God had the audacity to show up on planet Earth as a baby boy, born in a small obscure town, to an unmarried peasant couple. God shows up every day in surprising and unexpected ways in our lives today. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. This devotional was written to encourage you to discover God’s gifts each day – gifts of peace, hope, joy, faith, and love. I thank all the writers for sharing your heart and faith with us.
I invite you in this unusual advent season, to take time each day to sit still and open your heart to God. Find a place to sit. Get cozy under a quilt, or fleece blanket. Grab some hot cocoa. Put on quiet music and enjoy a candle, or Christmas lights. Perhaps find a sand timer from a game in your house. It can be a great tool to quiet your mind and center your heart. Here is a suggested spiritual practice for using this devotional guide.
Open your spirit to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Turn the sand timer over (or set a gentle timer on your phone) and sit in quiet for a minute. Notice your breathing. Put your hand on your heart and feel the warmth.
Read the scripture for the day. And sit in quiet again for another minute.
Read the devotion. What does it stir in you? Sit in quiet again for a minute.
Take moment to pray or write in a journal to process what you are thinking and feeling. End by thanking God for the blessings you have received.
It is my prayer that you will discover God in these moments of stillness and quiet. And that the gifts God offers you will carry you through these days.
- Pastor Patti
November 29 -
Mark 10:13-16 NIVThe Little Children and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
When I was growing up, church meant getting dressed up in our Sunday best, being on our “company” behavior, and staying quiet. Woe to the child who drew attention to our family pew by making noise, not paying attention, or goofing around! I don’t remember church as being particularly awful, but it also wasn’t particularly enjoyable or impactful. I could sing all the verses to “Jesus Loves Me,” but I certainly did not think that Jesus loved me in the way that welcomed me to him. He surely didn’t want me to bother him. I was just a little kid you know?
Thankfully times have changed. We not only welcome the children with all their exuberant activity, we yearn for them and rejoice in their presence. We teach them that they are worthy. We are truly following Jesus’ mandate when we let the little children come to him. This is a vitally important message; however, the second part of the scripture is just as crucial. We need to receive God’s love with the heart and mindset of a child. We need to loosen up and become more spontaneous in expressing our faith. We must let go of our pretenses and be ourselves before God and each other. We are worthy of His kingdom not because of our age or experience, status or wealth, power or influence. Our worth comes from God, and we are all God’s children.
- Written by L.H.
November 30 -
John 5:1-9 NIV The Healing at the Pool
5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Although the Gospel of John is my favorite, I have to say that this story has never made much sense to me, and that’s true even after reading about it in the hopes of seeing new things to help me write this!
I don’t know about you, but my brain has not been at its best during this pandemic, especially when it comes to really simple, common sense things. I’ve had a hard time seeing what’s obvious, even though it seems like that should be the first and easiest thing to do.
This has been true with this passage as well. It took a commentator pointing out that this is one of the few times Jesus heals someone who didn’t ask to be healed for me to see this simple but so important fact. Duh! Isn’t that one of the basic beliefs of Methodism, that God’s grace is freely given to all? Even to people who don’t have the hope to ask for it or the graciousness to give thanks when they receive it?
Yes, that’s both the man in this story and me as well. I think I’ve had a hard time seeing the meaning of this story because it is in many ways my own. May I work each day to open my eyes to see the hope that is always there for me, grab ahold of it, and be thankful for it! - Written by A.T.
December 1 -
Matthew 1:22-25 NIV The birth of Jesus foretold
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[a] (which means “God with us”).24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Faith or Fate!
Our first Christmas in Montana is … how and when we met the Briggs family. Bill and I were out for a drive in the foothills of the Crazy Mountains one wintry day. As we drove over a hill and down into a lovely valley there shining in the front window of a small ranch home, a Christmas tree. Simple, welcoming, memorable. As the days grew closer to Christmas, I decided to go to the small Methodist Church in town. I was welcomed by an entire congregation of friendly folk, Ernie and Ellen Briggs were to be fast friends. I found out that it was their home, their tree that shone it’s welcome to strangers that day. This moment led me to a lifetime friendship and awareness of how small our world truly is.
Ellen and Ernie introduced us to the entire community, in meeting these folks we were enlightened and enfolded in a journey of over 34 years that to this day, is a treasure. We have connections on this earth that reach distances in unexpected ways.
Faith leads us to do, be, achieve things impossible unless we take that step. Moving away from our family, making that initial decision led to experiences, friendships, revelations. The journey has not been without bumps, storms, but through the faith I have found in being a part of our church community each person is precious. God had his hand on the wheel as we negotiated those roads.
Each Christmas season brings us through the wonder, the expectancy, the beauty and yes, the faith of celebrating the birth of a baby boy. One child. One savior. One faith we share.
God works in mysterious ways!
-Written by S.L.
December 2 -
Matthew 13:44 NLT The Parable of the Hidden Treasure “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field—and to get the treasure, too!”
The joy of finding a lost item. The very day that I was assigned this topic, “The joy of finding a lost item,” I happened to have lost a glove while on the daily walk taken by me and my husband. Actually, I lost both gloves but didn’t realize it. Near the end of our walk, one glove appeared on the ground by the sidewalk and the grass. Then I realized the matching glove was missing! Now, this is a small item. But I was distressed because the gloves were new, and this was the first day it was cold enough to wear new gloves, at least until I warmed up enough to remove them. I was further distressed to realize how careless I had been to unknowingly lose not only one but both! I have been carefully taught to take care of things which are useful or valuable. So, my husband walked one direction and I walked the other direction, retracing our steps. My steps took me back almost the whole route, and no glove! When I rejoined my husband, he had a big grin on his face and waved the lost glove at me. I experienced considerable joy, not only because of the found glove, but also because of the joyful greeting I received from him.
Eventually I read my assigned scripture. Oh, no, I thought—a parable! I had expected something like the parable of the lost sheep, more easily understood as Jesus reclaims one lost from the fold. But my assigned scripture required me to dig deeper.
I’ve had more than my share of worldly treasures. My mother loved pretty things in her home, and I easily embraced and inherited her joy and love of collecting and displaying treasures. Over the last couple of years, anticipating a move across country, I “downsized,” packed up my treasures and disposed of most of them one way or another.
I value treasures. So on the surface as I contemplated this scripture, I understand the joy of finding a treasure and wanting to sell everything to acquire enough money to buy the whole field, treasure and all. As I dug under the surface, searching for the treasure of Jesus’ words in yet another scriptural mystery, here are my personal thoughts: I believe the kingdom of heaven is a treasure, some of which we can experience on earth during those times when our hearts and minds are aligned with what we feel to be the way Jesus wants us to live. But I also believe the kingdom of heaven is a treasure to seek as we continue to learn and strive to be people who grow toward that goal. Life with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven will be the ultimate joy.
-Written by S.A. (Pastor Patti’s mom)
December 3 -
Matthew 5: 43-48 Love for Enemies
It was morning recess; a cold November in central Montana. I wore my grandma's old muskrat fur coat. Recess duty always brought me closer to nature, kids, hands hanging onto my coat. All was good. Then a scream, a scuffle and agitated voices erupted. “Fight!” Oh, no, I thought. My searching eyes followed the signs to a corner of the dark brown brick school building. Two junior high girls were in high gear yelling, flailing, scratching, and hitting one another. As a first year teacher I rolled into the middle of the fracas, pushing girls apart, then assisted by a big boy and finally the principal.
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemies 44 but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'”
It didn't matter who you were that day...the snowflakes drifted softly upon all our heads and eyelashes. Matthew 5:45 “that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Talking sense into junior high girls is a challenge. “You must,” I pleaded, “be respectful of one another!” Just how do we show love and compassion to others? I've found it is hardest to love the ones who are hardest to love.
Matthew 5:46-47“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” We must always strive, as children of God, to embrace not only those like us, but more especially those NOT like us. We must be respectful of all people and their thoughts and ideas. We must strive for perfection embracing grace and holiness.
Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Recess is over, but the battle remains … Jesus teaches us that all it takes is a little love. God taught us to pray.
-Written by C.K.
December 4 -
Matthew 14:22-33 NIV Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I’ve been invited to reflect on how I see peace in the above scripture.
The times we are in do not readily conjure peaceful thoughts or reflection, so I begin by defining what peace means to me. I think of peace as a still and content state of mind, free of worry or anxiety, being accepting of one’s circumstance, whatever that circumstance may be.
The lead-in to this scripture finds Jesus having just learned of the beheading of John the Baptist. He seeks solitude, but the crowd follows him. He compassionately cures their sick and feeds them with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. Only after he has cared for the crowd does he finally make his way to the mountain to pray, to seek peace. After his time of prayer, he finds his way back to the disciples by walking on the sea. Their fright quickly turns to awe, surely, they find peace in their worship and declaration that Jesus is truly the Son of God.
From this scripture I glean that no matter how ceaseless the troubles of the world, the difficulty of our work, the inevitable temporary lapse of faith, or the personal losses one endures we too are able to find peace when we seek prayerful solitude and quiet reflection.
Prayer focus: Peace of mind for front line workers.
Thought for the day: Peace can be ours, if we seek it.