Devotion Archives 2022, January - July

 

A Journey of the Heart (Epiphany): The Journey of the Magi

by Karen Maio

     

     During Advent, we focused on the journey of the heart leading up to our Savior’s birth.

     The next journey belongs to a group of highly intelligent, observant people from the East, who saw a new star appear in the night sky. They knew that this star was a sign of the birth of a king. It was an epiphany which revealed Jesus our Savior, the Light of the world, to not only the Jews, but to Gentiles—the whole world! So these magi packed up valuable gifts for him and set out in a caravan away from their homes on a long, difficult journey into the west.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11 NIV

    Their purpose in the journey was clear. They were coming to honor the new King and to bring their gifts: gold, the gift of a king; frankincense, the rare incense used by priests in prayer; and myrrh, the spice used for anointing the dead, a sign of the sacrifice that Jesus would one day make as our Savior from sin.

     The purpose of our journey is the same. When we follow the Christmas star to Jesus, we come to glorify him and honor the King of kings with our gifts of time, talent, and treasure for his kingdom.

 

As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold,

So, most gracious Lord, may we evermore your followers be.

All our costliest treasures we bring, Christ, to you, our heavenly King. (Christian Worship 83)

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A Leaning on a Spider's Web by Diana Kerr

     

     Tell me about your biggest stressors, the things you strive for, and the things you’re attached to, and I bet I can tell you what it is that you trust in this life. Many of us are unconsciously led by these misguided reliance’s and beliefs.

   Some of us lean on our marriages or our families, believing that the key to a good life is a strong family unit. Some of us lean on money, believing that financial stability will pave the way to peace. Some of us lean on our accomplishments, believing that we’re worth more when we cross off a bunch of stuff on our to-do lists.

   We all do this in some form or another. Our sinful hearts are not as allegiant to God as we think they are and as we want them to be. So we lean on earthly things, often good blessings from our Lord, but those things are so much less reliable than we realize.

   The book of Job talks about this challenge and describes the actions of those who have forgotten God: “What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold” (8:14,15).

   Friend, what are you clinging to that’s as weak as a spider’s web? What if you put that thing back in its rightful place in your heart and lean on God? I promise you it’d be a game changer.

   Devotion used by permission of Time of Grace®. For more information visit www.timeofgrace.org

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Perfectly Imperfect by April Cooper

     

How many of us are guilty of retaking photos over and over again to get that perfect pose, perfect smile, and perfect stance? I know I am guilty of that. I imagine for most mothers, the retakes of family photos simply comes from the joy mothers want displayed. As a mother of four, I personally want my family pictures to be a representation of all that we are as a family, showcasing the bountiful beauty and infinite number of blessings. Have you ever been to a professional photographer and at the end of the photo session there were a ton of pictures to choose from? The hard task is to then select the perfect shot! The question becomes what constitutes that perfect shot?

 

Let’s think about the “bigger picture” from a different perspective. Almost everyone has driven through a wealthy neighborhood with huge houses and perfectly manicured lawns. From the outside looking in, everything looks spectacular and intact — with stereotypical assumptions about those who live there. On the flip side, most people have also ridden along the streets of a “non-wealthy” neighborhood. The houses can sometimes depict less attention given to what is on the outside of the homes. And just like the wealthy families, the families that live in the “non-wealthy” neighborhood can fall into superficial stereotypes placed upon them as well.

 

For a moment, let's not focus on what neighborhood, street, or type of house a person or family lives in. Instead, let's focus on what happens inside those houses. Life, love, joy, sadness, happiness, pain, laughter, tears, and triumphs can touch each and every house, regardless. Good and bad times can be found in EVERY neighborhood. Can we sum up what's happening inside every home simply by the characteristics visible outside? A resounding no, we can not. Likewise, does a photo capturing one moment in time sum up the state of all going on with every individual shown in a photo? Also, a resounding no!

 

Let's refocus on those photographic retakes. Taking multiple photos typically comes from a family member not cooperating, sometimes purposefully (if they are kids) or by mistake if the sunlight is too bright, or if a sneeze suddenly erupts, etc. Frowns, lighting, weather, and all types of circumstances, including moods and the relationships in that given moment between those in the photo can all seemingly dictate multiple retakes.

 

But, what if we stopped aiming for perfection in our photos and simply aimed to capture the moment? Whatever that moment holds… blinks, frowns, turned heads, uncontrollable laughter, or uninterested participants — those ARE the moments of life that make life, life. There is absolutely nothing perfect in this life, nothing. So why do we try to capture perfect moments in photos? The saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The journey of life year-by-year, month-by-month, week-by-week, day-by-day, and moment-by-moment is beautiful. And, the ups, downs, the joys, and the challenges are all classified by the eye of the beholder. When looking at past photos, do you see a full representation of life experiences so far? You should. That means no photo can ever be perfect because this earthly life has not been, is not, and will not, be perfect.

 

As I get older and as my kids get older, I see myself and my beautiful family as perfectly imperfect. And I love what I see because the love and grace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has us covered. I am sure my family wishes I had realized all of this sooner. If I had… there would have been significantly fewer family photo retakes! I chuckle at the photos that capture the regular moments, the everyday moments, the blurriness from action and laughter, and everything in between. I love all of my family photos, because every one of them captured something beautiful.

 

What is perfect? Scripture tells us that “God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the LORD? Who but our God is a solid rock? God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect.” (Psalm 18:30-32 NLT) Let’s focus on that! I am SO VERY thankful that He makes my way perfect.

 
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Love Temperature by Kathy Schreiner

     

     You have probably heard about “cold justice”; but what about “cold love”?  In Matthew 24 Jesus talks about the love of many growing cold in the end times.  What is your love temperature? One of the most chilling results of the pandemic is the way it has divided us.  Not just as a nation, but as families and Christians.  Try to imagine the smile on the face of Satan and his minions at these divisions. Were you one of those who wanted to be first in line for the "jab" or are you one of those who will not take it under any circumstances?  It really does not matter what side you fall on.  What does matter is how we treat each other.

      As always, God has given us the answer in His Word.  And He sums it up with only one word-LOVE.

     Are you afraid?  Many are.  What are you really afraid of, the consequences of taking the jab or not taking it?  Read 1 John 4:18a "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear; "This passage is talking about love and punishment.

     Ultimately our fears all come down to what will happen to us or those we love. But why worry?  Worry is a sin.  But our loving, faithful, all-knowing God has given us the solution for worry.  1 Peter 5:7 tells us: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 

     With the perfect love of Jesus, we need not worry.  Are you getting the theme?  It is not our ever-changing circumstances, it is LOVE!

     "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians 4:2

     There are many opinions floating around.  You can find a web site to confirm or deny whatever is said.  Yet we learn new things about this insidious virus daily.  What is fact and what is fiction?  How can we know? Will we ever know for sure? 

     "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

     As Christians we are to set the example for the world.  No matter what side of this divisive issue you are on. It is not just a suggestion; it is a command from the Author and Perfector of LOVE-Jesus!

     "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34

 
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To Whom do you belong? by Kathy Schreiner

     

                Have you watched the nightly news lately? YIKES! Our country is a mess. I was recently sent a quote that really resonated with me.

                "Don't let the ELEPHANTS and the DONKEYS let you forget you belong to the LAMB"

                I shared that quote at a bible study on the New Testament book, “Acts”. In the bible, “Acts” records the beginnings of the Christian Church following the death of Jesus. It includes a list of Jesus' disciples. What an interesting group. Two in particular would fit right in our current culture.

                Simon the Zealot was anti-Roman government. He wanted the existing (Roman) government gone and the Jewish nation restored to power. Doing so with violence was not off the table for him. He was looking for a Messiah that would be a powerful, earthly ruler.

                Matthew (Levi) the Publican, worked for the hated Roman government as a tax collector. Tax collectors were not known for their honesty. In fact, they made their living by cheating their fellow Jews. They were hated and ostracized.

                Jesus personally called these two men to be part of His inner circle. To learn from Him so they could build the church as His representatives. One would think this might be an insurmountable task, to get these two to work towards the same goal. In Luke 1:37 we are told "For nothing will be impossible with God."

                Are you finding conflict with fellow believers in these turbulent times? "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) There will always be differences of opinions.

                Yet in Jesus, Simon and Matthew came together. We can too. They did not let their political differences make them forget they belonged to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Just like them we belong to the Lamb. Jesus bought and paid for us. “You were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20a) That price was Jesus' life.

                I encourage you to read and re-read if needed, Hebrews 12:14-15, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

                No matter your political affiliation, you belong to the Lamb.

 
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A Journey of the Heart: Next Stop, the Cross by Karen Maio

     

                We began our "Journey of the heart" series in December (2021) during the season of Advent, which prepared our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

                Our journey did not end at the manger with Mary and the Christ-child gazing into each other's eyes. It continued with the journey the magi made to honor the newborn king with gifts and continues on to Calvary, where Mary would see her precious son, Jesus, crucified according to God’s holy plan of salvation.  Jesus was born to die for the sins of the world.

                “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

In lowliness you came to earth To rescue us from Satan’s snares,                                             

O wondrous Love that healed our wounds By taking on our mortal cares.

To pay the debt we owed for sin, Your painful cross was made the price;                

From blessed Mary’s womb you came, A victim pure for sacrifice.

Lord Jesus Christ, you set us free - Accept our thanks eternally!

Forgiven through your precious blood, We now are reconciled to God.

(O Lord of Light Who Made the Stars, Christian Worship)

 
A WORD for Women

A Journey of the Heart: Next Stop, the Empty Tomb by Karen Maio

     

                Our journey of the heart which began in Advent while preparing for Jesus’ birth did not end with Lent’s stop at the cross and Jesus’ death.

                Early the next morning, some of the women who were at the foot of Jesus’ cross, went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid. They came prepared with spices used in burials, but wondered how they were going to roll the stone away from the opening. They were shocked to see it had already been moved and an angel was sitting on top of it!

                “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

                Easter’s empty tomb, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, was God’s stamp of approval on our salvation. Our sins are forgiven! Satan is defeated! Death has been conquered - his victory over death will result in believers’ victorious life eternal! Joyfully celebrate!

                We know that our redeemer lives and is with us, and this gives us confidence to share this wonderful Gospel story and to face whatever lies ahead on our journey.

                God, thank you for helping us see past the empty tomb to our glorious risen Savior! Help us share him with others and stand firm in our faith! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
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Unwelcome Gifts by Tracy Hankwitz

     

Another snowfall - this one not welcome.

 

It’s April. Yesterday the air was warm; today, this white falling from above. I know there is a reason for this delay of season’s change. Spring will come in God’s timing, not mine. So I sigh, murmur thanks, and get out the shovel.

 

There’s been a lot of unwanted snowfalls lately, unwelcome gifts.

 

A dear friend loses her battle with cancer; another struggles with depression – wandering in what seems like life’s desert -trying desperately to find direction.

 

Snow may fall quiet but at times it’s a blizzard.

 

We all have tasted disappointment when life doesn’t go the way we wish it would. We look at what has been placed in our hand and say “What is this?”

 

Like Israelites in the desert, we look at this manna, white falling from above and ask “What is this? What is this that God wants me to walk through? This is grace? This is what God thinks is best for me?”

 

Though we don’t understand, He asks us to trust Him. He asks us to gather up this manna every morning, this thing that doesn’t make sense, and receive it as gift – as grace. Instead of asking ‘why’, we are to be grateful and turn our pleas into praise.

 

It isn’t easy, but we can trust our heavenly Father with everything. He knows what’s best for us and this manna is meant to nourish. As we hold this manna in our hand, He holds us in His.

 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

 
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The Car Wash by April Cooper

     

               When was the last time you sat through a carwash? Not the carwash where you stop the car, get out, and wash it yourself. I am referencing the fancy, upgraded car wash where you sit in line and wait your turn to go through the car wash tunnel. That tunnel where your car is still running, where time seems to slow down… and you are no longer in control. Believe it or not, there is a lot that goes on in that tunnel!

                During that tunnel car wash there is the traditional wash, wax, a ceramic coating (at the really fancy car washes) and then rain guard or some type of protectant to seal it all in. Sometimes there is even a special cleaner applied to the tires, as well. That's a lot of washing… and waiting. Each wash application has a process and method. Each has its own purpose. And, each takes a certain amount of time. If you want the end results to be far better than when you arrived, you just have to wait.

                Similarly, have you ever been in a "tunnel" season of life? Everyone should shout a resounding "YES" because we all face hardships and trials at some point in our lives. In those times, there can be some long periods of waiting. We need to learn how to be patient during those waiting seasons. We also need to learn how to lean in, seek God, and rest in Him. Ask him what He is trying to teach, and really embrace the lesson.

                Waiting to hear from God, waiting to see His hand at work, and waiting for things to get better requires peace, contentment, and a strong determination to be patient. The patience is worth it. Psalm 32:8 says "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." (ESV) That, my friend, is WORTH the wait.

                Do we want to step in and speed things up? Usually! Do we sometimes "think" we know what the outcome "should" be? Unfortunately, at times, we think we know how best to solve the problem. But scripture reminds us that "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine." (Isaiah 55:8 NLT)

                As a true follower of Christ, we should automatically recognize that God is Sovereign and we should willingly give him full control during this season, and every season. If you haven't already, put all of your trust in our Sovereign God because relying on and waiting on the Lord only makes us better. No matter the season seek God, and I know He will see you through. You will come out washed, restored, renewed, protected, and strengthened.

 
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Easter Never Ends by Kathy Schreiner

     

               As I write this it is several weeks after Easter.  The decorations are packed away and the Easter lily is almost done blooming.  Time to move on right?

                Well, I received a beautiful blooming plant (kalanchoe) with pink, white and yellow flowers from my neighbors.  It is the season of Spring in a pot.  There was also a balloon that said "Happy Easter."  I was thinking it was time to ditch the balloon when it struck me that I could use a reminder of Easter and the joy it brings to me as a Christian. 

                I have pleasant memories of the Easter celebration as a child; up before the sun so we could attend sunrise service as a family.  My two sisters and I dressed in pretty little dresses; white patent leather shoes, fancy hats with the tortuous elastic string, white gloves and a little purse to carry our offering.  We were not a wealthy family.  We only purchased new dresses twice a year, Christmas and Easter.  The gloves, shoes and hats were from rummage sales, yet we felt so special. 

                The church was full of Easter lilies.  The choir sang and someone played a trumpet.  The hymns were all so happy, even to a little girl.  When the service was finished it was on to the Easter breakfast prepared by the men's club. 

                We attended church every week, still the Easter service was special as it should be.

Now that I am older (really old) I so appreciate what it all means.  Getting up before the sun rose, to prepare for a great occasion.  Dressing up, like a bride to meet her groom. The adults greeting each other with "He is risen" and the reply "He is risen indeed."  All with smiles and love in their hearts for Jesus and each other. The food following, almost like a wedding banquet.  The church bride and her groom, Jesus. Nourishment for body after receiving the more important nourishment for our souls. 

And what wonderful nourishment!  The best news we could ever receive.  Jesus is risen! 

                I don't know about you, but I could really use this reminder daily.  Jesus, the Holy Son of God, died on a cross for me (and you) to pay for my sins (and yours) then rose from the dead so we could live with Him forever in heaven, clothed in His righteousness. 

                My favorite Easter hymn says it so well: 

I know that my redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives

He lives He lives who once was dead

He lives my ever-living head. 

 

Happy Easter indeed!

 
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Today, a narrated devotional by April Cooper

     

               Did you open your eyes this morning with extreme excitement for the day to unfold? Is there something fun on your agenda that you have been planning for a long time? Are you taking time to relax, or looking forward to talking with your best friend? Or, did you wake up today dreading what you have in front of you? Is there a doctor appointment scheduled, a hard conversation planned with someone close to you, or even a funeral to attend?

                Those examples showcase two totally different types of days! But, the great news is, there is only ONE God who oversees it all. Regardless of what has been penciled in on your calendar… you CAN choose how you view the events scheduled.

                Isaiah 26:3-4 (NLT) teaches us,

"You will keep in perfect peace

    all who trust in you,

    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Trust in the Lord always,

    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”

                Whatever your day has in store, focus on the One who holds your yesterday, your today, and all of the tomorrows to come. His peace is available to us all, every single day.

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The Potter's Vision by Julie Luetke

     

But now, Lord, you are our father.

We are the clay, and you are our potter.

All of us are the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8 (EHV)

 

                Making pottery is an art.   So what does it take to make pottery?  First it takes a vision of what you want to make, a steady eye on the clay, patience and strong hands.

                The Father had a vision on what He wanted you to be before you were born.  I am changing my mind at the slightest passing fad or suggestion.  Not a good idea when spinning the wheel of clay.

                Jesus said He is with us always.  A potter cannot be distracted.  If the Father takes His eyes off of me for a second, I may lean to one side away from Him and crumble into a worthless lump of clay.  It is the strong Hands of God that keep me focused on His vision for my life.  Sometimes God’s hands push hard and it hurts.  As an unruly lump of clay I may push back, but surrender is the only way to become what God wants me to be.  His vision is always better than mine. 

                There are times when we don’t want the Father’s plan.  It takes too long. It’s too hard.  God is patient with us.  We may spend many years on a career we are sure is right.  After we see how the job takes us away from our family, time in His Word, and the money doesn’t make us happy, our heavenly Father drops the perfect job (or no job) in our lap and steers us back to His vision.

                We may want to be a pretty, brightly painted bowl to sit on a shelf and be admired.  God’s vision may be a large boring (but beneficial) jug to hold rain water for a garden that feeds many or a simple cup to wet an old man’s tongue (Matthew 10:42). But, “Who wants to live their whole life to help just one person?”  God loves that person and may need you to serve them.  That one person may be the person God uses like he used the apostle Paul.   A few people in Paul’s life helped him by lowering him in a basket to escape (Acts 9:25).  God had a vision for those helpers.  God put those people at just the right place at the right time to do the job.  They surely didn’t grow up with “lowering a missionary in a basket in the dark of night” as their goal, but God did. 

                Making pottery is a slow process.  Rushing it results in a poorly crafted object.  Are you rushing God?  The clay doesn’t call the shots, so relax, and let the Potter do His work.

                Clay on a wheel gets water poured on it again and again.  Think of the water as God’s Word in Baptism,  and the Lord’s Supper as well as read and listened to.  The clay cannot be shaped without water.  We need God’s Word to trust the Father’s vision and let Him shape us to be useful children shining with the Light of Jesus in a dark world.

 

Let the words of the hymn below be your prayer.

 

The Potter’s Hand

 

Beautiful Lord, wonderful Savior

I know for sure, all of my days are held in Your hands

Crafted into Your perfect plan

 

You gently call me, into Your presence

Guiding me by, Your Holy Spirit

Teach me dear Lord

To live all of my life through Your eyes

 

I'm captured by, Your Holy calling

Set me apart

I know You're drawing me to Yourself

Lead me Lord I pray

 

Take me, Mold me

Use me, Fill me

I give my life to the Potter's hands

Hold me, Guide me

Lead me, Walk beside me

I give my life to the Potter's hand

 

Written by: DARLENE JOYCE ZSCHECH

Lyrics © MUSIC SERVICES, INC.

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind

 
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