Peace on Earth by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture Reading

Luke 2:1-20
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 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.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Today’s Devotional Thought

The angels proclaim peace on earth to the shepherds in the field, Isaiah tells us that one of Jesus’ titles is “Prince of Peace” and that His government and its peace will never end.

It all sounds wonderful, but as I write this the cease fire has broken down in Aleppo and many who were about to escape are finding themselves trapped. There are reports of soldiers going door to door executing innocent civilians. Hard to imagine that is actually happening on the other side of the world as I sit comfortably at my desk. But it is.

This whole year has been full of riots, protests, division, and unnecessary death. It can be a difficult time to preach that God is actively working to restore this world and reconcile it to Him when it seems the narrative of current events proclaims the opposite.  One of my favorite Christmas songs is a hymn that comes from a poem that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in the middle of the American Civil War. It has a famous line that rings true of the human experience and the doubts we can sometimes feel:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

It is a moment of honest often missing from Christmas music. But the conclusion of the song is one of the most powerful:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

No matter what is going on in your life this Christmas, no matter what situation is taking place in the world that has troubled you to the core, remember this: God is not asleep. These things are not a surprise to Him and He has not forgotten you. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. We are called to place our hope in God, especially when the world is at its most dark, that His justice and His peace will prevail just as He promised. Most often, we are called to carry God’s light into the dark places of this world so that peace, hope, and love can abound.

I have found that when I am feeling the most down about the darkness in the world, that is usually a sign that it is time for me to get outside myself, stop the pity party, and go find some way to bring light into the darkness with the time God has given me here. I encourage you to do the same as well!
 

Light of the World by Pastor Bob Miller

Today’s Scripture Reading

Matthew 5: 14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Today’s Devotional Reading
Absolutely incredible.  Just think about it for a moment if you will.  In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying that He is the light of the world and in Matthew’s Gospel He says that we, you and I , are the light of the world.  This is not two different teachings but one in the same for those who follow Jesus as his disciples. For he goes on to say in John that “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

In the sermon on the mount Jesus is teaching His followers and there again He tells us that we are the light of the world. He goes on to say that  we are “to let our light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.“  One in the same: Christ is the light of the world and because He lives in us we are the light of the world.

Friends, there is darkness all around us.  There is darkness when someone is cold and hungry, naked and sick, in prison or down and out.  There is darkness when someone is sick and suffering and the darkness of pain and loneliness when death has taken a loved one from us.  You don’t have too look far to find darkness.

Last night I was outside with my dogs and I was so amazed by just how bright the night was.  I looked up and there was this big beautiful full moon.  It was light shining in the darkness.  If you have ever been to our home at night you know just how dark it is when the moon is not bight and the stars aren’t out.  Yet when the moon is bright and the stars are out it is an entirely different matter.  That is how the world is when it comes to Jesus and those who follow him.  Our light changes everything.  Let your light shine in the darkness.

Who is in Charge? by Pastor Bob Miller

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 1:18-23

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Today’s Devotional Reading

I spent my first Thanksgiving in the service pulling KP duty and it was a very long and tiring day.  I was in basic training when I was offered (that’s a joke) this wonderful opportunity to serve my fellow soldier.  As I recall we had to be in the kitchen at 3am to start getting ready for the first breakfast and we stayed until about 8pm, long after supper was over.  We had tons of food to prepare that day.  We didn’t actually cook, as mess sergeants do that, but we had to do all the other stuff like crack eggs and put them in a bowl, peel potatoes etc. In between meals we washed dishes and pots and pans and then we got to mop and wax the floors and get everything ready for the next meal.

Well, after supper while we were slaving away with the dishes and pots and pans I got into one of my moments of mischief.  Simply stated, I started a food fight.  Pretty soon everyone was slinging food scraps all over the place and at each other.  As I turned and slung a handful of sweet potatoes a Colonel walked into the room and the sweet potatoes hit him smack in the face.  There was silence before the Colonel yelled “who is in charge here? I want to know who is in charge here!“ There was more silence as no one wanted to take responsibility for being in charge.

Life can be like that you know.  If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that we like being in charge.  We like being the boss. We like being the captain of our own ship.  And then chaos enters our life and just like the Colonel in the kitchen we yell out, “who is in charge here?“  Suddenly, our ship that we want to be the captain of seems like a ship without a rudder as we float and drift on the sea of life.

I think that is sort of how it was for Joseph.  He was a good simple man who wanted to settle down and get life started with a family of his own.  He was in love with Mary and planned to take her as his wife.  They were going through the long engagement period that was required of them and the wedding day looked on the horizon and then chaos entered his life…… his beloved Mary was pregnant and he knew that he wasn’t the dad.  Chaos indeed, and he must have been shouting, “who is in charge here!“  And then he found out: God is in charge and God is the captain of this ship.

Through a dream God revealed this and much more to Joseph and his life would never be the same.  Peace and assurance and courage and grace all entered into the heart of Joseph.  With the knowledge that God is “in charge here,“ Joseph was able to move on with his life, accepting all that God had planned.

We too can do that you know.  When chaos enters our life through fear, discouragement, disappointment or pain or any number of other forms of chaos, as believers we can know that God is in charge here.  That’s what Christmas means.  “Immanuel.  God with us.”  And regardless what we might be going through we know that God “will never leave us or forsake us.”  That is peace, not an absence of conflict but the presence “of the Prince of Peace.”

Who is in charge here?  Are you still the captain of your own ship or have you turned over control to the One who is really in control?

Who Do You Say Jesus Is? By Pastor Bob Miller

Today’s Scripture Reading

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it

Today’s Devotional Reading

Every time I read these words from the beloved disciple my heart is deeply stirred and I try to imagine the awesome task of writing a letter or a gospel, if you will, in which I would be trying to explain to others just who this person Jesus is.  Matthew and Luke give great genealogies which methodically trace Jesus’ birth line from Mary (Matthew) and Joseph (Luke) and go back to Abraham and Adam.  Not so for John.  He goes straight to the heart of the matter by declaring that Jesus has always been, not created but begotten.  The great I AM, the One who has always been, always is and always will be.

Can you possibly imagine just how John’s hand must have shaken and his heart probably skipped a beat or two as he wrote these provocative words?  To the Jewish people, which John certainly was, to even mention the name of God was like taking your life in your own hands, you just didn’t do it.  One of the great commandments simply forbade it:  “ You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7).  Yet hear it is in black and white:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

How in the world did John get to this point in time where he had what it takes to step out and declare on paper, written evidence, that Jesus is God?   Well, he got to this point in time because he took the time to get to know Jesus.  It sounds so simple but it really was not so simple.

One day he was minding his business, going about living his life and then Jesus came by and invited him to “follow me.”  This is what he did.  He accepted the invitation and began a life long journey of “following Jesus.”  In the first three years he came to know Jesus and he came to know Him to the core of his being.  He heard His teachings which were full of truth and grace.  He witnessed the many miracles and he witnessed the many tragedies.  He witnessed the crucifixion and he witnessed the resurrected Jesus.  Only experiences such as these could get him to this point in time.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “

Who is Jesus to you?  That is the ultimate question that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is the ultimate question that Jesus asks us: “Who do you say that I am?“   If we are honest with ourselves, we can acknowledge that to come to the same answer that John came to is not an easy thing.  It is a journey and it is a struggle just like it was a journey and a struggle for John and all of the disciples and just like it has been for all throughout the ages.  Good things come through struggles.  Just like Jacob wrestling with God, we too wrestle with God. Or at least we should if we are going to reach the point of saying “Jesus is Lord, the master of my life.“

Live into your Calling by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture

Luke 4: 14-21

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today’s Devotional Reading

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have adopted this calling as well. The things written in this scripture are still the things that Jesus does through His followers today. If you want to know what to anticipate, what to expect Jesus to do in your life and in this world today, then this passage that Jesus quoted is a good place to start.

In our world, even here in Alleghany County, there are many that are oppressed by the bondage that comes from poverty, addiction, grief, and sins like pride and selfishness. They might not be locked up in a jail, but they are prisoners in their own lives. You have the good news that they need to hear, you have the hope of the gospel that sets them free.

Time to live into your calling, friends!

God has given your life a calling pt. 2 by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture Reading

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Today’s Devotional Reading

As we discussed earlier this week, the birth of Jesus put Joseph and (especially) Mary in a very difficult spot to say the least. Mary becoming pregnant out of wedlock likely caused her to be misjudged, shunned, ridiculed, shamed, and neglected to some extent throughout her adult life. It is important to note that there a few hints in the gospels where this stigma haunted Jesus himself throughout his life.  In the first century, having even an appearance of uncertainty about who your father was, lead to devastating social consequences for everyone involved.

Yesterday we talked about how God has a unique, surprising, and wonderful calling in your life for you to do Kingdom work. That is still true, but it is important for me to remind you that our callings are never pain-free.  It is important to remind ourselves because, if you are like me, as soon as things start to get painful or the moment I begin to suffer, I start trying to figure out how to get out of whatever I am doing.  Instead of it being a sign that we are outside of God’s will, that pain and resistance that we so often feel is usually a sign that I am right where God wants me.

As followers of Jesus, we should never anticipate that our ministry and our calling is cross-free. Jesus himself told His disciples to “take up your cross and follow me”. There is always going to be suffering, there is always going to be a cross if you are doing what God wants you to do. Don’t let that scare you, let it be an opportunity for you to trust God at a deeper level.  Take time to listen to what God is calling you to, in both the big ways and the small ways. Don’t let fear or pain stop you from following God into your calling.

God Has Given Your Life a Calling by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture Reading

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1: 26-38

Today’s Devotional Reading

I would imagine the day that Gabriel appeared to Mary was a pretty typical day for her. I am certain she did not wake up expecting an angel to appear to her. Yet, the angel did appear and Mary’s life was suddenly, unexpectedly, and irreversibly changed forever. To anyone on the outside I bet that Mary appeared to be an average and ordinary 13 to 15 year old girl, nothing particularly outstanding about her, but God had incredible plans for her. He had a calling for her life that was unique to her, for which she was created.

God still does this today . Sure, the scale of what Mary was called to do was monumental, and there will probably not be an angel in your living room this morning announcing God’s plans for you. However, we know that God has a plan for each one of us. We know that God wants to use each one of us to further His Kingdom in this world.

So what is God calling you to?

Like Mary, God’s calling in your life is often unexpected and something that you do not feel at all prepared for. That’s ok. If you could handle everything God wanted you to do, then you would not need to depend on Him.

The loose theme of this week’s devotionals is anticipation. Today, pray and meditate on anticipating  how God wants to include you in His plans for transforming this world. Sometimes they are small tasks, sometimes they are large. But we all have a unique circle of people with whom we interact each day. People that often need to see the love and grace of God at work in your life. People that need to hear how God is restoring you in spite of your brokenness.

God wants to use you, are you going to give Him the freedom to do it?

Undeserved Grace by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 1:18-25
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Today’s Devotional Reading

Joseph is one of the many people in history who thought his life was going in one direction, and then one moment changed absolutely everything for him.

This has probably happened to you too, hasn’t it? In Joseph’s day, finding out that the woman betrothed to be your wife was pregnant, especially if you are not the father, typically resulted in extreme social ostracization and in many cases death to the adulterous woman (see John 7:53-8:11 for proof). So when Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant, this was the type of news that shatters you to your core, the type of news you know is going to leave you changed forever.

We are told that Joseph is a righteous man, and we see that he truly was when his concern immediately becomes how to get Mary off the hook in the most gracious way possible.This was truly an unusual act of grace at the time,  and you can see why God chooses Joseph to be such an important earthly influence on Jesus.

Jesus lived that same way in His earthly life, offering grace to people who in no way deserved it. In fact, you and I are recipients of that grace.

As you go out into your day, how can you be more like Joseph? Who is in your life right now that you have every right to justly condemn for the way they have treated you and others, but instead you offer them grace that they do not deserve?

That is what gospel living looks like at it’s core. God gave you grace that you don’t deserve, how can you not offer grace to others?

Expecting God to Work by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture Reading

Matthew 6:9-13

This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one

Today’s Devotional Reading

Our hope and our longing are all based in resting on the promise God has made for the future. That leads us to the question, what is God going to do in the world right now? Since we can securely and confidently place our hope in Jesus, it’s time to talk about the things that we can anticipate and expect him to do. It may sound strange to place expectations on God, and it is something we need to be careful about, but we CAN be confident in expecting God to do the work in this world that he has promised to do.

The model prayer that Jesus gives His disciples when they ask Him to teach them how to pray provides us insight into this. You see, when Jesus instructs us to pray for “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” He is telling us to plea to God to make His kingdom manifest through us and in us at the present moment.  That means that while we long with hope for the return of Christ and for everything to be made new in this world, in the meantime, we have a lot of work to do in the name of Jesus here on earth. Of course the great irony is that we don’t accomplish this work ourselves, we anticipate that the Holy Spirit is going to do this work of the Kingdom through us!

So today, I am asking you to prayerfully consider what Kingdom work God wants to do in you and through you at this present moment. Take time to write a prayer or write down what you feel the Holy Spirit is communicating in your heart.

God is With You by Ben Gatton

Today’s Scripture

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  Matthew 1:20-23 (NIV)

Today’s Devotional Reading

Bob’s sermon on Sunday and our devotionals all this week have been about hope, specifically about the hope that we have in this life and beyond because of Jesus. As we close this week out, I have been drawn back to a conversation between Joseph and an Angle in Matthew chapter 1 because it emphasizes one of the most important aspects of our hope: it is not based on us.

You see, if our hope was based on me, or you, or any other person in the sea of humanity, we should expect to be disappointed and probably even scared. As humans, we tend to routinely hurt and let down even the people that we love the most. If our hope was bound up in ourselves and the things we can accomplish the outlook would be dim at best. Thankfully, that is not the case.

In verse 22 of the first chapter of his gospel, Matthew interjects a little commentary. He reminds the reader that Jesus being born is a fulfillment of the ancient promises that God made long ago. We can have hope because God doesn’t lie, go back on his word, or come up short on his promises. That’s a big deal because I think subconsciously we sometimes believe God will treat us the way other people treat us. We need to remind ourselves that God isn’t going to let us down, forget about us, or leave us behind.

We especially know this is true because of what the angel says to Joseph in verse 23, that Jesus will be called Immanuel (God with us). Friends, that is a great truth that bears repeating often. God is with us. He doesn’t have to be, he could have chosen to rescue us any way he wanted. Instead, he chose to be with us.  God was with us in Jesus as he lived a human life with all of the same struggles, frustrations, and temptations that you struggle with everyday. Jesus knows what it is like to be misjudged by friends and family, he knows what it is like to be intensely lonely, he knows what it is like to be betrayed by a best friend. Yet in all of this, Jesus tells us we can have hope because he has overcome the world (John 16:33)!

Even more intimately, God is with us through the Holy Spirit, living and active in your life. We do not serve a God who is distant and aloof. We serve a God who has actively chosen to be right there in the trenches of daily life with you. There is a lot of hope in this truth, but you must make a choice actively live like it is true. You will notice yourself lose hope when you rely on yourself, when you strive for self-reliance in your own struggles and temptations.

Discover that your well will not run dry, when you depend on God. When you remember that He is WITH you, and because of that you can have hope in every circumstance.