December 2017

December 31, 2017
LEARNING TO SAY "NO"
 




Matthew 5:37
"Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil." 





With whom do you need to communicate a firm answer of "no"? What opportunity is staring you in the face to which you know in your heart you have to say "no"? Hesitation or delay only creates an expectation of commitment. It is better to say "no" early on than to let silence send a message of "yes". Learning to say "no" comes with mature faith in Christ. 

God’s game plan requires us to go deeper with fewer opportunities and fewer people so that we are able to give them the quality time and attention they desire and deserve. If we halfheartedly say "yes" without the conviction of truly caring, then we dilute our effectiveness and the overall success of the project or the team. An active answer of "no" is better than a passive "yes". 

Children are a good example of regular opportunities to lovingly say "no". They do not have the context or experience to discern between what they want and what they need. For example, is it wise to give them a cell phone without it costing them anything? It probably is not, even if they say, “Everyone else has one.” Your "no" helps them to mature. 

In the same way, the Lord tells us "no" for our own good. Our heavenly Father is in a much better position to understand what is best for us. You may not understand today why He shut a relational or career door, but in the days ahead it will become abundantly clear. Do not listen to Satan’s temptation to lead you to question where God has already said "no" to you. 

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God actually say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden"’?"  (Genesis 3:1)

The devil is a master at causing us to doubt what Jesus knows is best for us. 

The better you are at trusting and obeying the Lord’s "no’s", the better equipped you are to say "no". It is a faith journey that never ends until we are promoted to our eternal home in heaven. When you say "no" to a nice attraction, you have the energy and emotional margin to say "yes" to God’s best. Say "no" now, by faith, and become free from the fear of rejection. 

"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word."  (Psalm 119:67)

Who needs to hear your loving "no", and what "no" do you need to accept from the Lord? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 30, 2017
GOD WEEPS WITH US






John 11:35
"Jesus wept."







He seemed composed as he approached the town. The sister of his dead friend met him outside. He consoled her with truth and grace. But then he saw the other sister, manifestly more emotional. And he burst into tears.

Just two simple words, and yet they carry a world of significance. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in all of the Bible, but one of its most powerful, and insightful.

The prophet foretold:

"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:3-4)

Because his love is great, he made our pains his own. We are finite and frail. But God gave us mighty emotions. We celebrate. We grieve. We rejoice. We weep. And we do so with Jesus as one of us. That Jesus loved dead Lazarus and his two sisters could not be any more clear: 

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."  (John 11:5)

The people say, in response to Jesus’s weeping:

"..., 'See how he loved him!'" (John 11:36)

Jesus wept. And in these tears we see that God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence. He has drawn near. He has taken our flesh and blood. He has not called us to a humanity that he himself was unwilling to take. We have not been abandoned to a world into which he was unwilling to enter. We suffer no pain he was unwilling to bear. We have no grief he was unwilling to carry.

Jesus wept. He did not consider himself above our agonies, but emptied himself of privilege by taking our form, being born in our likeness:

"...[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:7)

The very heart of the Christian message is that the happy God so loved our weeping world that he gave his own Son to weep with us, all the way to the place of utter forsakenness, that whosoever believes in him will not weep forever, but have everlasting joy. And one day, when he wipes away our every tear, it is not because he is suppressing our sadness. The one who wipes away our tears has shed his own. And he has triumphed.

This is our gospel in two words: "Jesus wept".

David Mathis

December 29, 2017
DON’T GET MAD





Ephesians 4:26
"Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger," 





Every one of us gets angry at someone once in a while. Sometimes our anger grows beyond anger. Everyone understands when we say we get “mad” at someone. Even Jesus became angry. Once He was in a synagogue, preparing to heal a man with a withered hand on a sabbath day. He knew that the Pharisees and Herodians would object. But Mark says Jesus healed the man anyway:

"And he [Jesus] looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was restored." (Mark 3:5)

On another occasion, during the Passover time, Jesus “made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple” all the animals being sold for sacrifice as well as those selling the animals and the money-changers:

"And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, 'Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.' "(John 2:15-16)

Jesus may have been angry, but never so angry as to sin. He could not sin, because He was — and always is — God. The apostle Paul warns us against becoming so angry that we might sin. In Ephesians he wrote:

"Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger," (Ephesians 4:26)

This is an echo of what King David wrote:

"Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." (Psalm 4:4)

Once when I was a boy, I got pretty angry at my older brother; you could say I was mad at him. We were in the machine shed on the farm, playing around. He did some little thing to offend me. Naturally, this happened often. But this time I had our BB gun in my hands. My brother began to run out the door; and just as he arrived there, I shot at him and hit him in the middle of his back. Most fortunately, he was at least twenty feet from me, and the gun was very cheap with very little power, so he hardly felt the sting of the pellet.

From all this, I plead with you all, “Please, please, never get mad at anyone, for any reason.” Not much is said about madness in scripture, and the bit I recall may indicate a slightly different form of madness from what we are thinking about. But when Paul was pleading his case before King Agrippa, the governor Festus and others. But when Paul waxed strong in his defense as an apostle of Jesus, Festus could stand it no longer and shouted out:

"... 'Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.'" (Acts 26:24)

But Paul kept his peace and responded:

"... 'I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.'" (Acts 26:25)

And because Paul kept calm, a good thing happened. King Agrippa almost confessed Christ as his Savior. He said:

"...to Paul, 'In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?'" (Acts 26:28)

So, don’t get mad; get people saved. You can do it!

Dr. Thomas R. Teply

December 27, 2017
LOVE RADICALLY GIVES  





John 3:16 
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."  



  
Love is a radical giver--intentionally and indiscriminately. Love gives. It gives individually and internationally. Love gives. It gives bountifully and without bias. Love gives because generosity is its nature. A soldier who gives for love of country, or a mother who gives for love of her child, reveals their character. A husband who loves his wife gives her emotional attention. A wife who loves her husband gives him physical affection. Love gives as a matter of course. It’s natural. 
  

God’s love is the gold standard. His banner of love is raised high above the most hideous criminal to the most innocent child. God gave the ultimate gift of His son Jesus, because He loved all of us; each one of us. Just as rays of sunlight warm all of us and each of us, so the love of the Lord is for the world, and each one. We are individually loved by Jesus. Since God is love, His love is effortless. His loving offer of forgiveness comes to us by belief in Jesus.   

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  (Galatians 2:20)  

How can we intentionally love the Lord, people, and ourselves? Love begins by being loved by the One who is love. Once we receive Christ into our life by faith, His very nature of love resides within us. The deeper we fall in love with the Lover of our souls, the greater our capacity to love. His love gives us peace, so we are able to offer calm in the middle of conflict. His love gives us patience, so we are able to extend a compassionate ear to a fearful foe. His love gives us forgiveness, so we are able to offer total forgiveness to a friend or family member. Love gives. 
  

How can we love ourselves by giving to ourselves? We love when we give ourselves the gift of margin. Margin is time for prayer, exercise, thinking, reading, hobbies and being creative. We can love ourselves by having more or less time with people. Nonetheless, we love ourselves, so we are better prepared to love God and others. An unloved self is a loveless self. Not narcissism of course, but a healthy love of self, like Jesus loves us. Our soul care, emotional fitness, mental refreshment, spiritual nurture and physical rest all contribute to a loving life. Love gives. So, receive God’s love in Christ and from an overflowing heart of love–love generously.   

"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  (Matthew 22:37-39)  

What is one way you can grow your love for others in a radical way? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 27, 2017
A MOTHER'S LOVE





Luke 2:34-35
"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.'"





Even as a child, I always loved the beauty of Christmas Eve service--the hushed tone, the reverence of the night and the anticipation of the miracle that was about to take place. With the lights dimmed low and the spotlight on Mary and her baby, I felt snugly wrapped in the wonder of it all. 

It wasn't until years later, now a mother myself, when I realized that part of the miracle of Christmas was Mary's own quiet strength. I sat in the pew, with my new baby in my arms, and wondered how Mary ever had the courage and faith to share her baby with the rest of the world--knowing His future held great and dangerous things. 

What was it like for Mary when she held her baby for the first time? A mother's love is like no other--fierce and universal. The words roll around on our tongue: "miraculous," "incredible," "amazing," "my very heart." Yet, even while we say these words, we know they can never, ever convey our true feelings. The words are too small for what now exists as part of our very being. Our person is fully changed, forever.
 
I could certainly identify with the profound love and joy Mary must have felt with baby Jesus. Every new mother knows the excitement of meeting your baby, the certainty that a miracle has truly occurred, the desire to hold them close and never let go. A mother wraps her baby in her kisses and then her hope that life will be kind. Upon seeing that tiny face for the first time, a mother's dreams are no longer her own.   

Jeannine Norris

December 26, 2017                                                                           
SURPRISED BY JOY IN OUR SADNESS





Lamentations 5:15
"The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning."   





What happens when the joy is gone? It’s not fun anymore. What we are experiencing is not what we signed up for. Indeed, a joyless state is not a good place to stay over a prolonged period of time. It may be that you just lost a loved one suddenly, without warning. You grieve because of your tremendous loss, but their great gain is that they knew Jesus. 

It is not unusual for joy to rise from the ashes of our grief. Joy does come at dawn after the dark night of the soul (Psalm 30:5). Your heart laments and longs for one more conversation and warm embrace from the dear one departed to heaven. But joy comes when you know they are with Jesus.

Jesus and joy go hand in hand. He understands that joy comes from obedience and faithfulness to God’s call. It was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the cross and despised its shame (Hebrews 12:2). Consider Christ, along with His model of endurance and obedience, in the middle of opposition and persecution. Do not grow weary and lose heart. The Lord is your lesson in joyfulness. Jesus never forgot the bigger picture of hope for a better tomorrow. 

Hope ultimately leads to heaven. Just the thought of heaven’s hallelujahs brings a smile to the face of the faithful. Joy is set before us in the person of Jesus Christ, reigning on His throne of grace. It is imperative that we stay fixed on Him. Our faith flees when it loses perspective from the Prince of Peace. Joy is found in Jesus. He wrote the book on experiencing joy in the midst of misery. 

Joy, at the very least, lies dormant within every disciple of Jesus Christ. Therefore, awaken it from its slumber if you have slid into a joyless state. Look to the Lord for an infusion of His eternal joyfulness. Joyfulness is found in His hopefulness. Do not allow joy killers to rob you of hope and peace. A naysayer will always be around to remind you of his reality. But for the follower of Jesus Christ, a definition of reality without hope is wrong. 

"Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Reject joyless jabs from revisionists of a hopeless reality. Instead, seek out companions of Christ set on seeing Him as the joy giver. Jesus is a dispenser of joy. Navigate toward His lighthouse of love, and enjoy Jesus. You know His love; this is joy. You know His forgiveness; this is joy. You know His faithfulness; this is joy. You know His mercy; this is joy. Joy is not based on changing circumstances, but on knowing an unchanging Christ.

Seek Him in your sad state, and you will not have to search far for joy. When you find Jesus you have found joy. Confusion will try to keep you from Christ, but want of joy motivates you to your Master. Make joy a juggernaut of obedience in your relentless pursuit of Him. Give joy to the world. Giving joy brings joy. Thus, receive Jesus and give Jesus, because He is joy. 

"Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy;   I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow."  (Jeremiah 31:13)

Wisdom Hunters

December 25, 2017 
BORN IN US TODAY  
  





Luke 1:31-33
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”



  
One of my children’s favorite Christmas hymns is O Little Town of Bethlehem. We sing it often as a family this time of year, and while in some ways it is a simple and childlike song, as we sing it I am always struck by the depth and beauty of its message. In the final verse, having reflected upon the mystery and wonder of birth of Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the words then look to the present, inviting Jesus to enter into our lives in this very moment. 
  
"O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. "
  

This single line provides for us a treasure chest of insight. Most significantly, we are reminded of one of the central themes of the preparatory season of Advent. As we look back to the birth of Jesus in a lowly manger, we must ask if we are open and ready, like Mary centuries ago, to receive the Lord into our lives today. 

"And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:38)  

The Virgin Mary is, in this season, a picture for us of what a faithful response to God looks like. The angel brings news of great joy, saying that in the birth of Jesus, God is drawing near to fulfill all of his promises and to reign forever. And as confusing or perplexing as this news may have been to Mary, she responds with great faith, saying, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” It is for this reason that she is often referred to as the first disciple, offering us a picture of how we too must respond to God as he draws near. 
  
Though the birth of Jesus in the town of Bethlehem is an unrepeatable, miraculous event, by the work of his Spirit in the world today, God still desires to have his life born within each of us. The story of Christmas isn’t just sentimentality or an interesting bit of history. It is, at its core, an invitation. God in Jesus has drawn near and continues to draw near this very moment. The question that we must answer is this: Are we ready and willing to receive him into our lives this Christmas season? 
  
May we, on Christmas Day, greet the Lord’s birth with hearts full of faith and hope, trusting that he will bear his own life within us as we do! 
  
What work remains in your heart and life to ensure you are ready to receive Jesus this today?  

Tripp Prince

December 24, 2017
THE LOVE OF A HUSBAND AND FATHER







Matthew 1:19
"And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. " 






The birth of Jesus took place like this: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: 

"But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."  (Matthew 1:20)

This would bring the prophet Isaiah's embryonic sermon to full term:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. 

"When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:24)

For most of my life, I missed the importance of Joseph in the Christmas story. But after I became a husband and father myself, I had a greater appreciation for Joseph’s tender character. Even before he knew how Mary had become pregnant, he decided that he wasn’t going to embarrass or punish her for what seemed to be infidelity:

"And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:19-23)

Then:

"When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus."(Matthew 1:24-25) 

I marvel at his obedience and humility, as he not only did what the angel told him but also refrained from physical intimacy with Mary until after Jesus was born. Later we learn that Joseph was willing to flee his home to protect Jesus:

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.' And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt" (Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine the pressure Joseph and Mary must have felt when they learned that Jesus would be theirs to raise and nurture! Imagine the complexity and pressure of having the Son of God living with you every moment of every day; a constant call to holiness by His very presence. What a man Joseph must have been to be trusted by God for this task! What a wonderful example for us to follow, whether we are raising our own children or those born to others who are now entrusted to us.

May God grant us the strength to be faithful like Joseph, even if we don’t fully understand God’s plan.

Randy Kilgore

December 23, 2017
TWO BABES IN A MANGER






Luke 2:7 
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.







In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the Russian public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel (cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia), were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6-years-old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

Quickly,  I  called  for  the  translator  to  ask  the  lad  why  there  were  two  babies  in  the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For  such  a  young  boy,  who  had  only heard  the  Christmas  story  once,  he  related the happenings accurately - until he came to  the  part  where  Mary  put  the  baby  Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib.

He made up his own ending to the story as he  said,  "And  when  Mary  laid  the  baby  in the  manger,  Jesus  looked  at  me  and  asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no  mamma  and  I  have  no  papa,  so  I  don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't,  because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift." So I asked Jesus, 'If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?' And Jesus told me, 'If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.' So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him' - for always."
 
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him - for always.  And the Americans? They had learned the lesson they had come there to teach - that it is not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that really counts. We should all give thanks for the people that "keep us" - in life - and for all of God's many blessings to us: freedom from want, life, love, togetherness.

Author unknown

December 22, 2017  
OUTSIDE IN?




Galatians 3:27
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."  




“Change: From the Inside Out or the Outside In?” the headline read, reflecting a popular trend today—the idea that outward changes like a makeover or better posture can be an easy way to change how we feel on the inside—and even change our lives.

It’s an appealing concept—who wouldn’t want improving our lives to be as easy as a new look? Many of us have learned the hard way that changing deep-rooted habits can seem nearly impossible. Focusing on simple external changes offers hope that there is a quicker path toward improving our lives.

But although such changes can improve our lives, Scripture invites us to seek a deeper transformation—one that is impossible on our own. In fact, in Galatians 3 Paul argued that even God’s law—a priceless gift that revealed His will—couldn’t heal the brokenness of God’s people:

"Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."(Galatians 3:19–22). 

True healing and freedom required them to, through faith, be “clothed” in Christ:

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27) 

through His Spirit:

"For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness." (Galatians 5:5)

Set apart and shaped through Him, they would find their true identity and worth—every believer equally an heir to all of God’s promises:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:28–29)

We could easily devote much energy to self-improvement techniques. But the deepest and most satisfying changes in our hearts come in knowing the love that surpasses knowledge —the love that changes everything.

"so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

In Jesus, true and lasting transformation is possible.

Our Daily Bread

December 21, 2017 
EVERLASTING JOY




Isaiah 61:7
"Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy."



So often our joy seems circumstantial. We feel joyful when life goes as planned, when our children are flourishing, when we are respected in our jobs, when those we love are healthy, and when the future looks bright. Yet when our children walk away from faith, we lose a job, or when a doctor calls with life altering news, we fall apart. We long to be people who are characterized by joy in all circumstances, and we must be reminded afresh that this is only possible when the LORD of all draws near and reminds us that we are loved, welcomed, and safe in his Kingdom. 

Isaiah 61 is written to call forth everlasting joy in the hearts and lives of people who have suffered generations of heartbreak, suffering, and captivity. It is a passage that reminds us that the world is deeply affected by the reality of sin and death. It is a world in which there are brokenhearted, prisoners, and captives:

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;" (Isaiah 61:1)

as well as “robbery and wrongdoing”:

"For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them." (Isaiah 61:8)

And yet, the great promise of this passage is that everlasting joy will come to those who have suffered unspeakable pain and loss, and that systems of injustice and abuse will be healed and restored. The promise of joy is never abstract positivity or blind optimism but is deeply rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the joy of God drawing near in Jesus, entering into “the devastations of many generations” in order to bring his perfect rule and justice.:

"They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations." (Isaiah 61:4) 

When God became flesh he took upon himself all of our shame and guilt and welcomed us into perfect communion with God. Isaiah reminds us that we who were naked and barren are now clothed in “robes of righteousness,” dressed and ready to celebrate with great joy like a bride or a groom on their wedding day:

"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." (Isaiah 61:10)

Everlasting joy is only to be found in the presence of our loving Savior. Joy that transcends all circumstances is a gift of grace that we receive with gratitude and hearts filled with praise. If you today find joy to be elusive or a distant memory, focus afresh on the goodness of God shown in Jesus, and as you draw near to him, trust that his nearness will be for you an everlasting joy:

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  (Psalm 16:11)

What specific challenges or trials are currently threatening to steal your joy? 

Tripp Prince

December 20, 2017
MARY





Luke 1:46
"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord,'"





Mary was troubled. She had just heard the words of the angel:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28)

Comforting words, it would seem, but startling because they were spoken by an angel. Mary was about to be presented with the most magnificent news ever, yet she was fearful. And when the angel told her she would have a baby, she exclaimed:

"... to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'"  (Luke 1:34)

Those two facts about Mary—that she was troubled and that she questioned the angel—tell us she was a person like us, with normal concerns. Yet, after listening to the angel, she said:

“... “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

She was a humble, godly servant, with a willingness to do God’s will. We see more of Mary’s heart in her eloquent prayer, known as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary:

"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.'"(Luke 1:46-55)

She rejoiced in God’s holiness:

"for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." (Luke 1:49)

His mercy:

"And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." (Luke 1:50)

His strength:

"He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;"(Luke 1:51-52)

His care for the hungry:

"he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty." (Luke 1:53)

and His goodness to His people:

"He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." (Luke 1:54-55)

We can learn from Mary to trust God despite our concerns and fears, and to praise Him for His greatness. That’s what the song of Mary is all about. God's unsearchable ways deserve our unbounded praise.

Dave Branon

December 19, 2017
PLANS

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."























Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

December 18, 2017 
MAKE ROOM FOR JOY




Luke 2:7
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." 





Busy-ness can build walls around our hearts---where joy is uninvited into a crowded life. Before we realize what has happened, we are sucked into a crazy cycle of fatigue, frustration and faithless living. Culture can keep us on a carousel of dizzying activities, for what seems in the beginning harmless, even exhilarating---but over time becomes distracting to the Lord's best. Unmet expectations nurture anger in ungrateful hearts, condensing room for joyful praise to Jesus. 

The circumstances surrounding the first Christmas were strikingly similar to our modern day celebration of Christ's birthday. A bustling season of census taking turned Bethlehem into temporary mayhem, like rabid fans descending into a city for a championship game. Traffic snarls, tempers flare, restaurants with two-hour waits and no vacancy lights flash orange with hopeless repetition to all looking for a place to stay the night. Experiencing real-time rejection, Joseph finds a way to care for his young wife and new baby. The room he found was not suitable for human royalty, but the humble manger became a joyful birthday party for baby King Jesus. 

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."  (John 1:14)

As faithful followers of Jesus we can expect joy filled hearts, because the heart of our Savior has radical happiness. Expectation of God's grace excites our emotions over what we can expect in the acquisition of His good gifts. The Lord's blessings prompt pleasurable feelings with worship and thanks, which cause us to shout out joyful praise and gratitude to our great Jehovah-Jireh! Our heavenly Father provided the birth of His Son, who with joyful obedience, gave His all for us. 

You make room for the joy of Jesus when you invite Jesus into your heart for healing and peace. By faith and through God's grace, invite Jesus Christ to come into your life so you will experience the new birth of salvation, and begin to grow into a life of joyful obedience. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what needs to change in your schedule, so you can make room for what matters most to Christ. A life with margin is able to experience life to the fullest---framed by joy. 

"looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Hebrews 12:2)

What in your schedule needs to change, so you have margin to make the best decisions? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 17, 2017  
GENTLENESS






Ephesians 4:1-2
"I [Paul] therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love," 





The troubles of life can make us cranky and out of sorts, but we should never excuse these bouts of bad behavior, for they can wither the hearts of those we love and spread misery all around us. We have not fulfilled our duty to others until we have learned to be pleasant.

The New Testament has a word for the virtue that corrects our unpleasantness—gentleness, a term that suggests a kind and gracious soul. Ephesians 4:2 reminds us, “Be completely humble and gentle.”

Gentleness is a willingness to accept limitations and ailments without taking out our aggravation on others. It shows gratitude for the smallest service rendered and tolerance for those who do not serve us well. It puts up with bothersome people—especially noisy, boisterous little people; for kindness to children is a crowning mark of a good and gentle person. It speaks softly in the face of provocation. It can be silent; for calm, unruffled silence is often the most eloquent response to unkind words.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29)

If we ask Him, He will, in time, recreate us in His image. Scottish author George MacDonald says, “[God] would not hear from [us] a tone to jar the heart of another, a word to make it ache . . . . From such, as from all other sins, Jesus was born to deliver us.”

Humility toward God will make us gentle toward others.

Our Daily Bread

Previous thoughts

December 16, 2017
PERFECT PEACE FROM THE PRINCE OF PEACE 






Isaiah 26:3-4
"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock."






The world offers imperfect peace. It is temporary at best, as it comes in the form of materialism—a person—a pill—or a bottle. This caricature of peace prolongs pain and leads to long-term disappointment and disillusionment. Artificial peace restricts or rejects the peace of Almighty God, only to eventually come back and seek out what’s real.

Are you able to sleep peacefully at night? Do you have an assurance deep down in your soul that Christ is in control and can be trusted? If not, let loose of the idols of worry and pride— redirect your energies to eternal solutions. Answers from above bring peace that’s within. Where there is trust in the Lord there is rest from fighting the enemy.

"When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."  (Proverbs 16:7)

Accessing the Lord’s peace begins by first making peace with Him. In humble surrender and submission we unlock the control of our hearts to Christ and trust Him to give us what we need to follow Him and serve others. When we exchange our agenda for His agenda—in total trust—we in turn receive the peace of God. Peace follows trust. Peace with God results in the peace of God. Why wait until death to make peace with God?

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God."  (Romans 5:1-2)

God’s peace gives us confidence to follow Christ in ministry, domestically and globally. His peace of mind is assurance that we can move forward in a relationship or a new responsibility at work. A home that is peaceful is a haven for family and for those who need a safe environment to feel secure and loved. Peace produces relational fruit that lasts.

Can the Prince of Peace be trusted to get you through this challenge with your child or this season of suffering? Yes, of course He can and He wants you to experience His peace so you can be an ambassador of peace for Almighty God. People in turmoil who engage with your peaceful demeanor, want to know more about what you know and have.

So, use the gift of peace that Jesus has given you as a platform to proclaim His truth. Give away this gift to all who will receive it—and oh what a difference it will make if only one life receives its benefits! You don’t have to look far for candidates: a single parent, the jobless, a confused child, a fearful parent, an addict, the sick or a lost soul. The perfect peace of God cuts through confusion and keeps your mind and heart on Jesus.

"May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,"  (2 Peter 1:2-3)

What area of your life do you need to trust Jesus and rest in His quiet peaceful presence?

Wisdom Hunters

December 15, 2017
ADVENT: GIFT OF BREAD‎





Micah 5:2
"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."




I make cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning every year. I began this tradition when my kids were young. Since I make them from scratch, it requires a lot of time, effort, and planning. In order to have hot rolls on Christmas morning, I have to begin the day before Christmas and coordinate the rising times and assembly around our Christmas Eve schedule.

There’s nothing haphazard about the Christmas cinnamon rolls. This fact makes them special, but it’s also the reason I only make them one time a year! My “kids,” now young adults, appreciate and receive the cinnamon rolls for what they are – a gift of love from their mother.

Jesus is our heavenly Father’s gift of love to us. Nothing about Jesus’ birth was accidental or incidental. God meticulously planned Jesus’ arrival even before He created the earth. God knew the when, where, how, and why of every aspect of our Savior’s incarnation.

Consider Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, not the birthplace of King David. But a decree from Caesar required them to travel to Bethlehem for the Roman census. Mary and Joseph had probably arranged everything for Jesus’ birth in Nazareth. Joseph may have even used his carpenter skills to craft a beautiful cradle. But when Jesus was born, the cradle sat empty and Mary laid her newborn son in a feeding trough for animals.

Sad turn of events or God’s sovereign plan? About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah foretold the birthplace of the Savior. No accidents. No missed details:

"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." (Micah 5:2)

The Creator is sovereign over all things. Our eternal King would be born in Bethlehem. The everlasting heir to the throne of David would appear in David’s hometown. The Bread of Life  would enter the physical realm in the House of Bread.

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:35)

Kathy Howard

December 14, 2017
PEACEFUL REST IN A RESTLESS WORLD





Isaiah 32:18
"My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." 





Everyone longs to see peace in the world and in their lives. We long for safety and security, to know that all will be well. And yet, at every level of society, from intimate family relationships to complex political and economic systems, we live in a chronically anxious world. Rarely do we engage the world around us with the courage and security that comes from our place within the Kingdom of God. Instead, we have allowed this chronic fear and anxiety to live and flourish within our hearts and lives in countless ways. 

When I think of the life of Jesus, I think often of his remarkable ability to maintain a state of peace, even in the midst of extreme chaos, fear, and uncertainty. From the vulnerability of the stable, to the raging storm at sea, all the way to the pain and suffering of the cross, we see the Lord embody perfect peace in every situation. 

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 9:6)

In one of the all time great works of Christian devotion, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis offers this profound prayer for peace, “Grant me, above all else, to rest in You, that my heart may find its peace in You alone; for You are the heart's true peace, its sole abiding place, and outside Yourself all is hard and restless. In this true peace that is in You, the sole, supreme, and eternal Good, I will dwell and take my rest.” Echoing St. Augustine before him, St. Thomas reminds us that our only true hope for secure dwellings and quiet resting places is when we place our desire for peace in Christ alone and being known by him. 

Just as Jesus found his peace in his intimacy with the Father (John 14), so too are we able to find peace in any trial when we find our life and rest in him alone. Though we search far and wide, anything other than Christ will leave us restless and unable to navigate the storms of life that come our way. In his earthly ministry, Jesus lived a life of peace in times of trial, a life of security in times of great uncertainty, and a life of rest in a restless world. As we find our life in him today, we are able to do the same! 

In what ways have you sought peace in people or circumstances other than Christ and the security of his Kingdom? 

Tripp Prince

December 13, 2017
ADVENT: GIFT OF TRUST





Jeremiah 17:7-8
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."




One day while on retreat in New Mexico, I made a trek across a barren stretch and up a difficult slope to stand on top of a high mesa. As I walked, the whole area seemed desolate and empty. But once atop the mesa I got another view. From there, in the distance I could see the outline of a currently dry river bed. It was easily visible because all along its dry banks, life abounded.

From high above, the river bed was like a ribbon of green and gold. In the brilliant sunshine, green and gold leaves fluttered on trees and shrubs, whose roots stretched out to be watered by the stream when the rains came. These roots must have gone deep to sustain such abundant life even during a long, dry season.

We can easily become impatient with God and with one another, especially during difficult times. Trusting God means being willing to live courageously day to day. While Jesus has already come, we are still in the process of letting him complete the journey into our hearts.

Advent is a time to sink our spiritual roots deep, to let them stretch out to God, the source of all life. Because we are thus connected with God, we too can be sources of life to others in the way we live our daily lives. Christmas is not only the season of receiving gifts; it is even more so the season of taking delight in giving to others. We emulate what God has done for us and in that we find our deepest joy.

Let us prepare, then, to be generous in offering our family, coworkers, and neighbors spiritual fruit -- gifts such as patience, prudence, encouragement, counsel, faith, hope, and love.

There's a spiritual adage that says, “You can't give what you haven't got.”

During Advent, drink deeply of the spiritual gifts that God offers us. Then we can cherish within us the spirit of Christmas and bring to others the blessings of the Christ Child every day of the year.

Loyolapress.com

December 12, 2017
HOW BELIEF AND TRUST LEAD TO PEACE 





John 16:33
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  




  
Each morning, I wake and head to the kitchen where I make a pot of java. And each morning, I read the quote on the spoon rest next to the coffee pot: “Trust Me. I will provide all your needs.” 
  

One morning as my eyes fell on those words, I was reminded that for the believer in Christ who wants to experience the fullness of the peace God promises, there are really only two choices: trust or torment. We must ask ourselves, “Will I rely on God, choosing to believe He can be trusted with all I don’t understand and the concerns that consume my thoughts, or will I choose not to believe and trust Him?” The first choice will bring rest and peace. The latter will only bring emotional and spiritual torment. Isaiah says:  

"...in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." (Isaiah 30:15)  

The one who chooses belief and trust experiences a confidence and quietness of spirit. They know the peace comes only from choosing to believe. The one who chooses not to believe and not to trust their Lord experiences a lack of confidence, and chaos overtakes their spirit. “What will happen now?” “Oh no! Awful things are going to happen; I just know it!” “How horrible! What am I going to do?” In this there is torment. 
  
Belief and trust go together like two peas in a pod and their result is peace. And, they are indeed chosen because life will always give you many reasons not to trust. It seems that every day life experiences invite us to unbelief, to focus on what’s going wrong and to look to the future in fear. 
  
When I look back on my own journey of faith, during those seasons when I have experienced peace, they have been times when I have agreed with God; I have believed and trusted Him. Times when I have experienced internal torment have always been a result of unbelief and a lack of trust. Granted, it’s not always easy to believe and trust, but we can choose both through a deliberate act of the will—even moment by moment. 
  

What will you choose this moment? What will you choose this day, this week, this month, this year? Will you determine to believe and trust the One who loves you so much that He came into this world as a baby and then died for you?   

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."  (Isaiah 26:3)  

Look up as many scriptures as you can find today on trusting God and record your insights in your favorite notebook or journal. 

Shana Schutte 

December 11, 2017
THE CHRISTMAS INVITATION


Luke 2:7
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." 


It was the biggest night of the year in a little town called Cornwall. It was the night of the annual Christmas pageant. It's an especially big deal for the children in town -- they get to try out for the roles in the Christmas story. Everybody wants a part.

Which leads us to the problem of Harold. Harold really wanted to be in the play, too, but he was - well, he was kind of a slow and simple kid. The directors were ambivalent - I mean, they knew Harold would be crushed if he didn't have a part, but they were afraid he might mess up the town's magic moment. Finally, they decided to cast Harold as the innkeeper - the one who turns Mary and Joseph away the night Jesus is to be born. He had only one line - "I'm sorry, we have no room." Well, no one could imagine what that one line was going to do to everyone's Christmas.

The night of the pageant the church was packed, as usual. The Christmas story unfolded according to plan - angels singing, Joseph's dream, and the trip to Bethlehem. Finally, Joseph and Mary arrived at the door of the Bethlehem inn, looking appropriately tired. Joseph knocked on the inn door and Harold was there to open the door.

Joseph asked his question on cue - "Do you have a room for the night?"  Harold froze. After a long pause, Harold mumbled his line, "I'm sorry - we have no room." And, with a little coaching, he shut the door. The directors heaved a sigh of relief - prematurely. As Mary and Joseph disappeared into the night, the set suddenly started shaking again - and the door opened.  Harold was back! And then, in an unrehearsed moment that folks would not soon forget, Harold went running after the young couple, shouting as loud as he could -- "Wait! Don't go Joseph. Bring Mary back! You can have MY room!"

I think little Harold may have understood the real issue of Christmas better than anyone else there that night. How can you leave Jesus outside? You have to make room for Jesus. And that may be the issue for you this Christmas.  What will you do with this Son of God who came to earth to find you?

Jesus is the One who trades a throne room for a stable, and the praise of angels for human mockery. This is the Creator who gives Himself on a cross!  The Bible gives us the only appropriate response: 

"The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) 

You look at what Jesus did to pay for your sin on that cross, and you say those life-changing words - "For me."

Jesus is at YOUR door this Christmas. Maybe He's been knocking for a long time. Maybe He won't keep knocking much longer. All your life - even the events of the last few months - have been to prepare you for this crossroads moment with Jesus your Savior. Don't leave Him outside any longer. Open the door this Christmas Day. "Jesus, I cannot keep You out any longer. Come on in. You can have my room... my life."

Ron Hutchcraft Ministries
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

December 10, 2017
ADVENT: GIFT OF WAITING







Luke 2:19
"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." 






Waiting often evokes intense fear in us, because there is a stillness, a seeming nothingness, that envelops us. God may seem absent when we are waiting–for an answer to prayer, a miracle, a breakthrough–so we enter into the sterile darkness of fear.

Satan knows all too well that we are a people of movement, activity, and busyness. When we are asked to wait, we get a little antsy at first. And, the more time that elapses between our seeking and God’s response, the more we become agitated, anxious, and terrified. But God has another message for us: “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.”

We do not know what is ahead on our life’s journey, and fear only exacerbates the reality and inevitability of suffering. If we enter into a period of suffering with fear, we block God’s abundant grace that will lead us through the pain and into a place of resurrection. Fear carries us to regret, guilt, shame, depression, repression, and all sorts of other ugly places. Faith, however, carries us on eagle’s wings–above the fray, so to speak–not beyond the struggle and strife, but above it, to a place where “the Spirit overcomes the flesh.”
 
My faith during my last pregnancy was tested at my first prenatal appointment. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my doctor couldn’t detect our baby’s heartbeat. It was one of those what-ifs that had crossed my mind on occasion, however briefly, and in that moment, all I could do was panic inside. I felt paralyzed. No prayers came. I couldn’t breathe momentarily, even when my doctor kindly smiled and said, “We’ll order an ultrasound today to see what’s going on.”

I had never been through anything like this with my other pregnancies. More waiting ensued. I waited in the radiology department at the hospital for what seemed like heart-wrenching hours, but was in actuality about ten minutes. I waited as the ultrasound technician prepped herself and me, and I waited in the room after the ultrasound ended.

But there was a moment, in the midst of my frightful and weak prayers, when I caught a glimpse of my baby.  When the tech noticed I had seen my baby on the screen, she turned toward me and grinned. “Your baby is moving so much that I can’t catch up long enough to register the heartbeat.”

Watching our child do back flips, somersaults, and all sorts of acrobatics with abandon added a strange irony to the situation. I felt the fear dissipate slowly, but it was followed by shame that I hadn’t trusted God. I had failed–once again.

This Advent hasn’t been one of solitude, contemplation, and hours spent “pondering these things” in my heart. Instead, it has been chaotic. But what God keeps whispering to me is, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.”

Maybe Advent isn’t necessarily about setting unreasonable expectations for lofty moments of spiritual ecstasies. Maybe Advent is meant to be a period of expectancy and all the drama it entails, but above all the drama, a time to trust in God’s greater plan for our lives. Even in the waiting, we are given an opportunity to allow God to be silent in us for a time, trusting that He will fulfill His promises. Or we can wallow in unnecessary fear that grips and tortures us, so that we miss the moments of sublime bliss, however fleeting they may be.
 
This Advent, I am praying that I will grow in faith, so that I will never lose sight of the Light of the World, even in the midst of periods of darkness.

Jeannie Ewing

December 9, 2017 
THINK THE BEST
 




Luke 6:31
"And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." 




Think the best of others because this is what you expect them to think of you. Give them the same benefit of the doubt you desire. Believe that they have your best interests in mind. The temptation is to default to cynicism and be suspect of their motives, but leave this to God. We cannot judge a man or woman’s heart. One role of the Holy Spirit is to convict and lead others to a higher level of Christian maturity. 

Our role is to trust the good will of those God has placed in our lives. It is especially important to think the best of those closest to us. Husbands, think the best of your wives. Wives, think the best of your husbands. If they love God, they want His very best for your life. Their questions are not meant to be critical, but to bring clarity, connection, and accountability. Pride resists this level of trust and maturity. 

Pride does not want to think the best of others. Pride would rather gut it out on its own and not have to listen to the loving counsel of those who care. This is especially tempting to teenagers growing into young adults. They want to figure things out on their own, and not be told what to do. But wise is the young person who will think the best of the authorities in their life. Their mom and dad who love Jesus are full of good will. 

They want God’s very best for their own flesh and blood. Your parents do not want to control you; they want to support you. There is a huge difference. Support means they trust you and they entrust you to God. They think the best of you and believe you will make the wisest decision. Your parents pray for you and care for you. Their intentions are pure and without wrong intent. Listen to them. Your parents are one of God’s means to His best. 

Lastly, think the best of others because God does. When God looks at His children, He sees Christ. He doesn’t look at them as sinners stuck on themselves. The Lord looks at His followers as full of potential for Him. They are still rough around the edges in sin, and the world does roughen them up at times, but beyond the fear and the sorrow are hearts that want to move forward with their heavenly Father. He reaches out to His children and offers opportunities. He thinks the best of us because we are His. You can’t get any thicker than the blood of Jesus Christ. 

It is easy to get into the eternal family of God; you believe, and it is impossible to get out; you’re secure. He does not disown us for our dumb mistakes. He forgives us, and thinks the best of us; so trust in God and others. Trusting others’ intentions does not mean you are irresponsible. You still follow up, verify facts, and ask questions. You still hold them accountable, but your defining attitude is trust. This is harder as we get older, but let your Savior put your suspicions to rest. Choose to think the best of people and circumstances. It is much more than just being positive. It is a deep-seated trust in the core of your being, given to you by God. 

Think the best of yourself, your spouse, your friends, and your work associates. You trust when you think the best. After all, this is how you want others to treat you. 

To whom do you need to give the benefit of the doubt and begin to think the best? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 7-8, 2017
CLINGING TO HOPE




Revelation 21:3-4
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"



The season of Advent receives its name from the Latin adventus, of which our word “arrival” is derived.  Advent is a time for Christians to prepare for the annual celebration of our Lord’s birth at Christmas. In the incarnation we see the humility and love of God on full display, entering into the chaos and brokenness of our world as a weak and vulnerable child. It is through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that we find peace and hope, and we must embody this story so that we find our own stories within the great story God is telling over all of creation.

One of the great challenges of this season is the extreme sentimentality with which this story is frequently told. The babe in the manger is God made man, the king come to rule and reign over the nations, and yet culturally for us today this is a story for greeting cards, lawn decorations, and children’s pageants. Cute or joyful as those things may be, in times when we need it the most, they are never able to deliver genuine Christian hope.

Christians are people who cling to hope even in the depths of darkness and despair. Yet hope is so much more than warm sentiment or wishful thinking. Hope is never blind optimism but is the sure and certain trust in the never changing promises of God. As such, this season is a time to not simply look back to the first arrival of Christ in the manger, but it is a time to let our hearts fill with the hope of his second advent, the return of the king in glory.

One of the best ways to cling to hope is to set your sights on the final destination. A clear vision of the goal gives us the strength and determination to stay the course, even when it is painful and exhausting. Hope for the Christian can be an aching longing for home. As Proverbs says:

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

As we journey towards the hope of Christmas, if your heart feels sick and sorrowful today, look with great longing towards the day when that hope will be fulfilled. Hope for the day when the Lord will return and make his home with us, wiping away every tear and ushering in his perfect love, joy, and peace. Come, Lord Jesus!

Are there ways that you have lost sight of our hope as Christians?

Tripp Prince

December 6, 2017
HOLD ON TO HOPE






Hebrews 10:23
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." 





Faith creates hope, so where faith is conceived hope is birthed. Yes, hope is the daughter of faith. Those who profess to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior possess hope. Hard times try to hinder hope’s comforting company, but it is unhindered where faith in God is the focus. Those who hold on to hope are happy. Where faith peers hope makes clear. Where there is a wall, hopefinds a door. Where there is darkness, hope looks for a light. Hope expects Christ to come through. 

What is hope? It is confidence in Jesus Christ, period. Confidence He is faithful. Faithful to follow through with His promise to provide us peace in the middle of our turmoil. Faithful to answer our prayers in His most productive process. Faithful to give our children what they need as long as they look to Him. Faithful to facilitate financial resources when we steward well what we already have. He is faithful by His restorative grace to heal relationships severed by sin. Hope bursts forth in possibilities when we embrace the promises fulfilled by the Lord’s faithfulness. 

"And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security."  (Job 11:18)

Since your security is in your Savior Jesus who has conquered sin, sorrow and death, hope is your wise weapon. Your Heavenly Father holds you in the palm of His hand, therefore nothing can reach you lest your divine protector gives permission. The Holy Spirit is your guide, thus you have a trusted leader who directs your path. “Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Your two-handed grasp of God includes His double fisted hold on you! 

When hope is deferred, avoid rejecting God and giving up. Wait on the Lord and hope in Him. He helps you when you feel helpless. He empowers you when you feel powerless. He encourages you when you feel discouraged. He gives joy when you feel joyless. Hope never disappoints. It gives life and a reason to live. If you let go of hope, your gracious Lord doesn’t let go of you. Like Mount Everest, your hope is unmovable, so hold unswervingly to your living hope: Jesus! 

"Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield."  (Psalm 33:20)

In what situation do you need to hope for the best and plan for the worse? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 5, 2017
WHY HOPE IS A SURE THING 





Proverbs 23:18
"Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off."





In conversations everyday, everywhere, people express their desires. “I hope I get to go on vacation.” “I hope I don’t lose my job.” “I hope that I get married.” In our world, the word “hope” is used to describe a sort of wish, a “maybe-it-will-happen, maybe-it-won’t” kind of thing. 

This worldly hope is no hope at all—but hope in Christ is a firm and secure anchor for the soul. Hebrews describes the hope we have in Christ:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)

The soul, according to the biblical definition, is the mind, the will, and the emotions. An anchor serves to hold a boat firmly. Therefore, when the winds of life are blowing, and the waves are rolling, and circumstances surrounding your purpose and life aren’t going how you planned, hope in God is an anchor to keep your mind, your will, and your emotions steady. 

There is, however, a very interesting thing about having one’s mind, will, and emotions anchored in the hope that is Christ. If you believe you have no anchor, even though you do, you will respond as if the wind and waves of life are overtaking you and that you are perishing. When you could have peace, you’ll be panicking, fretting and feeling hopeless. Even though God has said that you have a firm and secure hope, you will respond like you have no anchor. Sometimes, we only receive the benefits of faith by believing in faith. 

In the book of Mark, Jesus was in a boat with the disciples. He was sleeping in the stern on a cushion when a furious wind began. Terrified, the disciples:

"...woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'” (Mark 4:40)

They panicked. Jesus rebuked the waves and:

"He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”' (Mark 4:40)

The disciples had The Anchor in their boat, but when the wind came, they panicked and acted like they didn’t. There are some things that God has given that are undeniably yours, but you will only experience the joy and peace of knowing they are yours by believing. You have a hope, steady and secure. 

If you belong to Christ, you are tethered to Christ. During this Christmas Season, He is, and always will be your Anchor. 

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3)

Think about someone who you are hesitant to love, or who you have refused to love because they are different than you. Ask the Lord to show you how you can demonstrate your grace and love to them. 

Shana Schutte

December 4, 2017  
RESTORED FAILURES





Psalm 145:14
"The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down." 





A guest band was leading praise and worship at our church, and their passion for the Lord was moving. We could see—and feel—their enthusiasm.

Then the musicians revealed that they were all ex-prisoners. Suddenly their songs took on special meaning, and I saw why their words of praise meant so much to them. Their worship was a testimony of lives broken and restored.

The world may embrace success. But stories of past failure offer people hope too. They assure us that God loves us no matter how many times we have failed. Pastor Gary Inrig says that what we call the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 could well be entitled God’s Hall of Reclaimed Failures. “There is scarcely an individual in that chapter without a serious blemish in his or her life,” he observes. “But God is in the business of restoring failures . . . . That is a great principle of God’s grace.”

I love the comfort of Psalm 145, which speaks of God’s “awesome deeds”:

"On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness." (Psalm 145:5–6) 

And glorious kingdom:

"They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power," (Psalm 145:11)

It describes His compassion:

"The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made." (Psalm 145:8–9) 

It describes His faithfulness:

"Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]" (Psalm 145:13)

Then immediately tells us that He lifts up those who have fallen:

"The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down." (Psalm 145:14)

All His attributes are expressed when He picks us up. He is indeed in the business of restoration.

Have you failed before? We all have. Have you been restored? All who have been redeemed are stories of God’s grace. Our stories of failure can be God’s stories of success.

Leslie Koh 
Our Daily Bread

December 3, 2017
THINK THE BEST OF OTHERS





Luke 6:31
"And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."    






Think the best of others because this is what you expect them to think of you. Give them the same benefit of the doubt you desire. Believe that they have your best interests in mind. The temptation is to default to cynicism and be suspect of their motives, but leave this to God. We cannot judge a man or woman’s heart. One role of the Holy Spirit is to convict and lead others to a higher level of Christian maturity. 

Our role is to trust the good will of those God has placed in our lives. It is especially important to think the best of those closest to us. Husbands, think the best of your wives. Wives, think the best of your husbands. If they love God, they want His very best for your life. Their questions are not meant to be critical, but to bring clarity, connection, and accountability. Pride resists this level of trust and maturity. 

Pride does not want to think the best of others. Pride would rather gut it out on its own and not have to listen to the loving counsel of those who care. This is especially tempting to teenagers growing into young adults. They want to figure things out on their own, and not be told what to do. But wise is the young person who will think the best of the authorities in their life. Their mom and dad who love Jesus are full of good will. They want God’s very best for their own flesh and blood. Your parents do not want to control you; they want to support you. There is a huge difference. Support means they trust you and they entrust you to God. They think the best of you and believe you will make the wisest decision. Your parents pray for you and care for you. Their intentions are pure and without wrong intent. Listen to them. Your parents are one of God’s means to His best. 

Lastly, think the best of others because God does. When God looks at His children, He sees Christ. He doesn’t look at them as sinners stuck on themselves. The Lord looks at His followers as full of potential for Him. They are still rough around the edges in sin, and the world does roughen them up at times, but beyond the fear and the sorrow are hearts that want to move forward with their heavenly Father. He reaches out to His children and offers opportunities. He thinks the best of us because we are His. You can’t get any thicker than the blood of Jesus Christ. 

It is easy to get into the eternal family of God; you believe, and it is impossible to get out; you’re secure. He does not disown us for our dumb mistakes. He forgives us, and thinks the best of us; so trust in God and others. Trusting others’ intentions does not mean you are irresponsible. You still follow up, verify facts, and ask questions. You still hold them accountable, but your defining attitude is trust. This is harder as we get older, but let your Savior put your suspicions to rest. Choose to think the best of people and circumstances. It is much more than just being positive. It is a deep-seated trust in the core of your being, given to you by God. 

Think the best of yourself, your spouse, your friends, and your work associates. You trust when you think the best. After all, this is how you want others to treat you. 

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Who do you need to value above your needs? 

Wisdom Hunters

December 2, 2017
GIFT OF HOPE‎





Ecclesiastes 3:4
"a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;" 





Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” followed the tradition of casting holiday-dreaders as Scrooge-like, sour-souled sad sacks who became downers and “buzz-kills” for every Cindy Lou and Tiny Tim with eager and innocent holiday aspirations.

But a quiet group of holiday-dreaders dwells quietly behind the scenes. You may be one of them. You try not to be noticed, but you wince as Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near. Your heart is not two sizes too small; your heart is broken.

When the time for family and mirth and joy-to-the-world draws near, you brace yourself for an onslaught of tears, anxiety, and anguish of the soul. For you, the holidays bring the grim reminder that someone loved and precious is missing. Everyone’s gain of gifts and lights and feasts seems to highlight your loss. The hand you once held is now gone. The hopes you carried in your heart have disappeared. Your ability to be casually delighted in carefree moments has been taken captive by oppressive and ever-present heartbreak.

But, hear this, dear holiday-dreader: the surprising reality and well-kept secret is that the holidays are more for you than anyone else.

The word “holiday” is derived from the sacred expression: holy day.  It is a day set apart.  It is a sacred time.  It is a time when God meets you where you’re at—not to see how much fun you’re capable of having, but to bring His grace, strength and consolation to life as it really is. The holidays celebrate the presence of God—closer to you than you can imagine:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."  (John 1:14)

As we take a serious look at this struggle called “life,” we learn that our deepest need is for God to draw near.  Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 when He declared the answer to this yearning of the soul: 

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;"  (Isaiah 61:1)

This is what happened at Christmas.  This is why we express gratitude during Thanksgiving.  God has heard our cries and He has come down to save us:

"Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites." (Exodus 3:7-8)

I know what it’s like to sit in the darkness, to try to catch your breath from grief and loss, and to feel the tears well up while people laugh with friends and join in the chorus of “Fa-la-la-la-la.” But it is into those dark and lonely places that God whispers His soul-embracing promises and lets you know that the Word, His Son Jesus, became present for you. His outstretched arm of salvation reaches you and holds you fast. The Reason for the season allows you to step into the holidays with a sweet com fort in the midst of sour circumstances. Peel back the holiday hubbub and you’ll see Jesus. He gives you a deeper delight of what the holiness of the season is really all about.

If you’re dreading the holidays, take heart.  These days are meant to wrap you in hope.  The Gift you need is closer than ever.

Michael Newman

December 1, 2017
GIFT OF TEARS






John 11:35
"Jesus wept."







I called a longtime friend when his mother died. She had been a close friend of my mother, and now both had passed on. As we spoke, our conversation slipped easily into a cycle of emotion—tears of sorrow now that Beth was gone and tears of laughter as we recalled the caring and fun person she had been.

Many of us have experienced that strange crossover from crying one moment and laughing the next. It’s an amazing gift that emotions of both sorrow and joy can provide a physical release in this way. 
We are made in God’s image:

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:26) 

Because humor is such an integral part of almost every culture, I imagine that Jesus must have had a wonderful sense of humor. But we know that He also knew the pain of grief. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus saw Mary weeping. A short time later, he too began to weep:

"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept." (John 11:33-35)

Our ability to express our emotions with tears is a gift, and God keeps track of each tear we cry:

"You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle...." (Psalm 56:8)

But one day—we are promised:

"... God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Our loving heavenly Father, who washed away our sins, will also wipe away our tears.

Cindy Hess Kasper