Advent Day 5: Accepting the Signs

And this shall be a sign unto you. – Luke 2:12

There were those waiting in anticipation for the coming of Christ. They were waiting for the fulfillment of prophecies. They likely would have recognized the signs, but the Angels did not appear to scholars or theologians or keepers of the law – but to shepherds.  They accepted the message of truth, just as it was, and accepted the call on their lives to spread the good news.

The message of the Good News is timeless – today, just as it was 2000 Christmases ago, and we are called to share the truth.

Today’s Gift

Think. Has God presented you with any signs lately? Is He leading you to do something new? Seeing His signs are often a result of looking for them. Pray today that you would be prepared for whatever He has in store for you. When you are ready, the signs will appear and lead you in the way you should go.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 4: Igniting the Light of the World

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7

In the darkness, there is fear and confusion. To walk in darkness could result in injury or death, by unseen obstacles or enemies. Light was the perfect analogy for Jesus. In Him, there would be understanding, guidance, safety and the warmth of His love. As the Light of the World, His gift would be free and available to everyone, everywhere.

Christmas is a festival of lights. It is a time when we celebrate the Light of the World born on earth, by the light of a heavenly star. But if the spark of Christ is not born in our hearts, shining through our life, lighting our way, then we will miss the brilliance of Christmas and continue our stumbling through a world of darkness.

Once ignited, we can’t hide the light or live without its warmth. How can we keep it to ourselves while so many others are still out in the cold and dark?

Today’s Gift

Today, pray specifically for an opportunity to be the light of Christ in your world. Be prepared for God to put you into situations that give you the chance to shine. It may be found in a crowded store of impatient shoppers, or in a child’s temper tantrum, or within a diverse workplace that doesn’t know the Christ of Christmas as you do. Start watching for your moment and seize every opportunity.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 3: Christmas Everyday

For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. – John 4:24

It’s not just at Christmas time that we worship the Christ Child. It’s not just inside a church building or event that He is present with us. Our God doesn’t live within time and space as we do, nor is He contained in a book or limited by our understanding. By focusing on His Truths (like love, compassion, surrender, service) and following by faith alone, we can connect to His Spirit so that every breath is worship and every step has purpose.

During this season, if we stop long enough to listen, prepare ourselves to hear, and execute God’s plan as revealed to us, we can then resume our lives with a fresh understanding of how we can become new every day.

 Today’s Gift

 Start a journal today to record the blessings that emerge during this month. You will begin to recognize them more and more as you begin to pay attention. As you write down each gift from God, thank Him and share what He has done for you with others.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 2: The Rock of Our Salvation

…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:3

Jesus was born, not into an organization or hierarchy, but into a little family that would love Him. This was important to God’s plan. A teenage mother who would hold Him tightly, not at arms-length, but as if she would never let Him go. A young man, Joseph, who would have to “stand in” for God Himself to cradle, protect and guide a little boy who  would never really be His own. As Jesus would grow to be the Cornerstone for all mankind, Joseph would have to be the rock solid foundation for this heaven-made family on earth through turbulent and uncertain days.

In the same way, all believers are held tightly in the soft embrace of a family assembled by birth or by choice, surrounded by a fortress of Hope built by the Rock of our Salvation. In a hard world, we can be like living stones – standing firm against pressure, while being made smooth by constant friction on all sides. The human heart is a fragile muscle of flesh, yet nothing is stronger than a heart filled with the hope that was born with a Baby who was laid in both a manger chiseled from rock and a tomb of stone.  Neither would hold Him for long, but He would make His steadfast home in our hearts forever if we let Him.

Today’s Gift

Focus on your family today, they are your gift every day. Appreciate what each one brings to your life. Do not wait for Christmas day to give them a sign of your love: a hug, your time, a word of encouragement or a heartfelt “I love you.”  Pray for each one individually today.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 1: In the Moment

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. – Hebrews 4:9-11

Stop what you’re doing! Pause – take a breath – reflect – recognize the beauty, the mystery, the message of the season looming before us. We’re bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, and only getting worse as the year rushes to its end. Rest is important; even God rested. While He created time, He did not intend for us to use it as just a launching pad to the next day, but for us to breathe in each moment as the gift it is. What God provides is worth waiting for, worth walking through instead of running past.

As we step into this season of hustle and bustle, worry and want, may we not forget the season of gratitude we just left behind and enter into the peace and joy it is meant to be.

Today’s Gift

 Start this season with a gift for yourself. Set aside at least 15 minutes every day from now through Christmas just for you. It may be any time of day and any place, but do not let the day pass without taking time for quiet meditation, reflection, prayer and finding a peaceful place within yourself to appreciate the moment and to meet with God.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent 2017

How many times have celebration preparations, customs and traditions, drowned out the joy?  How many brides are exhausted, stressed-out, and disappointed when their big day arrives? How can we survive the holidays? Can we live up to the hype? Can we sustain expectations in changing times, as children move out and loved ones pass on, and life spins off in unimagined directions?

No, we can’t. It’s just too much at this or any time of year.

Happiness that comes from the external sources is but shallow and fleeting. Real joy is internal, invariable with time or circumstance. This is Christmas joy; rejoicing that Light and Love came into the world and continues to burn bright within us though darkness may fall around us. It is not the day, the tradition or the trappings that make us truly happy, but the realization that we can experience profound happiness without anything but the Savior who is the eternal source of joy.

For many, this is the season excess: more gifts, more food, more parties, more decorations, more, more, more! We jam pack our December days and nights until there is no room for another thing, another activity, another moment for anyone else. So full, yet so empty. In the days of Caesar Augustus, when a young couple came into town, there was no room for them either. The people were so full of themselves, most missed the most important event of all time. Someone made room and they were filled for a life time. This year, may we push back from the table and make room in our lives, in our budget and in our Christmas for Christ.

That is my wish as I offer twenty-five Bible based devotions for the Christmas season, Advent Emmanuel, literally “preparing for God with us”, that may bring you more insight to Christ and to yourself. When Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 2:11) His disciples had to come to a point of decision as He stood before them, looking them in the eye and asking this pivotal question. He still asks each of us this same question today. Through your daily meditation, prayer and the actions you take, may you truly come to know, or know with more conviction, who Jesus really is in your life.

Honoring the traditional Advent Calendar in which a small gift is opened each day as Christmas approaches, with each reading, I offer you a gift. It may be a gift that you receive or that you give, but either way, you will benefit from putting your faith in action.

Let’s begin the journey of this Advent season renewing our willingness to BE what God wants us to be, to SERVE whomever and wherever He desires, and to allow Him to CHANGE us into the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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FOUR-WEEK PRAYER & EVANGELISM DEVOTIONAL – WEEK 4: A COMMITMENT TO INVITE

“So everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen, warning them and teaching them as well as we know how.” —Colossians 1:28 TLB

 

Questions to consider:

  1. What has happened in your heart toward those that are far from God in the last three weeks?
  2. Have you had increased opportunities to share what God has done in your life in the last three weeks?
  3. Have you seen anyone of your 3 move forward in the journey to knowing Jesus?
  4. How has your prayer life changed as a result of this study?

Important: Know that regardless of whether or not your friends have moved closer toward knowing Christ or whether you’ve have had the opportunity to share their faith, God will honor your heart and faithfulness. Joining God in his mission to recover his lost children is a lifelong journey. Whether or not you see immediate results, or whether those results take more time, God will honor your devotion to his mission.

Sharing Your Story

Take a sheet of paper and label the top Pre-Christ. Label the middle Meeting Christ. Label the bottom Post-Christ. In three minutes, write under the Pre-Christ header what your life was like before you came to faith in Jesus. This does not have to be in paragraph form or even complete sentences. You might have accepted Jesus Christ at a very young age. Focus on what it is like for you to live a day, a week, or a season without Jesus at the forefront of your life. Perhaps you’ve experienced seasons of growth by which you can contrast life before you lived as Jesus intended.

Next, take three minutes to write the events surrounding the how you met Jesus, under the Meeting Christ section. Write down as many details as you can remember—where you were, who was with you, what caused you to make the decision, etc. You might also write down how Jesus got ahold of your heart to go deeper with him at a later age.

Finally, write down, in the span of just three minutes, how your life has been different since you became a Christ-followers in the Post-Christ section. Consider practicing sharing your story with another believer. Realize that your story may be a rough draft; keep practicing and it will get better!

Remember: The point of sharing your story is not that you sound like the next Billy Graham, but that your friends who are far from God know your life has been changed by Jesus. The change Jesus brings to their lives is infinitely more powerful than being able to tell the story like a professional preacher. For a resource in your personal study, you may want to refer to Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa in Acts 26. He follows this basic outline to share his story, and he does it in just a few minutes.

Sharing Jesus’ Story

Leaders, in this section, your students will learn a method for sharing the gospel of Christ in a clear, straightforward manner. If your church has a particular way to approach this, feel free to use it instead. There are a number of fantastic resources to help you with this section. Warner Press has a tool called It’s Awesome. This is a simple tract-type visual that you can use to help them describe the new life in Christ to their friends. You can order online at www.warnerpress.org or by calling 800-741- 7721. How to Become a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels includes “The Bridge Illustration,” which has been effective for thousands of people. Another resource is The Bridge to Life tool, available from the Navigators (www.navpress.org). It’s a very simple visual you can use to describe the fact that we are separated from God because of our sin, but that Christ bridges the gap between us and God. You can also do a Google search for “gospel presentation” for a number of free resources.

You can also take a look at How to Share Your Faith Without an Argument by Bill Faye. The Internet site is https://discoveryseries.org/courses/how-can-i-share-my-faith-without-an-argument/. If there is time, have them pair up and practice going through the illustration with each other. Encourage them to commit the illustration to memory so they can easily explain the basics of the gospel with their friends.

Now go and tell. Commit to invite.

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” —James 4:17 NLT

Special thanks to Greg Dewey, creator of 360 Revolution. www.JesusIsTheSubject.org/360

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FOUR-WEEK PRAYER & EVANGELISM DEVOTIONAL – WEEK 3: A COMMITMENT TO INVEST

“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” —1 Corinthians 10:24 NLT

People do think we are weird sometimes when we bring up Jesus. Most of the time it’s not the most effective method to share Jesus with people the first time you meet them or really early on in the relationship. Certainly, there are situations where someone is in a crisis or you just sense that they are open to the message or God moves you to talk to strangers, but most of the time building a relationship is the most effective way.

Talking without a relationship is often not as effective. And sometimes it even closes the door to more conversations later. It’s sort of like being a door-to-door salesman without knowing the person. Relationships are key. With people you really know well, you can share things with them that other people can’t. It might make them upset if someone else said it to them, but you can say things to them because you are real friends. You can say hard things and be real with each other because you trust each other and know each other.

There is a great verse that says: “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24 RSV).

But the key to really want to build a relationship because we love people. We want the best for others. We want people to know we care. Some of you need to take some risks in your current friendships. You need to take a chance and share about the love of Jesus. Some of you are in a bubble. What I mean is that when we talk about this stuff, you say, “Hey, I go to a Christian school, and all my friends are Christians. I don’t have anyone to share with.” You are blessed to be around people who know Jesus. You’ve been given a special gift there, and because of that maybe you owe something a little extra back. You’ve gone faster in understanding things about God, so you have to work harder at reaching others. If not at your school or in your immediate circle, how about your neighborhood or other outside areas or activities? Look for people to get to know and reach out to them. Show some interest in them. Show them that you care. The Bible says: “Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others” (Phil 2:4 NCV).

It never seems like the right time to share. Sometimes you have to work at making it the right time There’s a book called Outbreak that’s about sharing your faith. With people he knows well and sometimes not so well, the author uses pop culture to bring up Jesus. For example, at the movies maybe there is something about God in the story or there is a hero figure like Jesus. At a Superman movie, for example, you could say that Superman is a guy who goes around saving everyone. That’s kind of the mission of Jesus. And your friend might be like, “What? Jesus is Superman?” Then you have a chance to explain and talk a little.

There’s all kinds of pop culture that can flow into spiritual conversations. You can lead into this conversation with people when they bring up some big life thing, like their aunt has cancer or their grandma is dying or something like that. You can be a real friend in that situation. You can also say, “Yeah, life is crazy. What do you think about heaven and stuff?” Maybe that will lead into a deeper conversation.

A great discussion starter question is to ask, “ Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” You can learn a lot about a person that way. Then you can ask, “What do you think about Jesus?”

I don’t want to share because I don’t know enough about God to answer any questions. Realize that you’re never going to know it all, but you can know enough. Focus on these things:

  • Know who Jesus is.
  • Know how he loves.
  • Know why he came.
  • Know what he offers.

Sit down and write out the answers in your own words so you will be ready to share when you get the chance.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV).

People are going to pretend that they don’t care to hear the message, but there is something inside of them, something inside all of us, that wants to know. There is a God-shaped hole inside of us that can only be filled permanently with a relationship with Jesus. People try to fill it with everything else the world has to offer, but it just slips on out. It doesn’t fill the God-vacuum that all of us have without Jesus.

There is a simple strategy to help us called the 360 REVOLUTION. The overall premise of the 360 REVOLUTION is to look around you 360 degrees to see where God is at work and the opportunities he is giving to you to share with others—at work, school, home, wherever you go, whatever you do, and whoever you meet.

The three steps to the 360 REVOLUTION challenge us to:

  • Invest in 3 people who don’t know Jesus. These could be family members, friends, teammates, neighbors, cousins, students in your classes, a boss, a teacher, and so on. It can be anyone God has put in your path.
  • Pray for them 6 days a week, taking action at least one of those days.
  • Miss 0 opportunities to plant and water a seed of truth about God.

In the 360 strategy, we find 3 people, pray for them 6 days a week, and miss 0 opportunities. We will also begin to pray for these three people six days a week.

(Note: Why not seven days? There was a time when Moses was praying and God said, in essence, “What are you doing still praying? Get up and do something.” We are going to do something at least one day a week for these three people. This may be writing them a note, sending them an e-mail, or doing something with them, but do something.)

Check in next Sunday for the Week Four devotional – Commitment to Invite

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FOUR-WEEK PRAYER & EVANGELISM DEVOTIONAL – WEEK 2: A COMMITMENT TO INFLUENCE

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” —Matthew 5:13–16 NLT

Can you be a person of influence for Jesus in your workplace? In your neighborhood? In your school? At the gym, the mall, the church? Can you be Jesus to those with whom you cross paths? When you see someone in need, do you lend a hand? Can you respond to conflict differently than the world? How do you handle times of difficulty? Are you kind, but firmly grounded in Christ? Are you investing in people more than projects and tasks? Do what Jesus did. Get to know people first, tell them that God’s looking for them, and point them in his direction. When you do, you’ll be in good company with Jesus.

He was misunderstood. Some of Jesus’ closest friends rejected him and dropped him. Jesus’ area of influence was near where he lived, where he spent most of his time. Outside your house, you spend most of your time at the office or church (or if you’re a minister, perhaps your church or a local restaurant is your office!). These are major ministry settings for you! Relationships really mattered to Jesus.

So how do you do it? How do you have influence? How do you do what Jesus did? First make sure that this verse stays hidden in your heart!

“Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval—only God approval” (1 Thess 2:4 MSG).

If you approach having influence on others with this verse in mind, and not with fear or ego in mind, it will significantly change your focus. So memorize this verse and keep it close by to remind you what you are doing if you take on this challenge. So how do you become a person who helps influence people toward the new life that Jesus brings?

The first thing you’ve got to do in all this is build relationships. Did you become a Christian through a TV ministry or by reading a theology book? Possibly. But most people accept Christ because a family member or a pastor or a friend built a real relationship with them and shared God’s love with them.

Here are five things that you can do to build these relationships the way Jesus did:

  1. Start with people you know.
  2. Pray. Ask God with whom he wants you to develop a deeper friendship.
  3. Use common interests to your advantage.
  4. Listen. When you listen to someone, it shows that you have special respect for them. Most people have very few friends who really listen to them.
  5. Talk about spiritual things early. You can do this casually. A friend asks, “What are you doing this weekend?” You say, “I’m going to the mall, hanging out with Becky, and going to church.” “You go to church? Really? Why or where?”

Making some or all of these things a priority will result in you having the opportunity to really make a difference for eternity in someone’s life.

Check in next Sunday for the Week Three devotional – Commitment to Invest

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FOUR-WEEK PRAYER & EVANGELISM DEVOTIONAL – WEEK 1: A COMMITMENT TO CARE

“The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”  —Matthew 9:37 NLT

No doubt, there is a lot of work to do, but not many people will actually do it. They’ll find an excuse not to reach out. You are on the front line of God’s work. If you don’t reach your friends, family, and neighbors, who will? The cold harsh reality is that not only will those people be separated from God in this life, but they will be separated from God for eternity. Right now in your heart, you’re probably having one of these reactions to these statements.

  1. You’re willing to reach out, but you don’t know how.
  2. You’re not willing to reach out right now because either you’ve tried and failed or you think that someone else will do it, and that you can just be the best Christian you can be, and that that’s enough.
  3. Your heart is broken by hearing this.

Which one are you? Are you somewhere in between those points, or is one of those dead-center where you are today? Hopefully God will move your heart toward Number 3, where you will be excited about reaching out to the people around you and that your heart would break for them!

According to research from the Barna Group, the people around you may be ready for a conversation about God. Many say that they pray to God and that they want a deep relationship with him. The door is open. Your friends at school, the dudes at the mall, the people at the movies sitting behind you talking or making out—many of them are open to Jesus and open to you.

Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–35).

Now think about the man who was beaten up in this story. Is there anyone in your school, anyone at the grocery store, anyone on your street or in your path who needs to know and experience the love of God?

  • The priest in the story who went across the street to avoid the hurting guy is like some of us who see the need but don’t want to take the risk of reaching out.
  • The temple assistant is like some of you who may be willing to reach out but figure that someone else will lead them to Jesus. Someone else will do it.
  • The Samaritan is the one who cared, the one who stopped and met the man’s needs, took him to where he could be healed, and then even promised to follow up and take care of any extra needs he might have. Despite their differences, he cared. (Remember, Jews strongly disliked the Samaritans!)

This is what a commitment to care is all about:

  • Being willing to meet someone’s needs—their physical, emotional, or spiritual needs.
  • Doing something about it, taking them to the place they can be healed or get help, and being willing to take Jesus to them and help them see how much he loves them.
  • And following through by looking out for that person’s spiritual growth.

Would you take seriously this week your commitment to care? Start your commitment to care today by examining and thinking about your response to this crucial question: Do you really care about the lost people around you?

Nike once aired a great commercial that asked the question, “Is it in you?” Along with showing people achieving great things, it shows them failing and asking themselves, “Is it in me to win?” If you join this 360 REVOLUTION, you will fail from time to time. People will laugh at you; they may call you names. But what you have to keep asking is, “Is it in me to do what God said and tell other people about Jesus so they can experience the life God planned for them? Is it in you?

Check in next Sunday for the Week Two devotional – Commitment to Influence

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