Friday, December 4

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)

Isaiah 64:1-9 is part of a lament that begins with Isaiah 63:7. Dennis Bratcher defines a lament as a prayer that cries out to God with desperation because of grief, pain, or circumstances that seem out of control. The first part of the lament covers Isaiah 63:7-19. In these verses, Isaiah’s petition to God stresses praise to God for His past help of His people. Isaiah refers to God as a redeemer, a Savior, one who shows mercy and love to His people. These verses seem to imply that Isaiah is trying to play on the Lord’s sympathies by reminding God of the times when He had come to the aid of His people. Near the end of Isaiah 63, the verses begin to question God’s lack of response to His people’s current predicament.

Isaiah 64 continues the lament, but in a more demanding way. Gone is the plea for God to respond to the people’s need. Isaiah 64:1 borders on a demand that God show His power and come to their aid immediately. Isaiah wants God to demonstrate His concern by saving the people from the turmoil that they are experiencing. There is even cajoling by asserting the power that God always had, i.e. verse 4b “… no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait on Him.” Yet Isaiah’s words also speak truth by admitting that God’s people have sinned.

The focal verse, Isaiah 64:8, demonstrates resolution in Isaiah’s petition. Isaiah confesses that God can shape the people in any way He chooses. God is in control and has power over everything. Isaiah concludes that though he can petition God with any number of claims, God responds in His own way and own time.

As we celebrate this Advent season, we recognize that there are situations that are impossible for us to change. We feel overwhelmed by what is going on in the world today – wars, natural disasters, feuding nations, genocide, corrupt politics, incurable diseases, poverty, and more. We pray each day for God’s deliverance. But we need to understand that God is aware of these situations, and we must believe that He is at work. We may not be able to see the tangibles of God’s work, but our faith tells us that God is at work. As we celebrate the Savior’s birth, we need to reflect on the hope it brings to each of us, and we need to confess as Isaiah did: “We are all the work of Your hand.”

Prayer: Lord, I pray that this season will be one that brings us renewed hope that peace will come into our midst and that we will each do our part in bringing about this peace by living in Your Word. Amen.

Phyllis Edwards – 2017

Thursday, December 3

Scripture Passage: Isaiah 11:1-10 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1)

Crack…. thud! It was a common sound for anyone living in central NC during the ice storm of December 2002 as ice-laden tree limbs crashed to the ground. Hardest hit on our property was a Bradford pear tree—a large branch broke away, leaving a gaping hole. As it turns out, though prized for its dense upward growth and prolific white blossoms, the Bradford pear is notorious for the way it weathers—or, more accurately, cannot weather—a storm. A coating of ice, or even a 40-mph wind gust, and not only does the tree lose limbs, but also, in some cases, it splits—damaging the tree so badly that the only remedy is to chop it down—leaving nothing but an unsightly stump.

Multiply this image by a few thousand, and you’ll have an idea of what Israel looked like in Isaiah’s time: a land of stumps—literally and figuratively. Its forests felled by the conquering Assyrians, Israel’s people also felt cut down, disheartened, and forlorn. War, genocide, oppression, famine—the litany of all that Israel endured reads much like our newspaper headlines today.

Indeed, our nation and world have faced many storms this year—and not just natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and fire. The images of famine, race riots, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings in both public and sacred places are storms we have faced while dealing with our own personal ones—the loss of loved ones, discouraging diagnoses, financial woes, and broken relationships. Yes, we have faced storms this year that would fell the strongest of us.

Yet the first candle of Advent is Hope. In a world filled with stumps, Isaiah 11:1 reminds us that stumps aren’t always barren. The Bradford pear is resilient. As anyone who’s chopped one down can attest—at some point a little green shoot starts growing. Unkempt and homely, it’s also beautiful—a reminder that though it may not look like we thought it would, or appear in the most convenient place, hope is alive.

On this first day of Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ not only as a Babe in Bethlehem, but also as our returning, conquering King. May our hearts be fertile ground in which the green shoot of God’s hope might grow. Stumps aren’t always barren. Through God’s work and grace, they offer us a glimpse of the holy.

Prayer: Loving God, as we face the storms of life, fill us with the hope that comes in knowing that Christ is present and is coming again. Amen.

Amy Herring – 2017

Wednesday, December 2

Scripture Passage: Romans 13:11-14
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)

I was at my favorite garden shop early in November and much of their display area was bare. Instead of the usual plants, outdoor furniture, and garden-related decorative items, there were empty tables, with signs proclaiming, “Future Christmas display” and “Hold for Christmas.”

I suspect within a few days the shelves started filling up with camellias and poinsettias, Christmas trees and holiday bric-a-brac. There’s no doubt that Christmas is coming, faster and faster each year. Well before Thanksgiving the stores are full of Christmas merchandise, the radio is playing Christmas music, and we are overwhelmed. There is so much to do – houses to decorate, choir cantatas to rehearse, present to buy, cards to send, meals to prepare, hand bell concerts to attend. We must get ready.

It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holiday and neglect our spiritual preparations. In his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul warned them that they had less time than they thought to get ready for Christ’s return. The night is nearly over, he wrote. Wake up! Wake up! He cautioned them to focus their attention on preparing themselves for that day by letting go of worldly things. Paul specifically mentioned drunkenness, sexual immorality, and dissension and jealousy as the “desires of the flesh” that should be avoided, but we know that list in not exhaustive. We should abandon anything that interferes with our relationship with Jesus.

As we enter the Christmas season, we must prepare our hearts and minds for what is to come – not only the birth of the baby Jesus that we celebrate each December, but his death and resurrection, his continuing presence in the world today, and his return, certainly no as soon as the early Christians believed, but so much sooner that we think. Wake up! Wake up!

Prayer: Lord, help us let go of things that keep us from experiencing the Christmas You want for us, a Christmas that brings us closer to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rhonda Welfare – 2013

Tuesday, December 1

Scripture Passage: Romans 13:8-14
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)

Officiating at a wedding in Asheville a few years ago, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting and sharing dinner with one of North Carolina’s most well-known and respected leaders. When I told my wife, Karen, who my host was and where I was dining that evening, her response was, “Well, I hope you are wearing your best clothes!” The right clothes are important to us. What one “puts on” needs to fit self, fashion, season, and occasion. Yet in these verses, Paul exhorts Christians not to focus on the outward person (the flesh) and neglect one’s spirit. Indeed, the advent of Christ means Christians no longer just “dress to impress” the world’s fashion police. Rather, our salvation through Christ’s coming calls us to “dress up” our spirits that we may “walk properly, as in the day” (v. 13) rather than “the night.”

Paul says this “armor of light” is Christ himself. (“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”) He had already explained that those who walk in the light of Christ will reflect the same look and feel of the love of God revealed in Christ, never ever a harsh legalism. Note how he reminds us: … “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (13:10b)

In his latest book, A Full Life, ninety-year-old former President, Jimmy Carter, shares lessons he learned while spending a week in Springfield, Massachusetts, on mission with Pastor Eloi Cruz witnessing to Hispanic families. Near the end of their venture, the admiring Carter quizzed Cruz about what had made him such a gentle but effective Christian witness. The humble pastor told Carter: “… our Savior cannot do much with a man who is hard;” therefore, he tried to follow one simple rule: “You only have two loves in your life; for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.” (p. 96) Indeed, during the season of Advent, the wonders of Christ’s coming keep challenging all believers to wake up and walk in the light. By consciously “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” each new day, we, too, can effectively fulfill our mission … not only exhibiting love for God but, simultaneously, being empowered through Christ to love all those the Lord puts in front of us.

Prayer: Dear Father, who loved us by sending Your Son, our Savior, forgive us for being habitually casual and careless regarding our spirit’s dress. As those who are prone and often content to be draped in dark angers, harsh judgments, selfish desires and thoughtless apathy, wake us up every morning to be so mindful of Christ’s coming, so well-dressed by His Spirit… that others can see the reflection of God’s love and come to know Jesus as Lord. Amen.

Steve Bolton – 2015

Monday, November 30

Scripture Passage: Mark 13:24-37
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” (Mark 13:35)

Mark 13 begins with Jesus and the apostles leaving the temple. As they do, one makes remarks concerning the grandeur of the temple. Jesus informs them that the temple will be destroyed and that troubling times are coming. Jesus also predicts His second coming, telling them “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

When we were expecting, we wanted to know exactly when our children were to arrive; however, even with regular doctor visits, it was not to be. Jenny and Amy both came later than expected. In fact, Amy’s arrival came hours after a phone call in which Rachel told Mike the baby would not arrive until his ship returned in a couple weeks. She also was not the boy the ultrasound predicted.

Jesus then tells a parable about how we are to approach the second coming. Some early believers were so sure it would be soon that they chose not to work, but Jesus tells us just the opposite. The parable concerns a master that goes on a journey and charges his servants to perform their tasks while he is away. The master also lets them know that they will be accountable when he returns.

When our girls were older, we would sometimes run some errands and leave them with chores to do. Invariably, they wanted to know exactly when we would return. Then, they could play until the very minute when they would have to begin their chores to avoid issues with Mom and Dad. As Christians, we are not ever to “slack off”, but should daily be working for our God. Our love for Christ should prompt us to serve Him faithfully every day. All of us have been gifted with talents we are to be using continuously. We don’t want to be “playing” when Jesus returns. Furthermore, we don’t want to put off what we need to be doing until tomorrow, as tomorrow might not come.

Serving daily seems hard, especially when we feel weak. In our recent Bible study on Gideon, Priscilla Shirer pointed out that the 300 chosen to battle the Midianites were those who drank in a manner where they also remained alert. This Advent Season, let us strive to always remain alert while working, so that if our Lord comes, we might be found “in peace, without spot, and blameless.”

Prayer: Father, we are often tired and want to rest. We lose sight of what we need to be doing for You. We pray that the excitement of celebrating the birth of our Savior will renew our commitment to using our gifts and talents daily for You. May we always be found ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Mike and Rachel Dossett – 2015

Sunday, November 29

Scripture Passage: 2 Peter 3:8-18 “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:14)

The beginning of each new semester is a time of expectation for teachers, students, and administrators alike. Each person, whether consciously or unconsciously, approaches the opportunities of that semester with some excitement and also with some level of trepidation. Am I prepared? Do I have the necessary resources, skills, stamina, patience, and/or intellectual base to provide the knowledge and challenges necessary, to garner and process new information, or to lead and undergird the learning environment? They make efforts to prepare themselves to be successful in the academic enterprise for the benefit of their careers or future careers.

Tonight, Mary and I stood at our back door looking out over Parkwood Lake in anticipation of the rising of the perigee moon, a full moon at its closest point to earth since 1948. In the clear night sky, the moon did indeed look fuller than ever.

During the Advent season, Christians engage in anticipation and spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We desire to focus our attention on the birth of this baby who by God’s grace brings transforming love to the people of the world. Through the Messiah – His life, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection – Peter proclaims in 2 Peter 1:1, “we have received a faith as precious as ours”.

Peter reminds believers that “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him (Jesus) who called us by His own goodness and glory” (2 Peter 1:3). Then, he exhorts us to “make every effort” to “add to your faith” (1:5) and to “confirm your calling and election” (1:10). In our devotional passage, Peter calls on believers to look forward, to expect, to anticipate, and to prepare diligently for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ by making every effort to be pure in reality, pure in reputation, and at peace with God – not just a peace of mind, but a fully developed relationship with God.

Prayer: Our dear Heavenly Father, we pray for Your guidance as we seek to guard our hearts from spiritual error, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to live to glorify Him. Amen.

John Myers – 2016