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Monday - Week 2

The Greatest Commandments

November 30, 2020 • Angela

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ --Matthew 22:36-39 The very first verses I taught my girls were Matthew 22:37-39. If you want to know God’s will for your life in a nutshell, well there you go. Love God and love others, that pretty much sums it up.  I love how we are contrasting the Old Testaments commandments with the New Testament commandments. So many times we are tempted to see God in the Old Testament as cold, mean, and unapproachable, yet when you really get to the heart of the commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17 you’ll see they were all about loving God and loving others well.  When you look closer at the Old Testament commandments and the New Testament commandments you’ll see Jesus brought those rules, those commandments to life, literally. Jesus turned the world upside down by living out Matthew 22:37-39. He showed what it looked like to take God’s commandments seriously and put them into action. When He did, the world changed for the better.  People were set free, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. People’s lives were changed from the inside out. Those who once had no hope, found hope because of Christ. Jesus loved God with everything He had and everything He was, and because of this He was able to love His neighbors well.  This advent season as we think about which gifts to give the loved ones in our lives, let’s regift the love Jesus has given to us. Our world is in desperate need of believing, feeling, and experiencing God’s love right now, and this season is the perfect time to be generous with the never-ending, bottomless love of Christ.  As we get those last minute deals and hard to find gifts for our loved ones, let’s also make sure we are gifting what really matters--our love.  Giving away love costs us nothing and everything all at the same time.  Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind means loving Him with all of us and holding nothing back. It means delighting in Him for who He is. It means rejoicing in His amazing gift of salvation and choosing to live our lives in gratitude for what He has already done on our behalf.  Loving our neighbors means loving them the way we want to be loved. It means making the effort to bless them first, or going the extra mile if that is what they need. Loving them well might mean slowing down and really taking the time to talk to them to find out how they are doing. Or it might mean choosing to think the best of them and forgiving first, not keeping a record of wrongs. Loving our neighbors well might mean being sensitive to them by seeking to understand their life and what it feels like to be in their shoes. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means we hurt when they hurt, we mourn when they mourn, and we rejoice when they rejoice. It means we sacrifice when they are lacking and we do what we can with what we’ve been given. This Christmas, let's choose to love God and love our neighbors well by giving the gift of love to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. May the world know us by our love! Love God Greatly! -Angela ________________________________________________________________ Week 2 Challenge: This week, practice Sabbath. Take one day this week to be intentional to stop working, striving, creating, building, or organizing, and simply celebrate. Include your family or friends in this practice. Reflect on your experience. What does Jesus say about the Sabbath? How can you incorporate this spiritual discipline into your life each week?

Friday - Week 4

The Promise Fulfilled • December 18, 2020

In the Old Testament, there was a season of time where a long awaited promise – a promise of a Savior, a promise of a salvation yet to come – seemed dormant and forgotten. There was a hush, a quiet from heaven for 400 years. For 400 years, there was no further prophetic word from God to His people concerning His promise of salvation. What would it look like? When would they see this word, this hope fulfilled? Life was lived, generations came and went, and I imagine some people wondered if God had forgotten about His promise. Or had they done something wrong? When might they see this promise fulfilled? What would it look like? God never forgot His Word concerning bringing hope and salvation to all people. He saw the end from the beginning and was ushering His promise to fulfillment. Then, on a seemingly normal day, and through ordinary people, the promise arrived. An angel visited a young girl named Mary and announced the promise God spoke hundreds of years earlier was being fulfilled. God began moving people and circumstances into place to show His Word would be fulfilled in full, exactly as He promised. Mary gave birth to this promise, and gave Him the name Jesus. On the night Jesus was born, God sent an angel to some shepherds in the field, filling the sky with the brightness of His glory and issuing a proclamation of awe and wonder and joy like the world had never heard, delivering this Good News that would bring great joy to all people: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born…” --Luke 2:10-11 What makes it so beautiful is that this time, when God spoke to His people, He sent this Good News to ordinary people. This time, the promise did not come through a prophet or preacher. It came through a young girl. It was announced to simple shepherds. He broke through every barrier, every assumption, every boundary, every limitation. He was speaking to the shepherds, just as He was to every person who would one day hear: “Listen carefully.” This message is for you. He made it clear that the Good News of salvation had arrived: Jesus, the Savior of the world was born, and this Good News was meant for all people. With the arrival of Jesus, God fulfilled the covenant promise made hundreds of years earlier. It was what it looked like for a long-awaited promise to be fulfilled. A Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, was born to save us from our sin, to bring hope, to set things right between God and humanity. I wonder what promise God has spoken into your heart that you have wondered if you would ever see realized. Perhaps it feels quiet, maybe forgotten by God. God never speaks a promise that He doesn’t also intend to fulfill. We can know this: God is the Promise-Keeper. He will fulfill every promise, every word, every covenant He has made. Even now, where we are today, the best is still yet to come. There is a promise yet to be fulfilled. We continue to look forward with hope-filled expectation for the day when Jesus, our Savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, returns again and fulfills His final promise. Jesus, we are waiting here for you. “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” -Andrea

Thursday - Week 4

The Birth Of John The Baptist • December 17, 2020 • Jen

The birth of John the Baptist is a beautiful story because it shows, yet again, the mercy and kindness of God. An older couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, incapable of conceiving a child were given a promise by God that they would have a son of their own. Zechariah means “God has remembered again." Once again God we see God keep His word.  John would grow up to be used by God in a mighty way. He would proclaim to the people around him that the Messiah was on His way. His love for Jesus was bold and radical, and, eventually, he would lose his life for his faith and conviction. Zechariah lost his ability to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but at the birth of his son he regained his speech and immediately began to sing a song of praise to God. He sang of God’s goodness in keeping the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Zechariah’s name does not just refer to the fact that God kept His promise to this childless couple, but it reminded everyone that God keeps all of His promises, including the promise of a Redeemer.  It may seem like a lot of time had passed since the beginning of the covenant of grace until the day Jesus came, but God is not slow in what He does. His timing is perfect, His plan well thought out and meticulously executed. This plan included the birth of John and the preaching he would do to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.  This is true for our lives as well. As we get close to celebrating the birth of Jesus, remember God is the great Promise Keeper. If He loved you enough to make and keep all the promises that would lead up to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, we can be confident He will keep all the promises He has made to us. Do you recount and rely on the promises of God? He promises to forgive our sins and never forsake us. He promises nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-32). He promises to cause all things in our lives to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He promises to give you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He promises to cause our faith to persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6), and He will never lose any who are His. He promises all of His people a resurrection unto life (John 3:16), and to come again and gather His people together to dwell in paradise forever. These promises are yours in Christ Jesus. You can count on them, because you can count on God (Psalm 33:4). Looking to Jesus, Jen

Wednesday - Week 4

Mary's Song: The Magnificat • December 16, 2020 • Kaitlyn

I love Christmas decorations: twinkly lights, poinsettias, garland twirled around a staircase. My mom has an incredible collection of nativity scenes from around the world she puts up all over her house every year. Each scene is made from different indigenous materials, reflects different cultures, and includes slightly different elements. But each scene includes Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus; and most of them depict these three important characters in the same way. Jesus is laying in some kind of little manger, Joseph is standing next to him, and Mary is kneeling over Jesus. That’s the image many of us have of Mary: quietly kneeling over her newborn, playing the role of the meek and mild mother. Mary’s song is anything but meek and mild. A young unmarried girl had been visited by an angel and given the most terrifying news: she would miraculously become pregnant. That she would bear the Messiah is amazing news, that she would likely face scorn and abandonment by her family and community is not. When Mary says, “I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word,” she said yes to a daunting assignment. Mary traveled to meet Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon seeing Elizabeth and hearing her exuberant greeting, “blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42), Mary responded with her own outburst of praise. She praised and rejoiced in God, declared that all generations would call her blessed, and described the character of the God who blessed her. He is mighty, holy, and merciful to those who fear Him. He has demonstrated His power by scattering the proud and arrogant, bringing the mighty down from their positions of power, and lifting up the lowly. He fed the hungry while sending those who hoard resources away empty-handed. He protected Israel, remembering His promise to Abraham and acting faithfully toward His people. Mary’s song is not a sweet Sunday school song. It is a powerful declaration of God’s character, a theological treatise full of Old Testament references, and a stunning proclamation of Jesus’ coming ministry. Many of the themes in Mary’s words reflect not only God’s past action but the work Jesus described at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18) and would fulfill throughout His life. Mary’s faithful “yes” to God’s plan in her life also required a faithful “no.” She said “yes” to the terrifying task of birthing the Savior of the world and “no” the forces of sin and evil in the world He came to defeat. She said “yes” to God’s plan for her life and “no” to the plan she made for herself. She said “yes” to the powerful, holy, and merciful God and “no” to pride, arrogance, corruption, and injustice. Mary’s song is a powerful picture of a faithful life. She knew Scripture well enough to describe its story, she knew God well enough to describe His character, and she knew His redemptive plan for creation well enough to say “yes” to her part in it. May we all strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the same. -Kaitlyn