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December 14th, 2014

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  (Isaiah 12:3)

Isaiah 12:1-6

December 14, 2014

Joy Uninhibited

The traditional theme for the third Sunday of Advent is joy.  Early in the fall as I was creating the sermon series on Isaiah I did a word search for “joy” in Isaiah, and this is the passage that spoke most directly to joy.  I chose this text for no reason more profound than that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit does things far beyond my capability to understand. Read more »

December 13th, 2014

Advent Theme December 8-14: Joy

Scripture for this week:  Isaiah 12:1-6

Saturday, December 13, 2014

                Here is your “family time” devotion for this weekend.  If you are not using the Advent wreath, just ignore that part of the devotion.  My next Advent devotion will be on Monday.

                PRAYER:  Begin your time by eliminating as many distractions as possible and gathering the family around the Advent wreath.  Put a glass of water in the middle of the room or table where you are gathered. Read more »

December 7th, 2014

I am not God’s Secretary of Wellness.

Isaiah 9:1-7

December 7, 2014

A flicker from the future

A TV commercial for a natural supplement claims to improve your vision so that “you will be able to see a candle flame from ten miles away.”  You can’t believe everything on TV, so I decided to verify that claim with a more reliable source: the Internet.  The site is hosted by someone with degrees in physics, ecology, and education, a company that offers multimedia educational products.  Just to be sure, I checked it out with my son Phil, who has a bachelor’s in Physics and a Ph.D. in oceanography, and he said go with it. Read more »

December 6th, 2014

Advent Theme December 1-7: Peace
Scripture for this week: Isaiah 9:1-7

Saturday, December 6, 2014

It’s not too late to consider buying or making a home Advent wreath, lighting one additional candle each week. This week’s theme is “Peace,” and because of the theme of “light” in the Scripture, you might consider having your family time in the dark (except for the candles you light). Read more »

November 30th, 2014

Advent Theme November 24-30: Hope

Scripture for this week:  Isaiah 11:1-9

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Each Sunday during Advent, I will post a suggestion for family worship connected to the week’s theme.  This week’s theme is “Hope.”  You might want to consider buying or making a home Advent wreath, lighting one additional candle each week.

PRAYER:  Begin your time by eliminating as many distractions as possible and gathering the family around the Advent wreath.  Have some pray in their own words or read a simple prayer like this:  “Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into the world.  As we look forward to celebrating Christmas, we also remember that you are coming again.  Fill us with hope as we wait for you.  Amen.”

ADVENT WREATH:  Light the first candle.  Ask the youngest child (as long as they are old enough to speak!) to say, “Why do we light the first candle?”  An older child or adult answers, “The first candle is the candle of hope.  Jesus brought hope into the world.

SCRIPTURE:  Read Isaiah 11:1-9 and have a family discussion, adjusting the length to your family.  In verses 1-5, what do we read that looks like Jesus?  In verses 6-9, what do you like about this new world God promises?  You might want to take a moment and view online (or print out in advance)  Edward Hicks’ 1833 painting, The Peaceable Kingdom.  Do you think Edward Hicks captured the message of Isaiah 11:1-9?  Why or why not?

PRAYER:  Mention some names of people and places needing peace and safety today.  Then pray in your own words or use a prayer like this:  “Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised us a better world, and you have made it possible by sending your Son Jesus to us.  Our hope is in him.  We pray today for (names), that they will have hope through Jesus.  Help us to grow in our knowledge of you so that we can share the good news of Jesus in our world. In his name we pray, Amen.”

(This is part of a series of daily devotionals I am writing from now through Christmas week.  To be added to the e-mail list, e-mail me at [email protected].  You may also hear a recording of the daily devotional at 828.328.6196, then press 1.  The past week’s devotions are pasted below.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

“Hope sustains us as Christians.”  David Parsons, a member of Corinth, wrote those words to me this morning just after completing the task of cleaning out the apartment of his mother, who died October 1.    Isaiah 11:1 says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.”  Let that visual sit in your mind for a moment.  A tree has been severed near the ground, its “body” removed, destroyed, decayed.  But there is invisible life in that stump, and a fragile, tender, green stem pokes through the middle and sprouts a leaf or two.  Hope breaks through.  Where in your life do you see only stumps?  If God can raise Jesus from the dead, he can bring new life to you and restore hope to your soul for whatever you are facing.  On this International Day of the Bible, read Isaiah 11:1-9.  Remember that “hope sustains us as Christians.”  Then pause and pray for those you know who have lost hope or are losing hope.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“We love to hate each other.”  “We love to be right.”  Those were a couple of the comments from my very energetic Tuesday morning men’s Bible study this morning as we reflected on Isaiah 11:1-9.  What we (humans) need is Someone who will straighten all of us out – who will himself possess the personal, political, and spiritual qualities to rule justly.  This is the vision presented in Isaiah 11 – not just of a world with justice and peace, but of a  Messiah who makes it happen.  Is this a futile human longing?  No.  My personal devotional reading this morning was Colossians 1:15-23, where the Apostle Paul uses the phrase, “He is…” repeatedly of Christ.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things.  He is the head of the body.  He is the firstborn from among the dead.  All we long for, he is.  The season of Advent is about remembering who he is, what he has already accomplished, and what he yet will do at his Second Coming.  But how does that affect us?  Does “hope” mean that we wait passively, or get started with action on this vision of justice and peace with our action?  More on that in the days to come.  Today, pray for the people of Ferguson, MO, as they ache for peace and justice.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One phrase in Isaiah 11:1-9 has grabbed my attention and will not let go.  The passage is in two parts.  Verses 6-9 offer a vision of universal peace and the knowledge of God.  Verses 1-5 describe the person who will make it happen.  (It’s Jesus.)  What has captured my notice in Isaiah’s description of the perfect King is the latter part of verse 3:  “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears.”

Really?  An ideal ruler overrules his senses when he makes decisions?  Yes, thank God!  In his “wisdom and understanding” (v. 2) he sees below whatever façade people present.  Underneath the crust of anger he sees pain.  Below the appearance of wealth he sees false security.  Behind the mask of poverty he sees potential.  Under the cover of self-righteousness he sees hidden sin he wants to reveal and then cover with grace.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.”  Someone at your Thanksgiving table tomorrow more than likely needs you to be Jesus for them – not moving away from them in judgment, but moving toward them with gracious ears and eyes that invite them to be known and loved.  Pray today by name for those you will encounter tomorrow.  In tomorrow’s devotion, I will share with you a prayer to read or adapt at your Thanksgiving table.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving in America has become a “thankful for” holiday instead a “thankful to” holiday.  I suppose on some level that works for a pluralistic culture, but the Bible emphasizes not the subject of our thanks, but the object.  “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart” (Psalm 9:1).  “….singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:17).  Today as you gather around your table, be sure the focus is less on what you have and more on who gave it.   The primary reason we need to center on the who instead of the what is that our situation in life is volatile, but our God never changes.  If our focus is on the blessings, our gratitude will rise and fall like an autumn thermometer.

As you interact and pray today, be especially sensitive to those around you whose present circumstances are characterized by pain, need, or distance.  Here is a prayer I included at the end of last Sunday’s sermon that you could use or adapt if you are the pray-er today.  The specific words are not as important as being real, sensitive, and God-focused as you pray.

Loving God, as we gather around this table, we are more keenly aware than usual of our blessings, which are what we usually mention in our prayers of thanksgiving.  But we want to be honest enough to say that we’re also aware of a lot of pain in our world, in our family, and in our lives.  Some of that pain is still very fresh, even raw.  So today we just want to thank you that you know about our pain, and that you care.  We’d really prefer that you fix it, and it’s hard to understand why you don’t.  But you’re always there for us, weeping with us in our sadness and high-fiving the other persons of the Trinity when good things happen to us.  In the person of your son Jesus, you came into our world so that you could feel what we feel, and that’s the best reason to give thanks today.  Help us to remember your many kindnesses, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Our theme this week is hope, which will be our focus for the first Sunday of Advent.  Let’s take a moment today for Hope 101 in the Bible.

Contrast the following statements –

  • “I hope I didn’t gain too much weight yesterday.”  “The hope today is for Thanksgiving leftovers.”
  • “Every NFL fan hopes their team makes the Super Bowl.”  “Every non-fan of the NFL hopes the season ends with the Super Bowl.”
  • “I’m hoping for a good snow this winter.”  “My hope every winter is for spring.”

In each pair, the word “hope” is used differently.  The first sentence is one of uncertain desire.  The second is a confident expectation.

There’s nothing wrong with using the word “hope” in the first sense.  It’s about a feeling or desire or wish.  This is how the word has been used in cultures and languages for millennia.  It’s even used that way sometimes in the Bible, as in Jeremiah 14:19, “We hoped for peace but no good has come.”

The second meaning of hope, though, is so unique to the Bible you won’t find it in other ancient religions or modern dictionaries.  It is hope based on evidence (I’ve seen the leftovers in the fridge), the promise of someone with power to make it happen (the NFL has scheduled the Super Bowl), the assurance of a guaranteed end (spring is going to happen).  Biblically, it is hope in God and in his promises.

When we talk about hope this Sunday, it will be about this second meaning.  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” Isaiah 40:31 says.  “I have plans to give you a future and a hope,” God says in Jeremiah 29:11.

When Isaiah hopes that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9), he is declaring his absolute assurance that the God who never changes his nature or his mind will make it happen.  That’s Hope 101.

Pray today for those who have lost hope in the first sense because they have never understood what hope really is.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Today for our devotion, in part because we are in Georgia getting ready for a travel day home, I’m just going to paste tomorrow’s Scripture text from The Message paraphrase for you to read.  Reflect on Who is our hope (vv. 1-5) and What he will accomplish (vv. 6-9).  Pastor Paul and I will share the sermon time in Bost Memorial Hall at 11 AM tomorrow (no 8:30 service.)  Also don’t forget the church-wide Christmas party (pizza, cookie decorating, a family movie) at 5:30 Sunday in Bost Memorial Hall.

1-5 A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump,
from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances,
won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

6-9 The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.