ADVENTuring to the Manger Small Group Leader’s Guide

This leader’s guide is intended for teachers and leaders who wish to use ADVENTuring to the Manger in a group setting. While the book was primarily written for personal devotional use, it can easily be turned into either a four-week or six-week study during the season of Advent.

Advent is a liturgical season where we are invited to prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Christ child once again. Unfortunately, many of us have lost the ”hearts and minds” aspect and have become focused on the ”bake the cookies and deck the halls” part of getting ready for Christmas.

ADVENTuring to the Manger was written for real people dealing with the real pressures and scheduling stresses that the pre-Christmas season can bring. Each devotional takes the student into an illuminating scripture without adding a lot of time to their daily to-do list. The readings are easy to read and very approachable, without being too ”light.” Each day will only take between 5 to 10 minutes to read. Everyone can manage that, even at Christmas!

Individuals are invited to read one devotional per day beginning with December 1 and running right up to Christmas Day. Groups can create whatever schedule works best for them.

For group use, we recommend that you decide on either a four-week or six-week class, and then decide when you want the study to end. For example, if you choose a four-week format and want to be finished with this study by the middle of December (which is recommended,) consider starting around mid-November. If you choose a six-week format and want to be finished a few weeks before Christmas, begin the first week of November.

To allow for that kind of flexibility, I have included group discussion questions for each day. If you choose to do this in FOUR WEEKS, your assignments would look like this:

WEEK ONE: Day 1-Day 6

WEEK 2: Day 7-Day 12

WEEK THREE: Day 13-Day 18

WEEK 4: Day 19-24

Everyone reads Day 25 on Christmas Day.

If you choose to do this in SIX WEEKS, your assignments would look like this:

WEEK ONE: Day 1-Day 4

WEEK TWO: Day 5-Day 8

WEEK THREE: Day 9-Day 12

WEEK FOUR: Day 13-Day 16

WEEK FIVE: Day 17-Day 20

WEEK SIX: Day 21-Day 24

Everyone reads Day 25 at home on Christmas Day.

Every devotional contains a few reflection questions within the body of the reading. These are designed for personal use, but can make great discussion starter questions. We suggest that as you read through each day, highlight those questions in your book and consider using them as ”ice-breaker” openers for each class. Some of the questions in the book may feel too personal for group use, and that’s okay. You will soon discover how much self-disclosure your group can handle as you go through each week. Be prepared to share your own responses to those questions as you feel led.

Listed below are the group discussion questions for each day. Some are fun and non-threatening, and others are deep. As you spend time with your group, you will know what they will respond to. If you only ask one question and it takes off for the rest of the hour, that is great! Don’t feel pressure as the leader to ask all the personal reflection questions AND the group discussion questions for the week. Your class is the curriculum! You are the curriculum! The Holy Spirit is definitely the curriculum! The book in your hands is just a book. You and your students will be both teachers and learners in this adventure.

DAY ONE

Today’s lesson invites us to perform a ”spiritual check-up” as we begin this study. Why don’t people put Christ in the center of Christmas nowadays? What can we do to eliminate things that distract us from the real meaning of Christmas? Have you ever felt like you missed the whole thing? How can you change that this year?

DAY TWO

Today’s reading draws a contrast between expecting the Messiah to be a military commander who will conquer our troubles, versus a Messiah who is the gentle savior who finds us when we’re lost. Which one do people need more right now? What is your family hoping for and dreaming of this Christmas? What are your expectations this year?

DAY THREE

What are some of the strategies you use when you have to wait? Can you remember a time when you were grateful that you waited something out rather than received an immediate answer? Share your story. When is waiting a good thing?

DAY FOUR

Have you begun yet to prepare for Christmas? What does your usual preparation look like? What things are on your list? Is God calling you to simplify things this year?

DAY FIVE

Can people sometimes make Christmas about everything other than Christ’s birth? What are those things? Does family guilt ever play a role in it? How can we redirect our efforts toward loving the people that Jesus loves?

DAY SIX

Share a time when you had something good to tell. How did you feel? How did people respond to your good news? Who in your life needs some good news today?

DAY SEVEN

Have you ever encountered Jesus in an unexpected way? Have you met him in an unexpected person? Name ways we can all be an unexpected Light in someone’s darkness this season.

DAY EIGHT

This lesson invites us to hit the ”pause” button on the holly-jollies and acknowledge the pain and loneliness that Christmas can bring. Have you ever had a ”blue Christmas”? Can you share your story? What can we do to help others through this season when they are grieving?

DAY NINE

The full story of Christmas begins in a wooden manger and ends on a wooden cross. How does the resurrection inform our Advent experience? What does the resurrection mean to God’s people? What does it mean to you?

DAY TEN

Is it ever okay to doubt God? Have you ever experienced doubt in your relationship with God? What helped you through it? What can we do when others question God’s activity in the world?

DAY ELEVEN

Jesus brings a gift of JOY to the world in a box that is often left unopened. Where do we need joy? Is joy lacking in your life? How can you be a bringer of joy to someone who needs it? How can the church respond?

DAY TWELVE

What causes people to lose hope? Have you ever lost it? Describe what happened. How can we help people who feel hopeless?

DAY THIRTEEN

Do people ever treat God like an ATM in the sky? Is that ever okay? What are some good gifts that you have received at Christmas? Name some good gifts you have received from God. What are you asking God for right now?

DAY FOURTEEN

Jesus called God ”Abba,” which translates to Daddy, or Papa. It denotes an intimate relationship. What does it mean to be children of God and heirs of his kingdom? How can we change our prayer lives to reflect the intimate conversations God wants to have with us? The ”Big Reveal” of Christmas is a proclamation of freedom from bondage. What do we need to be freed from today?

DAY FIFTEEN

God’s marvelous deeds are all around us! Make a list of them. Where in your life have you experienced an act of God? Share your story. Mary was a faithful servant … what should we do to be more like her?

DAY SIXTEEN

The spirit of Santa is among us. How can we be givers in our community? Where is God calling us to be generous? Are you willing to give of yourself to others this season? Make a list … then make a plan.

DAY SEVENTEEN

Singing is such an important part of this season. What is your favorite Christmas carol? Do you agree or disagree with the statement that we should complain to school boards that have removed sacred songs in our public schools? What does ”Wonderful Counselor” mean to you?

DAY EIGHTEEN

Describe a time when you were deeply, utterly afraid. What happened? What are things that people fear in our world today? What message did the angels bring that can help us today?

DAY NINETEEN

Have you ever kept a big secret? Were you finally able to share it? How did that feel? Have people lost their child-like wonder and awe of Christmas? How can we get it back?

DAY TWENTY

Go around the room and have everyone name their favorite Christmas movie. Has anyone ever experienced a sleepless night? List the things that keep you awake. What can we do to find rest?

DAY TWENTY-ONE

This lesson talks about feasts. If you were invited to a great feast, what foods and drinks would you like to have? What are your plans for Christmas dinner? Does family tradition play a role in your choices?

DAY TWENTY-TWO

WHY do we need Christmas? Why do you think Jesus was born? Define these words: grace; unmerited favor; unconditional love; and mercy. What do those words mean to you?

DAY TWENTY-THREE

What does it mean to ”speak in your own voice”? Are you able to tell your story? Describe the words or actions people can use to tell the story of Jesus to others.

DAY TWENTY-FOUR

Do you have a plan for worshipping on Christmas Eve? Are you ready to receive the indwelling of Christ’s spirit? If not, what do you need to do today to be ready?

Questions for DAY TWENTY-FIVE are not needed, as students will read that day on their own.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We have provided you with a LOT of questions to choose from! There are three or four questions per day, and if you are teaching this in four weeks, that means we have provided you with approximately twenty questions per class session. That is obviously way too many, so focus on whatever days you feel your group has responded to the most and let that dictate the flow of your time together. You can even begin each class by asking them which day really stood out that week, and start there. Remember that if a devotional speaks to you, it will probably also speak to them, so trust your instincts.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have by leaving a comment on my website @atwatersedge.org, or emailing me at betsyhaas@atwatersedge.org. I will be happy to help you in any way I can. Thank you so much for using this group resource! YOU are a blessing.

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Listen!

I have always loved the Olympic Games. It is fun to watch all the the media attention that is given to the athletes prior to the first competition. While listening to the promos and background stories one day, I discovered an acronym that threw me off for a minute. I may be the last person in the world to know what it meant. When Simone Biles was described as the “goat” of women’s gymnastics, I was a little offended on her behalf. How could that commentator have possibly compared this incomparable athelete to a barnyard animal? The next day I saw it in print, and I realized that it was spelled G.O.A.T. And of course you already know what I had to learn from Google: G.O.A.T. stands for “greatest of all time.” I guess we didn’t recognize G.O.A.T.s in the marching band when I was growing up. At least not that kind of goat.

Jesus was once asked about which of the commandments was the G.O.A.T. In the twelfth chapter of Mark, he encounters a legal expert who is hoping to trip him up with a trick question. The people around them are leaning in to hear which of the Ten Commandments Jesus will pick. But watch what Jesus does:

Mark 12 (Common English Bible)

28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Jesus responds by quoting the ”Shema” from the book of Deuteronomy. The word ”shema” means to listen. There is a special meaning in this: not only does he give them the traditional faith prayer of his people, which commands them to listen, but he is also instructing the people around him to listen as he clarifies the greatest commandment. Here is the full text of the Shema:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 New Revised Standard Version).

Jesus instructs them to listen up! First and foremost, love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength.

Then he continues:

 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

Jews familiar with Scripture would hear the echo of Leviticus:

 Leviticus 19:18; “Forget about the wrong things people do to you. Don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (ERV)

Jesus’ response is a beautiful rendering of the Ten Commandments in two statements. The first statement blends the first through the fourth commandments, which address our relationship with God. The second statement combines the fifth through the tenth commandments, which instruct us on how to act toward one another.

Even the legal expert was impressed!

32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

In the end, loving God with all that you have and loving your neighbor with all that you are pretty much covers everything. These commandments truly are the G.O.A.T. and we are called to live by them every day.

What can you do today to share your love of God with someone? Where is God calling you to reach out to a neighbor in love and service?

Wherever God leads you, go and do it. Then you can be a goat, too.

Dolphin Tales by Michelle Robertson

Rule Forever

Several years ago I was blessed to travel to Israel. I will never forget this trip of a lifetime. Some of my wonderful memories include watching the sun set over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and riding a camel. By the way, camels are mean! I also remember watching faithful Jews praying at the Western Wall. This historic location is the site of the temples in Jerusalem up through Jesus’ time. It is a space that is shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. All three of these religions have significant history there.

On the Jewish side, there is access to the wall itself, and visitors are invited to place rolled up prayer requests between the ancient stones and pray there. We watched as Jewish families prayed, with men and women separated by a thick curtain. One striking feature of the prayers was how people stood as they prayed. They bowed continuously from the waist with hands clasped and heads lowered, murmuring their prayers in a low, harmonic hum. As I stood there placing the prayers that I had carried from my church in the mortar cracks, I closed my eyes and listened to all of the many languages that were being lifted up. I had a strong conviction that this is what heaven sounds like. Watching the faithful Jews lined up and facing the wall as they bobbed and weaved was a marvelous sight. The sound was even better.

The origin of this practice is found in an interpretation of Psalm 146, which encourages us to praise the Lord with our ”whole being.” So rather than sit in a passive attitude thinking their prayers, these men and women gathered at the wall were engaging their ”whole being” in a physical expression of moving through the prayer.

Psalm 146 (Common English Bible)

    Let my whole being praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
    I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.

Now pay attention to this next part, and remember that it was written thousands of years ago in a much different political environment than the one we live in today:

Don’t trust leaders;
    don’t trust any human beings—
    there’s no saving help with them!
Their breath leaves them,
    then they go back to the ground.
    On that very same day, their plans die too.

So maybe the political environment thousands of years ago was not that much different than today! Truth is truth. God’s truth will always abide … the rest is just fleeting breath and temporary manmade plans. The only way to find help is through God. The only way to find happiness is by resting your hope on the Lord. Human beings will let you down all the time, but God gives justice to the oppressed, bread to the starving, and freedom to the prisoners.

The person whose help is the God of Jacob—
    the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God—
    is truly happy!
God: the maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
    who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
    who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
    The Lord: who makes the blind see.
    The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
    The Lord: who loves the righteous.
    The Lord: who protects immigrants,
        who helps orphans and widows,
        but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!

10 The Lord will rule forever!
    Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!

Today, make your prayers active prayers. Move around, take a walk, pray out loud. Let your WHOLE being praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Maker of Heaven and Earth by Beverly Mineo

Job Satisfaction

I truly dislike doing the laundry. I am that person who waits until the hamper is full, and then I finally and begrudgingly haul it down two flights of stairs to process it through the washer and dryer. Too often it ends up in the dryer for a day, requiring it to have to be fluffed again to de-wrinkle the load. Then I fold it all and haul it back upstairs, where it sits neatly folded in the laundry basket for several more days. When I need the laundry basket again, I finally put the last of the clean clothes away and start the process all over again. Like I said, I dislike doing the laundry! Why? BECAUSE IT IS NEVER REALLY FINISHED. It just goes on, and on, and on … wash, rinse, repeat. The same goes for housework, grocery shopping, cooking … there is no such thing as job satisfaction with any of that nonsense!

Before Jesus came, the people of Israel had the same problem with all of their ritual sacrifices and offerings. Just as they would complete one, it needed to be repeated. Remember the time when Jesus turned over the money lenders’ tables at the Temple in Jerusalem? They had set up shop to provide animals for the yearly altar sacrifices that were part of the annual pilgrimage to the Temple. Making these offerings was something that was never really finished … wash, rinse, repeat every year.

Jesus did more than turn over the tables … he turned over the world. He replaced the priests and their offering systems. He replaced the offering. He became the once and for all sacrifice that never needs repeating, because he is the holy, incorrupt, innocent, and ultimate sacrifice for our sins:

Hebrews 7 (Common English Bible)

23 The others who became priests are numerous because death prevented them from continuing to serve. 24 In contrast, he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. 25 This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them.

The supremacy of Christ as the mediator for our sins is cleanly laid out in this chapter. What a marvelous gift! He is the only one who can save us, and he lives to speak with God for us. What do you wish he would say about you right now? What intercession do you need Jesus to make on your behalf as he and his father are chatting today?

26 It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. 28 The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus is the one and done, the end all, the be all, and the real deal. When he sacrificed himself for the sins of the world, the need for us to keep repeating the same useless burnt offerings to cleanse our sins ended forever. The only offering we need to make now is our repentance.

Need to get something off your chest today? Go to Jesus. He and his father are listening.

Burnt Offering by Michelle Robertson

The Power of Song

Last week we sang A Mighty Fortress is our God in worship, and I was immediately transported back to a time in a different church when I had come under attack by a church member. My charismatic friends assured me that the attack was from the Enemy, who was trying to thwart my ministry and derail me from doing God’s work. In the midst of that pain and confusion, we sang A Mighty Fortress, and I felt the blessed peace of God’s protection come over me. I remember looking up and finding the friend who had been diligently praying for me during this turbulent time. She was staring at me with a look of ”SEE!!! This is God’s answer!” on her face. It brought me immense comfort. Are you feeling down today? Are you under attack? Read this:

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.

3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever! 

Being able to sing our way out of a difficult time is a true blessing, and a gift from God. Many times music can provide the necessary release we need, as we find the raw emotion to express our feelings of remorse, joy, awe, surrender, and humility. The psalms provide us with the language of faith during life’s challenges that might otherwise leave us speechless and floundering in doubt. The power of song is huge. That is why the Israelites who were exiled in Babylon sang so much, their captors asked to be entertained by their singing. (Psalm 137:7) That is why singing was so important when Hezekiah restored worship in the temple … the king, his officers, and everyone gathered sang praises with gladness. (2 Chronicles 29:30) That is why Jehoshaphat sent the choir out to battle first, providing the frontline of defense against Israel’s enemies. (2 Chronicles 20:21) That is why the disciples left the upper room after the Last Supper and sang hymns on the way to the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 26:30) Our faith, our hope, and our hearts are strengthened when we sing. 


I think that the Enemy hates it when we sing. Our songs can become spiritual weapons against the present darkness that threatens to undo us, especially when we unify our hearts, minds, and voices into one consolidated power, made possible by the Holy Spirit. Remember that Paul and Silas were once imprisoned. They were praying and singing hymns while the other prisoners listened to them. Suddenly there was a huge earthquake and immediately all of the doors of the jail were opened, and everyone’s chains were unlocked. (Acts 16:25-26) There is power in song!

God indeed inhabits the praises of his people! The power of praise is greater than he who is in the world, so sing, my brothers and sisters!

Just sing.

Just Sing by Kathy Schumacher


Boundaries

Hurricane season in 2021 began in June and is forecast to end on November 30th. Living on the coastal waters of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I pay attention to this. We continue to have ”red flag days,” where swimming is prohibited due to dangerous surf conditions brought by passing off-shore storms. The key part of that sentence is ”off-shore storms.” It is not over yet, but we are beginning to exhale just a tiny bit as the season winds down with no direct impact this year. (Please Lord, make it so.) Our friends in Louisiana took a double portion of hurricanes this year, and I know that they are also anxiously awaiting the end of hurricane season.

People in other parts of the country probably think that the worst devastation from a storm comes when it makes a direct hit on the shore. I spoke with a woman from Michigan last week who thought it would be safer to live on the sound than the beach. In truth, there can just as much devastation when the west-side sounds flood as a result of the hurricane’s ability to displace tons of water in a short amount of time. When the sound returns, it returns with a vengeance.

Today’s Psalm offers a word of comfort for those times when we feel a storm coming and we fear for our safety. Those storms can be weather-related or situational. Storms of anger, betrayal, depression, confusion, and hopelessness can feel just as damaging to your spirit as a full-on Cat 5.

The psalmist begins with beautiful praise language:

Psalm 104 (Common English Bible)

 Let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
    You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
You wear light like a robe;
    you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
    you make the clouds your chariot,
    going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
    you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
    so that it will never ever fall.

Let the image of God wearing light like a robe and going around in a chariot of clouds sit with you for a moment. Isn’t that beautiful? Breathe it in.

You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
    the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
    they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
    streaming down the valleys
    to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
    so they’ll never again cover the earth.

This is where I find comfort. God set a boundary for the waters that they cannot cross, so they’ll never again cover the earth. Even when the worst storm is raging, God is still in control. Even when the winds of change are assaulting us and the waters of despair are rising, God is still in control. Even when the husband leaves, the baby gets sick, the business fails, the job is lost, the parent dies … even then, God is still in control.

I hope this brings you comfort today. God has set a boundary around your life and has wrapped you in a robe of eternity. The resurrection guarantees that no storm can permanently harm you, even when you are in the midst of one and it feels like there is no way out.

There is. His name is Jesus.

Stormy Weather by Michelle Robertson

On Your Feet

When I was about four years old, I had an accident that almost cost me my sight. My mother was cleaning the wall oven in our kitchen with an Easy-Off product that was very caustic. She was applying it to the open door of the oven with the brush-in-the-lid applicator when I quietly came around the corner and startled her. The brush flicked a gob of oven cleaner straight into my eye, burning my eyeball in an instant.

Mom was amazingly good at thinking on her feet, and grabbed the glass of water I had in my hand and flushed my eye. She then ran me to the tub and flushed out the eye even more, amidst my howls and screams. I think I may have been in more danger of drowning than losing my sight at that point. Then she wrapped me in a towel and ran five blocks with me to our local GP. My father had taken our only car to work that day, and the doctor’s practice was located in an addition to his house.

He filled my eyes with some kind of dye to assess the damage. This is my only memory of the event … the rest of it is only known to me through hearing the story told. I have a clear memory of sitting on his examination table in the dark with my eyes closed. Naturally I had kept them shut as much as possible during the entire ordeal, with my right eye feeling as though it was on fire. They had to cajole me into opening them, and when I finally did, the darkened room was a lovely shade of blue, due to the dye. The doctor was using an ophthalmoscope, moving it back and forth to assess the damage. As I looked at my mother’s anxious face, haloed in blue, I said to her, ”Mommy! You are so pretty in blue!” Thus they knew that my sight had survived the ordeal. I got my lollipop and we walked home.

Sight, in all of its many forms, is a precious thing.

Today’s passage tells the story of a blind man who is healed by Jesus, Son of David:

Mark 10 (New International Version)

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This an interesting detail that Mark thoughtfully included. This entire community knew the man. He sat in the same place every day, begging for enough coins to sustain him. And yet the minute he has a chance to be healed, they shushed him.

Sometimes society likes to keep its status quo by silencing those who sit at the bottom of the class structure . The hungry, the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the immigrant, the mentally ill … aren’t we guilty of looking the other way and just wishing they wouldn’t bother us?

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

This is exactly what we are meant to do as well. Call over the ones who are hurting. Call over the ones who need help. Call over the ones who need JESUS.

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

Again, Mark blesses us with detail. Don’t you love it when they say to the blind man, ”Cheer up!”? What a happy moment. They know what is coming. They know the next part of the story. They know what their savior can do.

Do you?

And don’t miss the detail of the man throwing his cloak aside. It is very probable that this is this man’s only possession. Think about that! Would you be willing to give up every thing you owned to have an encounter Jesus? The rich young ruler couldn’t. (Mark 10:17-31)

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Perhaps the greatest teaching in this passage is found in the newly-sighted man’s response. The minute he finally saw Jesus, he followed him.

Can you see Jesus actively working in your life? Do you need to be healed? Would you give up everything to follow him?

As we ponder these things today, may God grant us wisdom and insight into everything he is doing in our lives.

Open your eyes! Jesus is calling.

Miracles Around Us by Bev Mineo

Are you looking for a Christmas devotional book? Check this out!

Where Were You

Have you ever been put in your place? Has a moment of brash talk ever resulted in someone “setting you straight”? It hurts, doesn’t it? I’ve been there and felt that. In hindsight, it was not so much a punishing experience as it was a learning experience. These moments of correction are painful, and often necessary. But we have to be open to their instruction … that’s the trick.

In today’s passage we find God giving Job the ultimate moment of instruction. Wowzers, this is a doozy. God begins by calling Job a “darkening counsel” and says that Job’s words lack knowledge:

Job 38 (Common English Bible)

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

Who is this darkening counsel
    with words lacking knowledge?
Prepare yourself like a man;
    I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.

Yikes. But as you read this next part, see how God describes all of his omnipotent power in a way that is reassuring, even as Job is being rebuked:

The establishing of order

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
    Tell me if you know.
Who set its measurements? Surely you know.
    Who stretched a measuring tape on it?
On what were its footings sunk;
    who laid its cornerstone,
    while the morning stars sang in unison
        and all the divine beings shouted?

Can you issue an order to the clouds
    so their abundant waters cover you?
35 Can you send lightning so that it goes
    and then says to you, “I’m here”?
36 Who put wisdom in remote places,
    or who gave understanding to a rooster?
37 Who is wise enough to count the clouds,
        and who can tilt heaven’s water containers
38     so that dust becomes mud
        and clods of dirt adhere?

If you needed to be reminded of who is in control, this is it. God sends lightning and wisdom alike. He counts the clouds, tilts heaven’s water containers, and gives understanding to the rooster. Can you do that?

Lion and raven

39 Can you hunt prey for the lion
    or fill the cravings of lion cubs?
40 They lie in their den,
    lie in ambush in their lair.
41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry to God,
    move about without food?

Job is a righteous man who experiences a humbling lesson. So should we. But rather than receive these words as a chastisement, as Job had to, may we embrace them as a beautiful reminder that God is God … and we are not.

Thanks be to God!

Smart Kitty Hawkers

Descriptions

Online shopping has taught us to be very careful about reading descriptions. Size, color, texture, weight, and even other people’s reviews are all helpful as we are trying to discern what a product is actually like. If you have ever ordered something without paying attention to the description, this may have been part of the learning curve for you. It was for me!

In the beginning of the pandemic, I panic-ordered hand sanitizer from an unfamiliar source and failed to look at the description closely. Where the picture (and the price!!) was indicative of a large bottle that would sit by your kitchen sink for family use, the actual product was a very expensive pocket-sized container. Thank goodness I ordered two!

The scriptures are full of descriptions of Jesus. John 3:16 gives the most concise description: ”For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (I did that from memory … the King James Version was all the rage when this kid was in Sunday School.)

When I was researching scripture for ADVENTuring to the Manger: 25 Devotionals for Christmas, I stumbled upon a great explanation for the ”why” of Christmas in the book of Titus, of all places:

Titus 3 (Contemporary English Version)

God our Savior showed us
    how good and kind he is.
He saved us because
    of his mercy,
and not because
of any good things
    that we have done.

God washed us by the power
    of the Holy Spirit.
He gave us new birth
    and a fresh beginning.
God sent Jesus Christ
our Savior
    to give us his Spirit.

Jesus treated us much better
    than we deserve.
He made us acceptable to God
and gave us the hope
    of eternal life.

Reading the description makes us much more aware of the qualities and special aspects of the subject. Titus beautifully describes the grace that was involved in Jesus’ coming.

I don’t think anyone would argue that some of the best descriptions of Jesus come from the book of Isaiah. This Old Testament prophet had a working knowledge of the suffering servant that was yet to come. His description came with no reviews, as he was describing something that hadn’t even happened yet. Unlike the eyewitness accounts of the Gospel writers, Isaiah only had prophetic visions to rely on … and yet he provided some of the most accurate and beautiful language about our Savior:

Isaiah 53 (Common English Bible)

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

He was oppressed and tormented,
    but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
    like a ewe silent before her shearers,
    he didn’t open his mouth.

11 After his deep anguish he will see light, and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
    will make many righteous,
    and will bear their guilt.

He was pierced for our transgressions.

He was crushed because of our sins.

He bore the punishment THAT MADE US WHOLE.

By his wounds we are healed.

Ponder that today. Who is Jesus to you? If you were to write a description of him, what would you say? How would you describe our Wonderful Counselor?

Do this today … and write it on your heart.

Cloud Mountains by Scott Brown

Watch Your Word

A rabbi named Joseph Telushkin is a well known speaker on the subject of taming your tongue. The scriptures call us to consider the power of our words and their ability to hurt people. At the conclusion of his speech, Telushkin asks his audience an interesting question. He invites them to raise their hand if they think that if they tried really, really hard, they could go twenty-four hours without saying an unkind thing to or about someone else. Typically only a small minority of the audience raises their hands, while the rest of them chuckle and shake their heads no.

Let’s think about that…do you think you could make it twenty-four hours without saying something negative or derogatory to or about someone else?

Then the rabbi makes this salient point: If you couldn’t go twenty-four hours without alcohol, you would recognize that you have a drinking problem. If you couldn’t go twenty-four hours without a cigarette, you would know that you are probably addicted to nicotine. So if you can’t go twenty-four hours without making a negative comment, you have lost control of your tongue.

I told this story in a recent sermon on James 5, and church member texted me that afternoon and said that she didn’t even make it a full hour! What we think often comes out in what we say, and it is definitely the case that our thoughts and attitudes are revealed in our behavior and our conversations.

Our passage in Hebrews today reminds us that nothing we say, think, or do is hidden from God’s sight. He has provided his word as a daily guide for our interactions with one another. The things we do and say are under his watchful eye, and everything is uncovered and laid bare before him:

Hebrews 4 (New International Version)

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

This is why it is imperative to live under the authority of God’s word. It is active and alive. It is sharper than a double-edged sword and it cuts to the heart of the matter. It is the standard by which we must give an account for our actions. Reading, understanding, and doing the word of God will keep us in line with God’s expectations of us.

Luckily, we have a great high priest to help us.

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The old WWJD movement, where we were invited to consider What Would Jesus Do in any situation, was really a smart thing. If we are being held accountable to the word of God, wouldn’t it be smart to do things and say things that mirror the Word of God?

God sent Jesus to be an intermediator for us, allowing us access to the throne of grace. He is the Word that is sharp enough to judge our thoughts and attitudes. He is the Word that is a double-edged sword. He is the Word who offers us mercy and grace when our words betray us.

So consider what you say today. Consider what God’s word says. Consider what Jesus would do and say. And remember that when you need help, you will find mercy and grace every time you approach God’s throne.

God gives us his Word on it.

Long Shadows by Michelle Robertson