Tuesday, December 15

Scripture Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4)

What do you remember about Christmas? I was about twelve years old and living in a suburb of Chicago. Our family made our annual trip to Roxboro NC to visit our grandparents for the Christmas holidays. By our definition, our grandparents definitely lived “in the country.” So, we left the city and drove eighteen hours halfway across the country to arrive sleepy and tired at their cozy, country cottage. Well, I was very disappointed to find that there was no tree in their living room, where I would sleep on the sofa. I tried to hide my disappointment, but my Grandad saw through that. The next morning, he said “Come on. We are going on a walk.” He picked up his ax from the shed and led me down a path through the woods into an open field. There were numerous cedar trees lining the field. So, we studied and compared them before picking out the most beautiful tree. He chopped it down, and we dragged it back to the house. He found an old metal bucket, put the tree in the middle of it, and filled it with rocks to make it stand upright. We placed it in the living room by the fireplace. Grandmom found her old lights and ornaments which had seen many earlier Christmases. After adding lights and ornaments, we covered that tree with those silver, shiny, metallic-like icicles. Then we congratulated ourselves on making such a beautiful tree. I don’t have a picture of that tree, but I have a vivid memory of how beautiful it looked in the small living room near the fireplace.

I don’t remember any of the gifts that I got that year. I don’t remember any of the relatives that came to visit us or anything about the long trip home. But I have a precious memory of hiking down through the woods with my Grandad, finding the perfect tree and decorating it with my Grandmom. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember anything that happened that entire year of my life, except an older set of grandparents who saw a little girl’s wish and set out to make it happen.

I hope that this year you are able to make a memory with your child or grandchild or someone else that might last them for over fifty years and bring joy to their heart. It truly is the small things in life that bring us joy. As it says in Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

Prayer: Dear God, we thank You for your generosity to us in sending Your Son to us. As we remember the Christ child, create within us generous hearts. In the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Barbara Rowley – 2017

Sunday, December 13

Scripture Passage: Matthew 6:25-34 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Worry, worry, worry. That is what we do, especially during the holidays – so much to do… gift buying, family gatherings, decorating, all on top of everyday problems. That is exactly what Jesus spoke to in His Sermon on the Mount. Be concerned for nothing. Our Heavenly Father knows our needs even before we do and will provide. Jesus admonishes us to “take therefore no thought for the morrow.”

We all know that worry can fill the heart, shutting out room for God’s still, small voice. It robs us of being in the moment. This past Sunday, I left my purse in the choir room during the church service. I worried the entire service and, needless to say, I did not listen very well to the sermon. After the service, I found my purse exactly where I had left it.

The choir sang an anthem last year that I love for its simplicity. “Innkeeper, Innkeeper, Innkeepers all – do you have room for the Child?” So how does this song fit in with the Scripture for today and the Advent season? I think it speaks to the need to open our hearts and let the true meaning of the Advent season speak to us – keeping our hearts worry free and open – so that we might be ready to welcome the Christ Child.

Prayer: Loving God, during this season I pray for peace, for patience, for awareness of the need to take time to be still; to contemplate; to listen; to be in the moment. Amen.

Brenda Doyle – 2016

Saturday, December 12

Scripture Passage: Luke 3:1-6 “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6)

When expecting out of town guests, one of the first things we probably do is clean the house and put away things that make the house look cluttered. As the Advent season approaches, we anticipate the coming of the Messiah. Are we ready to receive Him? How much spiritual clutter do we have in our hearts? Will this clutter prevent us from experiencing the Spirit of God in our own hearts?

With the recent hurricanes, we have seen how roads become impassable due to downed trees and other debris in the roads. Is the spiritual road to our hearts so cluttered that when Christ comes, He cannot get through? When other things clutter our minds, we can find it difficult to focus on God. Clutter could be other people, jobs, making plans, focusing on leisure activities, or any number of other things that are not Christ-centered. To prepare for the Lord’s coming means clearing out the sinful baggage of the past. Once we clear the clutter and open up the path, we can allow Christ into our hearts. Then we can be transformed, and we will see the mountains of separation and injustice leveled, the valleys of ignorance filled, and the crooked roads made straight (The Interpreter’s Bible, 1952) so we can see where God is leading us.

We learn from Scripture that John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness. There he could focus on God and God’s creation. John had companionship with eternal things. He could see the vastness of God’s creation in the scattering of stars in the sky. He could hear the sounds of creation, and he could hear the voice of God. As we prepare for the coming of the Lord, perhaps we need to find our wilderness so that we, too, can focus on the Messiah and hear God’s voice.

Prayer: Dear Lord, during this Advent season, I pray that I will experience a clean heart and a renewed awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. May the Advent season truly be a time when I will experience spiritual transformation. Amen.

Woody Harton – 2017

Friday, December 11

Scripture Passage: Luke 3:8-20
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)

I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a family where giving back was encouraged, and also in a way expected. We’ve always been pushed to follow whatever service opportunities appeal to us, and Christmas is a time when opportunities for service are all around. One of my favorite things that we participate in is Operation Christmas Child. You pack boxes for children in different countries who might not be receiving any other Christmas presents. These boxes generally include one big “wow factor” item, like a soccer ball or a stuffed animal, but you’re also encouraged to include smaller items. The smaller items generally include things that we take for granted in our day to day lives – things like, toothbrushes, soaps, combs, and clothes. A common habit of first world societies is becoming materialistic and putting the “want to have” stuff over our relationship with God. While giving back is great, one of the most important ways to be His hands and feet is to have a strong relationship with Him.

While this is a time of giving back, it is also a time to remember that we aren’t all perfect. We are sinners, and we do need to recognize that. The act of asking for forgiveness and repenting shows a continued need for God. His forgiveness and love give us a sense of security in our hearts, something only He can do. God wants a relationship with us and one of the biggest ways for him to have a great relationship with us is through our repentance.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please fill us with Your abundant love this season and through the year as we continue our work in making Your world a better place. Please be with us this Christmas season and help us not to get wrapped up in the joy of receiving, but to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Please help us to reach out and embrace the relationship that You have provided for us. Amen.

Cameron Packer – 2015

Thursday, December 10

Scripture Passage: Isaiah 35:1-10 “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.’” (Isaiah 35:4)

Chapter 35 of Isaiah details how parts of the land of Judah that were ravaged by the Assyrian army and turned into wilderness would recover and “blossom profusely.” As in other biblical passages, Isaiah tells us that God will continue to deliver His people from nations that oppress them. So our trust should always be in God and we need not to be anxious regarding God’s plan for us.

I can remember being in school and my teacher asking our class who had been out of their seat while the teacher was with the principal. Whether I was guilty or not, I would always be anxious regarding any punishment that might be forthcoming. That probably stemmed from the fact that I had been guilty before and would certainly be guilty again. The nation of Judah was like that, too. They would enjoy the latter part of King Hezekiah’s reign, but would sin again and endure 70 years in Babylon before returning again to their home.

The focal verse tells Judah not to be anxious because their God will come. Verses 5 and 6 tell of the miracles that the Messiah would perform. Later, when asked by John the Baptist’s disciples if He was the Messiah, Jesus referred to these verses in Matthew 11:5 by saying that “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.”

Anxiety and fear are prevalent in our society. We are anxious about the transition in government, we are facing and fearful of where our world is heading. News of war, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters seem to appear daily. However, just as we think our world is turning back into a wilderness, our focal verse reminds us that “He will come to save you.” When Christ came, the Gentile nations that had been a wilderness were given the opportunity to receive the Gospel and bear fruit. When we receive Christ, we are able to run the race set before us despite our fear, anxiety, and weakness. We are also encouraged to know that Christ came, and will come again, to make restitution for our struggles and to dispense justice to those who have troubled His people. As we prepare for Advent, may we replace fear and anxiety with gladness and shouts of joy!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in this Advent season, we thank You for the gift of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Your word has shown us that we need not be anxious or fearful because You are in control. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us display gladness and joy to everyone. Amen.

Mike Dossett – 2016

Wednesday, December 9

Scripture Passage: John 10:1-15 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“Life is short. Eat dessert first.” “You only live once.” Today’s world is focused around living in the moment and living life “to the fullest.” When I first read the focus verse (written above), that was what I thought Jesus was saying with this parable: God wanted us to go out and take chances and enjoy our lives. While I’m not saying that He doesn’t want us to do these things, once the verse is read in context, it is clear that this was not His intention.

In this passage, Jesus describes people as sheep, with God serving as the shepherd. He explains that there is only one way into the pen (spoiler alert: it’s through Him) and that a shepherd will stand by this gate and guard the sheep from wolves and thieves. With this safeguard in place, the sheep are now free to live their lives chomping on all the grass their little sheepy hearts desire, so long as they remain under the watchful eye of the shepherd. If, however, they choose to leave the pen, they run risk of being stolen or hurt by thieves, who only want to hurt them.

Under God’s care, we are able to do what we are designed to do: as sheep were made to eat grass, we were made to share God’s love. By fulfilling this purpose, we feel a deep satisfaction that cannot be found anywhere else. We are, as Jesus put it, having life and having it to the fullest.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for always watching over us. Please be with us as we try and live our lives to the fullest by sharing Your love with the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Helen Bowen – 2016

Tuesday, December 8

Scripture Passage: Psalm 51 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Writing this devotion has been more difficult than the ones assigned to me in recent years. The others were very easy. The idea came as I was reading the passage the first time. Finding the thought for this one has taken a lot of time and prayer.

This passage illustrates a theory any true scientist is introduced to early in their education: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. My college physics professor had a very unique way of illustrating this to all of us beginning scientists. One day we walked into class to find Dr. Rowan putting several things on the front table that you would not expect to find in a lecture hall of 150 plus students. We were all sitting there wondering how a skateboard, bicycle helmet, and knee and elbow pads were going to play into the day’s lecture. As he started talking, he suited up for his demonstration. After he put the skateboard on the floor, he bent down behind the front counter and came out with a huge wrench and a fire extinguisher size cylinder of carbon dioxide. He proceeded to sit down on the skateboard. He got as close to the wall on the right side of the room as he could. He put his safety glasses on and much to our surprise, he knocked the gauge and valve off the top of the cylinder and immediately started his “flight” across the floor to the other side of the lecture hall. He made it almost all the way to the other wall. As you can imagine, this is one of the college lectures that made an impression on me.

I know the idea of God’s love toward us is so much more one sided that the “equal and opposite” idea Dr. Rowan taught us that day. I hope we can all realize some of the things David says in this Psalm. We have the luxury of knowing that God will forgive our sins. We can receive the “pure heart” David mentions in verse 10. God will wash us and make us whiter than snow as is noted in verse 7. God will sustain us…we just have to be active participants in our relationship with Him.

Prayer: Father, as we approach Christmas, remind each of us that we have You walking with us. Help us embrace the gift we have when compared to the people in David’s time; that we can come straight to you without a “priest” as a middle man. We can come to you with our sins, ask for forgiveness, and receive it. Help us also to be willing to forgive ourselves. Thank You for sending Your Son to walk among us. Thank You for the sacrifice He made so we can bring the things of our heart straight to you. Amen.

Ginger Hayes – 2017

Monday, December 7

Scripture Passage: 1 John 1:5-2:11 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

The word ‘IF’ is such a small word in size to have such a large meaning in our life. If I had only done this or if I had only gone with them that day, and the biggest regret, if I had just told them enough that I love them. There is a saying that goes something like this. “Yesterday is gone, today is almost over, and tomorrow is not guaranteed”. The only guarantee we have in our life is that God loves us, and He forgives us.

In our class’s Sunday School lessons this year, we kept asking ourselves “Why does God keep loving us?” We have studied time and again how God kept loving His children even though they would turn away from Him and continue to sin. Sadly, that theme continues today making the words of verse nine still apply to us today. I kept asking, could they not see what they were doing? Then I received my assigned Advent passage, and it dawned on me that I was just as bad as the children of Israel. To be honest we all are! First, we are not perfect, and second, we were not meant to be.

The key to this passage is that we will sin, but if we recognize our sin, ask God for His forgiveness and confess with an open heart, God will forgive. With that said He did not mean that we could sin with His blessing. We are human and not perfect; therefore, we will make mistakes. Here I say, thank You God for loving us.

Let me leave you with these facts by Dr. Gary M. Gulan, ©1978:

  1. We are to work on our Christian lives so as not to continually fall into sin (1 John 2:1).
  2. We will always have sin present in our lives (because we are not yet glorified (1 John 1:8).
  3. We can’t say that we have not sinned (1 John 1:10).
  4. We need to learn to say the same things God says about our sin, but if we don’t, God is still faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9).
  5. Even though we have sin in our bodies and have committed sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us all our sins (past, present and future) and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9).
  6. When we do sin, Jesus is our “advocate” and our “propitiation” for all our sins (1 John 2:1-2).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for I have sinned. Transform me through Your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Carol Rigsbee – 2017

Sunday, December 6

Scripture Passage: Isaiah 64:1-9 “Yet You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

The prophet Isaiah had much to say to the people of Israel about what they were to do or not to do. These were not the words of Isaiah but words to Isaiah from God for His people. God was trying to prepare the people of Israel for a future of repentance and obedience and turning to Him. Somehow they had a difficult time getting to that point and remaining there, much like us today.

In the passage in Isaiah 64:1-9, God’s people begin with a lament which is a formal expression of sorrow or mourning. They longed for deliverance and recalled the ways in which God had previously intervened. They continued by acknowledging their unworthiness and how God blesses the righteous. Then in the focal passage in verse 8, they begin to build their confidence by saying God is their Father and the potter who made us all with His own hands. They conclude with an appeal for God to look favorably on them, forgetting their sins against him and remembering that they are his people.

During the Advent season when we are focused on the anticipation and preparation for Christ’s coming, following an example of repentance and obedience to God’s will is a good start. We have been carefully and lovingly molded by the very hands of our Father to resemble something of beauty and usefulness. Each piece of pottery is somewhat different when being shaped and molded, but it all serves an important purpose for those who use it when it is finished. During this season, let us all prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ, recognizing our sins, showing sincere repentance, and getting ready to walk by faith in the hope He gives us.

Prayer: Our Father, we come to You as broken pieces of pottery, knowing that as the potter, You can reshape and remold us to make us something of beauty and usefulness. Help us to quiet ourselves during this Advent season so we can hear You speak to us. Show us our sins and then guide us as we recognize them and repent. Help us to be patient as we wait and anticipate Your coming, just as it was on that special night so long ago in Bethlehem. Amen.

Phil and Lucy Woodell – 2016

Saturday, December 5

Scripture Passage: Isaiah 11:1-10 “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

The Babylonian exile brought the kingdom of Judah to an end in 586 B.C. after the Assyrians had all but destroyed it. Verse 1 tells us the Messiah will grow as a shoot from the stump of David’s dynasty. Like David, the Messiah will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit will endow Him with wisdom to understand wise purposes and power to carry out those purposes (v.2).

Verse 6 foresees the peace of the Messianic age, envisioning the possibility of children getting along with ferocious animals. The description continues in verses 7 and 8, noting that in God’s peaceful kingdom, carnivores will become herbivores, natural enemies will become companions, and little children will be able to play safely near the dwellings of venomous snakes. This picture anticipates the end of terror, fright, and danger in the coming kingdom.

The picture of little children leading formerly ferocious and vicious animals and being unafraid of formerly venomous reptiles should remind us of the way God intended it to be in the Garden of Eden. I love to witness the relationship between my grandchildren and their pet cat and dog which are both rescues. One can easily observe the bond between the children and the domesticated animals whose love is the closet to God’s unconditional love that human beings will likely experience on this earth (my opinion).

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and we have suffered the results of original sin since. Jesus Christ came in the first advent as the perfect atonement for the sins of humanity, and those who accept Him as Lord and Savior will one day be with Him eternally. In the meantime, we must pray fervently, evangelize, engage, and witness at every opportunity as we await the second advent which will make all things. Be ready!

Prayer: Our most gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for Your provision of hope and assurance. We are not worthy, but by Your grace and Your mercy, You make all things possible. In this Christmas season after experiencing a bitter election season with great division, we pray for harmony and unity. We pray that by Your divine guidance and wisdom, we will put aside our differences and focus on the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior. Help us to remember that first and foremost, we are Christians, and help us to strive to model Jesus in our actions and in our words. In the most precious name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we offer this prayer. Amen.

Jim Baggett – 2016