Thursday, December 15, 2011

Daily Devotional Thursday 15th December

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”” Luke 1:26-28 NIV
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Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon

Morning

"They go from strength to strength."
Psalm 84:7

They go from strength to strength. There are various renderings of these words, but all of them contain the idea of progress.

Our own good translation of the authorized version is enough for us this morning. "They go from strength to strength." That is, they grow stronger and stronger. Usually, if we are walking, we go from strength to weakness; we start fresh and in good order for our journey, but by-and-by the road is rough, and the sun is hot, we sit down by the wayside, and then again painfully pursue our weary way. But the Christian pilgrim having obtained fresh supplies of grace, is as vigorous after years of toilsome travel and struggle as when he first set out. He may not be quite so elate and buoyant, nor perhaps quite so hot and hasty in his zeal as he once was, but he is much stronger in all that constitutes real power, and travels, if more slowly, far more surely. Some gray-haired veterans have been as firm in their grasp of truth, and as zealous in diffusing it, as they were in their younger days; but, alas, it must be confessed it is often otherwise, for the love of many waxes cold and iniquity abounds, but this is their own sin and not the fault of the promise which still holds good: "The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint." Fretful spirits sit down and trouble themselves about the future. "Alas!" say they, "we go from affliction to affliction." Very true, O thou of little faith, but then thou goest from strength to strength also. Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up in the midst of it sufficient grace. God will give the strength of ripe manhood with the burden allotted to full-grown shoulders.

Evening

"I am crucified with Christ."
Galatians 2:20

The Lord Jesus Christ acted in what he did as a great public representative person, and his dying upon the cross was the virtual dying of all his people. Then all his saints rendered unto justice what was due, and made an expiation to divine vengeance for all their sins. The apostle of the Gentiles delighted to think that as one of Christ's chosen people, he died upon the cross in Christ. He did more than believe this doctrinally, he accepted it confidently, resting his hope upon it. He believed that by virtue of Christ's death, he had satisfied divine justice, and found reconciliation with God. Beloved, what a blessed thing it is when the soul can, as it were, stretch itself upon the cross of Christ, and feel, "I am dead; the law has slain me, and I am therefore free from its power, because in my Surety I have borne the curse, and in the person of my Substitute the whole that the law could do, by way of condemnation, has been executed upon me, for I am crucified with Christ."

But Paul meant even more than this. He not only believed in Christ's death, and trusted in it, but he actually felt its power in himself in causing the crucifixion of his old corrupt nature. When he saw the pleasures of sin, he said, "I cannot enjoy these: I am dead to them." Such is the experience of every true Christian. Having received Christ, he is to this world as one who is utterly dead. Yet, while conscious of death to the world, he can, at the same time, exclaim with the apostle, "Nevertheless I live." He is fully alive unto God. The Christian's life is a matchless riddle. No worldling can comprehend it; even the believer himself cannot understand it. Dead, yet alive! crucified with Christ, and yet at the same time risen with Christ in newness of life! Union with the suffering, bleeding Saviour, and death to the world and sin, are soul-cheering things. O for more enjoyment of them!

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Today's reading: Joel 1-3, Revelation 5 (NIV)

View today's reading on Bible Gateway

Today's Old Testament reading: Joel 1-3

1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

An Invasion of Locusts

2 Hear this, you elders;
listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
or in the days of your ancestors?
3 Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.
4 What the locust swarm has left
the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
other locusts have eaten.

5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
Wail, all you drinkers of wine;
wail because of the new wine,
for it has been snatched from your lips.
6 A nation has invaded my land,
a mighty army without number;
it has the teeth of a lion,
the fangs of a lioness.
7 It has laid waste my vines
and ruined my fig trees.
It has stripped off their bark
and thrown it away,
leaving their branches white....

...read the rest on Bible Gateway

Today's New Testament reading: Revelation 5

The Scroll and the Lamb

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals...."

...read the rest on Bible Gateway

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Elias, Elijah [Ĕlī'as,Ĕlī'jah]—god is jehovah or god himself.

1. Elias is the Greek form of Elijah(Matt. 11:14). Elijah the Tishbite is the grandest and most romantic character Israel ever produced (1 Kings 17; 18; 19).

The Man Who Had No Fear of Man

No career in the Old Testament is more vividly portrayed, or has as much fascination as that of the unique character of Elijah. The New Testament attests to his greatness and reveals what an indelible impression he made upon the mind of his nation. All we know of him before his dramatic appearance can be summed up in the words: “Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead” ( 1 Kings 17:1). Scripture is silent about his past history. Suddenly and with abrupt impetuosity the figure of the prophet bursts upon the scene to rebuke the godless and to reawaken and restore the nation of which he was a part. This man of iron is presented in many ways:

As a fearless, bold and dauntless reformer (1 Kings 18:17-46).

As a rebuker of kings ( 1 Kings 21:20; 2 Kings 1:16).

As a mighty intercessor, praying with faith and intensity (1 Kings 17:20, 22; 18:36-38; Jas. 5:17).

As a man prone to discouragement (1 Kings 19:4).

As one capable of fallible judgment ( 1 Kings 19:4, 18).

As a prophet divinely honored (2 Kings 2:11; Matt. 17:3).

As a performer of miracles ( 1 Kings 19:8).

As a God-inspired prophet ready to obey and trust God (1 Kings 17:1; 21:9-24; 2 Kings 1:2-17).

As a saint whose end was glorious (2 Kings 2:1).

Both mystery and majesty are associated with Elijah, the mightiest of the prophets. His history in 1 Kings can be appropriately studied under five prepositions:

Before Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). When God commands us to speak, no thought of peril need make us dumb.

By Cherith (1 Kings 17:2-7 ). Faith moves on, trusting that when the first step is taken the next will be revealed.

At Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10, 24). Elijah was miraculously fed on three occasions—by ravens (1 Kings 17:6); by a widow ( 1 Kings 17:9); by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-8).

On Carmel (1 Kings 18). Here we see the power of a fully surrendered man.

In the wilderness (1 Kings 19 ). The overwrought prophet suffered a lapse of confidence, but was quickly restored.

Elijah, the rugged prophet, suggests John the Baptist, who came in the same spirit and power of the prophet.

Note these points of correspondence:

Their familiarity with the deserts and solitude.

Their austere manner and dress.

Their strong reproof of prevailing evils.

Their intrepid fidelity in calling all classes to repentance.

Their exposure of the wrath of a wicked king.

Their continued influence after death through disciples.

Their fruitful labors. “Many of the children of Israel did they turn to the Lord their God.”

2. A son of Harim who married a foreign wife during the exile (Ezra 10:21).

3. A Benjamite and son of Jeroham, resident at Jerusalem (1 Chron. 8:27 RV).

4. An Israelite induced to put away his foreign wife. (Ezra 10:26).

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December 14, 2011
I Want a Daddy

Sharon Jaynes

Today's Truth
I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18 emphasis added, NIV).

Friend to Friend

Several years ago, my friend Gayle learned a wonderful lesson from her pint-size granddaughter. Carlie was sitting in the back seat of Gayle's car with her little best friend. Carlie and this little friend were born on the same day, and their moms were in hospital rooms right beside each other. Not only that, the two girls lived in the same apartment complex. One difference was that Carlie's friend never knew her father. Her mom had boyfriends that came and went through the years, but never a real dad.

When Gayle kept Carlie on the weekends, sometimes her best friend came along. That meant that on Sunday's when Gayle and her granddaughter went to church, Carlie's little friend went along, too.

One day, Gayle had both girls in the back seat when she was running an errand. They were about five-years-old at the time. And out of the blue, Carlie's little friend said, "I wish I had a daddy like you have a daddy."

And Carlie replied, "Oh you do have a daddy."

"No I don't. I want a daddy like you have a daddy. I wish I had a daddy."

"But you do have a daddy," Carlie answered back. "We all have a daddy. God is our daddy. He's everybody's daddy."

Gayle looked in her rearview mirror and saw Carlie's friend hold up her hands in exasperation. "Why has nobody ever told me this?"

How precious! Listen. I have a daddy. You have a daddy. God is your Father and He loves you more than you could ever know. Today, my prayer is that you'll know just how much your Heavenly Father loves you! He's crazy about you and excited to spend this time with you. Trust God! He's got so much to share with you.

Let's Pray
Dear Abba Father, I am trusting You today! I am so thankful that You are my heavenly Father who loves me unconditionally, cares for me unceasingly, and provides for me unreservedly.
In Jesus' Name,
Amen.

Now It's Your Turn
Make a list of everything you want in a father.
Then go back to that list and put a check beside every one of those qualities that you see in God.

Let's chat. Visit my Facebook page atwww.facebook.com/sharonjaynes and tell me one quality of God as you father that means the most to you.

More from the Girlfriends

It's finally here! Sharon, Gwen and Mary's new 12-week devotion book, Trusting God, is now available. This is the perfect book for individual study or for gathering a group of friends in what we call GiG Groups. With impactful devotions, study questions, journal pages, free on-line video intros, and an index of trust-building Scriptures...this book is a resource you'll refer to time-and-time again.

Seeking God?

Click here to find out more about

how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Girlfriends in God

P.O. Box 725

Matthews, NC 28106

info@girlfriendsingod.com
www.girlfriendsingod.com

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An Object of Derision

Matthew 27:35-44 "When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there" ( vv. 35-36).

Like the other three evangelists, Matthew does not describe the process of crucifixion in detail, probably because the practice is well-known to his first-century audience. No Roman punishment is more painful or degrading than to be crucified; therefore, Rome normally reserves the cross for non-citizens, crucifying those with full citizenship only when the caesar himself prescribes it. The Jews under Rome's rule regard the cross as particularly abhorrent, and the rabbis later forbid its use in self-governing Jewish communities.

In Jesus' case, however, the religious leaders are elated to see Him disgraced on the cross. He is crucified outside Jerusalem in deference to Jewish sensibilities (Heb. 13:12 ), on a major thoroughfare so as to warn others not to commit acts that merit crucifixion. People are usually hung on a cross naked, but Jesus might be allowed a loincloth due to the shame His people associate with nakedness. Either way, His clothing now belongs to the soldiers guarding Him, a custom observed with every crucified victim. Yet this time prophecy is also fulfilled as lots are cast for Christ's clothing (Matt. 27:35; see Ps. 22:18 ). John Calvin appropriately comments, "God determined that His own Son should be stripped of his raiment, that we, clothed with his righteousness and with abundance of all good things, may appear with boldness in company with the angels."

As Isaiah 53:9 predicts, our Lord is also crucified alongside the wicked, two robbers who are probably on their crosses for insurrection (Matt. 27:38). Although Luke 23:39-43 tells us one of these criminals later trusts in Jesus, both of them initially join the passersby and the religious authorities to mock and curse our Savior (Matt. 27:39-44). They claim that they will believe if He uses His power to come down from the cross (v. 42 ), but we know the Jewish leaders would only charge Jesus with sorcery or other devilish deeds (12:24).

Behind these taunts is the false assumption that the Messiah and Son of God must conquer Rome, not be killed by the Gentiles. They do not see that Jesus stays on the cross precisely because He is God's Son. Love keeps Him there so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Many of Jesus' contemporaries refused to accept the Messiah's shame and curse on the cross, and many in the history of the church have done the same, denying the substitutionary nature of the atonement and the fact that God cursed our sin in Jesus. To show His great mercy and satisfy His justice, the Father condemned the sins of His people in His Son. Any attempt to make the cross merely a good example or an accident of history destroys the gospel of salvation.

For further study:

Genesis 22:1-19

The Bible in a year:

Jonah 4-Micah 2

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

Subscribe to Tabletalk magazine and receive daily Bible studies & in depth articles from world class scholars for only $23 per per year! That's only $1.92 per month. And you can try it out for three months absolutely free! Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living.

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Renee Swope

December 14, 2011

The Manger of My Heart
Renee Swope

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

As the days get shorter in December, it seems the time I spend with God does too. I long for His presence. I know I need His perspective and peace. But as I prepare for the holidays, my heart can get so focused on planning and buying gifts that I forget to unwrap the most important gift—the gift of Immanuel—God with us.

In all the hustle and bustle, it's easy to fill our heart with everything but Him, and miss the calm hush His presence brings. I felt an unusual void around the holidays several years ago, and wrote this Christmas prayer to help me keep my heart where it needs to be. I display it where I'll see it often - to remind me of what matters most.

The Manger of My Heart
This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.

The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.

Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus' birth,
when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, "Into your darkness, God brings His Light."

"Do not be afraid," they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.

Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.

This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Lord. It's in Your wonderful Name I pray.

Thousands of years ago God gave us the gift of His one and only Son, born in a humble manger. Making room in our hearts for Jesus through prayer during this busy season is a gift we give to Him, and ourselves. Right now, let's quiet our racing thoughts and take a moment to enjoy the hush of Immanuel—God with us. His presence in our lives is a gift we can open every day of the year.

Dear Lord, I'm so thankful for the gift of Jesus, Immanuel, my God with me. Help me be still when I feel frazzled and remember You are God. I want to make room for You in the manger of my heart this Christmas and unwrap Your presence each day. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do you long to draw closer to God over the holidays and in the New Year? If so, A Confident Heart by Renee Swope is just the book for you! Chapter by chapter, Renee show you how to live in the power of God's promises as she draws you into the security of God's heart and love for you!

Visit Renee's website/blog where she's giving A GIFT every woman needs! She's also sharing how you can receive a PDF printable of her Christmas prayer and three ways to experience God's calming hush in the hustle of the holidays!

Join us for Renee's FREE online study of her book A Confident Heart beginning January 16th. Click here for more info and to sign up!

Application Steps:
When you feel anxious, empty or stressed, pause and pray each word of today's Christmas prayer. Why not print it and carry it with you? To find out how you can receive a printable version to frame, click here.

Reflections:
Which part of this prayer resonates most with the desires and needs of my heart?

Power Verses:
Psalm 91:1-2, "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'"(NIV)

Psalm 55:22, "Turn your burdens over to the LORD, and he will take care of you." (GW)

© 2011 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Hymn Story:

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" is derived from the "Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn" from the Litany of St. James, written during the 4th century. The Cherubic Hymn is to be used at the presentation of the bread and wine at the Offertory. It was incorporated into the Holy Week celebration of the Constantineopolitan Church at some point after the 8th century. It is used on St. James Day, October 23. Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem recite it on the Sunday after Christmas, or as part of the Christmas Eve service. The Greek original is also found in the Liturgy of St. Basil as the Troparion for Holy Saturday morning.

Although the hymn can be used as a communion hymn any time of the year, it is a beautiful advent hymn, pointing us to stand in awe as the King of kings and Lord of lords descends to earth to vanquish the powers of hell.

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" first appeared in Lyra Eucharistica and The English Hymnal in 1906, with the tune PICARDY, arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Devotional:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8

Speaking of Jesus' arrival, St. John wrote: The true light that enlightens every man was coming in to the world. John 1:9

After His arrival, Jesus boldly announced: I am the light of the world. John 8:12

And our ancient hymn writer embraces the same theme: The Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.

We are fascinated with light: astronomers study it; poets sing of it; inventors find new ways to capture and share it; children love to play with it. And light became one of the earliest and most common metaphors for God.

Light illumines: no person can see anything in total darkness. So Jesus Christ illumines our minds about the person of God, about what we are, about how we can be reconciled to Him and how we are to live in His light.

Light also brings life: no plant will grow, no flower will bloom and no fruit will ripen if there is no light. So, Jesus came to bring the light which produces abundant and eternal life.

Light cheers. We often hear in Church that real joy does not depend on the weather. That's true, but sunlight does bring joy to a dark day. And so Christ came to bring us joy, even when life is anything but joyful. After five terrible beatings and two horrific stonings, this most jubilant Apostle got up and dusted off the opposition with the shout:

Rejoice in the Lord always. St. Paul speaking in Philippians 4 And light purifies. Mildew exposed to light is destroyed. A stain on my shirt can be bleached away when it hangs in the sun. So Christ came to destroy the evil deeds the devil continually entices us to commit.

A singer in New York City once lamented, "It's been a long time since I liked myself." Perhaps you feel the same way today. But there is good news for him and for you: Jesus the Light of the world, forgives - He washes you totally clean of your sin. And Jesus the Light, will destroy the devil's work.

Jesus tells us that one day there will be a "new heaven and a new earth." God's new creation will be filled only with righteousness - only that which is pure and perfect. But, He can fill you with righteousness right now, if you let Him. For if a scientist can make penicillin out of mold, God can make something good of the singer - and you!

To learn more about how to find the "Light of life", just follow the link: Knowing Christ.

Facts:

Lyricist: Liturgy of St. James Lyrics Date: 4th Century Adapted by: Gerard Moultrie Date: 1864 Key: C Theme: Jesus Christ His Advent Composer: French Carol Melody Music Date: 17th Century Harmonization: Ralph Vaughan Williams Harmonization Date: 1906 Tune Name: PICARDY Meter: 8.7.8.7.8.7. Scripture: Habakkuk 2:20

Copyright © 2011 Center for Church Music


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An Object of Derision

Many of Jesus' contemporaries refused to accept the Messiah's shame and curse on the cross, and many in the history of the church have done the same, denying the substitutionary nature of the atonement and the fact that God cursed our sin in Jesus. To show His great mercy and satisfy His justice, the Father condemned the sins of His people in His Son. Any attempt to make the cross merely a good example or an accident of history destroys the gospel of salvation.

For further study:

Genesis 22:1-19

The Bible in a year:

Jonah 4-Micah 2

Coram Deo from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

Subscribe to Tabletalk magazine and receive daily Bible studies & in depth articles from world class scholars for only $23 per per year! That's only $1.92 per month. And you can try it out for three months absolutely free! Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living.

ADVERTISEMENT

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Each Wednesday in Advent, we read a passage from the Gospels and consider what early church writers had to say about it.

Opening prayer

Through him he has called us out of darkness into the light, out of ignorance into the knowledge of his glory, so that we might hope, Lord, in your name, for it is the foundation of all creation.--Clement of Rome

Scripture reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
(read on Bible Gateway)

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.


Reflections from the church fathers

The Soul That Is Parched (Gregory of Nyssa): For it is clear that it is not without soul or sense that he proclaims the good tidings of joy, but he speaks, by the figure of the desert, of the soul that is parched and unadorned. On the Baptism of Christ.

The Lord (Cyril of Alexandria): Observe how he names him Lord and calls him God, seeing that he speaks in the Spirit; note that he knew the Emmanuel would not be simply a man bearing God nor, of a truth, as one assumed as an agent. But he knew that he was truly God and incarnate. Letter 1.31.

An Extreme Humility (Augustine): Christ, you see, was going to come in the flesh, not anyone at all, not an angel, not an ambassador, but "he himself will come and save you." Sermon 293.8.

The Strides of the Interior Life (Chromatius of Aquileia):Whoever has gone astray from the way of righteousness or from the way of truth is altogether lame, even if his feet and legs are healthy, since he limps with his mind and soul. For the journey of faith and truth is traveled not with bodily steps but with strides of the interior life. Sermon 1.3-4.

Toil and Groaning (Augustine): Certainly hope is very necessary for us in our exile. It is what consoles us on the journey. When the traveler, after all, finds it wearisome walking along, he puts up with the fatique precisely because he hopes to arrive. Rob him of any hope of arriving, and immediately his strength for walking is broken. So the hope also which we have here is part and parcel of the justice of our exile and our journey. Sermon 158.8.

Closing prayer

We ask you, almighty God, let our souls enjoy this their desire, to be enkindled by your Spirit, that being filled as lamps by your divine gift, we may shine like burning lights before the presence of your Son Christ at his coming; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. --The Gelasian Sacramentary

Today's Advent reading is from
Ancient Christian Devotional, edited by Oden and Crosby.
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Today's Advent reading is taken from:
Ancient Christian Devotional
Edited by Oden, Crosby

Bite-sized bits of profound wisdom from the patristic era that coincide with the Scripture readings in cycle A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

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FRB-Christmas-Story-BookCover-SmallReading 9: An Angel Announces Jesus' Birth

When Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was six months pregnant, her young cousin Mary had a very special visitor. An angel told Mary that she had been chosen to give birth to a special child, the Son of the Most High. Mary was betrothed (engaged) to a man named Joseph, who was from the family line of David.


Luke 1:26-56
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Further Study

JUST THE FACTS
  1. What was the name of the angel who visited Mary? (v. 26)
  2. What was the name Mary was to give her child? (v. 31)
  3. What was Mary’s final answer to the angel? (v. 38)
LET’S TALK
  1. Why did Mary believe this very unusual announcement? Why did Mary visit Elizabeth?
  2. What was Mary like? Why do you think God chose her to be Jesus’ mother?
WHY THIS MATTERS

God showed that he can do the impossible--a virgin became pregnant by his Holy Spirit, and God’s Son came into the world. Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46 - 55 tells how wonderful this news is.

POINTS OF INTEREST

1:39 – 40 Mary’s home in Nazareth was about 65 miles away from Jerusalem, where her cousin Elizabeth lived. In Bible times, that distance would have taken several days to travel. It was common for relatives to visit and stay for months at a time, like Mary did.
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At Issue - God’s Power

Joshua 5:13-15

Whose side is God on? When you're in a conflict with someone-is God on your side? When you're competing for a promotion-is God on your side? When you're fighting wrongful charges on your cell phone bill-is God on your side? Actually, when Joshua asked the commander of the army of the Lord whose side he was on, he got a cryptic reply: "Neither." The question isn't whether God's on our side, but whether we're on God's side. God was ready to do something great through Joshua, but Joshua's first battle action was to bow and acknowledge that God was the one in authority. After he did, the walls of Jericho fell without a single blow.

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True Identity: The Bible for Women
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The Bible that helps you see yourself as God sees you! Find your true identity in Christ through your relationship with him.
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A Christmas Devotional

COUNSELOR

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6

"What is the baby's name?" The people in Bethlehem who had heard of a baby born in a stable must have stopped by to talk to Mary or Joseph. Mary and Joseph voiced the name they themselves had not chosen: Jesus. But hundreds of years earlier, other names had already been announced for the Anointed One. Among them, Isaiah spoke of one who would be called Wonderful Counselor.

What was a "counselor" in biblical times? It was one of the roles of a king or other highly placed official, the task of being wise and judicious in the most difficult questions, the most complicated negotiations, and the most intractable problems. The counsel of the king was supreme. But it was not infallible. We know there is good counsel and there is poor counsel.

The one born of a virgin would be called Wonderful Counselor. Now that is something different. The Hebrew word for "wonderful" means something out of the ordinary, clearly different, beyond human explanation. It is the knowledge described in Psalm 139:1-6: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

When we contemplate the nativity of Jesus, we cannot help but be full of wonder. This is how God came to us, and it is wonderful because Jesus gives us an unclouded vision of what our lives are supposed to be-good counsel. He instructed us with words of wisdom. He exemplified, for us, what it looks like to lead a life devoted to the Father. Yet, how often do we really heed this treasured council? How might we live more consciously in light of the example he set forth?

Prayer for Today:

Lord I need your counsel in every area of my life. As I think about my family, friends, work, and decisions-I know I need to be smart beyond what is humanly possible to be smart. So please help me listen to you this Christmas as the only one who is the Wonderful Counselor.

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About The Author - Mel Lawrenz serves as minister at large for Elmbrook Church and leads The Brook Network. Having been in pastoral ministry for thirty years, the last decade as senior pastor of Elmbrook, Mel seeks to help Christian leaders engage with each other. Mel is the author of eleven books, the most recent for church leaders, Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement.
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Unexpected Passage: Lynch mobs, assassins and Roman justice

Today's reading: Acts 26

Acts 26:22 "But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike."

The last few chapters of Acts show Paul at his most fearless. He confronts a lynch mob with such boldness that Roman soldiers have to drag him into their barracks for his own protection. The next day he takes on the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, causing such a ruckus that the Roman commander fears they will tear Paul in pieces. Then 40 religious fanatics take a vow to kill him.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Paul gets a comforting vision from the Lord, who says, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome" (Acts 23:11). That is all the encouragement Paul needs.

The Prisoner Speaks

After being smuggled out of town under heavy guard and the cover of darkness, Paul arrives at last in the palace of the Roman governor. His troubles are far from over. After hearing Paul's defense, Felix sends him to prison for two years as a political favor to the religious authorities. Even that does not quiet the furor. The moment a new governor, Festus, arrives, Jewish leaders hatch yet another death plot against Paul.

Acts records 18 speeches, the last three of which were delivered to a very select audience. Roman officials, intrigued by the most talked-about prisoner in their corner of the empire, bring Paul to perform, like a trained bear. This chapter records Paul's riveting performance before the most distinguished judge, King Herod Agrippa.

The result? Paul finally realizes his dream of visiting Rome-not via a missionary journey, but in a Roman ship as a prisoner of the empire.

Life Question

Have you ever faced opposition because of your faith? What can you learn from Paul's response?
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