BY MARY SPENCE
"Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
(Philippians 4:9 NIV)
You know how all the pieces of a puzzle have various shapes?
Some pieces are edge pieces... some have arms or "knobs" and some are indented or have "holes". It strikes me how like the pieces of a puzzle we are in our community.
I was sitting with a friend recently talking about how God arranges people in our lives for a certain time or place. How God will use the most unexpected people in our lives to help us move forward to the next level. How just the right person comes alongside you and offers support, advice or help. Not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. All our pieces are perfectly designed to fit together. In areas where we have a lacking or a deficit God places just the right "piece" alongside us. Where their "knob" fits exactly as it should in our life. And in those places where we have a gifting He will bring along just the right situation for our gifts to be used. I find such comfort in the knowledge that in His perfect plan each of us has a piece of it; that we will be used in our unique shape and gifting to be a part of the larger plan. As we each intersect with one another we begin to complete the puzzle if we are faithful and obedient and respond to His call.
Each of us has our own role to play, our own place in the divine tapestry...Just as in a puzzle where you can't see the complete picture until each piece is in place. As all those differently shaped pieces fill openings we can begin to see the larger picture unfold.
However, if even one piece is missing the image is not complete. We begin searching high and low for the missing piece. It's just not complete without that one lost piece. For without that one specific individual piece to complete the picture it is incomplete. Just as how Jesus searches for the lost one; He looks high and low, until He finds that one soul who was lost.
So if you are feeling lost or disconnected today, I encourage you to reach out. Get back to church, call a friend or accountability person. Or find a place to serve, to bless someone else, because your piece is important in someone else's puzzle.
We thank you for our various giftings and that you have a specific individual plan for each and every one of us. That we are each a vital part of you wondrous plan for this world. We are grateful for your everlasting love for us and that you have a personal interest in each of our lives. Guide us each day Heavenly Father to submit to your wonderful plan and move when prompted or to hold our tongue until your timing is right. Give us the wisdom to know when it is your will and not our will. We pray for discernment and patience to wait on you and your timing. In your precious son's holy name. Amen.
BY DONNA CHURCHILL
I had never celebrated Advent until several years ago – well into adulthood! It was never a tradition that we celebrated when I was growing up. Now that I know more about it and what it means, I look forward to it every year.
The time before Christmas is called Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas. Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. During Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savor’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate His first coming at Christmas.
One definition of Advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. The word Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is all about a season of preparation. A time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the coming Christ.
At this time of year, we often hear someone ask, “So, are you ready?” Usually that means – do you have everything done that you need to do – fix up and clean the house, decorate the house, buy the tree, decorate the tree, endless shopping to buy the presents, wrap the presents, do the baking, writing out and sending the Christmas cards, etc, etc.
But this question now reminds me of getting ready – not for the Christmas holiday – but getting reading to receive Him, born afresh and anew in my heart. That’s what Advent is really all about – the preparation of the heart to receive Emmanuel. Even though, as Christians, we’ve already received Him, our hearts can become complacent in appreciating the gift of His coming. That’s what I love about Advent. It reminds me again that the greatest gift, the greatest treasure I could ever receive, is indeed already mine!
Celebrating Advent causes me to slow down and focus on the Messiah and His presence in my life – at all times – but especially during this season which can rob our attention from Him and onto all the trappings the world deems so important this time of year. It causes me to quiet my spirit and sit before Him. It causes me to ponder His ways and search my heart. It causes me to reflect on how I’m celebrating the season and preparing for Him or it causes me to see where I fall short of that.
I have celebrated Advent using several different devotionals over the years. I love the daily readings that help me to “zoom in” on the Lord. Each day I stop, slow down and focus on some part of the Advent story. My heart is quieted and turned toward Him, which helps my focus for the day.
The first Sunday in Advent, (which was celebrated this past Sunday) we light the candle of Hope. And as we do, we’re reminded that our hope is in the person of Jesus Christ. We wait with hearts full of expectant hope for the one who has/will save us.
“And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.”
The second Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Love.
“For God so loved…..that He gave….”
God so loved you…God so loved me. He gave…His only Son became God incarnate. He became man and experienced all that man can experience as man…because of love. He came and dwelt among us…as one of us. Emmanuel – God with us! And this is the love that 33 years later would go to the cross in my place, in your place, to reconcile us to the Father. This is the love that not only was born in a lowly stable, but is also born in our sin-stained, foul hearts when invited!
The third Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Joy. Joy is not happiness and happiness is not joy. Joy originates from faith, for joy is the very essence of faith. Joy is lasting; happiness is temporal. Joy is rooted in our faith; happiness is rooted in the moment, a fleeting moment. Joy, true joy, focuses on Jesus and who He is; happiness focuses on self. Joy causes our attention to be captured by the Giver more than the benefit or gift received.
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
1 John 1:4
The fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Peace. Our world is not a very peaceful place right at the moment. With all that is happening, it would certainly seem peace is impossible to find. But into all this darkness and hopelessness comes one who offers us hope and says to us peace can be ours! True peace is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus – the Prince of Peace!
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
I love the readings of Advent and the anticipation created in my heart. I love the opportunity to turn my heart toward Him during this season. I feel a greater excitement of His presence in my day during this season. It’s like the excitement and anticipation a child feels waiting for Christmas.
But how much greater the “Gift” of Jesus than the temporal gifts we give each other??
Are you ready?
Are you ready……….to receive Him?
Are you ready………….…….to celebrate Him?
Are you ready to embrace His presence this Christmas season?
BY JEFF DAUGHERTY
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
I read a bible verse the other day and thought I would share it with you.
Psalm 32:8-9, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
This told me many things. First, God will teach me what I need to know, he will show me the direction I need to take. Second, He warns me not to be like a mule that is stubborn and will not move without much prodding. I must be open and ready to God’s directions. All I need to say is “yes Lord”.
Have faith and the words will come. Be ready to say “Yes Lord” and He will take the lead. There is a lesson in this for all of us.
If God wants you to walk along a specific path will you stand, steadfast in one spot, until he tells you a direction? God will gladly give us direction. What he will not do, no matter how much we may plead with him to do so, give us a swift kick in the hind quarters to get us moving. That part is entirely up to us.
Taking that first step is usually a tough one to take. Why does God not give us a shove? Because that first step requires us to put our trust in him. It takes a great deal of faith to step out even when we do not know the direction we are going. It is like Peter stepping out of the boat and onto the water in Matthew 14:29. It didn’t take him long to sink, however. But he did take that first leap of faith. Stepping out in faith is not a single step victory. It merely starts with one step. Then you give praise to the Lord for helping you to take that step. Then you take another step. He will be there to guide us and protect us. Ever vigilant the Father is over his children.
A child will jump without a thought of fear because they know that their parent is there to catch them. Why is it that a leap of that kind gets tougher the older we get? Because we can reason and rationalize things. Because we hesitate long enough with the door open and let fear creep in and overtake us. Sort of like standing at the fridge with the door open trying to decide what you want to eat for a snack.
But how do you take that first step when simply getting out of bed is a monumental task? For those who are severely depressed gathering that will is beyond comprehension. Go ahead and take that first step. That is easy for me to say, right?
I am not some all-knowing Christian with a hotline direct to God. I am just a flawed sinner who once begged God to show him that He was real. I am just a person who learned how to trust and rely upon God. I am someone who learned the truth.
You are loved. You are important. Imagine that you are sitting in your living room watching the Super Bowl with a few friends. You sit and cheer for your favorite team. Things may have not been that cheerful in your life for quite some time, but I am sure that you can remember such an event. You can hear the cheers erupt as your favorite player makes a huge play.
You have such a cheering section. Imagine God sitting in front of a big screen TV with a few of his angels and saints. There share some popcorn and watch your life as it unfolds before them. Filled with drama and emotion, your story has their eyes glued to every moment. They see you about to take the first step in your personal leap of faith and they begin to cheer. But you hesitate and do not take that leap. God may be all-knowing, but the angels sitting with him are not. They let out a sigh of empathy for you. Tears flow down their cheeks as they watch you.
“You were so close”, they cry.
“Don’t give up!”, some shout.
But God, listening to their pleas, motions for them to settle down and keep quiet.
“This is my favorite part,” he says as he leans forward toward the edge of his seat.
All of the angels and saints lean forward as if it would help them to see it a little better.
Silence fills the room as your life continues to unfold across the screen.
But this time you, at your lowest point, give up trying to control what is uncontrollable. In a final act of broken surrender, you decide to take that step, no matter where it may lead. You tried to do it on your own and it didn’t work. You are a little unsure but you reach out with your foot as you take that small, but crucial first step.
That is when you realize you have been holding your breath for the past several moments. As your foot moved forward and you feel the steady earth below it, you let out a deep breath.
From God's TV room, the crowd erupts with a cheer that would topple most earthbound stadiums. As proud as a father watching his child take their first step, God watches on. He knew you could do it.
But for you, in the here and now, preparing to take that step is pretty terrifying. My question to you is this.
Why is it terrifying?
Is it the thought of giving up control? Maybe that is it. Right now, you are in control.
How is that working out for you so far? Not so good, huh?
Realizing that you cannot do it alone is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a sign of maturity and growth.
Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
You can do it.
I know you can.
Christ believes in you.
Believe in him. Trust that he will take your hand. Trust that he will protect you as you walk.
We are not talking about a Neal Armstrong type of leap.
Just one small step.
I promise, it will change your life.