Friday, November 25, 2016

Advent 2016

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Note: This is a re-post from last year with some editing.  I am currently discerning about doing some additional posts looking at Jesus’ birth prophesied in the Old Testament, so there may be some additional posts in the coming weeks.

*A special time of year is upon us—the season of Advent.  This week’s post will serve as an introduction to my series on Advent.  Be watching for an additional post on Christmas Day (unless the Lord leads me differently).

Advent is considered the beginning of the church year.  “The word Advent means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’.  The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his [sic] First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his [sic] Second Advent.”[1]

This year (2016) Advent starts on Sunday, November 27, and concludes four weeks later on Christmas Eve.  It is at this time of year that we celebrate Jesus’ first coming while looking forward to His second coming.  It is a time of preparation and expectation.  It is a time to quiet ourselves and to ponder exactly what it was that Jesus did for us.  (Realize that Jesus did not have to come but He did!)   

Banner at Trinty UMC Albia, IA, Photo credit: D. Wright

While you are making preparations for Christmas, remember who and what you are really celebrating.  Remember the Reason for the Season!  If Jesus had not come to earth—to live and walk among us, to die a horrendous criminals’ death on the cross, and to rise again—the world would be a much different place.  I certainly would not be at my computer composing posts like this!  Life would be even more out of control!

God sent His Son into this suffering and evil world as an innocent infant, to grow up and live a completely sinless life.  And though He was not guilty of any wrongdoing, He died the death of a common criminal.  The reason for all of this was so Jesus could take upon Himself the punishment you and I deserve for our sins by dying in our place.  He did this because He loved us, sinful though we are.  But Jesus’ story doesn’t end at the grave.  He rose from the dead and rules in Heaven today.

And now, He reaches out to you, offering new life and hope.  Right now, you can accept those gifts.  You can invite Him to come into your life and your heart.  His love can bring you a new life of peace and joy.  All you must do is confess your sins to God, receive His forgiveness and by faith accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord.  That’s the true meaning of Christmas—a miracle of God’s love given to the world 2,000 years ago.  Why not receive that gift of love for yourself today?  It is the best gift you will ever receive.[2]

Trinity UMC--Albia, Iowa--Photo Credit D. Wright

As we prepare to welcome the Christ child again, spend some time reflecting on what Christ’s birth means to you. 

What does Christ’s birth mean to you?  How are you preparing to celebrate His birth?

Consider reaching out to those who are spending their first Christmas without a loved one.  It will be a sad, difficult time.  Simply being a quiet presence—ready and available to listen—will be a blessing for many people.  

Banner at Trinity UMC--Albia, Iowa--Photo credit: D. Wright

Please do not forget your single friends, family, neighbors, or those in your church who will be alone on Christmas Day—consider inviting them to join with your family (no matter how simple and informal the gathering is)—the blessings will flow both ways!  Whatever you do, please do not tell them, “Oh, God is with you…” and then walk off, ignoring their hurting heart and heart-felt desire to fellowship with others on Christmas Day.  Your family may be the only family they will get to experience…EVER.  My prayer is that churches will not cancel services on Christmas Day—to do so is to miss the point of the day entirely!   

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Father, reveal Yourself to us as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the first coming of Your Son, so long ago.  May we be the voice in our wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.  Thank You for the gift of Your Son.  As we welcome Him; we also eagerly anticipate His second coming.  Remind us to focus on the real reason for the Season.  Help us to not miss You and those around us who are in need in our busyness and our focus on our family or on ourselves.  We pray for Your comfort to surround those grieving the loss of loved ones during this season, as well as for those who are walking a difficult journey due to illness, job loss, and more, may they truly feel your presence in a special way.  Show us where we need to be Your love with skin on.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


[1] From article on Advent by Dennis Bratcher
[2] From December 2005 church newsletter (Knoxville First UMC), written by Pastor Neil Montz

Friday, November 18, 2016


“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;”
(Ephesians 1:15-16 KJV)

Note:  This is a revised post from November 20, 2015.

During my graduate school years, I presented a variety of programs in my residence hall and at the Wesley Foundation, one of my favorite programs to present on was the topic of thankfulness—at one point I had several versions.  I attempted to present this program around Thanksgiving or shortly before finals—a very busy and stressful time for students!  A time when it is hard to be thankful! 

The programs were not elaborate or even all that time consuming; they were focused on being thankful (thinking about things, places, and people we were thankful for).  Due to the hectic and stressful nature of being a college student it was easy to lose focus on what really mattered and to be thankful for the important things and people (no matter how small) in life. 

Life continues to be hectic, even after college and graduate school; it is so easy to get distracted by unimportant things and lose sight of what—and especially—who really matters.  For many of us, we are blessed beyond measure and have so much more than most of the world, yet it is easy to forget that in the workaday world.

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Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 
(Psalm 100:4 KJV)

Those of us, who have Jesus as Savior and Lord, should be among the most thankful people in the world.  In Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sins and have a multitude of blessings.  Yet, sometimes, we forget just how much the Lord has given us and has done for us.     

 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.  
(Psalm 116:17 KJV)

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Consider taking some time during this busy holiday season (and every day of the year) to reflect on what and who you are thankful for—you may even want to let people who you are thankful for know it! 

Have fun with it!  I imagine that your perspective on life will change, if you are persistent about doing this. 

What are you thankful for today?

Try listing at least three things you are thankful for each day until the end of the year.  It is fine to be thankful for the simplest of things in your life.  Then read back through them and rejoice.  In 2015 I wrote down three things each day that I was thankful for; this year I have been writing down three to five things I am thankful for each day (and some times more).  It is an interesting exercise.

Please join with me in prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for all the things and people in our lives.  In Your Word we learn that we are to be thankful in all things but not for all things.  Help us to change our perspective so that we realize just how much we do have to be thankful for; we have so much in abundance compared to many places throughout the world.  Remind us that all we have is from You.  Help us to remember to count our blessings daily and particularly when we are busy or under a lot of stress.  In our busy lives remind us to not take people or You for granted; encourage us to place others ahead of ourselves, serving them in the name of Jesus.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


Dear Readers, I would like to wish you and your families a blessed Thanksgiving.  Enjoy and celebrate all of God’s richest blessings during this season of thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2016

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) 2016

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.  
(Hebrews 13:3 KJV)


Twenty years ago the International Day of Pray for the Persecuted Church started—it is generally focused on the first Sunday of November (and occasionally the second Sunday of November per my research, see for more information).  Since the reality of Christian persecution is very real—a daily reality in many parts of the world; I cannot ignore it—thus why I am spending two weeks on this difficult but important topic.  For last week’s post, please click here:  Christian Persecution.

If you are interested in hearing a five minute testimony of what persecution looks like, I encourage you to watch this year’s Voice of the Martyrs’ video Hannelie.  It is worth the time it takes to watch.  May Hannelie’s testimony encourage you as it did me.

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries:  which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
(Philippians 1:27-30 KJV)

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in many areas—Asia (North Korea and China to name two), Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union—need our prayers daily.  They are paying a steep price because of Jesus; they have counted the cost and paid the price.  They see it as an honor to suffer for Christ.  What does it look like for you to count the cost of following Jesus?  What have you forsaken; what have you left behind?

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.  
(Isaiah 54:17 KJV)


But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 
(Philippians 3:7-8 KJV)

It seems to me that people who accept Jesus in areas where to do so means a death sentence know what it means (in a way that we cannot not begin to truly understand) to count the cost of following Jesus.  Keep in mind, the cost of following Jesus is real even without persecution.  I have posted on this topic in the past, please see Counting the Cost.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  
(Romans 8:28 KJV)

Learning, early on, to cling to Jesus—to abide in Him and He in us; to abide in the Word and to allow the Word to abide in us (memorization) should be helpful when persecution comes (or even just opposition) for following Jesus.  Like Daniel (1:8), we must decide now what we will do when persecution comes.  Where will you place your allegiance?  Will you pledge allegiance to the Lamb or will you pledge allegiance to the world?

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.  
(1 Peter 4:12-19 KJV)

In studying the Scriptures earlier this year, I noticed that Scriptures seem to indicate persecution will happen, if we live for Christ as we should.

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And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.  
(1 Peter 3:13-22 KJV)


American Christians seem to be hiding their heads in the sand regarding the persecution of their brothers and sisters in Jesus, disregarding the reality of so many; thereby, refusing to even want to consider the possibility that one day they may face the exact same reality.  Persecution purifies and strengthens (or it can) Christians to live for Jesus.  The remnant that withstands persecution is stronger than before—the Scriptures are clear—persecution strengthens and grows the Church rather than killing it.   

As we pray for our brothers and sisters in chains (Hebrews 13:3) let us prepare ourselves to face the unthinkable.  While persecution is not pleasant to read or think about or even consider, denying its reality is not wise either.

Hopefully, we will never face persecution.  However, I am feeling nudged about getting prepared now, “just in case”.  After all, those of us who live in the Midwest tend to stock up on food and supplies prior to blizzards!

How can you prepare yourself for difficult days ahead?  Where have you placed your allegiance?

*No matter what happens can you say it is well with my soul?*  I encourage you to listen to following worship video:

Please join with me in prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the testimonies and tenacious faith of our brothers and sisters in Jesus; their stories are difficult to read or watch, yet they inspire us to live more fully sold out for You.  For those who are in prison for their faith strengthen and encourage them with Your felt presence.  Bolster their faith and witness as they face torture and unspeakable cruelty.  Illuminate their light—the light Jesus—in the darkest of places, showing their captors Jesus.  Let them know we are standing with them and are praying for them.  Comfort and protect their families who are suffering far more than we grasp.  Teach us through their witness how we are to live for You and even die for You.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


Friday, November 4, 2016

Christian Persecution 2016

Note: What follows is an edited post from 2013 and 2015.  May we always remember our brothers and sisters who worship in closed or restricted countries!  I am tentatively planning to have at least one more post on persecution in the weeks ahead.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016, is International Day for the Persecuted Church (an alternative date I have seen also states November 13.  Will you please remember in prayer those who worship the Lord in the face of great loss, great persecution?  For more information on International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and general information on the persecuted church see: 

“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory…”  (1 Peter 1:8 KJV)

Peter’s words must have brought some comfort and encouragement to the early Gentile Christians.  These Christians were facing extreme persecution under the Roman government led by Emperor Nero.  This persecution has not ended; it continues on today.

The following passages from Hebrews should be encouraging to every Christian, but especially encouraging to those enduring unimaginable hardship due to the name of Jesus. 

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.   For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.   But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.  
(Hebrews 11: 13-16 KJV)

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Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.   For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.   Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.  
(Hebrews 12:1-4 KJV)

Currently throughout the world there are many countries where to be a Christian is a death sentence or at least a guarantee to lose home, employment, family, and so much more.  In the face of all this—men, women, and children demonstrate great faith in their Savior—Jesus Christ.  

At this point, in America we have it fairly easy—we can worship freely and without fear.  How has that affected our faith?  Do we have the faith that would sustain us, even if that freedom was taken away?  Some day, we may find ourselves in a very similar situation to our brothers and sisters in Christ in places like North Korea and China, to name two.


I believe we can learn much from our Christian brothers and sisters in the persecuted church.  They know what it means to rejoice in the face of things that are not joyful.  Learn about them and from them.  Remember to pray for those who are suffering all because they refuse to turn from Jesus.   

What about us…?  What would Peter say to us, to encourage us in our Christian walk?  Do we love and believe in Jesus?  Do we rejoice with joy unspeakable?  May we be found faithful!  

How will we respond one day when to claim the name of Jesus will cost us everything?  May we be found faithful!

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Father, we love You and believe in You, even though we do not see You.  Open our eyes and hearts to Your presence among us.  It is because of You that we can rejoice—rejoice in all things and glory in Your name.  We lift up to You our brothers and sisters in Christ, who cannot worship freely but worship knowing that it may cost them their lives; grant them Your peace and love and protection.  Lord, prepare us who currently worship in safety and freedom to one day lose that freedom—strengthen us to stand strong in our faith, counting the cost worth it.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,