Shepherds In The Fields

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 1And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”- Luke 2:8-12.

Can you imagine being visited by an angel? Back in the mid-1990s, there was a popular TV series called “Touched by an Angel.” The show’s premise followed three angels as they quietly showed up in those big, crossroads moments of people’s lives. Only, it wasn’t until the end of each episode that the angels revealed their true nature. It was a powerful show because there is something reassuring about knowing you weren’t alone in those dark, trying times. 

Imagine you are a mechanic at a local car dealer. You are working on fixing a transmission that is slipping. You are making steady progress when an angel appears before you, hovering above the car. You are so scared you can’t move. You instinctively grab a wrench without thinking. Then, the angel speaks: “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people and God wants you to be the first to know!”

That would be something, wouldn’t it? It would be something that would be very hard to wrap your arms around. But this actually happened one night over 2,000 years ago to a group of shepherds who were just minding their own business and watching their flock of sheep in the hills of Bethlehem when an angel appeared to them in the sky. Can you imagine? What is interesting is that the shepherds believed the angel and “they hurried to the village…” (Luke 2:16) to find the Christ child.  Scripture also records after seeing Jesus, the shepherds shared the message they had received about Jesus, and everyone who heard what the shepherds had to say was “amazed” (Luke 2:17-18).

When we read this story, it’s easy to forget that these shepherds had nothing to offer Jesus.

The shepherds were not religiously polished scribes, they were not socially connected men of influence, they were not wealthy merchants, and unlike the wise men, they did not come with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They lived under the stars with only the clothes on their backs, a staff to guide the sheep, and a rod for protection.

Out of everyone God could have chosen to announce this world-changing event, He chose a group of shepherds. It’s a reminder that there’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom. God’s plan is a simple one, yet profound in depth and scope. He didn’t choose religious scholars to announce the birth of the Messiah. He chose ordinary people whom He knew would be obedient without question.

God sent His Son Jesus to save the world – this means everyone from lowly shepherd to a powerful world leader, and everyone in between.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What can we learn from the story of the shepherds?  

The Joy Of Advent

“Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (TPT). 

Joy. It’s a short but powerful word. There are many moments of joy in our life. For many, it might be the moment of their marriage or the birth of a child. But joy is more than a moment. It is more than circumstances. 

John Piper gives one of the best definitions of joy for Christians: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.” Rick Warren adds his own definition: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”

Joy is a feeling, yes. But it’s also a confident abiding in Jesus Christ.  It’s knowing that all of our life derives from Him. But it is also the future expectation that everything is going to be okay because of Him no matter our circumstances. Throughout the Old Testament, God calls His people to joyfulness. “Then you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) When we take time to reflect on what God has done for us and offer Him our very best—in time, effort, skills, gifts—the inevitable response in our hearts is joy.

Biblical joy is different than what most people think of as joy. It is not just a happy emotion that we either feel or don’t feel, it is a state of being that finds its source in God. God’s people had joy because they anticipated a time when the promised Messiah would come and “those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.. (Isaiah 35:10). 

Today, our joy is anchored in the knowledge that God fulfilled His promise. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (Luke 2:10-11).  

It is important to remember that the joy we have in Christ is not seasonal or situational. Our joy is a response to what God has already done and continues to do. It is a kind of joy, grounded in thankfulness for the birth of Jesus Christ and looking forward toward His second coming.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What gives you joy this advent season?  
  2. How can we make joy a part of our daily lives?

What Is Truth?

“Pilate said, “So you are a king?”Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” – John 18:37-38.

This encounter between Jesus and Pilate is one of the most real and tense encounters in all of Scripture. Jesus is standing before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Jesus is standing before the person who will decide His fate. 

Pilate asks “What is truth?”

Ironically, Pilate had found the truth. Truth was standing before him. All you had to do was trust the truth that is right in front of you. The promise of the ages is right in front of him. Every one of us has a God-shaped void inside us. Not one of us will be satisfied apart from God and that includes Pontius Pilate.  

But at the last moment, Pilate stepped back from truth. Pilate let truth slip from his grip. The offer was right there. “Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” ( John 18:37) 

Truth stood a few feet away offering hope, love, joy, peace and love, and possibility. Truth was no abstract idea. Truth was God incarnate. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus can testify to the truth and teach the truth because He himself is that truth.  In Him, there is nothing false, nothing misleading, and nothing fake or uncertain. While we are capable of knowing truth, we cannot claim to actually be truth. There is too much we don’t know and too many things we get wrong. When we seek to figure out what is the truth and what is a lie, we can measure it against the words of Jesus, who Himself is the truth.

When we ask about truth, maybe we are not looking for information. Maybe we are not looking for facts and figures. We really want to know what will make sense of our lives. We really want to know who we can trust. Truth always has a human face; a personal face. 

If you don’t know what truth is, you can wander for a very long time. You can keep on searching for truth. You can stay on the tentative side. You can continue to shop around. But I say you will never get the full experience of truth and life until you just plunge in. The only way to know truth is to trust the truth you have, right in front of you: Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is truth?
  2. Is truth something that is different for different people or is it the same for everyone?
  3. How do you decide what is true in your life?   

What Can We Learn From Mary?

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation, to all who fear him.” – Luke 1 46-50.

The account of the birth of Jesus in Luke 1 is read in homes and churches across the country.  It is truly a miraculous story in so many ways. You have to be amazed at Mary’s faith. What must have gone through her mind when Gabriel approached her?  How did she process the news that she and Joseph were to raise the Son of God?  How different would their lives be? There are many lessons we can learn from Mary during this Christmas time. 

For one, it’s normal to be a little afraid at first. When Mary was greeted by the angel Gabriel she was struck with fear, “Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!”(Luke 1:29-30). There are many of us who can relate to having fear or reservations when we feel God asking us to do something or feel Him at work in our lives. Mary teaches us that we shouldn’t let fear paralyze us from accepting our calling.

Another thing we can learn from Mary is saying yes even without having all the answers. Mary didn’t let her fear or concern get the better of her.  This was a defining moment. God created us to have absolute free will and He wouldn’t force us to say yes. So when He asks us to take a step, it’s totally up to us to accept or refuse. Of course, He hopes that like Mary, our response would be yes. And maybe just like Mary, our yes could significantly change the world or someone’s world.

The third thing we can learn from Mary is to be available. The wonderful part of the story is Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement. “I am the Lord’s servant,..May everything you said come true.” (Luke 1:38) That’s it. No other questions, comments, apprehensions, or concerns. Mary consents. Nothing complicated. No need to fully understand, or see the whole program, or get a handle on it. Just a simple, total trust in God on her part.  It is not your ability that matters to God, it is your availability. Sometimes when opportunities present themselves to us we can feel inadequate and question our suitability for the task but Mary’s example teaches us that if we make ourselves available to God He will use us regardless of how equipped we feel ourselves to be.

God doesn’t need our help, but He wants our lives to matter. Many people go through life feeling discouraged about themselves and thinking they don’t have a purpose in life. But that’s not true. Whoever you are—whatever your life experiences, talents, physical ability, or role—you have a purpose.  You just have to accept it as Mary did.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What do you think you could learn from Mary? 
  2. What can you do this week to increase your faith? 

Why Mary?

“…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”  – Luke 1:26-28) 

Mary must have been a very special young woman. Mary was the one who was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. She could not have been just anybody. Who was Mary?

Mary had full faith and confidence in God’s guidance over her life, even when circumstances seemed unbelievable. Mary can teach us a lot about faith and humility. The couple was betrothed which meant that Mary, legally, was already Joseph’s wife although the couple could not be together until after the marriage. 

Mary was facing a whirlwind of preparation. There would be exchanging of gifts by the family and the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. She would move in with the groom’s family and she and Joseph would begin their life together. 

And then in the midst of all that, a supernatural moment would shatter any normality that existed before. An angel stood before her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”  She was probably both confused and afraid, so the angel assured her there was no reason to fear. He had wonderful news for Mary and for all of us. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33)

It most likely took a few moments for all this to sink in. Mary began thinking of the practical elements rather than the eternal ones. She wanted to know how it was that a virgin could become pregnant. The Angel explained to her that the Holy Spirit would miraculously bring forth a Child from her, and this Child would be the Son of God. 

Can you imagine hearing that if you were in Mary’s place? Could you imagine the changes that were about to occur in her life? Thoughts of marriage instantly morphed into thoughts of motherhood. And thoughts of the life she was expecting changed into being part of a miracle from heaven. And the news was brought to her by the angel Gabriel. 

Why did God choose Mary? After the shock of this surprising news, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants. May everything you said come true.” ( Luke 1:38 TLB)  When God called her to an assignment that was beyond her comprehension, she replied with obedience  Mary had faith in God and trusted Him to work things out even though she did not have all of the information.

Would we have the same response? 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What progression do you see in Mary’s responses in (Luke 1:29, 34, 38)? How does Gabriel answer her question about how this could happen (v. 35-37)?
  2. Have you ever experienced going from confusion to questioning to faith? What was the situation?

I Need You Christmas

“All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.” – David Jeremiah. 

Christmas is many things to many people. To some, it is time off work or a holiday bonus. For others, it is a time to give gifts to others and to receive gifts in return. For others, it is family time. None of those things are bad in themselves, but when you think about it, you can do or enjoy those things at any time during the year; all of those things can be done without Christmas. So, they can’t be the ultimate reason we need Christmas. 

There are people that don’t think they need Christmas; at least it doesn’t bring a smile to their face. Too much commercialism, those awkward family gatherings, endless shopping excursions, and then there is the stress of showing to pay for all the gifts. The new year can’t come fast enough. 

Sometimes we dwell on the secondary reasons for Christmas and lose sight of the true significance of Christmas. So why do we really need Christmas? The reasons begin in the 3rd chapter of Genesis and tell us how the human race fell into sin. Adam and Eve, having been tempted by the serpent, said, “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (3:5) The result as you know was tragic. They fear God’s presence and throw each other under the bus to avoid His wrath.

Despite the darkness that shrouded that day, one beam of hope shone through – and this is where we come back to the topic of Christmas.

We need Christmas. This holiday of holidays doesn’t exist because we need vacations, presents, and extra church services. Christmas exists because we have sinned. If Genesis chapter 3 didn’t happen we wouldn’t need Christmas. If we had a pure, true relationship with God, we wouldn’t need Christmas. If mankind had trusted God to determine what is good and evil, we wouldn’t need Christmas. But Genesis 3 did happen, and because rebellion against God happens in our hearts every day; because we sin constantly, we need Christmas. Matthew, in his account of Christ’s birth, wrote, “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). We needed God to intervene in our lives, and that is exactly what God the Father did by sending God the Son to be born of a virgin by the power of God the Holy Spirit. If He was not born, He could not die. If He did not die, the penalty for man’s sinful disobedience that broke our relationship with God could not have been paid.

So why do we need Christmas? We need Christ’s birth to make a way for us to be right with God. The wood of the manger turns into the wood of the cross. The baby becomes our crucified Savior. 

Let’s be intentional in remembering why it is we need Christmas in the first place. Then let us adore Him, the One who came to save us from our sin.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. All I want for Christmas is ______? 
  2. Why does every believer need Christmas?  

Advent: A Love Story

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16. 

Advent is a season filled with expectations. It’s a time when we remember the world waiting for a coming Savior, and celebrate the way the world changed when Christ was born. It’s a season filled with the light and love of Jesus, the King, born to save us. Advent is the greatest love story ever.

In this love story, we find God, wanting a relationship with us. He wanted our hearts. For over 2,000 years God pursued His people. He tried to get their attention in all kinds of ways. He created a beautiful garden. He painted a rainbow in the sky. He provided a big family in a new home in a new land. He parted a body of water so His people could escape the enemy. Ultimately, He guided them into a better land. One flowing with milk and honey.

Why? Because He loved them. He wanted them to know Him. He wanted them to love Him. So He pursued and pursued and pursued, but they turned their backs on Him. They rejected Him. But He still loved them.  So, the time came. In Matthew 1:23 we read, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.” 

Imagine that for a second. God came to earth. He didn’t send a representative He sent himself. God….with us. He came to walk with us. To talk to us. To listen to us. To pray with us. To guide us. To protect us. To encourage us. To pick us up when we fall. How can that not be a love story? 

But it doesn’t end there. He came to die for us. He presented something very precious. Something of extraordinary cost. With His arms outstretched, He offered His life. He was mocked and crucified. He endured all that because He loves us.  

Christmas is a yearly reminder that God loves you. The Bible says God is love. It doesn’t say God has love; it says God is love.  

There is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you. You could try, but you simply can’t do it – because His love for you is based upon His character and not on anything you do or say or feel.

As we move into the holiday season this year, ask God to keep this picture of love at the forefront of your mind. Ask Him to show you ways to treat others with this spirit of unconditional love. Thank Him for the ultimate show of His love for us—the gift of His Son, Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What questions do you have on love during this advent season? 
  2. How can we love better like Christ loved us a little more this week? 

Focus On The Future

“On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south…Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be continuous day! Only the Lord knows how this could happen. There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light. On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped.” – Zechariah 14:4-9.

It is too bad that today’s devotional doesn’t come with a plane ticket. Imagine reading this and talking about this subject in the Holy Land. There is something so powerful and humbling about standing in a place where you know Jesus Himself once stood.  

Zechariah pointed the people of Israel, not only to the salvation of the coming Messiah but also to a future reality with God. This would be far greater than anything they could imagine, understand or explain. Though there remained a great trial in store for them, God held the world and its future in His hands.

God’s future restoration of His people shows His ultimate power. He is Lord over everything—from the smallest part of creation to the greatest kingdoms and rulers. Every person and every corner of creation will ultimately bow to His authority. Everything is held in His hands, which means our future is secure. Because our future is secure in Him, we can also have hope in the present.

Psalm 72: 8-11 says, “May he reign from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Desert nomads will bow before him; his enemies will fall before him in the dust. The western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands will bring him tribute. The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba will bring him gifts. All kings will bow before him, and all nations will serve him.

The kingdom while present is yet future. The Kingdom has arrived and is yet to be. Jesus came to earth and has dealt with sin once for all in the sacrifice of Himself. Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand and reigns and His righteousness is now already ours by faith. The Spirit is dwelling in us. Jesus’ holiness is now already being produced in us and His joy and peace have already been given to us.  

Take a few moments to thank God for the certain future of His kingdom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your reaction to this devotional? 
  2. How does this future hope inform our present reality?

You Are God’s Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:10.

You are God’s masterpiece. Wait a minute, that can’t be right. I don’t feel like a masterpiece. It seems more logical to view ourselves as a third-grade art painting rather than a masterpiece. If we didn’t see it written in God’s word, we wouldn’t believe it. Yet, God created each one of us as a unique “masterpiece.”

It feels pretty good that Someone feels this way about you and me. We look at ourselves and say, “I don’t get it. This doesn’t look like a perfect person. This doesn’t look like a work of beauty.” It is hard to believe that we are God’s masterpiece. But if we read and believe God’s Word,  we see that we are God’s creation,  His treasure, His masterpiece. 

He carefully crafted all our parts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. God does not take any shortcuts or get lazy in His creation. But we are a work in progress. It is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. It is going to take all of your life on earth. It won’t be completely finished until you get to heaven.

It’s easy to be discouraged when we don’t see results. It’s even harder when we set expectations for ourselves and cannot measure up to them. Paul was well aware of the imperfections of the people to whom he writes. He gives thanks for them—whatever their failings. After all, they are partners with him in the great cause of Jesus. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,  For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:3-6)

Paul reminds them and us that we are on a journey that has not yet reached its end. God has started work on us but the work is ongoing. We haven’t arrived at complete maturity. We still stumble and fall. We let ourselves and others and our God down. The much better news is that one day the journey will end. The One who launched us on the journey and who accompanies us on the journey will take us across the finish line.

When we look at our life, we don’t necessarily see rhythm, orderliness, or beauty. We certainly don’t see perfection. When we see ourselves, we tend to see our flaws. We see so many things that need to change. But one day, we will be the people God made us to be, and we will be those people forever through Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. When Jesus Christ died, He suffered as a substitute in the place of and on behalf of fallen humanity. Christ’s death made it possible for men and women to be declared righteous, based on their faith in Him. So someday, we will not be a work in progress. Then you will see that you indeed are a perfect work of art — God’s masterpiece.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe your value comes from God? Why or why not?  
  2. What does being God’s masterpiece mean in everyday life? 

Give God Control

“We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters are. The Author knows. ― C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays. 

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we think we are captains of our fate and masters of our destiny. We do what we can to control our circumstances, sometimes thinking about the fact that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass:“Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.” (Ephesians 1:11).  

The fact of the matter is God is in control. It sounds like a pretty simple and obvious statement as most of us have prayed for God to take control of various aspects and situations in our lives. The trouble is too often we attempt to veto his decisions when He does something that we don’t like; especially when it involves something we want. We want to be happy, to be successful, to find our soulmate, to raise wonderful children. There are certainly additional things we want and we don’t want God to say no to something we want. That line of reasoning doesn’t make a lot of sense, but either does wrestling with God in an effort to take control of our lives. After all, it would not seem very wise to have a power struggle with the omnipotent, omnipresent, almighty God of the universe. The simple fact is God is not going to arrange our lives according to our exact specifications, 

The bottom line is when we are in control God isn’t. It is that simple.  So we need to decide every day who’s going to be in control of our life — us or God. Letting go and letting God take control is not difficult when we understand the character of God.  If we truly believed that God was good, and believed from the bottom of our hearts that the character of God was selfless and had our best interests, why would we not be giving up control to Him all the time? And why wouldn’t we be letting go and letting God take control if we actually, truly knew and believed in who He said He was?

As Christians, we have a hope that even when God doesn’t give us what we want, He is giving us what we need. That can be a difficult thing to accept, especially in the midst of heartbreak, trauma, and trials. But it is true. God creates beauty from ashes and He can use all things for His good.

God is in control. He has a plan for your life. And if we can keep ourselves from interfering long enough, He will bring that plan to pass.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does fear of the future and wanting to be in control relate?
  2. What area of your life do you find yourself consistently fearful of what might come or what won’t come? Why do you think it’s hard to let go of control and trust God for your future?