Still in Control – This Year

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The beginning of 2020 doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago. If you concentrate and listen closely, you might still hear the faint whisper of Barbara Walters saying, “Welcome to 2020.” Does it seem that way for you? Where were you on January 1st, 2020?

I remember the start of last year well. I was living with my in-laws last January 1st because our house was being repaired from a pretty significant electrical issue. I remember checking the 10-day forecast each day, praying the temperatures wouldn’t dip below the freezing line of 32°. I had no control over the weather and little control over much of the overall situation. It was not a great feeling. Little did I know that issue with our house would pale in comparison to what was ahead.

As 2021 begins, I am aware that this year, like last, will go by quickly. I am also mindful that this year will bring all kinds of unexpected challenges that I can’t imagine or see today. If I am not careful, these two thoughts can be a little overwhelming. With time seemingly moving faster than ever, it is easy to start believing the lie that I don’t have time to accomplish anything of significance this year. My day-to-day tasks consume too much of my time and energy. Secondly, it can be frightening not knowing what is around the corner. Often when we don’t know, we worry that the worst is coming and believe there is nothing we can do about it. We want to have more control than this.

Thankfully, we have a God that is in control of all things. When time is seemingly slipping away, God is there. He is at work ready to connect with us and help us grow in every moment of our daily lives, even in the mundane, seemingly insignificant ones. When we can’t see what’s ahead, we can find confidence knowing nothing surprises God. He knows what 2021 has in store and invites you to trust him through it all.

At the end of this past weekend service, we heard a song that started with the question, “How can I say it is well? When my voice can barely speak?

How can I sing You a song In the midst of suffering?” The answer to the question is the title of the song—“Still in Control.” The lyrics can be a prayer and reminder for us to carry with us into 2021. 

Teach my soul to sing
My God is still in control
And still He reigns on His throne
Though mountains may tremble and sea billows roll
I’ll sing it is well with my soul
My God is still in control
You have not left me alone
Though the world has let me down
All of my sorrow and pain
I will trade it for a crown
Thank You for staying with me
When the night was closing in
Whatever my lot, You are still God
I will sing again
My God is still in control

Songwriters: Mack Brock / Jesse Reeves / Ricky Jackson / Ran Jackson

Questions:
What do you remember about last year’s New Year’s Day?

In what ways did last year challenge your faith in God’s control?

How did you take steps of trust this past year?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how prepared are you for 2021? Explain your answer.

Next Steps:
Write down the lyrics to this song, and place them somewhere  you will regularly see them, maybe on your bathroom mirror or in your kitchen. Thank God that he cares about you and is in control of everything that will happen in 2021.

Next to it, write down Philippians 4:6-7 and give your worries to God.

Philippians 4:6-7
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Prayer:
Dear God. Thank you for this new year. Not just because it means 2020 is over, but because it has the potential to mark a new beginning. As this year starts, I want to declare my trust in you. I know that no matter what 2021 has in store, you are in control. Guide me and help me see every blessing and challenge to come as an opportunity to know you more. God, this year, I will sing that you are still in control, reigning on your throne. Amen.


This post was written by Ben Bockert. Ben is a proud husband and father of three beautiful daughters. He is honored to serve as the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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You New Creation, You! – This Year

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The Apostle Peter had been Jesus’ “Right Hand Man” from the beginning of Christ’s ministry. The one renamed “the Rock.” At the Passover supper, the night before Jesus died, Peter said to him, “Even If everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33). Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me” (Matthew 26:34). But Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35).

Yet a few hours later, when confronted by Jesus’ enemies, Peter lied about even knowing Jesus—THREE times—then ran away and wept.

Have you ever felt you failed Jesus so badly that there was no way back to him? Peter did. He was in such despair, he couldn’t believe he would ever work for the Lord again. So in John 21, he left Jerusalem and went back to fishing. It appears, he considered himself unworthy to serve the one true God, our Savior.

What happened next is so beautiful and so like Jesus … and so like Peter, too. Jesus goes after his wayward child and asks, “Peter do you love me?” Jesus asks not once but three times. Why three times? As I researched this story, I learned that Peter answered the Lord with a different variation of the word love each time.

The first love was more like, “Of course I do. You’re my pal.”  The second was like a brother, “Of course I do. You’re my bro.” It wasn’t until the third time that Peter was able to get past his shame of failure and blurt out the word for unconditional love, “YES! Completely!”

Jesus’ responses in turn? “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” Then the third time, “Feed my sheep.” It was then Peter realized he was no longer a fisherman but rather, as Jesus had promised, a fisher of men. Peter also realized he was never going to be “good enough,” and it didn’t matter because it was not about him.

Are you good enough to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world? You are if you have put down your pride and self-will and accepted God’s invitation to a meaningful and eternal life. This can happen if we accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the only way to have a relationship with the Father and a life of great worth. You can’t earn it, and you can’t lose it—even when you spiritually fall on your face. Just like Peter did.

Ephesians 2:9-10
9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. 

Questions:
Why do you think you are here? Will your life really matter in the eternal scheme of things? How has your focus been affecting your life?  For better or for worse?

Next Steps:
Take your focus off the world, and turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Listen to Turn Your Eyes to Jesus by Shane and Shane and Reflect on what Jesus told Peter to do if he loved him (John 21:15-19).

Prayer:
Thank you, Lord, for allowing trials as the way for us to grow in our understanding of you and your relationship with us. I wish we could learn about and embrace your grace without the pain that comes from enduring trials, but our selfish sin nature makes those corrections inevitable as we stumble toward a closer walk with you. Thank you for caring so much that you allow them in order to grow us in our love for and service to you. Please give us the patience, insight, and determination to be your faithful servants all the days of our life, and throughout eternity. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


This post was written by Martha Smith, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study. Martha describes herself as a lover of Christ who likes to share faith with others.


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No Turning Back – This Year

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John 21:7
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore.

I can’t help it. When I read this verse I picture a scene from Forrest Gump. Forrest is on his shrimp boat when he sees his hero, friend, mentor, and leader on the dock—Lieutenant Dan. Remember that? And without hesitation, Forrest just jumps off his moving boat and swims to Lieutenant Dan. To me, that is an amazing, touching scene. A man was so overwhelmed by the presence of his leader, that without thinking, he jumped into the water with reckless abandon.

Was Peter much different? John barely gets the words out, “It is the Lord,” and Peter is off the boat and swimming to shore. It’s beautiful! He was alone, dejected, and feeling regret, but then there was a turning point for Peter: Jesus! He can’t get to Jesus fast enough. When I read this verse, I feel so much excitement and empathy for Peter.

John 21:8
The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore.

What a simple verse this is, but I find it almost comical. Who among us hasn’t sped by someone in our vehicle only to be stopped at the next light and have that person pull up right next to us? It is kind of humbling and humiliating, right? Where’s our patience? I can totally imagine the other disciples in the boat watching Peter swim for 100 yards, wondering why he isn’t in the boat helping them. What they didn’t fully understand was how life-changing that swim was for Peter—more on that in a bit.

John 21:9-12
9 When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. 10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. 12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

That’s right, Jesus was on the shore preparing breakfast. Think about that. The savior of the world, the resurrected King, the son of God was making breakfast! Throughout the Bible, we consistently read about Jesus serving others and making people feel welcomed. I imagine it is exactly the situation that Peter (who had just denied Jesus three times) needed.

My friends, this is the turning point for Peter. This is that moment when Peter changed from fisherman to “rock.” Peter dedicated his life to Jesus and transformed into a full-time evangelist. Peter jumped into that water and swam toward Jesus—and he never looked back! I pray for that kind of peace and purpose for all of us.

Questions:
What are some of the ways you could move toward God this year?

How might you be able to serve others before you serve yourself?

Next Steps:
2021 is upon us. It is a start to a new year. Develop a plan and establish goals on how you might be more purposeful in moving toward God in 2021.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the examples you have given us. Help us to put these words and messages into action. Use us to make change. Show us how capable we are, and give us the courage, faith, and strength to follow through. It’s not easy to deny ourselves, so we pray that your example may inspire us to impact your kingdom in a supernatural way. Amen.


This post was written by Mike Bilik. Mike is a father to 3 amazing daughters and one awesome son. Spare time is rare, but given the opportunity, you are likely to find him with friends hiking, hunting, or fishing.


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God’s Power – This Year

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My mom’s side of my family, the Cephas side, is from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I grew up enjoying crab cakes, oysters, Ocean City, and occasionally, Maryland basketball. Maryland served as a nice escape from the Ohio summers during my childhood. So at age 21, I naturally welcomed the idea to recreate those summer memories when a couple of friends invited me on a trip to Ocean City.

It was a large family vacation, and I was prepared to spend some time with strangers, which didn’t really bother me. However, one red flag unsettled my nerves during the drive from Ohio to Maryland. My friend told me that her grandfather had quite a few prejudices against black people, and we would be staying a night at his house in Baltimore. This information wasn’t something I had been given before packing my bags and hitting the road.

The story is too long to share all the details, but I left that trip with some new friends, one notable friend being the grandfather. He had gone most of his adult life without speaking to a person of color, and in one week, we had five mornings of coffee and conversation. Any feelings of a façade were dispelled when he wrote his granddaughter a letter thanking her for bringing me along. I was myself during that vacation, but the grandfather could have chosen not to see the authentic me as he had done with so many others over the years. The power of God’s love and truth were on that trip. When was the last time you experienced God’s power?

Lead Pastor Ben Snyder taught from John 21 over the weekend. We were reminded of Peter’s denial of Jesus and his ascension into heaven a few days later.

John 21:3-6
3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.
4 At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. 5 He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
6 Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Peter was already feeling down. If you recall, Peter had denied Jesus, his teacher and friend, three times before he was crucified. No doubt, Peter was suffering from shame and looking for an escape, so he went fishing. And he couldn’t even find success at one of the few things that brought normalcy to his life. But God showed up and showed his power in a moment of uncertainty and doubt.

When I think back to my earlier story, I am reminded that God continues to show up in difficult and uncertain circumstances. Up to that point in my life, I had never encountered such a prejudiced adult who allowed God’s love to reverse their hatred. That day, I experienced God’s power to reveal what is true, and the experience allowed me to hope for more.

Questions:
What makes God’s power personal for you? Do you drift in moments of uncertainty? Do you know your faith in God grows stronger when you  recognize his work in your life?

Next Steps:
Be open to allowing God’s work to move within you by joining a group. Attend GrowthTrack to unlock the spiritual gifts God gave you. Dive into your Bible and read the daily LIO to dispel feelings of uncertainty or shame in your life.

Prayer:
God, as we say goodbye to 2020, let us be reminded that it was you who brought us through a challenging year. Let our faith intensify, knowing that you will continue to navigate us through 2021. When we feel so down that our shame questions our walk as Christians, let us remember that we cannot be perfect, but through Jesus, you called us to be holy. Amen.


This post was written by Jaron Camp, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Are You Ready for Something New? – This Year

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I can honestly say 2020 has been the worst, best year. This year, I realized God gave me what I wanted, but not how I wanted it to be. I say this because it made me realize the truths about God—that what he says about me is true. I have been tempted to quit many times and blame God for all the injustice; instead, I kept going and stayed focused on Jesus.

My worst, best year looked like this:

  • Traveling right before quarantine, returning home, and being forced to go nowhere. It was especially depressing being stuck in my house for months after a fun adventure.
  • Stepping into a double major at college but at the mercy of online lectures and missing out on the typical college experience.
  • Thinking I could earn some extra money working as a nail technician during the school year.

But God had different plans. As 2020 comes to a close, think about the worst, best things that you experienced.

For many of you, it is a year that you can’t wait to put behind you. Maybe you’re stuck in a bad situation—financially, relationally, or situationally, and you’re not sure what your next step should be.

For others, perhaps 2020 was GOOD. But with all the uncertainty, you’re not comfortable celebrating your achievements.

Regardless of where you are, you have a chance to start new. Lead Pastor Ben Snyder encouraged us to focus on the truths about God and what he says is true about us.

I think I would have missed those truths if I hadn’t been steadfast and kept my eyes focused on Jesus through all the unexpected situations that unfolded. There can be truth and revelation in the unexpected. When you remain focused on Jesus, he will do something new in you, especially in the midst of the unexpected.

Are you ready for something new? Do you believe that God can do something new in you? As it says in Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

God can do something new in you when you keep your eyes focused on Jesus. This weekend, Ben pointed out that we follow where we focus. I know this sounds cliche, but when we take our eyes off Jesus, we lose sight of our destination and get lost on the journey.

Over the next few days, we will focus on what is true about God and what he says is true about us.

Questions:
What has 2020 looked like for you? Where was your focus in unexpected moments?

What did you learn about God’s truth this year? What does God say is true about you? Do you believe and accept it?

Next Steps:
Take time to journal and reflect about what 2020 looked like for you.

Pray about what something new might look like in your life.

Step into joining a group or take GrowthTrack to engage in ways you can focus on Jesus.

Prayer:
Jesus, 2020 will be a year to remember. A year of ups and downs. There have been times that I have struggled to keep my focus on you. I have been reminded that we follow where we focus. If there are any distractions that are keeping me from focusing on you I pray they would fall away. Thanks for being the God of the impossible in a time of uncertainty. I know that despite the challenges, I can realize the truth about you and what you say is true about me. Your promises are certain when everything else feels like it is not. I pray I will receive your promises today. In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Rebecca Roberts, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Joy to the World – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

I have loved Christmas since I was a little kid. I love the music, the trees, the lights, and the presents. You can see the joy of Christmas in the kindness and love people show to their fellow man. My favorite thing about Christmas is attending Christmas Eve service with my family. My heart overflows with joy as my family and I celebrate the birth of our Savior, and I reflect on all Jesus has done for me. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year.

Christmas 2020 may seem different than Christmases past, but we must remember the true reason we celebrate Christmas—the birth of our Savior, Jesus.

This weekend, speaker and writer Barb Roose spoke to our church. During her sermon, she gave some history on the song “Joy to the World.” It was written as a poem by Christian minister and writer Isaac Watts and was included in a book of poems and hymns, The Psalms of David, in 1719. The poem that led to this popular Christmas song was based on Psalm 98. The first few lyrics of the song follow:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

The true meaning of Christmas is that Jesus our King came to this earth as a precious baby to save us all. Jesus is the Joy of the World—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Theologian and pastor Rick Warren has been quoted as saying, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” With God as our Savior, we can live with joy, even while we are hurting inside or struggling.

That, my friend, is the miracle of Christmas.

This Christmas, praise God for the greatest gift we ever received, Jesus! Pray daily for God to reveal the miracle of Christmas to you year round. Praise him and thank him for all he has done for you. If you are really struggling to find joy this year, pour out your heart to him. He wants to hear from you. He cares, and he wants to fill you with his presence and peace. Trust him to be with you during tough times and heartbreak. I hope this verse will give you comfort:

John 10:10 (MSG)
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

Jesus came to give us real and eternal life. A life that is better than you could have ever dreamed of. Receive the true gift of Christmas in your heart: Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Questions:
What brings you joy at Christmas? What are you struggling with this season? Have you poured your heart out to God? Have you received Jesus as your Savior? If not, what’s holding you back?

Next Steps:
Read Psalm 98. Listen to “Joy to the World.” Sing it at the top of your lungs, and praise Jesus for all he has done for you. Look for Jesus’ miracles and blessings daily. Journal them and review them during tough times.

Prayer:
Jesus, I love and adore you. I am overwhelmed with joy that you, my King, came to this earth to save me. I am so thankful your Holy Spirit is present in me at all times. I don’t have to do it alone. You are always present, filling me with your joy, peace, and love. Help me to remember the true meaning of Christmas this year. Help me to always keep my eyes focused on you. Help me to live in your joy at all times, no matter what my circumstances may be. Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

How does it make you feel knowing God loves you so much? That’s why God gave us Jesus. Have you asked Jesus to be your Friend Forever?

Pray – “I know I make bad choices, called sin. I know my sin should separate me from You forever. But instead You loved me and gave me Jesus. I believe and trust that Your son Jesus, died for my sin and came back to life. Thank You for loving me and for giving me the gift of eternal life so I could live with You now and in heaven someday. Be my Friend Forever! In Jesus’ name, amen.”

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Marsha Raymond. Marsha has been happily married to her husband, Jeff, for 30 years. They have two grown sassy and fearless daughters. She loves spending time with God, her family and friends, reading, riding bicycles, yoga and walking.


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Visitors from the East – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

The Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-11

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Who were the wise men? It is probable that these men were from Babylon. They had been taught of the one true God and of the Messiah promised to come through the prophecies of Daniel, the Jewish prophet exiled to Babylon in the years 620-535 BC. They were learned men, most certainly versed in astronomy, astrology divination, and sorcery. As such, they were revered as noblemen, royalty even! It is customarily believed that there were three wise men. Why do we think of them as three individuals—besides the fact that three came in your Nativity set? Because of the number of gifts they presented. However, men such as these would have traveled with many, many servants, pack animals, and aides on such a long journey, about 800 miles.

The wise men would have known what the star signified, and they would have been anxious to undertake the pilgrimage to honor the newborn king. His birth, they had learned, would usher in a new kingdom, where the messiah would rule and lead to the climax of history. Imagine the anxiety (deeply disturbed!) this large caravan of nobles and attendants would have caused the king of that day, King Herod, never mind their message or the reason for their trip!

How did the men decide on what to bring to properly honor this child: gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Gold is pretty obvious—we all know that gold is extremely valuable and would be appropriate to offer a king. Frankincense is an essential oil used as the base for incense made for worship ceremonies by priests. This gift was given to recognize Jesus as our great high priest, the sinless one who would offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Myrrh, another costly substance, foreshadowed the Messiah’s death and embalming. Jesus died so we could be dead to sin, and he was resurrected to defeat death, bringing us new life in Christ!

Scripture says that when the wise men saw the star over Bethlehem, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and presented their gifts to this toddler! They were not really age-appropriate gifts, but certainly, they were prophetic in the life of the Son of God.

In the Christmas carol “We Three Kings,” the last stanza sums up these gifts:

Glorious now, behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia, alleluia!
Earth to heaven replies.

These men knew much less about Jesus and his earthly mission than we do now. Do you view the repetition of the Christmas story as the same old, same old story, or will you allow this different Christmas season to write a new chapter in your love and devotion to Jesus? He is glorious as he comes, King and God and Sacrifice!

Questions:
How have you thought about the wise men and the gifts they brought? What gift might you offer to your Lord Jesus this Christmas season?

Next Steps:
This Christmas, something pretty special is happening in the skies. The planets of Jupiter and Saturn will be so close together on the western horizon that they will appear as one bright shining star! This event is being called “The Christmas Star,” and the alignment won’t occur again until 2080, at which time I’ll be viewing it from heaven! Its peak was this past Monday, but you can still catch it as the planets continue to slowly separate. I hope you take time to see it, and as you do, think about the wise men’s journey to see our Savior. 

Prayer:
Jesus, how can we ever thank you for coming to rescue us? I worship you, my Lord. You are worthy of all honor, glory, and praise. This Christmas, I pray you reveal yourself in a fresh way to us, that we may give joy to the world and love and serve you, as you have loved and served us! Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Take a family drive looking at Christmas lights and talk about the best gifts you have ever received.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


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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A Most Important Message – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Luke 2:8-20: The Shepherds and Angels

Every year since I was a young child, I have heard the Christmas story. It’s either been read to me or I have read it—to my children, and now, to my grandchildren. For many years of my adult life, I wondered why God chose to send the first message of Christ’s birth to shepherds.

Luke 2:9-10
9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people.”

This year, I finally decided to do some research and discovered some interesting things. I had always assumed that the shepherds referred to in the Scripture were typical shepherds of the day, considered to be lower-class citizens. However, I found that these shepherds worked the fields just outside of Bethlehem and were the keepers of the sacred sheep used for sacrifices. Because of the sacredness of their work, they were highly regarded by most everyone in the area.

The story says they were terrified, as I would guess any of us would be under the same circumstance; however, I don’t think they were completely surprised by the news. I believe they were well aware of an ancient prophecy found in the book of Micah.

Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.

Because of this knowledge, I believe the shepherds had some understanding of what they were being told, and therefore, they readily went to see the baby Jesus.

Luke 2:15
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

I had also wondered how the shepherds had known exactly where to find baby Jesus, as the story did not say the angels gave a specific address.

Luke 2:12
“And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

While researching, I learned that some Christian scholars believe  that the location where Mary gave birth was actually the same place the shepherds would have taken the ewes when lambs were to be born, so these particular shepherds knew exactly where to go.

Luke 2:17
After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

These sacred shepherds were the perfect messengers to spread the news of Christ’s birth because they were so well known to everyone in the area, including the high priests because they provided all the lambs used for sacrifice.

Luke 2:20
The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

The shepherds were the very first witnesses to the glory and truth of Jesus. They were excited and wanted to experience and share God’s great gift to man, so they moved toward him. Is that your attitude this Christmas? With all that 2020 has brought us, it would be easy to have an indifferent, or even negative attitude, this Christmas season. I urge you to remember the reason for the season—and just like the shepherds on that very first Christmas eve—move toward Christ and spread the good news through word and deed.

Questions:
What attitude are you showing others this Christmas?

Do you feel like you have lost some of the joy that this season should bring?

Next Steps:
Reread the Christmas story in Luke with new purpose and appreciation. Make a conscious effort to move toward Christ this season and spread the good news.

Prayer:
Our most gracious and loving God, please help us to remember the true reason for this Christmas season. Even though this year has been filled with trials and hardships, help us to remember that you are in control and to put our faith and trust in you. Help us, as Christians, to exemplify the excitement and joy that the shepherds did on the night your son was born and spread the good news to everyone who will listen. Father, thank you for the perfect gift of your son, Jesus, and help us to always keep moving toward him, in good times and during times of struggle. Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

John 3:16
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.

Happy Birthday Jesus! God loves us so much that He sent His son into the world to rescue us. That’s what Christmas is all about! Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus as a family.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Ned Miller, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


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We would love to hear how the LivingItOut is making a difference in your life. Let us know how today’s post inspired, challenged, or encouraged you by leaving a comment here.


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John Reading Plan


The Already, But Not Yet. – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Immanuel has been at the top of my list of “favorite names for God” for years! Even before I gave my life to Christ in 1994, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” was my favorite Christmas carol. I just really love the thought of it—God with us. God with me. But what does that really mean?

Speaker and author Barb Roose said that the kingdom of heaven, God with us, is often described by Bible scholars as an “already but not yet” condition. I used to think that the kingdom of heaven was the place (if you could call it that) where Christ followers would go when they die. But if that were the case, then why did Jesus instruct us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? Jesus prays for God’s kingdom to be established here on earth.

What does God’s kingdom look like? It is the upside-down, counter-intuitive kingdom where the last are first and the first are last (Matthew 20:16). It is the kingdom in which we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  It is the kingdom where if you lead, you serve those whom you lead (Matthew 20:28). It is the kingdom where you give up all to receive all that God has for you (Matthew 16:24).

When we compare and contrast earthly kingdoms with God’s kingdom, we see very clear differences. Earthly power comes from dominance, selfishness, and fear. If you don’t believe in God and his moral authority, you should not be surprised that this is so. You are left with survival of the fittest, which exploits those who are weaker and less able to care for themselves, mainly women and children, along with the infirm. It should not surprise you that the stronger among us take what they want with no regard for others. Yet we are surprised when people mistreat us to get what they want! In contrast, the kingdom of heaven, God with us, is a kingdom built on community, generosity, and freedom. In this kingdom, we put the welfare of others before ourselves, giving to provide for their needs. We strive to find our purpose and live the life to which God calls us.

To live in this kingdom is a choice we get to make every day. We live knowing that the presence of evil does not restrict the work that God has prepared for us to do—to bring his kingdom to earth while we wait for Jesus’ return. When he comes, we will welcome the new heaven and the new earth over which God will reign in righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). For now, we live in the “already but not yet” world that God entrusted to us, each one of us, to bring his kingdom into our lives. We get to choose to live in the “God with us” kingdom—Immanuel!

Isaiah 7:14
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”

Questions:
How do you live in the “already, but not yet” kingdom of God? Are you consciously working to move it forward? How, and with whom, are you engaging in this work for which God created you? 

Next Steps:
Make it your New Year’s resolution to sign up for and complete GrowthTrack! Through these four weeks, you will discover God’s gifting, plan, and purpose for your life. Then you will know what his plans are for you in bringing his kingdom into the already but not yet! 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank you for being our Immanuel! Thank you for demonstrating, in the clearest possible way, God’s tender hearted love for us! Your sacrifice calls for me to offer myself as a living sacrifice, free and able to bring your kingdom to my little section of the tapestry that we will one day see as beautiful and marvelous! I am in awe of you, Jesus! I worship you! Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Have a family picnic in front of your Christmas tree and talk about all of the things you love about Christmas.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


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

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


Leave a Comment?

We would love to hear how the LivingItOut is making a difference in your life. Let us know how today’s post inspired, challenged, or encouraged you by leaving a comment here.


Want to be a part of the LivingItOut team?

We are always looking for people who are passionate about writing and proofing to serve on the LivingItOut team. If you are interested, email LIO@cedarcreek.tv today!


Printable version of this week’s LIO study:

Click Here


More Resources

Series Theme Verses
LivingItOut Podcast
RightNow Media
John Reading Plan


God with Us – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Well, one of my family members tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, we’re all quarantined to prevent any unnecessary spread. I haven’t left my house in over two weeks. And if I’m being honest, I’m struggling.

This year has been deeply challenging for personal reasons as well as …  well, you know, 2020. I like to think I’ve handled those challenges with grace and wisdom, but with the added challenge of quarantine, sometimes it feels like I’ve hit my limit. It’s hard to feel like I’m living out the purpose God has for me when I can’t leave my home. Some days, it’s hard to even feel God near when I can’t connect in-person with friends and other Jesus followers or celebrate the holidays like I normally would.

But as I reflect on Barb Roose’s weekend message, and the holiday season in general, I’m reminded of the powerful message of Christmas for Christians—the message of Immanuel, God 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.’”

Jesus humbled himself to be born an infant, to physically be with us. Later, he would sacrifice his life so we could reunite with the Father through his forgiveness of our sins. And after Jesus ascended to heaven, his followers were able to receive the Holy Spirit—God within us.

In her talk, Barb offered this bottom line: “The Kingdom of God is closer than you think, so let your hope in Christ soar and tell your fears to shrink.” She discussed three gifts that come with the kingdom of God: his presence, power, and promise.

  • God’s presence means he is with you. Even if COVID-19 has you feeling a little isolated, you are never alone with Christ at the center of your life.
  • For those who have accepted Jesus as their savior, God’s power means God is living within you. Even when you don’t feel strong, God can give you victory.
  • God’s promise means that, with God, all things are possible. Even when things are challenging and we don’t know when they’ll get better, we know there is hope in him.

No matter what situation you’re in or how you’re feeling this holiday season, remember God is with you. God has made great sacrifices so he could be with you, because he loves you. Even if present circumstances make it difficult to see, he is still working on your behalf, in you and through you.

So take heart—even in the difficult times, the Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus has already overcome the world.

Questions:
What helps you feel close to God? Which gift do you need to be reminded of today: God’s presence, power, or promise?

Next Steps:
God’s presence never leaves us, but sometimes we neglect the habits that help us experience his presence. Set aside some time today for the things that help you draw close to God—maybe that means spending time in the Word, going for a quiet walk outdoors, or having a good conversation with a trusted Christ follower.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for your presence. I know whether I feel close or far from you, you are always with me. Thank you for sending your Son as Immanuel, God with us, and for all that means to us as your followers. Thank you also for your power and promise. Help me to draw close to you today, making time to be still, to listen, and to invite you into what I’m doing. May your will be done in me and through me.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Read Luke 2:1-7

Take some time to read the Christmas story together as a family. What is your favorite part of the story? God loved us so much that He gave us a Savior.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Payton Lechner. Payton is currently the apprentice copywriter at CedarCreek. In her spare time, she freelances as a writer and editor. Besides the English language, Payton loves swimming, cats, and a good cup of tea.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


Leave a Comment?

We would love to hear how the LivingItOut is making a difference in your life. Let us know how today’s post inspired, challenged, or encouraged you by leaving a comment here.


Want to be a part of the LivingItOut team?

We are always looking for people who are passionate about writing and proofing to serve on the LivingItOut team. If you are interested, email LIO@cedarcreek.tv today!


Printable version of this week’s LIO study:

Click Here


More Resources

Series Theme Verses
LivingItOut Podcast
RightNow Media
John Reading Plan