When the Master Returns! by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture Reading

So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Matthew 24:42-44, NLT

Today’s Devotional Reading

During the season of advent we celebrate the first time that Jesus came to earth, and it serves as a reminder that Jesus promises to come again! God made a promise to humanity that we would send a rescuer (Messiah) and He kept that promise, even though they longed for it for several thousand years. Now we find ourselves longing for the Messiah to come again. Advent is a reminder that God always keeps His promises, Jesus WILL be coming back! That thought should fill us with joy and hope! The struggles, imperfections, injustices, and pain that we see in this world should cause us to long for the day that God makes everything right in the world. The early Christians often prayed for Jesus to come quickly, and we should too!

Jesus talked to his followers many times about being ready for his return. There is much work to do in this world for God’s kingdom. Keeping Jesus’ return in focus helps us to prioritize our lives and make sure that we are spending our time on eternal things and not temporary things. While we all have varying levels of financial means, each and every one of us has the same 24 hours to spend each day. It doesn’t matter if you are a teenager or retired, we need to be doing the work of the Kingdom in this world so that we can eagerly long for the day when our master returns!

Longing for Transformation by Ben Gatton

Today’s Devotional Reading

If the task of designing the New Testament had been given to 21st century marketing executives, they would have probably put a very punchy and attention grabbing story at the beginning. Luke 2 might have been a good choice. However, the modern reader who decides to give reading the New Testament a try is greeted instead by Matthew chapter 1. As you may have already discovered on your own, it appears on the surface to be nothing but a long list of names, a genealogy awkwardly placed at the beginning of the story of Jesus. Like most things in the Bible, there is more here than meets the eye.

We have been learning in Lary Myer’s Sunday school class that  Matthew has arranged the list of Jesus’ ancestors in a very intentional manner in three sets of fourteen ( or it can also be viewed as 6 sets of seven) culminating in the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.  Matthew’s genealogy shows us that Jesus’ adopted, earthly father is the heir of the heroic line of King David,  making Jesus a part of David’s line and a fulfillment of many prophecies about the Messiah. It also breaks from the tradition of most Jewish genealogies and includes the name of four women. Their inclusion would be shocking and scandalous to the typical first century reader of Matthew’s gospel, particularly because they were gentiles (not Jewish), and three of them are recorded in the Old Testament for committing some pretty socially unacceptable sins (incest, prostitution, and adultery).

What insight can we glean from this list of names? That Jesus is the fulfillment of thousands of years of waiting for savior. That He was coming not just to help the chosen, the powerful, and the righteous; but also the people who are so broken and lost they don’t usually get included in lists of people that matter. It shows us that God works in some very surprising ways.

Are you allowing God to do some surprising things in your life? Are you allowing Him the space in your heart to change you? Are you allowing Him to nurture the growth of your heart in unexpected ways? So often we assume that God can’t possibly forgive some of the things we have done wrong, or that we can not possibly forgive people who have wronged us; but a simple list of names in Matthew 1 shows us that God is actively and lovingly working in everyone’s life, even those that you would least expect.

Just like the ancient Israelites longed for generations for a savior, are you longing for the savior to transform you?

Today’s Scripture Reading

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.[b]
Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.[c]
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.[d]
Jehoram was the father[e] of Uzziah.
Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.[f]
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin[g] and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

Matthew 1:1-17, NLT

Day 1: What is your heart longing for? by Ben Gatton

Today’s Text

O Lord, I give my life to you.

 I trust in you, my God!

Do not let me be disgraced,

   or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

   but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

 Show me the right path, O Lord;

   point out the road for me to follow.

 Lead me by your truth and teach me,

   for you are the God who saves me.

   All day long I put my hope in you.

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,

   which you have shown from long ages past.

 Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.

   Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,

   for you are merciful, O Lord.

 The Lord is good and does what is right;

   he shows the proper path to those who go astray.

He leads the humble in doing right,

   teaching them his way.

 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness

   all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.

-Psalm 25:1-10. NLT

Today’s Devotional 

Waiting isn’t something that we really like to do in 21st century America. Most of the things we want and need in life we can acquire very quickly, even if we need to accrue debt to do so. Because of this, most of us do not encounter the feeling of longing very often. In fact, only major tragedies and severe health problems allow us to intensely long for things to be made right again. Waiting and longing have always been a part of the experience of the people of God, and the Bible has quite a bit to say about it.

There is a beautiful story that the Bible is trying to tell us if we look at it closely enough. It starts in a grand way with a loving creator weaving our world together and declaring it good. However, you only have to get to the third chapter before things start going wrong. That’s  when we humans begin to think  that we know what is best for us better than God does. The stage is set very early that we need to be rescued, and God promises that he has a plan. He makes the promise to  Adam and Eve, to Abraham and his sons, to David, and to His people through the voice of the prophets. The entire Old Testament is truly the story of God’s people trying to live for God, failing miserably, and waiting for God to send the Messiah to rescue them from themselves.

Read today’s passage, Psalm 25, as a glimpse into the heart of someone who is longing for God to deliver them, sustain them, and protect them. Then ask yourself this very important question: What is your heart longing for? Are you looking for quick fixes to the pain you feel, or are you allowing God the space to work in your life? Today, begin the process anew of inviting God to shape the desires of your heart. To show you want you so deeply long for, and how that longing can be met in Him.

Introduction to the Advent Devotionals

Hello Everyone,

Starting tomorrow Pastor Bob and Ben’s Advent Devotional series will begin. You can read these devotions here on the blog or have them emailed to your inbox. This blog will return to it’s typical format on Monday, December 26th. We hope that these devotional writing help prepare you heart for this season of longing, hope, peace, and love.

Introduction- Ben Gatton

To say that 2016 has been a difficult year for our nation, would be a gigantic understatement. Throughout the year I have heard many of us bemoan the direction that we see our culture heading toward. Images of unpredictable mass shootings, the devastation of war, and the impact of natural disasters have been before our eyes each and every day. The heated shouts of fear and hate from a particularly divisive election season are still ringing in our ears. This whole year it seemed like nothing, not even football games, could take place without devolving some sort of argument about what is right and what is wrong. Somedays it can feel like fear and darkness have finally won.

Don’t believe that for a second.

This devotional is designed to help prepare your heart for one of the most important seasons of the year, Advent. This is the time of the year that we celebrate Light piercing through the darkness, indescribable love conquering our deepest fears, and the anticipation that the best is yet to come. We can celebrate and believe all of these things because of Jesus.

Please do not approach these daily entries expecting a “Christmas” devotional. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is a very important part of Advent, but it is only a part of the picture. This year we will look back at the longing the ancient Israelites had deep in their bones for a Messiah to rescue them, and then discover how that same longing can allow Jesus to shape our hearts to be more like his. We will meditate on what God is doing in our world, through Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to build within us a hope that can carry us through the darkest days. We will learn what God has done, and what God is promising to still accomplish in our world, so that we can anticipate by faith how Jesus wants to work through us. Finally, we will marvel at how God came to reside with us through the miracle of the Incarnation, and discover how this truth transforms the way we serve in our own community and throughout the world.

Join us, as we embark on this journey together to discover what Jesus is doing in our world today and grow together in God’s love.

Contemplate the Donut

Today’s Prayer

O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Amen.

-Samuel F. Pugh

Today’s Scripture

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Today’s Reflective Reading

I did the chapel at Blue Ridge Christian School a few days ago, only sharing a very simple object lesson. I will give you the same:

This Thanksgiving, contemplate the humble donut.

How many of us wake up each morning with a beautiful, frosted donut with sprinkles and everything; and our first thought is a complaint that we are missing the part of the donut in the middle.

I know that I am guilty of that.

If you were born in the USA, live in a house, have secure income, and no stress about where your next meal is coming from; then you are waking up each morning with a pretty big donut. Don’t get focused on that hole in middle.

So this Thanksgiving, be thankful for what the Lord has truly blessed you with. Pray that God will drive you to thankfulness and prayer instead of grumbling and complaining. Pray that the Spirit will lead you to find new ways to share your donut with others.

-BG

Loving through our Wounds

Today’s Prayer

O God, fountain of love, pour love into our souls, that we may love those whom you love with the love you give us, and think and speak about them tenderly, meekly, lovingly; and so loving our brothers and sisters for your sake, may we grow in your love, and live in your love, that by living in your love we may live in you; for Jesus Christ’s sake. -E.B. Pusey

Today’s Scripture Reading

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me.  I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”  -John 17:20-26, NLT

Today’s Reflective Reading

How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others… But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both way, our woundedness. -M. Scott Peck

Space for God to Work

Today’s Prayer

Teach me, God to make room for you in all the events and affairs of my days. Then I shall find rest. Then I will be at peace with myself and with you.- Rueben Job and Norman Sawchuck

Today’s Scripture Reading

Keep and live out the entire commandment that I’m commanding you today so that you’ll live and prosper and enter and own the land that God promised to your ancestors. Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.

 So it’s paramount that you keep the commandments of God, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. God is about to bring you into a good land, a land with brooks and rivers, springs and lakes, streams out of the hills and through the valleys. It’s a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, of olives, oil, and honey. It’s land where you’ll never go hungry—always food on the table and a roof over your head. It’s a land where you’ll get iron out of rocks and mine copper from the hills.

After a meal, satisfied, bless God, your God, for the good land he has given you.

Make sure you don’t forget God, your God, by not keeping his commandments, his rules and regulations that I command you today. Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don’t become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, your God,

the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery;
the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness,
those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions;
the God who gave you water gushing from hard rock;
the God who gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of, in order to give you a taste of the hard life, to test you so that you would be prepared to live well in the days ahead of you.

If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.

 If you forget, forget God, your God, and start taking up with other gods, serving and worshiping them, I’m on record right now as giving you firm warning: that will be the end of you; I mean it—destruction. You’ll go to your doom—the same as the nations God is destroying before you; doom because you wouldn’t obey the Voice of God, your God.

Today’s Reflective Reading

All forms of spiritual discipline help us to make more space for God in our lives. Fasting and prayer, the traditional disciplines of Lent, seem to be two of the most effective tools in clearing away our self-preoccupation so we can be more responsive to God’s life in and through and around us. -Marjorie J. Thompson

Push out into deep water

Today’s Prayer

Help me, O God,

To listen to what it is that makes my heart glad and to follow where it leads.

May joy, not guilt,

Your voice, not the voices of others,

Your will, not my willfulness,

be the guides that lead me to my vocation.

Help me to unearth the passions of my heart that lie buried in my youth.

And can help me to go over that ground again and again until I can hold in my hands,

hold and treasure,

Your calling on my life…

-Ken Gire

Today’s Scripture Reading 

Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

 Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

 Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

 Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

Today’s  Reflective Reading

Your unique presence in your community is the way God wants you to be present to others. Different people have different ways of being present. You have to know and claim your way. That is why discernment is so important. Once you have an inner knowledge of your true vocation, you have a point of orientation. That will help you decide what to do and what to let go of, what to say and what to remain silent about, when to go out and when to stay home, who to be with and who to avoid.

When you get exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, or run down, your body is saying that you are doing things that are none of your business. God does not require of you what is beyond your ability, what leads you away from God, or what makes you depressed or sad. God wants you to live for others and to live that presence well. Doing so might include suffering, fatigue, and even moments of great physical or emotional pain, but none of this must ever pull you away from your deepest self and God. – Henri Nouwen

Trusting in God’s heart

Today’s Prayer

But I trust in you, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands. Amen. -Psalm 31:14-15

Today’s Scripture Reading

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-4, NLT

Today’s Reflective Reading

This is our Lord’s will, that our prayer and our trust be both alike large. For if we trust not as much as we pray, we do not fully worship our Lord in our prayer, and also we tarry and pain ourselves. The cause is, I believe , that we know not truly that our Lord is Ground on whom our prayer springeth; and also that we know not that it is given us by the grace of His love. For if we knew this, it would make us to trust to have, of our Lord’s gift, all that we desire. For I am sure that no man asketh mercy and grace with true meaning, but if mercy and grace first given to him.- Julian of Norwhich

God’s Love Sets you Free

Today’s Prayer

O Thou who ordered this wondrous world, and who knowest all things in earth and heaven: So fill our hearts with trust in thee that by night and day, at al times and in all seasons, we may without fear commit all that we have and hope to be thy never-failing love, for this life and the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -The Book of Worship

Today’s Scripture Reading

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:1-8, NLT

Today’s Reflective Reading

We spend most of our lives trying to make things happen for ourselves and for people we love. But life is not reduced to what you give or know or achieve. Nor is it reduced to your mistakes, your failures, or your sin. Life isn’t even defined by whom you love. Rather, it is defined by the God who loves you. In other words, you are not the central character- not even of your own life’s story. This is not meant to demean you; it is meant to set you free -M. Craig Barnes