This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Avon Grove Advent Devotional, Week #1

Avon Grove Church of the Nazarene
Different Voices:
The Advent Journey
to Christmas
A Daily Devotional Guide

Week 1November 29 – December 5, 2015

The story of the birth of Christ is over 2,000 years old, and as new as the first time a child hears it. It is a communal story, one that is shared by Christians around the world, and in congregations of every church in every land. And it is an intensely personal story, as our memories of Christmas past are brought to mind with every retelling. This year those of us who share life and faith together as the Avon Grove Church of the Nazarene are once again telling the story through music, drama, symbols, personal recollections and new insights. We have invited members of our fellowship to share their personal devotional thoughts as they read through the traditional scripture passages of Advent and Christmas to Epiphany.
How to use this devotional guide: You may choose to use this for individual use, for small groups, or for use during family time. Each day there are readings from scripture – several psalms, another Old Testament reading, a reading from the Gospels, and from the New Testament epistles. We encourage you to read one or more of the passages and meditate on them. Some of the scripture passages are obviously connected to the season, while for others the connection may not be so obvious. The devotional writing for each day is in response to one or more of the scripture passages. 
If you find the devotional writing to be a blessing or help, please let the author know. After all, you will see them in worship – and how often do we get to thank an author in person?

Kris Guertler is the wife of Jim and mother of Jamie. She serves as director of our women’s ministry, on the Academy board and music ministry. She is a school nurse in the Octorara Public Schools. She lives in Parkesburg.
Heather Hyde is the wife of Jackson and the mother of Hadley. She serves as our Associate Pastor. She lives in Chatham.
Becky McGehean is the wife of Jay and mother of Maddy and Mackenzie. She is an administrator at Avon Grove Nazarene Academy and a member of the church board and youth staff. She lives in West Grove.
Jay McGehean is the husband to Becky and father of Maddy and Mackenzie. He serves as our youth pastor, and is a health and physical education teacher at the Avon Grove Charter School. He lives in West Grove.
Justin Reed is a senior at Avon Grove Charter High School, a leader in our youth group and involved in music ministry. He lives in Cochranville.
Clara Saxton serves as director of Kingdom Kids, our Wednesday evening program for children, and is a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway,  Fox and Roach Realtors. She lives in Kennett Square.
Esther Schutz is the wife of Mike. She serves as our Minister of Worship Arts and Administrative Assistant and teaches music lessons. She lives in Penn Township.
Mike Schutz is the husband of Esther. He serves as our senior pastor. He lives in Penn Township.
Kathy St. John is the wife of Jim. She serves as Director of Avon Grove Nazarene Academy, and is a member of our church board and music ministry. She lives in Lincoln University.
Beckey Williams is a recent graduate of West Chester University and serves as director of the after school program and a teacher at Avon Grove Nazarene Academy, and is a member of our music ministry. She lives in Oxford.

Sunday, November 29 First Sunday of Advent   
Scripture Readings: Psalm 111, 112, 113, 146, 147; Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:8; Luke 21:5-19; 1Thessalonians 5:1-11
Amos 2:4-7a The Lord proclaims: For three crimes of Judah, and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment, because they have rejected the Instruction of the Lord, and haven’t kept his laws. They have been led off the right path by the same lies after which their ancestors walked. So I will send a fire on Judah, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem. The Lord proclaims: For three crimes of Israel, and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment, because they have sold the innocent for silver, and those in need for a pair of sandals.  They crush the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.

Amos was not a” professional” prophet. He was a righteous man who spent time seeking the Lord and speaking out against the injustice of his day. At the beginning of the extended passage, he names in very specific terms the sins of the pagan neighbors of Judah and Israel. But here, in the passage above, he speaks against the sins of God’s chosen people. They are the sins of injustice, of the rich and powerful taking advantage of the poor and the marginalized. It seems strange to us, as we prepare for the coming of baby Jesus, to spend even a moment speaking of such horrible sins. But we must, for at least two reasons:
1.       With all the beauty that we have woven around the story of the birth of Christ, we must never forget the reason Jesus came – to lead us out of our individual and societal lives of sin, corruption, and injustice, and,
2.        The Father chose for his Son to be born and raised by a poor family in a forgotten backwater town on the edge of a land controlled by foreign occupation, and spent his first years as a refugee running from an evil king.
As we begin our journey through Advent, let us never forget that the story of Christmas is not now nor has it ever been a fairy tale separate from the real world. The birth of Christ is God’s real world response of love to the sin, hate, and injustice of a world desperately in need of a savior. And that need is as real today as it was when Amos described the sin he saw all around him, almost 3,000 years ago. May we be our generation’s righteous ones, calling out sin, and proclaiming God’s loving response. 
 Mike Schutz

Monday, November 30                                                                                            
Scripture Readings: Psalm 1,2,3,4,7; Amos 2:6-16; Matt 21:1-11; 2Peter 1:1-11
2Peter 1:3-11 Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.  So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There’s a lot to digest in this passage, but here are the two things that stick out to me most: (1) I have everything I need to live my life for God and do it well.  In other words, He has given me the proper tools and resources, (2) He expects effort from me. My life experience and observation leads me to believe that most of us spend a lot of our spiritual lives forgetting one of those two things.  We either rely solely on our own strength, forgetting the importance of God’s role, or we look to God to do everything, forgetting that he needs us to put forth some serious effort too.  During this time of year, I am often drawn to Mary’s story.  Since having children of my own, her story has taken on new meaning to me.  Her strength and focus amaze me.  God called her to do something very difficult.  Sometimes we skip over that part of the story, but her call was a tough one.  Sure, God gave her and Joseph what they needed, but her personal journey was still hard.  (For starters, she had to make a long trip on the back of a donkey when she was VERY pregnant!)  She certainly had to work at practicing goodness, perseverance, and godliness on a daily basis!  I’m sure there were moments when she wanted to give up, or perhaps just complain.  But she used God’s strength and her own determination to complete the task given to her by her Heavenly Father.  She never could have done it on her own strength alone; she needed God.  BUT, she wouldn’t have survived had she not worked hard, tried hard and stayed mentally strong. 
I believe God can do the most good through us and in us when we fully accept His power AND fully give of ourselves.  The combination of these two working together allows God to do His best work.  Don’t miss out on experiencing God’s best.  
Becky McGehean

Tuesday, December 1                                                                                  
Scripture Readings: Psalm 5,6,10,11; Amos 3:1-11; Matt 21:12-22; 2Peter 1:12-21
Psalm 5:1-2 Listen to my words, O Lord, give heed to my sighing and groaning. Hear the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to You do I pray.

Makes me wonder, how many times have I started my prayer time just like the psalmist? Big sigh, Dear God, Medium-sized sigh, I come before you today, small sigh, to ask for your help. Bigger sigh. Life is hard, too hard, if you only knew what I’m going through. Biggest sigh of all. There are too many bills to pay, too much house to clean, too many mouths to feed, too much to do, too many expectations to fulfill, whine, whine, whine aka complaining/groaning.

Psalm 5:11: But let all those who take refuge and put their trust in You rejoice; let them ever sing and shout for joy, because You make a covering over them and defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You and be in high spirits.

This is good news. The psalmist moves us from sighing and groaning to singing and shouting! In the very midst of our circumstances we have permission to be full of joy. That’s right. You and me. Joyful. And in high spirits! We may wonder how that could be possible given the latest headline of the day? Or, we don’t think anyone understands the particular circumstances of our life. Or maybe even the dreaded yolk of unworthiness has weighed us down. So we breathe and read the scripture passage again and again and again: But let all those who take refuge and put their trust in You rejoice; let them ever sing and shout for joy. 

Esther Schutz

Wednesday, December 2                                                             
Scripture Readings: Psalm 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24; Amos 3:12-4:5; Matthew 21:23-32; 2Peter 3:1-10
2 Peter 3:8 "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Over the last 2 days my husband and I and our 5 month old baby have driven 1,000 of miles to Canada!  It took longer than we both imagined.  There were times I thought we'd be in the car for 1,000 years!  Sometimes things in life take an eternity or feel endless.  Things in our spiritual life can seem slow, waiting for healing or waiting for a loved one to come to faith.  Some days it can feel endless waiting for Christ to return.  What we must remember is that God measures time differently than we do -- and this is a good thing!  He's giving is lots of time to grow closer to him and encourage others to grow in faith.  He has endless patience because he wants everyone to come to faith.  During this Advent season be challenged by God's patience and extend it to others who may be struggling in faith.  No doubt I'll be praying for patience that our ride home from Canada does not feel like 1,000 years! 

Heather Hyde

Thursday, December 3                                                                                          
Scripture Readings: Psalm 18; Amos 4:6-13; Matthew 21:33-46; 2Peter 3:11-18
Amos 4:6-13 I have sent a famine in all your cities, and not provided enough bread in all your places, yet you didn’t return to me, says the Lord. I also withheld rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest.  I allowed no rain to fall on one city, no rain to fall on another city  One field was rained on, and the field dried up where it didn’t rain. So two or three thirsty towns went to one city to drink water, and weren’t satisfied; yet you didn’t return to me, says the Lord. I struck you with disease and mildew  I destroyed your gardens and your vineyards. The locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees;  yet you didn’t return to me, says the Lord. I sent a plague against you like the one in Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword. I carried away your horses. I made the stink of your camp go up into your nostrils;  yet you didn’t return to me, says the Lord. I destroyed some of you, as when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning coal plucked out of the fire; yet you didn’t return to me, says the Lord. Truly, Israel, I will act in this way toward you; therefore, I will do this to you. Prepare to meet your God, Israel! The one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, makes known his thoughts to humankind, makes the morning darkness, and moves over the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of heavenly forces is his name!

This portion of Amos talks of several natural disasters such as famine, drought and plagues. Disasters such as these should surely make a nation turn to the arms of God for help, yet Israel has refused to look for His help. I believe this passage is still relevant to people today as we also need to turn to God to help lead us through times of difficulty. God is waiting for us to ask for his help, and He is gracious enough to give it, but first we must ask Him for it.  I do not think that anything we face is either too big or too small for God, and He is willing to help walk us through such challenges. My biggest struggle currently is making a decision on where I should attend college and what I should pursue as a career. I must continue to go to God to help guide me and remember Proverbs 3:5-6 instead of trying to decide everything on my own. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.
Justin Reed

Friday, December 4                                                                                                
Scripture Readings: Psalm 16, 17, 22; Amos 5:1-17; Matthew 22:1-14; Jude 1-16
Last week, I was driving along the highway to run some errands.  There he was, shuffling by the curbside...a seemingly aimless wanderer.   He was filthy dirty, carrying one small bag.  As I passed, I continued glancing at him in my rear view mirror.  Then, two and 1/2 hours later, I saw that same man at the street corner.  This time, I saw his eyes.  He looked incredibly empty and lonely.  Was it coincidental that I would see him again?  I don't think so; I was supposed to see him.  I wondered about his life.  Was he homeless?  Were all his belongings in that one small bag?  Did he have any family?  Who cared about this guy?  What about his insides?  Would anyone care enough to invite him to a feast and give him the absolute best?  In my self-righteous thinking, am I any better off?  Did anyone else notice?  Well, I noticed and my heart was overwhelmed with compassion.  I felt so helpless.

In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matt. 22), Jesus specifically addresses the Pharisees and Jewish leaders.  In a nutshell, Jesus confronts the long standing issue of rejecting the coming Messiah and the Kingdom of heaven who was "at hand"...or now fully present.   Here, there were three distinct, purposeful invitations with varying responses of rejection.  With the third invitation, the King sends his servants out to the street corners; find the poor, homeless, maimed, blind, and lame.  There are no exclusions...all are welcome to enjoy the absolute best that the King has to offer.  He sends a simple invitation which says, "Come."

Like that man on the street corner, Jesus warns us to quit with the aimless wandering.  Take his relationship and gift of grace very seriously.  No more lukewarm.  Jude 2:12,13 reads..."Do not be clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice dead, ...wild waves of the sea, foaming up shame, wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever."  Be my true disciples; be purposeful.  Matt. 22: 37 says: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And, the second is this...love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these."

If you have never accepted the invitation to the wedding, Jesus welcomes you with open arms.  If your love for him has grown cold, now is the time to return.  If you wonder if you have ever really loved him with all your heart, wander aimlessly no more.   Return to the Lord.  
Please listen to one of my favorite songs: “Return to the Lord,” by Steve Gray. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKUmA7Tu7DM
 Kris Guertler

Saturday, December 5                                                                        
Scripture Readings: Psalm 20,21,110,116,117; Amos 5:18-27; Matthew 22:15-22; Jude 17-25
Enjoying all the warmth, joy and anticipation for which Advent is intended, points us to the enormous event which we commemorate at Christmas, the birth of our Savior.  Throughout scripture there are numerous messages pointing the faithful to this event. 
 There were many times in scripture when the situation was not filled with warmth or joy.  And not just for weeks or months but for years, even centuries. Even now, one can see examples of cold heartedness and misery which, if allowed, could darken the beauty we should be experiencing. 
When the psalmists were singing of the power of the Lord to raise up kings and bring them conquests over their enemies, it isn’t that different than believers today who are claiming the favor of the Lord and sensing that the heart breaking examples of mankind’s cruelty to each other is a sign that the Lord will soon be coming back to correct the situation.  Indeed the Lord gives us many scriptural instances to believe just that. 
During Advent, though, we need to keep the message right in front of us: “I’m sending my son to you.  This is personal between you and me.  Now, spread my light, love my children, follow His example, teach the lesson you have been given. Use the reality of my love in the middle of the busy Christmas preparations to poke a hole in the darkness that seeks to surround you. ”
We light a candle on the advent wreath or close our eyes and ponder the birth of a babe in Bethlehem.  We think about the huge love God has for us, to give us such a precious gift as this avenue of salvation.  We smile and experience the swelling in our hearts that comes with the acknowledgement of the true meaning of this season.  We listen to Him, we thank Him, we glorify Him, we imitate Him.  And hopefully we sing along as we’re doing it. 
Clara Saxton