Advent Week 1 – First Reading

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16

The Good Branch

14 This message is from the Lord: “I made a special promise to the people of Israel and Judah. The time is coming when I will do what I promised.

15 At that time I will make a good ‘branch’ grow from David’s family. That branch will do what is good and right for the country.

16 When he rules, Judah will be saved. The people of Jerusalem will live in safety. This will be his name: ‘The Lord Makes Things Right For Us.’”

Reflection

Long before Jesus is born,

God sends the prophet Jeremiah

with a promise –

a promise about David,

the most beloved king in Israel’s history.  

 

God tells Israel that a new king,

someone from King David’s family,

will come and save his people.

He will keep them safe from all their enemies.

He will make sure they have everything they need

to live in peace.

 

They will have:

strong bodies and minds

people who love them

a government that cares about justice

safety for their children

enough food and money that no one goes hungry or needs to steal

 

The King will make sure they have nothing to fear.

He will take everything that is wrong with their world

and make it right.

 

. . . .

 

Imagine that you are listening to Jeremiah speak.

 

There are many things in your world

that make you afraid

or angry

or break your heart.

 

But Jeremiah is saying that is all going to change!

 

A new King is coming!

And when he does,

you will no longer suffer

from illness or loneliness or wars

or addiction or hunger or poverty or oppression.

You will no longer be afraid.

 

The King will make everything the way it was supposed to be,

the way God intended.

 

If you believe this story,

you may begin to feel something new

something different

something you may not have felt for a long time –

Hope.

by Carrie Myers

Introduction to Advent

Advent Devotional

Note: The readings in this guide follow the Revised Common Lectionary, available online at

http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/lections.php?year=C&season=Advent.  Traditionally, all four (or five) readings for each Sunday are done during the Sunday service.  For this devotional, you may also spread the readings and reflections out over the course of a week.

As you read and reflect on Scripture, you are sharing this experience with Christians all over the world and throughout hundreds of years of history.  All Scripture comes from the Easy-to-Read Bible (ERB).  This devotional has been written to be accessible for English Language Learners as well as the general population.

Introduction: What is Advent?

In Christian tradition,

the four weeks before Christmas

are known as Advent.  

 

In the Western calendar,

Christmas takes place

in December,

the last month of the year.  

 

In the Christian calendar,

also called the liturgical calendar,

Advent is actually the beginning of the year.  

 

This may seem strange at first,

but makes perfect sense

because Christ’s birth

is a new beginning,

a new chapter in the story

of how much God loves us.

 

Advent means “coming.”  

At Christmas, Jesus, God’s son, came

to be with us.  

In fact, one of Jesus’ names

is Emmanuel: “God with us.”  

 

During Advent, we look forward to Jesus’ coming.  

We celebrate that he came.

We also celebrate that he is always “with us.”

In a way, Jesus comes to us over and over, at every moment in our lives.

 

That is why we can celebrate

Jesus’ birth

and presence among us

at Christmas

and every day that we live.

by Carrie Myers

Big Announcement!!

After several months of praying, meeting, discussing and planning, Queens Vineyard Church’s leadership has decided to move forward with a merge with North Brooklyn Vineyard Church. Pastor Mike Turrigiano of North Brooklyn Vineyard will retire from being the senior pastor and will continue to develop his ministry with The Main & Plain (a ministry of pastoring/coaching for younger pastors).

We are very excited to be working together for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We have seen God lead and guide this process all along, so we have great confidence and trust in what is to come.

There are many decisions, many plans to be made in the coming months. For now, things will continue as normal through the fall. We will continue to meet, grill, hang out on the weekends at the Myers house and we will also continue to meet with the North Brooklyn Vineyard congregation on Sunday mornings at PS 132 in Williamsburg.

Please keep praying for our church as we move forward. We are listening and looking for God to keep leading us into the future.

Here is a link to the announcement made at North Brooklyn Vineyard on Sunday morning. You can hear more of the back story there.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

For the Kingdom!
Ryan

Anything Can Happen

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came on those first followers of Jesus with incredible power. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind and with tongues of fire on each of their heads, the Spirit gave them all the ability to communicate in other languages. People from all over the region and from places far away, each of them speaking a different language, all could hear the Apostles speaking in their own language, proclaiming the wonderful things God had done.

This situation, many people together, all speaking one language, reminds us of another time in the bible. Way back in Genesis 11, we are told that early on in the story of God, all human beings were together speaking one common language. The people were wicked and The Lord observed “that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” (Genesis 6:5) When God saw their actions, he said that while they were together, speaking one language, nothing would be impossible for them. So to keep them from fulfilling all their wicked plans, God confused their languages, so they could no longer work together. 

When the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, the first thing he does is reunite the languages. All the people come together and there is no communication breakdown between them. To me this says that anything is possible once again! If the wicked people could accomplish anything while working together with one language, why not now? Now that Jesus has come and cleansed our wickedness, we can be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit makes us one, and working together with each other and with the Spirit, nothing will be impossible.

It’s Hard to Believe

It’s been a long time – just about a month – since my last post. The season of Lent is over and now we are on the other side of Resurrection. Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus after his brutal death on the cross. During the days leading up to Easter Sunday, we focused on the final days before Jesus’ death. We remembered and learned from his final interactions with his disciples.

I find an interesting thing happening in Luke 24. Even though Jesus had warned all his followers that he was going to be crucified, even though he had told them that after he died he would come back to life, NONE of his followers expected to see him again. The women go to the tomb where Jesus had been laid to rest so that they can cover his body in spices. They had no time to prepare him for a proper burial, so they were coming on this day to take care of his body. Their only thought on the way was “Who will roll away the stone in front of the tomb?” They were not wondering “Will the body even be there?” The angels show up to remind them that Jesus had already told them he would live again.

When the women who were there go tell the other disciples what happened, it’s amazing that the disciples don’t believe them. The story sounds like nonsense to them. Their worldview had no room for people rising from the dead. Some people these days try to tell us that people back in those days expected strange things to happen, like people rising from the dead. But what we see from this bible passage is that people had no expectation at all that people would live after they died.

It was hard for them to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. So much of what happened over those days – Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, burial and now resurrection – were not at all what they expected. They needed to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection in order to believe.

How much harder is it for us these days to believe? These events happened so long ago and so much has changed since then. In some ways, I think it is comforting the the disciples doubted. I don’t feel so bad when I have doubts and questions now. Many of my friends and people I know have doubts and questions, and I think that’s ok. The resurrection is a hard thing to just accept. Our community here at Queens Vineyard Church is a place where people can come with their doubts and their questions. We don’t have easy answers, but we will listen, we will pray and ask God to show us who he is so it answers our doubts. We will always invite you to join us as we journey toward learning more of God.

Challenging Assumptions

We are in the season of the year just before Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. One of the events in Jesus’ life leading up to his death on the cross was told to us in John 13. In this passage, Jesus is having a last meal with his 12 disciples – it’s a Passover meal, celebrating God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

As part of the ritual and custom of the day, the lowest servant in the household was expected to wash the feet of everyone in attendance. When it came time to wash the feet, however, Jesus himself got up, took off his clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed everyone’s feet. This was shocking to everyone there. It went against everything they thought they understood about how it was supposed to go.

In their minds, and probably in our minds too, the weakest people serve the most powerful people. It is the common assumption that important people, strong people, smart people, successful people should be served by others. Jesus, in this brief event, showed us that in his kingdom, the powerful are to serve the weaker. The disciples believed the way that the world around them believed – that the weaker should serve the more powerful. Jesus’ way of serving others was completely opposite.

The 12 disciples were not the only ones who believed the assumptions of the world around them. We can easily do the same. We need Jesus to challenge our assumptions. We need him to show us where his ways of doing things are different than what we assume. This is true not just for serving other people, but many other areas of our lives as well. We need Jesus to show us where our assumptions about money, status, power, love, marriage, church and ourselves are out of line – and we need his mercy and grace to bring us into line with him and his kingdom.

Jesus told the 12 disciples that they should go and do the same things that he did. They should serve just like he did. My prayer is that we would be the kind of people that allows Jesus to challenge our assumptions. I pray that we would become the kind of people who do the same things Jesus did. I pray that our lives would be in line with his kingdom, his way of doing things.

Praying All Day

We can experience God’s presence in many different ways and at many different times. Many people assume that we can only experience God in worship services with great music, in dedicated times of prayer, or when reading and meditating on scripture. These are all ways to experience God’s presence, but we can also experience God’s presence all throughout our day, wherever we go. Jesus showed his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13 how they should pray. I see it as a template for prayer that we can use anytime, anywhere.

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name

God is both holy and loving, distant and intimate. He is a holy God in Heaven, and He is a loving, tender Father. Anytime we feel lonely and isolated, we can pray this prayer to be reminded that God is near; he loves us like a father loves his children. God is also in Heaven – He sees everyone, everywhere, all the time. We can pray for our loved ones far away and ask God to be near them too, wherever they are.

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven

The Kingdom of God is a reign of justice, righteousness and peace. When we see injustice in the world around us, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come. When we run across brokenness, sorrow, pain and suffering, we can pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Sometimes when we pray this prayer, God answers it by calling us to do something about the injustice we see. Sometimes His Kingdom comes when we, His people, participate with Him to advance His Kingdom.

Give us this day our daily bread

Daily bread can mean more than just food. It’s whatever we need for our daily lives. Whenever we get stressed about money or jobs, we can start to pray for God to provide for us. God can lead us to find the income and the ability to provide for our needs. He can also help us to be satisfied with whatever He provides for us, knowing we will have all our needs met, even if all of our wants are not met. God even helps us recognize when we have a “want” that we think is a “need”.

Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us

It is sobering to consider God forgiving us the same way that we forgive others, as this statement from Jesus says. Whenever there are people who offend us or sin against us, we have a chance to pray this prayer asking God to help us to forgive them the same way we would want to be forgiven. Even with people who are abusive, God can help us forgive them from the heart and give us wisdom and courage to set good boundaries so they don’t continue their patterns of sin and abuse.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

There are opportunities and temptations to sin all around us, every day. God does not send us temptation. Instead, He can send His Holy Spirit to give us the strength and wisdom to overcome temptation. Many times, God needs to bring healing to the deep parts of our hearts and souls. He heals the wounds within us that make us more vulnerable to temptation and sin.

For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

If we find ourselves focused too much on ourselves, our own glory, our own image and status, God reminds us here that all we do in our lives is for His glory. Whenever God’s Holy Spirit reminds us that we are too self-focused, this prayer can bring us back to God, our true center.

As we see, there are many occasions throughout our day that we can find the need to pray and ask for God’s presence. What about you? When are you inspired or drawn to pray the Lord’s prayer during your day? Leave a comment to share your thoughts and ideas with all of us here!

Living Into Our Identity

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his 12 followers a couple questions about who people think he is and who they think he is. Simon answers for them when he says “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds with praise for Simon and then proceeds to speak to him further. He says “Now I say to you that you are Peter” (which means rock) “and on this rock I will build my church and all the powers of Hell will not conquer it.”

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. Not only did he change his name, but he also gave Peter a new identity. No longer would he be called Simon, from now on he would be known as Peter. This new identity as the foundation of the church that Jesus would build became the identity that Peter would carry for the rest of his life. Jesus was saying that Peter would be the one who would lead the church later on.

It would take time for Peter to live into this new identity, though. The very next section of Matthew 16, we find Peter trying to correct Jesus himself! Jesus tells the 12 that he is about to be killed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Peter takes him aside and begins to tell him it will never happen. Jesus famously tells Peter to “Get behind me, Satan!” In a few short verses, maybe a few minutes of their lives together, Peter has gone from receiving a new identity from Jesus to being rebuked by Jesus for not having in mind the things of God.

Eventually Peter becomes the leader that Jesus had told him he would become, the foundation of the early church. It took a long time, though. It took many failures and many false starts. Peter made many mistakes. The new identity that Jesus gave him, though, was always present. Jesus’ words did not fail.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we become “new creations”. Jesus calls us his friends, his family. God calls us his children. It will take us time to live into our new identity. We will make many mistakes and fall short many times, but God’s word spoken to us will not fail. We will become the people that God has said that we will be, in time.

Jesus and God’s Voice

At the end of Matthew 3, we see something very interesting happen. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. As soon as he comes up out from the water, the Holy Spirit comes down to him like a dove and God’s voice speaks out loud to him. The voice says “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” It’s an amazing occurrence. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all together in one appearance. God’s voice speaking out loud so Jesus and so all the others around could hear. Jesus must have felt so affirmed in his identity in that moment. God’s voice, the Spirit, all together affirming that he is indeed God’s Son.

I believe that whenever God speaks, it’s because He has a good reason for it. He has something that is important to say. I don’t see many examples where God says something that is insignificant. I think this moment is no exception. God the Father had something important to say to Jesus His Son. I think it was also something important that Jesus needed to hear. I don’t know if Jesus had any doubts about his identity, but God seemed to think it was important to remind Jesus of exactly who he was.

As I read on into Matthew 4, I can see why God reminded Jesus that He was pleased with him as His Son. Immediately after the baptism and that marvelous moment in time, Jesus is taken out into the dessert to be tempted. The first two temptations that are brought to Jesus begin with the phrase “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus is tempted at the very place where God had spoken to him. His temptation was to forget his identity, the very thing that God had spoken to him. Thankfully, he was able to remember the words that the Father had spoken to him and to resist the temptation to create his own identity.

From this, and from my own experiences, I can conclude that it is of absolute importance to remember any word that God has spoken to us. We will need to recall what God has said because we will be tempted over and over again to forget and to try to do something independent from God. I have never heard God speak out loud to me. There have been one or two times in my life when I am absolutely convinced that God was speaking to me, giving me assurance and guidance. After those times, I found myself being tempted to forget and to create my own situation without God. Even in small things, when I have heard God lead me in quieter ways, it is important to recall what He has said because I will always be tempted to forget.

Elijah’s Depression and God’s Voice

When we are dealing with God, things are not always as we would expect them to be. I know in my life, many times I have asked God to allow me to witness powerful miracles. I think that if I could see them happen, or even be one of the people praying for a miracle, then I would never doubt God again. I promise God that if I could just see a miracle, I would always believe and never doubt.

So far, I have not seen amazing miracles (although I have seen some “small” ones and they have been great testimonies to God’s faithfulness, grace, power and love). I think it’s probably a good thing for God not to show me too many miracles, and I’ll tell you why. I think I would get depressed.

Recently I read 1 Kings 18 & 19 again, where Elijah confronts the prophets of the false god, Baal, on top of Mt. Carmel. God and Elijah had just finished defeating the prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel. God performed a miracle that demonstrated to everyone that God was real, alive and powerful. Read the passage and see – God showed his awesome power, completely humiliated the false gods and totally affirmed Elijah. As soon as the confrontation is over, however, the wicked Queen Jezebel threatens Elijah and he flees for his life. In the wilderness, alone and afraid, Elijah is depressed and complains to God that he would rather die than go on like this.

I was shocked again when I read this. How could Elijah be so depressed after seeing God’s miraculous power at work right in front of him? Elijah was even the guy who stood up and announced the miracle! How could he get depressed so soon after seeing such a mighty display of God’s power?

I think the fact that life continued on for Elijah immediately after God’s miraculous intervention really bothered him. After a miracle like that, I would expect people to repent and begin to follow God right away. Instead of repenting, though, the queen threatens his life. Nothing has changed at all!! I think Elijah got depressed because he had just seen this amazing miracle, yet it had no impact on some people and nothing much changed in his life.

I think the same is true for me – I would get depressed if I saw a great miracle and nothing changed. I think sometimes when I look at the world around me and I see how broken and miserable things can get for many people, I think “What good has it done that God sent his Son to bring in His Kingdom?” I don’t see the changes that I would expect to see, and if I let myself dwell in that place for too long, I will get depressed as well.

God didn’t let Elijah stay depressed, however. God came to him and spoke directly with him. Elijah knew God’s voice well enough to know that it wasn’t in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the still small whisper on the wind. Then God spoke with him. God listened to Elijah’s complaints and answered them directly. God gave Elijah a new assignment, to let Elijah know that God was still in control and was still working to bring about his redemptive purposes. Finally, God told Elijah that he was not alone, but there were 7000 others who still worshipped God.

So nowadays, I’m asking less for miracles (although I still want to see them!) and I’m asking more for the ability to hear and recognize God’s still small voice when he comes to speak to me. I think I need his word spoken to me more than I need anything else.