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25 Days of Christmas Devotionals

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Stories have profound impact on our lives. That is why movies and books are so embedded into our culture. We get to see and read about other people’s stories brought to life before our very eyes. Stories move us to understand people more fully: their struggles, their successes, their fears, and their spirit to overcome. I believe the story of Jesus is the most powerful story ever told. You know how it goes: A virgin is visited by an angel who tells her she will have a son, the Savior of the world. Her fiancé is shocked, but also gets an angelic visit telling him everything is okay and God is doing something special. Joseph can take Mary to be his wife. The two are forced to travel to Bethlehem, even though at the time she is great with child, for a national tax collection and census. While they are there the baby is born; they name him Jesus! This is the long-awaited Savior God had promised and the Prophets had predicted for so long. An angelic choir visits a group of shepherds, who made their way to visit the baby. Wise Men show up from the Far East to worship the child and bring gifts. Finally, a dramatic escape to Egypt ensues to avoid a death trap set by King Herod. What a story! But there is more to the story! There is more because of who this baby was…and is! Jesus, God’s Son, grew up and died an unjust death as a sacrifice for our sins. But he didn’t stay dead! After three days Jesus conquered death, coming back to life to prove He is the Savior of the world! Now the story continues in the hearts of Christians -- people who believe in Jesus for salvation, living as His disciples. The stories of some of those people are told in this booklet. As you read these stories you will see how God has changed people’s hearts and lives. This booklet is Grace Fellowship Church’s Christmas gift to you and your family. None of the people who share their story in this booklet are perfect--not even close! But they love Jesus and have been changed by Him. And they wanted you to know what that change has meant to them. Not only that, we are praying that Jesus changes you! Finally, we invite you to join us for our Christmas Eve (eve) service on Dec. 23rd and Lamplight Theatre. There will be two service times: 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. Merry Christmas Joel Owen Lead Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church

You’re Invited to Worship with Us

Please join Grace Fellowship Church and One Church on Saturday, December 23 for our Christmas Eve (Eve) Service at Lamplight Theatre, 140 Broad Street, Kingsport, TN 37660 There will be two service times: 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. Go to our website for ticket information via Eventbrite

Map of Downtown Kingsport

LampLight Theatre

LampLight Theatre 140 Broad Street Kingsport, TN 37660

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ember 1

I LOVE gifts, but I don’t like surprises. I know that these two things should go together, but not for me. Birthday presents, Christmas presents, anniversary presents…bring them on! The gift does not have to be fancy or expensive. Even practical gifts are something to be enjoyed and anticipated. The expectation of these dates and the gifts that go along with them is almost as much fun as opening the present. Surprises, however, are totally different. No anticipation. No time to plan. Just react. There is not one aspect of these situations that I enjoy. I tend to not react well when caught unawares. I am so grateful that Jesus is never taken by surprise by anything that happens to us… not even the diagnosis that steals your breath and leaves you numb and unable to move. While I was taken by surprise by the doctor’s news, He was not. He had even strategically orchestrated people and events to help me through that summer. Jesus met every aspect of my “surprise” with a gift specifically planned for that moment. He had someone waiting for me when I nearly lost it while waiting for the ultrasound, in the form of someone who shared her journey with Him through cancer. He provided co-workers who prayed over me when I got the call from the doctor with the test results. Strangers who shared with me, church family who prayed for me and over me, friends who were prepared to join me in the fight, knowing it could be a dirty, extended brawl. Meals delivered, transportation provided, dressings changed, clothing laundered, hair washed, recliner delivered, walks taken…Jesus was in each and every one of these moments. He used His people to hand deliver each of these very personalized gifts to me just when I needed them. But the sweetest, most precious gift of all? His quiet and undeniable presence every day. It seemed that He was just waiting to provide the quiet words of reassurance needed to calm my fears and hold me while I processed the huge amount of information that was being thrown at me. He whispered through His word as I sought comfort and direction that I was making the right decision. He shut doors (quite firmly) that he did not want me to enter. He threw open other doors and held my hand as I hesitantly walked through. Jesus used several people to deliver gifts of unimaginable worth throughout my summer of surprises. Each of these gifts is precious to me because it came from Him and because of who he used to deliver it. Are you open to Him using you to deliver a “gift” to someone? Your gift, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can bring a reminder that Jesus is at work in whatever situation they find themselves. Rena Rock


ember 2

July 7, 1990: what does that have to do with Christmas? Up to that point in my life, Christmas was a time looked forward to in anticipation of gifts, good food, and family visits. Even after accepting Christ as a 12-year-old, there was only a VERY slow progression toward understanding the true meaning of the celebration. As a very immature believer, I believed that Jesus is God’s Son and that He came to earth as a baby; but, I really couldn’t begin to understand the value of that event. On July 7, 1990, it became much clearer because on that day, our first child was born. Holding Lauren for the first time brought lots of different emotions, but I don’t think it really hit me until a few months later as Christmas approached. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) As I held our daughter, I began to fully understand the value of Christmas. We must remember that God not only sent His Son to be born in the poorest of places; but also, He sent Him to be the perfect sacrifice to die a horrible death for OUR sins…at that point, looking at a 5-month-old little girl in my arms, I couldn’t imagine how I could let her die for someone else’s mistakes. Jesus: the perfect gift for a hopeless situation. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17) Why did God send His Son for this purpose? Because nothing else in the universe was valuable enough to pay the debt that we owed. The full debt was paid on a cross about thirty-three years after Jesus arrived and three days later the transaction was completed. Father, help us to better comprehend the meaning of the Christmas celebration and the value of the gift You gave to us, not so that we would feel guilty, but so we can be thankful, celebrate, and share the reason that we celebrate with others. Amen. Shane Kirk

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ember 3

A special word that comes to mind when describing Jesus’ first advent is grace. Jesus is the greatest gift of my life and one of the reasons for that is His wonderful grace. The Bible tells us that Jesus left Heaven to come to Earth as a sacrifice for us. He decided to follow God’s will and come to the world as a lowly baby. Is there a better example of grace? No. Second Corinthians 12:9 tells us that God’s grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in weaknesses. It also tells us to boast about our weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on us. I know in my life that I have faced and continue to face many trials and weaknesses. I could sit and list my weaknesses of being a wife, daughter, friend, sister, daughterin-law, and employee. Instead of beating myself up over the areas I need to improve, God told me to boast in them! Because of my weaknesses, God’s power can shine through and He can be glorified through them. He continues to shower blessings and grace on me and my family every day, and I could never thank Him enough. Throughout this Christmas season, may we be reminded daily of the love and grace Jesus showed by coming to Earth voluntarily and sacrificing His life for ours. Without His actions of grace, we would be living without hope. May we strive to be as graceful as our Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer: Dear God, I thank you for your wonderful grace. Thank you for coming to Earth for me and giving your life for mine. I ask that you help me to see opportunities where I can be graceful and shine your love so this world will see you through me. May I boast in my weaknesses so your power will be glorified. I love you. In Jesus name, Amen. Cierra Rock

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ember 4

Jesus made himself known to me as the greatest gift in my life during my senior year in high school. Unfortunately, I made a big mistake that kept me from receiving this wonderful gift before that time. Even though I attended church regularly, I did not fully understand the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus. I was living under the false assumption that joining a church, attending regularly, and doing my best to be a “good person” was my ticket to heaven. Fortunately, I met a new friend in school. As I got to know Greg, I sensed that there was something special about him. He had a joy in his life that was missing in mine. As we spent more time together, I learned the source of his joy: Jesus in his heart. I soon joined a Bible study with other teens. This was when I learned that salvation was not based on my membership in church or my good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Instead, it was based on what Christ did for all of us when he died on the cross and rose again (Romans 10:9). I then accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and received the greatest gift of all. Since then I have been blessed by other friends at different stages of my life who took the time to share with me additional gifts such as ways that I could grow and mature in my faith. Most importantly, they were there to help me in times of need and to hold me accountable. I thank God for all of them. Closing thought: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Philemon 1:6 (NIV) I encourage you to take time today to reflect upon the people in your life who had the most impact upon your spiritual growth and then thank God for them. (You may also want to express gratitude to them personally). Next, ask God to show you someone to whom you can pass on the gift of the good news of Jesus this Christmas season. Dan Bensing

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ember 5

“Who is like you, LORD God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” Psalm 89:8 The ocean waves crashed onto shore, the pink sky reflected in the waves. As the sun rose against the backdrop of the vast ocean, I sat with Bible in hand praying that God would speak to my weary, disappointed heart. Circumstances hadn’t gone as I had hoped, and in the valley of disappointment my heart grasped to hold tight to a shred of hope. I couldn’t understand why God had allowed the door to shut, after all I had been obedient to what He called me to do. I sat on the beach, tears sliding down my face, praying that God would reveal Himself to me. That morning, as I sat on the beach, I collided with God’s faithfulness. I flipped my Bible open to Psalm 57 and began reading about the vastness of God’s love and faithfulness. Psalm 57: 2-3 states, “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me…God sends His love and faithfulness.” Further down in Psalm 57 it says, “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:10). As I sat reading these precious promises, God reminded me that He is faithful. He always has been. When I think back on my life, I can see the strands of God’s faithfulness weaving together each chapter of my life. He was there when I walked through seven years of infertility. He was there when I had to walk away from a career in interior design. He was there through a season of unemployment. He was there when I felt led to pursue a career in teaching. He was there when I held a long-awaited child in my arms for the first time. He has always been faithful and He always will be. One of His greatest gifts to me is His faithfulness. It never ceases to amaze me. I don’t deserve it. Yet, it is there beckoning me to the One who loves me with an everlasting love. Psalm 26: 3 says, “for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness”. There are days when it is easy to get caught up in circumstances. We can focus so much on our circumstances that we lose sight of God’s majesty. In what areas of your life do you need to cling to God’s faithfulness? In what ways are you relying on yourself, rather than trusting God? In the past, how has God been faithful in your life? In the seasons of doubt or disappointment, look to God instead of your circumstances and rest in His love. Kristen Smith


ember 6

One of my favorite Christmases occurred in 1997 while our family was living in the Netherlands as expats. Our son Adam was only two at the time so we decided to celebrate Christmas in the Dutch tradition. Our celebration included four other families from Kingsport as well as Brian’s parents. The Dutch celebration is on December 5th with the arrival of Sinterklaas via a boat from Spain. He parades the streets of the Netherland on a white horse with his helper Zwarte Pete passing out Dutch treats. After the parade, we all gathered at our friends’ apartment where the festivities began. We had drawn names in advance and were required to make a gift and write a poem about your person. The gifts were simple but required a lot of thought and creativity. It wasn’t about who could spend the most money, it was about making our friends feel loved and special. We laughed and loved one another that night and made memories that would last a lifetime. When Jesus made Himself known as the greatest gift in my life it was much like the Dutch Christmas; simple, pure, and filled with love. God let me know that he had been thinking about me, and He had hand crafted the gift of salvation just for me. Did it matter that I was only seven years old and at a summer camp? Was I too young to understand? I listened to the quite voice that was telling me to go to the alter that night. I prayed a simple prayer and asked Jesus to come into my life. On a hot summer night at Camp Overton, I knew that I had received the greatest gift of all! Have you received the gift of salvation? Jeannie Miller

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ember 7

Becoming a mother has been one of the most difficult (yet beautiful) seasons of life. Facing many challenges through pregnancy and battling postpartum depression with a colicky baby has brought me to my knees countless days. One name I spoke carried me through the darkest of days: Jesus. The one word He spoke over me time and time again carried me through each moment: endure. When I consider the birth of Jesus and search the Gospel accounts, I see a recurring theme: oppression. From a pregnant, betrothed virgin and a stained lineage, to a corrupt ruler and having to flee for their lives in many different regions, Jesus and his family faced so much opposition. Yet through it all, the most beautiful and significant life was borne, giving us the greatest gift ever given. They endured, and hope flourished. Something magnificent happens when we endure the darkest of days, resting on Christ alone as our cornerstone. Through all pain and all opposition, even still He has been my peace and my portion. Although you may not be in the same season of life as me, we all face oppression daily. Take a look at the state of our world. We are living through oppressive days, but through all the darkness, the light of Jesus makes way. Reflection: Go through the gospel accounts and list all the oppression Jesus and his family faced before, during, and after his birth. Consider all that you have personally endured from birth to present day; praise Jesus for carrying you through those dark days. Prayer:
Jesus, we sit in awe of your birth and your life. You alone are the greatest gift we have ever received. Help us not to lose sight of that fact. Let us rest in your hope as we navigate the dark days. Let us praise you as we walk through the bright days. We adore you, Jesus, for you are the greatest gift we could’ve ever received. Mycah Thurman

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ember 8

Galatians 5:1: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Have you ever misjudged someone really badly? Maybe their first impression left you thinking they were a real jerk, when in fact they were just having a bad day. Even though I grew up in a home with Christian parents, went to church all the time and knew a lot about Jesus, I totally misjudged him. I knew, according to the Bible, that Jesus came to forgive sins, but I thought I had to earn his love. I thought Jesus would only accept me if I earned it. My childhood view of Christianity was that I was to be as moral as possible in order to have Jesus love me. God had rules and the way you loved Him and caused Him to love you in return, was to be as good as humanly possible. Have you ever thought that? I had a religious experience at age five that I thought made me a Christian and I lived as morally as possible for the next ten years, avoiding everything that might be perceived as evil. At age fifteen, I finally came to understand that Christianity isn’t about rule keeping, it’s about freedom like Paul said in Galatians 5:1. Jesus came to set us free from sin, not to be burdened by a yoke of slavery. My yoke was morality. And it was a great burden because I constantly worried I wasn’t good enough and hadn’t done enough to make God love me. What a relief to find that Jesus doesn’t love me based on what I do; he loves me based on what he did! His death on the cross gave me life. Real, abundant life! The past twenty-plus years have been a journey with Jesus where he has become the greatest thing in my life. With Jesus at the center of my life I can weather every storm and enjoy every blessing more fully. Jesus is greater than anything else I have experienced and is changing my life daily. The greatest thing Jesus offers is freedom: - freedom from sin - freedom from comparisons - freedom from my past failures - freedom to love - freedom to be honest about my life - freedom to live with grace toward others

Have you experienced that kind of freedom? It’s available when Jesus becomes greater than everything else in your life. Joel Owen

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ember 9

I have lived with fear, paralyzing fear. Not physically paralyzed but the kind where I couldn’t make any decision because I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t move forward. So, I was just surviving. I have lived in chaos. Chaos in every part of my life, so much so that I was always tired and drained. So, I was just surviving. I have lived with regret. Every decision made, every memory recalled brings sadness, yet I continued to make the same decisions and live the same life. And again, I just survived. I have lived with condemnation so heavy I felt it would crush me. Each minute brings another layer of condemnation thick and heavy. And still I continued to just survive. Then Jesus‌. When I allowed Jesus to truly change my life, He brought an amazing transformation that I could not begin to understand. Jesus gives peace. An amazing peace that even in the midst of difficult times, I can feel the soothing calm that only Jesus brings. Jesus gives hope. The hope that all things are possible even when this world tries to defeat me. Jesus gives faith. A faith so strong that nothing in this world can diminish the shining light of faith He freely gives. Jesus gives love. A love that no human can explain or contain. When wrapped in the warmth of the love of Jesus I never want to be without that love. I want to make sure everyone else experiences that love. Without Jesus, I was surviving life. With Jesus, I am living life. Heavenly Father, please bless the person reading so that they would feel the peace that only You can give. Cover them with hope so they will experience the grace that knowing You brings. Put in them the faith they need at this moment to surrender to Your will. Dear Lord, bless them with Your love and the love of the church. Amen. Yvonne Fuchs

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e m b e r 10

Sometimes you meet people who make you realize your life’s perspectives aren’t quite right. Mr. Gringle is one of those people. Meeting him during his journey through physical therapy and seeing his transition to nursing home care was truly inspirational. This is a story about Mr. Gringle, an elderly gentleman who recently fell and broke his hip. This is a story from his perspective: I fell. Why I fell I do not know and will never fully understand except that God had a greater plan for me. His plan was not my plan, but he is smarter than me. Even though I worked hard daily in rehab, kept a positive attitude, and prayed daily, I was not able to walk again. I was not able to return home because I was unable to care for myself. My family abandoned me. They took my money and my house, leaving me with what people might call nothing. I had nowhere to turn except to God as I transitioned to my new home at a nursing home. Yes, I felt emotions of sadness, hurt, and loss, but no emotion did I feel greater than the love of Christ. You see, there is one gift greater than any other and that is the gift of Christ. I have not lost everything; instead, I have gained. I have new brothers and sisters who have discovered Christ through my circumstance. God saved one man who had given up on life by letting him see the gift through me. This friend decided to get up and walk, so that he could one day be baptized in a river and live his life for Christ. While I might not walk nor leave the walls surrounding me, I still have the gift of salvation through Christ. I have the gift that never fails. I have the gift that continues regardless of circumstance. I have the greatest gift and I choose to live my life to share my gift with everyone around me. I am thankful that God’s plan is better than mine. Had I not fallen, I would have continued to live alone with minimal ability to share my love of Christ with those around me. His plan is better, now I spend each day sharing His love with others and watching them accept the greatest gift. This is Mr. Gringle’s story, the story of a man who knows the gift of Christ’s love. What does the gift of Christ mean to you? If you lost everything including your home, your health, and your family would you still choose to worship Christ and share His good news with the world? Lindsey Mason

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e m b e r 11

I find that one of the most difficult things in my Christian walk, is maintaining a real sense of awe for Jesus. The past few weeks I have been thinking on something David wrote in Psalm 119. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.

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As I looked more into this verse, I found that David wrote this around the time that he was being persecuted by a man named Saul. Being driven by his jealousy, Saul forced David to hide with the Philistines (who were known for worship to pagan gods), in caves, or any place he could take cover from being killed. Can you imagine the temptation David was facing? He was alone, and I’m sure there were so many times he could have just given up on God and made his own plans to kill Saul and take his place on the throne. Or when he was hiding from Saul among the Philistines, think of all the crazy things that were going on that would have been so easy for David to give in to in a pagan culture? I fully believe that David’s awe for God is what kept him faithful when it would have been convenient to do his own thing. I think David could look back several times in life, clearly knowing if it had not been for God’s hand, he would have been done for. But David’s words cut me to the heart: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” I immediately remember the things in my life that God has sought me out and set me free from. I was hopelessly addicted to pornography for years of my life, and ended up losing a lot of things that I loved as a result. Yet God saved me. And continues to save me. Why do I say that he continues to save me? This is where our awe comes into play. When I have no sense of awe for God, I stand in awe of other things. When I stand in awe of other things, I forget how miraculously God has saved me. So I know, every time I decide to stand in awe of God, in those moments he is continuing to save me. Do you remember what God saved you from? And what do you find yourself standing in awe of? Kyle Thurman

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e m b e r 12

The Gospel of Luke has always been my favorite account of the birth of Christ. Every Christmas season I enjoy reading it again to peek in on what it was like for Mary and Joseph before and after Jesus was born. I try to put myself in their shoes. I imagine the visit from the angel Gabriel telling Mary she will carry and birth God’s son. I also imagine the panic they both must have felt when they had nowhere to go when the labor pains hit. But this year as I read through Luke, I read parts of his gospel in a whole new light. This year has been the toughest year of my life. I have walked through difficult seasons before, but none as difficult as this one. Early this year Brian and I found out I have some pretty severe medical issues that doctors say make it nearly impossible for me to conceive a child. As you may remember, the first two chapters of the book of Luke don’t just tell the conception and birth story of one baby boy, but of two. Six months prior to Mary becoming pregnant, her relative Elizabeth becomes pregnant. We know that she gives birth to John the Baptist. This year, as I read Luke’s account, I was struck with grief for Elizabeth and what she went through prior to the blessing of John. “Both of them (Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah) were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive…” (Luke 1:6) I wish I couldn’t relate to what Elizabeth went through, but I can. My story isn’t over yet. Maybe Brian and I will be blessed with the gift of a John of our own, we don’t know. But what we do know is, thanks to what God did that night 2000 years ago, we have the best gift anyone could ever receive. He sent his Son to this earth to atone for our sins and give us everlasting life. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 Have you accepted the gift of Christ? If not, please do not let another Christmas season pass without receiving the gift of all gifts. If so, share the gift you have received with others this year. Patty Eiselstein

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e m b e r 13

Eternity is ever in all of our hearts, the work of His hands around us in the broken but beautiful world, visible in our amazing bodies. His Spirit pursues us in our lives as well, and I was willing to surrender as a teen at a youth event. The Advent of Christ has always been a most amazing event. Again, God is so gentle in His ways with us, something foretold, yet you would not have imagined, so frail and delicate, such risk, so exposed. The heavenly hosts you would have imagined were there but revealed only to the lowest of men. Each segment of the story... I can say, “I really like that part.” Because it is for me, and for you. “Read me that story again, Abba, Father.” The part where the birth is in the manger, as there was no plan for room in the Inn. I really like that part. It reminds me not to look for His grace in circumstances, in riches, or comfort. The part where Mary was a virgin but gave birth to the mystery of God-made-Man. I really like that part. It reminds me of her pondering God’s Words in her heart, of her obedience, of being humbled before the world, of why this story is different from all the others, life where it was not possible, one of His favorites, one He repeats in His Book. The part where He sends word to Joseph of His plan. I really like that part. I try to picture Joseph, hearing, and torn, and marveling, just like Mary. For me, this story is my story, and our story, and His story for Us. I can pause, and listen, and hear, and obey. How is that even possible, that a kind God would put eternity in my heart, make me, and pursue me, gently, daily, and teach me, answer, lead? It is a great beautiful mystery and love story. Father, today I love and worship you with all my heart. Thank you for this gift of grace from your Son, and the teaching of your Spirit. I am open now to hear from you for all you have for this day, and am so grateful. Help me to love as you love. Amen. Allison Angott

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How has Jesus made Himself known as the greatest gift in your life? What difference has that made to you? In this season of giving we desire to have an impact in one way or another through the giving of gifts. Whether that impact is a surprise, a joyful sigh, or even a boisterous laugh, we want our thoughts to be passed along to the one receiving the gift. Christ has been no different. I imagine Him sitting there with eagerness as each new Christian begins their life through His gift of salvation, but this is not the only gift that He gives us along the journey. He daily brings His mercies to us (Lamentations 3:22-23). These mercies can come after the highest highs or even the lowest lows. And it is through each of these that we see His greatest gift to us...Hope. This holiday season you may be experiencing some personal highs or lows, but I want you to see that God is working in each of these. “Come let us return to the Lord” Hosea tells us. “He has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” We can hold to the assurance of His hope that He will heal us! He will bandage our wound! He will restore us! The Savior born on that most celebrated night was the gift of hope to the world! What gift is greater than that? Jared Lester

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1a From the throne, they see me hopeless in my goodness. They see my best attempts tarnished by self-administered doses of fear, lust, greed ... Endless is my potential for humanity’s incongruent motivators. Alone, I survive. At best, my plans serve a master I simultaneously admire and despise. So, I’m captured and willing to be so. But Father, Son and Spirit know: alone is not good for me. Surviving and conflicted is not what I was created for. So, I find: Freedom with him. Created to be with him. With him. In him. I am free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1b He knows standing firm is asking much of me. So I imagine he is by my side standing firm with me. Without him I will plunge into the “burdened again.” Lost in my aloneness and slavery. So I choose: Stand with him. Created to be with him. With him. In him. I stand. Years ago, I learned, standing with Jesus as Savior guarantees a seat in the Kingdom. Heaven is the greatest promised future of all time! Imagine the day when we will stand firm with him in a fullness of a freedom only found in that Eternal City! Freedom and eternal life. His demonstration of grace … astounding. I shudder! Verses later I read: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6b In my arrogance, I crumble. Realizing: MY freedom. MY eternal security lavished for. ME. MY Savior. Everything is no-thing without Love. Crumbling hurts. Yet, Years, relationships, maturity, and he teaches me. Freedom: means to an end. Streets of gold: just the destination. Faith expressed through love: all that counts! 2017: A free, older man. Learning to count. Learning to love. Mat Tynes

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Jesus is the reason for the season! This expression becomes somewhat ubiquitous during the holidays. As Christians, we say it, we sing it, we put it on cards and signs. How often do we actually live it? Oh, we try. We want Jesus to be the center of the season. But all of the distractions of Christmas shopping and parties and family dinners are, well, distracting. We know Christmas is all about Jesus. But our actions belie that worshiping Him is little more than another item on the holiday to-do list. What happens when a Christmas comes along where you don’t have any choice? When you’re forced to “put your money where your mouth is” and let Jesus be your sole focus? Several years ago, our Christmas season began with a bombshell. Nelson had lost his job. We didn’t really have savings, and now there was no money coming in. There wouldn’t be much in the way of holiday shopping or attending fun events for us that year. If seven unemployments in nine years have taught me anything, it’s that God is faithful and He shows up. He certainly did that Christmas season. I found a “family inductive Advent study” online. Sarah and I went through it together. I read and studied the Scripture passages; she colored the pictures. Every time we plugged in the lights on our Christmas tree, Sarah joyfully proclaimed, “Jesus is the Light of the world!” I’d always loved Christmas lights for their beauty and festive sparkle, but the reminder of their symbolism was especially poignant that year. I learned for the first time the meaning of the Advent candles: hope, love, joy, peace. Was I ever in need of those! And as I kept my focus on Jesus, on his coming, on His gift to us, I experienced those things. There was hope in the midst of despair, love when I felt lost and alone, joy during sorrow and fear, peace that passed all understanding. I look back on that Christmas as one of the holiest holiday seasons I’ve ever experienced. And it laid a framework for Christmases that followed. The next year, Nelson had a job at Christmas. I delighted in making plans for generous giving that hadn’t been possible the previous year. But I also downloaded the Advent study. And whenever I saw Christmas lights, I reminded myself, “Jesus is the Light of the world.” And He truly is the reason for the season. What things distract you most during the Christmas season? What makes it hard for you to keep the focus on Jesus? How could you be more intentional this year about worshiping Him and celebrating His coming? Karen Butterworth

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“When through the woods and forest glades I wander” When I was a very young pup, I loved tagging along with my Dad whenever I could. He taught me to enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing and most of all, he taught me to have a deep appreciation for God’s creation. His favorite hymn was “How Great Thou Art”. If he tried to sing, every animal and bird within a mile would disappear. Though my Mom had perfect pitch and was the pianist for our small country church in Upper Michigan for 60+ years, Dad was tone deaf but still loved to praise his Lord. While sitting on a log one day when I was seven or eight years old, we had a nice chat. It was a very special time when Dad introduced me to his loving Father. Perhaps that is why I have a deep love and respect for the great outdoors. That’s where I began my relationship with Jesus. I see our Great Creator in everything. In our part of the country, we are fortunate to have four distinct seasons. God has beautifully laid out His plan for us to enjoy. When I take the time to sit down on that log again, I hear “The birds sing sweetly in the trees”, and can picture the smiling face of Jesus. When looking closely at the ground, I see His creatures scurrying about. Some of them prove that God has a sense of humor. Why do some of them need so many legs? How is that for a design that could only be created by God? Each has a purpose in the ecosystem He has laid out; just like each of us have a purpose in life. We need to glorify God in all that we do and say while we reflect on all He has done for us and all that He will continue to do if we put our total trust in Him. Even as He orchestrates the nature around us, He directs our lives if we will only seek Him in all that we do. When have you last taken the time to walk in the woods to see the beauty, watch and listen to a waterfall, listen to the birds and watch the animals while you contemplate the Great Creator, and all He has done for you and your family? Bill Peterson

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I don’t usually have an emotional reaction to gifts. I grew up in a large family where Christmas morning was chaos. We all tore into our own piles of presents, shouting thank-yous across the room. No one really watched each other open gifts, so there was no pressure to react in a particular way. Mandy’s family does things, well…differently. They distribute all of the gifts to the correct person before a single one is opened. They take turns going around the room, each person opening one gift while everyone else watches. With all eyes on you while you open each gift, there is a felt need to react adequately. It leads to some hilarious moments. “Oh boy! Socks! I needed these! Just what I wanted!” No matter the present, it always seems like the most exciting thing that could have possibly been contained in that package. Last year I didn’t have to conjure up any pseudo-excitement when opening my present from my wife. I don’t remember what I gave Mandy for Christmas last year. Neither does she. I just asked her. But I remember what she got me. And I remember my reaction. The year 2016 had been a crazy year for the Owen family. I was working four jobs. I was on the road for 2-3 weeks out of each month. When I was home, our pace was rarely short of frantic. We were all a bit worn thin. I remember opening the gift bag. It was a devotional. I prepared myself to give a reaction of celebration, all the while knowing I wouldn’t have or take time to read it. Then I opened it. Inside was a gift certificate. Mandy had rented a cabin for me to have a personal retreat. A cabin in the woods with nothing and no one around. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. Without even realizing it, tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t even say thank you. I just wept. It was an unexpected gift. And an unexpected reaction. For Christmas, my wife had given me the gift of peace. I love to think about how Jesus gave us that same gift. As Jesus spoke some of his last words to his disciples before his death, that was the gift he promised them. “I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:24) The Prince of Peace imparted the peace of God. No matter the craziness or difficulty of our life, God is in control. We can experience the peace of God not by acting, but by resting in Him. When your life feels out of control, do you pause to remember that we have been promised peace? Have you taken time to rest in the peace of Christ? Take a few moments to celebrate the gift that Jesus promised: “peace of mind and heart.” Phil Owen

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Luke 2:1-4 Do you ever feel like that the world is just whistling by and you’re caught up in it? Do you feel like circumstances beyond your control have you surrounded? Consider Joseph. Caesar decrees a census. Joseph had no control over the government. He had to uproot his family, perhaps suspend his job, travel to another city, and stay there – in order to just comply with government red tape! Scripture doesn’t tell us his state of mind. We don’t know if he was angry, sad, scared, or excited. When the government decides something, you just have to go with it. Also, how would you feel arriving in a different place, unable to find clean accommodations, then having your wife go into labor around a bunch of farm animals with all the associated smells and noises? I can only imagine the marriage counseling that would be necessary, maybe an investigation from child protective services, and all the strange rumors that would fly, if this happened today. Christmas, to me, is about God’s faithfulness in the midst of a world out of control. A world that doesn’t make sense. A world that often sweeps us along unmercifully. The quaint manger scene, so serenely portrayed throughout the world, was really about a family coping with circumstances beyond their control. But totally in God’s control. In fact, God often uses the totally out of control times in our lives to show us and teach us His faithfulness. Christmas for many of us is messy, sad, full of stress, and running helter-skelter to deal with people and circumstances beyond our control. Reflect on the chaos in Jesus’ own family at Christmas and realize that the God of the universe chose to be born under such surroundings! Our family has had many complicated Christmases! My parents are divorced and we have had family dinners where my mother and her husband are seated at one table and my father and his wife are seated in a different room. Three of our children are grown. Trying to get everyone on the same page and plan some together time is complicated and often involves friction. We sometimes cry together and cringe when we think about trying to plan holidays. Some of our extended family do not believe in God, so they will occasionally come and visit after Christmas but not during Christmas. Last year our tree decided to bust the tree stand, and we ended up having to anchor it to the wall to keep it from collapsing. I could give other examples, but the point is that Christmas is often messy and has circumstances beyond our control! I love God, though, because He specializes in showing up under messy circumstances! God loves you and is in the middle of whatever messiness you may find yourself. Your God may be using the mess to make Himself known in a more real and powerful way! Enjoy Christmas not because it is the surreal sanctity of peace, often portrayed by the media and other people. Enjoy Christmas because God spoke his supreme revelation into the World when He sent His Son, Jesus! Gordon Williams

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Several years ago, our family drove to Bristol Motor Speedway to experience the millions of Christmas lights and decorations. We were eager to start the Christmas celebration with a bang. Unfortunately, the thrill evaporated quickly once we realized the line was hours long and we simply could not wait it out. Driving home amongst the groans and frustrations, I recalled a live nativity scene at a rural church in Jonesborough, which we thought might be an acceptable substitute for missing the Bristol lights. As we drove up the hill, we dimmed our van lights and entered a time 2000 years old. We saw angel carolers singing in the cool wind, a donkey gnawing hay, and three kings gazing awestruck at a star. And then, rounding the corner, there HE was--the Baby Jesus with his mother Mary and father Joseph. The message this night sunk deep in my heart--Jesus came quietly and silently--but the Miracle was no less. He did not come with the noise and frills of a lit-up race track. But instead came in the simplest, most ordinary of ways--to a cave, to the peasant shepherds of the day, to a bed of hay for resting his head. At age seven, Jesus also came into my life quietly yet miraculously. I do not have one of those 180 degree testimonies of being down one path, like the Apostle Paul, and suddenly turning in a new direction. The truth is I don’t remember a Christmas where Jesus wasn’t the “reason for the season.” There have been times when the simplicity of my faith story has felt unimpressive. But as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that receiving Jesus early-on and growing up with a solid foundation built upon the Rock of His word is no less a miracle and one that has undoubtedly spared me much pain and frustration. In fact, the commonness and quietness of His coming into my life bears similarity to His first coming at Bethlehem. And for that I can sing “Joy to the World” with the loudest of them! How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts, the blessing of His heaven. Jesus is truly a wondrous gift, that has imprinted nearly every facet of my life. He has impacted what I do with my time, where I spend money, and how I treat others. He led me to my choice of Ann as my spouse, and somehow convinced me to be a dad to four young (and crazy!) kids. He opens my eyes to the importance of helping others. He compels me to pass on His story to the next generation. He gives me comfort during disappointment or loss. He helps me understand the chaotic world around us by providing a worldview lens to see more clearly. In today’s entertainment driven, amuse-thyself world, the Christmas message is ordinary and common in a way that is almost offensive. But when we take time to pause and embrace this simplicity of Jesus’ coming, it is only then that we can enter into the “Deep Magic” of its truth. And it is that blessing of His heaven which continues to give my life greater purpose and meaning. I pray that you may reflect deeply on the simplicity--yet profoundness--of Jesus’s coming. And in doing so--may it bring you deeper Joy! Mark Treece

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What does Christmas mean to me? Christmas is about the most wonderful gift man has ever been given, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The man whom would one day give up His life for all our sins. He gave His life so that we may live. For me Christmas is a time for giving of yourself and loving others, all year long. I hope all will have what I have; everlasting life. I grew up going to a Methodist Church and joined the church when I was 12 years old. I was a good kid, the youngest of three boys – that kind of sucked. When I wanted to go places, or do things my brothers did, either I was too young, or they had to go with me. They never wanted to go. Around the age of 15, I just started doing my own thing, running with the wrong crowd. I started doing drugs, smoking, drinking, and smoking weed. In high school it grew into pills, acid, and coke. Through this time, I knew the Lord was with me because He watches over and takes care of His own. He talked to me, but I just didn’t listen. Just before Christmas of 1996 my mother passed away and that is when I started smoking crack. Mom had been the only positive force in my life. In 1999 my soul died, I was lost. When the ball dropped in Times Square in 2004, I dropped to my knees and asked the Lord to take all the pain away. Two weeks later I became homeless for the first time. God let me smoke crack for another year but the more I did the less I enjoyed it. I had not done any drugs for about a month when I came across sixty dollars. I said to myself, a Sunkist, Reese’s Cup, a pack of cigarettes and $50 crack rock. That is when I heard a voice saying pick up your bible. After hearing it three times, I picked up my bible and it fell open to 2 Samuel 22:2-4. The first line reads “The Lord is my Rock”. I didn’t need any rock but the Lord. That first year I learned a lot about what God had done and what He will do. He had walked with me, talked with me and even carried me. He is still doing it today. Turn to Jesus, he is always there for you, even when you don’t think He is. 2 Samuel 22:2-4 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies (NKJ) On the first day of Christmas my true love game to me the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Read John 14:6 Brent Long

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God gave the greatest gift of His son 2000 years ago. A gift that was noticed by few, unexpected by most and misunderstood by all. Many kids experience quite the opposite on Christmas day. They usually know exactly what they want, expect to receive it and know when it’s coming. Usually, this doesn’t take away the joy that comes from unwrapping that present Christmas morning. But Jesus, God’s gift to all, everywhere, was something else. Something greater. Here’s how that idea has made a difference in my life. First of all, Jesus is greater than my circumstances. He doesn’t wear down, wear out or tear up. He rolls with me on the good days, the bad days and the days I feel so beat up I do not even know what day it is. He is above all I can ask, imagine or think; worry, fret or fear. Secondly, Jesus is greater than my perspective. He knows the beginning of my story, where I am now and how my story will play out. He knows where I’ve been and what lies ahead. Nothing surprises him or catches Him off guard. So I need to just relax. He’s got this. Finally, Jesus is greater than…me. I grew up going to church and knew the story of Jesus who died on the cross for the sins of the world, but I had my own view of what that meant. God loves everyone so how could there be consequences for not accepting His way. Then as a teenager I realized that Jesus was the way. He died for me. It was my sins that put Him on that cross and that He died with me in mind because I needed to be redeemed and reconciled to the Father. I’m reminded each Christmas season that God’s gift of His son that 1st Christmas morning was to eventually die on a cross for me. God is a Father who not only knows what is best for me, but will “perfect that which concerns me” until I am “mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Now that is the greatest gift! Response/Prayer: Fill in the blanks. Looking back, I can see how God was teaching me ______________________________ ___________________________________ when I went through __________________ ______________________________________________________________________ Andy Malcolm

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Our son Ethan loves gifts. He LOVES receiving them (he’s six years old; this goes without saying), but he really loves giving them, too. He used to rummage through his toys whenever visitors came over so he could send them home with a present, whether they needed that not-so-gently-loved Batman figure or not. Gifts really are his love-language. One thing I’ve noticed about gifts by watching Ethan is that sometimes the recipient has to grow or be helped into fully appreciating a gift. Ethan might need to explain a drawing he made before we appreciate what he meant to capture. Other times, he doesn’t grasp all that a new gift can do, but once we show him how it works, you see the excitement and appreciation grow. It is not so different with us and the Giver of Good Gifts. Paul addresses this in Philippians 2:12 when he says to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His purpose.” Just like a kid who sometimes needs to be shown how to use and appreciate a new gift, I need God to work in and through me to help me appreciate and live out this gift of redemption. Since my life with Jesus first began, my perspective on which aspect of the gift of God-With-Us was most meaningful to me has varied. During this season of my life, I have small children. There are great insecurities that come when I think about the vast opportunity and weighty responsibility of raising two people who are unique and precious to their Creator. I need God to daily work in me so that I might will and act according to His purpose, not mine. What sustains me most in this stage is that not only has He done His work of redemption in me in the past, but He promises to continue to work. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He started the good work of redemption in us. He will keep teaching, shepherding, refining…until it is completed, and we fully grasp it and fully appreciate it. What hope that brings for this season and every season! What ways can you identify in your current season of life that God is sustaining you? How will you thank Him for providing for you in these ways? Mandy Owen

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Jesus Is the Greatest Gift The Gift of Time. I lost my mom when I was only 19, she was only 54. While I had my mom in my life for 19 years, thanks to The Lord guiding her to rededicate her life to Him the last two years of her life, I had two real years with my mom. 730 days where my relationship with my mom was real and authentic. That time was a gift from Jesus. The Gift of Salvation. Sometimes it takes losing someone very close to you to realize what you were missing in the first place. My mom’s favorite hymn was ‘Amazing Grace’. I was at an extended praise and worship service. They kept singing it on and on. I had to excuse myself. I got up and went to the restroom. Once I was inside I lost it. Broke down into tears and fell apart. All of the sudden I felt myself no longer leaning up against the wall or touching the floor. I opened my eyes and I saw two blue eyes staring back at me, I recognized them right away, they were moms, then I saw two gorgeously radiant and alive hazel blue eyes staring back at me, I did not recognize them, then I heard a voice saying “She is with me, and she is okay.” Those eyes were Jesus’s eyes. That voice was the voice of God. I knew right then that I needed to get my life straight with The Lord and I went about doing just that. Just two years prior I was yelling and screaming and cursing God for taking my mom away. But He was right there pursuing me and wooing me the whole time. He never gave up on me. I gladly accepted His gift of Salvation. The Gift of Love. I thought that I had met and married the love of my life. Matt and I met in 2008. Got engaged in 2009. Got married in 2010. He passed away in 2012. I did not know the meaning of the word Love until my Savior walked through my grief with me as if it were His own. He has become my Mother. He has become my Husband. He is my Friend. And the greatest gift that He has given me is the gift of Himself. John 15:13 NIV Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. What is He to you? Karla Bailey

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“God, if you’re out there, show me how I can get to know you.” With that feeble prayer, I acknowledged that my faith was largely of the inherited variety. 16 years of Sunday school, church services, socials, choir singing, and even a “Christian Club” at school (I was president) had shown me that “God” was just a concept for me – not someone I really knew. Six months later I marveled as I heard a preacher say, in closing out an altar call, “You don’t have to make a commitment to come forward, but if you’d like someone to explain how you can get to know God, come talk to us.” That night, my search ended and my journey of faith began. But what I’d like to focus on is that idea of “knowing God.” Not knowing of Him, or about Him, but knowing Him. God’s gift to us at Bethlehem was more than simply a way to escape eternal punishment– separation from God. It was a miraculous step in which God became personally accessible to each of us. We (humankind) really knew Him. He walked among us, unnaturally constrained for those 33 years by space and time. Seeing and being seen by us, touching us, smelling and tasting as we did. Small wonder that we can be confident that He hears us, too. So, while I’m grateful for the “legal” justification God offers us through faith in Jesus’ redeeming work, I’m even more thankful for His willingness to accept the constraints of humanity in order to live and work among us, seeking us out, drawing us to Himself. Becoming know-able. In John 17:3, Jesus – in a prayer – says to God: “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (NIV) This Christmas season, as you contemplate the baby lying in a manger, ask yourself “how much more accessible could He have become?” Bill Wight


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2017 GFC Christmas Devotional  

This booklet is Grace Fellowship Church’s Christmas gift for you and your family. None of the people who share their story in this booklet a...