Advent Devotional 2014-Day 2

Prologue 

Luke 1:26-35, 38-55 (NIV)

 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.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

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

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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…”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

maryandelizabeth1-500x370At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

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

The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 By Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 1

Introduction

Sandi Baker

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

A couple of years ago, while doing a Beth Moore Bible Study, these words were in the margin. Now, I had been thinking about this Advent/Love devotion thing for a while! Maybe this is the passage God has wanted me to explore.

My “Suitcasewandering spirit” was aroused. I dearly love to explore God’s world. I am a world traveler—and there is nothing I love better. (I was the one who inherited that gene!) But nothing on this earth will prepare me for what my loving Father has arranged for me. Because of His love for me, He has prepared an eternity that no mind can conceive.

I love Him because He first loved me. He sent His only Son as a baby to love me. Because of this, I can experience God’s perfect love for me, for others, and for this imperfect world.

HeartDiv

God sent us with so many talents. I believe it is our “duty and delight” to use those talents. I thought about the many talented friends I have been blessed with at Pilgrim. Would they be willing to take a step of faith with me and stretch a little for us all?

This is the result.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful world filled with your natural wonders. And thank you for these talented people who shared their gifts. Bless them all for being willing to stretch their faith and share their hearts with us all. Amen.

The Love of the Creator

Is it possible to be a creator and not love the creation? When we are in the midst of the creative process, there is a time when we give our whole mind, body, and spirit over to the development of this ‘thing.’ Our heart and soul becomes fully immersed and a transformation of sorts occurs—even a love affair (in the purest sense) transpires. I think this is the way it must be with God, too. We are told in Genesis that we were created in ‘His image’ and this creation was very good. He loved us. God put His whole heart and soul into us, His creation. So God’s creative process was by virtue of Himself.

CanyonlandsAll of this was swirling around in my head as I stood on the rim of a number of canyons in a few National Parks last month. No two places were really quite the same yet all filled me with awe and the overwhelming majesty of it all. You get the undeniable sense that you are looking at the creation of the earth (some sediment at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is thought to be original matter from the beginnings of things). You are struck by the unique rock formations (one arched rock was shaped like a large eye… like God’s eye looking out at the earth He created), the colors ever changing through light and shadow, the purity of crystal clear waterfalls, the foliage and the wild life. All products of a wonderful creator who had put His heart and soul into this natural space and a love affair with it transpired. I found myself repeating “Oh I love this’ so often I lost count!

You can understand why ancient people (and even modern man) worship nature. It is ‘other worldly.’ It is untainted by man with a natural order all its own. It is spiritual. But for me, I felt the presence of God in everything I looked at. At first, looking over the vastness of it all, my lifetime on this earth is but a wisp of wind across a deep, striated cavern (like a speck of sand upon the beach). But then The Word came to me saying ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’…. ‘for we are mysteriously and wonderfully made’. Rather than feeling small and insignificant, I felt enriched and blessed. I felt loved! And the natural response was to love back….in the serenity and stillness of the magnificent creations (‘Be still and know that I am God’).

Sometimes I feel that with our desire to be a ‘modern’ church, in tune with the times, something ‘sacred’ is lost. There’s so much anthropocentric commotion going on, that the ‘holiness’ is lost as well. That’s the very time we need to ‘let go and let God’. All this is what I came away with as I wound my way home—back to the noise, the business, the human dilemma: we have a wonderful creator who loves us overwhelmingly; who is with us continually; who wants a real relationship (a love affair if you will) with us; who is creative, sacred, and holy; who loves to be loved! Wow!

I realize you don’t have to jump in the car and go to a National Park to ‘find God’, but you can pray (talk to Him heart to heart). You can praise Him. You can worship Him and read His Word. You can worship Him in all sacredness and holiness… you can love Him. Think theocentric and do it!

 

Church, why are we here?

By Steve Schumacher, PastorLoveLogo

“Church, why are we here?” That was the question I invited us to wrestle with in mid-September, on Rally Day, as we kicked off the new church year.

Rally Day also introduced our theme for being the Church, here in this place, in the coming year: to “Love as Jesus Loves.”

The Bible study I am leading this fall in 1st, 2nd, & 3rd John was chosen to explore what it means to love as Jesus loves.

1st John 3 says,
11For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another … 16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

And then, 1st John asked,
17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

The exhortation for us as Christians is,
18… let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

So, Church, why are we here?

We might answer the question “Why” by saying the life of this church is patterned after our 4 core values & 8 practices of discipleship:

  • Vibrant Worship: Worship; Prayer
  • Bible Centered Growth and Teaching: Bible Study; Faith Conversations
  • Nurturing Congregational Care: Fellowship; Encouragement
  • Intentional Outreach and Evangelism: Serving; Giving

But then we could ask again, “Why?” “Why do all this stuff?” And so we might answer again that the Church exists to reform & transform lives. Or, we could answer along the lines of what C.S. Lewis wrote, the church exists to “make little Christs.”

The Apostle Paul says, as Christians we are “growing up into the full measure of the stature of Christ,” which is the same thing. Or, we could say the church is here to “call and train people to lives of discipleship;” which, again, is probably the same thing.

But then we can still ask “why?” “To what end?” So, we might answer: “to be a presence in the community for good, healing, health, and wholeness.” That is, to participate in growing God’s kingdom; or is it, to participate in God’s growing kingdom.

But like a child, we might still ask “why?” And the exasperated parental answer after too many “Why?”’s, “Because I said so,” doesn’t work here any better.

How about, the Church is the place where “two worlds collide.” The church is here to point to Jesus; and people come here saying, “We wish to see Jesus.” And in that collision, is the reason for the church.

Here-in lies the “Why” for the church … to be a place where people see Jesus, and then search for, explore, inquire, and learn what my life will look like now because of my seeing. And the answer is to “Love as Jesus Loves”—which is seen through His cross.

And we “Love as Jesus Loves” as we are a presence in the community for good, healing, health, and wholeness; that is as we participate in growing God’s kingdom, and in God’s growing kingdom.

And we learn how to do that by our 4 core values & 8 practices of discipleship: worship, Bible study, prayer, and the rest. This church strives to be a place where people are “called and trained into lives of discipleship.” The 8 practices of discipleship are the means by which we seek to accomplish this goal.

As our lives are re-formed & transformed we will become “little Christs” and “grow up into the full measure of the stature of Christ;” that is, we come to “love as Jesus loves.”

As we are a place that points to Jesus, and as we are a people who come to this place to seek Jesus and his way of life, then in that collision we will have fulfilled our purpose for being here.

I pray that each of you will become ever more passionate in your seeking Jesus, and the life he gives you. May you be filled with passion, joy, and a sense of purpose, as you join with others at Pilgrim who are seeking the same thing. And may Pilgrim be a place that always points to Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.

 

 

The Third Article

By Jay Bates

Twenty-five years ago, when Krista and I were bible camp counselors in South Central Minnesota, we performed in a musical that concluded each camp week.  The musical was called Catechism Cataclysm, and it was about the challenges that an innovative new pastor (he rode a Harley to church) faced while teaching confirmation classes to a collection of misfit teenagers.  The lyrics for all the songs were directly taken from Luther’s Small Catechism, while the music was as fully modern as a rock band—with electric guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums—could provide.  There was the “Baptism Rap,” a blues-rock explanation of all Ten Commandments, and soulful rendition of the Apostles Creed—including a Gospel choir spin on the explanation of The Third Article (my favorite).

Each Thursday night, Krista sang the song explaining The Third Article: “I believe that I cannot believe by my own understanding or faith.  I can’t believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Ghost calls me through the Gospels, enlightens me with good gifts, and has sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.” 

Luther was right.  This is most certainly true.

I confess that I learned more about the Lutheran doctrine and theology that summer while performing in that musical (I played electric guitar) than I learned in two years of confirmation classes.  I learned that there was no more to fear in Luther’s text than in Shakespeare’s—that the texts did not need to be made relevant to me because it already was relevant.  The music was simply the packaging of a text that is so often dismissed because it is considered old.

But like all great literature (Shakespeare, Homer, Hugo, Tolstoy), Luther’s words are always new.  We may need help from a translation that knows us, but in no way diminishes the content.

This year, our daughter Emma will be confirmed on Pentecost Sunday, the weekend of her fourteenth birthday.  She, along with her fellow confirmands, has been blessed by the Holy Spirit her entire life, has felt the breath of God pass through her, and has been kept in the one truth faith in Jesus Christ.  She may not fully understand, as I didn’t at her age, the doctrine we have raised her to believe, but she has expressed an interest in someday working at a bible camp where—who knows?—the gifts of the Spirit will continue to pour upon her, just as they are upon all of us.

Lift High the Cross

by Sonja Hobson

Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

As Jeff and I were talking about our plans for Super Bowl Sunday this year, you all might be horrified to hear that the words that came out of my mouth were “I cannot wait for this stupid football season to be over.” Now before you throw down this Pilgrim’s Progress in disgust and call me out on Hawk Country Beast Mode Blasphemy, just hear me out!

Whenever I think of the Seahawks super successful season of 2013-2014, it will always in part remind me of a very difficult and painful period of my life. Maybe some of you can understand. Maybe it’s not a football season that triggers the pain of a crisis or loss, maybe for you it’s a different season – the sound of Christmas carols or the smell of fall might remind you of a difficult time in your past that you would prefer not to relive.

I was thinking about this as I was driving Ellie to school that cold and sunny Wednesday following the Super Bowl. And God, in His grace, gave me a new perspective; a new vision to accompany the memory of this season. As we drove into the Puyallup Valley, we started noticing groups of people flocking towards the Sounder train station. Everyone was bundled up, but noticeably all dressed in their Seahawks gear. Green hair, blue scarves, 12th man flags flying – everyone was walking confidently with purpose towards their destination. They were headed to the train to ride to that victory parade.

The verse from Luke immediately came to mind as I watched those loyal fans congregate to the train. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Those Hawks fans were ready that Wednesday to ride that train and join in the celebration. They had got up early, cleared their schedules and prepared for a day of holding that 12th man flag high and celebrating the victors from their home state.
Now imagine for a moment if every number 12 displayed proudly on flags, signs, sweatshirts, fingernails, and skyscrapers was replaced with the symbol of our Savior – the cross. Imagine the cross displayed proudly from the top of the Space Needle, to the front porch of every home and business, to the cover photo of every Facebook profile. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Every day we have a choice to take up our cross and follow Him. That morning, it became clear to me that taking up our cross should not be a trudging death march of aching misery. When we take up our cross and follow Him, we have the blessing of congregating with other believers and taking that journey to the victory parade. The battle is being waged right now, but the victor has already been crowned. Your ticket there is bought and paid for and a front row seat is ready and waiting just for you at the party. Jesus carried His cross, so that you could join in on the celebration and meet Him face to face.

We must not forget that for us to carry that cross raised high, our hands must be empty and ready to hold it. Jesus demonstrated and called us to sacrifice. Our schedules must be cleared and we must be prepared for the journey and the calling. Jesus also stated in this Luke passage that His disciples must “deny themselves” in order to pick up that cross and follow Him. Seeing the loyalty of those football fans made me stop and ask myself: When was the last time I cleared my schedule for the sole purpose of glorifying God? When have I denied myself those creature comforts I crave to stand in the cold for the sake of the Gospel? When have I last proudly displayed the cross of Christ – literally or in my actions or words? What about you? What is keeping you today from holding the cross up high and joining the journey to the victory parade? Is it fear stopping you? Is it pride or the worry of what others will think? Are you holding too tight to your bitterness, insecurities, or your addictions? Are your hands busy creating the most perfect, comfortable existence for you and your family?

I encourage you during this wonderful Easter season to think about this whenever you see a 12th man flag on the car in front of you, or in the window of your favorite restaurant. Imagine that cross lifted high over every city in every country. Let go of whatever is filling your hands, and take up your cross. The train is waiting for you and the ticket is free. Don’t miss out on the Victory Parade.