Today for the first time in as long as I can remember, our family stayed home on Sunday morning and didn’t go to church. There was a lot of ice on our cars, and although the roads were clear it seemed right to stay home. We had a wonderful morning together and decided later we’d have a family church service together. We have shared short family devotionals together previously, especially before Christmas during the Advent season, but it is not (unfortunately) something we have done often. Tonight’s family church service, then, was particularly meaningful and special. I’d hoped it would be a time when everyone could participate: sharing, singing, praying, and reading from God’s Word. It was.
We used our AppleTV to project the lyrics to “The First Noel,” which we opened with, and these words from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midianâ€™s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warriorâ€™s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on Davidâ€™s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:2-7 NIV)
We used this description of the four candles of advent (though it differs slightly from our church tradition) and read a meditation from “God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Our sermon verses this Sunday came from Romans 8, and the daily verse in my YouVersion Bible iOS app today does too. This is a verse in the chapter which stood out to me:
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6 NIV)
Our focus in life each day, and even every minute of each day, is very important. The things we focus on and pay attention to with our conscious minds are things our unconscious minds continue to process and turn over. We literally shape our minds and our identities through the things we choose to pay attention to. The things we read, watch, the conversations we have, the notes we write… All of these things shape our minds cognitively but also neuro-biologically. That ‘s a mouthful as well as a lot to consider.
Paul reminds us in these verses to focus on the things of God’s Spirit, rather than the things of the flesh, so we will be conformed to His image and perfect will.
God, help me to focus on the fruits of your spirit this day. I pray you would fill me and those around me with your love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. I pray you would conform my heart, my spirit, and my mind to yours. Thank you for sending us your son, Jesus, to teach us about your love and your plans for our lives.
In the powerful name of Jesus I pray,
As I read these verses from the author of Hebrews today, I was reminded that not everyone on earth has experienced the positive and loving discipline of an earthly father. Single moms face special challenges, and so do their children. Assumptions are dangerous. Remember not everyone has shared your life experiences or mine.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:9-11 NIV)
Jesus calls us to wait for His return with hope, encouraging each other and rebuking evil with the authority He gives us through His Father and our Heavenly Father, God.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say â€œNoâ€ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hopeâ€”the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:11-15 NIV)
Jim Cymbola referenced this passage in his April 28th sermon, “Enough is Enough.” We must eat spiritual food, by reading God’s Word, on a daily basis to remain healthy. This is the same for the physical food we put into our bodies. Daily food is required.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)