“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened.”
For today's message, I thought I'd share with all of you this devotion my wife, Rachel, wrote...
When God shows up in the lives of his people, it is always amazing. It is always cause for praise. When he blessed Abraham and Sarah with a child in their old age; when he parted the Red Sea through Moses; when he saved Daniel from the lions; when he chose Mary, a virgin, to give birth to his only Son; when he came to our world in the form of an innocent, helpless baby to save us all...these are all miraculous acts of our awesome God!
God still shows up in our lives in amazing ways. Through our doubts, our fears, and even our pain, God is still present. We don’t have to have perfect faith to cry out to the Lord and ask him to answer our prayers. Scripture tells us even faith as small as a mustard seed can move God to act in mighty ways.
My husband, Trey, and I have been married for over 8 years, and have always wanted children. It has been quite a journey for us, full of many years of frustration, tears, doubt, and even resignation. I had given up of ever conceiving a couple of years ago. We began to look at other options as I had decided that it couldn’t happen. I had decided, not the Lord.
Why do we place limits on what God can do in our lives? Vulnerability and fear are the answers that come to my mind. The situations of our lives can sometimes can be so raw and emotional that we feel we can’t fully trust in the Lord and come boldly before him with our requests and the desires of our hearts. There can be that pesky voice inside our heads that asks, “but what if God doesn’t show up?”
Friends, we must silence that voice, because God is so much bigger than our fears. Jesus says, “if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (John 15:7) I have clung to this scripture and the promises of God’s faithfulness in the past several months. As I did this, my hope in the Lord returned. I began to pray and believe that though I might not be able, HE IS. He is the God of the impossible. All of scripture points to this fact. The God of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Daniel, and Mary is WITH US. Christmas reminds us of how big God is, and how capable he is of things that may seem impossible.
I found out on November 14, 2017 that I am expecting! I know this is miraculous; I know this is God showing up in my life. Praise be to God, Immanuel! HE IS WITH US!
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast."
Grace means to get something that you do not deserve- unmerited favor. That is the picture of salvation- getting something that we do not deserve- living with Jesus forever- instead of getting what we do deserve- judgment and punishment for our actions.
I am so thankful that God, in his mercy, extends grace to us. And through that grace we can now be called sons and daughters of Christ- Adopted into the kingdom of light and out of the kingdom of darkness. I am thankful for God's grace during this Christmas season. Thankful that He choose to send His son to die on the cross for our sins and extending grace to us through Jesus. I am thankful for Jesus, I am thankful for his life and example here on earth and I am thankful for his death and resurrection. May we remember the grace that has been extended to us and extend that same grace to others we come in contact with in our family, our workplace, school, or wherever we see people.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the grace that you give to me. Thank you that you are a loving Father and that you did not give me what I deserve. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for the life that he lived here on earth and thank you for his death and resurrection so that I can live with you forever. Thank you for Christmas and that I get to celebrate the gift of your son, Jesus to this world. Lord, I am so thankful for the sacrifice of your son and I pray that I will remember the grace that you have extended to me and that I will extend that grace to others. Amen.
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people." -Titus 2:11
I teach a religion class at Parkview High School and for this semester's final project I challenged the students to write a paper answering three questions: What is today's church doing well? How is today's church in need of improvement? How can you personally be involved in the church to help them grow?
I was amazed at the maturity and wisdom the students displayed in their responses. And while each student spoke with their own unique identity, there was a consistent theme in their writing; the desire for inclusiveness.
This generation of young people are profoundly aware of the diverse world around them and have taken note when the local church acknowledges (or refuses to acknowledge) that diversity. "Churches that don't represent their surrounding city are doomed to fail," one student observed. That representation includes cultural, racial, gender, and economic demographics. "It bothers me when a church spends millions of dollars on a huge building and doesn't put any money into helping others in the community." That's why I'm so proud of the vision here at The Nett at Berkmar.
As we inch closer and closer to Christmas day, let us remember that God's grace is available to all and that we, as the church, are called to be the messengers of that grace. We share that message through our personal invitations, through our words of encouragement, and through our actions.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for boundary-breaking grace. Challenge and inspire us to cross the borders in our hearts and be a church that reaches out in love. Amen.
Grace is something that most Christians would claim to understand. Its a very churchy word associated with the sacrifice of God, specifically the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Loosely defined Grace is the idea that God has given us unmerited favor using the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, but so what? Yes, this idea is essential for forming Christian identity, but how should grace impact how we live as followers of Jesus?
In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Paul says "Three times I prayed for the Lord to take it away from me, but he said to me "My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." God told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him, and this in turn empowered Paul to act without fear of human imperfection, but boldly live out the will of God. See the power of Grace is that it empowers God's people, and frees us from the guilt that would otherwise hinder us from building the kingdom of God around us.
So first, accept the grace that God has given to you, strive each day towards Jesus boldly and without fear. Build the kingdom without apology knowing God has already empowered you with himself. Second, use grace to empower others. This means more than just forgiving others, but treating them with a fresh start each day, and allowing them the opportunity to build the kingdom along side you.
Prayer: Lord I pray that you help us understand the depth of your grace. Help us show that same grace to others, and feel the power you have provided us with. May we build your kingdom, and live for you boldly. Amen.
"The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all."
At the Nett we embrace diversity by casting a net for all nations. As a church, our goal is to make sure that our acceptance of diversity extends beyond our church walls. Christians spend the season of Advent preparing for Christmas. However, the month of December also shares holidays across many religions and cultures. Embracing diversity includes being respectful of all cultures as we seek to be conduits of God's grace.
I believe that it is important to consider our approach to sharing God's message.
While I was in college, I met many people who were turned off by the way the message is delivered. A perfect example of this is the discord between those who say Happy Holidays and those who insist on Merry Christmas. Too often I have heard of the phrase "Merry Christmas" being hurled as an angry response to "Happy Holidays" as if they had been insulted. While Happy Holidays may be presented as a 'safe' non-secular season greeting, "holiday" remains a term that means "holy day". Our response to this simple holiday greeting can an affect the people around us. Sometimes it can just be the tone of voice that makes all the difference. We are conduits of God's grace, our actions, words and attitudes are all help share His grace with others.
Prayer: Lord, Let us be conduits of your grace. Guide our thoughts and actions. Help the words that come out of our mouths pass along your words. Amen.
"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." -John 1:16 (CEB)
Do you know what my wife hears me say all the time? I hope you've heard it a million times from your spouse, and that you say it often. "I love you!" There are so many different ways to tell someone about the love we have for them, and they need to hear it from us. It's so important, in fact, that I repeat it over and over to my wife, because I want her to fully know and believe that I do in fact love her.
The Apostle John could have just as easily said that we receive grace from God, but he says that we receive "grace upon grace". God obviously thought that it was important enough to inspire John to write it this way. But why? I think that just as I tell my wife "I love you" all the time, God wants us to know he is a God full of grace who gives grace.
These words from John Piper ring so true and resonate with something deep inside of me:
"God doesn't just want to stock your head with knowledge about His truth and grace, he wants you to receive it and experience it. This Christmas he wants to give you personally a foundation of truth and reality to stand on so you won't cave in under stress. This Christmas he wants to treat you with grace-to forgive all your sins-all of them!-to take away all your guilt, to make your conscience clean, to help you with your problems, to give you strength for each day, and to fill you with hope and joy and peace. Isn't that the meaning of grace? And isn't that why he pitched his tent among us?"
"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."
The definition of hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. As I think about the word hope I am reminded of the story in Luke about the prophetess Anna. The story of Anna and her faithfulness has always amazed me so much so that we named our second daughter Anna Ruth- after this amazing woman.
When we meet Anna in Luke 2:36, we learn that she is "advanced in years" as the gospel puts it. If you do the math, she is around 103 and she is still serving, worshiping and waiting to see the baby Jesus. She did not depart from the temple- but rather she was waiting in hope to see Jesus.
And as I sit here writing this, I wonder, how can I be more like Anna this Christmas season? How can I wait in hope to see Jesus? And wait with a heart that is constantly in prayer, worshiping, fasting- night and day. I challenge you this Christmas season, to see how you too can be like Anna, waiting in hope to see Jesus the Christ child.
Prayer: Father, thank you for examples in the Bible like Anna, who were devoted to you and waited well. She wasn't just passing time, but spending her time worshiping you and growing closer to you. Lord, I pray that during this Christmas season as I think about hope and the hope we have in you, that I will be spurred on by Anna's example to seek you and desire to walk closer to you daily. Amen.
Much like faith, hope requires something of us. Maybe something we might not want to give. Paul write about hope many times but here he makes it clear that we have our hope in the king of kings. That our hope does not fall on death ears but to the one that will hear us and be there. When I think of hope and how that plays out in my life I usually think of my children. Mostly, because as a parent I have lots of hopes and dreams for them. I hope they know God, I hope they grow to be great men and women. I hope they come and see me when they are no longer in my home, I hope they listen to their mother and don't destroy our home.
But what is my hope in without Christ? All the hopes I have would be on the shoulders of my wife and I, and being a parent is not easy so how can I have any assurances that we will be successful? The only way I know how is to place all my Hope in the future of my kids in Jesus and trust him, not because I'm not capable or have no idea how to raise kids, but because I trust in Gods plan far more than my own. I think I have good plans, most parents do, and we all want/Hope for the best for our children.
God has a plan too. And I would rather his plan be the one my kids follow. See, I'm a steward of what God has given me, and his given my wife and I 5 amazing children to look after. But my hope is not in my own skills, abilities, or wisdom. My hope for their future is in Jesus and as Paul writes that hope will not fall to the waste side.
You know what's the best part of placing my hope is Jesus? He never fails you, he's not like humans who are flawed and full of selfish desires. He wants the best for us and that's not always what we think is best. Many times it's the very opposite, but if we trust that he is a Great Father then our hope in he is the best we can hope for.
Every year my kids hope the presents under the tree are exacting what they put on their Christmas list, and every year they are disappoint in at least one gift and sometimes more. For any reason, it wasn't the right color or the exact toy they wanted, as hard as my wife and I try we will miss the mark. They still have a great Christmas and usually everyones happy but my point is, even when we try our best we still mess things up. God doesn't, and that is what I want to put my hope in and I encourage you to do the same.
Prayer: Father you are an amazing God. Your son is the gift that keeps on giving. Today, I put all my hope in you. I trust that you will be there for me in time of need, that your love will guide me through all of life's up's and down. Thank you for being the God that we can hope in and know we will not be let down. Amen.
"But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn't put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
The Advent season is the build-up to Christmas. For some, the season is bright and jolly, filled with images of snowmen and presents. But for others, the season may not be such a happy time. People could be having an unusually hard Christmas. For example, it may be the first Christmas without a loved one. A family could be facing homelessness during the holidays. For some of the people, this time of year is always difficult in one way or another. For example, the holiday season has the longest nights of the year, and these longer nights can lead to a psychological condition known as Seasonal Affect Disorder, which can cause people to seasonal depression. I was raised in a home where the holidays where affected by my dad's struggle with depression, and the stress of family expectations and the darkness increasing his feelings of melancholy.
As we face someone in any of these situations, we should be sensitive to their struggling. We don't want to forget or ignore them in our holiday cheer. It is important to remember among all of the holiday bustle to be a supportive beacon of Hope. People can see Jesus through our love. Sometimes all it can take is a smile. Remember to let the light of Christ shine through your actions and words.
Prayer: Lord, let us be a beacon of Hope in the world and bring comfort to those in need, especially as we prepare to welcome the gift of your son. Amen.
"This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary." -Hebrews 6:19 (NLT)
Driving around town a few weeks ago, I saw the words "Hope Is Real" written on a sign at a small church here in town. I thought about it and I'd say I have to agree with that statement, but then I realized that for some people, in fact many people, that's not the case. It isn't real for them. I believe that is one of the most important gifts we can give to another person, the gift of hope.
Someone who is hopeless and alone usually cannot help themselves out of their situations. They have a great sense of loss and helplessness, whether it is situational or generational. We, the church, yes, WE have to bring the good news to them. The great news of Jesus and all that He has done for us, through us, and in us.
One definition for hope is: "To look forward to with confidence or expectation". The church needs to bring the Word of God, with all its hope to someone who does not know it is real; when we bring them hope, we bring them life. It is more than just asking God for something we really want or need; we have to expect our miracle. Somewhere in the midst of asking, believing, and expecting God to answer, we will find what we are looking for.
What is your need today? Is it for a financial blessing? Is it healing in your body? Maybe a new job, a house, or a car? Whatever it is, take it to Jesus today.