God With Us: Day 25

Christmas Day // Devotional Passage: Colossians 1:15-20

As you focus on Christ this day, take in the glory of these two passages, one that speaks to His birth, and one that speaks of He whose birth we celebrate. They are one and the same.

[6] And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. [7] And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7
[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or author-ities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [18] And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. [19] For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

This is the baby that was born. This is He whom we celebrate.

Merry Christmas.

God With Us: Day 24

Christmas Day // Devotional Passage: Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice! The King is coming.

Tonight, our hearts are joy-filled as we celebrate the coming of the King. But this King doesn’t come as other kings before Him. He does not ride in on war-horse, his vast armies going before him. He does not come on the stairs of the government, overthrowing his enemies. He does not come in brash arrogance and inflated self-pride as those before and after him.

This King comes quietly.

Though He is the most powerful of all, He comes meekly.

Though His Kingdom reign is absolute, He asks of those who would join His realm only that they would come.

Though He alone holds the power to turn back the tide of death itself, He comes as a human baby, frail and fragile.

Though He is the One who hung the stars in place and stretched out the boundaries for the sea, He willingly, lovingly chooses to wrap Himself in humanity to save the very beings He created.

And so celebrate tonight, in thankfulness, in humility, as those who have been pulled from the grave and given life, all through the work of the King that began in the most humbling of surroundings. Celebrate the Christ-child.

He is born. Rejoice.

”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – Zechariah 9:9

God With Us: Day 23

Devotional Passage: Malachi 4:1-6

Christmas is two days away. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The hope is that you have used the last several weeks to prepare your heart and mind so that you are in the right frame of mind to experience Christmas. In a word, the hope is that you are properly “expectant.”

What does it mean to be expectant? To be expectant means to be in a state of expecting. When we expect something, we’re looking for it—waiting on it. There is a certain longing in our spirits for the thing we’re waiting on. And if you’ve used the last few weeks accordingly, you should be properly expecting Jesus.

Do you know who else was expecting Jesus? The Israelites. His chosen people. For a few hundred years, many of the people had actively rebelled against God. They had turned from Him and worshipped other gods. God spoke through His prophets to try and turn the people back, being super patient with them as they were unfaithful to Him. And then, He could be patient no more. He allowed the judgment He predicted to come true. Israel was destroyed. The people were left isolated and desolated. And the faithful among them longed for God. They were waiting expectantly.

Read Malachi 4:1-6. These are the very last words of the Old Testament. Scholars believe there was roughly a 400-year period between these words and the words of the New Testament. And during this entire period, the people were waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Look at Malachi’s words here: “Behold the day is coming.” Malachi was longing for God to return and judge the evildoers in his land. This would be a bad day for those who were against God. But for the righteous, the day will come like the dawning of the sun, shining new light on all the people of God. Malachi didn’t quite know what to expect. He didn’t quite know what he was waiting for. But he knew he was waiting on God’s promise to come true.

Jesus was what Malachi was waiting on. Jesus was the object of the people’s expectations. The question for you, as you near Christmas Eve, is whether Jesus is the object of YOUR expectation.

Think about this:

• If you’ve put yourself in the position to properly expect God this Christmas season, how has this impacted your faith?
• If you haven’t, no worries. What can you do to get yourself ready to take in everything that Christmas means?

God With Us: Day 22

Devotional Passage: Matthew 2:9-12

This will be the last day that we spend looking at the wise men. And their story has one more thing to teach us about. Their story can teach us a very powerful lesson on worship.

Read Matthew 2:9-12. The wise men leave Herod, and God uses a star to lead them to the manger, where they encounter Jesus. Look at verse 11. How did they respond? They responded in worship. And in their response, we see a really simple definition of worship. Worship is what happens when we see God, and we know we’ve seen God, and then respond accordingly. It can look different ways. But worship is always the response to an authentic encounter with God.

Our desire to worship God goes way beyond what we do in church on Sunday mornings. After all, your life intersects with God in many different ways. You encounter Him in His Word. You may think about Him on your way to school, listening to praise music in the car. You experience or are aware of the ways God has blessed you. You see God in His creation, and so on. These are all encounters with God. And when you encounter God in these ways, when you behold Him, worship is your response.

Here’s the cool thing: anytime we encounter God, we can worship Him. And so you can and should worship God in the car, alone. You can worship God in how you treat people. You can worship God through corporate praise in your church community. You can worship God with friends over ice cream.

A lifestyle of worship is the way a Gospel-centered Christ-follower shows God his or her gratitude. Worship is simply giving back to God what is rightfully His.

You’ve certainly encountered God a lot over the last few weeks. (That’s one of the best parts about Christmas.) Have you spent enough time responding to Him in worship?

Think about this:

• Worship is something we are to do with our lives each day. Can you think of some ways you might worship God as you go throughout your everyday life?
• What if you were to have a family worship time tonight before you go to bed? What would it look like? Are you brave enough to get one organized?

God With Us: Day 21

Devotional Passage: Matthew 2:3-6

Life throws the proverbial “curve balls” at us, right? Stuff we don’t expect. Things we can’t predict. It’s the same for everyone. Often what makes us unique is how we respond to the unexpected. When an opportunity presents itself, the difference is whether you respond by seizing it or letting it pass you by. Our response is everything.

Read Matthew 2:3-6. We introduced the wise men yesterday. We discussed how the wise men responded to what they saw. If we were to describe the wise men’s response, we might use words like “curious” or “questioning,” or maybe even “seeking.” However you describe it, the point is that the wise men saw something in the stars they regularly studied, and rightly interpreted it as a sign that something spectacular happened. Their response was the right one: they sought out Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Let’s stop for a moment and study Herod’s response. Herod was the Roman-appointed governor over the region. He was a pretty brutal leader. And instead of being curious about the spiritual implications of Jesus’ birth, his response was different. Herod was calculating, paranoid, and power-hungry. He was scared that Jesus would somehow diminish his status. He was fearful of who this newborn King might be.

In the wise men and Herod, we see the same responses people still have to Jesus today. People either hear about Jesus and are curious about who He is and what He can do in and through them, or they are dismissive, fearful, or downright apathetic.

Your life is like an advertisement for Jesus. The way you live tells the world that you belong to Christ. People will respond to Jesus in you. And their response will either be curious or dismissive. Your role is to be faithful in communicating Christ, especially this Christmas season

Think about this:

• How do you share God’s message of hope and salvation with the world around you? What are some examples of what this looks like?
• What is one very practical, Christmas-centered way you can share the Gospel with others in the next few days?

God With Us: Day 20

Devotional Passage: Matthew 2:1-2

Read Matthew 2:1-2. These guys lived in a very different culture than the one we find ourselves in. But despite this fact, we can learn a lot from their example. Especially as we consider the information-rich society we currently live in, where “facts” and “faith” are so often pitted against one another.

We think these men came from somewhere in what was formerly the Babylonian Empire. If this is true, they probably gathered their knowledge of God from the Jewish people’s exile in Babylon. The wise man were students of astrology as well as other mystical teachings from multiple cultures. And they also possessed knowledge of world religions, such as their knowledge of God. They would have had a knowledge of the Hebrew God among their knowledge of many other culture’s gods. This is the backdrop upon which the wise man processed the sign they saw in the sky.

When the wise men saw an unusual stellar occurrence, recorded in verse 2, they recognized it for what it was: the hand of someone mighty. If it’s true that these mystics had a knowledge of God, then it’s possible they knew the Old Testament prophecies relating to the coming of a Messiah. But knowing and acting are two different things. And that is what we can learn from these wise men.

These mystics saw the evidence and acted upon it. Their faith may or may not have turned into a saving faith in God. However, they expressed a faith that wasn’t frustrated by their intellectuality. Quite the opposite. Their knowledge fueled their faith. Their deep understanding compelled them to act. Theirs was a seeking faith!

For so many in our culture, and maybe for you, our perceived “knowledge” can sometimes be a barrier to our faith. The wise men serve as a wonderful example that this never has to be the case.

Think about this:

• Why do you think our culture makes such a strong distinction between “fact” and “faith”? Do you believe the two are incompatible? Or do you think there is room for harmony between the two?
• How do you deal with your questions and doubts? Have you ever been uneasy about owning them? What keeps you from taking your questions to God and seeking an answer?

God With Us: Day 19

Devotional Passage: Luke 2:6-7, Revelation 19:11-16

As we near the last week before Christmas, let’s connect the Christmas narrative with a description of Jesus we see somewhere else in the Bible. Let’s look forward in time from the manger and the shepherds and Bethlehem. WAY forward in time. Let’s look to the end of the story (which in itself is a beginning).

Read Luke 2:6-7. See Jesus, the God-baby, in the manger. Innocent. Vulnerable as all babies are. Fully God, but 100% human. Fragile. Helpless. Have you got that vision in your mind? Now turn to Revelation 19 and read verses 11-16.

This is the part of John’s vision where Jesus engages in the last battle with the forces of evil. Spoiler alert: Jesus wins. The baby born in a manger? He is Faithful and True. He declares war on evil, and even His warring is righteous. The Jesus we see here is on the very edge of being indescribable. John did his God-in-spired best, but his human words can barely explain what he saw. This is the full power of Jesus unmasked.

Jesus is the victor. He is the Only King, the Only Lord. Jesus is the warrior who will lead the armies of God against the forces of evil in the end times. He is the sword-bearer who strikes down nations. This is the Jesus bringing victory over evil because evil must be defeated.

There’s a week before Christmas. It’s super easy to forget who it is we’re awaiting. Not only can we lose focus with all the crazy busy-ness that’s going on around us, but we can also lose sight of who Jesus truly is. This Jesus? The Jesus on the white horse? It’s the very same Jesus that Mary carried in her womb. How can it be? It can only be because, in His great, indescribable love, Jesus came to us, leaving the things of heaven to share in the story with His earth-bound children. And He is worthy of our praise and adoration.

Think about this:
Contemplation isn’t something we often do in our culture. But thinking deeply about God is one of the best things we can do. Read back through that description of Jesus in Revelation 19. Slowly. Contemplate what you’re reading. Let your mind and heart soak in what you read. Isn’t Jesus amazing!?

God With Us: Day 18

Devotional Passage: Luke 2:15-20

Let’s focus on the shepherds one more day. They have a lot to teach us about being a Christ-follower. Yesterday we looked at God’s birth announcement to the shepherds. Today, let’s focus on their response.

Read Luke 2:15-20. The shepherds saw something they weren’t expecting. They had an encounter with God’s Kingdom in an amazing way. And afterward, they were left with a choice. What were they to do with the information they just heard? The truth is that once we encounter Christ, each of us, you included, has a choice to make.
When people hear the Gospel or have a chance to encounter Christ through the Bible, there is a choice to be made. People have to respond one way or another. They will either move on this information, or they will not. They will either be compelled to know more, or they will choose to walk away.

The shepherds had a choice. They made their choice, and they made it well. The shepherds acted, and they retold. They acted on the angels’ message. Look in verse 15. They heard, and they moved. They could have sat and talked, or they could have gone home. But they didn’t. They followed through, and they were rewarded by coming face-to-face with the Son of God.

But they didn’t stop with simply acting. They retold. Verse 17 says that once they were sure of the angels’ message, they couldn’t contain themselves. They started talking. They started spreading the word about Jesus. It was as if they couldn’t keep quiet.

Today, over two thousand years later, we’re still expected to do the same. If you know Christ, you should find yourself compelled to speak of His story. If you have encountered God and His Kingdom, you know that you will find it hard to keep your mouth shut.

You have to move. You have to act. And with God empowering you, you will. And you’ll be awesome.

Think about this:

• What’s keeping you from being a more powerful teller of Jesus’ story?
• What can you do to be more committed to being someone who tells Jesus’ story to others, especially during a time of year ripe for talking about God’s message of love and salvation?

God With Us: Day 17

Devotional Passage: Luke 2:8-14

Who are the popular kids in your school? Who are troublemakers? Who are the jocks? Who are the nerds? The problem with these questions isn’t necessarily that it’s a terrible way to label people. No, the biggest problem is that you could answer them. This doesn’t necessarily say anything negative about you. But it does speak to the fact that your school is most likely a place where people are labeled and sorted. Cool kids over here. Weird kids over there. It may just be how it is (it’s kind of always been that way), but it doesn’t make it right. And it definitely doesn’t mean that God is OK with it.

Read Luke 2:8-14. The shepherds are one of the coolest parts of the Christmas narrative. It’s so fitting that God would choose them to be the first recipients of the news of His Son’s birth. The choosing of the shepherds gives us a glimpse into God’s heart.

Shepherds were at the very bottom of the Jewish social ladder. They were thought to be unclean. They weren’t welcomed in proper circles. They were outcasts. And so God chose them to be the first people to hear a birth announcement thousands in years in the making. Of course He did. This shouldn’t surprise us. God’s Kingdom places a tremendous value on those the world says are valueless.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” He said, “The last will be first.” He said, “Bring the little ones to me.” He said, “The things you did for the least of these? You might as well have been doing for me.”

This Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to align your heart with God’s. Become an agent of love and compassion for those the world has passed by. And do so in the name of Christ.

Think about this:

• It’s tough to take a stand in school. It is. But what if you were bold enough to break down the walls created by how we label people? What if you showed kindness to those who need it most, regardless of what “group” they are in? What kind of ripple do you think that would cause in your school?
• What’s one thing you and your family can do this Christmas to show God’s love to the needy in your community?

God With Us: Day 16

Devotional Passage: Galatians 4:3-5

Ask your parents or grandparents sometimes about what it was like to redeem glass soda bottles when they were younger. You see, when your parents and grandparents were kids, soft drinks were still sold in glass bottles. When you finished a drink, you could bring the bottle back, and you’d redeem it for a dime. (This doesn’t seem like a lot, but soft drinks were only fifty cents, so it wasn’t a bad deal.) This concept seems completely foreign to us now. But not too long ago, redeeming a bottle was a cool way to get some value out of something that certainly didn’t seem to have value anymore.

Before we move on with the rest of the Christmas story, we’re going to stop right here and focus on this idea of redemption. After all, yesterday we looked at Jesus’ birth for the sole purpose of making sure we reflect on it for the week and a half we have remaining before Christmas. So why not look at one way Paul described Jesus’ mission to help us reflect on it even more?

Turn to Galatians 4. Galatians is the Apostle Paul’s letter written to the Christians in the Roman province of Galatia. In these verses, Paul speaks to the reason why Jesus came to earth: “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The picture of redeeming bottles that we mentioned at the outset of this devotion is an interesting parallel. You see, empty bottles have no intrinsic value. They’ve been robbed of their purpose. But by redeeming them, the bottler is giving them value. The same is true for us.

You see, sin robbed us of our purpose too. Humankind’s original sin destroyed the relationship between God and people. We were left broken and used up. Until Jesus redeemed us. By going to the cross in our place, Jesus placed a value on us. He said, in essence, “Your life is worth my life. I will give my life to redeem you.” This is why Jesus came. This is what He accomplished.

What ended on the cross started in a manger. A miraculous birth made an atoning death possible.

Think about this:

• How does the fact that Jesus has redeemed us of our sins empower you to live a life of purpose on this earth?
• We all get down from time to time. How can the truth that Jesus died to redeem your life help lift your spirits when things get tough?