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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

Advent Daily Devotional - December 23, 2020

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version)

Hannah’s Prayer

Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
    and on them he has set the world.

“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
    for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
    the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king,
    and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Luke 1:46-55 (New Revised Standard Version)

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

(I invite you to read these two passages one after the other, noticing the similarities between the two)

When Susan and I were expecting our first child, Caroline, and Susan was about 9 months into her pregnancy, I came home one day to a very disturbed neighbor. He came flying across the street as I parked in the driveway. He was obviously in a heightened state of anxiety. “Where have you been?” he said. “I’ve been worried sick. Do you know what your wife has been doing? She’s been up on a ladder, washing the top of the van! You’ve got to stop her! She’s about to have a baby and if she falls off that ladder…” I assured him that I would talk to Susan, as much good as it would do. She kind of had her own mind about what she would do. What I had to say probably wasn’t going to change the nesting instinct that she was feeling, that led her to wash the top of the van!

In our scripture passages for today, we have two responses from two Moms, that sound pretty similar. From I Samuel, it is the response of Hannah. Hannah was barren. Her husband, Elkanah, and his other wife, Peninnah, had children. But Hannah, though she was deeply loved by Elkanah, had no children. Peninnah taunted Hannah over her barrenness. One day, while in the Temple, Hannah prayed so fervently that she caught the attention of Eli the priest. He thought she was drunk. No, she said, I’m just pouring my heart out to the Lord, asking for a miracle. I want a child. And, if he will grant me one, I’ll bring him to the Temple and he will be dedicated to you Lord, serving you always, even from as young as 2 years old. Eli tells her to go, and that he asked God to grant her that child. He did, and she named him Samuel.

In our other passage, Mary has heard the news from the angel that she will bear the Christ to the world. Anxious to share the word with someone, she hastens to the side and comfort of her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also expecting. When Mary arrives, the baby Elizabeth was carrying leapt in her womb. That baby was John, the Baptizer.

Mary’s response sounds so much like Hannah’s. They both rejoice in the blessing God has given to them. Then they both recognize that the Lord is about to do something special. He is going to bless the least, the last, and the lost through them. The world is going to be turned upside down. When God intervenes, hungry are fed, poor are cared for, the last are given blessing. And, the prideful and arrogant are put in their place. The powerful are brought down to their proper place. God is going to change things.

I wonder what it is about these Moms and their responses? May God bless the news of new life and way of salvation that God brings, today and every day.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 22, 2020

Truth Speaks PeaceTruth Speaks Peace Over Us by Latosha Jenkins

"2020 went exactly like I thought it would."

Will be said by no one except God on January 1, 2021.

God is omniscient.  God is omnipresent.  God is omnipotent.

God knows all.  God is always present.  God is all powerful.

God knows we are none of those three.

That is why He sent His son, Jesus.

It is through Jesus we are reconnected to God the Father, and we are offered a peace beyond understanding.

Advent is our opportunity to look back to when Jesus came as a baby. Advent is our opportunity to look around to where Jesus is at work in the world through us. Advent is our opportunity to look ahead to when Jesus will return for His Church.

One of the most beautiful reminders of all these three comings of Christ is:

 21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

5 And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He *said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." 6 Then He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost.

22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Revelation 21:1-6, 22-27)

12 "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to reward each one as his work deserves. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 22:12-13)

One of my favorite personal life anchoring scriptures tells us that the blessings of the Lord are "yes" and "amen."    

This vision of the future coming of Christ is one that gives me great peace when I am not shouting and doing a table pounding "yes! And Amen."

Today, I would like for us to continue some practical application around our Peace theme.  

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers. Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one-word prayer. For me today, my one word—"yes!"
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us.  For me today, I choose to anchor myself in 2 Corinthians 1:20 New King James Version: 20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.
  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart. For today, my song is “Now Behold the Lamb” by Kirk Franklin.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 21, 2020

Mission Possible jpegMission Possible by Latosha Jenkins

Keeping your peace is an impossible mission if you strive to do it man's way.

A.W. Tozer said, “Christianity is hard when we try to serve God in man's way instead of serving God in God's way.”

Re-airs of the Mission Impossible tv show were very popular in the 80's and 90's. My favorite part of the show was the intro.  You would hear some variation of:

Your mission, Tosh, should you choose to accept it, ... As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape/disc will self-destruct in five/ten seconds.  

We all put our names in right?!?

In Luke 1, we see that Mary, future mother of Jesus, and Zechariah, a priest, are both given messages of good tidings, comfort and joy of the coming conceptions and eventual births of children: Jesus and John the Baptist.

Mary responds by questioning in faith: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)

Zechariah responds by questioning in his humanity: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." (Luke 1:18)

Mary was seeking to understand her impossible mission through childlike faith; while Zechariah was struggling to understand his impossible mission through his flesh.

As a result of the basis for their questions, one, Zechariah, was rendered mute until the circumcision of John the Baptist and the other, Mary, goes on to recite the Magnificat:

45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(Luke 1:45-55)

As we prepare to usher in Christmas and look even further ahead to 2021, whatever the impossible mission is put before you in the mind of man, take peace in knowing that the God who created the universe has already figured it out.

Amen Saints!

May it truly be so!

Today, I would like for us to continue some practical application around our Peace theme.  

  1.  Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers. Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one-word prayer. For me today, my one word—"at your word."
  1. Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us. For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Luke 1:38: And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her; and Luke 1:45: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
  1. I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart. For today, my song is “Jesus Messiah” by Chris Tomlin.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 19, 2020

He is to Come by Latosha Jenkins

There is incredible JOY in knowing we have finished well.

Jesus lived for it.   

And He heard...

and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17 ESV)

Paul lived for it.   

And he said...

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

The greatest temptation of the Christian is to be average, to be typical, to be conformed to this world.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

Even with everything 2020 has done to rock you... 

You are still standing, still serving and still living for the day when you will hear...

His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' (Matthew 25:23)

Real joy is found in the treasures we have stored up in heaven.

You make known to me the path of life;

 in your presence there is fullness of joy;

 at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

What awaits us is beyond human imagination.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2 ESV)

We have to lose the weight of expectation of people so that we might truly live now, freely praise now, joyfully worship now, and courageously take action now that points to Christ.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:3 ESV)

It does not yet appear what we shall be...let us press on toward the joy set before us, no matter the obstacles, knowing that Christ runs the race with us and has run the race be/for/e us.  Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that assure us of the certainty that the race can be faithfully run.

The joy I know is radical.  

The joy I know is personal.  

The joy I know requires perseverance.  

The joy I know requires fixed eyes on Jesus.

The joy I know is available to All.

It has been an awesome treat to spend this time with you this week.   

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13 ESV)

One final song...you might recall it from your childhood.  

All together now sing...

I have the joy, joy, joy, joy,

Down in my heart, (where?)

Down in my heart, (where?)

Down in my heart,

I have the joy, joy, joy, joy,

Down in my heart, (where?)

Down in my heart to stay

The secret to lasting joy is found in Hebrews 12.  

Look to Jesus.  

Present yourself daily, pray, read & wonder, take praise dance breaks...

Keep looking to Jesus.  

And when all else fails, keep looking to Jesus.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

For He is to Come. 

Amen.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 18, 2020

holy holy holyHoly, Holy, Holy by Latosha Jenkins

Mark Twain famously said…."The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." 

What day were you born?

What day did you discover your calling?

We began this devotional week with…

Hebrews 12:2: looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus was never in doubt about who He was or His purpose.   

And Jesus does not want you to live a day more than you have to confused about the “joy set before” you.

Even if your path has not been straight.  

Even if your path has not been easy.

It is worth going after—-or discovering if you still don’t know.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)

Tomorrow we are going to put the last five days together so you can…

Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. (Hebrews 12:13 NLT)

Today, I would like for us to continue some practical application around our Joy theme.  

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers.   Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one word prayer.   For me today, my one word—okay three words— prayer is “holy, holy, holy.”  
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us.   For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Revelation 4:8b: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!”
  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart.   For today, my song is “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean.

See you tomorrow Friends!

Amen friends.  

May it truly be so.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 17, 2020

Dance Like DavidDance Like David Danced by Latosha Jenkins

Who doesn’t love a good rhythmic, upbeat song?

Heard it Through the Grapevine.  Get Up Offa That Thing.  Uptown Funk.  Happy.  Can’t Stop the Feeling.

The world should have nothing on our praise, our dance moves or our joy.

Sing to God a brand-new song,

    praise him in the company of all who love him.

Let all Israel celebrate their Sovereign Creator,

    Zion’s children exult in their King.

Let them praise his name in dance;

    strike up the band and make great music!

And why? Because God delights in his people,

    festoons plain folk with salvation garlands! (Psalm 149:1-4 The Message)

If I have not lost you…understand that David danced himself so happy his clothes fell off as the Ark of the Lord was returned to its proper home.

14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. 15 So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.

16 But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.

17 They brought the Ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And David sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. 18 When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 19 Then he gave to every Israelite man and woman in the crowd a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people returned to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”

21 David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. 22 Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” (2 Samuel 6:14-22 NLT)

When was the last time you embarrassed yourself in your worship?

No really.  

When was the last time the joy of the Lord so overwhelmed you that fruit of it was overwhelming praise?

It is my prayer at least one time in your life that you will forget everyone is watching, and you will dance before the everlasting life giver and joy sustainer.

Today, I would like for us to continue some practical application around our Joy theme.  

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers.   Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one word prayer.   For me today, my one word—okay three words— prayer is “I will dance.”  I want to dance like David danced.
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us.   For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Jeremiah 31:2-4: 2 Thus says the Lord:  “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3 the Lord appeared to him from far away.  I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.  4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!  Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart.   For today, my song is “When the Spirit of the Lord” by Fred Hammond.

Praying that you won’t skip a beat and dance!

Amen friends.  

May it truly be so.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 16, 2020

But for JesusBut for Jesus by Latosha Jenkins

I am not supposed to be here. 

But for Jesus.

I am statistically disqualified.

But for Jesus.

For most of my life...I have been the least of these...orphaned as a child and now widowed

But for Jesus.

I should have lost my mind.

But for Jesus.

I have always wanted to have a life that was fruitful regardless of my rocky soil.

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. (Galatians 5:22-25)

I have a friend, Rebecca, who loves this scripture.   She is so committed she dresses in its theme, drinks each morning from the cup of peace and adorns her Christmas tree in its attributes.

I love that Rebecca did not come by her peace easily, and she has fought to keep it.  This alone springs up joy for me to know that …

3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:3-4)

Don’t worry that your joy is hard fought.   

For some of us, it is just that way.   

Treasure it all the more because but for Jesus, you would have given up a long time ago.

The previous two days, Today and the next three days, I would like for us to do some practical application around our Joy theme. 

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers. Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one word prayer.   For me today, my one word—okay three words—prayer is “But for Jesus.”  I want to have joy that is built on the finished work of Christ.
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us. For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Luke 1:41: And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart.   For today, my song is Mercy Said No by CeCe Winans.

Praying that your joy may be complete and lack nothing.

Amen friends.  

May it truly be so.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 15, 2020

Joy set before usJoy Set Before Us by Latosha Jenkins

Okay, it is confession time.

There was a period in my life when I suffered from insomnia. 

I would stay up and the only things on television were the foreign stock markets and poker tournaments.

It struck me how both things often asked their investors and players respectively to go all in.  The world is often asking us to go all in for a house of cards.

Yesterday and today...I lift up for you...Hebrews 12:2

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus is our pacesetter.  He is our example in Christian living.  He chose the joy of fulfilling the “business of the Father” over that of celebrity, cash and carnal.  We know that He was tempted in all things but sinned not.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

What is God calling you to that will require you go all in for holy set apart Joy?

Yesterday, Today and the next four days, I would like for us to do some practical application around our Joy theme.  

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one word prayers.   Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one word prayer.   For me today, my one word prayer is “surrendered.”  I want to have joy that is surrendered to the will and the way of God. 
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us.   For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Galatians 5:22-25:

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.

  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart.   For today, my song is Confidence by Sanctus Real.

Let’s commit to go all in for a God who went all in for us when we were still deep in our transgressions.

Amen friends.  

May it truly be so.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 14, 2020

The joy I knowThe Joy I Know by Latosha Jenkins

The joy I know is radical.  

The world might say “foolish.”

I submit to you that in a world where things break, people fail us and we disappoint ourselves, that faith is the one thing that is without fail.  It is the gift that continues to perfect.  Faith is the ultimate joy sustainer.

This week in Advent we will consider:  Joy.

10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 ESV)

In a year, where every bit of our foundations have been rocked…we must remember.

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)

The world can only take what it gives.  If the world did not and does not give you your joy, then the world cannot take it away.

Our God offers us eternal security in a world that tells us to put our faith in things that tarnish and rust.

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Today and the next five days, I would like for us to do some practical application around our Joy theme.  

  • Charles Morrow, the Director of Worship at HUMC, champions the idea of one-word prayers.   Each day this week, I will ask you to determine and share your one word prayer.   For me today, my one word prayer is “radical.”  I want to have a joy that is not conformed to this world.  Instead a joy that is steeped in Christ.
  • Growing up we were always told to have a scripture to anchor ourselves in so that the waves of the world would not rock us.   For me today, I choose to anchor myself in Hebrews 12:2: looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
  • I cannot remember a time that my grandmother did not have a song in her heart.   For today, my song is I Could Sing of Your Love Forever by Delirious.

May we live our life in such a way that our joy though foolish to some, may irresistibly point to Christ. 

Amen friends.  

May it truly be so.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 12, 2020

WHAT CHILD IS THIS

by Rod Arters

These last two weeks I have been updating the Safe Sanctuary policy at HUMC.  For those unfamiliar with it, “Safe Sanctuary” are the many policies and procedures created to help protect the most vulnerable in our midst, mainly the children and youth.  Every volunteer who works with our children and youth need to be “Safe Sanctuary certified.”

As I contemplate our children and the great lengths that we go to in order to ensure their physical and emotional safety, I cannot help but think of the lack of emotional security and physical safety from which the Christ child (and his teenage parents) had to endure the weeks that surrounded His controversial birth.  We tend to read the nostalgic Christmas story in the gospels and wrongly assume it was a lovely, peaceful and safe journey upon which they leisurely strolled to their destination.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

For starters, Mary & Joseph had to travel over 90 miles to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to be present for the government ordered census.  90 miles!  That’s equivalent to traveling from Huntersville to Columbia or Greenville, SC.  

James F. Strange, a New Testament and biblical archeology professor calls it a “fairly grueling trip”.  He continues, “In antiquity, the most we find people traveling is 20 miles a day. This trip was very much uphill and downhill. It was not simple.”  He estimates that the young couple probably only covered 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  How many ladies want to walk (or even ride a donkey) for 10 miles a day while 9 months pregnant?

Also, this trip through the Judean desert would have taken place in the winter when the weather is about 30 degrees (during the day) and raining like crazy. “It’s nasty, miserable and at night – it is freezing” says Strange.

Apparently, the distance and weather were the least of their worries.  The valley of the Jordan River was known to have thick forests where lions, bears and wild boars roamed freely. Not to mention the bandits, robbers and thieves that were common hazards along routes like this one.

Because there was “no room in the Inn”, they had to find accommodations elsewhere.  At best, Jesus was born in a stable.  It is actually more likely it was a rudimentary cave. 

Scripture says that Jesus would be found in a manger (Luke 2:12).  We seem to have this sweet image of a crude wicker bassinet.  This is inaccurate.  A manger is another word for trough, a rack for fodder, a structure or feeder used to hold food for animals.  Jesus was kept in a feeding trough!

Consider their isolation from family. Consider their age and lack of experience in road trips.  Consider the lack of emotional support from friends or family.  Consider the weight they had to feel from carrying the Messiah. 

Tonight, the lyrics from “What Child is this” rings loud in my ear:

“Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

This this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste! haste!
To bring him, Lord!
The babe, the son of Mary.”

What child is this? 

The Christ-child, who brings us the Ultimate Safe Sanctuary.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 11, 2020

TALE OF TWO FAITHS

Matthew 8 vs Mark 6
by Rod Arters
 
When I was fresh out of college, I had the opportunity to coach a girls’ high school volleyball team at Lower Merion High School, outside of Philadelphia. My two star players were Shaya & Sharia Bryant, sisters & phenomenal athletes. Every day before practice their little brother would come and “shoot hoops” in the gym. Though he was only in 9th grade at the time, it was obvious this kid was gifted. I remember watching him play with a sense of amazement at what he could do with a basketball. Little did I know that he would soon become a household name spending his entire career as a Los Angeles Laker. Kobe amazed the masses with his talent. 
 
What amazes you? What captures your attention and makes you marvel when you see it? 
 
Twice in Scripture, it is recorded that Jesus was “amazed”.  What amazed Him, you ask?
  • Was it the sinfulness of people? Nope. 
  • Was it the impetuousness of Peter? Nope. 
  • Was it the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees? Nope. 
  • Was it the cruelty of the Romans? No. 
  • Was it the betrayal of His people? Guess again.
 
What made God marvel… twice?  
The same thing that Hebrews 11:1 tells us makes Him pleased.
 
Faith.
 
In Matthew 8, we find a Roman centurion extremely concerned about the well-being of one of his servants. The servant is “paralyzed, suffering terribly” (vs. 6) and the pagan Roman guard seems to think that Jesus is able to cure him. Jesus asks the guard a curious question: 
 
“Should I come and heal him?”
 
Simply put, the centurion said no. The guard knew that Jesus’ presence wasn’t necessary, just His word. He replied, “just say the word and my servant will be healed.” (vs. 8)
 
Jesus was amazed. In fact, so impressed was the Son of God that He proclaimed, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (vs. 10)
 
In Mark 6, Jesus is spending time in His hometown of Nazareth. While He was there, a discussion breaks out over His true identity. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James?”, they asked. “Where did this man get these things“, they wondered. Yes, He was a man. But He was also God and those closest to Him couldn’t see it. We are told that Jesus did not perform any miracles there.  As was His custom, He would never do a miracle for people who did not trust Him.  After all, He was not a dog and pony show. He would not “throw His pearls before swine.” Before He left HIS backyard, He marveled at their unbelief.”
 
Jesus is amazed by our faith and by the lack of it.
 
The real question is more personal:

Is Jesus amazed by YOUR faith or by the lack of it?

Advent Daily Devotional - December 8, 2020

LEST WE FORGET
 
“Clean your room.”
“Make your bed.”
“Turn off the lights.”
“Empty the dishwasher.”
 
How many times do we give commands to our children? 
How many times do we remind them of what they need to know?
 
Endless reminders. But why?
 
Because there’s a lesson in the lecture. 
They need to remember what they are prone to forget.
 
And so we say it once. And then again. And one more time after that.
 
Did you know that God repeats Himself too?
Like a nagging parent, He reminds us of what we need to remember. 
 
Once upon a time, God’s chosen people (Israel) were slaves in Egypt.
God miraculously delivered them out of bondage and made them a free people.
Surely, they would never forget that deliverance, right?
I mean, who is going to forget an epic plague of frogs and locusts?
Who could forget the One who set them free?
 
Apparently, Israel.
 
So, in the spirit of a loving Parent, God reminds His children that He was the One who brought them out of Egypt. 
 
Just once? 
 
Nope. 
 
Over 85 times in the Bible, God reminds His forgetful children that He was the One that rescued them from a life of slavery. He was the One that removed the chains of their bondage. He was the One that delivered them from the hands of their oppressor. He was the One that brought them out of Egypt.
 
Why so many times? Because Israel forgot to “make their spiritual bed”. 
They failed to remember to empty the holy dishwasher. 
 
And so God, in His lovingkindness, reminds them of the two things they are prone to forget:
 
Who He is and what He’s done.
 
“I, the Lord, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; (Psalm 81:10)
 
And as we read the Holy Reminder, it’s there to help us remember too.
 
Lest we forget what God has delivered us from.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 10, 2020

MERE RUBBISH

If anyone could brag about their spiritual pedigree, it would have been the Apostle Paul.  He shows off his religious resume in the letter to the Church in Philippi. (Chapter 3)

  • On the 8th day after his birth, Paul was circumcised in accordance to the Levitical law.
  • He was born an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob and therefore an heir to God’s covenant with them.
  • He was from the tribe of Benjamin, a distinguished tribe since they produced Israel’s first king (Saul). It was also the tribe that had the Holy City (Jerusalem) within its boundaries.
  • He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” meaning he proudly owned his Jewish heritage at a time when other Jews were being influenced away (by the Greeks & Romans) from their orthodox expressions of faith.

In other words, Paul was born into spiritual privilege.

  • Concerning the law, Paul was a Pharisee – the crème of the crop of Israel’s “spiritual elite”. Known as “the Separated Ones” because they had separated themselves off from all common life and from all common tasks in order to make it the one aim of their lives to keep every smallest detail of the Law.”
  • As to Paul’s zeal, he lists “persecuting the church” as a major accomplishment since he ruthlessly battled the perceived heresies against Judaism. Acts 7, 8 & 9 reveal just how zealous he was.
  • Concerning righteousness found in the law, blameless. Like the rich, young, ruler mentioned in Luke 18, Paul foolishly believed that because he kept the external law perfectly, he was somehow justified by God in his faith.

In other words, both by birth and by his righteous actions, Paul was the model Israelite and worthy of God’s applause. And yet, in spite of Paul’s impressive religious credentials, when he added them all up and stacked them next to knowing Christ, he referred to these advantages as “mere rubbish”.  He writes:

“But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ,and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

In the Greek language, the word Paul uses for rubbish is “skoupídia” - literally translated as “junk”, “garbage”, “trash”, “litter”, “refuse”. 

You get the picture.   Compared to Christ, all his spiritual privilege and education and advantage and prominence – it all equals a bunch of crap.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a famous British author, journalist, and television commentator.  In the twilight of his extremely successful life, he reflected back upon all his accomplishments and wrote this:

"I (am) a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets - that's FAME.  I easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue - that's SUCCESS. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions - that's PLEASURE.  Once in a while something I said or wrote is sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time - that's FULFILLMENT.

Yet I say to you - and I beg you to believe me - multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing - less than nothing, a positive impediment - measured against one drop of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

This advent season, may we all experience the soul-satisfying taste of the living water that Christ alone offers to all who are spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. 

Advent Daily Devotional - December 7, 2020

By 1933, the Great Depression had seized America.  At the time, it was the worst economic collapse in the history of the industrialized world.  Millions lost their jobs. Tens of thousands lost their homes.  A nation had lost their hope.

Newly elected President, Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address to the nation referred to this period as the “dark reality of the moment”.  Attempting to dispense some hope while addressing the country’s collective concern, he delivered his now famous quip… “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Almost 90 years later, we have our own “dark realities of the moment”; a global pandemic with no end in sight.  Extended quarantines.  A divided political landscape.  A fluctuating economy.  Socially distant loved ones.  Our modern list of fears are as long as they are wide.  Fear itself seems to be the least of our concern. 

What keeps you up at night?  What do you fear? 

King David asked himself this question as he sat down to write Psalm 27.  In the course of his life, David faced numerous realities that caused him great fear.  Ever transparent before the Lord, the Psalmist shares his fears:

“the wicked advance against me” (vs. 2)

“an army besieges me” (vs. 3)

“war breaks out against me” (vs. 3)

What is David’s response to his fear?  What does he do to combat his dark realities? 

He puts them in perspective:

The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? (vs 1)

He reminds himself,

“For in the day of trouble God will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” (vs 5)

Our dark realities can cause us to tremble but thanks be to God that He is greater than ALL our fears.  In our day of trouble, He is able to keep us safe in His dwelling, hidden in His sacred tent and set high upon a rock.

Advent Daily Devotional - December 9, 2020

FORERUNNER
 
Zechariah was about to be a proud father, he just didn’t know it yet. The High Priest was about to become the Dad of a prophet, something Israel hadn’t seen in over 400 years. Unlike most fathers-to-be, he was given his son’s name and resume at the same time.
 
In Luke 1, an angel of the Lord informed Zechariah that:
  • His prayer had been heard.
  • He would have a son.
  • His child’s name would be John.
  • His son would be great in God’s eyes.
  • His son will not drink alcohol.
  • His son will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • His son will be instrumental in turning the nation of Israel back to God.
  • His son would get people spiritually ready for God.
  • His son would serve as a forerunner before the Messiah.
 
Forerunner (noun) / fore·​run·​ner 
 “one that precedes and indicates the approach of another”
 
John preceded and indicated the approach of Another, his cousin, Jesus. 
 
So important was his role that all four gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) include his presence and ministry in their writings. 
 
So impactful was his ministry that people traveled from “Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” to hear him preach. (Matthew 3:5)
 
So regarded was his character that Jesus told the masses that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)
 
The people rightly recognized John as a prophet (Matthew 14:5).
 
Even King Herod “feared and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” (Mark 6:20)
 
When he was questioned about Jesus’ popularity, John put his life’s mission into one sentence:
 
“He must increase. I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
 
Increase (verb) / in·​crease
“to make greater in size, amount, intensity, or degree.”
 
This advent season, how are you making the Christ-child greater in size, amount, intensity or degree?
 
What might you decrease in your life so that others may see God more clearly in you?
 
John did it in the way God called him to do it. How is He asking you to do it today?
 
Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 Now an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zechariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice over his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:8-17)

Advent Daily Devotional - December 5, 2020

Mark 11:27-33 (New Revised Standard Version)
 
Jesus’ Authority Is Questioned
27 Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him 28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 31 They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
 
Here in our passage for today, we have a question about authority. The religious leaders want to know who gives Jesus the authority to teach, to speak for God, to lead the people. It is a fascinating question that says so much more about them than about Jesus.
 
One of my favorite sayings is that authority isn’t granted, it’s recognized. For example, no one had to give the Bible it’s authority. We recognized it. The Bible speaks truth and over time we recognized that it was the divine Word of God. It has withstood the test of time and all of those who question the Bible’s veracity. While we don’t all agree on interpretation of scripture, each person of faith holds that that the Word lends a faithful witness to the trinitarian God.
 
On a more personal level, I offer the example of our own Rod Arters. Rod came to us in May of 2019. He was hired as a part-time Director of Youth Ministries. We very quickly recognized that he was much more than that. He could teach. He could preach. He could lead a congregation to follow the Lord faithfully. So, he is often recognized and even called a “Pastor” at our church. He still doesn’t have that title, and no one has granted him that authority officially, but his authority is recognized and celebrated. (He is on the path to full-time ministry status now in the United Methodist Church as a certified Local Pastor). 
 
Authority isn’t always given to the one who has the “position” of authority. The reason the religious leaders wanted to know where Jesus got this authority is because who he was threatened their authority. The people quickly recognized that Jesus spoke with truth and with integrity. They recognized that the religious leaders only spoke with the authority of their positions. 
 
Who is the recognized authority in your life? Do you seek to keep it? Or, do you wish to recognize that Jesus is Lord of all things, and will be all that you need him to be. In Matthew 28: 18-20, Jesus says, “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Let’s celebrate the authority of Jesus on earth and in heaven and make him Lord of our lives.