First Things First Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

Matthew 9:1-8 (CEB)

1 Boarding a boat, Jesus crossed to the other side of the lake and went to his own city. 2 People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.” 3 Some legal experts said among themselves, “This man is insulting God.” 4 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, “Why do you fill your minds with evil things? 5 Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”Get up, take your cot, and go home.” 7 The man got up and went home. 8 When the crowds saw what had happened, they were afraid and praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Matthew 9:2 (CEB)

2 People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.”

DEVOTION -Robert L. Stephens (Virginia)

Like Many children, I tried to apply my own sense of order to my life.  What was wrong with having at least a taste of dessert before the meat and vegetables?  Why couldn’t homework come after television time?  Fortunately, my mother found even my most compelling  arguments less than convincing.  Inevitably, her priorities won out, and my life has been better as a result.

Jesus also attached great importance to priorities.  Before addressing the paralytic’s physical maladies, Jesus attended to the man’s spiritual illness.  Only after healing the sickness of the spirit did Jesus heal the man’s physical paralysis.  In approaching the situation as he did, Jesus taught a valuable lesson.

Today, time once devoted to setting and attending to priorities is now spent mastering different approach: multi-tasking.  Tasks completed at the same time hardly need an assigned priority.  Yet Jesus chose to put spiritual well-being first.  I can see my mother giving a knowing smile at that idea.  “Like I always said, son, ‘First thins first.'”

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Matters of the spirit come first.

LINK2LIFE:  To see a photo of Robert and his mom, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog.

PRAYER: Thank you, God, for giving us loving reminders of what is important.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: TO ALLOW GOD TO SET OUR PRIORITIES.

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Ready To Share Friday, Nov 29 2013 

John 21:15-17 (NIV)

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:15 (NIV)

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

DEVOTION – Eunice Arias (Canelones, Uruguay)

We were visiting churches that support us in our mission ministry.  For one meal, our hostess and her husband prepared delicious waffles with a sourdough starter that she had kept for 44 years. It was a present from her husband’s aunt and had been in the family for 75 years.  Sourdough needs care; it has to be “fed” regularly with sugar, milk, and flour.  For the sourdough to stay useful to bake into bread, it has to be tended, used, and shared; if not it will “die.”  Our hostess told us that she gave some to a young couple, but it had “died.”  She said, “Maybe they were not ready to receive the sourdough.”

Since the beginning of time, God has offered us many kinds of starter gifts: skills, talents, and grace to name a few.  Are we taking good care of them?  Are we feeding them so they may feed others?  If we don’t share our skills and gifts, they will die for lack of use.  When we are ready to receive God’s love and grace, we can then share others God’s greatest gift, Jesus the Christ.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God  wants us to feed those who hunger for love and grace.

PRAYER: We thank you, Lord, for all the love and grace forgiveness and peace you have given us.  May we always be ready to share these gifts with others.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: MISSIONARIES AND THOSE WHO SUPPORT THEM

Grateful For Grace Thursday, Nov 28 2013 

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

DEVOTION – Matthew L. Reger (Ohio)

As a municipal prosecutor, I often review requests to seal the record of someone convicted of a criminal offense.  Records are sealed (removed from public access) at the discretion of the court.  One question on the form for sealing the record is, “Why is this sealing deserved?”  I have only seen on answer that I thought demonstrated true humility.  The answer was, “I don’t deserve to have my record sealed, but I would be grateful if the court did grant this request.”

That response is a model of the way we should respond to God’s offer of salvation.  God, through the death and resurrection of Christ, is willing to erase our entire record of sin if we accept salvation with a right heart.  Someone who tries to grasp salvation with good works thinks that he or she has earned and therefore deserves salvation.  To think that salvation is a matter of luck or fortune is to see God as arbitrary and therefore to miss the concept of grace.  But the person who sees himself or herself as unworthy, yet loved by God, understands that through faith and the grace of God, we are saved from our transgressions.  The sealing God provides is not deserved, but we are grateful for God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice that brings salvation.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Nothing we do can earn what God gives by grace.

PRAYER: Dear God, we do not deserve your forgiveness, but we humbly submit ourselves to you, asking for your grace.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: TO HUMBLY RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE

Grumpy Gratitude Wednesday, Nov 27 2013 

Colossians 1:9-14 (NIV)

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

DEVOTION – Patricia Simmons (Missouri)

Through the years I’ve learned that making gratitude lists helps me stay more positive.  I use the alphabet, thanking God for something that begins with each letter.  Sometimes I thank God for people form the Bible – Abraham, Benjamin, Caleb.  Sometimes I use scripture verses alphabetically, such as :  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”  “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Recently a friend told me that she makes a “grumpy gratitude” list in the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:18.  My friend looks for reasons to be thankful in every situation.

Not long ago I had a door-slamming day.  After slamming three or four doors, I remembered my friend’s practice and paused to begin a grumpy gratitude list.  I thought, OK God, I’m grateful that slammed doors ease frustrations.  I’m grateful for doors that keep heat in during the winter and open to let the cool breeze in during summer.  My list continued, turning my door- slamming day into a blessing.  The grumpy gratitude list helped me recognize how much I had to be thankful for that I had not noticed just moments before.

Even when it appears there is nothing to be grateful for, we can find something for which to thank God.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: What’s on my “grumpy gratitude” list today?

PRAYER: Whether we are glad or grumpy, God, help us always to be aware of that for which we can be grateful.  Amen. 

PRAYER FOCUS: FOR A MORE GRATEFUL HEART.

Steelworker Suprise Tuesday, Nov 26 2013 

1 Peter 2:9-12 (NIV)

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

DEVOTION – Daniel Favor (British Columbia, Canada)

In high school I excelled in drama, public speaking, and English.  However, for the last eight years I have worked in a steel-welding shop of 30 employees.  A career in steelwork was never in my plans.  I’ve often asked myself, why am I here?  The answer is becoming clear to me.  I am the only Christian in the workplace.

I am one of the crew, which has given me the opportunity to talk about spiritual issues with men who rarely even consider them.  Many never attended any church.  If my pastor were to try to share the gospel in our lunchroom, he would be ignored; so perhaps God has placed me there instead.

Each of us spends our day somewhere – whether in an office, at home, on vacation, shopping in a grocery store, or working in a loud, dirty steel plant.  We might be where God has put us to fulfill a specific purpose or accomplish a special mission.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God has a special purpose for each of us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please give us the opportunities and courage to share the gospel.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THE RESOLVE TO SHARE MY FAITH

Snow Angels Monday, Nov 25 2013 

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 12:12 (NIV)

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

DEVOTION – Dwight E. Robeson (Maryland)

As a child growing up in Michigan, I looked forward to snow in winter, I would get bundled up, go out into the crisp, cold air, and make snow angels.  Then, I would come back into the warm kitchen.  The hot cups of chocolate on my cold fingers was comforting.  What joy!  However, at the age of eight, I was afflicted with polio and could not go out into the cold anymore.  Many faithful family members and friends prayed for me, and I recovered enough to be able to attend church, to graduate from college, to marry, to work 30 years, to raise two wonderful children, and to love and play with my grandchildren.

In recent years, polio has afflicted me with new weakness.  When I began to see my strength and stamina diminish, my hope became a flickering candle and my patience waned.  But I continued to pray faithfully.  As I prayed out of my despair – viewing my glass as half empty – I gradually began to feel God’s love and to see my glass as half full.  It is as if God were telling me, “I pour out my abundant and lavish love on you and fill your glass full to overflowing so you will not thirst – such as tolerating the cold – I cannot do, but now  I see clearly what I still can do.  I still can love and laugh, worship, praise and pray, sing and serve – and so much more.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Prayer is one source of daily spiritual nourishment.

LINK2LIFE:  Go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of Dwight with his grandkids.

PRAYER: Dear God of abundant and lavish love, we pray for your help to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE WHOSE HOPE IS WANING

Truly Attractive Sunday, Nov 24 2013 

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV)

1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

DEVOTION – Mary van Rheenen (Gelderland, Netherlands)

The contrast could not have been sharper between the Sunday morning sermon we heard and the television show my daughters and I watched later that afternoon.  In the morning, we heard how impressed the prophet Samuel had been by the way Jesse’s older sons looked.  God, however, searched for qualities that went deeper than outward appearance.  The Lord had chosen the youngest son, David, as the future king.  While David described as having “a fine appearance and handsome features” (v.12), God was looking for “a man after his own heart.” (see 1 Sam 13:14.)

The television program, conversely, was about a personal makeover.  A woman gets fashion advice, make-up advice, and a new hairstyle.  By the end of the program she appears glowingly transformed.  It is certainly no sin to take care of one’s appearance.  For instance.  David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, washed, perfumed herself, and put on her best clothes before going to meet her future husband, Boaz.  What really impressed Boaz, though, wasn’t her outward appearance but her “noble character.”  (See Ruth 3:3-11.)  The examples of David’s family provide a timely reminder to focus on what makes us attractive to God.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: I want my heart to reflect God’s love.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help us to see ourselves and those around us as you do.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE WORRYING ABOUT PHYSICAL APPEARANCE

Don’t Get Too Comfortable Saturday, Nov 23 2013 

Romans 12:9-15 (CEB)

9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.

Hebrews 2:1(CEB)

1 This is why it’s necessary for us to pay more attention to what we have heard, or else we may drift away from it.

DEVOTION – John UpChurch (Tennessee)

The hunt for our first house stretched our for months.  My wife and I scoured realty magazines and websites.  We surfed by, drove by, and walked through dozens of potential homes.

The red house we finally purchased had a shimmering newness t it.  The rooms echoed with space, the arched doorways dressed up our furniture, and the wood floors reflected the sunlight.  But when we brought our first daughter home, those rooms that had seemed so big suddenly shrank.  We had become so familiar with our home that the excitement of having found it slowly lost out to thoughts about why it didn’t work for us anymore.  We lost our sense of wonder about the red house.

As with our house, the events in the Bible – even the miracles – lose the power to impact us if we get too cozy with them.  We’ve read about them and heard sermons about them.  But when was the last time we thought about them as actual events?  After all, it’s not just the story of Jesus’ resurrection that makes the difference; it’s the reality of that empty tomb.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Our life with Christ is new every morning.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, never let us take for granted your love and your sacrifice for us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: FOR A FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON GOD’S WORD

A Nourishing Gift Friday, Nov 22 2013 

John 6:48-58 (NRSV)

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

John 6:48, 58 (NRSV)

48 I am the bread of life.  58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

DEVOTION – Sandra Luz Contreras (Nuevo Leon, Mexico)

Recently I took in my car for some repairs.  Because I didn’t know how long the work would take, I had brought along a copy of El Aposento Alto (the Spanish edition of The Upper Room) to read as I sat in the waiting room.  Midway through my reading, I sensed a feeling from the Holy Spirit directing me to give my devotional guide to the receptionist.

I felt a bit disappointed.  It was a brand new issue, and I wanted to finish reading the magazine.  I finally decided to walk over to the reception desk.  As I approached, I noticed a very old issue of El Aposento Alto on the desk, the oldest I had ever seen.  Its pages were yellow and torn, and the receptionist was thumbing through them as she had probably done many times before.

I eas moved by what I saw and understood why the Spirit had urged me to give my new copy to the receptionist.  I said to her, “Here is a copy of El Aposento Alto for you.”  Her eyes opened wide when she saw the magazine, and she said, “El Aposento Alto!  And it’s brand new!”  She was extremely enthusiastic in her gratitude for my gift.  As for me, I was glad and grateful that I had obeyed God’s direction.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When God nudges us, let us be quick to respond.

LINK2LIFE:  Share The Upper Roomwith a friend.

PRAYER: Dear God, help us be attuned to your voice and willing to give all that you ask of us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE WHO HUNGER TO KNOW GOD

The Begat-itudes Thursday, Nov 21 2013 

Matthew 1:1-17 (NIV)

1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

Matthew 19:26 (NIV)

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

DEVOTION – Robert G. Farmer (Georgia)

There they are, in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, all 44 of them – some tall, some short, some Jewish, some Gentile, some righteous, some not.  But on thing in particular united them all: they were all in the lineage of Jesus.  How can that be?  One is even from Moab!  One is an adulterer and murderer!  And what about that Canaanite prostitute?  She’s there too.

So what does all this tell us?  Surely God can use anyone to accomplish God’s perfect will.  This powerful truth tells me that I do not have to be tall to be useful to God.  I do not have to be strong or attractive to be chosen for work in God’s kingdom.  I don’t even have to be exceptionally smart. If I trust and obey, God can do anything through me.  May we all strive to live for Jesus and not ourselves so that our lives will clearly say, “My God can do anything through anyone, because my God is Lord of all!”

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Whatever our personal limitations, God can still make use of us.

PRAYER: Lord of all, help me to keep my eyes on you and to be obedient.  May all your purposes comes to pass in my life.

PRAYER FOCUS: TO TRUST AND OBEY GOD

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