Set Free Monday, Dec 31 2012 

Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John 8:31-32 (NRSV)  Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

DEVOTION – Richard William Lawton (South Australia, Australia)

A few minutes’ walk from my home is our state’s main prison.  The walls are high and solid.  I cannot see into the facility, nor can the inmates see beyond the walls.  The inmates have cells, beds with linen, reasonable meals, and a roof over their head.  But what none of them has is freedom.  They cannot do what they like or go where they like, when they like.  They do what they’re told.  For some, this captivity will go on for years.

Jesus, who said he was truth, also said, “The truth will make you free.”  Part of Jesus’ mission was to proclaim release to the captives (see Luke 4:18), but he was talking about more than those forcibly kept in prisons.  He surely was referring to those of us who are captive to addictions or to bitterness coming from hurt we suffered years ago or perhaps to damaging relationship within family, marriage or between friends.

If we are in captivity to those things or anything else, it doesn’t have to go on.  Christ wants to set us free – starting today.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Christ offers us release from whatever imprisons us.

PRAYER: Thank you , O God, that when we know you we can live free.  Give us courage to do what we need to do to experience the freedom you offer.   In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Prison Inmates

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A Season for Everything Sunday, Dec 30 2012 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,  3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NRSV)  For everything these is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

DEVOTION – Mark Abbott (Washington)

On my morning walks I often pass an urban community garden.  City residents have divided vacant ground into small garden-sized plots.  Once these gardens were filled with flower and vegetables.  But recently I walked by and saw no flowers, no color, seemingly no fruit.  Why? We had early snow and ice last week.  It’s the season when gardens in our part of the world lie fallow.  But come spring, avid gardeners will once again see fruit in their garden plots.

Like that garden, we have season of color and obvious fruitfulness and also fallow time when we don’t grow as much.  Sometimes a fallow time comes after an icy experience.  Maybe we’ve suffered adversity or a loss.  Maybe we don’t feel usful anymore.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “every matter under heaven” has its season.  Some of these are not happy times.  For example, there is “a time of mourn…a time to keep silence” (Eccl. 3:4-7).  That sounds like a fallow season when we aren’t colorful and growing.  But because we know God, we live in trust that springtime and fruitfulness will come again.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God is at work for good even in our fallow seasons.

LINK2LIFE: Go to www.devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of the urban community garden.

PRAYER: Good and gracious God, help us to hope and trust in your ongoing work in our lives. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Persons Facing “A Time to Mourn”

A Stranger’s Prayer Saturday, Dec 29 2012 

Romans 8:22-30 (NIV)

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Romans 8:26 (NIV) The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit… intercedes for us with groans.

DEVOTION – Jennifer Woods (Arkansas)

In the days before my mother’s bypass surgery, she asked me many times to pray for her. I prayed silent prayers asking God to heal her, but I could never pray aloud as I knew she wanted me to.

The day came for Mom’s surgery. As the hospital worker began pushing my mother’s bed out of the hospital room door, Mom asked the woman to pray for her. The hospital worker stopped pushing the bed, shut the door, and immediately begin praying for my mother. Her prayer was powerful and dynamic.

God wants us to pray for one another. Our prayers can be silent or spoken. They can be eloquent or simple. We speak from our hearts to God, who hears even the silent cries of our soul.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: To pray for another is a gift of love.

PRAYER: Dear God, we don’t always know the right words to pray for those who are sick and afraid. Give us the courage and, when they are needed, the words to pray for those who need your healing grace. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: People Living with Heart Disease

Shine! Friday, Dec 28 2012 

Ephesians 1:11-14 (NIV)

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13 (NRSV)  13 In [Christ] you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with a seal of the promised Holy Spirit.

DEVOTION – Natalya Ilyushonok (Hrodna, Belarus)

My son has some light reflectors fastened to his school bag.  The reason for the reflectors is not to fashion but safety.  When an automobile’s headlights shine on the bag, the reflectors tell the driver that a pedestrian is ahead.  In every school there are posters that advertise this safety practice; “Be noticed.”  “Shine, so you can be safe.”

Seeing these reflectors reminded me of when I repented of my sins more than 10 years ago.  The Holy Spirit marked me with a seal, and in the light of God’s divine love I began to shine.  I am an ordinary person, but when I reflect God’s divine light I can shine even in the bustle of everyday life.  Reflecting God’s light can disperse the darkness around me.  When faced with despair, I can be joyful.  When anxiety surrounds me, I can be calm.  Where there is evil, I can embody love.  Where there is indifference, I can be engaged.

All of this is possible when we are in Christ and he lives in us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.”  Let us reflect Christ’s light every day!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How am I reflecting God’s light to those near me?

PRAYER: O God, help us to realize that when we walk in your light we can reflet your love to those around us. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: School Children

The Evergreen Word Thursday, Dec 27 2012 

1 Peter 1:23-25 (NIV)

23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  24 For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:24-25  (NIV) 24 For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

DEVOTION -Mary Baird (Texas)

Every spring my husband and I plant colorful flower in four large pots, and my husband dutifully tends to the lawn by planting fill-in seed, watering and fertilizing.  At first we can barely see the plants above the rims of the pots, but in a few weeks they begin to rise from the dirt as if some magnet were pulling them upward.  The grass turns a lush green, bringing the weekly chore of mowing.  Every morning we have coffee on our patio.  My eyes never tire of the luminous array of colors.  Then, as if someone pulled the plug, the beautiful flowers begin to fade.  The blooms fall off, leaving only ugly stems.  The once-luxurious green lawn turns a dingy brown; and seemingly overnight, all the colors are gone.  Winter has arrived.

Almost everything wears out, grows old, or fades.  However, one thing that is always new and reliable is the word of God.  For thousands of years, the Bible has continued to offer the messages of salvation, to bring comfort to the weary, and to show us the right path to walk.  It never withers, fades, or grows obsolete.  It remains as fresh and lovely as those first blooms of spring.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Knowing more of the Bible means knowing more of God.

LINK2LIFE: Go to www.devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of Mary and her garden.

PRAYER: Let your message, O Lord, light our path. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Gratitude for the Bible

The Right Investment Wednesday, Dec 26 2012 

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

19″Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:20 (NIV)  20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

DEVOTION – George Enchev (Pleven, Bulgaria)

For some time now I have been helping an extremely poor family to survive.  Sometimes I give this mother and her three children money; other times I take them clothes or other items they need.  One day, the mother asked me for some more money.  I told her I was not able to offer her any right then.  A few days later I bought a tool that I needed for a long time.  At first I was excited about my purchase, but soon I thought of that mother and her children.  The money I had spent for the tool could have bought their food for several days.

As I continued to think about what I had done, I found myself conflicted.  On one hand, I blamed myself for not having given the mother money.  On the other hand, I excused myself by saying, “I need this tool; it’s an investment to help me earn even more money, to help even more people.”  That sounded good, but I had no peace in my heart.  The tool wasn’t the right investment.  The tool was something that would, in time, rust and become useless.  But Jesus told us that the treasure we store up in heaven will never rust; they will last forever.

I vowed to be careful about my investments – about where I use my material and spiritual resources.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How can I use my resources to help those in need?

PRAYER: Dear God, help us to make good investments – ones that will bring hope and healing to your people. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Who Work to Feed the Hungry

Christmas Day Tuesday, Dec 25 2012 

John 1:35-41 (NIV)

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39″Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).

Luke 2:9, 17 (NIV)  9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

DEVOTION – Philip Polo (Nairobi, Kenya)

As my wife and I walked from the church with our four-year-old son, we saw a heavily bearded man approaching us.  I had seen the man before and was familiar with his fast-paced gait but had not noticed him more than to exchange occasional greetings.

Upon seeing the man, my son shouted, “Daddy, see Jesus coming right in front of us!”  Apparently, my son’s image of Jesus came from the children’s Bible storybooks and movies that depict Jesus as a heavily bearded, light-skinned man.  As I chuckled, I remembered the shepherds who were watching over their flocks on the night Christ was born and how startled and frightened they had been.  Reflecting on this, I admired my son’s excitement at seeing and meeting “Jesus” that day.

As we approach this Christmas, my son’s exclamation reminds me to look for Jesus.  When we focus on Christ instead of allowing ourselves to be distracted by the many interruptions we encounter every day, we are able to spread the word about his birth and saving grace of all people.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How am I looking for Jesus this Christmas season?

LINK2LIFE: To see a picture of Philip and his family, go to www.devotional.upperroom.org/blog .

PRAYER: God of all seasons, as we commemorate your son’s birth give us child-like awe and enthusiasm for spreading his message of hope. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Planning and Leading Advent Services

Christmas Eve Monday, Dec 24 2012 

1 John :1-7 (NIV)

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  4 We write this to make our joy complete.  5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

John 8:12 (NRSV) Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

DEVOTION – Leslie Coleman (Florida)

For years my husband and I have celebrated Advent by lighting the candles of an Advent wreath and using the litanies that appear in The Upper Room magazine.  Each Sunday, we wait for our sons or our grandchildren to stop by so we can include them in our worship time.  Our grandchildren delight in lighting the candles.  The questions in the litany cause us to pause and reflect.  And as we talk, we learn more about one another and our faith.

This year, early on Christmas Eve we lit the four advent candles of hope, peace, joy, and love.  Then, after lighting the Christ candle, we left them burning.  That evening, I found my eyes continually drawn to the wreath while our home filled with laughter and music, excited children, and adults telling old memories and stories.

Late into the night, I was seated nearby, watching as the candles began to burn out.  The candle of hope burned out first, followed by the candles of peace, joy, and love.  Yet the Christ candle burned on.  And I realized once again that when all seems lost, I need only Christ to show me the way.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Christ is always with me.

LINK2LIFE: Go to www.devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a picture of the Colemans’ grandchildren and the Advent wreath.

PRAYER:  Dear God, when hope, peace, joy, or love seem lost, remind us that Christ is always with us to light our way.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Feeling Overwhelmed By Life

4th Sunday of Advent Sunday, Dec 23 2012 

John 1:9-14 (NIV)

9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4  (NRSV)  Blessed be the God…of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with whih we ourselves are consoled by God.

DEVOTION – Dan Nelson (North Carolina)

A few days before Christmas, I had an emotional visit with the family of a patient who was near death.  My shift as chaplain was over, but for some reason, I decided to walk back through the emergency unit.  I noticed Jennie sitting on her bed, crying, in great pain.  She was in her twenties, and after years of alcohol abuse she had taken her last drink the day before.  She had given up.  “ I have ruined my life; my family hates me; I have no reason to live.  Oh God!” she said.

I held Jennie’s hand and said to her, “Your decision to quit was very difficult and courageous.  God loves you and sees you as a person of high value, with unique and special gifts.”  I continued, “I struggle with alcohol, too.  I have sat where you sit now.  Years from now, you will be able to assure someone else, ‘With God’s help, you can get through this pain.  I did.’”  Peace soon came over Jennie’s face, and she lay down to rest.

Through the Holy Spirit, God became flesh at Christmas.  And God becomes flesh again in us whenever we share with others the comfort we have received from our Creator.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Sometimes the word goes forth through a gentle touch and word of encouragement.

PRAYER: O God, help us be Christ in the flesh for someone in a time of need. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Struggling with Addiction

Sweet Treasures Saturday, Dec 22 2012 

Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (NIV)

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today–to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul– 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.  16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.  17 Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,  21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NIV) 

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

DEVOTION – Charlotte Mande Ilunga (Cape Town, South Africa)

When I was a child, my Sunday school teacher gave us stickers for every achievement and candy to everyone who memorized a Bible verse correctly.  I began to memorize as many verses as I could each week so I could get extra sweets.  I ended up knowing hundreds of verses!

During my teenage years, I became a youth leader in a rural area.  Most of the young people there didn’t own a Bible, and my knowledge of Bible verses became a big asset to my work with the youth.

Now when I look back on those times, I thank God for my Sunday school teacher who encouraged us to learn the Bible.  While my memorizing Bible verses began only because I loved candy, that habit matured into meaningful study of the scripture – so that from age 16, I have been able to enrich my life and the lives of others.  Now, as a parent, I share my experiences with my children and encourage them in our daily prayer time to learn – yes, even memorize – God’s word.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Meditating on Bible verses is the beginning of applying them in life.

PRAYER:  Thank you, Lord, for those who teach children your word. Give us eagerness and willingness to be part of your work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Sunday School Teachers

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