How Big Is Your Heart?

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Today is Sunday, December 24th, the 4th Sunday of Advent

Light three purple and the pink candles


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It’s here! It’s been a full season!

So today’s question is, how big is your heart? Has your heart grown bigger this season by loving all, spending less, giving more and worshiping fully?

How can you keep this spirit going into the new year?


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Read Passage

 [ESV]


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Creator God, You who love us more than we can know
Who chose us from the very beginning to be family
We praise Your holy name

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Word become flesh

Who dwelt among us and was sacrificed for us
We praise Your holy name

Holy Spirit, present and power in our lives
From the moment that we first believed

We praise Your holy name. Amen and Amen!


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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About The Wise Men (or, Giving vs Getting)

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Today is Saturday, December 23rd

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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What do you know about the wise men?

Which do you like more, getting gifts or giving gifts?


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Read Matthew 2:1-12

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. [ESV]


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The joy that I pursue is not the hope of getting rich with things from You. I have not come to You for Your things but for Yourself. And this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things in the hope of enjoying You more, not the things. By giving to You what You do not need and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, “You are my treasure, not these things.”

You are God who made the world and everything in it, You are Lord of heaven and earth, You do not live in temples made by man, nor are You served by human hands, as though You need anything; You have given Yourself to all mankind, life and breath and everything. Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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About The Innkeeper

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Today is Friday, December 22nd

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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What do you know about the innkeeper?

We don’t know much about him, so create a story about him. What is he like? What does he like? Use your imagination.


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Read Read Luke 2:6-7

 [ESV]


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Consider this quote today: “To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves. You have… an opportunity to pass off to another human being what you have received from the Lord Jesus; namely His unconditional acceptance… He loves you whether in a state of grace or disgrace.”

Consider this thought today: When you come in contact with a person you don’t know very well, what kind of story do you create about them? Can you re-write the story to see them as God sees them? How can you affirm people around you today?


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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I'm Scott, a member of CSP.

The last reflection I wrote for December 18th has a similar theme to today’s; it’s about examining details. This detail, the role of the innkeeper in the Christmas story, is one I’ve spent a little bit of time thinking about. He is a fascinating character to me. Even though he is never mentioned by name and he speaks no words, the innkeeper is a pivotal character in history. Characters like the innkeeper are “hinge” characters, as in the story, in one sense, hinges on their actions (or inactions). He faces a problem and whatever action he decides on creates two very different paths with two different outcomes. Thanks to Luke, we know the first path: “…She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” 

The second path creates a different narrative, however. 

Suppose Mary and Joseph gave birth inside the inn. Suppose the innkeeper allowed them to share a room with someone or even kicked a paying tenant out for them. Suppose he saw Mary, pregnant and tired, and granted her a room to rest and water to drink. Maybe even some food to eat. Then, suppose Mary gave birth on a bed inside an inn instead of in a stable, surrounded by animals. Instead of a manger, she lays her baby on their bed—safe and warm, for now. How does the story change our minds? Is the story better? Different? The same? Does the innkeeper become a different person in our minds? Do his actions put him on equal footing with Mary and Joseph? 

But this isn’t the story we know. For whatever reason, the innkeeper gave them no room and Jesus was born in about as humble a birthplace as possible. His lowly birth is one of the Christmas story's defining characteristics. It’s a piece of the story that make Jesus utterly human and make his status as the Messiah that much more extraordinary. 

It’s easy to denounce or think poorly of the innkeeper for his actions. But we also know what is at stake in this story and how important this child is to the world. He doesn’t have that foresight. And how many times a day have we been the “innkeeper” in a situation? We've chosen to keep someone, or something, out for our own reasons? It’s difficult to change that kind of behavior but that’s exactly how Jesus asks us to live—to break out of our self-inclusive behavior, to live without judgement, to love everyone we encounter, without any preconceptions or discrimination. We have to play the role of the innkeeper nearly every day. What do we choose and how is the story different because of our choices? How does the path we choose affect our story?

I think about and pray about this a lot. Dropping the facade of judgement takes hard work. It doesn’t change in a day. It takes years and steady practice. But I believe that choice is part of the best path. And that, to me, makes it worthwhile.        

About The Shepherds (or, Is Re-gifting okay?)

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Today is Thursday, December 21st

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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Happy National Re-gifting Day!

The definition of re-gifting is to take something you have been given and wrap it up and give it to someone else.

Have you ever re-gifted something? What do you have that is worth re-gifting?


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Read Luke 2:8-15

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” [ESV]


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Restore us, O Lord, we pray,
bring us back to that place where we once met,
as shepherds to the stable after hearing angels sing.
Bring us back to that place when our love was fresh,
not embarrassed to express itself in praise to our heavenly King.
Restore us, O Lord, we pray.


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Malia, and I have been blessed by a life-long relationship with the Christ-St. Paul’s family.

I am a teacher. It is my daily frame of reference. Not surprisingly, many of my perspectives are through the lens of teaching. Today’s reflection will again be through my teacher’s lens. Teaching has never been my job or career. It is my life’s work. God’s word in 1 Corinthians tells us, “But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that”. My gift is for teaching. People who knew me in my childhood say they could see it early on in my natural, easy way with children and my love for “playing school” with friends or even by myself in my room. I have strived to use that gift in a way that fulfills God’s purpose for my life and pass it on to others.

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My students and I wrote goals for this school year in the first few days of school. My goals were to love my students unconditionally, provide support and positivity for my colleagues, and help students achieve their potential. I asked students to also write goals, and we shared those goals with others through a display on our door. We are reminded of those goals as we enter and exit each day, and anyone who comes to visit us can see how important those goals are to us. Many people stop to look and read, and many of my colleagues, in turn, chose to do a similar activity with their students.

 

In James 1:17, we read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…”. So, what are the gifts we have received from above, and how can we, in turn, regift or share them with others? We have received the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the ultimate (re)gift, the gift of grace, entirely undeserved and un-earnable. Some things that I have that are worth regifting? Certainly.  But how can we regift these to others? Sometimes I struggle with that. The world doesn’t make it easy. Every day it feels like the world is making it harder and harder to share these gifts with others. I admit that I don’t always feel welcome or even comfortable openly sharing my faith in certain situations. There have been times when I could feel the joy of these gifts welling up in my heart about to burst out, but I didn’t regift them out of fear of offending someone or appearing “unprofessional”. As I did some reading this week, my heart was pierced by this verse in Acts 11:17, “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Ouch.

So, this Advent season, I am working on giving more of the gifts from God that cost me nothing. I am working on loving all, even the folks who get offended when I regift my faith, and worshipping fully offering all parts of myself, those that come naturally and those with which I still struggle. Perhaps the struggle is a gift worth regifting, too.

 

About Mary

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Today is Wednesday, December 20th

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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As we get closer to Christmas, we focus our attention on the characters in the story:

What do you know about Mary? What was she like?


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Read Luke 1:26-28

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” [ESV]


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Gracious God, You have done so much for us and we so little in return
You ask for humility and we are often a proud people
You ask for willingness and we are often a stubborn people
You ask for repentance and we are often a deaf people

You ask for service and we are often a busy people
Gracious God, You want the best for us
Teach us obedience, grant us forgiveness
That we, like Mary, might be Your willing servants. Amen
.


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Cameron and I’ve been at Christ St. Paul’s for 26 of my 30 years on Earth.

What do I know about Mary?  And what was she like?

I very much imagine Mary like so many others must also imagine her. You always see her as a very young woman with long, dark brown hair, dressed in some sort of blue garments of her time period, and holding a baby wrapped in various white cloths. I know she was a virgin to be married to Joseph when the Angel of the Lord came to her to tell her she was with child. And I cannot begin to imagine the fear in this poor, young woman, who has just been told she is pregnant, but has no idea how this fact can be, since she is not yet married and is indeed a virgin! As if it’s not scary enough for an Angel to appear to you, this messenger of God himself is here telling you that out of all the people in this world, YOU have been chosen to carry and give birth to God’s only son, Jesus.

And yes, I’m sure Mary was terrified. For so many reasons! 1. She was a pregnant virgin. How could that even be?! 2. Joseph would surely abandon her after he found out she was pregnant. 3. What would people think of her? 4. How was she going to raise a child, most likely on her own? 5. Why did God choose her? And the list goes on and on…

I think about Mary, and I think about how willing she was to serve the Lord, even though she must have had a million questions. I think about her faithfulness in God and her obedience to his will, even if that meant having to change every plan she had made for her future.  I’m sure Mary, just like any other engaged woman, had wedding plans, had an idea about starting a family, had thoughts about just how her life was going to go, and here comes God, changing up everything. 

And I wonder how I myself would have reacted to this Angel and his inconvenient declaration. After I had first thrown something at this poor messenger from God, just because he would have scared the dickens out of me, I think I would have laughed at his ridiculous announcement that I was indeed pregnant. Then I would have proceeded to remind him that it takes two to tango, if you know what I mean, and since I hadn’t been “tangoing” with anyone, he was surely mistaken and had come to the wrong Mary. And then denial would have moved into fear and doubt - what in the world am I going to do and Dear Lord why have you picked me, out of all the women you could have picked?!   can’t imagine the overwhelming emotions that I would be feeling…

I most certainly wouldn’t be a willing and obedient servant to God, such as Mary was. I would definitely not have faith in God’s plan and not have trust that it would all work out in the end. I can only imagine my selfish pride and stubborn preoccupation with my own life plans would get in the way of my humility towards God and my willingness to serve Him.

And so I can only sit here and pray to the Lord that He “teaches me obedience, grants me forgiveness, so that I may, like Mary, be His willing servant.” I can only repent to God for my sin as a stubborn and selfish woman, and pray that he instills in me a greater willingness to act as He commands and wishes me to do. I can only strive to do better, to pause in my busy life, to put my own agenda to the side for just a minute, and to really listen to what God is saying to me and asking of me, as His willing and obedient, faithful servant.

About Joseph

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Today is Tuesday, December 19th

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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As we get closer to Christmas, we focus our attention on the characters in the story:

What do you know about Joseph? What was he like?


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Read Matthew 1:18-25

 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. [ESV]


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This Advent-time we remember Mary and Joseph,
giving thanks for their faithfulness, courage and obedience,
stepping out into the unknown in the strength of Your Spirit,
playing their part in the fulfillment of Your plan
to bring Your prodigal people home again.
We pray that their example might be the pattern of our lives,
that when Your gentle whisper breaks through the clamor of this world and into our small corner, we might be ready to listen,
and having listened, to act.


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Cameron and I’ve been at Christ St. Paul’s for 26 of my 30 years on Earth.

I’ve got to be honest. Despite growing up in the church my entire life, despite reading the Bible and learning The Lord’s Prayer with my father at a very young age, I am not very proficient in my Bible knowledge. Even though I know most of the Sunday morning prayers and a lot of the worship songs by heart, I by no means consider myself an expert Christian.  So what do I know about Joseph? Well, not a whole lot.

I know he was to marry Mary, and she miraculously became pregnant, and he decided to marry her anyways and “divorce her quietly.”  I know he was Jesus’ father, and he must have done a real good job at it, because look how Jesus turned out!

When I really think about Joseph, and when I read this passage and think about what he really faced, I think what a genuinely good man he was. I mean here he was engaged to be married to this woman and she gets pregnant.  And instead of just embarrassing her as an adulterer in front of everyone and leaving her all alone, he decides to support this woman anyway, at least for a little while. And then he is visited by this Angel, which probably scared him half to death, and this Angel tells him he’s going to have a son with Mary, of which is actually impossible, but he just goes with the flow. He trusts in his faith and remains obedient to the Lord - he takes Mary as his wife, and he takes Jesus as his son, and he becomes the model husband and father.

And then I think to myself: What if, when God called Joseph to “play his part” in his plan, he had said “NO”?

What if he hadn’t been faithful, courageous, and obedient?

What if he just hadn’t been “ready to listen”?

Several months ago, I felt a calling to reach inside my inner self and begin writing a blog. I felt a strong urge to gather my thoughts and put them down on paper, and broadcast them on the internet for the entire world to read.  WHAT WAS I THINKING, right?!  Kind of like Joseph felt… I’m sure he was also wondering what he was thinking by moving ahead with his impending marriage…

But for whatever reason, God was putting it on my heart to begin writing again (I hadn’t written since high school, but I was actually pretty good at it).  And so I took a leap of faith, I obeyed God’s calling, I sat down at my laptop, I put my feelings into words on a page, and I published it.

After I posted my first blog, I felt a little uncertain about the insane action I just took. I wondered what I had just done, and what people were going to think! I tried to be faithful and trust God in his calling for me to broadcast my inner feelings, but truth be told, I was a bit doubtful…

But then the responses began pouring in. The overwhelming support and positive reactions from my readers, even affirmations from some that my words sort of changed their lives, assured me that having faith and trusting in God’s calling for me to write had been the right thing to do.

Just like Joseph must have felt later in life, as Mary’s husband and Jesus’s father, I was so glad that I had been “ready to listen” to God’s calling. I was happy that I had not only been obedient to His whisper but also courageous in my mission. Much like the devout Joseph.

And so I find myself again trusting in my faith, and trusting that God is not sending me on a wild goose chase. Because I’m just not busy enough, God has yet again asked me to “step out into the unknown” and begin leading my own Home Group here at Christ St. Paul’s. Why he has commanded me to do such a thing, so far, I do not know. But I definitely feel the calling. I ignored it for months, and I hoped that it was a calling that would eventually just go away.  But y’all know God - he just keeps on “whispering into our small corner” until we finally have to break down and just listen to him already! There will come a day when His purpose for my leadership of this group will be revealed to me.  Until then, I will just continue to do what I can to “fulfill his plan,” just as Joseph did over 2000 years ago.

What's the Story?

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Today is Monday, December 18

Light two purple candles and the pink candle


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What’s your favorite movie? How many times have you seen it? Does seeing over and over again make it less interesting?

What happens when you hear the Christmas story over and over again? Do you know it so well that you forget to pay attention?


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Read Genesis 1:1

 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [ESV]


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Consider this quote: “There are only two stories that make any difference - God’s story and the human story. We all are living out different versions of those two stories with an infinite number of variations. God’s story, of the story of God and man, is simple - God made the world and loved the world, the world got lost, and God has spent the rest of human history trying somehow to bring the world back to himself. That is the story of God and man as I think each one of us has experienced it. It’s really as simple as that and as complex as that.”


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Hello! I'm Scott Elingburg and I’ve been a member of CSP for a few years now.

I ready today’s devotion and thought, “This should be easy.” It was anything but! 

In my 20s, I probably could have rattled off about 10 or 15 of my favorite movies in ranked order and my 10 favorite directors and screenwriters. But as life progresses and my priorities change, so has what I choose to value—and also how I choose to spend my time. Fifteen or sixteen years ago I remembering thinking on several occasions, “I will love [insert movie here] my whole life.” Now, I’m hard-pressed to come up with two movies I’ve seen in the past two years. (Although, shout out to Shayna and Jacob Borrett for letting us borrow Captain America: Winter Soldier and Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year, even if we did never watch them.) 

I do, however, love watching Christmas-themed movies, especially at Christmas time. Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, White Christmas with Bing Crosby, Die Hard (the best Christmas movie ever, in my opinion). All of these bring a kind of comfort in their repeatability and their familiarity. I know what to expect, when to expect it, and I don’t expect anything more or less. It’s a sharp contrast to Christmas, a season built on expectations. And, for the most part, we know what to expect. But that means we can forget that our expectations can disappoint us. Not that Christmas is a disappointment, but our expectations of Christmas end up making us feel… disappointed somehow. 

Today’s reading, Genesis, 1:1, I felt I didn’t need to read it because I knew it so well. I knew what to expect, in other words. But I re-read it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I’m taken aback by its stark, fierce simplicity and also by its enormous complexity. When I was an English teacher many years ago, I used to tell my students, “Pay attention to the details. There are worlds hidden within the details.” But even as I insisted that others follow this advice, I, too, am guilty of not following it. It’s much easier to pay attention to the “big” picture; the largest view set in front of us. It naturally draws our attention and also gives us a sense of comfort, a sense of focus. But typically the big picture swallows the details and then we’ve missed our chance to use our gifts—our minds, our senses—to truly see. 

In a way, the first sentence of the Bible is calls us to pay attention, but also to find the (literal, in this case) worlds within the written words. “God created the heavens and the earth”—think about all that encompasses. No, really. Think about what that means to have made and designed the patterns and intricacies of the earth. From the tiniest insect to the stratosphere. And the heavens? It’s nearly impossible to fathom. But we can start small and expand out from there. That’s what the details ask us to do: start small, look outward, find the worlds that are already there and appreciate their part. It makes the “big picture” come to life in ways we might have forgotten about. 

Settling for Less

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Today is Sunday, December 17th

Light two purple candles and the pink candle.


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How do you like to shop? In the stores? Online? Pull out the Sunday ads (or have memories of ‘The Wish Book’?)

Have you ever ordered something online, only to be disappointed that it didn’t live up to its image?


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Read Hebrews 8:4b-6, 10

[There] are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people. [ESV]


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Do not let me settle, God, for less than walking by Your Spirit:
When my heart is drawn by the world, Father, give me grace.
Do not let me settle, Jesus, for less than Your presence:
When my mind is distracted by the worries of life,
Holy Spirit, give me peace.
Do not let me settle, Lord, for less than unity in Your love:
When I am lost, Jesus, be my Way. Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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I'm Madison, a member of Christ-St. Paul's.

What do you expect?

I love that image of waiting for a big box to appear on your front porch, filled with an online purchase. What if you are disappointed with the contents? Or, have you ever hoped against all hope for that special present, only to unwrap a pair of socks?

After results like these, our trust in the processes is likely to be broken.

What happens when we expect Jesus? When we view the Trinity? Does the pain from unmet hopes plague your view of our God? Faith and hope become uncomfortable, and we begin to settle for less—to settle for the shabby promises of a world lost and broken.

“But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6, ESV).

But Christ has obtained something so much better than any of our past hurts or expectations. He obtained so much more than the old laws. He has claimed salvation and love and assurance for us.

“I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Hebrews 8:10).

Laws, words of guidance and kindness from the Lord, written on our hearts. And He will be our God—your God, my God.

In my life, I have experienced the results of living with faulty expectations of the Lord. I have looked to other things to provide the comfort and love and truth that only my God could provide. When I realized that He was and is the God that never disappoints, is always faithful, and forever loving, my world changed.

Settling for something less than God is such a natural sort of sin, and yet it hurts us and the Lord so much.

We don’t have to live in disappointment. We don’t have to live in a constant state of settling in an effort to avoid pain. We are called to hope, to expect.

This Christmas, let us not settle. Let us run straight into the arms of our God, knowing full well than He is exactly Who we need.

 


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Double Bonus! Turns out we had two entries for today after all... 


I’m Patti. I enjoy wandering the aisles at brick and mortar stores, not necessarily looking to buy, but looking at displays and colors and connections, at how I’m being sold something. Buying, on the other hand, is usually an online activity for everything except clothes. I have yet to order anything online that has made me look like the model wearing it in the ad.

I’m Doug. I don’t shop.

Last night, full of the Christmas spirit, we looked for a movie to cap off our day. We pulled out an old favorite, ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. It’s snowy and wintry so it was Christmas-y enough for us. We laughed and cried our way through the movie, expressed again our love for the movie, then started closing up the house for the night. That’s when Patti remembered that today’s devotion was left unaccounted for. 

Patti: "Hey. Looks like there’s no one to add content to tomorrow’s devotion. Maybe we could do it together."
Doug: "Sure. What’s the topic?"
Patti: "Settling for less. Like shopping for things in the catalog or online and being disappointed in the real thing once you get it. Or settling for a shadow of something instead of the real thing. And something about the new covenant and the superior ministry of Jesus. Stuff like that."
Doug: "Okay. Let’s look at it in the morning."

And with that riveting dialog, we headed off to sleep. 

It’s true that clarity is more abundant in the morning, because, spoiler alert, it wasn't until today that we realized that 'settling for less' is the very plot of the movie. 

The main story line is about Lars (played by Ryan Gosling), an awkwardly shy, lonely 27 year old, living in the garage of brother’s house in a very cold and desolate part of Wisconsin. His brother’s wife (played by Emily Mortimer) is determined to help him return to healthy relationships with family and friends. To compensate for his inability to love and be loved by real people, Lars goes online and orders a life-sized doll. He introduces her to his brother and sister-in-law as his girlfriend Bianca. In his delusion and desire for belonging, he fabricates a deep, meaningful relationship with Bianca, who according to Lars, is a wheel-chair bound missionary, raised by nuns whose parents died when she was a baby. The movie is rated PG-13. Nothing creepy happens. What happens instead is that the entire town, out of love for Lars, goes along with the facade and accepts Bianca, treating her as human for Lars’ sake, even giving her a makeover, hiring her as a clothing model, driving her to her volunteer work at the library, and voting her onto the school board.

At first glance, there is an obvious connection to today’s question. Lars seeks to find relationship, settling for a plastic mannequin in place of a real girl. But the deeper meaning and connection comes via the story of the townspeople. They enter into Lars’s journey, loving him unconditionally and fully, sacrificially, even gently, in spite of the ridiculousness of it all. They ascribe to Lars the love he is seeking by loving him as he is, even as Lars is unaware of his need for them. Through this cast of comical, but Christ-figure characters, Lars learns how to be touched, how to overcome fear, how to interact with others, how to receive love, and eventually (again, spoiler alert), how to love a real girl. The town loves Lars into new life.

Much like our Savior. 

  • Jesus enters into our journey, having left behind the glories of heaven to become flesh, infinite becoming infant.
  • Jesus loves us unconditionally. He loves us so fully, so sacrificially and yet so gently in spite of our own ridiculous behavior.
  • Jesus ascribes love to us, before we even know we need to be loved. He does so without forcing, without pushing, yet with relentless passion. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

We, like Lars, declare ourselves unlovable. We, like Lars, find it easier to reject, or hold at arms length such relentless love, settling instead for a shadow of the real thing. We crave laws to measure ourselves and work to make ourselves worthy. Better to be guarded than to be vulnerable; better to be safe in our deep-rooted negative self-image than to risk allowing ourselves to be loved. 

This is the lesson we take from today: We want to receive the fullness of the love of Jesus… allow ourselves to be loved fully… see ourselves and others as we are seen by God, imputed with the righteousness of Jesus... loving others likewise.

As St. Augustine reflected in the 5th century: “Quia amasti me, fecisti me amabilem” 

That is: “In loving me, you made me lovable.” 

At the Well: Water and Worship

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Today is Saturday, December 16th

Light two purple candles.


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Continue reading about Jesus at the Well, John 4:7-15

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” [ESV]


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You are the Father who welcomes home the prodigal who has wandered far
You are the Father who prepares a meal when others would simply ignore
You are the Father whose love extends beyond our thoughts or minds
You are the Father who knows our hearts and yet loves us as we are
You are the Father whose word we trust in whose presence we have no fear

You are the Father whose tender touch makes a wounded spirit whole
You are the Father whose only Son was born that He might die
You are the Father whose gracious love we celebrate this day. Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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I'm Cindee and this reading one is really special to me as a women’s minister and Bible teacher. I have a real heart for racial reconciliation in particular within the church and our community.

It was her shame that kept her behind doors as the other ladies of the community gathered to chat about the day’s events and to share local gossip. She knew her past. She heard their all too audible whispers. She couldn’t bear to stand up to their ridicule and judgmental glares once again. So, she waited until the heat of the noon day, when everyone else was busy indoors, to make her trip to the well to collect the water she needed to satisfy her daily needs. 

I imagine she knew, even as she walked in loneliness and silence, that others who were safely hidden behind walls were peering out at her. She also knew full well that she’d have to take this walk of shame tomorrow and the next day and many more days to come. The helplessness and hopelessness of her situation must have left an aching hollowness deep within her that was as empty as the jar she carried to the well to fill. I imagine that along with her physical thirst this Samaritan woman also carried a very real thirst for acceptance, love, and the kind words of a friend. 

Many of us know people who think they are not good enough, not religious enough, not married enough,  not “regular “ enough, to approach God. Their brokenness and shame keep them from coming to the source of the living water they so desperately need.

It is my prayer, as I reflect on today’s narrative, that I would greet such people as Jesus did and still does. He knew this woman inside and out and yet He freely offered her everything she needed and more than she could imagine. Likewise, He knows me and every shameful secret of my life and yet offers me forgiveness, healing, hope, and an eternal home with Him.

It is my prayer that I would risk crossing social, racial, and cultural boundaries to bring the grace of Jesus to those like the Samaritan woman whom I encounter. May I seek out ways to share the living water through a lifestyle of worship and a willingness to be the Lord’s vessel.

At the Well: Worn and Weary

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Today is Friday, December 15th

Light two purple candles.


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Today, start by reading John 4:1-6

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. [ESV]


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What kind of week had it been for Jesus? How was he feeling?

What kind of week has it been for you? How are you feeling?


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Consider this quote today:
“And it seems to me the world is a manger, the whole bloody mess of it, where God is being born again and again and again and again and again and again. You’ve got your mind on so many other things. You are so busy with this and that, you don’t see it. You don’t notice it.” (Frederick Buechner)

Consider this truth today:
Jesus sees that all of us labor and are heavy laden and are in need of rest or are in need of him or in need of peace. What gift can you seek from him today?


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Malia. I'm a teacher.

After twenty-five years in education, most of them in the classroom, I can tell you one universal truth about teachers: Teachers.Are.Tired. Truly, there is no tired that is quite like teacher-tired. I am certain you have seen the memes on Facebook, animated skeletons dragging themselves down school hallways or a comedian professing the often hilarious confessions of a tired teacher. The memes are never ending and poignantly true which is precisely what makes them funny. Because it sums up many of our teaching experiences in a single image or phrase, we instantly recognize ourselves and find humor in the absurd. If you don’t have any teachers in your circle of family, friends, or acquaintances, simply search Google images using the phrase “tired teacher” and you’ll have yourself a virtual field day with the images that greet you.

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I can tell you from personal experience that at one time or another I have been the teacher most of the memes are depicting. This is never more true than when we are approaching the holidays. By this point in the school year, many of have of us have succumbed to the rarified, germy air and are walking around with a tissue tucked under our sleeve or are on a round-the-clock cocktail of decongestants.

Worn and weary? Definitely. And the wear is not just physical. It is mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Jesus, God in the flesh, must have felt very tired as he traveled from Judea back to Galilee. In fact, the scripture amplifies the description of his journey with the words once more, “….and he went back once more to Galilee”. So, we know the journey was one that Jesus repeatedly made. John tells us his journey was a long one having to travel through Samaria and that he stopped at Jacob’s well to rest. Imagine all the needs and burdens of the multitude to which he and the disciples had been ministering, all seeking relief that only a messiah could give. Imagine the weight of that. In fact, there was so much work to do, the scripture tells us that the disciples were assisting. We are told that they were doing the baptizing, and that while Jesus rested, they went to get food.

Surely, Jesus was exhausted and physically drained. We can all relate to that. Furthermore, in his exhaustion from the journey, Jesus can relate to us. Jesus can relate to me. Hold that thought. Let it sink in and say it out loud to yourself. Jesus can relate to me. This is powerful. God, through his son Jesus, fully experienced humanity. He knows what it is to be one of us, to be tired and worn by the world, and we, in turn, know that He understands our pain, our burdens, and how tired we are.

This Advent season I seek to rest in his presence, to sit down beside him at the well, and wait to be replenished with him. I also seek to be in his present, to transcend time, to the let yesterday and tomorrow fall away and to fully occupy the present with him. I seek the gifts of calm and contentment and the kind of rest that not only refreshes and replenishes my physical, mental, and emotional self but secures my eternal rest from the burden of sin.

How Big Is Your Circle?

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Today is Thursday, December 14th

Light two purple candles.


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How many people did you come in contact with today?

Consider this quote:
“The faces we lose track of most easily are the faces of the people who are closest to us, the people we love the most whose faces we see so often that we can’t really see them anymore.” (Frederick Buechner)


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Read Matthew 22:37-40

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [ESV]


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Father, I want this holiday season to be filled with light instead of darkness. Please help me discard my emotional masks and be real before You as well as my family and friends. Father, help me make this holiday season an offering of praise to You. In Jesus' Name, Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Madison, and I'm happy to come in contact with you today.

I sit by myself and yet not alone in a coffee shop late in the afternoon. I am one mind, one world surrounded on all sides by others. The café bustles. Jazz and conversation in the background as I read today’s scripture. What hurt do these hearts carry? Do they know that the God of the universe places infinite value on their lives? The lives around me matter.

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Have I lost track of the lives of others in the midst of my own journey? Is my face so set on my own path that I forget to stop and love those around me?

Then there are those closest to me. What about them? Am I living fully and loving deeply? My family, my friends, my church family, my mentors.

How can I love them truly, intentionally?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).

If I am honest, I sway from either thinking too highly of myself to thinking too low of myself. Don’t we all live on this pendulum? So how are you and I to love others? Are we to drift here and there?

No. May our love look like that of my Savior. One who stops everything to come close to us in our deepest depravity.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11, ESV).

His love is steadfast and pure. He does not abandon or reject. His love saves. His love is personal.

Maybe loving others this Christmas looks like coffee with an old friend, listening to someone who is hurting, or laughing freely with new friends. Maybe loving others this Christmas means sharing your testimony—opening yourself up, taking off the mask—to share about Christ’s love in your own life.

Maybe loving others this Christmas is found in the act of stopping. Stop pretending. Stop trying so hard. Stop isolating. Start loving. Start being loved. May you live in this love today.

 

Let's NOT Do That Again!

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Today is Wednesday, December 13th

Light two purple candles.


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Yesterday was about favorite traditions. But what’s your least favorite Christmas tradition?

Or, do you remember a Christmas that felt like a disaster?


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Read Genesis 3:1-15

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”  [ESV]


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To You O Lord we bring our lives
Troubled, broken or at ease
A sacrificial offering for You to use
Take away our selfishness and teach us to love as You loved
Take away our sense of pride and show us the meaning of humility
Take away our blindness and show us the world through Your eyes
Take away our greed and teach us how to give as You gave

Show us Your ways, teach us Your paths
That we might walk with You more closely
Our hand in Your hand, our feet in Your footsteps
From the baby in a stable to eternity, Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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My name is Allan Skinner. I worship at CSP.

Most of you probably don't know that for many years I have struggled to find joy during the Christmas (actually advent) season. It was a much bigger problem than I let on. I was filled with anxiety about who do I give gifts to? what do I get them? The traffic, the crowds, the expense! The whole thing just seemed like a big hassle. And to make matters worse, I felt guilty for feeling this way. I knew that Christmas isn't really about all that stuff but it got to me anyway.

Every year, usually late Christmas eve or early Christmas morning, in a quiet moment I would finally be able say, "ahhhh, there it is! This is what it's supposed to be like." Then I would tell myself that next year will be different, but it would happen all over again.

Last Christmas was the first since my wife, Terri, died. I doubt if anyone would have blamed me if I decided to just skip the whole thing. But the idea of the Advent Conspiracy and it's guiding principles got my attention and The Lord kept giving me ideas for unique gifts for the handful of people closest to me. They were simple and inexpensive. Some are things Terri and I had in our house for years. Each one uniquely special to the one who received it.

 I actually enjoyed preparing for Christmas morning! Best of all were the stockings filled with cheap, silly stuff. Filling the stockings is what Terri loved most. We laughed about how we could always count on getting pocket warmers and some kind of little flashlight amid the candy and nuts. And there was always an orange in the toe.

So what could have been "THE WORST CHRISTMAS EVER!" turned out to be something beautiful and sweet that I will remember with fondness.

Let's Do That Again!

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Today is Tuesday, December 12th

Light two purple candles.


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What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

How are your traditions special to you and your household?


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Read Luke 2:1-5

In those days, Caesar Augustus made a law. It required that a list be made of everyone in the whole Roman world. It was the first time a list was made of the people while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to their own town to be listed.

So Joseph went also. He went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. That is where Bethlehem, the town of David, was. Joseph went there because he belonged to the family line of David. He went there with Mary to be listed. Mary was engaged to him. She was expecting a baby. [ESV]


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Lord, help us stop comparing our Christmas season to anyone else’s. You have “good works prepared in advance for us to do” that are specific to us. We find meaning and joy in whatever life looks like because we trust Jesus for our lives. When we are seated with Christ, we worship You and take our eyes off ourselves. When we are seated with Christ, we realize that You have placed us right where we are for a reason this season. When we are seated with Christ, we can remind ourselves that at all times, Your peace, power, hope and love are available to us in endless supply. We pray our holiday tables shimmer with Your glory, and that any joy and hope we have lost returns. Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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A Christmas Haiku

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Today is Monday, December 11th

Light two purple candles.


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Today, let’s be different. You might remember the ancient form of poetry called Haiku. Simple words, three lines, 17 syllables in the form of 5-7-5. It simply frames moment in time. You pause, reflect on something, and put it into a few words. As a fun challenge today (and all week please!) write a Christmas haiku. Or, while waiting in line at the store, or in traffic, notice what’s going on around you and write a haiku about what you see.

Play along. It’s fun and we are fun people. Post your results! Here are samples:

 

A Christmas Haiku

            Holy infant's born (5 syllables)
            in Bethlehem of Judah (7 syllables)
            His name is Jesus (5 syllables)

A Traffic Haiku

            Cars lined up for miles
            Drivers trying to get home
            Stop! Now go! Repeat


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The challenge is set. It's all about stopping and being present in the present. Setting down the lists and the phone and seeing what's around you. Observing the ordinary. Interacting in the immediate. 

Don't miss the moment. (Did you read Fr. Craige's '3 Misses and a Hit'?)

And when you pick up your phone again, send us your Haiku. Or post to Facebook or Instagram using hashtags #CSPConspiracy #ChristmasHaiku. And we will also post them below...


Christ was born for me
Oh come let us adore Him!
Praise His Holy Name!


In his book 'The Furious Longing of God', Brennan Manning challenges the reader to take a few moments each day for a month, with closed eyes and upturned palms, praying: "Abba, I belong to You." He says, "It's a prayer of exactly seven syllables, the number that corresponds perfectly to the rhythm of our breathing. As you inhale - 'Abba'. As you exhale - 'I belong to You.'" (The Furious Longing of God, p. 46) 

So in the spirit of the Haiku challenge, an Advent morning Haiku:

Breathing in and out:
"Abba, Father, I am yours,
I belong to you."

Back to the Beginning...

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Today is Sunday, December 10th, the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Light two purple candles.


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Take time for an Advent Conspiracy reboot.

Make a plan to worship fully, give more, spend less, and love all this week.


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Read John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [ESV]


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God of majesty and power
Who spoke and this world was
Who breathed and this world lived
Who counts the hairs upon our head
Who sees our thoughts and reads our hearts
Who loves us more than we deserve
How can we not bring today our sacrifice of praise?
For in the child at Bethlehem
Lies the promise of intimacy
With a Savior who would die even for me
And the promise of an eternity
In which to praise You more each day
God of promise we praise Your name, Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: 

Coming soon...

The Family Tree

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Today is Saturday, December 9th

Light one purple candle.


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Sketch your family tree and think about how each member brings something special. If you could pick one famous person to be in your family tree, who would it be? Why? If you have multiple people in your household, can you agree on someone


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Read Isaiah 11:1-2, 10

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.[ESV]


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Father God, prepare our hearts not only for the celebration to come, but also for sharing that Good News with friends, family and work colleagues should opportunity arise. Grant us courage and a real willingness to talk about the love that came down to earth and walked among us. Amen.


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: Read how members and friends of Christ-St. Paul's are experiencing today's devotion.

Today's thoughts come to us from Fr. Craige:

As I read today's devotion, I thought about my family tree. In my family, my mother was an only child and my father had one brother. My grandfather had brought his family to El Paso from Canada with the railroad and by the time I came along, there was only my family and my aunt and uncle's family. There are 5 of us siblings and I have 5 cousins. By Yonges Island standards we were an extremely small family. As I reflect on my family tree today, I have my own three children, two lovely daughters-in-law, and four precious grandchildren. My siblings have several children and grandchildren, my cousins likewise have children and grandchildren. We're still pretty small compared to families here, but we've grown tremendously in my lifetime.

I suspect the rector should obviously want to have Jesus in my family tree, and we already do! What a blessing it is to know that. But I suspect the question is looking for someone who is not already in my family tree. And then I begin to wonder why would I want someone, would it be because of something missing in my life? Would it be to have some gift or talent I wish I did have that they would obviously passed down to me? 

I know, I'm possibly evading the question, but honestly, as I reflect the only person or people I would want to add to my family are the  people who i've come to know and love within the Church, the body of Christ. And here too, they already are my brothers and sisters. 

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

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Today is Friday, December 8th

Light one purple candle.


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Think back to last year. What was going on in your life? How does this year feel different?


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Read Isaiah 9:2-5

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire. [ESV]


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Lord, how wrong I have been to act as if Christ had never been born. As if He didn’t perform miracles. As if He didn’t take my every tear, my daily worries, my sin and insecurities on that cross. As if the tomb wasn’t empty and the throne wasn’t full of His presence and grace. 

It’s that grace that gives meaning and power to Your promises.

I know that Your Word prevails even when our world turns black.

I trust that Your healing comes in different forms, stages and ways.

I believe that You promised to provide all we need, seeking You doesn’t require physical vision, complete health or a life free of troubles.

But instead, a heart full of devotion and obedience, which I offer You.

No matter how many Advent seasons sweep by, Lord, Your reminders remain the same. Each tear we cry has a purpose. Each trying stage has a divine reason. And in Your capable hands, each icy rain of adversity is transformed into the warmth and sparkle of Your grace. Amen

 

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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: Read how members and friends of Christ-St. Paul's are experiencing today's devotion.

I’m Lynn and I work and worship at CSP. 

Reading today’s devotion and thinking back to last year compared to this year just made me laugh. It is a joke around the office because last year, I was the only full time staff other than the priests and, most importantly, I was the youngest!

We have been so blessed this year with the addition of two full time staff members, Andrew and Tapley, and somehow in the blink of an eye, I became the oldest –ugh. Working alongside two techno savvy, totally creative and energetic people can really make you feel like you have aged much more than a year.  So in my world, a year can make a big difference!!

On the more serious side, Andrew and Tapley are patient with me and give me grace in the office just like Christ does for every aspect of my life. I love the saying 'God loves me just the way I am but He loves me too much to leave me there.' During Advent I purposefully try to slow down to process my spiritual growth for the past year and try not to be disappointed when I haven’t traveled as far as I think I should have. 

The four practices of the Advent Conspiracy have truly made such a difference in my life, just thinking what it means to worship fully makes me appreciate knowing that the Holy Spirit is present each and every Sunday, and I should be so thankful, but then I wonder if I really do acknowledge His presence when I enter the church week after week? I never want to take our triune God for granted. Giving more means I don’t need more money, but to think more of others and not so selfish with my time. Loving all is the most special for me this year because we are able to help the Kramers do something wonderful for children who have nothing, while reaching out to someone who has made a difference in my life but may not know it until I write a personal note and send them an ornament.*

*Lynn is talking about the CSP effort to 'Undecorate the Tree' beginning Sunday, 12/10. Read more in Fr. Craige's Advent notes from Monday 12/4.

Company's Coming!

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Today is Thursday, December 7th

Light one purple candle.


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What’s the first thing you do when you know company is coming? How do you prepare for the arrival of guests?


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Read Psalm 51:10-12

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit. [ESV]


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Consider this quote today:

“One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home.”


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: Read how members and friends of Christ-St. Paul's are experiencing today's devotion.

My name is Andrew Cannell and I am the youth minister at Christ-St. Paul’s. It does not take too long for people to know two things about me. First, that I am obsessed with Batman and, secondly, that I am a slob. It is this latter fact that will help you understand my struggle.

Living in a dorm and on my own has not helped me in the cleanliness department. Do not get me wrong, I have always been messy, but now I do not have anyone holding me accountable for my clutter. I can merely live in my filth. That is until I get a phone call that my mom will be coming to town. My heart sinks as I think about the years’ worth of cleaning that I will be working on in the coming weeks. I start working through the pile of dishes, scrubbing all the counters, and swiffering (or whatever the verb to use a Swiffer is) to try and get my house to my mom’s standards. Well, Rome was not built in a day and that seems more realistic than getting my house cleaned up. Alas, I typically do not meet the standards that my mom desires. While there is hope that one day I will clean my house to my mom’s satisfaction, there is no hope that I can clean up my life to the Lord’s specification. That is the Good News!

I think we can wrongly look at Advent as the time we need to get our acts together for the Lord to come. We falsely believe that by reading our Bible more, eating at Chick-fil-A, and just cleaning up the messiness of our lives that God will be pleased with our dwelling and want to live inside of us. That is not the story of the Psalmist. The Psalmist reminds us that it is not us who cleans our hearts but it is God who instead of rejecting us, makes a home in us. The reason we can Worship Fully is that we can take the time to stop trying to fix ourselves and take a look at the work that Jesus has already done. Believe me, I find a lot more beauty when I stop looking at myself and instead take the time to look at God.

 

A Different Path

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Today is Wednesday, December 6th

Light one purple candle.


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What do you NEED this year? Consider this quote:

“God gives God. That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need, God gives God. …we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time: time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet.” (Ann Voskamp)


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Read Matthew 20:28

...The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [ESV]


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As streets fill with shoppers, bright lights and tempting offers,
Christmas songs and children’s laughter, You lead us along
             a different path to a desert river and a Prophetic voice
A call to repentance, a call to service, a call to immerse ourselves
            in living water that will never run dry
A call to prepare a way in our own lives
             for the Savior of the world to enter in
To know the touch of tender mercy and rest in Your forgiving love
For Your faithful prophets and Your Living Word we give You thanks. Amen.


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: Read how members and friends of Christ-St. Paul's are experiencing today's devotion.

My name is Doug Wheat. I'm a previous member and 'old' friend of CSP.

While reading today’s devotion I was aware of a sensation that I experience only occasionally. That is to suddenly - and unexpectedly - see and experience the Lord in a completely new and different way. This happened for me today as I was reading the quote in the devotion: “God gives God. That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater …”. 

It may seem obvious on the surface and yet, as I continue to think about it, the depth of these words and the impact it has on my thoughts increases. This is all the more startling (and joyful) to me because I consider myself to be a mature Christian, and yet, I can and do experience God and his gift Jesus Christ in new and different ways. I am guilty of 'boxing' the Lord into thoughts and terms that help me understand the depth and glory of the Lord. But the wonder of God’s Word for me is that, even after reading the same verses dozens of times, a new aspect of God’s character and His goodness, is revealed.

I recently heard someone say that “Joy and hurrying are incompatible”. I’m still considering the full truth of that but the change of heart and mind this invokes in me is certainly true.  That is, “to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time”.  Throughout this day I intend to do just that. To slow enough to appreciate and think about that Gift. To allow the Lord to lead me along a different path and to see others and serve others as a reflection of that Gift.

Getting Directions

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Today is Tuesday, December 5th

Light one purple candle.


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Most families have stories about getting lost while travelling. Most families have one member of the family who refuses to get directions or ask for help. Do you have a story like that?


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Read Jeremiah 10:23

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. [ESV]

 Lord, I know that a person doesn’t control their own life.
    They don’t direct their own steps. [NIRV]

I know, God, that mere mortals
    can’t run their own lives,
That men and women
    don’t have what it takes to take charge of life.
So correct us, God, as you see best. [The Message]


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God of hope
be with us in our Advent journey to the stable and beyond,
be with us in our meeting and in our traveling together,
be with us in our worship and our praying together,
be with us in our Advent journey to the stable and beyond,
our God of hope. Amen


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Personalize it. How can your thoughts and these readings and prayers help you worship fully, give more, spend less and love all.


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Bonus: Read how members and friends of Christ-St. Paul's are experiencing today's devotion.

My name is Bonnie Rackley, and Christ-St. Paul's has been my home for many years. This is my story about getting lost.

Every week I make a five-hour round trip journey to Aiken, SC to visit my sister who has Parkinson’s disease. I make this trip to capture every minute of precious time we have left before the dementia that is wiping away her life memories completely erases me. Sometimes she knows I am her sister and sometimes she thinks I am her daughter. But that is okay. At least I am still somebody to her.

I don’t mind the trip. In fact, traveling the backroads is a peaceful time for reflection. And the scenery is beautiful: farmer’s fields that are sometimes full of corn, or soy beans, or lately white acres of cotton. The woods are full of trees glowing green in the summer and shining red and orange and yellow in the fall. And for much of the journey, I am the only car on these deserted roads.

I avoid the Interstate at all cost - too many trucks and Nascar driver wannabees. But one must know the way when traveling the backroads, as I found out the hard way. I should have followed the advice I always give my daughters: “Don’t rely on that GPS on your phone. Look at a map first and have some idea where you are headed.” But on my second 'back road' trip, I did exactly what I tell them not to do. I decided to try a different route, one that my GPS assured me was the shortest. So, I plugged my destination into the phone and took off, confident that if I turned down the wrong road, I would be instructed to “make a u-turn when possible” and be back on my merry way.

This logic would have worked just fine if I had not lost my signal about 30 minutes into my trip. In trying to get back to the GPS, I completely lost my stored route and had no signal to access any maps or even make a phone call for that matter. I kept driving, certain I would recognize something from the one trip I had taken before, but as I encountered one unfamiliar intersection after another, I began to panic. And I got mad. I was angry at myself for not having a map, angry at AT&T because I had no signal, angry even at my sister for being so sick that I felt compelled to make these journeys. When the tears began to fall, I knew it was time to pull over and talk to God. I was somewhere in the woods between Hollywood and Aiken and I hadn’t seen a store or gas station for miles. So, I pulled over into a small driveway that led to a freshly plowed field. There, looking out over the field I let the tears empty themselves out and asked God to forgive me for my anger and to help me literally find my way. And the God of hope did just that. I made a right-hand turn at the next intersection and within five miles I found a gas station and a signal.

As I travel the path to the 'stable and beyond' this Advent, I will strive to remember Jeremiah’s words: “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” May we all seek God’s directions in our Advent journey this year.