. 3:22-24). This frees us from having to always be looking at ourselves. Our sin was so great, nothing less than the death of Jesus could save us. He had to die for us. But his love for us was so great, Jesus was glad to die for us.

Grace, Not Goodness

We are on slippery ground when we discuss humility, because religion and morality inhibit humility. It is common in the evangelical community to talk about one’s worldview—a set of basic beliefs and commitments that shape the way we live in every particular. Others prefer the term “narrative identity.” This is a set of answers to the questions, “Who am I? What is my life all about? What am I here for? What are the main barriers keeping me from fulfillment? How can I deal with those barriers?”

There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.

People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.

Advent – Day 6: Christmas Quarrels and the Incarnation of Christ (Matt Younger)

Hope marks the Christmas season as Christians celebrate the humility of God in the incarnation of Jesus. But let’s be realistic: The pervasive hope afforded in the gospel won’t be the basis of every family gathering in December.

The holiday gathers a cross section of bloodlines and legal relatives alike. Some we might like more than others, sharing space and unorthodox amounts of time. A season built to celebrate the “others-centered” love of Christ can be choked by unresolved tension that exists within families. Christmas has a way of spotlighting hearts through the family dynamic. Blemishes are exposed. Annoyances and resentments are inclined to bubble over, viewing others by past indiscretions. Conflict can trump celebration among us. With this potential for family strife around the corner, how might we prepare ourselves to exhibit the true hope for Christmas?

The practical book of James is timely as we consider interacting with our families over the holidays. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you” (Jas. 4:1). James’ reminder is that the problems among us begin within us. Our presumptions dictate the way we expect others to act. This isn’t to say that every strain in your family falls squarely on your shoulders, as legitimate suffering is often the result of another’s sin toward us. But James warns us that we can be more of a contributing component to broken relationships than we realize.

The crafty serpent loves us to settle on our problems being everyone else’s fault. But the tension in your family dynamic, things you write off as others’ shortcomings, might actually originate within you. Think about this. Passion is derived from the word “hedonon,” from which we get hedonism – the philosophical systems where personal pleasure is the chief end. Our flesh fights for primacy, to control people to be and act a certain way. Are you prone toward annoyance when you’re with family? Ask the Lord for clarity so that you’re not explaining away your dysfunctional family only by their faults. A posture of only seeing the problems of others and being bothered by them misses the profound implications of Jesus’ incarnation – our truest reason to celebrate Christmas with those we love.

Hope persists in the Scriptures amid the incriminating exposure of human motivation. He saw the finger-pointing and self-righteousness in the garden. He sees us, too. Even with the knowledge of every wayward thought in human history, Jesus still comes to rescue us. He overcomes the severed relationship brought on by our own resentment and selfish, blatant disregard toward Him. He breaks through in full divinity and humanity, giving all of Himself to redeem us. He initiates the unmerited favor that saves us from the worst of ourselves.

May the hope of the gospel – the forgiving love of Christ – flow vertically from the heavens and horizontally out of your heart. May those most likely to annoy you be captivated by God’s grace through you.

Ask the Lord to do more in these long hours with your family than you ever thought possible. James reminds us that we don’t have because we don’t ask, or we ask for the wrong reasons (Jas. 4:3). Ask the Lord for help in seeing yourself and others rightly. Ask Him to bless you and keep you in any hardship. He is an eternally good Father, and we are forever His children.

Remember the purpose of the Incarnation – that God Himself would renew all things, including annoying family members with really bad histories. May the Lord change hearts, starting with ours.

Advent – Day 4: Joy to the World (Marshall Segal)

The Gospel of Luke gives the most detailed story of the birth of Christ and also the most detailed prescription for joy. Luke wants us to see that the story of the world meeting Jesus in the flesh is a story of the world finally finding full joy in God.

It begins with the birth of John the Baptist. The angel said to Zechariah:

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. . . and he will go before him to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.” (Luke 1:13–17)

Even before the baby was born, the message was a message of joy. Through his angel, the Lord promised that people would rejoice at the birth of John because he would pave the way for the Christ. The joy God’s people would have in Jesus was so real and so intense that they would feel it looking into the face of the messenger — a man set apart to declare the coming of the King.

Rejoice! The King is coming into the world to save sinners and spread his joy.

Good News of Great Joy

Then, the baby was born, the Messiah himself came forth from heaven through his mother’s womb. That night, an angel appeared to some shepherds and declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Those poor, unsuspecting shepherds were hearing the chorus of the praise that we’ve sung ever since.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room.

Rejoice! The King has come, and with this baby, fullness of joy was born for all who would believe.

Your Reward Is Great

Jesus’s birth was not Luke’s final word about our joy. Even in the midst of the very worst circumstances — the awful persecution of Jesus and his disciples — Jesus’s message remained the same, “Rejoice.” “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22–23).

Those who rejoice at Jesus’s coming will suffer in this life, but their weakness, pain, and misery here are as nothing compared with the glories they already have in heaven. When we suffer for the sake of Christ, we are blessed, because suffering with him is a way of confirming we are his. And those who are his have nothing to fear and nothing to lose, and everything to gain, everything already waiting for them in heaven with God.

So no more let sins and sorrows grow. Though the battle rages for a few short decades here, and we experience many losses along the way, fix your eyes on the joy ahead. Rejoice that your names are and always have been written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

Rejoice! Nothing in this world can undo or even diminish your joy in Jesus. No sin and no sorrow can separate you from him and the everlasting happiness he brings.

Joy to the World

The baby born in Bethlehem was born to die in our place. He went to the cross and received the wrath we deserved for our sin (Luke 23:46). He died to purchase the joy the angels announced at his birth. And three days later, he rose from the dead, the firstborn of all who would follow him. He appeared to his disciples and showed them how all of the Bible was pointing to him — the baby born in a manger, the preacher of good news, the Son of God crucified on the cross, the King who conquered the grave, the Joy of the world.

And after he left them, ascending into heaven and promising to return, “they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52). The King that died, never surrendered to death. He rose and reigns in glory, sending his disciples among the nations to offer everyone everywhere never-ending joy in him and with him in his presence (Luke 24:46–49).

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness, And wonders of his love.

Rejoice! Jesus was born and died to have a world of worship — sons and daughters from every people on earth — and we’ll live and sing and enjoy God with them forever.

Advent – Day 3: Fear and Trembling at Advent (Mason King)

Scripture tells us that, as shepherds were watching their flock at night, an angel of the Lord came and told them of Christ’s birth. The stillness of the desert air and the calm of the darkness was interrupted by an angel of the Lord, fierce and mighty—God’s glory shining brightly. Surprised, terrified, in awe—the shepherds stared at the angel who said to them, “Fear not.”

You and I typically jump ahead to the next part of the story—that they made their way to see the baby boy. But stay a minute. Study this scene.

Think about that night—the sky opened up and the glory of the Lord shone around these shepherds. Their hearts trembled at the fierce angel who then said to them, “Fear not. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”

As if the presence of the one warrior angel was not enough to make the point for these shepherds, a multitude of hosts appeared and the night burned brightly with their praise: “Glory to God in the Highest—and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

We see Mary and Joseph not too far away in the stable. Young Mary, trembling and preparing to give birth to the Hope of the Ages, without midwife or doctor, let alone drugs to numb the imminent pain. She is held by her betrothed, Joseph, a man who months earlier was trying to arrange a quiet divorce. No doubt, he trembled then. But an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in the darkness and said, “Fear not.”

And so the Lord speaks to you and to me, saying, “Be not afraid, it is I.” Light has exposed the darkness of our own hearts and has overcome it by the cross. Our hearts indeed tremble now, not with fear at His appearing, but with gratitude because He has come to save us. In Him we have a Rescuer. Without Him we are, at most, thin veneers of who we wish to be. He has come to restore our humanity.

As we approach the day on which we remember His birth, we enter into a starlit night where the still air fell like velvet on the shoulders of shepherds. Stars burned with the brightness of childlike wonder. This night, the Hope of all the ages drew His first breath. A young mother gazed at her child’s face. In her heart and in her hands she held the weight of the boy who had come to set His people free.

Our hearts tremble with love for that we have yet to see—as we long for the day when we see Him face to face.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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