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Your Story, God's Story - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 31

by Daniel Darling

Luke 1

Why is Christmas such a magical time of year? I think its because everyone is expecting a miracle at Christmas. Consider all the popular movies. Each one has a miracle as it's central plot. Whether it's a boy hoping his parents get back together, a shop-owner hoping he can keep his business running, or a town who needs a new hero to help "save Christmas."

You might be reading this and wishing for your own miracle this Christmas. It's probably much smaller than what makes a holiday movie. But it no less important to you.

Maybe you're hoping our prodigal comes home. Maybe you're wishing for a job. Some are yearning for a special someone to sit next to you by the fire.

2,000 years ago, there was a couple who hoped for their own miracle. But like many, they had long given up on this dream. Zacharias and Elisabeth prayed for a child, but year after year, that prayer went unfulfilled. So, they gave up on the dream.

But this couple didn't give up on God. They stayed faithful. Then, one ordinary day, the extraordinary happened. Zacharias, a priest in Israel, was chosen to give the incense at the altar. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, a rare honor for such a common man. Then, as he performed this sacred duty, an angel of God appeared, breaking God's 400-year silence with Israel.

The angel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elisabeth would have a son after all. He would have a special purpose an would prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.

This all sounded impossible to Zacharias. Not the miracle itself—that Jesus would come, that John would be the forerunner. Zacharias, as a believing Jew, knew the Scriptures and believed this.

He just had a hard time thinking God could use silly old him. After all, he and his wife were well past the child-bearing age. But, true to His word, God performed this miracle in the lives of Zacharias and Elisabeth. You know the rest of the story. John the Baptist led revival in Israel and would later baptize Jesus Christ, the very son of God.

But let's focus on Zacharias and Elisabeth. They were faithful people in a time of unfaithfulness. And yet they had given up on the dream God had planted in their hearts—the dream of having a son. What's interesting is that Zacharias had no problem with the big miracle: God sending a Son to be born of a virgin and be the Savior. It was the little miracle he had trouble with, the miracle in his own life. Even though God had done a similar thing in Sarah and Hannah and Rebekah and Rachel, Zacharias refused to believe his wife, Elisabeth could bear a child.

He did something we often do. We believe in the big things of God—sending a son to be our Savior, Creation, Heaven—but when it comes to littler miracles, we limit Him. It's as if we say, Yes, God can create the earth in six days, be born of a baby, and send us to Heaven, but He can't possibly change me, fix a relationship, get me a job.

And God's answer is Yes I can. You see, the biggest miracle has already been done—Jesus. Everything else is small to God.

So maybe today, like Zacharias, you're letting God know that there is something too big for Him. Something even He can't fix.

And the story of Zacharias tells us that there is nothing too hard and that God is still in the business of doing miracles. Even in your own life.

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The Strains of Christmas - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 29

by John UpChurch

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Christmas at my house meant preparing for the worst. The worst didn’t always come, but you couldn’t be too careful.

You see, the thing about holidays is that people tend to be together, pushed into the same room by tradition and baked turkey. My family spent most of the year avoiding such things, as we hurried off to school or work, buried ourselves in music and books, and generally enjoyed the comfort of a closed door.

We could usually navigate the raging Scylla and Charybdis of Thanksgiving because it only meant a day together before we scattered again. But while we chewed stuffing, my father would chew on his disappointment over his life and his family. My older brothers would try not to notice. The tryptophan made us all too sleepy for much more—at least, that’s what I like to think.

But then Christmas came lumbering into the UpChurch household with all its vacation days. We had too much time off, and too many unspoken issues. We were like a pot of boiling potatoes with the water sloshing out on the stove. There’d be some sizzling over a lack of job, a splash or two over how much something cost, and then boom… the lid blew off.

An hour and two new holes in the wall later, we surveyed the wreckage of the yuletide cheer. My brothers would fume back into the basement, my father would escape to his computer, and my mom would try to figure out what to do. Usually, the anger just sunk back into the pot for another year.

When I moved out of my house, it took years for Christmas to reclaim its festive atmosphere. Even when the war ended, the shellshock didn’t. There were too many things unsaid, too many things not dealt with. The embers of home-fought battles wouldn’t die down.

Then, Christ.

Describing salvation couldn’t be better summed up than in those two words set apart in their own paragraph: then, Christ. There was no choir of angels singing (audibly to me, at least) or a special star shining light down on my apartment, but it was a moment that clearly separates time into two epochs. That separation is for both BC/AD and OJ/NJ—Old John and New John.

As this New John, though, I noticed something that might as well have been as miraculous as angels breaking out the tunes over my head. When Christmas came, the dread didn’t. I’d plucked the Christ off Christmas, and the mass didn’t seem so heavy. In fact, I even looked forward to it.

No, the tension didn’t suddenly melt away. The tempers weren’t all snuffed out. There were still moments that stretched tightly across our gatherings. But I now knew something just slightly flip-the-world-upside-down, mind-blowingly awesome: A baby, born poor and away from home, had taken the worst this world had to offer. A king wanted Him dead, and His country had no place for Him. But still He came… for me.

For you.

Intersecting Faith and Life: Christmas has no shortage of strains. It’s a holiday that seems perfectly designed for stress—at least, in the way we Westerners celebrate. Family tension has a way of bubbling up with the egg nog, and old arguments never seem to die.

But my prayer is that you aren’t afraid to face the day, and not just face it, but be filled with the mystery of it all. Here is a day to remember our God adding humanity to deity and giving up the sweet spot in heaven to plop Himself into our world. He came because He didn’t hold our sin against us; He wanted to hold it for us.

And when you keep that perspective, family arguments and stress suddenly seem trivial amid the menagerie of hams and yams and red velvet cakes.

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Let Us Worship! - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 27

by Greg Laurie

Let Us Worship!

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
—Matthew 2:2

The very word "Christmas" has been emptied of its meaning, drug through the gutter, and given back to us, minus its power. Some prefer to use the more politically correct terminology at this time of year, like "Happy Holidays," "Merry Xmas," or even "Happy Winter Solstice." But I actually think those things are not as bad as the person who says, "Merry Christmas" with no idea whatsoever of what Christmas really means.

I think we should cancel the version of Christmas that is filled with hype and endless activity leading to exhaustion, the version that gives little to any thought of Christ. We should cancel Christmas and instead celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I still believe in Christmas, but not in the holiday as our culture celebrates it. I believe in the real message of Christmas, which is the birth of our Lord.

Maybe you are bracing yourself for a tough Christmas. Maybe you think Christmas won't be as good this year as it was before. But what if this Christmas were better than any Christmas you have ever experienced, because you have been freed from the pressure of having to get stuff? That could be a really good Christmas. It could actually be the most wonderful Christmas of your life.

The primary message of Christmas is this: God is with us. Isaiah 7:14 tells us, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." Immanuel means, "God is with us."

So the message of the season is not, "Let it snow" or even, "Let us shop." The real message of Christmas is, "Let us worship." That is what the wise men came to do. And that is what we should be doing as well.

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The Greatest Gift of Love - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 26

by Adrian Rogers

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” - John 3:16

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT:

Christmas is spelled L-O-V-E. What is the Christmas message? John 3:16. God gave us the gift of love on Christmas Day.

It is truly said, “What the world needs now is love.” I need it. You need it. Your spouse needs it. Your child needs it. An elderly man or woman sitting alone in a nursing home today needs it. A child abandoned and alone in a children’s home needs it, too.

God sent His one and only Son as the Savior. He knew we couldn’t save ourselves. So He sent His Son to be born in a manger, to die on a cross, to rise again into glory, and to come again to redeem His church.

ACTION POINT:

Where are you spending your Christmas day? Maybe you can spare a few minutes with your family and friends to share His gift of love with someone who is all alone today.


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Christmas is about Your Eternity - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 25

By Rick Warren

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NLT).

Turn on your television or surf the web this Christmas, and you’ll discover all sorts of Christmas messages. But for the One who invented Christmas, there’s only one message that really matters.

God wants to share eternity with you.

That’s what Christmas is all about. You weren’t created just to live 80 or 90 years on Earth and then die. You’re far more valuable than that to God. God has some long-range plans for you. He made you to live forever.

One day your heart will stop. That’ll be the end of your heart, but it won’t be the end of you. You’ll last for eternity — trillions of years! And God wants you to be a part of his family.
He sent Jesus to Earth as a baby so one day he could die for your sins, and then you can spend forever with him.

That’s the great news of Christmas. This offer is available to anyone. The Bible says of Jesus, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NLT).

God wants to spend eternity with you, so he made the way to him simple: You believe, and you receive. You believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, and you receive him into your life. God sent his Son to Earth 2017 years ago to die for you. That’s God’s very first Christmas gift, sent to you thousands of years before you were even born.

Honestly, celebrating Christmas and not receiving the number one gift God has for you is dumb. Do that, and you’re missing the point entirely. Acts 10:35 says, “It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from — if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open” (The Message).

No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you’ve got a place in God’s forever family ready and waiting for you. The invitation is wide open. Just believe and receive.
Are you ready? Here’s a prayer you can start with —

“Dear God, I know that when I die I’m going to give an account of my life to you directly. I confess I have ignored you. I know I have sinned against you, and I have lived by my plan, not yours. I want that to change, starting right now. I want to turn away from my sins toward you.
Thank you for sending Jesus to die for all that I’ve done wrong so that I don’t have to pay the penalty. I know that I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I know that only your grace can save me, Lord. I could never be good enough to get into a perfect place.

Jesus, thank you for loving me so much that you took all my guilt on yourself. You made me acceptable for heaven, and I humbly ask you to save me. I ask you to save me from the sins and the habits that are messing up my life right now. I believe in you, Jesus. And I believe that you will keep your promise to save me instantly and certainly and completely and eternally. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Keeping it Simple - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 23

by Melanie Chitwood

"…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

Devotion:

My excuses for not decorating my home, not cooking a big meal on Christmas day, and not shopping till I dropped were valid ones. Our new business would be opening two weeks after Christmas, and I was working furiously to meet a book deadline. My husband and I had more to do than we had hours in the day.

When December approached, my neck stiffened and my heart skipped beats as I anticipated the stress more activities would bring to our already overstuffed lives. The thought of more clutter, even my favorite Christmas decorations, in our topsy-turvy home with all the undone laundry and crowded kitchen counters about sent me over the edge. So I began to think about how we could eliminate some stress to have a peaceful Christmas.

"Keep it simple" became my catchphrase. With my family's assurance they'd join me with the simple Christmas idea, I gave myself permission not to do it all. I wouldn't say yes to every invitation or fill the calendar every night, and I didn't even send the annual Christmas photo and newsletter. These choices brought me a large measure of peace.

Each family member named some traditions they wanted to keep. We included a live Christmas tree, a wreath on the front door, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, Christmas Eve church service, limited gifts, helping with a toy drive, favorite Christmas movies, and a few get-togethers with good friends. Being more selective about our Christmas traditions brought us less stress and more peace. In addition, because we weren't caught up in the seasonal frenzy, the activities we did include became more meaningful. We were able to focus on what really mattered: time with our family and hearts centered on the birth of Christ.

At the end of Christmas day we agreed that despite the stressors of a new business and meeting my deadline, and despite giving up some of our usual Christmas activities, we hadn't missed out on a thing. Simplicity had given us breathing room and fresh hearts to celebrate the Prince of Peace.

Dear Lord, don't let us miss You this Christmas season. Help us to simplify our activities and traditions so we can focus our celebration on Your birth. Thank You for being the Prince of Peace, and I ask You for that supernatural peace to reign in our hearts. Thank You for the simple but life-changing message of Your love for us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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The Essential Message of Christmas - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 22

by Greg Laurie

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’ ” —Matthew 1:23

At this time of the year, we say, “Merry Christmas.” I prefer that to “Happy Holidays,” but I don’t get confrontational about it. Instead, I want to be gracious. After all, Christmas isn’t always a happy time for everyone. For someone who has lost their job, this is not the most wonderful time of the year, because so much emphasis is placed on a merry Christmas being a materialistic one.

There are also those who have lost loved ones. I am one of those people, and things that once made me happy at this time of year now make me sad. Those things that once brought happiness are now things that bring sadness, because they evoke memories of times we spent together. Therefore, Christmas becomes a difficult time for some.

There are many who are in need of encouragement at this time of year. They don’t need a Christmas present; they need His Christmas presence. They need to be reminded of what this season is all about. It is not about things. It is not about presents.

These things have their place, but we need to remember the essential message of Christmas, which is Immanuel—God is with us. And for the hurting person, the lonely person, the sorrowing person, this is the time of year to bring the gift of encouragement to them and say, “The message of Christmas is: God will be with you. God will help you. God will strengthen you.”

So look for opportunities to share the love of God during this season, because it is a time when we seem to be more open to engaging in conversation with others. Now is a great opportunity for you to bring encouragement to someone who is struggling. Who needs your encouragement today?

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The Christmas Tree - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 21

THE

CHRISTMAS TREE

I KNOW WHO I AM

I am God's child. (John 1:12)

I am Christ's friend. (John 15:15)

I am united with the Lord. (1 Cor. 6:17)

I am bought with a price. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)

I am a personal witness of Christ. (Acts 1:8)

I am the salt & light of the earth. (Matt. 5:13-14)

I am a member of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:27)

I am free forever from condemnation. ( Rom. 8: 1-2)

I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant. (Phil. 3:20)

I am free from any charge against me. (Rom. 8:31 -34)

I am a minister of reconciliation for God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

I have access to God through the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 2:18)

I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 2:6)

I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Rom. 8:35-39)

I am established, anointed, sealed by God. (2 Cor. 1:21- 22)

I am assured all things work together for good. (Rom. 8: 28)
;I have been chosen & appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)
;I belong to God

And that is who He says I am.

How about you?

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make His face shine upon you

and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn His face toward you

and give you peace…”

>Numbers 6:24-26

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM HOMEWORD!

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How Close You Can Get, and Miss it All - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 19

by Discover the Book Ministries:

The saddest story of Christmas is how those closest to Christ's birth completely missed that first Christmas; and that tragedy has continued to this day. You can be so close and yet so far away!

The real purpose of Christmas was shown by God at Christ's birth, God confronted the world with the only gift everyone really needs.

Christmas is about the gift no one seeks but everyone needs.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to save lost people from their sins.

God came to provide the only gift that everyone absolutely, critically needs—the substitutionary death of His Son, who came to meet our critical, eternal-life-threatening need prompted by our sins.

So the gift of Christmas is Christ's work of salvation. That gift involves meeting the critical needs each of us have in our lost, sinful and fallen condition.

Today as we continue to see those elements of salvation that Christ's birth has brought, we do so by asking the question, "How close can someone get to Christ and His gift of Christmas and not be saved?"

The answer is sadly that you can get very close. Missing Jesus and His salvation is seen most vividly in the story of Christmas. Those closest to the coming of Christ were most untouched by it! In both Luke and Matthew's record we find that you can grow up in the shadow of God's Temple, hear God's Word every day of your life, meet the Wise men themselves, explain the Old Testament to them—and still miss everything, if it is not inside your heart and mind.

ACQUAINTANCE vs. KNOWLEDGE

Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came to save us from sin and live within us. Beware of getting so close in every way—but in your heart, to Christ. Beware of being acquainted with Christ but never knowing Him. Webster's Dictionary says that knowledge has three levels: recognition, acquaintance, and experience. Knowing Christ means a personal experience of His grace that leads us to partake of His salvation.

How close can you get to Jesus and still be too far away? That is what the religious leaders of Christ's day demonstrate to us this Christmas. So close they got, and yet so far away they remained. It is possible to be as close as them, and yet miss all that Christ and Christmas have to offer.

Matthew 2 and Luke 1 introduce us the chief priests and scribes, with daily immersion in the Scriptures, endless hours of singing and serving, and constant exposure to all that God had left to point to Him and His salvation—they only held God's Word externally—never in their wills and souls. God was only near in their mouths—and not in their hearts.

Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came to save us from sin and live within us. Beware of getting so close in every way—but in your heart, to Christ. Beware of being acquainted with Christ but never knowing Him.

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A Christmas Prayer for the Merry... and Not-So-Merry - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 18

by Proverbs 31 Ministries

"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!'" Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)

Father God,

We thank You and praise You today for the miracle of Your Son's birth. Thank You for bringing great JOY to the whole world!

Thank You for giving us the assurance that because You came to us in the form of a human, we who believe in Jesus can know with absolute certainty that we'll spend eternity with You.

We thank You, Lord, for the many reasons we have been given a merry Christmas. And we rejoice for each blessing. New life. New love. A home. A job. New opportunities. Second chances. And more.

We know, Lord, that You bring the sun and the moon and set the stars in motion. You tell the ocean where to stop and the snow when to start. And we thank You for the mighty gift of Your creation.

Thank You, Father, for spiritual leaders and faith-filled friends who keep encouraging us when we are close to giving up.

And although we have many reasons to rejoice today, Lord, we also know December 25th can be not-so-merry for a whole host of reasons. We pray for those who are experiencing loss this Christmas: relational, financial, spiritual and physical.

We pray for those who are coping with loving a prodigal and our friends and family members whose hearts are far from You. We pray for those dealing with unemployment and addictions and chronic sickness ... and unending pain and frustrations of all kinds. Thank You, Lord, that You are The Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, even in the midst of our not-so-merry circumstances.

Finally, Lord, we ask You to grant us peace. Peace in our homes, peace in our churches, and peace in our hearts, when the world all around us spins out-of-control.

Help us to stay focused on You, this Christmastime and always. Thank You for loving the whole world enough to send the greatest gift, Your Son, so that we might truly have a very merry Christmas.

In Jesus' Name,
Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:

John 3:16, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (NLT)

Luke 2:10, "But the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.'" (NLT)

1 John 5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (NIV)

Psalm 95:1-2, "Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song." (NIV)

Job 38:8-11, "Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, 'This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!'" (NLT)

Psalms 72:12-14, "He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him." (NLT)

Isaiah 9:6, "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." (NIV)

1 Thessalonians 5:23, "Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again." (NLT)

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What Christmas is About - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 17

by Greg Laurie

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. —Isaiah 9:7

As we look at our world today, we realize that part of the promise of Isaiah 9:6–7 has not yet been fulfilled. The Son has been given. The Child has been born. But He has not yet taken the government upon His shoulders. We do not yet have peace with judgment and justice. But the good news is that there will come a day when Christ will return. He will establish His kingdom on this earth. And it will be the righteous rule of God himself.

Before Jesus could take the government upon His shoulder, He had to take the cross upon His shoulder. Before He could wear the crown of glory as King of Kings, He had to wear the shameful crown of thorns and give His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The first time, a star marked His arrival. But the next time He comes, the heavens will roll back like a scroll, all of the stars will fall from the sky, and He himself will light it.

Christ came to this earth. God came near to you so you can come near to Him—to give your life purpose and meaning, to forgive you of your sins, and to give you the hope of heaven beyond the grave. Christmas is not about tinsel or shopping or presents. Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. Rather, Christmas is about the gift that was given on the tree when Christ died there for our sins and gave us the gift of eternal life.

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His Name is Wonderful - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 15

by Family Life Ministries

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Certain verses of Scripture leap to our minds as we draw close to Christmas. In the majestic titles of Jesus found in the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6, we find Him to be everything we need. We find Him not only the "reason for the season" but the name that should be on our lips every day as God puts us in touch with others over the Christmas holidays.

Who doesn't need to know the Wonderful Counselor? Who doesn't need to know this One who can offer advice when they are facing a difficult situation? This One who has the answers for their marriage and family dilemmas?

Who doesn't need to know the Mighty God? You certainly know people who are dealing with a rebellious teenager or an aging parent or a sick child or an impossible job situation. When was the last time you told them how strong the arms of your God are? Perhaps you need to be reminded of how mighty God is by reading Isaiah 40.

Who doesn't need to know the Eternal Father? Who doesn't need the sense of hope that comes from knowing that—although we may suffer for a while—we have a God who dwells in eternity, which means that there is more to life than what we see around us?

Who doesn't need to know the Prince of Peace? In a culture of road rage and long lines and short fuses, with strained relationships and simmering discontentment, who isn't starving for deeper, more-lasting peace? Who doesn't need to know why even the most desirable possessions and experiences leave them feeling unsatisfied? Who doesn't need a peace that passes understanding? Who doesn't need more of the Prince of Peace and His peace in their home?

This Christmas, be watching for people who need to know Jesus for who He is.

DISCUSS

Which of the above names most needs to be celebrated this Christmas season in your marriage and family?

PRAY

Pray for more opportunities to share Christ's love with others while Christmas has them more open than usual.

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Don't Miss Christmas! - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 14

by Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16, NIV).

Friend to Friend

The Christmas rush is on! I know many of you are still looking for the perfect gift, wrapping presents, baking your famous sugar cookies, packing the car for a long trip and wrestling with overly excited children. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Stop right where you are! Take a deep breath and travel back with me to a time when there was no hope and no celebration. I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and yet, many times I live my life as if He doesn’t even exist. A trial comes and I try to handle it on my own. Loneliness floods my heart and instead of reaching out to Him, I withdraw into the darkness.

He then interrupts my life and fills each black corner with Light. His love flows over the pain like a soothing balm and once again, I experience the manger. Once again, He steps into the smelly, unlikely and very ordinary existence that is mine to change everything – everything!

Jesus could have come to us in many ways, but He chose to interrupt the very ordinary with the most extraordinary. He could have chosen to be born in a palace. After all, He was a King. Yet His life on earth began in a manger housed in what amounted to little more than a dirty, smelly barn. The simplicity of His birth is one of His most precious gifts to me, and one of my most profound life lessons.

I often wish I had been there that holy night when Jesus was born, but then He reminds me that I have my own manger; my own holy moment when God became a reality to me, and I worship Him!

Every year I am reminded of the very heart of Christmas -- Emmanuel, God with us. God wants to be involved in the simple, ordinary happenings of daily life: where we go and what we do, the smile we give the harried stranger and the patience we exhibit in the crowd of impatient shoppers, the love that prompts the secret gift and the heart that constantly celebrates His birth through every sparkling light, every beautifully wrapped gift, each special meal, every card, phone call and visit.

Join me in this quest to celebrate Him and His birth in everything we do. Have a birthday party for Jesus. Bake Him a huge cake and invite neighbors to join in the celebration. Adopt a family in need. Reach out to the lonely. Look for Him in the crowd. Emmanuel, God with us! Wow!

Let’s Pray

Father, today I celebrate the reality of Your presence in my life. I celebrate Your birth, Your life, Your death and Your resurrection. And as I celebrate, Lord, help me to be “God with skin on” to those in need around me. Open my eyes and let me see them as You see them! I love You. Happy Birthday, Jesus!
In Jesus’s name, amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

Put your faith in action by making a step-by-step plan to keep Jesus at the heart of your Christmas season. Give a gift to someone you don’t know. Invite a needy family into your home for a special “Friends” dinner. Go through your closet and give the clothes you don’t wear to those who have no clothes.

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When Your Heart Grows 3 Sizes - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 10

by Jim Liebelt

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

In Dr. Seuss's classic Christmas tale, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch suffers from having a small heart. The source of his heart problem is his lack of understanding the meaning of Christmas. As the story goes, the Grinch tries to put a stop to Christmas, but in the end, he comes to understand what Christmas is all about and his heart grows three sizes! This heart change makes a big difference in his life.

I'm not sure what Dr. Seuss' intentions were when he wrote the story back in 1957, but it certainly comes across as a Christian parable to me that parallels the change that takes place in a person's life when he or she comes to understand the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus, God's Son, who was born to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). When the light of the Good News of Jesus dawns upon the heart of a person, God replaces the old heart of stone, with a new, fleshy heart - and a new person emerges.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"Welcome Christmas - While we stand - Heart to heart - And hand in hand." It might just make all the difference in the world.

Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

(from O Little Town of Bethlehem)

We celebrate Christmas because of the power Jesus brought to change our hearts.
Going Deeper:

Give an example of a time when you changed your mind about something.
How did the words or actions of others influence your change of heart?

Towards the end of the story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," what happened that caused the Grinch to change his mind about Christmas? What lessons might we learn from the story?

How has understanding the true meaning of Christmas made a difference in your life?

Family Time: Gather your family together and watch the classic half-hour Christmas cartoon,

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Then, using the content above, lead your family in a discussion about how Jesus has the power to change our hearts.

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Show Your Joy to the World - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 8

By KAREN EHMAN

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV)

When you think of the phrase, “Christmas is coming!” … what sort of emotion does it evoke?

It might be any one of these:

Panic: I only have three more Saturdays of shopping before Christmas. I’m never going to get it all done!

Frustration: Ugh. There are so many activities this month. We are going to be running all over the place with very little time to just be together as a family at home, enjoying each other’s company.

Regret: Why did I say we’d host the family get-together? Now I have to straighten and scrub this place from top to bottom AND make the dessert I signed up to provide, as if I didn’t already have enough to do this month.

Envy: I noticed on Facebook the gorgeous holiday decorations my co-worker has in her home. They look like they are straight from an HGTV Christmas special. Our place looks like we bought ours from the clearance bin at the local secondhand store.

So many sentiments can invade our hearts and minds. But these emotions don’t stay there.

Often, they weasel their way into our behavior. We appear distracted when talking with a friend. Our frustration morphs into hurry as we frantically try to get it all done. Our regret makes us a grumpy and ungracious hostess. Our envy leads to ungratefulness and can prevent us from experiencing the joy that should come from the whole reason for the celebration of Christmas in the first place.

Are these the attitudes we want on display during the month of December? Or should we choose the attitude reflected in the old familiar hymn, Joy to the World?

Joy.

The emotion that ought to be deeply experienced during the Christmas season — and, in turn, displayed in our behavior — should be joy. Today’s key verse states, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. ”

This verse declares that our reaction to the salvation God freely offers — which began when Jesus came into the world as a baby that very first Christmas — should be that rejoicing.

In this Old Testament verse, the word translated for rejoice actually means “to exult, to go about or to be excited to levity.” What a stark contrast to the emotions we usually display during the yuletide season!

But what if we tried to take our roller coaster of emotions to God, asking Him to replace them with joy instead? If we choose to consciously thank God for the indescribable gift of salvation through Jesus, perhaps we could learn to recapture the joy of Christmas. And not just to feel it in our hearts, but to go about during the season, excited to the point of levity, exulting God in the process.

The word exult means “to leap for joy,” and it’s usually connected with a triumph of some kind. Through Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, He triumphed over death. We need not fear the future because of the miracle of Christmas. If we have responded to the gospel — the good news about Jesus offering us salvation — we too can experience a victory over the grave and dwell with God forever in heaven someday. What a reason to rejoice!

Today, let’s chase down some Christmas cheer. But not just keep it to ourselves. Parking our minds on the truth of salvation through Jesus helps us show joy to the world during the Christmas season. A spotless house and homemade fruitcake are optional.

Father, may my mind dwell this season on the incredible gift of salvation through Jesus that is the source of all joy in this life and the life to come. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:

Psalm 89:15-16, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.” (NIV)

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How You Can Have 'A Wonderful Life' - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 7

PowerPoint Living: by Pastor Jack Graham

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

One thing I love about this time of year is the traditions we have in our family. One of them is sitting down to watch the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. You may have seen it, but it’s about this fellow named George Bailey who grows up in a small town and has great dreams and aspirations of seeing the world and making lots of money.

But through a series of circumstances that he couldn’t control, George never could get out of that little one-horse town. Every time he tried, something happened to keep him there. And to top it off, through a mistake one day it appeared that he would be sent to jail.

He was ready to end it all when an angel came to show him what the world would be like if he’d never been born. And George Bailey came to understand that even though he didn’t get to achieve his dreams, he did have a wonderful life that impacted many more people than he realized.

I’m convinced there is a little George Bailey in all of us. We want to achieve significance on a huge scale and often forget the small ways that our lives have deeply impacted those around us. Thank God for where He’s placed you and the people you’ve been able to impact. And one day when you meet the Lord, you’ll realize you really did have a wonderful life.

THANK GOD FOR THE LIFE YOU’RE LIVING AND IMPACT OTHERS HE’S PLACED AROUND YOU!

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An Advent Prayer to Our Prince of Peace - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 6

by Lisa Appelo

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him -- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD.” Isaiah 11:1-2 [NIV]

This passage talks about stumps and shoots. We have several big oak trees in our yard and when one of them started endangering the house, we had it cut all the way down to a stump. A few months later? New green shoots with glossy green leaves began growing right out of that stump.



That’s the picture that the prophet Isaiah uses. Seven hundred years before Jesus was ever born, Isaiah prophesied that a Messiah would come from the root of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, an ancestor of both Mary and Joseph. While nearly all of King David’s royal line would be wiped out, God promised a Messiah would come from the stump of Jesse.

Out of what looked like a dead royal line -- when a pagan, Roman government rather than a Hebrew king ruled over Israel -- God brought about that new shoot: the Messiah – Jesus.

Jesus, didn’t rule like King David with an earthly palace or majestic throne or royal robes conquering enemy nations through a mighty army. Instead, Jesus came in poverty and humility, to reveal a heavenly kingdom and to conquer the curse of sin through his own death.

Advent Prayer:

O Father, we praise you that before the foundation of the world You chose Jesus, our Messiah, to come to earth and show us the Way to the heavenly kingdom and to be the Way to the heavenly kingdom. We thank you for making room for us who are redeemed in Your heavenly Kingdom.

Jesus, we worship you as King of Kings and Lord of lords. You are my King. You have rule over my heart and my life, my thoughts and time and goals. I bow to You only and give you full and free reign over my life. Help me not to grip anything so tightly that I am unwilling to release it to You. You are a just King; our Prince of Peace. Help me to desire Your kingdom above that of my own making and bow to Your will above my own.

Holy Spirit, lead me in the ways of the heavenly kingdom. Teach me wisdom from above and guide me in truth. Help me to have eyes that see and ears that hear all that God has for me. Help me to know the Lord, to fully understand His might, to fear turning away from Him and to know His grace.

We love you Lord. With all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength we love you. We lavish you with our worship. We come to adore You today. Amen.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

*adapted from Countdown to Christmas: Unwrap the Real Christmas Story with Your Family in 15 Days.

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Why Bethlehem? - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 4

by John Piper

Bethlehem is scarcely worth counting among the clans of Judah, yet God chooses to bring his magnificent Messiah out of this town. Why? One answer is that the Messiah is of the lineage of David and David was a Bethlehemite.

That's true, but it misses the point of verse two. The point of verse two is that Bethlehem is small--not that it is great because David was born there. (That's what the scribes missed in Matthew 2:6). God chooses something small, quiet, out of the way, and does something there that changes the course of history and eternity.

Why? Because when he acts this way we can't boast in the merits or achievements of men but only in the glorious mercy of God. We can't say, "Well, of course he set his favor on Bethlehem, look at the human glory Bethlehem has achieved!" All we can say is, "God is wonderfully free; he is not impressed by our bigness; he does nothing in order to attract attention to our accomplishments; he does everything to magnify his glorious freedom and mercy." ...

God chose a stable so no innkeeper could boast, "He chose the comfort of my inn!" God chose a manger so that no wood worker could boast, "He chose the craftsmanship of my bed!" He chose Bethlehem so no one could boast, "The greatness of our city constrained the divine choice!" And he chose you and me, freely and unconditionally, to stop the mouth of all human boasting. This is the point of Romans 11 and this is the point of Micah 5.

The deepest meaning of the littleness and insignificance of Bethlehem is that God does not bestow the blessings of the Messiah--the blessings of salvation--on the basis of our greatness or our merit or our achievement. He does not elect cities or people because of their prominence or grandeur or distinction. When he chooses he chooses freely, in order to magnify the glory of his own mercy, not the glory of our distinctions. So let us say with the angels, "Glory to God in the highest!" Not glory to us. We get the joy. He gets the glory.

Excerpted from "From Little Bethlehem Will Come a Ruler in Israel" by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org.

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The Thrill of Hope - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 2

by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Managing Editor

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

"A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." ~~ O Holy Night

Does Christmas thrill you?

Children get excited at the coming of the season, and often we might feel a bit of a charge through experiencing their amazement, but the chores we go through to provide that for them are often the very things that rob us from knowing the wonder for ourselves. Plan the party, trim the tree, max out the MasterCard, wrap, ship, take a trip. And that's assuming we aren't one of the multitudes who find themselves with a case of the Holiday Blues.

So if Christ's coming into this world offers hope, and hope, as the song says, provides a thrill, how do we locate that experience amid the distraction and disillusionment of December?

Well that's the cool thing about Hope. Just as total darkness can't hold back the light of a tiny flame, so does even the smallest increment of Hope provide joy and purpose.

Here are a few scriptures I've been mulling over on the subject:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

Notice the parallel between "things hoped for" and "things not seen." Talk about a paradox; try applying "assurance" to something your five senses can't detect. It's a challenge. The plus side is that hope, through Christ, is available to you no matter what you see, hear, or feel. It's above your circumstances.

"We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance [brings about]proven character; and proven character [brings about] hope; and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).

Do you ever hear people say, "I don't want to get my hopes up" because they're afraid of being disappointed? What would you make of Paul's claim that "hope does not disappoint"? Might the disconnect have something to do with what we're hoping for or expecting? Max Lucado thinks so:

"Hope is not what you'd expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbable tale with a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming ending… Hope is not a granted wish or a favor performed; no, it is far greater than that. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks and be there in the flesh to see our reaction."[1]

"Love… hopes all things…but now abide faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:7,13).

Ever wonder why faith, hope, and love are the greatest virtues, and apparently in that order?

Maybe hope isn't actually something we do, but something we receive, like grace. If it's true that "without faith it is impossible for us to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6), perhaps it's conversely true that without Hope it would be impossible for Him to please us. The same verse says that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Is hope that reward?

I mean, if faith is what we give to God, and hope is what He gives to us, then we have the dynamic of a relationship. With that in place, we can love. So love is built on hope, which is built on faith.

For hope to exist, unfortunately it looks like there has to be hopelessness first. A perfect world wouldn't have any need of hope. Deliverance arrives undeservedly and perhaps unexpectedly, just as in the unlikely way God came to earth to provide a once-and-for-all substitute for the sins of all men on the first Christmas. That's why things can look bleak, but that's where hope lives.

The good news is: you simply can't hope big enough, which goes back to the idea of our minds and senses being inadequate to judge God's design and methods, and hope being more a function of God's involvement than our desires. I readily acknowledge I could not have conceived of the plan of salvation or the virgin birth. I couldn't have imagined the plan for the walls of Jericho to crumble, for hungry lions to turn into Daniel's pet kittens, or the Red Sea to part and offer up dry land. So neither do I know how my problems will be solved, or what miracles I'll be blessed to see this Christmas.

Isaiah 9:6-7 concerns the hope of the prophecy being fulfilled that brought us a "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace." The last sentence of verse seven says it's "the zeal of the Lord" that will accomplish this. God is excited! He's zealous (enthusiastic, passionate, obsessive even) to bring us this hope!

Romans 15:13 is my Christmas prayer: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Why is there hope? Because Jesus was born. O holy night. What a thrill. God is at work.

Intersecting Faith & Life:

What does hope out of despair look like? There are lots of examples in any Christian's life, but in terms of contemporary cinema, I know of no better example than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go back and watch those movies again over the holidays, keeping an eye out for allusions to hope and hopelessness.

Further Reading

Isaiah 9:6-7

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The Origin of Christmas - Christmas Devotional - December 1

By Senior Living Ministries

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. --Luke 2:11

When Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today? And when Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in American in 1832, who would have ever thought that decorations would become as glamorous as they are today?

Even before these two events that shaped what Christmas means today for most, there was a bright, special star that lit the dark night thousands of years ago letting the world know that Jesus the King was born. Usually, we don't celebrate historical figures as children, but in the case of Christ, it is appropriate.

When Christ was born, shepherds came to honor Him, wise men from the East brought Him gifts, and the earth rejoiced at His birth. These people who came to worship Him had no idea what Christ would accomplish as an adult. But they were right in traveling to worship the King because His birth was the most remarkable event in human history. Wise men and women today worship not only the Child of Bethlehem, but the Christ of Calvary.

As we approach the holiday season again, we are faced with yet another opportunity to pause in the midst of all the excitement, decorations, and commercialization, to consider again the origin of Christmas--the One whose birth we celebrate. Let's not forget the true meaning of why we celebrate during this time of year. Celebrate the baby Jesus and trust Him as Savior today.

PRAYER CHALLENGE: Thank God for sending His Son that glorious night to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, die on the cross for your sins, and rise from the dead three days later to give you eternal life through Him.

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The Reality of Immanuel - Christmas Devotional- November 30

by Jill & Stuart Briscoe

"How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, His precepts!" —Benjamin Franklin

I have to be honest, I really do love the holiday called Christmas. Our church is a beehive of activity. Our home is a menagerie of laughter and friends and family. I love the food. I love the decorations. I love the way Christmas smells. And who can argue with a couple of cool presents under the tree with my name on it!? Not a bad way to observe Someone's birthday.

Yes, the holiday works for me… IF I stay mindful of the core precept behind its observance AND if I'm willing to put that precept into practice. In that sense, Christmas is really just another day. It’s one more special day to revel in the wonderful mystery of Emmanuel, God with us. The fact is, God is with us, and the command given to Joshua is the command to us as well:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." —Joshua 1:9

So yeah, I’m looking forward to the holiday. It's another day to release my battles and my fears and my self-righteousness. It’s just another day to embrace the incredible love of God and celebrate the reality of His presence in my life. Yes, Emmanuel, “God is with us.” That truth makes every day a celebration!

Jesus, thank you for this holiday. I praise You for one more day to experience the promise of Your presence. Because You are in me, I trust You to be strong; I trust You to be my courage. Thank you that You are with me wherever I go. Amen

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