December 6, 2011 Devotion Sharing (What Child is This?)

Submitted by Eunice K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is the answer to the question posed in the second stanza of the hymn: “Why lies He in such mean estate?”  What does this say regarding the nature of God’s love?

The reason why Jesus came as a baby in such “mean estate” or lowly circumstances is to plead for sinners.  Stanza 3 goes on to say, Jesus, the King of kings, brings salvation.

The nature of God’s love is that He came to provide what we needed the most, salvation from sins.  And the way He came to do that was by stepping into our experience of powerlessness, vulnerability, lack of resources, and inadequacy in this kind of real way.  God’s love is not limited to pity or compassion shown to another, but he came to step into our shoes and be with us in the thick of our sins and the realities of this broken world.

In what ways have you experienced this kind of love from God and others? Who are the people you need to show this kind of love to?

I think this kind of love is so radical, it really takes a picture, a story like the Christmas story to really understand.  I realize that my default (and wrong) understanding of God and His love is always that He is a little removed and distant from me, and that His love needs to be earned on some level.  But when I think about the times when I really felt helpless and at a loss, when I had nothing I could bring to God to earn what I truly needed, I experienced God not as a distant and demanding figure, but a God who was graciously there with me.  Through His words and through His people, I experienced God grieving with me over my sins or over some of the biggest heartaches in my life, speaking to me in specific ways to give me encouragement, or lead me to repentance.  I experienced God working in the midst of fearful and disappointing circumstances, giving me reassurance of His presence and His love for me, and that He would not abandon me but continue to guide me.  He is not a God who keeps his hands clean and wants to just send some kindness my way–He is fully with me in my need.

I have experienced this kind of love from my leaders and friends, who did not settle for a polite and impersonal relationship, but who were willing to build a relationship in the context of my real sinfulness and character issues, and to walk with me through dark and discouraging times.  I have experienced people sticking it out with me and others and praying together for the long haul in the worst or deepest kinds of prayer requests, where there is no quick solution, but a long, extended struggle.   These kinds of relationships exemplify the kind of love from God illustrated in the Christmas story.

The people I need to show this kind of love to are all the people God has given me to love – my leaders, my friends, my husband and family, the staff and students God has placed in my life, and the many students yet unknown to us on our campus.  God asks me to share His love with these precious people He has given me, and it’s not a distant kind of “love” where I can keep my hands clean and keep things convenient.  It’s the same kind of love that I’ve experienced, of willingness to be with you through the good times and bad, of commitment to share the burdens and the joys, and to always push against the desire to draw lines of boundaries of how far I will care for this person.

From the second stanza of the hymn, why would sinners not respond to the “Word pleading?”  What has been my response to this pleading?   

I think sinners would not respond if they don’t see themselves as sinners, or if they don’t feel like God’s pleads are really something that addresses their need. Perhaps they don’t recognize yet their true brokenness and don’t think that they really need Jesus to save them from their sins.

As I grow older, I recognize more and more that God’s words are so true, that my greatest problem and need is my sin and brokenness.  I appreciate more, and I am more grateful for God’s love and his salvation as I continue to understand more about how this affects every part of my life.  Every day I am reminded of these truths through daily devotion and just the experience of daily life.  I’ve come to see how truly Jesus’ coming in order to save us from our sins is “good news of great joy” in my life.

Submitted by Ben K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is the answer to the question posed in the second stanza of the hymn: “Why lies He in such mean estate?” 

The Jews had long anticipated the Messiah, but they believed the Messiah would be a political one, one that would rise up in power and lead them to be free from Roman rule.  But Jesus was not to be that kind of Messiah.  He came to plead with sinners and win the hearts of men so that they may love him and receive salvation.  Had he come in power and extravagant luxury we might follow him out of intimidation or awe, but we would not necessarily love him.  His coming as an infant born to peasants in a manger was so that he could identify with us and that we might follow and obey him out of love.

What does this say regarding the nature of God’s love?

God’s love is such that he wants us to return his love.  The lowly birth of Christ is part of a love story in which God is trying to woo us.  He goes out of his way to lower himself, giving up his privileges, rights, and comforts as the King of kings so that we might notice him and love him.

In what ways have you experienced this kind of love from God and others? Who are the people you need to show this kind of love to?

I’ve experienced this kind of love time and time again in my life from God through His people.  When I was a youth, my leaders at church gave up part of their weekend to hang out with me and teach me the bible.  I was an awkward shy kid and these adults had no good reason to sacrifice their time and energy to hang out with me had they not wanted to share God’s love with me.  In college I came to our church on Sunday of our move in day and I met some very nice people who immediately took me under their wing.  They had already graduated from college and were working professionals.  But instead of spending their weekends hanging out with their friends and traveling as most people do, they hung out with me.  Fridays and Saturdays, week after week.   It was through self-limitation and lowering of themselves that I understood that they loved me and took the Great Commission very seriously.  The way they lived their lives gave great weight to their faith and belief in God and caused me to take Christianity seriously and eventually I came to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior.  It’s been 10 years since I’ve been a freshmen and I find myself in the same position as the older guys who took care of me—a college graduate and a working professional.  Last year I moved to Riverside with my wife along with some of my college friends to minister to students at the UCR campus and God has entrusted me with a good group of freshmen guys that I’ve taken under my wing.  These are the guys that I need to show the kind of love God and others have shown me.

From the second stanza of the hymn, why would sinners not respond to the “Word pleading?”  What has been my response to this pleading?   

Sinners might not respond to the “Word pleading” because they are not interested in God’s love.  People who are convinced that they will find fulfillment, ultimate satisfaction, or love somewhere else in the world won’t look to God.  Though I’ve been a Christian for some time, there are still times when my career ambition causes me to look for acceptance and validation from the world.  Underlying this ambition is the belief that I will be satisfied and fulfilled when I am accepted by the world.  But the truth is, the world cannot fulfill the deepest longing of my heart to be loved and accepted unconditionally.  The world’s love is fickle and once I am unable to offer anything of value, I will lose value in the world’s eyes.  God’s love on the other hand is unconditional, and the “Word pleading” is the story of the King of kings being born in a manger to save me from my sins.  This reminds me that the unconditional love and acceptance I long for can be found in God only.

Submitted by Jammy Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is the answer to the question posed in the second stanza of the hymn: “Why lies He in such mean estate?” 

The answer to this question, “Why lies He in such mean estate?” is that God wanted to show us and reveal to us that in searching for the answer and solution to life, it is not in the high and lofty places but in the poor and lowly places.   The answer to this question is also that God wanted to show us that it’s nothing we did in order to bring Christ in.  We did not entice or convince God with money and power, but God came willingly in human form through Mary and Joseph.  The mean estate is completely opposite of where we would find a king and yet this is where God chooses to come so that we would know that here is a king that we can relate to.

What does this say regarding the nature of God’s love?

God coming to dwell with us in the form of a baby, born in a manger, in the lowliest of places tells us that God’s love is not found in riches or power, but in humility and weakness.  God’s love comes to those who feel desperate, who have tasted and seen poverty, who have known hardship and difficulty in life.  The nature of God’s love is such that it is not found where money and power is, but God’s love is found where we are found to be helpless and where we cannot give anything back in return.  God’s love to mankind came through Mary and Joseph, a poor peasant couple.  It wasn’t with riches or power that God was convinced to come and share his love with us, but came on his own accord to come and identify with us.  I can imagine Mary and Joseph feeling so terrible that the place where they brought Jesus into the world was not in a nice home, where everything was well prepared, but it was in a manger, where animals feed out of.  As a parent, you do everything in your ability to bring this child into a safe environment.  But this was not the case for Mary and Joseph.  They were helpless and yet God was faithful and came through and provided for Mary and Joseph nevertheless and ushered in the promised savior, Jesus.

In what ways have you experienced this kind of love from God and others? Who are the people you need to show this kind of love to?

The one concrete way I’ve experienced this kind of love is through my salvation.  What did I do to deserve God’s love but only confess that I am a broken sinner?   God’s love was freely given to me and he gave it to me at no cost.  However the cost was on God, who sent his one and only son to earth to show us His love and in the end to sacrifice and atone for my sins through the cross.  I’ve also experienced this love through people.  In just thinking about my undergrad days, though in my mind, I thought I was decently behaved person, I know that I gave trouble to those around me, especially to my spiritual leaders, yet they endured and preserved with me, and they showed me unconditional love.  Why would they do that?  Why did I do to deserve that?  The answer: nothing.  This is the nature of God’s love.  It is unconditional and freely given.  This is the love that a father has for his child.  No matter how much trouble my daughter gets into, she is still beloved daughter.

When I think about all this kind of love that I’ve personally received I know that I need to show this same kind of love too.  When I think about people closest to me, I have to start with wife and show this kind of love where I have to die to myself and give myself freely and love her unconditionally.  Then there are the staff brothers here at Riverside.  We see each other so often and we are susceptible to annoying each other, but likewise my love for the other guys cannot be based upon whether they are on my “good side,” but my love for them comes because God has loved me unconditionally.  I also need to show this kind of love to the students that I minister to.  I can be the one link to God that they have and I need to represent God properly and exemplify the very same love that I received that God has shown me.

Submitted by Dora W. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is the answer to the question posed in the second stanza of the hymn: “Why lies He in such mean estate?” 

I think the only answer to this question that would make sense is love. This is the Son of God, after all…. You would think that He would come into the world in grandness and splendor; that he’d be welcomed by all in a huge celebration with all his needs met. We have these expectations when the people we know give births to babies. How much more should the Son of God be welcomed into the world? So the question “why” is really important. Why would the Son of God come into the world in such a quiet, humble, lowly way—born to a peasant couple, lying in a manger? It’s because of love that God would restrain and descend himself to make himself lowly, even by human standards. The picture that comes to my mind is how a grown up with get down on his knee to talk to a child face to face and uses a voice and plays games that he would never use or do with another adult. Why does the adult do this? It is because she loves the child. She wants the child to know that he is loved and understood. She wants the child to feel safe. I think this is why God came to us in this way—because he loved us. If he had come in this loud booming sort of way, I know that I would be running away in fear. But because he comes in such a humble way, He draws us closer to Him.

What does this say regarding the nature of God’s love?

I think for myself, in the ways that I relate with God, I see that I often have this broken view of God’s love: It’s a picture of God’s love being something that I need to earn and something that I could lose when I fail or sin. In this way of thinking I see that often I have this image of God of being someone who has standards for me to meet before I can be worthy of His love.

From this hymn, I see that God’s love is very different from what I often think it is. The nature of God’s love is very much like a child’s in the sense that a child gives all of his love to his parents unconditionally and unquestionably. He loves completely and in doing so his love is also very vulnerable. In this humble child-like way God comes to us.  He doesn’t scare or intimidate us, but instead invites us to draw closer to him. He doesn’t come into world, making demands. Instead, he takes the weaker position.

I also see that God is willing to descend this far to save humanity. God’s love is constantly sacrificing. Not only does he leave the glory and splendor of Heaven to enter into this broken world, but also by this world’s standards, he comes in one of the lowliest ways possible. This is what he was willing to go through just to come into this world. I see that from the very beginning, God has been sacrificing himself—pouring out all of himself in order to complete his mission of saving mankind.

I think another aspect of God’s love that I can learn from his birth is its greatness. God knew the extent of sin in this world and in each man’s heart. He knew how we were all far from him. And yet he willingly chooses to come into this world. The reality is that it didn’t have to be this way—Jesus didn’t have to come. But because God loves us THIS much, he did not leave us to our own destruction.

In what ways have you experienced this kind of love from God and others? Who are the people you need to show this kind of love to?

One way I experienced this is how I first came to this church. Back then my heart was far from God and I was living a life seeped in sin and self-destruction. However, the leaders I met here did not turn away from me but continued to love and care for me. Who was I to them? They had no connection to me. I was a broken sinner who had no intention of becoming Christian or developing relationships. And still, Eunice & Grace continued to meet with me, spent time with me, and tried to meet me where I was spiritually. They made no demands of me, and I really had nothing to offer them. In this way, I know that God used them and used many more of my leaders to show me the true nature of his love.

And I see this as I continue on this life journey with God. Especially being part of a church plant, I see all the more clearly all the ways I fail and fall short. But each time I face my brokenness, I see that God does not condemn me, but meets me where I am at and restores me. He reminds me of his love for me either through his word or his people.

I need to show this love to my students, as many of them are where I was when I first came to this church. Many of them don’t know what God’s love looks like and have their own broken ideas of God’s love. But I think the people I usually fail in showing this kind of love toward are those closest to me–my sisters, other staff members at Riverside, and my parent.  These are people that I often find myself being less willing to descend to love because I think of them as being at the same or greater level than me. I think of them as people who are going to be okay on their own. However just as I know that I go through struggles and low points throughout my own life, these are things that they too go through. And it is in these times that I need to be flexible with my own plans, to be sensitive to the needs of others, to respond to a friend in need even if they try to push me away, to make myself vulnerable to rejection in order to love someone or remind them of God’s love.

From the second stanza of the hymn, why would sinners not respond to the “Word pleading?”  What has been my response to this pleading?   

Sinners don’t respond for many reasons. The prevalent reason is pride. We are proud and do not want to admit that we have a big problem or that we need help with out problem of sin. I think another reason that is more common today than before is the issue of laziness. While we may be aware to the “word pleading” many of us are too lazy or distracted to respond. We quickly try to brush it off or immerse ourselves in something that will help us not to think about it. I think another reason is despairing. They hear the “word pleading” but just think that the sin is too big or too bad.

I think for myself, I can relate to all of these. My common respond to the pleading is to try to deal with my problems on my own. After years of doing this I know that every time I do this the sin or issue only gets worse and more people get hurt in the end. When that strategy fails, my other common response is to despair. However when I finally respond to the pleading of God’s word, though it is painful initially, it eventually gives way to freedom. And in these times I get frustrated with myself again—why can I not just respond in the beginning. I’d be able to save myself and others from so much pain and torment if only I’d respond more quickly.

December 5, 2011 Devotion Sharing (What Child is This?)

Submitted by Steve K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Place yourself on the scene in that Bethlehem stable.  A group of shepherds come running, terror and joy in their eyes, wildly crying out news of the Angel’s message.  The natural question that arises is: “What child is this?”

Highlight words in the following passages that answer the question “What child is this?”

Luke 2:8–12

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 of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What is the significance of the identity of Jesus to you personally?

Jesus being the “Savior” is personally meaningful for me, because I was once lost and in desperate need of a Savior.  I’m reminded of how lost I was in my in my sinful, self centered perspectives.  I was so convinced that I was the victim of everyone else’s faults and shortcomings.  I felt entitled to everyone’s pity and for everyone to put up with my obnoxious demands for attention and arrogant assertions.  I was just so full of myself, and there was very little room in my heart to care about others.  In fact I drove people away from me with my self-centeredness, which often left me lonely and painfully insecure.  Always feeling out of place and a misfit.  I’m so thankful that Jesus came to save me from my pathetic self.  He had saved me from my sins and had given me a new life in Him that’s full of love for God and other people.

It’s also very meaningful for me that Jesus was not only my Savior, but my Lord, because I would’ve been a poor captain of my own soul.  In fact every time I had tried to usurp Jesus’ reign over me, I consistently found myself running amuck in sin and self-imposed misery.  A misery that would ruin me and those around me, and so I’m thankful that Jesus is my Lord for He alone knows how to rule over me and properly govern my desires, thoughts, emotions and actions.  He keeps me from thinking foolish, unproductive thoughts, so I can keep be more other centered and focused on the things that will bring glory to God and bring blessings to others.

Lastly, I see Jesus appearing in the form a of a helpless baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger as a sign of how He has come to be with even the lowest of the low in society.  This is personally significant for me as I see how unworthy I am to approach him with all my sins that are so repulsive to see in the face of such a pure and holy expression of love.  Seeing what a filthy sinner I am, I’m encouraged to know that Jesus came in a way that tells me that I too can approach him and claim Him to be my Lord and Savior.

Submitted by Greg D. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is the significance of the identity of Jesus to you personally?

Jesus is my Savior, Christ, and my Lord.  He is first my Savior.  This small child that entered the world in a dirty manger ended up being the answer to my sins.  In my life, my default solution to any problem in my way is to try harder, work more furiously, put more time and effort into it.  And it has gotten me pretty far in life, gotten me through college, served me well in my career.  But when it comes to the sins I face each day, when it comes to struggling with my flesh, when it comes to trying to sanctify the very way I think and see this world and other people, when it comes to trying to deny myself and actually put others first, I find my effort does not get me nearly as far as I would like.  I find it inadequate.  And I certainly cannot fix the wrongs already done to others, or undue the damage of sin in my life.  It is then I realize I need a Savior, someone more powerful needs to come down and take away my sins, cover my weakness.  I look at God’s perfect standard laid down and I realize there is no way I could ever measure up.  So Jesus is my Savior.  My only hope, my only chance at eternal life.   Every time when I fail in trying to fight my sins, Jesus is there to give me forgiveness and another try, strength to go on.

[...]

Lastly, Jesus is Lord.  Looking at this small child in a manger, in such “mean estate” I am sure Jesus looked anything but Lord. The hymn remarks this baby is “the king of kings, salvation brings.”  The shepherds must not have known what to make of it.  The wise men must too have been surprised.  That God Himself, the one who fashioned the world should be in a dirty stable, born in about as lowly conditions as one could find.  But this is our God, this humble God is my Lord.  It means he gets the keys to my life, he gets to sit in the driver’s seat, it means He decides the dates and times of my life, what I can and cannot handle, what I should receive and what should be taken away.  It means everything, job, where I live, marriage, ministry, future, all of it is now God’s to decide.  That I cannot cling to the small dreams and hopes I had for my life, and I can take nothing for granted.  I am a person who naturally takes things for granted, who seems to overlook the good and can only see what is lacking or difficult in my life.  But through the eyes of Jesus as my Lord, I need to be a lot more focused on what I do have, what God has provided for me up to this point, and less worried about when I will get over a certain sin, or know more about my future.  I get so bent out of shape when my schedule does not work out, when my day does not go according to my plan, and much more when life does not go according to my plan.  But the day I became Christian I gave up the role as planner of my life over to Jesus my Lord, so I need to go back to that, to live each day with humble, grateful trust in my God.

Isaiah 9:6–7
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Reflect on the titles that are given for the prophesied Messiah.  In what ways have they been fulfilled in Jesus Christ?   What human need does each of the titles meet? Which title is most meaningful to you?

Submitted by Michelle Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

The title that is most meaningful to me is that of “Everlasting Father.”  All my life I have been searching and longing for love.  I tried to find this love in things of this world, but I was always left feeling empty and hollow.  The gospel tells me that God is my “Everlasting Father” and by extension, this means that I am God’s daughter.  It means that I am cherished and valued in God’s kingdom, and that I am accepted and loved for who I am.  Also, this title ministers to be the most because God’s relationship with me is everlasting and nothing can alter or change it.  I often fear that my sins would separate me from God, but here I am reassured that my relationship with God is eternal, unchanging, and forever.  I am thankful for this new status and identity that I am given, that I am no longer rejected, condemned, unwanted but instead called beloved daughter.

Submitted by Dennis P. from Gracepoint Riverside

For me, the most meaningful title that is given to Jesus is that of Prince of Peace, because for most of my life until coming to know Christ I experienced everything but peace. I was constantly stressed out trying to out-compete other people in my classes and though I worked so hard to forge my identity through academic success, I was left with a gnawing sense of loneliness that prevented me from having peace all throughout my high school years. It was only after I finally surrendered my life to Christ and invested in Christian community that I really started to feel that sense of peace and I’ve been able to let my guard down and live a life filled with true peace and joy. I’m reminded of all the fun times I had living at Dana House my senior year, and how it felt so easy to just walk into another room on the second floor and strike up a conversation with one of my peers. I really grew a lot closer to a lot of people during that time and experienced a peace as I was able to open up and share… I’ve continued to experience this kind of closeness here in Riverside with my peer Howard and increasingly with the other staff brothers. I’ve been able to experience this sense of peace through all the warm times of hanging out and sharing at Steve and Eunice’s house and the home where the single brothers live. God has clearly been my Prince of Peace, and I am so thankful for the kind of life he has put me in now because I know I am clearly undeserving of it.

Devotion Time November 28th – December 3rd, 2011

Here are the DT Packets for November 28th – December 3rd, 2011 on Christmas Hymns Week1

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2. Christmas_DT_on_Hymns_Nov28-Dec3_questions_only

December 2, 2011 Devotion Sharing (We Three Kings)

Submitted by Ahmi K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

What contrasts and ironies are in Luke 2:1-20?  What do these tell you about how God works, and the preoccupations of people?

Caesar was taking a census to determine his kingdom and power. Jesus was the true King, promised and fulfilled, unhampered by Caesar.

The whole nation and Israel was being moved around because of Caessar’s decree (he was this powerful), but the real power was Jesus, being born just as the Scripture promised, not hidden or secretive, but openly, and, in fact, THROUGH Caesar’s decrees.

The King of Kings was born in a manger, whereas the worldly king is born in a palace.

The angel proclaiming good news appeared to a group of shepherds lying watch in the night, not to the highest officials in the land.

This tells me that God is not hindered by the greatest authority on earth – in fact, He is the One who makes things happen – He arranged it so for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem at this time in such a way, while Caesar had no idea what was going on with God. Caesar thought he had control over this situation but it was God who was in control. Mary and Joseph thought they were just obeying Caesar’s decrees, when in fact, they were doing exactly what God was leading them to do.

I can learn how God is sovereign and powerful, the true authority over all. He is the one at work, even though the authority of the time – Caesar Augustus – seemed to be so powerful.

He is faithful and true to His Word and promise. He fulfilled the prophecies of long ago.

I can learn to humbly submit and obey Him through the circumstances in my life and not be frustrated. What I see is so limited. God chooses not to reveal everything to us, but that is okay, because I know He is in control. I need to lift my eyes from my self-centered world and see the truth of God’s sovereignty.

What are some responses that the hymn calls for in stanza 1?  Given that only the shepherds ended up hearing the Angel’s song and responding, what can we conclude about what it takes to give “glory to the newborn King?”

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph in skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’
Hark! The herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King.’

The hymn calls for a response of the shepherds to joyfully rise, join the triumph and proclaim the good news together. It is a majestic, mighty proclamation and exhortation, but it was given to a group of lowly shepherds. I can learn that to be a herald of Jesus does not require any worldly qualifications but to simply hear and obey. What it takes is immediate obedience, regardless of the cost. In order  for the shepherds to respond and look for the king, they had to leave behind their post. However, they risked it all, like the magi, to find the King. Shepherds got up and responded to the call.

As you read the description of Jesus in this hymn, which ones cause you wonder and praise? Which ones bring you comfort and encouragement?

th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel

I think this aspect strikes me the most, because it is such a wondrous and mysterious thing how Jesus came to DWELL and be WITH.

How much He descended and came down to the lowliest.

Write a prayer of worship and gratitude for the veiled, incarnate deity, son of God, Jesus our Immanuel, who was pleased to take on flesh to dwell with men, and even now, dwells with all his followers.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I praise You and worship You for Your Son – Jesus. Thank You that He incarnated and descended to the lowliest depths. Thank You that He was pleased to take on flesh and blood and dwell with men, with me, and dwells with me today. In this world of failed and broken relationships, there is nothing everlasting or secure, and, even the best of things ends in death.

I praise You and thank You, O Lord. Please help me to dwell and wonder in this amazing truth, and be alive in its light.

 

December 1, 2011 Devotion Sharing (We Three Kings)

Submitted by Wilson F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

There is so much we’d like to know about the magi, these star-gazers and adventurers from the East.  Though they did not have much light, they responded to the light that they had.  Their journey—over field and fountain, moor and mountain—was long and dangerous (as all long travels were in those days).  What possessed them to take such a journey, bearing such precious gifts? 

These Magi had real questions as well as the hope that there were real answers to those questions.  They must have believed that there was more to life than they had already known, and they looked to the stars for some sign, some clue, some indication that there was something more.  During the Israelite exile to Babylon, there might have been an exchange of cultures, religions and ancient literature, and so these scholars might have been familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah regarding a virgin who would give birth to a child destined to be King of kings and Lord of lords.  So when they saw the star, they packed their camels and headed westward, following its movement.  These men were people of rank and status and position, people with wealth (as they brought costly gifts), people with everything going for them from the world’s perspective.  But I suspect there was a sense of dissatisfaction, of unfulfillment – sort of like an itch they were trying to scratch.  Why else would they brave a perilous journey across barren wilderness, venturing into foreign lands, in search of “the one who has been born king of the Jews” when this child might not have even existed?  In their very own words, they were looking for the One who was truly worthy of worship.

As you think about the journey of these magi, think about your own journey.  How were you led to Christ? What “star of wonder, star of light” guided you?  Or, how are you being led to him now?  Do you have a seeking heart like these magi?

I attended Catholic schools since kindergarten, but I started going to church for Sunday worship at the age of ten.  I heard about God during those early years, but to be sure, I did not understand or appreciate the relevance of what I learned.  The “star” first caught my eye around the eighth grade, when I found myself full of questions about the Bible and what it means to pray and the nature of God’s will.  I became a spiritual seeker, and throughout high school, I learned more and more about God as revealed in Scripture.  However, like the chief priests and teachers of the law, I had all the right answers, Bible quotes with references and all – but I lacked the most important thing, which was an authentic relationship with the God I claimed to believe in.  It was all head-knowledge, but it did nothing to address my true impoverished spiritual condition

The “star” that captivated me was experiencing our church, the first time being New Student Welcome Night back in August 1998 – hearing Pastor Ed’s message and feeling the warmth of our community kept me coming back more and more, and then I took Course 101 and attended Friday Bible Studies, Sunday Worship Services and retreats, until one day, I acknowledged that I was living a lie, that I did not know Christ personally, but I wanted to become one by surrendering my life to Jesus.  That was eleven-and-a-half years ago, and since then, I can honestly say that I still want to know God more, to understand the gospel and the cross more deeply, and to draw closer to him in my relationship with him.  As long as I am in this body, I remain a spiritual seeker, hungry for his Word, dissatisfied with the offerings of this world, and longing to be home where I may worship the King.

What lessons do these magi teach me about spiritual hunger, about decisive commitments, about generosity and the purpose of my treasures?

First, spiritual hunger has to translate to decisive action.  Just as in the case of physical hunger, you cannot expect that sensation to simply go away or to be resolved all on its own; rather, you need to move toward a reliable source of physical sustenance.

Second, spiritual seeking requires commitment and perseverance.  For the Magi, there were points at which they could have turned their camels around and headed back home, but they remained undaunted, determined to find the child.  Arriving at the wrong city after traveling a great distance, encountering a people that had no idea what you are talking about and instead being disturbed by the very prospect, losing sight of the star – all these factors could have discouraged them.  That is why they were overjoyed to see the star once again.  They embarked on this journey, regardless of the costs, the dangers, the uncertainty of success – but with courage and faith, they sought, and they found.

Third, my treasures are an entrustment from God, and the best use for them is as gifts for worship.  All that I possess – my wealth, my car, my time and energy, my very life – were given to me, and I need to be generous with what I have in honoring God.  My life, as precious as it is to me, belongs to God, and as small and trivial as it is, becomes a gift welcomed by the King.

November 30, 2011 Devotion Sharing (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)

Submitted by Michelle S. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

We need to be saved from endless envy, strife and quarrels.  None of us experience the heaven’s peace as we are constantly at war within our souls, particularly our desires that are unfulfilled.  Jesus has come to deal with our unholy and incorrect desires, to bind it to one desire that will bring peace.  We are plagued with many of our own desires that are in conflict with other desires and if we get all we want, we end in destruction.  Only God’s holy desires are what will bring peace to all of us.  I am reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 19:42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  The problem is that we do not know what would bring us peace.  Only God could bring us together.  There is a lot of strife because my desires are not the same as God’s.  One true sign that Jesus is the Savior would be because He is able to bring salvation and unite His people.  He can bring true peace to people who do not know how to find peace.  There will be no more violence and no more of hatred and strife.  It’s so tiring to live life and it seems so hopeless because our desires are winning the battle.  I see people who are not able to find peace because they need to fend for themselves constantly.  The quarrels we have, the desire to not be taken advantage of, the desire to not be the only one who is left behind… so much strife and angst.

 

Submitted by Sieun C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Lord, you see how broken and mangled this world is, how we are captive prisoners to a system that either sends us through horrors and misery and breaks us, or blinds us from the true state of our lives that it’s going to end in death. The more I do your work and try to embrace people, I get convicted more and more that this is the state of everyone, that we’re all captive and desperately in need of you. And you saw this all along and had this amazing redemption plan ready. I don’t know how I somehow stumbled upon this path, how you found me and brought me onto this path, but I thank you for entering into this dark and broken world to bring salvation to us, to your people who were held captive. We love darkness, I love darkness, yet each time, you shed light on my path, reminding me of what my darkness led me to, and you show me through the broken lives of people around me that it’s something so universal, it’s something I need to hold as my greatest weapon and greatest treasure to share. Help me never to buy into the lies of this world as I remember my own brokenness and how even the best of human efforts cannot thwart death, mistrust, strive, or envy. Your way of life is true wisdom, your way of life is what is beautiful and the way things are meant to be. I pray that as I end this year and confirm this as true, that next year will be yet another year of committing to this and becoming increasingly convicted, especially as we take on greater ministry responsibilities. I think about the students under my care who recognize the strife and emptiness in this world. May each of them come find you, our Day-spring, who lifts the clouds and brings light into our darkened hearts and lives. May they find you the true source of wisdom and guidance in this life, apart from whom our lives will always be filled with envy, strife, quarrel, and with no peace.

Thank you for being our Emmanuel God who came to be with us, that you saw us held ransomed captive, and you came fully knowing the suffering and grief you would go through. I pray that as I grow in understanding how this is the only solution in this dark world, that my life too can emulate the being with and suffering life that you lived out for me….

November 29, 2011 Devotion Sharing (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)

Submitted by Jeannie L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Oh come Lord Jesus, please come quickly.  Thank you that you are my Emmanuel God with me. I was captive to my sin, and living in exile, distant and isolated, because of my own sins and jealousies, my own bitterness and resentments, my own strife and envy and quarrels.  And you ransomed me.  thank you for paying my ransom. Thank you for redeeming my unworthy life. I was indeed mourning in lonely exile, the exile of my own thoughts and sin, thinking that no one understands my situation, thinking that no one cares, thinking that I have to fend for myself, that I am alone. I was, but you appeared, and brought me back home from my self-imposed exile.  I become captive again and again and you bring me home again and again.

Lord, because of that, I shall rejoice, because you are with me.  Lord, come and cheer my spirit with your presence.  Your presence disperses the gloomy clouds of night and casts away death’s dark shadows.  Indeed, my life was gloomy, and my thoughts clouded with darkness and death overshadowed my life, and still threatens to overtake me, but you solved that with eternal life.  I now experience LIFE, and community instead of gloomy exile.  I know that regardless of whatever Satan throws at me in life, that I am safe at home with You, for eternity.  because of that, I can be cheerful and rejoice.

Lord, my pathways are often cloudy and foggy, and there are rocks and other obstacles that make me stumble and fall, and so I ask of you to come and to order my life, to bring order to the chaos of my worries and thoughts, to guide me to the path of knowledge and please to cause me in those ways to go.  My own wisdom and the wisdom of the world has only gotten me further into trouble and has only led me in the wrong ways.  I need your principles, I need your values, I need your presence literally to nudge me down the right ways, to help me to think proper thoughts, to order and elevate my values and tastes.

And lastly Lord, my desire, I ask of your presence to help me to be at peace in my heart and mind.  I desperately need that peace to guard my heart and mind, to reassure me that you are sovereign and in control.  When terror surrounds me and fears overtake me, Lord, fill my heart with your peace and quiet and calm and assurance that YOU ARE GOD almighty God.  And please cause the envy and strife to cease around me. Lord, I pray that I may be an agent of your peace to others, as I have experienced your comfort for my life.  And your peace that you give me, the fullness and richness and contentment of being found in you, that you bestow upon me, help me Lord, to be a source of that love and light and warmth and peace to others around me who are in desperate need of it, who are in exile now.  I pray that I can be that to my own husband and children.  Please protect them, please protect us lord.  Please protect our church, our ministries, our people, my brothers and sisters.  Lord, come quickly.

November 28, 2011 Devotion Sharing (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)

Submitted by Ahmi K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Reflect on the promise of Emmanuel that was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and that stands as a continuing promise for all of Christ’s followers.

Having come from convalescent home visits and witnessing the bleakness of life at end, I see how true it is that we are captive and in exile – that is the true state of humanity, and only those who are rescued by Jesus can rejoice. There is no other source of rejoicing. Emmanuel – God with us. That is the only hope we have. Really, at the end of the day, there is utter loneliness and exile from where we belong to which we need to return.

Submitted by Susanna L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

The Bible describes Christians as aliens and strangers in the world. In what ways can you identify with this sense of not being quite at home in the world?

The ways that I can identify with the sense of not being quite at home in the world have to do with the values of this world.  This world is all about striving to be somebody, to make a name for oneself, and to leave a legacy behind.  There is no genuine love or compassion in the world.  It is all directed to the elevation and preservation of the self with the limited resources in this world.  It is all abut what is before our five physical senses.  Reality stops with our senses.  There is no greater cause or purpose.  But God’s kingdom is so radically different.  First, the reality of God’s kingdom doesn’t end with our physical senses.  It is a spiritual reality that is to last eternally.  God is love.  The oxygen of His kingdom is love, unconditional love.  We are valued not based on our appearance or performance but on our relationship to God—the fact that we have been created and we are adopted by God Himself as Our Heavenly Father.  The reality of our identification with God is the radical and eternal difference.  Because of God as He is the one and only Creator, there is abundance.  I no longer need to compete in this scarce world for attention and to be someone.  My daughtership with God is more than enough.  All that striving can now be channeled to do what I was designed to be:  to love God and to love others as God loves me and to bring the Good News of the Gospel to those who do not know their Maker.

Submitted by Sieun C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Reflect on the words “captive Israel,” and “until the Son of God appear.”  Describe how all humanity is captive, and cannot save itself, that we need to be “ransomed,” and that our only hope is that “the Son of God appear.”

We are captive in this world, even if the world blinds us and fools us into thinking all is good and we can have rest and peace in this world.  The reality is that ultimately there’s death and because of this we experience hopelessness, brokenness, lostness, a sense that something is missing and incomplete in this world. We seek after solutions in romance, ambition, and community, but apart from God, it’s temporal with no real answer. The phrase “captive Israel” describes all of humanity.  And God looked down and at all of history, and his heart grieved, became broken, He saw that there was no solution, no one who can solve the problem, and he rolled back his sleeves and entered history to ransom us from captivity.

Submitted by Jeannie L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Write a prayer in response to today’s passages.

Thank you God for answering the cry of my heart, of our hearts, that you CAME, O Emmanuel.  I was captive to my own sin. And indeed I moaned mournfully, and was groping along blindly trying to find my way in this world.  I stumbled and was falling, and though I seemed strong, I was dead, dead inside, dead spiritually.  I tried to find my way in people, finding friends who I thought would be there for me, but they were not Emmanuel, God WITH ME.  I tried to find my way in the world, trying this or that, trying to fit in, but even though I fit in, I was not at home.

Lord, the more I live life, the more I see the words of this hymn are so true.  We are all captive in some way, and cannot save ourselves.  Captive to the world’s values, captive to our own selfish desires, captive to expectations of others upon us, captive to people we want to please, captive to idols, captive to money.  We are hopeless indeed, and utterly sinful, groping about trying to find hope and meaning in a dark and unfriendly world.  Thank you for your deliverance!

Thank you Lord, that you were appalled by my sin and my darkness and that you yourself, came, robed in flesh, and came to intervene, that you worked salvation with your own mighty hand and compassion.  Thank you for seeing my plight, hearing my cries, and coming down to be with me.  I feel like a stranger and alien indeed here in this world, so thank you that you came to rescue me from my sin and to give me a new home and new purpose.

Thank you for your promise to be with me to the very end of the age.  That comforts me more than anything in the world, that I am safe with you, that I have come home and can find peace and contentment in you, that I can find rest from the burden of my own sins and others’ sins.  I know that whatever comes, whatever happens, it will be okay because of your Emmanuel presence.  Please give me that small mustard seed of faith to trust that truth and cling to it for the rest of my days.

 

Devotion Time November 21-26, 2011

Here at the DT Packets for November 21-26, 2011: Thanksgiving Week 3

1. ThanksgivingWk3_DT_Nov21-Nov26

2. ThanksgivingWk3_DT_Nov21-Nov26_QuestionsOnly

3. ThanksgivingWk3_DT_Nov21-Nov26-Chinese

4. ThanksgivingWk3_DT_Nov21-Nov26-Chinese-QuestionsOnly

Devotion Time November 14-19, 2011

Here are the DT Packets for November 14-20, 2011 on Thanksgiving Week 2

1. ThanksgivingWk2_DT_Nov14-Nov19

2. ThanksgivingWk2_DT_Nov14-Nov19_QuestionsOnly

3. ThanksgivingWk2_DT_Nov14-Nov19-Chinese

4. ThanksgivingWk2_DT_Nov14-Nov19-Chinese-Questions