Advent and Christmas Bible Reading Plans

There are so many preparations for Christmas- decorating, shopping, cooking, gatherings. It can feel overwhelming and stressful, even lonely. It sounds cliche, but it’s easy to miss “the reason for the season” in the rush of pressure and consumerism.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. We can prepare our souls in the midst of the other preparations. You have time for this. It just takes a plan.

Below you’ll find four seasonal Bible Reading Plans to choose from plus some ideas for integrating them into your day. If you have other ideas for using them or other spiritual practices that keep you close to God during the holidays, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks for leaving a comment.

May you find yourself at the end of this season even closer to Christ. – Lisa <><

Ideas for Using the Bible Reading Plans

  • Take time for reading before a meal, before bed, or first thing in the morning with your coffee or tea
  • Gather your loved ones around your nativity or advent wreath for the reading of the day. Wouldn’t it be fun to use your nativity figures to act out the reading!
  • Find a quiet place, light a candle, breathe, rest in God’s Word

Live Hope, Give Hope: A Plan to Share the Goodness of Jesus at Christmas
Readings from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, John, and Psalms
Also includes a sentence prayer and action prompts to Help, Offer, Pray, or Encourage
December 1-31, 6 readings per week

Comfort and Joy: A Simple Bible Reading Plan for Christmas
Readings from Matthew, Luke, and Johnbible luke 2
Some of the readings are even repeated so you can go slow and go deep. It also includes a sentence prayer for each reading.
December 1-31, 5 readings per week

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Advent Bible Readings from Old Testament to New
Old and New Testament Readings
December 1-25, everyday
This reading plan highlights the Old Testament names and prophesies concerning the Messiah which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

The Story of Christmas Reading Plan
Fifteen simple readings from Matthew, Luke, and John, will take you from the first visiting angel to the young family returning to Nazareth from being refugees in Egypt. If you would like to read about the birth of Jesus (Day 6) on Christmas Day, start this reading plan on December 20th with one scripture reading per day.

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You are welcome to use any/all of these resources with proper attribution. (by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, http://www.revlisad.com) Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish any of these resources in any form.

Persevering in Prayer (Luke 18)

john-bunyon-prayer-quote

Persevering in Prayer
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

What can you do with a rubber band?
Rubber bands are elastic. So are Jesus’ parables- stories with a deeper spiritual meaning. They both stretch in many directions.

You can read a parable one day and hear from God. You can read them a month later or even years later and receive another important truth from God.

It reminds us the scriptures are living and active. God meets us exactly where we are in the Word of God.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
From the point of view of followers of Jesus as the widow
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus sets up a contrast between God and the unjust judge.

The judge is powerful, probably the most powerful person in his community. He’s worldly, corrupt, slow to respond, indifferent, disrespectful, unbelieving.

God is more powerful, attentive to injustice, quick to respond, faith-full, compassionate.

Even the ungodly relent in the face of persevering. How much more will God answer you when you pray!

Followers of Jesus are to be like the widow, the person with the least amount of power in the community. Folks would have laughed at the powerless widow getting the judge to do what she wanted him to do.

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The widow had faith that her persevering would bring a result. Faith looks like praying always and not losing heart. Does God find you resilient and full of faith? Actively trusting in God and persevering in prayer?

How’s your prayer life?

  • Using prayer as a rubber stamp as you make plans to fix whatever needs fixing in your own strength?
  • Using prayer as a last resort when everything else you tried didn’t work?
  • Have you just given up on prayer? You’ve been praying about the same situation for a long time with no change. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose heart.

Luke 11:9-13
Luke 11:9 Jesus said, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

A Translation Closer to the Original Intention- Present Progressive Tense
Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and it will be given you, Keep on seeking and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened unto you.  For everyone who continues to ask, receives, and the one who continues to seek, finds, and for the one who continues to knock, it will be opened.  What father among you, if your son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Example of Persevering Prayers Being Answered

Name your persevering prayer. Keep praying, do not lose heart.

  • Reconciliation of relationship
  • The salvation of a loved one
  • An answer to a question
  • Deliverance from an addiction
  • The end of corruption, evil, injustice, oppression
  • Peace and plenty for all

Trust God is good. Trust God is near and attentive to your needs. Trust God will make the wrongs right. It may not be in this life, it may be in heaven. But it may be now.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Stretch the parable in a different direction, from the point of view of God as the widow and we as the judge.
2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Pleading Widow by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume
the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow.
But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people?
That would be us. And who continually demands
that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

Sorry, we don’t get the high ground here, denying our privilege,
pretending we’re faithfully imploring God
with our persistent quest for justice.
We’re the ones deaf to the cries of the poor.

God comes in the voice of the vulnerable, the easily ignored
while we in our arrogance easily ignore.

How disconcerting that in this story
the ball is in our court, not God’s!
The demand has been made, over and over.

Jesus warns us: God can outlast us.
But when God comes, will God find us listening?

Prayer and Action
Prayer is coupled with action. If we are praying for that relationship to be reconciled, what are we doing for that relationship to be reconciled? If we are praying for our loved ones to come to faith, what are we doing to create an environment where they could hear the Gospel? If we’re praying for an end to evil, injustice, and oppression, what are we doing to end evil, injustice, and oppression?

The dual truths of persevering in prayer and prayer in action stretch me. I need to pray before I act so I don’t use it as a weapon. I need to persevere in prayer because God is the one who makes things new. I need both.

And I need the Holy Spirit filling me so I don’t lose heart when it seems like nothing’s changing. Persevere in prayer. Prayer and action.

Prayer-
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you hear us. That you want to have a relationship with us. You want to bless us, empower us, encourage us, forgive us.

Help us to talk to you. To talk to you honestly, openly, and often. Help us to persevere in prayer. Help us to not lose heart. Help us to trust you.

Help to know the path we’re on with you is the path of goodness and glory. Help us to know it’s the path of truth and humility, the path of light and life. We need that assurance so we can persevere.

In our praying, help us to hear if there’s an action we are to take. Grant us the courage, grace, and wisdom to act.

You are making us new. You are making this world new. Thank you for the gift of prayer. Amen.

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Persevering in Prayer © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

TED Talk Notes: The Three Secrets of Resilient People by Lucy Hone

Dr. Lucy Hone’s statement, “Adversity doesn’t discriminate” captured my heart. It revealed a truth I’d been living for a long time with those I serve as their pastor, the larger community and world I serve, and my own experience.

If adversity is a universal experience, could it be resilience is also universally accessible?

I and Dr. Hone agree. Yes!

After sharing her own experience of crushing loss, Dr. Hone says, “I didn’t need to be told how bad things were. Believe me, I already knew things were truly terrible. What I needed most was hope. I needed a journey through all that anguish, pain, and longing.”

She offers these strategies for rising up from adversity, for accessing resilience.

1. Resilient people know suffering is a part of life for all humans.

2. Resilient people carefully assess situations, knowing what they can and cannot change. We are hardwired to notice the negative. “Our threat focus, our stress response, is permanently dialed up.” Resilient people notice both the negative and the good. Focusing attention on the good, such as practicing gratitude, brings perspective and higher levels of happiness. Finding the good takes intentionality and effort.

3. Resilient people ask themselves, “Is what I’m doing helping me or harming me?” This powerful question provides boundaries and control over decisionmaking.

She closes with, “I won’t pretend that thinking this way is easy. And it doesn’t remove all the pain. But if I’ve learned anything over the last five years, it’s that thinking this way really does help. More than anything it has shown me that it is possible to live and grieve at the same time and for that, I will be always grateful.”

flower breaking through concrete

What strategies help you grow and stay resilient? 

From the official TED Talk Notes: “Dr. Lucy Hone is a director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience, a research associate at AUT University, a published academic researcher, best-selling author and contributor to Psychology Today, the Sunday Star Times and Next magazine.”

Dr. Hone’s book is Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything.

Micah 7:8, ESV
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 ESV
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

Romans 5:1-5 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Learning to Pray- God, please help

God please help October

God, please help… for many of us, it’s our first prayer, our first time reaching out to God. It comes in the midst of tears or as a whisper in the night or a cry of anguish when we are in way over our heads.

Help, I lost my job
Help, I’m losing my mind
Help my kid to love me again
I’m so lonely, help me
I don’t know what to do, help
Help, I have cancer
Help, she’s going to leave me
This pain is unbearable, help me
Help, I can’t do this
help, I can’t stop doing this
Help, I hate my life

We don’t have to be taught how to ask for help. We’re born knowing how. We know how to cry out for a diaper change, or a bottle, or to be burped. Help! It’s as natural as breathing.

But somewhere along the way we grow up and start taking care of ourselves. We start buying into the myth we can become educated enough, rich enough, powerful enough not to need help.

The truth is we all need help. We will always need help.

Even Jesus asked for help. He often went off alone to pray so we don’t know what he said then. But we do know what he prayed on the Mount of Olives in Gethsemane the night before his death. (Matthew 26) He was vulnerable and honest in asking God for help and asking for help from his companions.

In her wonderful book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers, Ann Lamott said, “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer.”

The truth is we all need help. We will always need help. When we know this and accept it, asking for help can again become as natural as breathing. In the asking, we realize God is already there, close as breath.

So let’s learn to pray by re-learning to pray.
It’s not important how you say it.
Just say it – real, raw, honest.
It’s as easy as finishing a sentence-
God, please help…

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Learning to Pray- God, please help © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

4 Ways to Practice Forgiving Yourself

Amber Rae

Amber Rae

Recently, I began following Amber Rae on Instagram @heyamberrae. Again and again, I’m inspired by her gift for sharing wisdom and life helps in simple and effective ways.

Her Amazon bio says it well, “Her writing blends raw, personal storytelling with psychology and neuroscience, and has reached over 5 million people in 195 countries.”

This week she shared 4 ways to practice forgiving yourself. I immediately asked for permission to reprint it here and she kindly agreed.

I know of so many who struggle with this side of forgiveness, including me. We can forgive others, but we continue to withhold that same grace for ourselves.

When we withhold forgiving ourselves, its actually a form of pride. We’re saying our sin, our mistakes, are greater than what Jesus can offer us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I pray these reminders from Amber Rae will help you claim forgiveness and freedom in Christ. – Lisa <><

4 Ways to Practice Forgiving Yourself 
1. Use guilt as a compass.
Guilt shows us that our actions conflict with our values. It helps us course-correct.

2. Watch out for shame.
Guilt = I made a mistake.
Shame = I’m a mistake.
Forgiveness = I’m learning.
Wisdom = What did I learn from this?

3. Imagine what forgiveness feels like and try this:
write yourself an apology letter. You let yourself down, too.

4. Let go of what you cannot control.
Do your part, own your mistake and let go. We can’t control how others receive our apology or how they forgive.

For more from Amber Rae, check out her website and her latest book, Choose Wonder Over Worry.