Welcome

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Avon Grove Advent Devotional, Week 3

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


Week 3:
December 13 – 19, 2015
Writers:
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.

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. We have left room for your personal notes and reflections.
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?
In addition to the printed version available each Sunday for the next week, they are also on the church website, www.avongrovenazarene.org. Click “Worship,” then click “Pastor’s Blog.”


 Sunday, December 13 Third Sunday of Advent   
Scripture Readings: Psalm 63,98, 103; Amos 9:11-15; John 5:30-47; 2Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness[a] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Do you remember taking tests in school that asked you to “fill-in-the-blank”? Or the kind of test that had multiple choice answers, which often included “all of the above?” Or what about the essay question that required you to support your thesis and significantly demonstrate that you knew the concept? Each of these types of questions were designed to test your knowledge about a certain subject and then prove that you knew what you were talking about. Now, you would have attended class, taken notes, and studied for the test. You knew the answer to each question, but when it came time to actually “fill-in-the-blank”, your mind went blank.  For multiple-choice questions, all of sudden not just one answer looked correct but so did 2 others.

In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he is admonishing them to not let anything get in the way of the correct answer, and to not add anything to the truth that Christ would return and we would gather together to meet Him. My modern take on this is that we all have been to class, taken notes, studied the truth of God’s word and testify that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and returning King. But when it comes time for the test, we go blank. When someone on Facebook asks us to “Share this post” and we will receive a blessing, or get healed, or have good fortune, we hit the “Share” button because we panicked and forgot the truth that our Hope is in God and God alone. Or when we say something good is about to happen then we “knock on wood” to be extra sure. And what about when we say “I will pray for you” and then wish our friend “good luck”?

The challenge for all of us is to remember our classes, our notes, our study of God’s Word and not be deceived or beguiled in any way when the Fill-in-the-Blank, True or False, Multiple choice questions of life pop up as we live in anticipation of Christ’s return.

Esther Schutz




Monday, December 14
Scripture Readings: Psalm 41, 44, 52; Zechariah 1:7-17; Matthew 24:15-31; Revelation 3:7-13
Revelation 3:10-11 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
I’ve heard the words so many times from other people that now play in my head without prompting.  Hold on, hold tight, dig a little deeper, keep the faith, don’t be discouraged.
Can I just tell you how blessed I am today to hear the words from God in Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept my command to persevere, I will keep you….; and from Rev. 3:11, “Hold fast what you have….” 
That bit about holding on is not just a strategy – it’s a command with a promise securely connected to it!  It’s all about WHO my faith is in – not about how much faith I have. I serve the God who sees me coming and opens the door wide!  (Rev. 3:8)  My strength may feel very small, but it is rooted in the God who overcame death! 
Directions for use of this scripture:  Read it over and over and over.  Repeat – many, many times.
Kathy St. John



 Tuesday, December 15
Scripture Readings: Psalm 45, 47, 48; Zechariah 2:1-13; Matthew 24:32-44; Revelation 3:14-22
Psalm 47 Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth. He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble  as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings[c] of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.

Let's get one thing straight, the Lord is King!  Psalm 47 is like a personal spiritual pep rally!  With the darkness of the world and all of our issues it’s easy to forget who is in control.  This time of year we spend far too much time focusing on Fox News, MSNBC, our bank accounts, and our calendars.  The world is heavy and we thrust ourselves into a state of being overwhelmed with everything that is wrong in this world.  That is not how we celebrate this season!  God cannot and will not be beat!  Clap your hands, sing to him a psalm, the trumpets are sounding, Our God is the King over ALL the earth!  Experience joy today!  Live out joy today knowing that Our God reigns over all the nations yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Jay McGehean





 Wednesday, December 16                                                           
Scripture Readings: Psalm 49, 53, 119:49-72; Zechariah 3:1-10; Matthew 24: 45-51; Revelation 4:1-8
People who think they are living out the wishes or commands of a higher authority have long banded together to do battle against God and his children.  Perhaps they just cannot understand that our heavenly Father loves us so much that he forgives us.  He tells us that under His will we can have peace among each other and ultimately all mankind.  In the time of God's glory, mercy and truth will kiss each other.  Doesn’t this sound like our images of Christmas? 
Each of us works through the Advent season, preparing a tabernacle in each heart where our Lord will be comfortable and recognize the d├ęcor.  He likes to see the new plowshare that we fashioned out of our old swords.  Maybe our swords are the dual-edged instruments that live inside our mouths and today they are plowshares grooming the furrows with loving greetings. 
We have formed around our Christmas season, many images which convey love.  This is entirely appropriate, since God is love!  And as we embrace those around us and remember with love those who are not near, we abide in God and He abides in us.  His great and wonderful love, debuting in human form as a precious newborn, provides the image we hold dearest in this magical event which is Christmas – the remembrance of the love of God made so very real through the nativity of Jesus Christ.
Clara Saxton




 Thursday, December 17                                                                                         
Scripture Readings: Psalm 50, 53, 59, 60; Zechariah 4:1-14; Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 4:9-5:5
Matthew 25:1-13 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13 is a parable about the ten virgins waiting patiently for their future husband. Five of the women were wise enough to have enough oil to last until the man came, while the others had to run to buy more oil. By the time the women returned the party for the man and his brides had started, and they had lost out on the man they had been waiting for.

While waiting through the night with oil for a man is no longer relevant, much of this story still applies to today. Much like the wise woman were waiting with extra oil at the ready for their future husband we must be waiting for God. God has not told us when He will return, so we cannot wait around until he shows up and expect to go to heaven. We need to make sure we are prepared by doing His work every day so that we can spend eternity with Him!

I’ve noticed through my senior year in high school that it is all too easy to spend each day going through the motions. I know that I’m only going to be in high school for a few more months, and then I will be on to bigger and better things. This is just like waiting on earth for heaven! We could idly sit by and watch life go on without us, or we can do everything we can to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Justin Reed






Friday, December 18                                                                                              
 Scripture Readings: Psalm 40, 51, 54; Zechariah 7:8-8:8; Matthew 25:14-30; Revelation 5:6-14
Psalm 40 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
 they would be too many to declare. Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened burnt offerings and sin offerings[d] you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll.  I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know.  I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly. Do not withhold your mercy from me Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me. May all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer;  you are my God, do not delay.

Although we anticipate the holiday season to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” for some, the holidays tend to bring about a time of loss, grieving, stress, and/or anxiety. This passage of scripture is a wonderful reminder for us to lean on God and trust in him even in times when we are faced with distress. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord;” allow your trust to be fully in him and he will bring blessings into your life. We have so much to be thankful for, more than we even realize at times. Pray for complete confidence in trust that you may allow yourself to fully rely on God. Let these words be a reminder of his faithfulness: “You are my help and my deliverer, you are my God." As Christmas day quickly approaches, fill your heart with the joy and happiness that makes this time of year exceedingly special. 

Beckey Williams






Saturday, December 19             
Scripture Readings: Psalm 55, 138, 139; Zechariah 8:9-17; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 6:1-17
Matthew 25:31-46“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Many Sundays, during our congregational prayer, these words are said: “We have sinned. We have done things we should not have done, and we have not done things we should have.” The first phrase refers to sins of commission, the second to sins of omission. It is this second category that strikes us so strongly in Matthew 25. Christ tells us that it is not enough to avoid causing pain. We also must look around, see the pain of others, and do whatever we can to alleviate it. We must notice, we must care, we must act. We must be the good Samaritan, and not the bad Levite.
Over the years you have learned to be too busy, too consumed with your own life, your own stuff. You have some unlearning to do; we all do. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide, and you will soon find yourself looking around, seeing the pain of others, and partnering with God to change it.
Mike Schutz





















































































































































Saturday, December 5, 2015

Avon Grove Advent Devotional, Week 2

Avon Grove Advent Devotional Week 2

Avon Grove Church of the Nazarene

Different Voices:

The Advent Journey

to Christmas

A Daily Devotional Guide


Week 2:
December 6 – 12, 2015


 Writers:
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.

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. We have left room for your personal notes and reflections.
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?
In addition to the printed version available each Sunday for the next week, they are also on the church website, www.avongrovenazarene.org. Click “Worship,” then click “Pastor’s Blog.”


Sunday, December 6 Second Sunday of Advent   
Scripture Readings: Psalm 114, 115, 148, 149, 150; Amos 6:1-14; Luke 1:57-68; 2Thessalonians 1:5-12
Psalm 148  Praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,  you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn,  the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord.
Psalm 150  Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary;  praise him in his mighty heavens.  Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Those hearing Psalms 148, 149 and 150 for the first time had no idea what Advent was!  The psalmist was calling the people to praise the God they could not see - to acknowledge God as the creator and sustainer of life.   Our greatest blessing, our most powerful resource, our strength beyond imagination is found in acknowledging and praising God.   Are you having trouble waiting for God today?  Praise Him.  Worship Him. Everywhere.  All the time.   

“Lord I believe in you. I’ll always believe in you. Though I can’t see you with my eyes,
Deep in my heart your presence I find. Lord I believe in you And I’ll keep my trust in you
Let the whole world say what they may – No one can take this joy away.  Lord I believe.”
Lyrics from the song Lord I Believe

Kathy St. John 

 


Monday, December 7
Scripture Readings: Psalm 9, 15, 25; Amos 7:1-9; Matthew 22:23-33; Revelation 1:1-8
Psalm 15  Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
Every year as Christmas approaches I spend time on my knees praying that I don’t mess up the celebration of what Christmas actually is.  I love Christmas; I love the lights, the music, the decorations, the gifts, the food, the smells, and I even love the shopping experience.   However, through it all, I want to keep Christ as the focal point.  As much as I love the secular traditions, I strive to stay focused on the birth of Christ and to relay the importance of His birth to my own family.  How do I honor Christ as I anticipate His arrival?  I find the answer in Psalm 15.  If I am going to celebrate the season the way that it is meant to be celebrated than I must embrace the concepts of righteousness, truth, and honor.  You want to honor Christ’s coming this Christmas season?  Strive for holiness, strive to live like Christ. 
Jay McGehean



Tuesday, December 8                                                                                  
Scripture Readings: Psalm 26,28,36,39; Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 22:34-46; Revelation 1:9-16
Psalm 26 Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.  I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.  I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, Lord, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with those who are bloodthirsty, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes. I lead a blameless life; deliver me and be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.

As soon as Thanksgivings concludes, or even before, the Christmas season is in full swing. In preparation, it is so easy to become completely consumed by decorations, baking, shopping, etc. Often times we don't focus enough on the things that are most important during the holiday season. The scripture says, "for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love." What better season to not only be mindful of God's love for us, but to be sharing with others around us the love he has for them? The holidays seem to have a way of bringing people together; in turn, we have been handed opportunities to share with one another the wondrous ways that Christ is working in us. Throughout the holiday season, continue to thank God, but also challenge yourself by spending time asking him to use you in ways to share his unfailing love.

Beckey Williams


 


Wednesday, December 9                                                            
 Scripture Readings: Psalm 38, 119:25-48; Amos 8:1-14; Matthew 23:1-12; Revelation 1:17-2:7
Matthew 23:1-12 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a]wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Amos 8:4-7 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended  that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,  buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

It simply cannot be ignored. The evil that the rich and the powerful do to the poor and the powerless makes God angry. Jesus spends a great deal of his earthly ministry addressing this kind of systemic evil and hypocrisy.
This should cause us to take pause. We are not blameless here. We may not see ourselves as rich or powerful, but we are not powerless. We can and must speak out. And we must take action.
There are many opportunities during Advent  to take a moment and do activities that help the poor, the sick, the marginalized. And there is nothing wrong with those activities – unless they soothe our consciences to believe we have done enough. Advent and Christmas, when we consider all that has been given to us, is a wonderful time to consider how we can truly make a difference throughout the year, and how we can partner with Christ to make the kingdom of God – the kingdom of grace, peace, justice, mercy, and love – more evident in the world.
Mike Schutz






 Thursday, December     10                                                                                        
 Scripture Readings: Psalm 37; Amos 9:1-10; Matthew 23:13-26; Revelation 2:8-17
Matthew 23:13-26 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
I don’t think I am reading too much into this passage when I say it seems like Jesus is a little frustrated here.  He is taking this opportunity to truthfully call out the Pharisees and teachers of the law on their hypocrisy.  But, even more than that, he is pointing out the sheer foolishness in their approach to spirituality.  Whenever I read passages like this, I always find myself thinking, “I can’t believe the Pharisees didn’t understand.  Why couldn’t they just get on board?”  I always read the Bible thinking the Pharisees were just a bunch of people who didn’t get it - a group of people who were unwilling to change, probably out of stubbornness and pride.  I am attending a weekly community Bible study on the book of Matthew.  In a recent discussion, someone mentioned that they often feel bad for the Pharisees, because Jesus came and rocked their whole system and worldview.  She pointed out that having your whole belief system shaken is difficult for anyone.  It made me realize that we are probably all a bit more like the Pharisees than we like to admit.  Jesus often comes to us in key moments in life and shakes things up.  He asks us to view a relationship or a circumstance differently.  Often, instead of willingly listening, we dig our heels in and try to keep everything the same.  We resist His request for us to change, to see things as He sees them.  I believe this time of year is challenging.  As much as we might believe our priorities to be in the right place, Christmas can often mess with us.  The consumerism and chaos all around us can rub off on us, and we might miss Jesus telling us we have it all backwards.  Don’t be afraid of what Jesus has to say to you.  Even though it might mess with your comfort and your current way of doing things, His way is always best.  

Becky McGehean





 Friday, December 11                                                                                               
 Scripture Readings: Psalm 31, 35; Haggai 1:1-15; Matthew 23:27-39; Revelation 2:18-29
I've been reading and meditating on these scriptures for about two weeks now; this was a tough one.  It finally came to me this morning in the shower!  Hurray for heavenly showers!
We've all witnessed and experienced this time and time again:  broken, destroyed homes in desperate need of repair. Just walk the neglected streets of Philly, or drive the coastal towns of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, or take a mission trip to Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac.  Heart-breaking reality strikes.  Endless destruction.  Pictures can't begin to do justice.

Over many years, I've watched my dad and my husband.  They truly are master craftsmen...ultimate perfectionists. They have the incredible ability to begin with nothing and totally transform a room or construct a beautiful furniture piece.  They also have the forethought to realize that if a simple problem isn't quickly fixed, eventually catastrophe happens.  If their measurements are off by 1/16 of an inch, the finished product is a complete disaster.  People laugh about that with them and say, “Really?  1/16 of an inch??” But, it really does matter in the end.  Missing shingles become a leaking roof.  A flooded basement leads to mold, mildew, rotten rugs, flooring, baseboards and dry wall.  Stupid groundhogs and skunks taking residence under the deck destroy the foundation.

So, we wonder why our lives get into such messes.  We are to heed the warnings.  "Now this is what the Lord God Almighty says:  “Give careful thought to your ways…" ~Haggai 1:5.   Jesus comes to fix our broken lives.  He longs to rescue us and to heal our insides.  Do you think it was coincidence that Jesus became a carpenter?  I hardly think so; it is all clear to me now.  I believe God had definite purpose for his son...in every area of his life.  In his livelihood, Jesus had the opportunity on a daily basis to demonstrate his love for us in repairing broken things and for building new.  Even without using words, he spoke truth.  Can you just imagine sitting and watching the Master Carpenter at work?

In our brokenness, Jesus longs to heal us and to make us new; nothing brings him greater joy.  He is ever-present with us and walks beside us.  He understands us and loves us like no other.  He aches to fill our soul's holes.  He is our only hope.

Kris Guertler









Saturday, December 12                                                                        
Scripture Readings: Psalm 30,32,42,43; Haggai 2:1-19; Matthew 24:1-14; Revelation 3:1-6
Psalm 42 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

In the 90s there was a chorus we would sing, "As the deer pants for water so my soul longs after you."  It was a powerful song even as a teenager at the time.  Living creatures crave water to drink as God's children long for his presence.  No doubt there are challenges that make us question God's presence in our life.  When unbelievers question his presence during hard times it can only make it all the harder to believe and speak to God's faithfulness.  Psalm 42 is a comfort to us during those times, reminding us our hope is always in God. 

Last night I enjoyed watching a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Charlie Brown couldn't understand why he felt depressed at Christmas. Often we feel guilty when we feel far from God at such a joyous time as the Advent Season.  Life doesn't stop being hard even though it's Christmas. Loss of loved ones can feel magnified, finances are often stretched, the weather is certainly not up lifting.  For all these reasons and more is why God sent his Son in the first place.

I pray you are having an Advent full of hope. As we celebrated Hope on the first Sunday in Advent, I pray you are sensing His hope in your life.  If you are not, remember the words of Psalm 42:11 "why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me.  Hope is in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God."  Draw to him this Advent season and he will draw near to you.
Heather Hyde