Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Fullness of Time Has Come


The Fullness of Time Has Come

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Galatians 4:4-­‐7 NRSV

Merry Christmas!

We are now at the end of our Advent journey. We have traveled together for twenty-­‐four days. Hopefully, we did not arrive on this day as though we had fallen out of a car. I pray that everyone reading this devotional has found himself or herself closer to God than when they began this season of preparation. The purpose of this Advent journey was to bring us closer to God who has given us the gift of God’s son, Jesus.

The purpose of God sending God’s son to us was so that we might also become God’s children. Did you realize that you are a child of God? Perhaps you have heard that phrase before and it sounds rather worn out. But if you are child of God, think of what you will inherit! Think of the love that God has for you as one of God’s children! It is like being adopted.

For some of you, being adopted might not sound so pleasant. I remember hearing the story of my grandmother (my father’s mother) saying, “I could never love someone else’s child.” Yet, that is exactly what she and my adoptive parents did when I was adopted at three months of age. I have never felt less loved or less a part of the family. Even after finding my blood mother’s family, I realize how much I was loved from them as well.

God’s love for you as God’s adopted child is incredibly special and not any less than God’s love for Jesus Christ. With the birth of Christ and your own adoption, you are part of the family of God! Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ!

God, we thank you so much for the gift of your son, Jesus, who was born so that we might be adopted into your family! What a gift you have given to each one of us! We thank you and praise you on this holy day! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rev. Amelia Sims 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The First Christmas Gift


The First Christmas Gift

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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:2-7

I suspect the whole experience wasn’t quite what she imagined the day the angel came to call. She’d never been pregnant. She’d never been married. And she’d probably never left Nazareth before. When she’d signed on for this tremendous task, she was scared but she figured God would take care of everything somehow. And God had, but not quite as miraculously and easily as he had placed the baby within her. Joseph did marry her, but not until after some discussion, thought and prayer. The neighbors hadn’t stoned her as an adulteress, but she knew they were still whispering behind closed doors. And then just as her time to give birth was near, the Roman government had demanded they travel to Bethlehem. If she’d ever dreamed of seeing the world, this was not the time to do it! Now here she was in the middle of the longest night of the year, in a stable in a strange town experiencing the greatest pain of her life.

Our Christmas carols and Christmas cards make it all look so tame, so easy, and so sweet. The innocent young woman, her doting husband, animals that don’t smell, a baby that doesn’t cry, and a star that gives off as much light as the sun. No smells, no harsh sounds, no pain, no fear, and no darkness. But that wasn’t how it was.

Jesus wasn’t born in some supernatural bubble. He was Emmanuel, God with us. So he was born into our very real and scary world. He wasn’t some baby doll that never cries but a flesh and blood baby whose parents took a deep sigh of relief when his lungs filled with air and he gave his first cry. He was not born in a castle surrounded by comfort and cared for by servants but in a stable surrounded by dirty, stinky animals and cared for by loving but inexperienced parents. Nor was he born in the bright light of day, but instead he was born in the middle of the longest night.

Perhaps that is why we try to clean the story up a bit. Because there is something very uncomfortable about acknowledging the darkness of the world around us and the darkness that exists within ourselves. Better to ignore the darkness. Better to pretend the world is a kind – if not good – place, and avoid watching the news, asking too many questions or looking too hard within. Better to turn the story of God breaking into the world into a sweet children’s story than to acknowledge that God took on flesh and came to dwell among us precisely because the world is a dark place.

But here is the good news of Jesus Christ: in the midst of darkness, in the midst of pain, in the most unexpected places and among the most unexpected people, God comes and the people who walk in darkness see a great light and the darkness cannot overcome it! This is what I so love about this story—not that God entered the world in some magically light, joyful and perfect place but that God entered into the reality of our dark, broken world and brought light, joy, and hope to it. God entered the world not when we needed him the least but when we needed him the most.

If Good Friday reminds us of the seriousness of our sin and rebellion, and Easter reminds us of the possibility of a new life beyond this one, then Christmas reminds us that this life, this world, this flesh are valued by God. The birth in Bethlehem grounds our faith. Christmas reminds us that God came for those of us who still live and struggle, who hunger and feast, who cry and laugh, who celebrate and mourn. In the midst of this present darkness—our pain, our sins, our grief, our fears – God came and his light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

The first Christmas gift was a baby born to a poor couple in a stable: a candle lit in the midst of our darkness. The first Christmas gift was a single solitary flame but one which pierces our darkness.
 God, thank you for your gift of Christmas – a candle lit in the midst of our darkness. Jesus has come and the people who walk in darkness see a great light which the darkness will never overcome! Amen.

Rev. Sherill Clontz 
North Alabama UMC Cheaha District Superintendent 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What's For Dinner?


What’s for Dinner?

I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. Matthew 25:35

What’s for dinner? How many times have you heard this phrase or even asked the question yourself? Most times we learn that it is chicken, spaghetti or left overs. I know at the Ennis’ home the answer is usually Frontier or Munoz! But do you realize there are numerous people right here in Birmingham that never know what’s for dinner or even breakfast or lunch. I’m talking about the homeless population right around us. Our youth and additional church members have had the privilege of serving meals at the Firehouse Shelter. Every one that knows me knows I have a germ phobia; but every time I have served at the shelter, I have never felt scared. I know that just serving a simple meal (sometimes it can even be cooked coleslaw) and asking them how their day is going and listening to them is what God is calling us to do! God is Love, He has commanded us to Love others. Our own mission statement reflects this: Love God, Love Others, and Share God’s Love. I encourage you this holiday season and into the beginning of the New Year to think about joining us as we feed the homeless — so that way you will know what’s for dinner!

God’s peace and love to you!

Lori Ennis 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Freedom


Freedom

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 

A hummingbird was trapped on my screen porch today. It flew in through the open door and could not find his way out. She kept flying into the screen again and again. She could see the outdoors through the screen, but could not penetrate the barrier that kept her trapped.

She would repeatedly fly against the screen, moving to a slightly different places- a little higher, a little lower, over to the right, but mostly back to the same spot. She was frantic and relentless in her efforts. As I watched her, I wanted to tell her to go just a little to the right. The open door is just a little lower. Freedom is just a few feet to the right. Oh, if only I could help you! There was no way to communicate with the bird, just watch her struggle.... Finally I could not stand it anymore. I got a broom, turned it upside down and tried to urge the frantic little bird toward the open door, trying to gently guide her to safety. She got closer to the door then she took an end around and flew in the opposite direction. Frustrated, I watched her struggle awhile longer. I became more worried that she was tiring and would not make it out alive. Momma said she had been out there for hours. I found a soft, fluffy duster on a long pole. Cautiously I approached the hummingbird as she rested on the screen.

She fluttered into the air and wonderful, she landed on the soft duster. She allowed me to slowly escort her to the open door and freedom! YES!!! I was so elated!

As I thought about the incident several things occurred to me. First I wondered how often God has watched us struggle against the barriers in our lives that keep us from living with the freedom and peace He desires for us. We try to handle all of the worries, heartaches, pain, disappointments, and fears that compose our everyday lives ourselves, instead of looking toGod for direction. We look to the outside world for answers, beating our wings against the screen, so to speak, looking for the solutions that God can give us if we would only ask Him.

Secondly, if I, as a mere human, felt so much joy at helping a little hummingbird find its freedom how much more celebrating must go on in heaven when God helps us find peace and freedom. God sent Jesus into our world so that He could give us personal direction on how to live the life that God desires for us. God loves us so much that He sent His own Son that we might learn how to live and have a personal relationship with Him. No greater Christmas gift has ever been given to so many. May we Celebrate with Joy and Thanksgiving!

Our most gracious Heavenly Father we thank you for loving us. Please grant us the wisdom and courage to seek You daily so that we may live the life that you created us to live. Thank you for sending Jesus into our world. We praise your Holy Name. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen
Karen Styles 


Friday, December 21, 2012

God's Perfect Timing


God’s Perfect Timing

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

The joy of expecting! I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to be having a baby! I bought every pregnancy book; I followed my doctor’s orders to the letter. This was going to be the perfect pregnancy. Until it wasn’t!

When I was only five months pregnant, I went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. The outlook was very grim. The chance of this baby surviving delivery was very slim. And even if she survived, she would have little quality of life. They kept saying she was just “born too soon.”

She came fighting into this world and took our hearts! From the moment we saw her, it was love at first sight! All one pound seven ounces and eleven inches of her! I was in love! McKenzie Grace!

The next several months proved to be some of the longest, hardest, challenging months of our life. We had our highest highs when McKenzie had good days, as well as our lowest lows when McKenzie had her bad days. From the start, almost on a daily basis, we were reminded not to get our hopes up too much – that even though she would have a good day every once in a while, the doctors still did not expect much.

But as the hours turned into days turned into weeks turned into months, McKenzie fought with every tiny ounce of her being! She was getting stronger, a little every day, she was proving the doctors wrong!

Being born at 24 weeks, all the doctors could tell us was that very few babies survived, and those who did, have very poor prognosis. “Being born too soon” that was the problem.

But what they didn’t know was that McKenzie was not “born too soon,” she was born right on schedule – God’s schedule. And His timing is never wrong! All those days, weeks and months that we feared she might not survive, God already knew that she would; He already had her life planned out.

Thank you God for Your perfect timing! God during this Advent Season, remind us during this time of expectant waiting, to remember that You already have the answers.We only need follow You. Amen.

Jamie Hagy


Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Favorite Christmas


My Favorite Christmas

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God....for God is love. I John 4:7-­8

As I write this, we are rushing headlong into another Christmas season. Amelia, Thomas and I went out to a store this afternoon and the crowds were there, rushing about and buying gifts. What better time to stop for a few moments and consider.....what is it you hope for, REALLY hope for, this Christmas?
I’m not talking gifts here, at least not the kind that come in packages. I’m talking about spending your greatest gift – time – with the people you love and who love you.

By the time you read this, we will have done many of the Christmas activities. We have “hung the greens,” we have lit the Advent wreath, we have enjoyed our children in their Christmas pageant, we have sung Christmas carols. Each activity has been a time to share time with our church family, to remember the story of God’s love come down to us in the person of a tiny child, and to build memories for the future.

When people ask me, “What was your favorite Christmas?” my response is, “This one.” This one, that is happening now all around us.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the Christmas season. Thank you for the opportunity you have given us to spend time with one another. Help us to be intentional about sharing the gift of ourselves this Christmas. Amen.

Brother Ed Sims 
(And husband of Amelia!)


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not Just At Christmas


Not Just at Christmas.......


To know anything at all of God’s will we have to participate, in some manner, in
the vision of the prophets: men and women who were always alive to the divine
light concealed in the opacity of things and events, and who sometimes saw glimpses of that light where other men saw nothing but ordinary happenings (Anonymous).


Ours is a culture of the sensational. What’s the next great thing on the horizon? It surely needs to be bigger and better than the last great thing! At the personal level, many today are seldom content with “keeping it simple.” From engagement proposals, vacation trips, and television sets, we want each thing and event to be bigger, better, unique, or spectacular. Church culture can take on this same kind of approach to life. What’s the next big event or special activity? I have known believers who thrive on the sensationalistic. They want to see current events as fulfilled prophecy. They want to know answers to questions that are not in the Scriptures. They seem to have an insatiable appetite for the latest, biggest, greatest, new “spiritual fad” going around.

There is so much more that God has ordained for us through the local church on a regular basis. There is the preaching and teaching of His Word. There are prayer times and times of praise, thanksgiving, and fellowship. May spiritual leaders be concerned about making these things more and more God-centered rather than spending time trying to come up with “bigger and better” programs. May we truly desire to see how extraordinary these things are that God has ordained to be a regular part of our lives! Imagine the blessings if every Lord’s Day was thought of as a very special time when God ministered to us in a wonderful way. What joy as He comes to us through His Word and shows us His glory, greatness, judgment, grace, love, power, purposes, and wisdom all wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ! Imagine if every time the church celebrated Communion, the church was filled with anticipation and excitement in seeing fresh and new the grace of God as we remember His saving sacrifice on the cross. Imagine the church coming together to collectively approach God’s throne of grace in prayer because we surely have a great high priest before that holy throne.

We must ask God to help us not to miss His ordinary yet remarkable means of grace. He works through many ordinary means that are extraordinarily significant! He is the God who gathers us together to transform us. He is the God who is sovereignly at work every single day in every single moment of our lives. These ordinary means are ordinary in the sense that they are regular and frequent. However, these means are filled with wonder, delight, fear (not the terrifying kind), and so much more. God has ordained these things to accomplish His gracious and glorious purposes in our lives. They are not to be overlooked but embraced.

When I see a flower, I think, Wow! Look at all the detail God put into this! Surely He knows the details of my life!

Thank God! God is constantly showering us with blessings throughout the day, and it is good to get into the habit of offering Him a small spontaneous “Thank you, Lord!” whenever we recognize such blessings in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

When we take down the obstacles that stop us from seeing God, we will see His fingerprints everywhere. Not only can we see His glory but we can communicate with Him. We can hear what He has to say to us. We can understand our true purpose in life when we find Him. The peace and joy of having a relationship with Him is priceless.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchet.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”


Kerry Swickard 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Friendly Beasts


The Friendly Beasts

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:7 NLT


Jesus our brother, strong and good, 
Was humbly born in a stable rude, 
And the friendly beasts around him stood, 
Jesus our brother, strong and good.

The Friendly Beasts Christmas hymn shows you how powerful God really is. I mean to make all these animals contribute to Jesus’ birth and helping him it just really shows God’s power. I just think it is so cool how God can control these animals who probably only have brains the size of a walnut to do things for Jesus. I mean, some of them are kind of expected – like the donkey is kind of obvious because back then donkeys were like horses. But the dove – it is not every night that the dove sings you to sleep. Some things like the cow are not really about the animal, but it is about the trough that was used as Jesus’ cradle.

This hymn also shows how special Jesus is as God’s son. It shows you how much God cares for him and how much of a sacrifice it would have been for God when Jesus died. With that knowledge in mind, you really start to understand what it was like to care for someone that much and have to sacrifice him so that everyone else could have forgiveness of sins.

Dear God, thank you for all the “lovely beasts” in our world. Thank you for all our family and friends and loved ones. Thank you for sacrificing Jesus for our sins and thank you for having Him born. And thank you for all the things you have done for us. Amen.

Thomas Sims, Age 11 
(And son of Amelia!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Surprise Package


Surprise Package

And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth! Luke 2:12 NLT

One of the Christmas traditions in my family has been that of the surprise package. My dad, and later each of us kids, would specially wrap or prepare one present. We were not to touch the other gifts under the tree, but the special present could be picked up, shaken, weighed or whatever -- just so long as we didn't unwrap it. Guess which present we were the most interested in opening on Christmas morning?

My dad initiated a special excitement to our Christmas seasons. Although he was far from a devout Christian, I'd like to borrow from his theology. The classic interpretation of giving gifts at Christmas harkens back to the gifts of the three magi or wise men. Many Christians delay gift giving until the twelfth day of Christmas when some say the magi arrived. Others give one gift each of the twelve days of the season. Over the years most Christians have succumbed to the madness of Christmas gift giving that has lined merchants' pockets, but left us exhausted in our searches to find the right gifts in order to please our friends and loved ones.

I'd like to offer a different theology, one similar to my dad's surprise package. When Jesus came, the Jews of his time were expecting a Messiah, a military leader who would bring back the glory years of their community. Instead, God gave them a surprise package, a baby lying in a manger! I'd like to think of our Christmas gifts as representing the gift God gave to us. That means much more to me than some travelers' gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I remember one Christmas when my surprise came from my mother. It was one of those gifts that I hadn't asked for. It was books, one of those gifts I only sought after when all the others had lost their newness. However, I loved the two books, and they were the first of many that were part of a book club package. I can remember waiting every other month at the mailbox for the next book to arrive. I can't remember what was first on my Christmas list that year. But my unexpected gift became one that I remember to this day.

Jesus is like that, a surprise package, not the gift we were expecting. But He is the greatest gift of all. And it all started with a baby in a manger.

Almighty and gracious God, thank you for the matchless gift you have given me in Jesus Christ. As I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, help me to remember your gift each time I select a gift to give to someone else. Finally, lead me to be a blessing to others; so they can see your gift of your grace in me. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Rev. Rich Patsios, Retired



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Check It Out


Check It Out
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2: 8- 18

It had to be the ancient equivalent of a modern day alien encounter.

A group of shepherds right outside the city are quietly settling down after a long day of herding. Most of them doze off around the embers of a dying fire, while one or two of them keep watch to protect the flock from wolves or mountain lions.

Then suddenly out of the blackness, a light! No wait, it’s a person? A person appears out of nowhere – floating and glowing against the inky sky. Undoubtedly some of them scrambled for cover. Others probably stood still, frozen in terror, unable to even speak. And then the being says something to them that they probably laughed about years later, but certainly not now.

“Don’t be afraid!”? That statement is almost comical. A strange, radiant man appears in the sky, and says not to be afraid? Sure.

But they listened, perhaps calmed by the angels soothing demeanor. And the angel gave them the good news. The Savior has been born, and is in a stable just a few miles away. And then fear gave way to amazement when the sky was filled with angels shouting “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, and good will to men.”

The angels departed, and the shepherds were left as they were just moments before. Silence undoubtedly fell upon them at they pondered what they had seen and heard. Then a decision was made by all of them. “Let’s go check out what they just told us about.”

This is a perfect example of what people with doubts or questions about Jesus Christ should do. Check it out! The shepherds heard the news and certainly did just that. Likewise, we should encourage people who have doubts after they to do the same. Check out what they heard. Make an unbiased appraisal of the evidence concerning Jesus Christ. Faith always requires a leap, but there is a plethora of facts can make that jump across the precipice much easier.

God, I would ask that you continue to show yourself to everyone who seeks the truth. And that they would follow that path which leads to your Son. Amen

Joe Hobby 



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Keep Christ in Christmas


Keep Christ in Christmas

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...” Luke 1:34

It seems each year Christmas becomes more and more commercialized. Some stores began selling decorations in September. At the same time people are more concerned with buying “the newest”, “the biggest”, “the best”, “more lights”, “the perfect tree” and...the list could go on and on. How easy it is to get wrapped up in the frenzy of decorating and gift giving. All of those material things are unnecessary and have nothing to do with the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While it is fun to decorate and give our loved ones presents, we need to truly keep Christ in Christmas.

Dear Lord in Heaven, thank you for our many blessings and thank you for sending us your Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Amen.

Robbie Hall 


Friday, December 14, 2012

Feeding the Sheep


Feeding the Sheep
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he ... 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. 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, 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.” Matthew 25: 31-40 (NIV)

This past summer I had the opportunity to go to Atlanta, GA to serve at the M-25 Feeding Ministry hosted by Mt. Bethel UMC. This unique service opportunity is geared toward training high school youth and adults to go out and serve as the body of Christ through relational ministry – ministry and relationships with others, with the least of these, with all. Our group served in many ways in many different venues in the short time that we were there. We went into the streets to Woodruff Park to play chess and “hangout” just learning about the people who were without a home. We met many people – all had a story and all had value. They were homeless yet many had jobs, many had a church home, mostly they had each other and they had worth. The biggest gift we gave was recognizing they were not invisible and we did that by forming relationships, acknowledging they were present, welcoming them into our group, learning their names, sharing our stories, and loving them as brothers and sisters.
I was hungry...We made and served meals at Atlanta Mission. We served over 300 people the first few hours we were in Atlanta on the very first day. We prepared over 600 meals to be frozen and stored to get a “jump” on the week at Gateway by helping a wonderful young woman named “Q,” who usually with only a couple of other volunteers makes morning and evening meals for about 300 people daily. She does so much with so little but has the biggest heart and best attitude of all.
I was thirsty....We served cold water in the lobby at Gateway on a hot July day. People were so grateful to have a cold drink. One woman came up for a glass of water and Lori noticed the cup was dirty so she offered to get the woman another cup but the woman took the dirty cup and said, “Honey, this is a lot better than what I have been drinking.” and she took the cup and drank it all and thanked us as if we had given her the finest wine. She was so thankful we had come and that we would spend time talking to her. We felt honored to meet her. Her humility made us aware that this was bigger than we were, God was there. We were serving our Lord.
I was a stranger...Walking in the park was a little intimidating at first but we met so many who would have been strangers if we had simply walked by. It wasn’t comfortable but it was what we were called to do. We met Jesus in the faces of those who others passed by. We acknowledged the invisible and gave them an opportunity to be seen and we valued them for who they are, children of God, brothers and sisters.
I needed clothing...The number one thing that gets taken on the streets is shoes. Also they wear out so fast because living on the street involves a lot of walking from place to place. One of our youth gave her shoes to a person who need them more than she did. She walked in her socks until we got back to the church so that someone else could be comfortable. That is ministry in action!
I was sick...Many of the people we met were ill. Some had physical issues, some mental, all had a story or a heartache but the best medicine in the world is a friend, a listening ear, someone who cares. We prayed with and for so many people and it was amazing to see their spirits lifted even for just a moment. We were able to share God’s Love.
I was in prison... Some of the people we met were in a prison of sorts, a vicious cycle of substance abuse. We learned that most people are not addicted to drugs or alcohol prior to being on the streets but turn to those things to deal with being homeless or to fight off the cold and harsh elements. Once addicted though they have a hard time getting back on their feet and they are imprisoned in that lifestyle. M-25 is training and an outreach, we learned so much that we were able to bring back to Birmingham.

Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s birth. M-25 prepared us to serve. Christ prepares our heart. As you gather gifts this season, don’t forget one of the greatest gifts you can give is your time. Share Jesus with someone this season and all year long!

Lord, please continue to prepare our hearts and minds for service, equip us and send us out. Amen.
Angela Brooks 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Norman Rockwell Christmas


Norman Rockwell Christmas

May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. 2 Samuel 2:6 (NIV)

I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember the many Norman Rockwell paintings on the covers of Saturday Evening Post Magazine. His paintings and illustrations of American culture were enjoyed by a lot of people in the 20th Century. I remember a lot of them. Recently I was at the Birmingham Art Museum for the Norman Rockwell Exhibit, and the Christmas and holiday covers especially caught my eye. Most were humorous Santa Claus or family oriented paintings. The 1930 Christmas issue particularly caught my eye though. It was not Santa oriented and not at all humorous. A medieval style knight, dressed all in black, was standing in front of and looking in to what appeared to be a stain glass window. But as you studied the painting more closely you noticed it was not stain glass that gave the window color but the colorful scene inside of eating and partying. Quite a feast was being served and here was the knight outside in the cold (snow on the window sill) and wind (the knight’s cape was blowing in the wind) looking in at this warm feast.

Please say a special prayer this Christmas for the people who have to work on Christmas Day – soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, police, firemen, ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers. And if you do meet people who have given up Christmas Day off to keep you safe, please share God’s love with them.

Dear Heavenly Father, My prayers are with those who are working hard and standing brave to protect the rest of us. For those who serve on Christmas, I thank You for their sacrifice. May You bless the paramedic that showed up at our house on Thanksgiving Day. I know that You love a faithful servant. Amen.

Rebecca Brayman 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Christmas Prayer


A Christmas Prayer

For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

Christmas is meant to be a time of joyous celebration. But often we’re distracted by the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – weighed down by the cares of the world. At times we find ourselves simply going through the motions, without giving a thought to the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift of all! Through His birth and death and resurrection, He reconciled God and man. We no longer strain under the burden of our sin – Jesus paid the penalty for us – our hearts are clear and we rejoice! God’s love overcomes hatred and evil and enables us to love one another. His kindness to us inspires us to be kind to one another. We give gifts in remembrance of God’s greatest gift to us. Grateful for His forgiveness of our sins, we are moved to forgive others.

Reflecting on this glorious truth, author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the following prayer:
Loving Father, help us remember the birth of Jesus that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Laura Palmer 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

We Can Never Be Too Thankful


We Can Never Be Too Thankful

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New Living Translation)


For many years I had written a devotional for the Advent Devotional book and then I began to procrastinate more and more. I would get so stressed out that I would finally convince myself that I just didn’t have anything worth writing about. So I took the easy way out and just quit writing a devotional. 
But as I would begin reading what others had written, I would be so touched and reminded of so many blessings and things that I had to be thankful for from my past. So I set out this year to try once again to express my thankfulness during the Advent season. I have to admit that I still need lots of work on the procrastination part.

There are always stories or traditions of things that happened in other people’s families during the Advent season that were identical to some of my childhood experiences or at least they caused me to reminisce of very similar experiences. It was like travelling back in time. I could almost smell and taste the food and in the background you could hear the laughter and chatter of adults, and the noise and pandemonium of children at play. As I read, it always jogged my memory and emotions about what great parents and a loving sister I had as well as an extended family of loving aunts, uncles and cousins – things that I now realize I took for granted for a long time in my life.

One usually writes about someone in their life who did or said something that had a profound effect on their life. I am reminded of one early Christmas Eve Communion in the life of our church when John Reed gave a brief talk on what the Communion service meant to him. John had been a WWII POW in Germany and he spoke about how they celebrated Holy Communion even as restricted as they were and about silently repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over and over. Never have I so enjoyed the freedom to be at the Lord’s Table as I did that night and from that time forward. I still remember it just like it was yesterday.

There’s always someone or someone with a close friend or relative that has had a serious accident or illness and survived. I immediately think about how blessed I am to have survived a head-­‐on car crash in 2000 and then later have a granddaughter with a major deformity of her heart survive three open heart surgeries. Just recently she celebrated her sixth birthday. Actually I have been blessed with four wonderful grandchildren since my accident.

These are just a few of the items from the devotionals that touched my heart and served as personal reminders of the many ways I have been blessed in this world; yet they pale in comparison to the biggest blessing any of us will ever receive in the birth of our Lord and Savior so that we might have eternal life. It is only through this preparation during the Advent season that we can be spiritually renewed and fully aware of the magnificent and blessed Gift we have received!

Our Gracious Heavenly Father, we pause and give thanks this day for the many blessings you bring to us each and every day, but especially the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who came into this world to die for us so that we might have everlasting life. Let us give thanks for this blessing as well as all others today and everyday!

Jim McKee



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Monday, December 10, 2012

Depend Upon God's Word


Depend Upon God's Word

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:4-14 NKJV

Take heed that no one deceive you, many shall come in my name saying I am the Christ and shall deceive many. Hear of wars and rumors of war be not troubled for things must come to pass, nations against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, famines, pestilence, earthquakes these are the beginning of sorrows, false prophets. Be hated of all nations. Betrayed one another false prophets. Love grows cold. The word preached to all the world then the end will come.

Yes, this is God’s word; we can deceive ourselves through emotions, or by false prophets. Emotions can lead us astray; we can only depend on God’s word the “Bible” to guide us. The evil one never gives up and works to draw us away. We must live our lives by “God’s Holy Word” and not what others say – study to show ourselves approved being led by the Holy Spirit.

God, may we not deceive ourselves through emotions or by false prophets. Help us to depend upon you and your word. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Doris McKellar 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Light in the Darkness


The Light In The Darkness

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:4-5

Have you ever turned out all of the lights and quietly sat in the darkness? How did it make you feel? Uneasy? Disoriented? Even maybe a little nervous? Each year we pull our Christmas tree from the attic and begin the tradition of decoration, but one year I saw the tree just a little different. Standing in the corner of our home, not yet decorated, our bare, unlit tree reminded me of a dark night sky; without the presence of the moon or any stars.

But once lit, the tree became bright and vibrant – like the night sky when it is lit by the brilliance of hundreds of stars. We must remember that the lights that adorn our trees are more than a reminder of God’s creation and great gift. They are a reminder that Christmas without Jesus is dark – as dark as an unlit Christmas tree.

John tells us that Jesus was born as the light who came into the darkness; our darkness. Without Jesus this world is a very dark place and away from God and lost to sin, there is no true light except Jesus. No matter how many Christmas tree lights we turn on, without the light of the Savior, we will still be lost in the darkness. God sent Jesus into the dark world to bring light and when we follow him we “will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And we not only follow the light but Jesus says, we “are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), which means that we must also light this world, not with our own brightness, but with Jesus’ light.


Father, we thank you that you loved us enough to send the light of Jesus into our dark existence to be the light of life. Help us to be faithful disciples, follow Jesus, and project His light in this world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray, Amen.

Eric Roberson 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GO



GO 
Therefore go and make disciples o f ALL NATIONS....
Matthew 28:19a
It’s that time of year again...the time of year when

everybody goes to church, when everyone says they are a “Christian.” It’s all about spending time with
family, loving one another, gathering for Christmas celebrations and time to put that magnet sticker on
your car that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And yes, He is. But even year round we
Christians forget what CHRIST is all about. I mean,
we’re Christians right? We go to church, we wear the t- shirts, we donate to the food drive, we wear our cross
necklaces, we put ‘Christian’ as our religion on facebook....
Is that all religion is?
A tradition of sanctity with rituals and rules and righteousness? What if we replaced the “religion”
for “reality” and got real with ourselves? What if we decided to get out of our Christian subculture bubble
and actually do something? What would happen if we decided to be honest with ourselves that we’re ALL
sinners? What if we decided that being a Christian isn’t about following a bunch of rules or going to a building every week, but a true lifestyle and
relationship with JESUS CHRIST Himself? What if 14
we actually BELIEVED that the GOSPEL has the POWER to save ANYONE? What if we actually took
God for His HOLY WORD and followed His decree of spreading the Gospel? Would you do it?
He tells us to "go and make disciples of all nations" so you say, “I'll just try to be a ‘good’ Christian (as if there’s such thing) and invite my neighbor to church.” For the record, it’s not that easy. We
constantly forget that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us and that we have been given the same power
that conquered the grave! So, what if we actually
TOLD them about Jesus and the GOSPEL and showed them that they can live free from sin and death
and have a reconciled life with the God of the universe? Would anything change? What if you shared
the GOSPEL with not just your neighbors, but your friends, and your friends' friends and their friends
and the drive through guy, and your waitress, and the guys outside the bar, and the elderly, and the
atheist, and the widow, and that guy that just cut
you off on the interstate, and that girl with the
tattoos,andtheguyinthesuit,and thebullyat school, the immigrants, the people who traffic women
and children, the child in Africa, the man from Canada, The people in Japan, Somalia, France, Ukraine, with all the people who are......sinners?
What would happen then?
Let’s see! Ready.........set......GO!
God, if you are
FOR us, who can be AGAINST us? May we
truly share the gospel. Amen. Laura  Vinson

Friday, December 7, 2012

Faith is Not a Surprise


Faith is Not a Surprise
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

I have never liked surprises. Maybe it is because I was afraid of my reaction if it was something I didn’t like. I am not very good at hiding my emotions. For that reason as a child, I loved to unwrap my Christmas presents when no one was looking and seal them back carefully so I would know how to react on Christmas morning. What I realized as I got older is that I had taken the joy out of the gift.

As an adult, I still am not thrilled about surprises. Now my surprises come in bigger packages-- a life-changing late night call, an unexpected grandchild, a change to teaching first grade. What I have learned along the way is that God has a bigger plan for my life than I can even imagine. What I see as a surprise, God has known about long before I could see the plans He had for me. He asks me to have faith that He will guide my life.

I have learned a different way to look at a surprise through the eyes of faith. I can now see the surprise as a test of my faith. Can I accept the outcome, even if I do not like the gift? Can I say “thank you” and be glad that I have been given the opportunity to receive? Can I accept my “surprise” as a gift of joy? I have learned that by faith I can put the joy back into the surprise. God made us a promise that “all thing work for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose”(Romans8:28). It is a chance to put the joy back into every gift.

Dear Lord, we have been given a wonderful gift this Christmas, the gift of Jesus Christ, Your son, our Lord and Savior who died for our sins. With You there are no surprises, only faithful promises of things to come. May our faith bring us joy this Christmas! Amen.

Carol Hobby 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Are You Too Busy for Divine Appointment?


Are You Too Busy for a Divine Appointment?
On another Sabbath he went to the meeting place and taught. There was a man there with a crippled right hand. The religion scholars and Pharisees had their eye on Jesus to see if he would heal the man, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. He knew what they were up to and spoke to the man with the crippled hand: “Get up and stand here before us.” He did. Then Jesus addressed them, “Let me ask you something: What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”
He looked around, looked each one in the eye. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new! Luke 6:6-10

I love so many things about this passage of scripture in Luke, especially at this time of year. It reminds me of the following:
  1. Jesus was specifically going to the synagogue to teach, but took the time to pay attention to someone in need.
  2. Jesus knew that “all eyes were on him” and chose to meet the need instead of what was expected.
I recently read an article about how there’s a certain part of our brain (orbital prefrontal cortex) that is largely responsible for our social skills and networking. In other words, God made us to be in relationships with each other. Paul tells us that “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

In a hurry to pick up a tray of snacks from Publix to deliver to Clay Elementary, God placed a lady from the bakery in my path that needed His love and care. When I first walked up to the deli, the lady from the bakery acknowledged my presence and told me that someone would be with me in a minute. My response to that kind of statement is usually, “No problem, I stopped being in a hurry several years ago.” Most of the time, that always prompts a question like, “How did you do that”? or “I wish my life would slow down!” Clearly, this lady was in emotional pain because her response was out of the ordinary, “Please, you’re going to make me cry”. (I could see that tears were welling up in her eyes.) 

I asked her what was going on. She proceeded to tell me all the problems and issues that she and her family had faced the last six months, capped off by how she had just come from the ER where her husband had spent the night only to be diagnosed with Diabetes. At that point, I knew that it was no accident that I was there and that God was in our midst. I told her that I was a believer in the power of prayer and asked if I could say a prayer with her about those things she had shared.

So, right there at the deli counter in Publix, we prayed. I had a business card that I left and told her that she could call me anytime if she needed to talk or wanted to pray.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for creating each of us to be Your ambassador to the hurting world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within each of us, give us the wisdom to know those moments during our day when we need to stop and offer Your love to those in need. You are Emmanuel, God with us. Amen


Polly McClure