Advent Devotional 2017

Permanent Peace | Revelation 21:3-4

Read Revelation 21:3-4

Forever is a hard concept for us. As humans, it’s hard for us to commit to something as simple as a Facebook event, let alone commitments that last a lifetime! We can hardly grasp a lifetime, let alone forever. We understand it conceptually, but when we’re offered promises of “forever,” they seem distant from our practical, everyday experience. “Peace” is another elusive concept. Living in 21st century, peace can feel like an impossible endeavor. Sure, people say they desire world peace, but when we look around and notice the predicament in which we find ourselves, peace seems like the furthest thing from reality.

So how are we to respond when we’re offered permanent peace? What do we do when Jesus is named our Prince of Peace in Isaiah, and when, at the end of Revelation, we’re promised a world of peace forever? John describes a beautiful destiny in Revelation 22. It’s a place where every tear is wiped away, where death doesn’t exist, where grief and pain and suffering are completely done away with. It’s like a dream — and, unfortunately, I think many of us treat it as such. Most days, it feels easier to put it in the category of “impossible” or “only happens in the movies.”

But permanent peace is exactly why Christmas is such good news. The hope, comfort, joy, and peace of Christmas don’t just come and go. Jesus has made a way — a permanent way — to experience everything we’ve discussed in this devotional book. Jesus’ coming in human flesh to live a perfect life on our behalf, his carrying the weight of sin in order to put it to death, and his defeating death by raising back to life — his story is now our story… forever. It’s our new narrative, today and every day.

Forever doesn’t just mean way far in the future. Forever means today. Today is the day for you to experience peace with God, joy in new life, comfort in his love, and hope in his presence.

Reflection and Response

Christmas came and went, but your peace is permanent. What are you doing today to experience peace with God?

By Yvonne Biel  

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Permanent Peace | Revelation 21:3-42019-02-09T12:06:29-07:00

Perspective of Peace | John 14:27

Read John 14:27

The sky lit up and the sound of a choir filled the night, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14)! The night Jesus was born, angels declared a coming peace. This child would bring peace on earth and goodwill to men. Fast forward to Jesus’ adulthood and the words his dear friend John records for us in John 14: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Again, there is a beautiful promise of peace Jesus offers. This sounds beautiful, but when we look at the world around us, it can sometimes seem like wishful thinking. This past year, we have heard of devastating storms, high school students taking their own lives, and mindless mass shootings. Where is the peace?

It may soften the doubts if we remember the tumultuous time in which Jesus made this promise. For multiple chapters, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his ensuing arrest, beating, and ultimate death. Even in this little verse is the potential for troubled hearts. The peace of Jesus is not a promise that all circumstances will be without conflict, pain, and loss. The peace of Jesus is the promise of internal stability in the midst of storms. Jesus tells his disciples that he will remain with them through the Holy Spirit. In essence, he’s promising to give them unshakable peace that transcends life circumstances.

The question for us, then, is, “How do we enjoy that peace?” In the mindset of his comforting words, Jesus gives his followers a command. The command is to love like he loved. Those who love experience the transcendent peace Jesus offers. We don’t follow the commands of Jesus to “earn” peace. Rather, peace is evident and experienced by those who walk like Jesus walked, by those who feel the way Jesus feels with his heart.

Let’s take the hackneyed Christmas wish of “peace on earth” (which came from Scripture, by the way).  If all of God’s people around the world were to truly love God and people like Jesus, ‘peace on earth’ would not be so unthinkable. We can’t control others’ willingness to walk in love, but we can still experience the offer of peace when we choose to love regardless of what others choose. So, peace is on the table for the taking. By stepping into the way of love, we step into the way of peace.

Reflection and Response

Consider the first time you stepped into the way of love through Christ. Did you experience peace? Consider other times when you directly avoided or completely disregarded love. Did you experience peace then? As you’re anticipating the new year, make a plan for how you might intentionally and proactively step into the way of love — and thus step into the way of peace — this year.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Perspective of Peace | John 14:272019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Problem of Peace | Luke 1:31-38

Read Luke 1:31-38

As you pause and slow down after the Christmas season, you might find that your heart is still troubled. You’ve just been operating at 100 miles an hour this time of year, running to and fro, and feeling a sense of pressure to get everything done. On top of that, you may be remembering loved ones you’ve lost, finding yourself in a difficult family situation or without family to celebrate with. As you look around, you continue to feel discouraged at the division and hatred between people. Perhaps, for you, Christmas was anything but peaceful.

Henry David Longfellow experienced many of these same emotions as he wrote the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In July 1861, his wife died suddenly to a fire. Two and a half years later, his country was in the midst of the Civil War. On Christmas Day of 1863, he sat down to honestly reflect on the so-called “joyful” Christmas season as he wrote the lyrics to this song.

The first stanza reads:

I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

By the time he began to write the third stanza, he stopped. He reflected on the striking difference between the phrase “Of peace on earth, good will to men” and the reality of a nation at war. He writes,

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

We can relate to these feelings in our own lives today, both individually and as a country. Pain and division seem so strong. So where will we turn? Where will we find peace?

The song continues:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow turned his thoughts to the one who can ultimately solve all problems.

This world will not be easy or smooth sailing, yet we have hope of true peace. Upon hearing that her child “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel assures Mary by closing with the statement “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Later, Jesus himself says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Today, as we consider Jesus, the hope of peace in the midst of trouble times, be encouraged by these words.

Reflection and Response

Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again. Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus is coming again. Today, we can claim victory in him – for he has defeated death, and he has conquered sin. Claim Jesus’ victory by writing this out and then speaking aloud over your life:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”

By Billy Berglund  

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Problem of Peace | Luke 1:31-382019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Proclamation of Peace | Luke 1:26-30

Read Luke 1:26-30

After several angelic messages to Mary (“the Lord is with you”) and to Joseph (“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”), the heavenly messengers continued to proclaim the good news of peace on earth (Matthew 1:21). When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to the shepherds saying:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

Where are you getting your peace from during this Advent season? From trimmings, events, eggnog, and presents under the tree — or from the Prince of Peace himself? Peace comes from God’s goodness. There will always be good news and bad news around you. But God is good all the time, and he is with you all the time. He’s right beside you on your journey through life. His goodness, unmerited favor, and presence bring peace. The Prince of Peace came to bring peace on earth. From the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the proclamation of peace is sung: “We hear the Christmas angels / The great glad tidings tell, / O come to us, abide with us, / Our Lord Immanuel. / O morning stars together / Proclaim the holy birth / And praises sing to God the King / And peace to men on earth.”

Reflection and Response

Recite this blessing from Numbers 6:24-26, personalize it with your name, and receive His peace. Put others’ names in it as a Christmas blessing.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

By Donna Burns  

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Proclamation of Peace | Luke 1:26-302019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Place of Peace | 2 Samuel 7:16

Read 2 Samuel 7:16

I have one place of retreat in my home which offers a little peace from a busy house or a hectic day at work. It can be very quiet and offer a wonderful environment for personal reading and study. While there may be mayhem in other parts of our home, closing the doors to my office brings quiet — and I am able to pursue my reading and studies without interruption.

In the historical account from our passage today, David was finally experiencing rest from war on all sides. He and his kingdom hadn’t experienced political peace since he slew Goliath. Most of his life up to this point was measured by moving from one battle or hiding place to the next. So, after completion of war, his peace was well-deserved and fulfilling. While he’s enjoying this solitude in his cedar house, he comes to realize God’s ark is in a tent. David is in this house when he determines to build God a house. David tells the prophet Nathan what he’s thinking, and Nathan agrees, giving him the thumbs up to proceed. But that evening, Nathan receives a message from God. God tells Nathan that he doesn’t need a house crafted by human hands, and rather than demanding a house be built for himself, he makes the promise of a house, kingdom, and throne for David lasting forever.

David, living when he did, sought to build his God a temple suitable for the power and glory God had demonstrated over the years. But that’s not what God wanted. Instead, God wanted to build David’s legacy for all eternity.

Just like David, we don’t need to build a temple for God. As Jesus followers, we are already his temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us! Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Just when we’re thinking God needs a temple, God says he wants our heart. While we’re thinking of establishing a worldly empire, God’s thinking of establishing a Kingdom. And God’s Kingdom is, as Jesus said, “not of this world” (John 18:36). And this Kingdom’s temple lies in the hearts of all those following him.

Reflection and Response

When the Creator of the Universe makes his home not in a building, but in us, this sounds crazy. Yet, this was God’s plan from the beginning. God promised to defeat our enemy with the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15). This, too, is strange because men have the reproductive seeds. Jesus comes to dwell in one woman’s womb and then sends his Spirit to take up residence in our hearts. What a wonder! As you’re coming off the holiday energy, simply imagine God’s spirit making his home in your heart. What kind of presents would you be excited for today if you were readying your heart for Jesus’ spirit? 

By Rich Obrecht  

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Place of Peace | 2 Samuel 7:162019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Prince of Peace | Isaiah 9:6-7

Read Isaiah 9:6-7

Merry Christmas! We hope today is filled with love, laughter, and celebration that the King is born. As the prophet Isaiah anticipated the coming Messiah, he recorded: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Of all the names and titles the Christ is given, the hardest to see and experience in our world may be “Prince of Peace.” If Jesus is really the Prince of Peace, he doesn’t seem to be ruling with much authority or dominion. After all, we continue to see mass shootings, destruction, and death at every turn. The peace Jesus offers seems to be a slippery reality — if it’s any reality at all.

The Hebrew word for peace literally means “to tie up loose ends together into the whole.” To bring peace is to bring about a weaving together of life’s frayed edges, molding them back in as part of the whole. When Isaiah claimed that Jesus would be the Prince of Peace, he was claiming that Jesus would be the grand weaver. He promised that the Messiah would rule over our lives – not in a way that prevents all harm or evil from taking place, but in a way that takes the fragmented pieces and divinely places them as part of the marvelous mosaic of our lives. We need a Prince of Peace, not to prevent all of life’s storms, but to bind together all of life’s loose ends. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This God at work in “all things” is no other than the Prince of Peace toward which Isaiah looked .

Christmas has a way of initiating both delight and disillusionment. Today, your house might be full, but someone’s absence makes it feel empty. The tree might be bursting with presents, but you really just want the presence of one person, and that relationship feels helplessly elusive. The table might be filled with food, but your soul feels like a barren land. In the midst of all the décor and tinsel, this past year might feel like a frayed garment that’s barely holding on. I want to assure you that the Prince of Peace is present. After all, the ultimate gift of Christmas is that the Lord of Heaven is also our Prince of Peace. The first step to walking in his peace is inviting him into our chaos, disappointment, and fear. Will you allow him to meet you in the fray and begin the process of weaving, of crafting the mosaic he calls your life? Call on the Prince of Peace to rule in your life this Christmas day!

Reflection and Response

Savor every moment of this day with family, friends, and the Prince of Peace among you. Pray for peace during your gatherings – to be united with peace, for peace to invade your heart, and for peace to reign on this Christmas day. 

By Ryan Paulson

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Prince of Peace | Isaiah 9:6-72020-12-07T09:30:24-07:00

Advent of Peace | 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Imagine sitting in the position of King David. After being promised the royal throne many years ago, after working for the previous king and befriending his son, after years of fighting for the king, and after purely fighting to survive, you’ve finally taken the throne! Now, the kingdom is yours. You move into the beautiful new palace, and there is peace in the land. One day, you wake up and remember the precious ark of the covenant, the holy place where your God’s glory dwells. But it’s not with you in the glorious palace – it’s still in a measly tent. While you’ve moved into greater splendor and security, God’s presence is still without a permanent home.

As you read this passage on the Eve of Christmas day, consider the security and abundance by which David was surrounded. Imagine how he would feel when God comes back with a surprising answer to his real concern:

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.”

Reflection and Response

Today, you may have enough money to buy presents for your family, to enjoy a large festive meal, and to experience a wonderful holiday celebration filled with beautiful decorations and lights. Yet, when you invite God into your plan for this holiday, he may just turn the invitation back on you and invite you into what he already has planned for you! Give yourself some time today to ponder what plan God might invite you into as you begin celebrating with family and friends. What one thing might you do to step into God’s plan for you today? 

By Yvonne Biel  

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Advent of Peace | 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 162019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Joy in Salvation | Isaiah 61:10

Read Isaiah 61:10

“Joy to the world! The Lord has come!” These are the words from the hymn writer Isaac Watts, whose devotion to the Lord and desire to praise God caused him to write over 600 spiritual songs. He took familiar Psalms and made them very singable. This famous Christmas carol is a paraphrase of the last part of Psalm 98: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth, make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praise. Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. For He cometh to judge the earth, with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity” (KJV).

The coming of God incarnate as the babe in Bethlehem brought the salvation needed to remove the curse of Adam’s fall. Christ came to redeem and make the assembly of those who follow him, the church, his bride. It is a mystery to us now, only to be understood when Jesus comes again, as described in Revelation 19:7-8:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready, it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

Jesus came. Jesus saved. Because of Jesus, we’re clothed with the garments of salvation. Our salvation is by God’s own doing, by God’s own son on the cross: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now, we respond in joy! So, wherever you find yourselves this Advent, take joy in the God of your salvation. Rejoice in the great gift God has provided for you, that you may to live forever with him in eternal bliss.

Reflection and Response

Today, Joni Eareckson Tada suffers from a serious neck injury and has lived as a quadriplegic for over half her life. In reflecting on needing someone else to dress her daily, she’s come to praise God for clothing her with something else she could not put on herself: righteousness. She’s thankful to God every day as she remembers who truly dresses her with salvation. As you get dressed up for your holiday festivities, praise God for the beautiful “new clothes” of righteousness he gives you because Jesus came as a baby into this world for your sake. 

By Donna Burns  

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Joy in Salvation | Isaiah 61:102019-02-09T12:06:30-07:00

Joy in Boasting | Isaiah 62:3-5

Read Isaiah 62:3-5

My mom saved up money for the entire year to buy my dad a new guitar. It was a surprise; he had no idea it was coming. We were all in on it. I can remember us hiding it in the closet on Christmas morning so he couldn’t see it when he first walked down the stairs. We were all waiting for the perfect time for the great reveal. I still can see his face when he discovered what it was, realized the sacrifice it took to get it, and saw not just a guitar, but the gift of love.

There is something joyous about giving a great present. It’s one way to communicate great love. It’s not so much about the gift itself – my dad has since moved on to another guitar. It’s about the way that a gift can affirm affection. The gift allows the recipient to look at the giver and consider how deeply they are loved. That’s the power of a gift. And it’s a power that the nation of Israel knew well.

One of the roles of a prophet was to declare that God was on the move and that he had good in store for his people. The prophet Isaiah points to a time when the fortunes of Israel would be restored – when their pain, sorrow, and abuse would be exchanged for blessing and hope (Isaiah 61). This would have been unthinkable for a generation that knew nothing but exile. It was as if the prophet went over to the proverbial closet and pulled out the great gift – the gift of restoration.

It’s in this gift that Israel boasts (61:6). They knew that they were loved because they had seen the hand of God move on their behalf. They anticipated the gift and relished in the lavish love of the giver. In the following chapter, Isaiah claimed that Israel is called “My Delight is in Her” (Isaiah 62:4-5). He claimed they were a “crown of beauty” and a “royal diadem” in the hands of God. What love! And they received it. And they soaked in it. And they boasted in it.

Reflection and Response

Advent is a time for waiting, but it’s also a time for boasting in God’s great gift to us: his son. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son” (John 3:16). Christmas reminds us that we are loved. This Christmas, receive that truth – and boast in it. God’s gift was given to you and for you because his delight is in you. Tell someone else about God’s radical love today. 

By Ryan Paulson  

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Joy in Boasting | Isaiah 62:3-52019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00

Joy in Reversal | Isaiah 64:1-4

Read Isaiah 64:1-4

His life was a mess. He’d had all the warning signs, the cold shoulders at home, the one- or two-word responses to questions, the lack of eye contact, the kids’ refusal talk with him. They were all there. At work, there were the looks, the conversations stopping when he came up. Then, his life got worse. His wife took the kids and left, and he lost his job. Without his family and his job, his identity was gone. He had no idea what to do, where to go, or who he really was. His reversal couldn’t be more disastrous.

While this story is fictitious, the story and history of the Israelites wasn’t. It was real, and it was worse, if that’s even possible. They were the chosen people of God, his people. They went from being slaves to bring the victorious people who conquered Canaan — all with the power of God standing with them. Then, they lost it all. They took their eyes off God, with all the power he carried and the life-giving support he offered, and instead looked at their neighbors’ lives and practices. They seemed to say to themselves, “Wow, their grass is greener – I want what they have!” And so they stepped out of God’s light and into the darkness of an unfulfilling life dictated by others. Their source of identity fell from God to themselves and their own practices. The reversal of their formerly abundant life couldn’t have been more despondent.

But there remained this one promise: the promise of the Messiah. This promise spoke of a Redeemer, one who would heal their pain and give them freedom. This Messiah would deliver them from the heavy hands of their oppressors and from all the suffering theirs oppressors had caused. This promise was not fictitious. It was real. They had this shining beacon of a promise to hold to, look forward to, and identify with. God would once again lift them from slavery and bring them to freedom and peace. The love of God would once again press on them like the warmth of the sun. This promised reversal couldn’t be realized soon enough!

The arrival of Jesus, the promised Messiah from so many years ago, had proven true. This Messiah offered all the things the promises spoke of, but delivered them quite differently from what people had expected. The promise didn’t come in the form of political freedom from the Romans: the Messiah offered freedom from sin and death. Deliverance didn’t come merely for the kingdom of Israel, but the Kingdom of God became available to all peoples. All were invited. The love of their holy and righteous Father was present once again, available to all who would choose it. The bright promised light had no limits. This reversal of hope, available to all rather than a few, couldn’t have been more appealing.

Reflection and Response

During this season of Advent, reflect on the freedom, abundant life, and secure identity that Christ offers. Meditate on 1 John 3:1-3, and stare into the face of the One who loves you more than you love yourself. Consider your own life, cast it all at the feet of Jesus in surrender, and grasp firmly his promises now. 

By Rich Obrecht

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Joy in Reversal | Isaiah 64:1-42019-02-09T12:06:31-07:00
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