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?

Are You Running On Empty?

 “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,  but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.”  – Isaiah 60:1-3. 

Many people put off going to the gas station as long as they can count on the car to warn them when it is time for a refill. But then you put it off even when the red light is flashing on the dash because it is more fun to see how far you could get on “empty.” You are merrily driving down the road, humming to the tune on the radio, when you notice that the readout on the dash says 1 mile to empty. Now it has time to panic. You pledge to keep the car full of gas in the future so you don’t have to go through this again.  

The same is true in your spiritual lives. Many times you try to see how far you can get, unintentionally, without spending quality one-on-one time with God. You think this Sunday’s worship service or a small group gathering will hold you over until next week’s spiritual refill. But sometimes the light comes on, which is the Holy Spirit, reminding you that your tank is low and that it would be a good idea to stop and refuel before you are running on empty while trying to face life’s ups and downs with your own strength, your own power, your own knowledge.

This is why we are sometimes running on empty spiritual tanks. Other things get in the way of the ever-present Holy Spirit that is seeking our attention. Meanwhile, we keep rolling down the highway filling our tank with everything but what is necessary to function.  

All of us go through times where we feel spiritually empty. David likened it to a deer panting after water (Psalm 42:1 ESV). In the book of James, we find where our dependence, our source of strength, should come from. We need to be completely, solely dependent upon Him. Jesus leads us on a journey of becoming fully alive. He is our model, our Living Blueprint. He is also the fuel for our journey. Remember that we are loved. Beyond measure. Beyond comprehension. Fully. Completely. Steadfastly.  

When we let our spiritual tank run low, our energy and inspiration disappear. Our desire to live for Christ decreases, and soon, we are just getting by. Jesus wants more for us than just getting by. He isn’t satisfied with us walking through life thinking “I’m fine.” He wants abundance for each one of us. In the small wee hours of the night, in the midst of your struggle and hardest trial, God is waiting and wanting to fill your spiritual tank.  

 Make an effort to fill your tank today. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you to overflowing. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can you tell when your spiritual tank is running on empty? 
  2. What can you do this week to keep your spiritual tank full?

The Hope Of The Advent Season

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” – Luke 2:25-32.

Imagine waking up on Christmas day and finding a special gift under your tree. You notice the tag has your name on it.  Beautifully wrapped and tied with a gorgeous bow, you are reluctant to open it. You slowly start to open the gift trying not to tear the beautiful wrapping paper. Once you open the box you find it is filled with the hope of Christmas. The Hope of Christmas is a precious and beautiful gift. 

Biblical hope is to look forward to something with such certainty that you believe it will come to pass. Most people believe there are few if any sure things in life. One of those sure things is God’s promises. God is the only unchanging constant and the only real source of hope. The Bible talks about two people who demonstrate the unshakable certainty of biblical hope. In Luke 2, Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem and encounter two people, Simeon and Anna. Simeon was righteous and devout. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26) When he saw Jesus as a child he said, ‘Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:27-32)

Anna, a prophetess, was advanced in years.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

No matter how bad your year has been, no matter what kind of problems and struggles you are facing right now, no matter what kind of season of darkness or pain you are in, never abandon hope. During the Advent season, look for hope in the birth of Jesus. Draw hope from God’s faithfulness in His long-awaited promise of the Messiah. Focus on the hope we have in Jesus. In the midst of whatever life is throwing at you, you can experience the hope of God because God is with us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a hope filled life look like?
  2. Through Christ, we have hope. How can that be evident in your life this week?

Being Thankful This Thanksgiving

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” – Psalm 100: 4-5.             

There are times that, because of God’s extraordinary goodness, we just overflow with thanks. But there are other times when we choose to praise God only after He has answered our prayers. And while there’s nothing wrong with thanking God for answered prayer, that should not be the only time we praise Him.  

One of the more famous stories in the Bible is Jesus visiting Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died. Even though Jesus went there after Lazarus was already dead, there was a purpose in His visit.  John 11:41-42 says, “So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” It is interesting that Jesus thanked God for hearing His prayer before Lazarus took one step. The bottom line is that God is worthy of praise. We don’t have to wait to see if God delivers on something we ask Him before we thank Him. And if God chooses to say, “No,” that doesn’t mean God is less worthy of our praise.

God is worthy of praise. It pleases God when we praise Him ahead of time because we’re saying, God, whether or not you choose to answer my prayers, I praise you for who you are. I thank you for all you’ve given me. And Lord, even when you choose to say “no” to my requests, I know you have your reasons. You know the beginning from the end. Your thoughts are much higher than my thoughts and your ways are higher too (Isaiah 55:8-9). And Lord, if you withhold something I’m asking you for, then maybe the thing is not good for me, or the timing is not right.  I know it’s not good because you’ve said you will not withhold any good thing from me (Psalm 84:11). God, I trust you.

Ephesians 5:20 says we are to “…give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..” And Psalm 92:1-5 says: “Come, let us sing to the Lord!Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.”

Five minutes of thanksgiving and praise has the power to change the direction of each day. It has the power to stir our hearts and make us open to and aware of God’s will for us in every situation.

Take time to practice thanksgiving very day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible to give thanks even in hard times?
  2. Does thanking God lead to praising God in your life?
  3. For what are you most grateful today?

A Life Of Repentance

“Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” – 1 Acts 3:19.  

There is this idea in some circles that repentance is a unique, one-time activity that occurs when accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. But is repentance a one-time event, or do you discover that the further you travel in the Christian journey, the need for repentance continues. Repentance has been described as, “a radical change in one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart, a complete reorientation of the whole of one’s life.” It is a gift from God. And it is a learned but necessary skill that takes a lifetime of practice.

Repentance is more than psychological catharsis, it requires a true feeling of remorse. If one is not genuinely offended by one’s sin, there is no repentance. It demands brokenness of heart but always with the goal of healing and restoration and a renewed vision of the beauty of Christ. 

In David’s psalm of repentance (Psalm 51), he reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance which included making a sacrifice, He wants a change of heart. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17). David knew he could not fix the problem of his heart. He did not draw a line in the sand and make bold promises about what he could do for God. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. He prayed in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” because he realized he could not make his own heart pure. In verse 12, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.…” Repenting brings us to the end of ourselves and back to God’s grace.  

For the rest of our lives, we as believers must turn away from sin and towards knowing, loving and obeying Jesus. The reality is we are going to stumble and fall short. We are going to mess up.  There will be times when we don’t do what we are supposed to do. All of which means we need to keep repenting, keep turning back to Jesus.  The truth is we don’t ever arrive. You will never get to the place where you no longer need to repent and turn back, obey and follow Jesus.  We must be conscious of our sin precisely so that the forgiving, renewing, refreshing reality of God’s grace can empower our daily living.

In order to be whole, we must recognize how far short of God’s standard we fall, and be ready to seek help. Daily repentance will reveal our broken hearts and the areas in which we need the most help. 

True repentance is a heart change and the determination to no longer follow after the flesh but rather turn toward Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you know if repentance is real? What is the result of genuine repentance?
  2. Is there one person in your life that you think truly understands what it means to repent? What kinds of things characterize their life?

What Are You Trying To Teach Me Lord?

“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” –  Luke 10:39 (ESV). 

“Is God trying to teach me a lesson?” 

“Is God trying to get my attention?” 

“Is God try to punish me for the all the wrongs in my life?” 

God is teaching us at all times, but when we see bad things as God’s hand in our lives, we need to examine and adjust our view of God. We serve a loving, caring God.  It is easy to interpret difficulties in life as “lessons” from God. It makes God out to be someone who toys with His people, who purposefully sends trouble into the lives of those He loves in order to “teach” them something. 

Jesus called attention to this way of thinking when He said, “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 9:7-11) 

That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t allows bad things to happen to good people or that He allows the wicked to prosper at the expense of the suffering of righteous people. We’ll never know why God, who is complete and total love, allows bad circumstances to invade our lives. It doesn’t mean there won’t be negative in our lives. But it does mean God doesn’t randomly teach you a lesson by giving you a hard time. God is not proving you are meaningless. He is not pointing out your flaws.  His gifts to you are not based on your actions and behavior on a particular day. But God may well be teaching you that you are loved and that your life has purpose, even when it feels pointless.

When something unexpected happens in our life, or in our world, it’s easy for us to ask God why it happened. We want to live the blessed “abundant life” (John 10:10 ESV) that Jesus said He was bringing, and we forget that He also told us that “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33)  The question is this: are we asking the right question? Maybe the question should not be “why” but “what” Lord, what do you want me to learn from this journey? What good do you want to come from this? What testimony will I have from this?”

By asking “what” instead of “why” it puts God back on His throne. Asking “what” suggests humility, trusting God. Asking “what” requires a mindset shift, an intentional decision to trust God. It makes the hard times a little easier to bear, knowing that there is something to learn during our hard circumstances and our struggles. His plan isn’t always what our heart wants. We want to understand right now why this has happened. We want to know the reason for it. We want to know what good will come of it. But Scripture continually reminds us that God is God and we are not and that He has a plan that we cannot see, but we can learn from.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are some things that God is trying to teach you?
  2. How would your week be different if you changed the “why” to “what”? 

Focus On What Never Changes

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” – Psalms 90:1-2.

We live in a world of constant change. People change. Seasons change. Relationships change.  Circumstances change. Things change. But amid all the changes, God never changes. The circumstances or influences that cause change in your life have no effect on God. Life and its uncertainties may shake you, but God does not move. Unlike His creation, God is immutable—He does not change.

The Bible is clear that God does not change. God himself says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)  James writes, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) Psalm 102:25-27 says, “Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever; they will wear out like old clothing. You will change them like a garment  and discard them. But you are always the same; you will live forever.”

We should find extreme comfort in God’s unchanging nature. Every created thing in this life will let you down at some point in time. Whether it is circumstances, relationships, health, career, children, technology, etc. However unstable I or the circumstances around me are, God never changes. The God we serve today is the exact same God we served prior to COVID-19. He is the same God today as He was the day He raised Jesus from the grave. He is the same God today as He was when He spoke the world into existence. He is the God who saves and He is the God in whom you can place your hope. If God never changes, then that means His love is forever. His forgiveness is forever. His salvation is forever. His promises are forever. Yet, we have a tendency to focus more on outcomes and results than on God.

Outcomes can and do change. Our perceptions of outcomes can change. If we’re focused on anything other than God, we can expect shifting and instability. That is why we can’t let our perceptions and expectations overwhelm our focus on God. If your world is spinning, think about riding a carousel as a child. While you are circling about and moving up and down and the world seems to be moving, every few seconds you looked over and saw your parents standing still in the same spot and it comforted and reassured you.

Life is constantly changing and often bumpy. Whenever we have questions, fears, trials, temptations, sufferings and problems to solve, God is always there for us. Don’t let your fears, your heartaches, or troubles overwhelm you – focus on the One who has control over everything. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. When you are facing relentless change, what do you focus on? 
  2. How can focusing on God’s love, God’s truth, and God’s plan and purpose provide you with hope and peace.