Advent Devotional 2014-Day 7

A Parent’s Love

Matt DeBoer

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

The best example of love I experience on a day-to-day basis is a parent’s love for a child, especially young children. A parent loves their child when they keep you up at night, when they test the limits, and through every power struggle. Parents are delighted with every achievement, persevere through every failure, and use discipline to rein in what goes astray. Taken in total, parents gladly accept the mundane tasks of cleaning up all of the little messes and scrapes of life for the joy of seeing their child grow and mature over the days and years.

Consider what you would do if a wild animal (insert your worst nightmare here) were to come near your child. You might grab the child and run, or attack wildly with any handy weapon, sharp or dull. In either case, there is no question whether you will risk your life to put yourself between the child and the animal. So, on the one hand, a parent is a nurturing caregiver, and on the other hand a formidable warrior. In that way, a parent’s love for a child is like God’s love for us.

god_is_love_by_liriheart-d4128hnGod watches over and loves us, protecting His children from the threats of an imperfect world. Not that we are never exposed to danger, death, or disease because we most certainly are. But know that God has a plan for you and the ultimate good that will result. God wants us to succeed as Christians, taking joy in our accomplishments and forgiving our frailties. Take comfort in knowing that God embraces you as a parent does a child, and nothing shall separate us from Him.

God our Father, I stand in your presence aware of my imperfections and overwhelmed by your love for me. I thank you that there is no human experience that I might face where your love cannot reach me. Teach me to be content in your love that asks nothing more than the trusting faith of a child. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 6

Loving the Unlovable

Nancy Haughee

For this is the message you heard from the
beginning: We should love one another
unlovable
let us not love with words or speech but
with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:11, 18

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves:
do what it says.”  James 1:22

It sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Love one another. And it would be easy to love one another if everyone was always polite, generous, even-tempered, and kind. However, as humans, we do not live up to that description. We are decidedly NOT always lovable—some of us are that way most of the time.

Is that an excuse to ignore or be unkind to those who are unlovable? Absolutely not! We are directed by God Almighty to love each other at all times and in all seasons—even when we are not so loveable. We are directed to love those who persecute us, those who may lie, cheat, steal, even murder. Jesus is our example in this. He loved us—even the most sinful and nastiest of us—so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment we deserve upon Himself and paying the price God demands for sin. All we have to do is believe that Jesus, the son of God, took our place on the cross, died and rose again conquering sin and death forever.

That is the easy part. The hard part is living out our gratitude to God by truly loving one another in deed and in truth. It is not a “maybe” request—it is an absolute necessity. We cannot do it on our own but with Jesus’ help, spending time with Him in the scriptures and in prayer, we can work at it. The more we look at others through Jesus’ eyes of love, the better able we will be to truly love them and treat them as a precious child of God regardless of circumstances.

Lord God, help us to love one another in deed and in truth as You command. Let us see each person we come in contact with as one of Your precious children, treating them as we would like to be treated. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 5

The God Chapter

Melody Rath

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 We hear this passage—called the Love Chapter—most often at weddings. And while the sentiments are appropriate in a “romantic love” kind of way, the Apostle Paul is describing something entirely different.

Paul has been talking about spiritual gifts and the importance each part plays in the body of Christ—the church. No part is considered more important than another is; all the parts are necessary to make the body complete. Then he tells us, in chapter 13, that if these gifts are used without love, they are useless. For example, verse 3 says, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

At this time of year, we express love for our family, friends, and neighbors through gift giving. We even participate in collecting and distributing food and gifts to the needy. Gifts can certainly express love. However, if I’m just checking something off my list or looking for some personal benefit, I have missed the point of Paul’s message.

God-is-love_472_275_80The first epistle of John (4:8) tells us that “God is love.” With that in mind, go back and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 again, substituting every reference to “love” with “God” (even read the whole God chapter!).

If we always put God first, our gifts will be given in Love and used for His glory. That truly is THE most excellent way!

Loving God, thank You for Your great example of Love, and for sending Him to be our Savior. Help us, in turn, to reflect Your love to those around us as we seek to serve them—and you—every day. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 4

His Best Work

Steve Lessard

I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. John 17:23

Imagine your best work, whether it is something made in SteveL Chest
your workshop or something special from your kitchen, which you worked hard to make. You write a label. You put your mark on it to make it your own. How did it make you feel? You know that it was made with love and caring. You know the trials in putting it together. Only you know the small imperfections that may still be in the finished piece that no one else would ever notice.

You never ask the question why you did this. You did it because you loved doing it. You did it because it was something special from you.

I can only imagine what God was saying when He made all of us. He loved us unconditionally and sent us forth to live out His plan, each of us with our own imperfections, but to Him perfect in every way.

I have learned to thank God for these loves.

I have been blessed with many loves in my life—my wife, my son, my daughters, and my grandchildren. Each of them is His best work in my eyes.

A quote from Dieter Uchtdorf reads, “Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely… He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.”

Lord in Heaven, thank you for loving us. Thank You for everything You have created with Love. We are Your creations, Your works, perfect in every way. Though we often think that we are imperfect, show us the grace to seek out what You have shown to us through all of Your love and caring. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 3

Advent of Love

Pastor Steve Schumacher

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16, NIV

Since this is the season of Advent, consider love in light of the season. John says God loved the world so much that He gave His Son for the sake of our world. And for His part, the Son was willing to go along with the plan. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, that is, God come to us and with us.

We are on the other side of this relationship; and for our part, we look forward to His coming. That is what the season of Advent is about, looking forward, eagerly and expectantly to the coming of the Christ.

This is about our relationship. God comes to be with us, while we eagerly wait for His coming. We both desire to be together. This is when everything is right and good. And that is the key point.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Christmas is family getting together. This is becoming more evident as our kids get older and start moving out of the house. For our family, Advent is also a time of expectation, looking forward to the kids being home again; and having us all together. For us too this is about relationships. And for us this is when everything is right and good again. It is our relationships that sustain us and give us joy in life. It is in relationships where we are truly alive.

Revelation 21:3 gives a picture of what it will be like one day, when all things come to their fulfillment, and everything is as it should be, right and good:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”jesus coming soon

And then Revelation, as well as the whole Bible, ends with the words, “Yes, I am coming soon.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” God with us; grace with us.

Lord, we pray for your coming again, when you will make all things right and good. We give you thanks that you love us enough to desire to make your home with us, and us with you. May we love you as you love us. May we look for your coming, ever watchful, hopeful, and expectant; anticipating the joy of life together. Amen.

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.