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Daily Advent Devotional 12-25-19

Rediscovering Christmas  
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Galatians 4:4-5

Imagine you are celebrating your birthday and all your invited friends show up. When you see all of them honoring your invitation, you get excited. Now, it’s time for the gifts, and surprisingly, they all took the gifts and started distributing to each other. None of the gifts were intended for you. You only became an opportunity for people to come together to have fun, enjoy the company, and eat good food. Seriously, I cannot imagine the look of disappointment your face would assume. 

You may be thinking, “I am yet to hear of such a situation in reality.”  Don’t be surprised if I tell you it happens every year around this time. Gradually, we have created another version of Christmas far from the original event. This newer version is no more about the Christ child. It is not God-centered. It is just a happy holiday. We must go back to read the original script to rediscover why we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. 

If you know who He is, you will understand why He came.

We cannot focus on just the manger. It was only the starting point. We ought to transition from his cradle to his cross to understand why He came and why we celebrate. Understanding his coming would make us celebrate with more intentionality, keeping Him at the center. 

Christmastime is an occasion to reflect on the best gift of God to all people—forgiveness through the death and resurrection of The Christ. This, I believe, would make us celebrate with a different kind of excitement in our hearts that flourishes our relationship with God, and enables us to walk in love towards others. In addition, it provides us with the opportunity to renew our faith in God. 

So, my encouragement this Christmastime:

  • Set a time with your family to thank God for His forgiveness;
  • Renew your faith in God as individuals and as a family;
  • Seek for ways by which you could be a star in someone’s sky.

PRAYER: In the excitement of the season, help me keep Jesus at the Center.

Daily Advent Devotional 12-24-19

The Indescribable Gift  
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Luke 2:12

Gifts! Gifts!! Gifts!!!

Yes, the idea of gifts has filled the air. I was in Overland Park a month before Thanksgiving and people were already shopping for Christmas. Expectations of children and grandkids are so high.  I recently met two grandparents at a restaurant who had a long list of gifts for which they were shopping. The spirit of giving is so high in December. That is so good!

But as humans, we often forget the best gift of the season.  Jesus is usually “abducted” in the process of the celebration, and we fill the Bethlehem manger with our gifts. Strangely, the usefulness of some of the gifts does not last long. The kids or grandkids outgrow the importance of the gifts and thus, becomes redundant. Yes, we can build memories around those gifts, but they do not journey with us through life. Sometimes we do not even feel the need for some of the most precious gifts we receive.

Jesus Christ, who is the reason for the season, is God’s indescribable precious Gift to the world. He is The Gift who does not just bring us momentary happiness, but produces transformation in our lives. God’s gift of His Son does not have a shelf life; we cannot outlive His significance. 

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

Paul draws our attention to Christ Jesus as God’s indescribable Gift to humanity. He describes Him as such because of His purpose in the world. He is not just a Gift to a few, but is given to all. He is The Gift that brings life and light to the world. He rescues us from the clutches of sin and death. He is not a gift that we just add to the pile. Instead, He declutters our lives of all sin and the mess and beautifies it with His gracious presence. He’s not a gift that we get to put away and pick up later. He was wrapped in history and civilizations and in the fullness of time––He was revealed for God’s glory. 

The spirit of Christmas is one of giving our lives to God and others. In what ways could you offer your life more to God and others? In what ways could your life, as a gift, bless others including the poor, marginalized, etc.?

PRAYER: Holy Spirit, grant me the grace, that in the spirit of Christmas, I may offer my life to helping others; that I may focus more on giving than receiving.

Daily Advent Devotional 12-23-19

Christ, Our Hope 
By Julie White

Such things were written in the Scripture long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 15:4

Hoping is not dreaming.  Hoping doesn’t mean doing nothing. Hope means going about our lives, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions. It is a confident heart-longing that God will do what He said He will do.  It is imagination put in a harness of faith. 

The Psalms of Ascent are songs of hope that the Israelite pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem each year to celebrate festivals and high holy days in their place of worship.  In this season of advent, we are also a pilgrim people. As we join Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, we move toward our own high holy day of Christmas.

So, I invite you to ‘sing’ and hope during this season of advent:

Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!

 If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
So that you may be revered.

 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I hope;
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning,Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. Psalm 130

A baby is a sign of hope, of a future, which we cannot guess. A child’s life has infinite possibilities.  This Christmas, may we anticipate and remember the birth of Jesus and be confident that humanity has a future and a hope; a new birth into a living hope and an eternal inheritance. The best is yet to come.

PRAYER: As we wait, may we watch.  And as we watch, may we see the hope of Christ as He came as a baby all those years ago, as He is loving and working now, and as He will come again and make all things new.

Promise: These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when He makes a promise, and He cannot lie when He makes an oath.  These things encourage us…they give us the strength to hold on to the hope we have been given.  We save this hope as an anchor for our soul—sure and strong. Hebrews 6:18-19

Daily Advent Devotional 12-20-19

By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:10-11

Often times we use joy and happiness interchangeably, but those two words are worlds apart.  While happiness comes from the happenings around us, joy is a gift of God and ought to be received. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy is a choice. The seat of joy is the Holy Spirit. It does not depend on your circumstances. It is durable, not fleeting. Joy has stamina and staying power.  Happiness sublimes easily. 

The angel gave to the shepherds the good news would bring great joy to all people. The shepherds were living in a time of economic oppression under the Roman government who had taken control of their land. Life under the Roman government was a pain, thus, it makes sense that joy was needed to keep hope and faith alive. 

When we sing, “Joy to the world the Lord is come.” we mean:

Joy to a world filled with sickness and incurable diseases;                                                                                                                    Joy to a world filled with injustices;
Joy to a world filled with lies and deception;
Joy to a world filled with insecurities;
Joy to a world filled with evil and suffering— the list goes on and on. 

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Even for Jesus, joy was very crucial. It gave Him the strength to endure the pain and shame of the cross. Don’t spend your life pursuing happiness as your ultimate goal. It will stress and wear you out. Instead, seek the joy that will give you the strength to thrive in life. Life is not fair; Jesus did not come to take away the unfairness of this world. Instead, He experienced it successfully because He had joy, and you and I could do likewise. 

In my few years in ministry, I have seen many Christians who have endured painful losses, suffered divorce, separated from family ties. I have prayed with people who endured terminal ailments, lost jobs, etc. And for all these, I have seen them come to church. They kept their faith. And, I believe, their secret is Christ who is the source of their joy. Somebody reading this may be tired of a situation, discouraged at work, exhausted about a family condition, tired of taking care of loved ones, etc. May the Spirit breathe joy into your heart!

PRAYER: Holy Spirit, help me to respond to life with joy, and that I may spread joy to all those around me. 

PROMISE: My joy will be your strength and motivation. Nehemiah 8:10

Daily Advent Devotional 12-18-19

Bethlehem–Of All Places
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me, The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.
Micah 5:2

Why would God speak of the birthplace of the Messiah long before He was born? What was special about Bethlehem? One would think the Messiah would be born in a very prominent place, a city of high economic, political, and religious significance like Jerusalem. Instead, God chose a small town with no prominence. 

Bethlehem had something to it, something that had prophetic significance to the ministry of the Messiah. This low-key town was noted for sheep rearing. Most Bethlehemites would be shepherds. In their business, the shepherds would separate the firstborn male lambs from the rest of the pack. They would give these ones special treatment, so they do not incur any physical defects. These firstborn male sheep would then be sold in Jerusalem for sacrifices in the temple.  Most of the sacrificial lambs came from Bethlehem. Annually, the Jews would pilgrim to Jerusalem for festivals during which sacrifices were offered.  

Now, one of the titles of Christ is the Lamb of God. This title was strongly connected to the function of Christ––to sacrifice His life to atone for the sins of humanity.  It is no wonder then that the Lamb of God, who would die to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), would have to be born in Bethlehem. So, after all, Bethlehem of all places had some significance. It reminds us that Christ was born to sacrifice His life that we may have life in its abundance (John 10:10).  

In what ways can we, too, as Christians live sacrificially?

  • Going out of our way to help others (Philippians 2:4);
  • Honoring God with our lives (Romans 12:1);
  • Setting ourselves apart from the sins of this world (James 4:4); and
  • Suffering for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:10).

PRAYER: Holy Spirit, grant me the grace to offer my life sacrificially in sharing your love with the world.

Daily Advent Devotional 12-17-19

The People 
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

Mary. Joseph. The shepherds.  The disciples of Jesus Christ, who were mostly fishermen.  Matthew, the tax collector.  What did these people have in common?  Why were they employed in the Story of God? 

In the first century Palestine world, economic injustice was very paramount.  The society was divided into 5 economic classes.  At the top were the royals (the emperor and his family, who usually lived a lavished lifestyle).  Second in importance were the religious aristocrats.  This group was made of the religious elite (the chief high priest, the high priests, and their families).  Next was merchants and other religious authorities, including the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Below the poverty line were the artisans, petty traders and farmers.  The last and least class was the expendables.  This group was made of social outcasts such as the lepers, etc.  Upward mobility was not a reality in the then society.  The last three classes worked hard to keep the top two in shape and form.  Injustices and marginalization were heavily practiced. 

Interestingly, most of the people employed in the narrative of the birth and ministry of Jesus were picked from those who were just above and below the poverty line.  These people lived in humble conditions.  They were poor.  The shepherds had nothing.  Joseph did not have much.  Mary depended on her family for economic significance.  The disciples did not make much, yet taxed heavily. 

So, why did God chose people with such social standing? 

God identifies with the disenfranchised, marginalized and those suffering economic injustices.  He identifies with those who cannot experience the abundance of their God-giving life because of man-made systems.  Living in a humble condition does not make humility of heart, though.  A person could have a great economic substance and still be humble before God.  Wealth does not necessarily erase humility. 

Humility is a character of the kingdom of God. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself…Philippians 2:8a.  Christ humbled himself so that he could identify with those who suffered economic injustices during his earthly ministry. 

Therefore, in this season of Advent, the Holy Spirit invites us to embody humility in all that we do.  We are called, also, to be the presence of Christ to the poor and the suffering.

PRAYER:  Holy Spirit, help me to humble myself so that I can help the poor and the marginalized in society.

PROMISE: I am with you even in your most broken moments.

Daily Advent Devotional 12-16-19

Christ, the Governor 
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder…” Isaiah 9:6

Government, in our perspective, is associated with politics. And politics, for many of us is not pleasant.  The images we draw up in our minds are negative. This is even made worse as we witness what is happening in most governments around the world. And, in our case, the media has made it worse, busily cashing in on the slightest rhetoric a government official would make.  We wonder if God truly sets up kings and those in authority (Romans 13:1). 

However, government, in its original meaning is not evil at all. Adam was the first governor of the world. He was given the mandate to have dominion, to work the ground and ensure the sustenance of all God’s creation. The authority given Adam was to ensure the flourishing of all God’s creation.  But, Adam lost it! And ever since, governments have carved different purposes for their establishment. 

Wherever there is a human community, a government has to be established to ensure its sustenance and flourishing.

Christ, whom Paul refers to as the second Adam, came into the world to establish the government of God among humans. He came to make known the rule and reign of God. Christ entered into our broken world to administer the justice of God, to create order, to offer peace, and restore the broken relationship between God and man. He brought healing to the sick, hope to the hopeless, and life to the dead. In the government of Christ, the lost are found, dead are made alive, sinners are made holy and righteous; barriers are broken to embrace all of the human race. 

And, we look forward to seeing the full manifestation of the government of Christ when all things would be made new. It will be a time of absolute peace, blessings, glory, and honor.  There will be no sickness, no pain, and no hurt. Affliction will not be part of our vocabulary.  We, including the rest of creation, wait eagerly for the realization of the kingdom of God. 

Your destiny is not controlled by the systems of this world. You don’t belong to the economy of this world. If you have invited Him into and have allowed Christ to be the Lord of your heart, your life is in the hands of God. You can trust in this government because it is established on the shoulders of God. No one voted Him in, and no one will vote Him out. You are safe in His government.

PRAYER: In the midst of the broken of our world, May I experience the true blessings offered by your government in Christ Jesus.

Daily Advent Devotional 12-13-19

Prince of Peace   
By Rev. Emmanuel Afful

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name shall be called…Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

I cannot count the many times I have heard people pray for the peace of the world.  We all long for peace within our borders and homes.  Deep down in the recesses of our soul, we cry for tranquility.  We anticipate and expect situations void of fights, pain, divisions, etc.  This is an unrealistic expectation.  I say this because the Prince of Peace stepped into our chaotic world, suffered and endured the brutalities and wickedness thereof.  He demonstrated to us that it is possible to live in this kind of world and still experience an inner peace that makes you thrive. His peace renews us even when our external realities are quite the opposite.

I recently visited a lady in her 90s at the hospital.  She has cancer and is terminal.  As soon as I entered her room, I knew I was before a saint.  She had so much peace around her.  She made dying look gracious and full of light.  Every word she uttered was accompanied by peace.  She has cancer.  But she has something greater and better.  It is called peace because the Prince of Peace lives in her heart. 

The world’s idea of peace is usually an absence of trouble.  While this may have some truth in it, biblically, peace is associated with the presence of God.  In fact, the absence of God brings chaos deep in the soul.  Peace connotes wholeness or completeness.  The dynamics of life sometimes creates brokenness, incompleteness, etc.  Life sometimes steals our wholeness and introduces cracks, and things begin to fall apart.  Relationships fracture, good friends become enemies, families are ripped apart, conflict and division ensue, and life becomes a pain.  In the midst of these God sends us His Son, who is our peace…For He, Himself is our peace, Ephesians 2:14.  Christ Jesus represent wholeness and completeness.  He is the Wellbeing of our life.  The Shalom of our destiny.  He comes into our hearts to restore completeness, and fullness of Himself, who is our Peace.  His presence makes us experience peace with ourselves, no matter our external realities.  Therefore, we are able to serve as ambassadors of peace.  He sends us to sow seeds of peace in a world filled with all kinds of brokenness. 

PRAYER: Prince of Peace, inspire me to actively pursue peace and to help others do the same.  

PROMISE: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. John 14:27

Daily Devotional 12-12-19

By Julie White

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name shall be called… Mighty God…” Isaiah 9:6

Mighty God.” El Shaddai in Hebrew, this name signifies a mighty power that can be found only in a deity. When we understand that the word for God means, “Mighty Power” then we can see that this title really means the “Mighty, Mighty God.” In other words, Jesus is set apart and His might and power are seen as far superior to any other.

The evidence of His power comes from His teaching, His miracles, and the way He lived His life.  Scripture tells us that the crowds that heard Jesus teach were attentive because He taught as one who had authority.  He spoke as if He had a direct pipeline from God and He seemed to know their hearts. People listened and they felt God’s Spirit burn within them. The miracles of Jesus also reveal his mighty power.  Blind men received sight, crippled people walked, dead people came back to life, demon-possessed people were set free, fierce storms were calmed, diseased people were made well. Finally, evidence of Jesus’ power comes from the way He lived His life; how He endured temptation, and the events of His death and His resurrection.

Jesus has power over all things at all times and in all ways. He is God Himself!  The great mystery is that only those who believe that Jesus portrays God’s heart on earth can experience the Jesus of glory and grace who reigns in heaven. 

You might have to adjust your vision to see Jesus in the world today.  I know I do. He still does miracles and demonstrates power, but often only if you can look past appearances, refuse to dismiss a solution because it seems too humble or too unlikely, and get over any assumptions you may have about how He works or who He works with and through.  To know Jesus as your mighty God, expect the unexpected.  Then always expect Him to show Himself strong.

PRAYER: Mighty God, whose name represents power, help me see You in the people and circumstances around me; to be Your strength by helping those less fortunate and by not letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing.  Shake those in positions of power, who trample the defenseless that they may turn away from evil.

PRAYER: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10