Rejoice in Everything- Advent 2022

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Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever.

The words of this beloved hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” written by Charles Wesley, are ones of rejoicing. This advent season, I have been diving into this hymn in my Bible study, and it has truly gotten me so excited. Excited to once again celebrate the first coming of Christ and rejoicing in the soon return of our great King, Jesus.  

If you are feeling like your current situation is going to swallow you up and there is no life line to reach for, take heart because Jesus reigns. Christmas is a time to remember that God tells us to rejoice in the good times, and the not-so-good times. We rejoice as we remember that while we were still sinners, God sent his Son to us as a baby to save us all. He didn’t put restrictions on this exchange but extends it freely to all who believe.  

1 Chronicles 16:31
Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!” 

Regardless of  our circumstances, we can choose to unwrap the gift of rejoicing in the promises that are ours in Jesus.

Questions:
What are you worried about as Christmas approaches?

What are you excited for?

Do you find it hard or easy to rejoice this time of year?

Next Steps:
Play “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” and journal about what the words mean to you.

Spend some time making a list of the things you are thankful for in your life.  

Prayer:
I thank you, Lord, for this magical season during which I get to once again remember all that you have done. Please open my heart to see the hope you have set before me. Open my eyes to those who are in need around me, and help me take action. Thank you for the grace and mercy you extend to me every second of my day. Amen.

Parent resources:
Read Luke 2:21 together as a family. Jesus’ name means “The Lord is salvation!” Spend some time praying as a family thanking God for giving us Jesus, the best gift of all!


This post was written by April Willer, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Advent 2022

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Here we are—three days before Christmas! Are you finding it to be the Most Wonderful Time  of the Year

I have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child and adolescent. My family of five sang together in one of the best choirs in the Toledo area. We had a skilled, adventurous choir director, paid lead vocalists, and we were often accompanied by members of the Toledo orchestra. We always had a wide variety of Christmas music to learn and perform, up to the grand finale on Christmas Eve at 11 PM. It was so much fun, and the music was very special! We always sang “Silent Night” at the close of the service, and our lead soprano floated a beautiful harmony that came from high above the candle-lit sanctuary.  It really was, in my memory, the most wonderful time of the year.

I know that not everyone has such precious memories of Christmas. In fact, my own children might say their memories aren’t quite so great. My mostly intact family broke apart when I was in my early 20s, which led to lots of chaos. We still made an attempt to gather together for the holidays, but our time had lost its wonder. As hard as I tried (and sadly, sometimes I didn’t try very hard), I struggled to find that wonder again.

So how did I  get it back? Through Jesus! 

After trying to make myself happy for 20 years, I finally returned to Jesus. Taking the focus off of me, I returned to celebrate our God, who is with us.

Matthew 1:23
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel,  which means ‘God is with us.’”

This is such wonderful news! God loved us enough to send his Word, his Son, Jesus to save us. He chose to communicate with us through Jesus so that we could, perhaps, comprehend the depth of his enduring love for us! The names of Jesus found in Scripture give us so many things to celebrate about him!

Isaiah 9:6
For a child is born to us,    a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! And praise be to God, the government will rest on his shoulders!!! These names and promises are for us as believers! And so we should be gloriously thankful for Jesus, the most wonderful gift ever!

2 Corinthians 9:15
Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!

It is my prayer for you this Christmas season that you take the time in all the busyness and rush that consumes our energy to contemplate the wonder of this gift. I pray that you take time to praise and thank God for all he has given you. And in that space, I pray you open your heart in worship and joy for our wonderful, amazing, generous God.

Questions:
Has the wonder of Christmas been lost for you? Or perhaps you never had it. What can you do to get it (back)? What can you celebrate this Christmas, regardless of your circumstances?

Next Steps:
With family or friends, or by yourself, light a candle and listen to some classic Christmas music. Make space to wonder about God’s greatest gift, maybe thinking about what it means to be a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace. Share those thoughts with someone or write them in your journal. 

Prayer:   
Good and generous God, we are so grateful for the wonderful gift of Jesus! Especially at this time of year, we pray for a deeper understanding of the love that came down for us long ago. We celebrate the birth of our Savior and we desire to make space in our hearts for him. We pray, “Precious Savior, Love divine. Dwell within this heart of mine. Tear down every idol throne. Reign supreme and reign alone.” Let our lives reflect the glory of your coming, so that others are drawn to you this Christmas season. Amen.

Parent resource:     
Read Luke 2:20 together as a family. What’s the biggest thing you want to thank God for right now (In addition to Jesus!) Share with each other and give God a giant round of applause.


This post was written by Lauri White. Lauri is one of the 25 people that God used to start CedarCreek in the Fall of 1995, and was on staff until 2013. Lauri loves Jesus, and loves helping people, especially women, live out of the truth about who we are in Christ. She and her husband Mike live in Oregon, but now spend winter months in Florida near daughter Kelda and her family.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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Christmas Delight- Advent 2022

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The other day, I caught myself talking about what I don’t like about Christmas, but then I turned around and mentioned the seasonal things that delight me. I’m not easy to shop for, but I enjoy giving gifts to others. Caroling? I can do without that, but my Christmas playlist is ready to go after Thanksgiving … as long as I hear “In My Mind” first. Our youngest daughter, Joss, pleaded with me for a Christmas tree last year, so I put away our Christmas ladder and got a tree instead. See, I’m not a complete Scrooge. 

Many experience dismay, disgust, and discouragement throughout much of the year, but December is when even the most “Eeyore” among us can find our inner “Pooh.” What is it about Christmas that moves us to (at least attempt to) be better and make others happy? Because it’s also the time of year when being alone is more draining than ever. Perhaps the true meaning of Christmas is built into each of us without our realizing it, so the highs and lows are amplified.  

Psalm 18:19

He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.

The above verse is about God rescuing David and bringing him to safety. God purposely chose David and was delighted that he lived righteously, even after his failures. 

It’s a blessing that we all have an opportunity to live out Psalm 18:19. Celebrating Christmas reminds us that God gave us Jesus to bring us to safety, despite our attempts to ignore and even openly reject his gift. God did this because he delights in all of his children, and like David, that alone should give us the strength to live life as God intended. Christmas is that end-of-the-year reminder.

Questions:
What brings you delight? Is it a lasting feeling, or do you crave something more?

Next Steps:
Think about someone who tends to spend Christmas alone, and invite them to one of the Christmas Eve services or to Christmas dinner. 

Prayer: 

Dear God, this is the time of year when, so long ago, your love for us delivered a new beginning. I am loved because you chose to love me. I cannot comprehend how much delight you have for me, your child. Help me to regularly and lovingly pay it forward without expecting anything in return from others. Amen.   

Parent resource:
Read Luke 2:17-19 together as a family. Share your favorite Christmas movies with each other. Then pick one (or two!), make some popcorn, and settle down in Christmas PJ’s for a Christmas movie marathon.


This post was written by Jaron Camp. Jaron is a storyteller and a professional ghostwriter who enjoys using his gifts to write for the LivingItOut. When he’s not developing fictional worlds, researching, and writing, Jaron enjoys watching sports, participating in family game night, and spending time with his wife and four kids.


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The Gift of Worship – Advent 2022

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What first pops into your mind when you hear the word “worship”? 

I often hear that praising God through song—the worship part of service—is the favorite part for many who attend church. Worship connects our hearts not only to God but also to our fellow Jesus followers. There is something special about gathering with the church and humbling ourselves before the Lord, thanking him for his unfailing love and incomparable grace.

As we learned in the message during the second week of our Gift of Words series, singing is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible. But worship is not limited to song. Ultimately, it’s a heart posture that acknowledges God’s glory.  

Psalm 95:6 states it this way, “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.” He is worthy of our full allegiance and devotion. Worship is our utmost acknowledgement of God’s rightful place over us as our Sovereign. 

Worship can and should be an active part of our daily lives. There are many ways we can give our praises and thanks to God in all aspects of our lives—through music and the arts, meditating on his word, reading and studying the Bible, spending time outdoors in his creation, praying, and using our gifts in service to others no matter how humble they may seem. Worship is about remembering God’s characteristics and attributes; it is about being in awe of the power, mercy, and grace of our King. 

Ultimately, worship is about keeping God the center of our lives.

Advent is a time when we anticipate and celebrate the greatest blessing of all time—the birth of Jesus, our Savior, the one who would fulfill God’s promises to save his people from their sins. (Something no person is able to do for themself.) We not only worship God for his character and sovereignty but also for the fulfillment of long-awaited promises. 

Isaiah 25:1
O Lord, I will honor and praise your name, for you are my God. You do such wonderful things! You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them.

I can only imagine how Mary felt when the angel Gabriel told her that God chose her, a humble servant girl, to be the mother of Jesus Christ. She could have reacted with anxiety or worry, but her immediate reaction was to praise and worship God! Her soul and her entire being praised the Lord for his character and his unfailing grace.

Luke 1:46-49
46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. 47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! 48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

This Christmas, let us remember to worship God for all that he has done! We were created to worship him—a God so good that he sacrificed his one and only Son and dwelled among us on earth. A God who loves us so much that he took our sins upon himself to save us from spending eternity separated from him. 

All glory be to God in the highest!

Questions:
What is your favorite way to worship God?

How can you incorporate worship into your daily life?

Next Steps:
Attend a Christmas service. Invite a friend to worship God with you!

This week, set apart time to intentionally worship God for all he has done.

Attend GrowthTrack and discover the gifts God has given you so that you may serve him in his kingdom now.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for all that you have done in our lives and for all the blessings that you have given us. We give all our thanks and praise to you, and we worship you for your abundant love and care. Help us remember to take time to intentionally worship you and recenter our hearts upon you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 2:15-16 together as a family. Grab a gingerbread man, or other Christmas cookie, for each member of the family to place on their forehead. Race to see who can shimmy the cookie down and bite it first before it drops. No hands!


This post was written by Isabelle Billnitzer. Isabelle is a regular attender of CedarCreek and serves in the children’s ministry. She is passionate about writing and loves spending time with her family and friends. Her goal is to show people the love of Jesus Christ.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy! – Advent 2022

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I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy lyrics by George William Cooke 

I remember singing that song when I was a kid in Sunday School. But back then, I didn’t know what real joy was. Around the same time, we were taught this acronym for J-O-Y: 

Jesus first, Yourself last … and Others in between.

I understood what it meant of course—put Jesus first in your life, loving other people should come next, and you should put yourself last. But, unfortunately,  I don’t remember experiencing any real joy as a kid trying to put it into practice.

So, what is real joy and how do we experience it? 

The biblical definition of joy is a feeling of good pleasure and happiness that is dependent on who Jesus is rather than on who we are or what is happening around us. “Joy comes from the Holy Spirit, abiding in God’s presence, and from hope in His word” (justdisciple.com). 

It seems to me that the Christmas season may be the best time of year to understand, experience, and share joy. After all, it is the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In fact, the very first message of his birth that night was about joy.

Luke 2:10-11
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. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.”

We could never know the level of joy those shepherds felt that holy night, and I imagine there was some confusion and shock at first. But once they saw the baby Jesus and realized he was the truth of prophecy coming to fruition right before their eyes, I can only believe they experienced unsurpassable joy.

And for us, thousands of years later, the truth still unfolds before our very eyes as we open our hearts to the teachings of Jesus and develop a personal relationship with him. As we lean into knowing him more, we begin to experience the true joy that only his love and grace can bring.

As we step into the Christmas season, remember that for some, it is not a time of joy due to painful past memories, heightened feelings of loneliness, or any number of other possible reasons. So, it is a perfect time to not only draw closer to Jesus yourself but also share his Good News and love with others. Then I believe you will truly be able to say, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”

Questions:
What level of joy are you feeling this Christmas season?

Next Steps:
Read the entire Christmas story found in Luke 2:1-20. Find ways you can spread joy to those around you this holiday season.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for the greatest gift of all, your Son on that very first Christmas day. Help me to always remember the spirit of Christmas by spreading love and joy to those who may not be experiencing it for themselves. Thank you for the opportunity to draw closer to you and know the feeling of true joy. Amen.

Parent resource:
Read Luke 2:13-14 together as a family. Choose or make a special ornament for your Christmas tree that represents something good God has done for your family this year.


This post was written by Ned Miller. Ned loves serving through writing on the LIO team, prayer team, group leader and as a greeter. He loves spending time with his family and working on his model railroad.


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