Archive for the ‘Devotionals’ Category
Posted on December 13, 2013 - by Kav
Have you heard about of legend, The Night the Animals Talked? According to Norwegian folklore, the baby Jesus was born at the stroke of midnight with only Mary and Joseph and a menagerie of stable animals as witnesses to the sacred occasion. The animals gathered round and watched as the babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And then an astonishing thing happened. God gave voice to the animals that night and they began to praise Him for the miracle they had witnessed. Their ability to talk only lasted a matter of minutes – until the shepherds came to worship the Savior. At their entrance the animals fell silent.
But the legend of the talking animals persists in Scandinavian countries to this day. It is believed that, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, animals are given the gift of speech so they can praise God for the birth of His son.
Has an ardent animal lover I will confess to paying particularly close attention to the various dogs and cats in my life on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch them in mid-speech. Alas, I can’t claim any success, though I maintain that I’ve come close a time or two. J
So when I think of the nativity story, I imagine it from the viewpoint of the animals in attendance. And of course there would be a dog in the stable. Likely of a herding variety – in charge of keeping the peace and guarding the animals sheltered there. I like to think of their innocent acceptance of a new life. Their welcoming warmth and willingness to make room when the humans in town would not. All traits that we would do well to emulate any season, but especially at Christmas.
This Christmas will be the first one in twenty-five years that I won’t be celebrating with a special furbuddy. But I’ll still take out my book of Christmas stories and read about The Night the Animals Talked, imagining the hullabaloo my collective menagerie is making up in Heaven praising God on the most wonderful night of the year.
Posted on December 12, 2013 - by Regina
The Innkeeper’s wife hadn’t stopped for anything all day. Cooking, cleaning, making sure the less-desirable guests didn’t make off with the possessions of the nice folks who just wanted to follow the rules and do as they were decreed.
Now, rowdy guests finally quiet, kids fed and put to bed, the kitchen ready to start up before daylight – which wouldn’t be too many hours, now – she is finally ready to lay her head on the pillow and claim her OWN bed.
She could hear the clink of coins on the other side of the curtain, wondering just how long her innkeeper husband would count and re-count the money. This census was a God-send for them. Yes, it was hard work, but it was the first time a decree from Caesar Augustus had resulted in a positive way, financially, for the little people in their part of the world.
“Please, Father God, bless all those under our roof.”
She prayed for their guests. She prayed for her husband and family.
When the candle went out and the curtain parted, she breathed a sigh of relief. A few hours. That’s all she needed. She relaxed.
Just as her husband was settling in – immediately starting to snore, as usual – she heard a voice outside -
“Please! Help us!”
Fear rippled through her as she wondered – was this legitimate? Who would be out at this time of night? But then, travelers had been arriving all day. Why not all night?
With a sigh, she poked her husband. “Wake up! There’s someone outside!”
“There’s always someone outside! The town is FULL tonight. WE’RE full tonight. They’ll just have to go somewhere else . . .” He turned over, his sentence ending on a little snort-snore.
She shoved his shoulder. “No! They’re asking for help!”
“Then you go . . . I’m exhausted . . .”
Another punch. This time, harder. “Get out of this bed or you’ll have to sleep with the donkeys tonight!”
She didn’t usually threaten, but there was something about the young man’s voice, and the stifled cry of pain from what sounded like a young woman that made her anxious.
He got up and put his robe back on, lighting a candle once more. After a few seconds, she followed him to the door. What she saw broke her heart.
A very frightened young man was turning away from the door, going to a heavily pregnant young woman. A girl, really, her face etched in pain.
Her husband turned away from the door to face her. “I told him we have no room.” He shook his head, as if saddened at the situation. “There’s just no place for them – and if there were, she can’t have her baby HERE, in the midst of all these people.” His hands were in front of him, entreating her to understand.
Her earlier threat to her husband came back to her – sleeping with the donkeys – and the innkeeper’s wife smiled triumphantly.
“Go and catch them! We do have a place!”
His eyes widened. “Not my bed, I hope!”
“No, somewhere even better – the stable!”
“ You just put clean straw down in the last stall in case anyone came with a donkey or camel, and nobody has asked for it. It’s there, it’s warm, and it’s got no eager onlookers.”
“But . . . the stable?” He was not convinced. “Besides, they’re long gone by now . . .”
“Take a look.” She pointed out the door to the young man and woman just a few steps farther than they had been moments before. She was squeezing the young man’s hand tightly, gritting her teeth as another wave of pain had obviously stopped them in their tracks.
“Young man! We have a place! It’s not much . . . a stable . . . but it’s clean and warm. You’ll have it to yourself if you don’t count donkeys and cows.”
Relief was evident on the boy’s face. He glanced at the girl. “Will that be OK? It’s a stable, not an inn.”
The young woman spoke gently. She looked at the young man, and then back at the innkeeper and his wife. “God has provided a warm place. And I can’t go farther. It sounds perfect.” Another contraction made her close her eyes as the color drained from her face, visible even in the dim light of the lantern.
“We’ll take it. May God bless you people, as you are blessing us.”
The innkeeper’s wife gathered some extra blankets and rags, and an extra lantern, and made her way behind her husband as he showed them down the path to the stable. It was a cave, really, but a place where the wind would not cut, and the horde of people invading the town for the census would not bother them.
A few hours later, the innkeeper’s wife was awakened by a cry. Not a frightened cry, but the amazing, heart-warming cry of a newborn just introduced into the world. She smiled, relieved that the worst was over for this young family, and went back to sleep.
Little did she know that what had come was her own salvation.
For unto us a Child is born, unto 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.
Posted on December 11, 2013 - by Brenda Anderson
It had been a long day. A good one, yes, yes it was, but long nonetheless. The innkeeper yawned as he carried his money purse beyond the curtain where his family lay–his wife and his full quiver of children–their slumber so deep even the rustling coins wouldn’t wake them. He rubbed his belly as another yawn escaped. There was nothing like a full stomach to bring on needed deep sleep.
He hefted his purse onto the table. Judging by its weight, his family’s appetites would be fully sated for many weeks. This census that Caesar Augustus decreed, it was a good thing for the merchants in this normally sleepy town of Bethlehem.
Not so good for the travelers.
Every bed was taken. Every pallet slept on. Each blanket claimed. Even floor space was consumed by the visitors, yet much more was needed. He’d lost count of the number of weary souls he’d turned away, without an idea of where to direct them.
But that wasn’t his problem.
He sat at the table, preparing to dump out the day’s take when a pounding on the door interrupted. Likely another traveler. It was easier to ignore them than to peer into their longing faces. He took care dumping the coins on the table as noiseless as possible, but the knocking persisted, accompanied with a muffled, yet clearly desperate voice.
“Please, my wife is with child, and her labor has begun.”
The innkeeper stared at the thatched roof. “What more do you require of me?”
A feather weight rested on his shoulder. “Answer the door, dear husband.”
He sighed. His wife was not one to be turned down.
Shoulders heavy, he slouched to the door and tugged it open, his wife’s presence directly behind him. “I have no room,” he said gruffly, but then his gaze went to the young woman seated on a donkey led by a man. The woman was a child, yet great with a child of her own. The man held out coins, barely enough for a blanket. They would find hospitality no where else.
The innkeeper rested his hand on the man’s shoulder and softened his voice. “I am sorry, but we have no space available. Not even floor.”
“We do have space.” His wife came beside him, carrying a blanket, the blanket from his children’s bed, the last one in their home. “Wife, we have no room.”
“Yes, but the stable does.”
“The stable! That’s not fit for–”
“We’ll take it.” The young woman spoke up, pain flaring in her eyes.
The innkeeper just nodded as his wife handed him a bundle. “I will show you the way.”
This story always makes me consider the space we have in our home. The warmth. The food. Mary and Joseph merely wanted a roof to stay under, walls to keep out the wind, and they settled for the lowliest of places.
Unfortunately their plight is not that uncommon even today. In my county alone, there are hundreds of homeless families, many are teens on their own. The temperatures in Minnesota this past week have hovered around zero, and those teens have no place to stay.
The innkeeper didn’t know it at the time, but in providing for the “least of these,” he was providing shelter for our Savior. The innkeeper set the example–now it’s up to us to follow it.
Below, I’ve provided the link to one of my favorite organizations, one that helps homeless teens. I’d love it if, in the comments below, readers could provide additional links to organizations that help the homeless.
Help for homeless youth: http://hope4youthmn.org/
Posted on December 10, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
The Christmas Story is especially poignant, I think, because of the circumstances from which it started. Mary – the mother of God’s Son – was a teenager. Not just a teen, but on the younger side, 14 at the oldest. And not only was she pregnant through strange means, she was betrothed to a man quite a bit older. I’m not sure what that means since the lifespan 2,000 years ago was much shorter than today’s. But it seems Joseph was not a teenager like his betrothed.
Mary has already encountered an angel of God, telling her news that would make any of us tremble (or fall over in a dead faint). She was told she was favored by God, and that she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. Her response? Very different than what I think mine would have been. She bowed her head and accepted this calling, this life-changing event with dignity and grace. I wasn’t dignified, graceful or brave at that age.
I can’t imagine how she found the courage or the words to tell Joseph. His reaction was probably less than joyful, probably not very pleasant. It wasn’t until he had a dream (where he learned that the strange and disheartening news she’d given him was actually true) that he accepted the situation. It must have been very uncomfortable for them as a couple until that point. (It’s hard enough to navigate the path of a new relationship without this kind of a wrench in the plans!)
Mary went to visit her much older cousin, Elizabeth, who greeted her in an unexpected way. Elizabeth claimed her own unborn child had leaped for joy within her at the sound of Mary’s voice, and that she (Elizabeth) was thrilled to be visited by the mother of her Lord. Can you imagine traveling to see a relative, an elder, who greets you like that?
With all of that going on, Joseph learned he was required to travel to Bethlehem for the census. They had to go right then, not when it was convenient (like after the baby was born). So they packed their donkey and off they went. Mary was ready to deliver at any time but there she sat, atop a donkey, for miles and miles. Owww, comes to mind.
Arriving in Bethlehem, among the hoards of others there for the census, Mary was ready to deliver. No midwife, no family, no one there to help but Joseph – and no actual room to stay in. The Inn was full. About to deliver the Son of God, and they’re turned away from what appears to be the only Inn in town. But hey, the stable is available.
No doubt exhausted, dirty and in pain, the stable may have sounded okay. So they settled in, and in the silence of the night, this teen mother delivers her divine baby (which probably didn’t feel so divine) with only Joseph in attendance. Odds are he didn’t have a lot of experience delivering babies. Mary probably didn’t either.
Yet even though they were alone, I think they must have felt God’s presence. He’d started this whole process, after all. He wouldn’t leave them to fend for themselves. He didn’t provide a luxury suite at the Inn, but He made sure they had a roof over their heads. He didn’t announce the Baby King’s birth with earthly trumpets and fanfare, but the very heavens sang and rejoiced. There wasn’t a long line of royalty forming to greet the child, but wide-eyed shepherds came in awe then went out to tell the world (the first evangelists!).
We may not be called to do something as world-changing as Mary, but I think she shows us how to handle whatever God asks of us – with dignity, grace and an abiding trust that He who calls us will be faithful to see us through.
Posted on December 9, 2013 - by Kim
Just imagine the rehearsal room of the heavenly host in the months leading up to the birthday bash in Bethlehem. Nervous anticipation rippled along the rows of musicians as the director handed out the sheet music.
There would be no solos.
But that didn’t matter.
There would be no duets.
But that didn’t matter.
There would be no trios, no quartets or quintets.
But that didn’t matter.
There are no divas in the heavenly choir.
All that mattered was being part of this. Being able to participate, to lend a voice to the announcement of the King of Kings’ arrival among humanity. This was Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and the Royal Albert Hall all rolled up into one. This was the performance of an eternity!
And if given the opportunity, I’d gladly have sat in the last seat on the alto row just to be part of that glorious Alleluia!
Posted on December 5, 2013 - by Shari Barr
All my life I’ve been fascinated by the stars in the nighttime sky. As a little girl I often searched the heavens for the star that led the Wise Men to the baby Jesus over two thousand years ago, wondering if I could still see it.
I imagined walking over hills and valleys following the bright star that would lead me to Him. I really wanted to go on that journey with the Star of the East as my guide. How cool that would have been to walk into the manger and see the newborn King.
If I could trade places with anyone or anything in the nativity, I would choose the star. It had such an amazing job. Filled with God’s light, the star showed up just when the Magi needed it to lead them to Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. It doesn’t get much better than that.
How many times have I wished a “light” would show me the way when I have a tough decision to make. Or, when someone comes to me for advice and I don’t have a clue as how to help? Wouldn’t it make life so much simpler if a bright light could point me in the right direction?
Maybe I don’t have the Star of the East to guide me like the Wise Men did, but I definitely have a different kind of star to light my way. Following our King is the greatest light possible. I shouldn’t need a reminder to do that, but for some reason it’s not that easy for me. Unfortunately I need a smack in the head more times than I care to admit.
If I could remember to follow Him always, maybe I could come a little closer to becoming the light that God wants for all Christians.
Posted on December 4, 2013 - by Rose Ross Zediker
In the Nativity story I would want to be one of the wise men. Not because, I think I’m wise, but imagine their excitement when they discovered there was a change in the night sky, a glowing star that held a message, the arrival of a King.
At first glance it may have appeared as a twinkle, something a little of out the normal. Being wise men, there was much study and discussion until the star’s brilliance didn’t allow for argument. Prophesy had come to pass, the Messiah had arrived.
Now they bustled around their offices and homes packing and planning for their long journey always with one eye on the star. They rode through the heat of the day always with one eye on the star. They set up camp at night always with one eye on the star.
Trusting, always trusting the stars message they traveled through foreign lands. Many days turned into years before their journey ended. Their eyes left the star and gazed at a boy king. They bowed before their Savior and gifted Him with frankincense, gold and myrrh.
The wise men’s story reminds me of my own faith journey. What started out as a small movement in my heart has turned into a long journey filled with joys, challenges and occasional doubts yet I always keep my eyes Heavenward and trust that long ago star’s message. A Savior was born to the world. Our Savior was born to world. An exciting event worth celebrating!
Posted on December 3, 2013 - by Shannon Vannatter
The Bible uses another word for a donkey, but since the world has sullied that word, I’ll stick with donkey. In Bible times, having several donkeys was a sign of wealth. Donkeys aren’t worth much these days.
My parents bought a donkey because they took in a stray dog with a penchant for herding their cows. Their cows were right where they were supposed to be and didn’t need herded. So, they bought a donkey because donkeys would just as soon kick a dog witless than to look at them. Dogs know this and being the smart animals they are, dogs don’t go near donkeys.
It worked pretty good – instead of their dog herding the cows, he stands at the fence and barks until we all go insane – but he doesn’t go near the donkey. My parents decided the donkey was so cute, they’d get a male and have a donkey baby. Soon after one male donkey baby was born, mommy was expecting again. When they separated mommy and daddy, daddy hee hawed until we all really went insane. So they took daddy donkey to the sale barn. They paid more in fees to the sale barn for selling the donkey than they made from the sale.
When dogs aren’t around, donkeys are serene, gentle, and reliable, but they’re also known for being stubborn when it comes to being ridden. I’ve been to a donkey basketball game and trust me, donkeys don’t like to be ridden. Yet the donkeys God used did exactly what He told them to do.
Back in Numbers, he used Balaam’s donkey to teach Balaam a lesson, save his life, and He even gave the donkey the power to speak. In Judges, God used Sampson and a donkey’s jawbone to slew a thousand men. Later, Jesus sent two disciples to find the donkey and her colt for him to ride into Jerusalem and fulfill prophecy before everything went downhill.
Before Jesus’ birth, Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. No, the Bible doesn’t say that. It says, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” (Luke 2: 4-5)
No details of how they got there. But the trip from Galilee to Bethlehem was 70 to 90 miles and most scholars believe Mary rode a donkey. Even if Mary didn’t ride a donkey to Bethlehem, I bet there was one in the stable where Jesus was born. The inn owner was probably wealthy and owned lots of donkeys.
Whether there was a donkey at the Nativity or not, God used donkeys in the Bible. I guess I identify with the donkey because if God can use a donkey, surely He can use me.
Posted on December 2, 2013 - by Lorna Seilstad
What time of year is it?
Obviously, it’s Christmas, and as the song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
But Christmas goes beyond the shopping sprees, the Christmas programs at school, and stories of Santa and his tiny reindeer. During the next two weeks the Inkspers want to celebrate the greatest gift every given–the birth of our savior, and we want you to step into the story with us.
Most modern theologians agree that Jesus was not actually born on December 25 because the shepherds would not be in the fields in the winter and no census would be taken during the cold season. But the date is not nearly as important as the gift of the Christ child. Have you ever wished you could have been present when Jesus entered the world? Would you have wanted to hear his first cries? Been an angel bringing the good news? Each of us are going to choose someone from the story of Christ’s birth that we’d to exchange places with if only for a moment. Join us every day in the next two weeks and take a fresh look at an age-old story.
Elizabeth spent years of being barren. I can imagine the hours she spent on her knees praying for a baby of her own. When the angel Gabrielle tells Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah that she was going to conceive and bare him a son, Zechariah didn’t believe. He was struck mute until their son was born.
Now, imagine and older mother Elizabeth, several months along, seeing the knowing smile on her husband’s face every day. If only he’d had enough faith he could have shouted for joy every time he saw her!
Elizabeth was heavy with baby John when her unwed cousin Mary came for a visit. According to Luke 1:41-45, here’s what happened. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’” (NIV)
If I could change places with someone from the nativity story, I’d choose Elizabeth and here’s why.
1. Custom would dictate that Elizabeth would not have been happy with the appearance of her unwed, very young cousin appearing on her doorstep. Still, Elizabeth listened to the Holy Spirit over traditions. How hard that is to do sometimes! She blesses her young cousin with her praises.
2. Baby John leaped in her womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you can imagine what an eye-opening moment that had to be. Elizabeth would never have to doubt that Jesus was Lord.
3. Elizabeth is joyful for Mary. Because it had taken Elizabeth so many years to conceive, she could have been bitter. She could have looked down on Mary. Instead, she lifts her up. I imagine Mary really needed that kind of support at this point in her life. While Mary knew the truth about the child she carried, all those around her did not.
At this time, a girl who became pregnant out of wedlock would have been terrified. The whole social structure was set up for children to be born within marriage. Genealogy and ownership of children was seen as very important. Girls who became pregnant outside marriage would probably have had to leave their homes and their families.
There was the potential of being sold into slavery or of being stoned to death. She may have been married off quickly or banished from her home and village, which may have led a women to prostitution or slavery when she had no way of supporting herself.
But it is in the arms of her older cousin that Mary finds the love, affirmation and support she needs at just the right time. I’d love to be her for day.
What about you? Have you ever thought of Elizabeth’s role in the nativity story?
Posted on October 18, 2013 - by Kav
Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. John 4:35
I know that we usually associate harvest scriptures with bearing witness to non-believers but I have always been of the mind that some of the most important witnessing actually happens with in the walls of our own churches and when we are among the fellowship of other Christians.
Just because we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour doesn’t mean we have reached the end of our journey. In fact, we are actually at the beginning of it. So for me, this harvest scripture from John also refers to a field of Believers ripe for the next word that will help them take another step in their faith journey. Because if we’re not stepping forward we risk falling back.
Christian fiction has contributed to countless steps forward that have contributed to the growth and harvesting of faith in my own soul. Take these two books for example…both deal with the complex issue of finding the way on your own personal faith journey.
These new releases confounded me the myriad of questions that came to my mind as I read.
Should you forsake the traditions of your family or do you cling to the familiar that has succored generations of your ancestors?
Is there room for a different kind of growth within the bounds of an existing standard of faith?
Is there only one true path to salvation or are there a myriad of forks in the road that lead to the same destination?
Lots of fodder for reflection that can lead to an abundant harvest for readers.
So, today I’d like to give thanks to the Christian publishing industry and the authors who fill bookstore shelves with faith-driven stories that encourage readers to excel. They are responsible for a wonderful endless harvest with their creative witnessing.