God With Us: Day 5

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:34-38

I don’t understand. That doesn’t make sense. How is that possible?

Each of these phrases expresses a similar emotion: confusion. Maybe you can remember the last time you were really confused about something. Maybe it’s been a while. But we’ve all been there. Faced with a situation we can’t quite figure out, we just sort of shake our head, confused about the outcome.

Read Luke 1:34-38. Here, Mary is confused. And rightly so. The angel has just told her she was going to have a baby. Mary, confused, wonders how in the world this is going to happen, considering she is not married and has never been with a man. The angel’s reply is powerful in its simplicity: “Don’t worry. God’s going to take care of it.” Huh?

Do you wonder if Mary had a ton of questions? The Holy Spirit is going to be the dad? Will I know when it happens? Will the baby need nine months to grow like normal? Or will he just appear one day? What will people say? Are you sure you’ve got the right girl? Maybe she had a lot of questions. We don’t know. What we know is that Mary responded to the amazing news with one phrase. Looking at this messenger of God standing in her living room, she simply said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. If you say so, I’m on board.”

Mary’s faith is remarkable. She instantly trusted God, even though she could not have had any idea of how God’s plan would work out. She didn’t know HOW it would work, but she knew WHO was doing the work. And that made all the difference in the world.

The next time God leads you to do something you may not fully understand, remember Mary. Follow God’s leading with the confidence that His plans are perfect.

Think about this:

• Can you recall a time in your life when God led you to do something, and you didn’t exactly know how it would turn out? What helped you to go through with it?
• What obstacles are standing in the way from you trusting God more? What do you need to do to remove these obstacles?

God With Us: Day 4

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:26-33

If your family has ever received a birth announcement in the mail, you know that they’re pretty cool. You’ve seen these, right? Baby is born. Mom and dad dress baby up in a super-cute outfit (or go the minimalist route and show the baby in his/her birthday suit). The picture is taken and, most likely, uploaded to a site that specializes in birth announcements. And then, all the details are added. Full name. Date of birth. Weight and length at the time of birth. And maybe even a statement from mom and dad: “Our family is pleased to announce the birth of . . .” Some are elaborate. Some are simple. But all are intended to let the world know the existence of a treasured new arrival.

Read Luke 1:26-33. This was a birth announcement unlike any other in history. No uploaded pics to a website. No US Postal service involved. This was a DM straight from God to Mary. Can you imagine? Mary is minding her business when an actual angel just appears. We can understand why she would be afraid! And look at what the angel said to Mary. This is the heart of this most amazing birth announcement.

The language the angel used to announce to Mary of the news of her pending pregnancy would have rocked Mary’s world. “Son of the Most High.” “Throne of his father, David.” “Reign over the house of Jacob.” “No end to his kingdom.” This language, these words, would have signified to Mary that this baby was the long-awaited Messiah. The messenger and the message told her that she was about to be a part of something bigger than anything she could have imagined. Everything about her life and the world was about to change.

There is no way we can even begin to process what Mary must have been feeling. The angel’s announcement signified that God was working His plan to bridge the gap in history. The birth of Jesus signified the connecting of the narrative thread from the Old Testament to the New. God was continuing His faithfulness to His people but in a new, bigger way. The nature of the game was changing. Jesus was God with us. Emmanuel! This was a birth announcement unlike any other. And it changed the course of history.

Think about this:
The announcement that Jesus would be born was a game-changer. How has God been a game-changer in your life? Think of three ways your life is different because you know and are known by Jesus.

God With Us: Day 3

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:24-25

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? It could have been something small or some-thing big. No matter what it is, when you get blamed for something, it’s a terrible feeling, especially when you know that you didn’t do anything wrong.

Read Luke 1:24-25. We’re continuing with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are an important (if sometimes forgotten) part of the Christmas story. We can learn from them a great deal, but we may have to look a little more closely to find it. In today’s passage, it’s easy to skip over the really powerful truth contained within it. So let’s take a moment to slow down a bit.
Why did Elizabeth hide for so long? To understand this, we have to understand what the word “reproach” means. In verse 25, Elizabeth says the Lord “looked on [her], to take away [her] reproach among people.” The word reproach means “an expression of disapproval or disappointment.” What was going on? What had Elizabeth done wrong that people would disapprove of? In a word, nothing. But that didn’t keep people from treating her as if she had.

In Elizabeth’s culture, when a woman was unable to have a child, it was seen as a sign of God’s judgment. People assumed that if a woman couldn’t have a child, she must be living in such a way that God was displeased with her. Now, certainly, Elizabeth wasn’t perfect. But the Bible describes her and Zechariah as “righteous.” Nowadays, we know that the inability to have a baby is due to biological reasons. But Elizabeth had lived her life under the judgment of others. In a sense, she had been accused of something she didn’t do. So not only was she happy that God would be giving her a son, but she had to be incredibly, amazingly relieved that God was clearing her name, freeing her from the undeserved judgment of others.

Freedom. Freedom from judgment. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from sin. Jesus’ birth over 2,000 years ago signified all of these things. Not just for Elizabeth, but for all people everywhere who would come to believe in Jesus.

Think about this:

• What are some words that describe how Elizabeth must have felt when God took away her reproach?
• Have you ever thought about how it makes you feel when you consider the fact that Jesus has done the same for you? Express to God how it makes you feel when you think about Him removing your sin, guilt, and shame.

God With Us: Day 2

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:8-23

Surprises. Sometimes surprises are good. And sometimes surprises are not so good. When your parents tell you you’re going to the beach after Christmas? Good surprise. When your coach informs you that today’s practice will be nothing but conditioning? Bad surprise. New phone for your birthday? Good surprise. Pop-quiz? Bad surprise.

A surprise is nothing more than being caught unprepared. If your parents said to you, “Just a head’s up. Tomorrow we’re going to tell you that we’re going on a super-fun vacation,” when it came time for the announcement, you wouldn’t be surprised. You would have been prepared for it. God likes surprises as much as the next person. Isn’t the heart of every miracle a surprise? But God also understands the value of preparation. And in today’s passage, we see how preparation is woven into the Christmas narrative.

Read Luke 1:8-23, paying special attention to verses 16 and 17. You were introduced to Zechariah yesterday. In this passage, we see Zechariah going about his priestly duties when God chose to surprise him. Zechariah met an angel who had an important announcement: Zechariah and Elizabeth would be the parents of a special child. Not just any child, but John the Baptist. What an epic announcement.
Look closely at verses 16-17. This is a prophecy about the nature of John the Baptist’s life’s work. John would give his life to preparing people for the coming Messiah. In God’s great plan to send Jesus to earth to live among His people, He wanted John there, calling people to prepare themselves to encounter Jesus. I believe there is a powerful truth for us here, as well.

As we navigate the Christmas season in our 21st Century culture, it’s easy to forget what we’re building toward. Ideally, each day that draws closer to December 25 is another day we’re preparing to encounter Jesus. Not literally, as the people in John’s world would do. But preparing our hearts and minds to celebrate the amazing, world-changing story of Jesus’ birth. If we don’t intentionally prepare ourselves, the real risk is that Christmas passes us by, and we’ve not been moved by it.

God knew that preparation was important for people in the 1st Century. It’s no less important for us today.

Think about this:

• What do you need to do to prepare yourself for a meaningful Christmas season?
• Is there anything in your life that is an obstacle to your preparation? What would it take for you to remove that obstacle for this Christmas season?

God With Us: Day 1

Devotional Passage: Luke 1:5-7

Waiting is something most people struggle with (even though these days, waiting in line or for someone to show up at a restaurant means you get extra time to check social media or play a video game on your phone). We’re impatient by nature. But the funny thing is that God often sees waiting in a different light than we do. God will sometimes make us wait so that we learn to appreciate what He has already planned to reveal to us.

Read Luke 1:5-7. What do we learn about Zechariah and Elizabeth here? We learn Zechariah is a priest. We learn Elizabeth is the daughter of priestly heritage (that’s what the whole “daughters of Aar-on” means). We learn that they are righteous. But we also learn something about them in verse 7: they have been waiting for a child that has not come.

The theme of “waiting” runs through the Christmas narrative, but it’s easy for us to miss it if we don’t know the backstory. If we go back to the time of David, something like 1,000 years before Jesus was born, God was continually speaking through His prophets. If you were an Israelite during those days, God’s presence seemed like a constant thing. But as the Israelites were repeatedly unfaithful to God, He chose to speak predictions of judgment through His prophets, warning the people what would happen if they didn’t turn back to God. With each message of judgment, there was also the promise of future hope when the Messiah would come. But the people never listened to the message. Judgment came as God promised it would. The people were scattered and defeated.

Then, as far as we know, God went silent. For close to 400 years, we have no recorded revelation from God. God was not absent, but He was quiet. God was letting His people wait. They had been waiting in anticipation for the Messiah to come. They had been waiting for God to speak. They had been waiting for hundreds of years. But suddenly, this changed. The Christmas story is essentially about God break-ing His silence and speaking into the void. The wait was over. God was moving, and nothing would ever be the same.

Think about this:

• Why is waiting on God difficult at times?
• What can you do to keep your faith strong as you wait?

Devotional 5/22/20

Ephesians 6:18-24

18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Paul does not request to be released from prison but for more ministry opportunities. This is a model for us. It is not wrong to ask the Lord to alleviate our suffering, but perhaps the first thing we pray for should not be the end of our pain, especially if it is for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps we should first pray for God to use our suffering for His glory.

What does the bible tell us about our struggles or trials?

How can we use our suffering to honor Christ?

Today we wrap up our study in Ephesians. Can you believe its already been 6 weeks? I wanted to thank everyone who followed along with the blog. I hope this was a good way for you to connect with the Lord. We’ll be continuing devotionals throughout the summer, so be sure to keep updated with the blog.

Leader Letter 5/21/20

Written By: Eli

Hey Chapel Youth,

Looking forward to our Zoom Olympics this Tuesday at 6:30! I wanted to take some time to slow things down and ask a few simple questions. As we’ve concluded our study in Ephesians, I’m reflecting on what God has told us through His word. We’ve heard of the goodness of God, and seen some practical tips about how to live our lives in light of the gospel. How is your relationship with Christ? Take some time toay to reflect on that. Be honest with yourself about what your struggles are, and think about ways to see victory through them.

Matthew 22:37-39

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

  1. How is the COVID-19 crisis impacting your relationship with God?
  2. How is the COVID-19 crisis influencing your ability to love others?
  3. How are you drawing closer to God during this crisis?
  4. How are you showing love to others during this crisis?

We’re all in this together. Let’s use this time to draw closer to the Lord.

Devotional 5/20/20

Ephesians 6:10-17

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Paul tells us plainly to be strong “in the Lord and in the strength of His might”. God conquered sin and the grave, we did not. Without God, we can’t win. On our own, we are helpless and worthy of wrath. But through God we are made righteous. Jesus’s death on the cross made a way for us to be made holy. But this is only though God, and not through what we do or don’t do.

Being a Christian doesn’t exempt of from temptation. That is why we have to continually remind ourselves about what God has done for us. When Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, he is reinforcing that this is an active thing we have to do, not passive. We have to think everyday about the decision we’re making and whether they are reflect Christ or the world. Just because we know Jesus doesn’t mean we make the proper decision by default, we have to stand on guard and actively make the choice to follow Jesus.

We are told of the belt of truth, representing the truth of God made known by His scripture. Truths like the love of God, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and forgiveness of sin. We’re told of the breastplate of righteousness. This breastplate protects our hearts from evil. It is from the righteousness of God, not ourselves. Paul also tells us about the shoes of the gospel. As Christians it is our job take the gospel and share wherever we go. With these shoes, we can march where the Lord leads us and take the gospel there. We’re told of the shield of faith. When Satan attacks with doubts, the shield of faith turns aside the blow. We’re told of the helmet of salvation. In our minds, we can live knowing that because of Jesus, we are sure of our salvation and our status as citizens of Heaven.  Lastly, we’re told of the sword of the spirit. This is the only weapon listed in the armor of God. God has equipped with the Holy Spirit, and given us His holy word. Through the power of God, we can use this to bring light to the darkness.

Are you putting on the full armor of God daily?

Are you finding your strength in the Lord and what He’s done, or in yourself?

Leader Letter 5/19/20

Written By: Eli

Earlier in Ephesians, we discussed the cultural division between Jew and Gentile, and how Christ’s work tore down the divide. This is something Paul explores in Galatians 5.

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

As part of his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentile world, Paul planted the church in Galatia. Things were going well until he left, and then some fellow Jewish-Christian missionaries came to town and started preaching teachings contrary to what Paul had taught—namely, that they must become Jewish first in order to follow the Jewish Messiah. You can read about that in Acts 15.

While some of Paul’s words seem pretty harsh (verse 12—yikes!), he has to make a point that it is grace alone that saves us. The law is good in that it reveals God’s standards of holiness. But because nothing we can do is good enough to cleanse ourselves from failing to keep God’s law, we become a slave to our evil desires, and in turn, to the law through legalism. The message is that the power of Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from all of that and now transforms us into those who live out the law through sharing the same Spirit of Christ. If the laws of God are good, why does Paul say that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (vs. 6)?

How does serving one another in love (vs. 13) reflect freedom? Isn’t that just another thing you have to do?

Another accurate translation for verse 22 would be “evidence” or “result” of the Spirit. Which of these behaviors are displayed in your life? Which ones are absent?

To “keep in step with the Spirit” means one must prune, practice, and learn in order to grow. What areas do you need to work on in your life, and what steps will you take to address those issues?

In our freedom, are we called to walk alone, or do we have a responsibility to other believers? If so, what?

Devotional 5/18/20

Ephesians 6:1-9

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masterswith fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Masterand yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

The duty of children is to obey their parents. That obedience includes inward reverence, as well as outward acts. By obeying your parents, you are obeying the Lord. By serving your parents, you are serving the Lord. Our families are meant to be an imitation of Christ, and our submission to our parents is a way of imitating our submission to Christ. God used our parents to create us. He uses our parents to provide for us and to sustain us. If it weren’t for our parents, we wouldn’t be here today. Honor Christ by honoring your parents. It is one of the best ways that you can serve the Lord in your youth. And make no mistake, you are serving the Lord by doing it.

Next, Paul takes a look at the relationship between a bondservant and a master. Some of your translations may refer to it as a slave and a master. However, the practice of slavery in the bible is different then what we think of when we hear the term today. In biblical times, slavery was not based on race. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. Some people would become slaves as a way to ensure that all their basic living needs were met. Paul isn’t writing this letter to reform the governments of the day, but to share the good news of Jesus Christ and offer a hope beyond what was imaginable to his audience.

Are you honoring your parents? What are some ways in which you can do so this week?

What does it look like for your obedience to show inward reverence as well as outward acts?