December 28             God’s Mysterious Plan Courtney Dunn

Isaiah 55: 8-9

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

I have always loved the Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?”. It is such a powerful song about how this tiny baby was going to change the course of history; he was going to heal and save the nations. But if it was up to you or me, would we have decided to save the world with a tiny, helpless baby?

 

Gods’ plans are so much bigger and different than our plans. We do our best to plan and prepare for what we think we need to do but God’s ways, his purpose, and his plans are so much bigger than we could ever imagine.

 

When you think of God’s plan for your life, does it intimidate you? Does it scare you a little to even ask what that plan may be?

 

Sometimes I think we are fearful God will ask us to give up the things we love to do or the things that bring us happiness in our life. But what if, just what if, the things that bring us the most joy in life and satisfy us the most are the same things that God wants to use to bring him glory and bring people to him? What if the things we are most proud of and feel satisfied doing are the things that God wants to use for his purposes, as part of his plan?

 

Gods’ ways are much higher than our ways, and he has uniquely made each one of us to play a part in his plan.

 

Consider and Discuss:

 

Are you fearful to ask God what his plan is for your life? If so, why are you afraid?

What are some of your talents, passions and gifts?

How could you use those things to glorify God and impact other people for his kingdom?

 

December 27                     The Unexpected Gift Deb Price

Just like that, it was over. All the gifts from under the tree had been opened. The child sat staring at the tree skirt that was, only a few minutes ago, completely concealed by gifts. But now, the skirt was exposed, void of presents, emptied of promise. She had received everything she had asked for so she wondered why she felt this sense of disappointment deep within her spirit. It didn’t make sense, but although she now possessed more than before, it somehow escalated her feelings of emptiness. The anticipation and excitement that preceded this special day far exceeded the reality of the moment. She felt guilty and saddened by her seeming ungratefulness.

 

Then she heard a voice from behind call out her name. She turned to see her father. He had a big smile on his face, but that’s not all, there was another present in his hands and he held it out to his little girl. He said “I saved the best for last.” Her eyes lit up once more as she reached for that final package. She un-wrapped it gently, slowly, savoring every moment this unexpected gift offered. She finally opened the box. Her eyes grew wide with excitement. As she stared inside the box, all the other gifts she had received paled in comparison. They seemed so insignificant, so trivial. This gift was not on her list, yet it far surpassed all other gifts combined, from Christmas’ past, until this very moment. She picked it up and held it tightly. It was just right, the perfect gift for her. How could her father have known she would love this gift so? She didn’t even know she wanted it until he gave it to her. As ungrateful as she had been for all of the other gifts, she certainly didn’t feel she deserved it. She ran over and hugged her Daddy’s legs and thanked him over and over again for this beautiful, precious, unexpected gift. She promised to take special care of it and cherish it all the days of her life.

 

Before I met Jesus, the expectation of all of the things I thought would bring me security, happiness and fulfillment left me disappointed. The anticipation and excitement of finally receiving my own home, a good job, financial security, and independence far exceeded the reality of my life.

 

God often does that. He gives us what we think we want so we can see just how insignificant, trivial and empty those things really are apart from Him. Before Christ adopted me into His family, I felt like the best moments of my life were already over. Even though I had received everything I hoped for, everything I had asked for, I still felt empty. I had no more expectation of receiving anything better than I had already received.

 

Then God gave me an unexpected gift. He introduced me to His one and only Son. He had truly saved the best for last! I didn’t ask for Jesus, at least not at first. To be honest, I didn’t even have Him on my wish list, yet God extended His hands of mercy and presented to me the greatest gift I have ever, or expect to ever receive. Everything else pales in comparison. I didn’t deserve Him, but thankfully, God doesn’t always give us what we deserve.

 

So many of my Christmas’ were spent desiring what I longed to possess. Now, my desire is for Christ to possess my heart in such a way that there is no more room for emptiness at the end of the day, but rather, the joy the angels proclaimed that first blessed morning.

 

Jesus, you are a gift from God to me. You far surpass anything I have ever received in this life. You are just right, perfect for me. I promise to take special care of you and cherish you all the days of my life. I look forward to the day when I can physically hug my Daddy’s legs and thank Him for the gift of you!

 

Read and Discuss:

 

Read John 3:1-17

 

Have you ever felt ‘empty’, even though you’ve received gifts and blessings?

 

Which would you rather have—gifts that last a long time, or gifts that are short term?

 

Have you ever really ‘received’ God’s gift of Jesus into your life?

 

December 26          Happy Day-After-Christmas!             Pastor Dave          

The day after Christmas.

When I was little, it was just about the most depressing day of the year!

After all the excitement, the presents, the Christmas Carols, the parties, the cookies, the movies and all the traditions, now…it’s over.

Thud. Period. The end.

 

The thing is, IF Christmas was only about these things, then that would be all there is–and that really IS depressing!

But, alas, that’s not it.

Christmas is about much more.

Christmas is about Christ Jesus, and Jesus (as you know) did not stay a ‘baby in a manger’. Rather, He “grew in wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52) and, once He began His public ministry, He taught all who would listen about the heart of God, and how to please Him, love Him, worship Him, and follow His will. Jesus, you probably know, would go on to fulfill His ultimate calling–the ‘Main Reason’ He came to earth at Christmastime–to ‘give His life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28), then conquered death and the grave! He is still alive!

 

The Light of the world is still here!

For those of us who have placed our faith in Him, acknowledged Him for who He is (Savior and Lord), and surrendered their lives to Him, He is the Source of meaning, direction, hope, power, love, security…the list could go on!

Now THOSE are gifts that ‘keep on giving’, and THAT is reason to celebrate.

 

So “Happy Day-After-Christmas, and Merry rest-of-the-year. Even when Christmas is over, the Light of the World is still here!” (Matthew West: “Happy Day-After-Christmas”)

Consider and Discuss:

Do you get ‘depressed’ because Christmas is over?

Do you, personally understand the ‘gifts’ that Jesus gives?

How do those gifts help you make it through ‘the Day-After-Christmas’, and the rest of the year?

Activity: Listen to the Song “Day After Christmas” by Matthew West

December 25               JOY to the WORLD! Pastor Dave

Joy!

The Whole World—everyone in it, in all of history—all people everywhere—have reason for Joy today.

 

All of Creation—plants, animals, people—everything—has reason for Joy today.

 

Today we celebrate the birth of the Savior, the promised Messiah who would begin to put things right again, and eventually will make things perfect again—the way it was created.

It starts with us—those who choose to follow and to share that message—but it doesn’t end with us!

It is supposed to spread. We are to spread the news!

Today is a great day to do so…share the JOY!

 

Joy To the World, the Lord is come.

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing;

Let heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

 

Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns.

Let men their songs employ.

While fields and floods, rocks hills and planes repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy.

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy!

 

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found
Consider and Discuss: What would it mean for YOU to “Prepare Him Room” in your heart?

Activity: Sing this song as a family today, and sing it in CELEBRATION!
Who do you know that you need to tell about the Joy that Jesus has brought to your life?

 

December 24                                     The Welcome… Pastor Dave

The Welcome…the feeling that you get when you arrive home after a long trip.

That warm ‘good to be home’ feel when you arrive for a holiday visit.

The ability you have to make another person feel valued—you are glad they’ve arrived!

That warm smile, the hug, the ‘Welcome Mat’ which says “We are glad you’re here!”

 

‘Welcome’ communicates a lot.

It communicates love, excitement, warmth, optimism, togetherness.

We only offer a ‘welcome’ to those we love, or those we are genuinely glad to see.

 

Today is December 24, Christmas Eve.

Many people are probably going to be Welcomed Home tonight, and lots of great memories will be made. Warm fires, Christmas trees, gifts will be exchanged and carols will be sung.

Think of the first ‘Welcome’ of Christmas though…

Mary and Joseph welcomed Jesus, the Promised One, into this world. They were perplexed, nervous, overwhelmed…but they welcomed Him with all the love they had. They welcomed Him—with all the uncertainly, and made room for Him in their lives.

The Shepherds came to welcome Him also. They heard about this amazing baby, this Savior baby, this King wrapped in swaddling clothes, and they had to come and worship Him. In so doing, they welcomed Him into this world.

Simple people, simple-but-genuine welcome.

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:8-16)

 

Consider and Discuss:

How can we ‘Welcome’ Jesus into our lives—today and every day?

 

Assignment:

Tonight, before you go to bed, spend some time in prayer thanking Him for the way He sent Jesus in to this world, and meditating on the Welcome He received. Ask God to help you to Welcome Him more.

Watch “The Nativity Story” together

…and watch/listen to this video:

December 23                  Mary’s Example Pastor Dave

Mary.

A young woman, betrothed to Joseph.

A righteous young woman who wanted to serve God.

She was looking forward to marriage and a family, growing and raising her children with Joseph in their village of Nazareth.

Suddenly she sees a vision. In fact, an angel comes to her and gives her amazing, disturbing news: She was pregnant and would give birth to a son. He was the Son of God, and the pregnancy was a miracle of the Holy Spirit! He would save His people from their sins!

At that moment, she had a choice to make:  How was she to respond?

She wanted to serve the God she loved, but she knew that if she said ‘yes’, everything she looked forward to—everything she knew—would crumble around her. Joseph could not believe her, and would most likely divorce her publicly; her parents would have to keep her (if she survived) in their home and they wouldn’t believe her either; her friends—who were preparing to celebrate her marriage with her—would not believe her (how could they?), and would disown her.

Yet…she knew that her ultimate choice was to follow God.

How did this young woman respond?

Luke 1:38: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”

That’s it?!

Not ‘give me some time to think about it’, not ‘wait—can you give me a sign’, nothing but bold, confident and humble faith.

Pretty amazing!

 

Mary stood boldly with God, despite all the risks. She could not have known that God would send the angel to appear to Joseph and encourage him to go through with the marriage. All she knew was that God had called her, and she was ready to follow His will, putting her life on the line to do so.

 

What an example for us!

 

Read and Discuss:

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Why do you suppose God sent His son to earth in this way?

Why do you think Mary said ‘yes’?

Have you ever had to follow God in  a ‘risky’ way—that would cost you? How did that go?

 

December 22–  The Evolution of Christmas Growing Up– Dan Sherman

It was in my early adolescent years that I became so familiar with my family’s Christmas tree ornaments putting them on the tree in my jammies. The familiar glass ornaments that only mom wanted to touch, the HUGE incandescent strings of lights that got super-hot to the touch, and those waxy candles I hated to touch because they somehow made me nauseous.

I knew that the story of Santa was based on a character from long ago and that he didn’t climb down chimneys exactly at midnight every Christmas eve. I didn’t care, I got gifts, ‘nuff said. I knew the tooth fairy wasn’t real and neither was the Easter Bunny. Of course, everyone knows Easter was a just a time to wear nice new clothes and open Easter basket candy – like Christmas and Halloween smashed together…and in the Spring. Yeah, that’s it.

But I also remembered questioning that ‘If all these other characters weren’t real, was Jesus really real?’ Well, he was the only one that was a real man in the history books. His book was thick and not just a few thick-pages of animated pictures and fuzzy spots on the page for your parents to get you to rub and then smile. But, how was I supposed to be sure that he was really real?

I asked him to show me signs:  make fireballs shoot from my finger tips when I got scared in the dark; fix the flat tire on my banana seat bike if I concentrated hard enough;  and repair the cracked car windshield it I put both hands over it and strained hard enough before my parents came out to go to my grandparents for Turkey. He didn’t. Obviously, my skepticism wasn’t swayed.

Then came the 5th grade Christmas show. I was long over the Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy stage and now I wondered if Christmas must be true because the story about Silent Night was being taught and watched by grown-ups. I was playing guitar back then when the music teacher at Lake Center Elementary in Portage asked me to stay after class one day. She handed me some sheet music and asked me if I would be willing to practice it for the Christmas show.

Wikipedia says the lyrics to Silent Night were written by Father Joseph Mohr. All I know is that the melody and music were written by Franz Xavier Gruber, the church organist, and that was my character. One story tells it that the mice had eaten through the bellows so the organ was not usable, so Franz played the guitar instead. But, the thing that hit me was that a priest composed the song because he was on a snowy hillside meditating about God who inspired him to describe the peaceful night overlooking his village below and how he also thought about that first night of Jesus’ birth.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2;15-16)

 

It was from that program on that I realized that people devoted their life to Jesus. Whole towns took time to sing about him. Even though my parents were pretty much Christmas and Easter Christians, the stories were now real to me.

I said the words many times to Jesus asking him if he would come into my heart and rescue me from the challenges of temptation and sin. There was a long time I was just a ‘fan’ Jesus and his forgiving nature. It really hasn’t been until the last couple of decades that I now realize that He wants me to have fullness in EVERY part of my life.  I realize I have been so foolish to miss out on the right perception of him, but, he has been patient and faithful during my time at KCC.

It is like the more I seek him, the more lights turn on…he cool white LEDs that last forever, not the fire hazard primary color super-hot bulbs that burn you and don’t last long.

Consider and Discuss:

When did Christmas—and Jesus—become ‘real’ to you?

How has following Him taught you about “Life to the Full”?

What does that mean for you at Christmastime?