1st Sunday Of Advent Sunday, Nov 30 2014 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,  says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   

Jeremiah 31:34 (NRSV)

34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   

DEVOTION – Emily M. Akin (Tennessee)

The children leaned forward to see what the pastor was doing as he spoke of God’s forgiveness.  He wrote several words on a legal pad.  “Oops!” he said, “I’ve made a mistake.”  Then he turned the pencil over and erased the stray marks.  “That’s what God does when God forgives us,” he said.   “God erases our mistakes, our sins, completely, as if they had never happened.”

As I watched, I realized that God does more.  God forgives and does not remember our sins, as if the paper were restored to its original state.  No sign of pencil marks and eraser residue remain.  God gives us a clean slate.

In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the people of Israel were promised a New day, a new covenant even though they had disappointed God over and over again.  The promise now extended to all who believe in the new covenant established by Jesus Christ.  “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  We are forgiven.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God erases our sins and gives us a clean page to begin anew.

PRAYER: Dear God, teach us to forgive as you forgive and to pray as Jesus taught us, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4, NIV).  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: CHILDREN’S MINISTRIES

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Willingness To Serve Saturday, Nov 29 2014 

Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’   

Matthew 25:34-35 (NIV)

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,   

DEVOTION – Philip Polo (Nairobi, Kenya)

A friend had promised to join me at the airport to offer company and assistance while I was traveling.  When I arrived, my friend was not at the airport, and I was unable to reach him.  I had no money to buy a meal, no phone, and no internet access, to send an email; so I sat, feel lonely and afraid as I waited for my flight.  When a young man passed by, holding a cell phone, I asked him to help me send a text message.  Not only did he let me make a call, but he also bought me snacks for breakfast.  How did he know I was hungry?

I am grateful to God for coming to me through a stranger, who met my needs and offered me comfort.  This stranger’s generous help reminded me of Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  I have learned to be vigilant, willing to offer assistance to someone in need without prompting, because in so doing, I am serving the Lord.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: What opportunities are available for me to minister to the people I encounter today?

PRAYER: Thank you, dear God, for your abundant and loving care.  Give us a discerning spirit and willingness to assist those in need.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: PEOPLE WhO ARE TRAVELING

Our Personal Best Friday, Nov 28 2014 

Philippians 3:10-14 (NIV)

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.     

John 15:5 (NIV)

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.   

DEVOTION – Bill Willis (New South Wales, Australia)

I enjoy watching track and field events.  Especially exciting for me are the races: the tension of waiting for the starting gun, the sight of each runner straining toward the finish line.  It is satisfying to cheer for the winners as they stand to receive their rewards.  We also cheer for the athletes who record a personal best time, even if they did not win.  We celebrate, with them as they realize they have done better than ever before.

Similarly, in our Christian discipleship, we can aspire to serve God more fully each day.  As we live in fellowship with our Lord, we an strive to make each day our personal best for him.  After all, Jesus speaks of our living in him, becoming branches of his vine, drawing nourishment from him and producing lasting fruit.  We can bring all our energies to bear as we run toward the goal of becoming truly one with Jesus.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Today I will give my personal best for God.

PRAYER: Gracious God, help us this day to do our very best for you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: CONPETITIVE RUNNERS

A Great Day! Thursday, Nov 27 2014 

Psalm 34:1-11, 17-20 (NRSV)

1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. 9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.   

17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. 20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.   

Psalm 34:17 (NRSV)

17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.

DEVOTION -Jeff Jenkins (North Carolina)

Boyce, a single, teacher-friend, was facing a Thanksgiving alone – his family 2,500 miles away.  So, we invited him to celebrate the day with our family.  Within minutes of arriving, he was in the den with the children, laughing, rolling on the floor, and having a wonderful time.

The following spring, Boyce began to struggle with pronouncing words; he had to focus intently to complete a sentence.  Soon after, he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  His condition deteriorated rapidly, but he continued to communicate via email.  I vividly remember the way his last email began:  I’m having a great day.  I hope you are.”  He described his physical condition:  he no longer could walk or talk.  he could barely raise one finger to slowly and meticulously type that email.  Yet Boyce was having a great day.

I’ve noticed that Boyce and other Christians who seem to be bubbling over with joy and contentment and have a passion for life all share an unwavering faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The joy we seek is available through faith.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Our joy is in the Lord

PRAYER: Almighty God, Help us to understand that joy, contentment, and peace are available to us through faith in you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS:  PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM ALS

Healing Touch Wednesday, Nov 26 2014 

Matthew 9:18-26 (NRSV)

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue  came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Matthew 9:22 (NRSV)

22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.   

DEVOTION – Vicki Hines (Tennessee)

Several year ago I became ill and doctors told me they could treat my symptoms but that my condition would likely never go away.  Dealing with my situation became the focus of my life as I searched for relief.  Eventually, I became discouraged and turned to my Bible for solace.  I began to look for biblical stories of illness and healing.  One of the stories I read was of the woman who believed she could be healed if she could only touch Jesus’ garment.  Her belief was strong that it led her to pursue Jesus so she could touch his clothing.  When she did, Jesus told her that her faith had healed her.

Using this story from Matthew as a model, I began to pray for my healing.  As I pursued Jesus in prayer, I visualized myself touching the hem of his garment and my body being healed.  I was not instantly healed; however, over time my attitude toward my situation changed.  I stopped focusing on myself and started asking Jesus to use me as a vessel for his work.

Eventually my symptoms became more manageable, and today they are gone.  Doctors say that someone with the health condition I had can experience spontaneous healing, but I will always believe that my healing came from the Lord.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:What Bible stories have helped you through a difficult time?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the Bible to guide us and inspire us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: DOCTORS

Unlikely Vessels Tuesday, Nov 25 2014 

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (KJV)

3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.   

2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.   

DEVOTION -Lynne Deming (Tennessee)

During a recent staff-retreat day, our leader asked us to think back to a time we encountered an “unlikely vessel” of God’s grace.  That question reminded me of an experience a few years ago that was important event in my spiritual life.

I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend.  I was wearing a baseball cap to (somewhat) disguise the fact that chemotherapy had caused me to lose most of my hair.  A young man approached my table and said, “May I ask, are you in treatment?”  I said yes, and he said, “So is my mom.”  After a brief conversation in which he asked me to tell him my story, he said, “I hope it goes well for you.”

Since that encounter, my spiritual discipline has been to approach each person I see who is obviously a cancer patient and offer the opportunity to tell the story of his or her diagnosis and treatment.  Their stories are gifts of grace for me.  I always offer a prayer for these courageous people, either silently or aloud.

That young man was an unlikely vessel of God’s grace for me.  Since that time, my hope has been to be such  a vessel for others.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Today I woll be ready to show God’s grace to those whom God sends my way.

PRAYER: Loving God, thank you for those persons who are unlikely vessels of your grace.  Help us to be such a vessel for others.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: SOMEONE UNDERGOING CHEMOTHERAPY

New Possibilities Monday, Nov 24 2014 

Romans 11:7-16 (NRSV)

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent.” 11 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling  salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel  jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling  means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people  jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! 16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

Romans 11:13 (NRSV)

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry

DEVOTION -Eduard Khegay (Moscow, Russia)

Recently I was preparing for a very important trip where I would be meeting with international partners.  The meeting had been planned foe several months, but sudden changes in the weather altered all our plans.  Flights were cancelled, and it became clear that the meeting would not be taking place on the intended dates.  I was upset.  But later in the day my sadness left me when I realized that the postponement of the trip would allow me to spend more time with my family.  I saw this as a gift and rejoiced in this opportunity.

The apostle Paul also found a way to make the most out of a changed situation.  He faced many obstacles when he began to preach the gospel to Israel.  His own people rejected the good news about Jesus.  But this did not stop Paul.  He did not lose hoe that Israel would turn to God; in fact, he saw a new opportunity – to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.  At that time this was a revolutionary idea.  He saw himself as an apostle to the Gentiles.  As we know, this attitude changed the world and the whole map  of the Christian world.  The entire then-known world heard the good news about Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: What opportunities to share the gospel can I find in Today’s obstacles?

PRAYER: Great God, help us to see the opportunities in obstacles.  Lead us by your Holy Spirit that we might act boldly like the apostle Paul.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE FACING UNEXPECTED OBSTACLES

Forever New Sunday, Nov 23 2014 

2Timothy 3:10-17 (NRSV)

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is  useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV)

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is  useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   

DEVOTION – Philip A. Rice (Michigan)

I have a Bible on my e-reader.  However, it seems ironic to be reading this sacred book that is 2,000 to 3,000 years old on such a device.

This reminds me of all the permutations these ancient words have gone through.  The Bible contains 66 books – written on parchment or papyrus in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic – by many different authors in different times and situations.

Even so, the Bible’s road to the 21st century has been rough.  God’s word has been suppressed, hidden, opposed, and sometimes even burned, but it has also been treasured often.  Here it is for anyone to read – the truth of God that leads us to grace, truth, love, and peace.

Someday my e-reader will be as obsolete as the horse and buggy, and what will take its place is anybody’s guess.  But even then, God’s word of the truth and grace tat we see in Jesus will be as fresh and contemporary as it is now.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The truth of God’s word s eternal.

PRAYER: Holy One, we are grateful for your living word that shines through every age.  May your truth find a home in our hearts.  this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: BIBLE TRANSLATORS

Spiritual Growth Saturday, Nov 22 2014 

Hebrews 5:7-14 (NRSV)

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus  offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 11 About this  we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.   

1 Corinthians 3:2 (NRSV)

2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,   

DEVOTION – Pramila Barkataki (Uttar Pradesh, India)

In my student days I was addressed as “Didi” (which means “elder sister”) by the children and teens in the neighborhood.  Several years later I became known as “Aunty,” which means an older person, like a mother.  I did not like being addressed that way because it reminded me that I was aging.  Still a few years later, I moved to another state where I was even called “Granny” by a few children.  Soon I discovered that in that part of the state girls were given in marriage in their teens and became grandparents in their early forties.  So I accepted the new name gracefully – though it took time.  My image in the eyes of others changed with the passage of time – neither of which took any extra effort on my part.

But achieving spiritual maturity requires our effort and intention.  Born into God’s family, we begin to grow spiritually when we hunger for God’s word, meditate on it regularly, and apply it in our lives.  The pure milk and then the solid food of the word of God help us to grow from infancy to childhood, then on to adulthood, and finally into mature Christians.  In each step of the way we can become more and more like Jesus.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How is my spiritual growth evident to those around me?

PRAYER:O God, we want to grow in our faith and in the likeness of Jesus.  Help us, we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE WHO HAVEN”T HEARD GOD”S WORD

A Better Future Friday, Nov 21 2014 

Isaiah 43:15-21 (NRSV)

15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. 16 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.   

Isaiah 43:18-19 (NRSV)

18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.   

DEVOTION -Clifford B. Rawley (Missouri)

While on a cruise on the Yangtze river in China, we were instructed to look for old shoes floating by.  Our guide explained that when people suffer illness, unemployment, or divorce they let go of the past and its painful memories by putting their old shoes in the river.  With new shoes they hope to walk into a better future.

In Isaiah 43:18, the Lord encouraged a sad and exiled people to let go of the grief of the past and instead to trust the Lord’s leadership to enter a new place.  With God’s help we too can be refreshed.  When I struggled with painful feelings of rejection after my divorce, I didn’t understand how the Lord could bring anything good out of it.  But this verse gave me courage to believe that God would lead me to a better life.  As I did my best to trust and obey, our Lord brought me fresh joy and new purpose.  God asks us to learn from our failures and mistakes but not to live in our past pain.

In Romans 6:4 Paul wrote, “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  We take steps toward newness of life as we daily turn from the temptation of despair and put our hope in God.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Jesus can  make all things new (See Rev. 21:5.)

PRAYER: Dear Lord, in the light of your forgiveness and leadership, may we follow you into a future of hope.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE STRUGGLING THROUGH A DIVORCE

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