Thursday, December 25, 2014

Devotional 12-25-14

In a noisy cave
in the heat of the night
amid worry and grime,
crowds and farm animals,
Hope was born into the world.

After accusations of unfaithfulness,
Following the threat of death by stoning,
At the end of a long journey
forced by a foreign government
Hope was born into the world.

To parents who did not expect
that their lives would be turned upside down.
To a world that ached with readiness
but was completely unprepared,
Hope was born into the world.

Shepherds, shunned by the world,
an unchosen people,
were illuminated by heaven’s light
as angels announced that
Hope was born into the world.

Creation opened its weary arms,
The earth groaned in relief,
and a few recognized the joy that
Hope was born into the world.

Into the sweltering night,
under the light of a star,
God worked to do
what couldn’t have been imagined.
Hope was born in to the world.

And our world has never been the same.

Kim Matthews

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Devotional 12-24-14

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Have you ever heard the expression “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”?  For those who are struggling and fighting with darkness, seemingly wandering aimlessly, the dawn of a new day brings with it a sense of complete utter relief.  Darkness is used in film and in literature to represent the unknown, the dangerous, the terrible.

In our own lives, we tend to avoid darkness.  When the electricity goes out, we look for flashlights and candles.  Darkness deprives us of one of our most prominent senses, the ability to see what is around us.

Isaiah shared this image of the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light, I picture an even greater relief!  Those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.  As uncomfortable as we are with darkness, we have faith that SOMONE has light.  But here, we see that the nation, the people, the land, was in deep darkness.

But light came to them.  Like the dawn, first a glimmer of light - the stories told by angels, then the stories that spread across the land, and then the light himself, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, who was the light, spread his presence into that land of deep darkness, chasing our the shadows.

Even more importantly, you and I were given the responsibility of carrying that light with us, always and everywhere.  At the close of the 9:00 a.m. worship service, we sing “go light your world.”  Each of us has been given a lamp, a candle, a flashlight, in the gifts we posses.  Just as Christ came to bring the light, he has told us to go and take that light with us.  May this Christmas be a reminder that the best gift we have received, and the best gift we can give, is the light of love, hope, peace and joy.

Rev. Alan Williams

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Devotional 12-23-14

Pray without Ceasing

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (Thessalonians 5:16- 18)

Earlier this fall one of the weekly devotionals focused on the question of what does it mean to “pray without ceasing.”  The idea expressed was that all aspects of our life can be offered to God through prayer, and there are many different ways to pray in addition to our intentional, quiet time of prayer. This meaningful devotional also reminded me of an illustration of the latter, intentional prayer.  

For many years there was a ministry at the church known as the Tuesday Morning Prayer Group. The associate pastor who began this ministry in the 1980’s , Rev. Dr. Charles Echols, is still remembered by many for his spirit filled life and teachings.  On one occasion during a meeting of the Prayer Group he encouraged those present to think beyond family, friends and immediate contacts, to choose a person for whom they had never prayed and do so each day “without ceasing” for one year.  My mother was among those who accepted this invitation.

Sometime after that year and the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War, we learned that the person for whom she had prayed was Mikhail Gorbachev.  When asked why she had chosen him, she mentioned several factors.  First, she and my father had been on a trip to the Scandinavian countries which also included several days in St. Petersburg, Russia.  They had seen the oppression of the people, Bibles banished under the Soviet regime, churches used as museums and even government offices.  They had also witnessed the courage of a lovely tour guide who said:  “Please enter the next room quietly; it remains a sacred place.”  Secondly, she had read that Mr. Gorbachev’s mother had been a Christian and that he was been baptized as a young child.  If accurate, and she believed it to be, this provided assurance that he had been claimed as a child of God years before, whether he knew it or not.  Thus she began a prayer journey that his heart and mind might warm to the needs of his people and that he might become receptive to God’s spirit at work in his life.   While many factors contributed to the peaceful end of the Cold War, these include, at least in my mind, the work of the Holy Spirit.  

God loves us, cares about each of us and covets the prayers of His people.  For whom might we “pray without ceasing” in the coming year?  The possibilities are endless in a time of crisis around the world, problems facing our nation, needs in our community and yes, needs in our church. What measures might we continue to take to identify, encourage and welcome children into our fellowship that they may be baptized, hear the stories of Jesus and experience the love of God?

“Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.  Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.”  Nudge us, oh God, to feel Thy spirit at work in us as we pray in Jesus name.  Amen.

Sue Darlington Woods

Monday, December 22, 2014

Devotional 12-22-14

A few moments of quiet contemplation

Today, please take the time to read the following passages in preparation for Christmas:

John 1:1-18
Luke 2:1-20
Matthew 1:18-25

Creating and sustaining God, who has never left us, never abandoned us, and will surround us through eternity, grant us the ability to understand, for just a moment, the immensity of what is written in these words, and increase our faith so that we will follow you.  We pray in the name of the son who came into the world to make you known, Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Devotional 12-21-14

Nothing is Impossible with God (and support from friends)
Luke 1:26-38

It is during the birth and death stories about Jesus in the Gospels that women are mentioned the most often. In this short passage, we hear about two women, Mary and Elizabeth. Mary has received some unsettling news. She is going to have a baby even though she has never been with a man. I cannot imagine being told this in the first place, much less receiving this news from an angel. Mary must have been shaken up and frightened on so many levels. I wonder if maybe this conversation took place over a few days, rather than all at once, so Mary would have time to think about it and digest it before she finally agreed. She probably wondered what her parents and her fiancĂ© would say. The Bible clearly says she was troubled. In order to reassure her, the angel tells Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who has been barren for years, is six months pregnant. The angel concludes, “Nothing is impossible with God!”

So we have two women both of whom are going to be giving birth soon. Mary was young, afraid and unprepared at this time for what was happening to her. Elizabeth had given up hope of ever becoming a mother. She must have been very happy about what was happening to her. They each had their own challenges, but were reassured in their unique ways that God would be with them.

I wonder about the nature of their relationship. Why did Mary go see Elizabeth? Was it to see for herself if the angel’s words were true? Did Elizabeth know what was happening to Mary? Apparently, she did, if we read down a few more verses. We don’t know what kind of contact these women may have had through the years as their sons aged and matured to become the truly special human beings God created them to be.  It is probable that Elizabeth was quite a bit older than Mary, so maybe she didn’t live to see her son John grown and baptizing people in the Jordan River years later. We don’t know.

I preach on this passage every year and I always see something new. This year, this traditional Advent passage reminds me of how important Godly friendships are. The Bible implies that Mary stays with Elizabeth for several weeks, even up until the birth of John. Imagine all of the things they would have found to talk about and to do together. Did they discuss their dreams for their boys? Did they make baby clothes? Did they laugh and cry together? Pray together? As the years went by and conflict around their sons broke these mothers’ hearts, did they remember the words of the angel that they used to encourage one another, “Nothing is impossible with God.”?

I invite you to think about your Christian friendships this Advent. Who are those people for you? Are you a special friend to someone? The gift of a strong friendship based on mutual understanding and unconditional love is a precious Christmas gift to give and to receive. I hope you give, and get, that beautiful gift this year!

Rev. Dorcas Linger Conrad
Weirton, WV

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Devotional 12-20-14

This time of Advent is so special, because it is the time when I really want to make the effort to sit and ponder.  It is the time I ask questions and think about the mystery of it all.  It is the time I just stop and be in the presence of God.  It is the time I need to be quiet and listen while wrestling with my questions.

Mary wrestled with questions and doubt.  Can you imagine what she must of went through, during the time between when the angel came and told her what was going to happen, until the time of Jesus’ birth.  How can this be?  How can I do this? Why me?

The struggles must of seemed insurmountable, and yet in the end, Mary accepted what was to be, and her faith was strengthened and her relationship with God continued to grow.

Each Advent season, I realize that I have two needs – to question and to believe.  God always offers us the chance to voice our questions and wrestle with our doubts, so we may have the opportunity to continue to grow in our faith.

Jesus also reminds us during this time of questioning, that not only did he come to tell us about God, but he also came to show us what God is like.  When people questioned Jesus about theology and rules, Jesus moved the discussion to relationships.  Jesus shows us over and over again that God wants to pull us deeper into relationship. God hears our questions and our doubts, and reaches out to us, always trying to draw us closer.

After Mary questioned and worried, she responded by saying in Luke 1: 46 - 49:

“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.

God continues to reach out to each of us, as we question and search.  How will you respond to God today, as we realize what we truly believe in out hearts?

Blessings,  
Rev. Suzanne Ellis

Friday, December 19, 2014

Devotional 12-19-14

Read Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-27 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

Angels are God’s messengers and they appear in numerous places in scripture.  Often they carried a message from the Lord to either Israel or an individual.  Mary and Joseph were visited by an angel as God prepared them for the birth of His Son.  The angel of the Lord appeared at critical times in Israel’s history and was sometimes a pre -incarnate appearance of Jesus. Not only do angels appear in the Old and New Testaments, scripture describes their being with Jesus at the Last Judgment. Not all angels are heavenly though. Satan and his minions fell from heaven when Satan thought to make himself greater than God. Scripture clearly describes the awful eternal destiny of the fallen angels.

Taken from “Bible Wisdom for Your Life”, written and compiled by Pamela L. McQuade, Barbour Publishing

God’s restoring servants, His heavenly messengers, have encouraged, sustained, and lifted the spirits of many flagging saints; and they have changed many hopeless circumstances into bright prospects.

Billy Graham on angels

Prayer:  God of all, thank you for angels in which You have surrounded us and to help with Your work on earth.  Thank you also for the gift of Your Son.   Amen

Kay Lewis

 

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