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10:45a Advent learning for all ages @ Fellowship Hall
Advent learning for all ages @ Fellowship Hall
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In place of regular Sunday school, kids and youth ages 3-12th grade, families and members of all ages are invited to join Pastor Amy Diller to make an Nativity clothespin ornament. We'll kick-off...
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Choral Advent @ Sanctuary
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Christmas program @ Sanctuary
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6p Blue Christmas @ Sanctuary
Blue Christmas @ Sanctuary
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Deuteronomy 7:6-11

6Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to God, your God. God, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished, personal treasure.

7-10God wasn't attracted to you and didn't choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. God stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations. But he also pays back those who hate him, pays them the wages of death; he isn't slow to pay them off—those who hate him, he pays right on time.

11So keep the command and the rules and regulations that I command you today. Do them.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7-9When you happen on someone who's in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don't look the other way pretending you don't see him. Don't keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don't count the cost. Don't listen to that selfish voice saying, "It's almost the seventh year, the year of All-Debts-Are-Canceled," and turn aside and leave your needy neighbor in the lurch, refusing to help him. He'll call God's attention to you and your blatant sin.

10-11Give freely and spontaneously. Don't have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God's, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

1-5Keep and live out the entire commandment that I'm commanding you today so that you'll live and prosper and enter and own the land that God promised to your ancestors. Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don't live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God's mouth. Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.

6-9So it's paramount that you keep the commandments of God, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. God is about to bring you into a good land, a land with brooks and rivers, springs and lakes, streams out of the hills and through the valleys. It's a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, of olives, oil, and honey. It's land where you'll never go hungry—always food on the table and a roof over your head. It's a land where you'll get iron out of rocks and mine copper from the hills.

10After a meal, satisfied, bless God, your God, for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The Death of Moses

1-3Moses climbed from the Plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the

peak of Pisgah facing Jericho. God showed him all the land from Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.

4Then and there God said to him, "This is the land I promised to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the words 'I will give it to your descendants.' I've let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you're not going to go in."

5-6Moses died there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God, just as God said. God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor. No one knows his burial site to this very day.

7-8Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step. The People of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.

9Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. The People of Israel listened obediently to him and did the same as when God had commanded Moses.

10-12No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face. Never since has there been anything like the signs and miracle-wonders that God sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land—nothing to compare with that all-powerful hand of his and all the great and terrible things Moses did as every eye in Israel watched.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

1-2Now listen, Israel, listen carefully to the rules and regulations that I am teaching you to follow so that you may live and enter and take possession of the land that God, the God-of-Your-Fathers, is giving to you. Don't add a word to what I command you, and don't remove a word from it. Keep the commands of God, your God, that I am commanding you.

Psalm 15

A David Psalm

1God, who gets invited to dinner at your place?

How do we get on your guest list?

2"Walk straight,

act right,

tell the truth.

3-4"Don't hurt your friend,

don't blame your neighbor;

despise the despicable.

5"Keep your word even when it costs you,

make an honest living,

never take a bribe.

"You'll never get


if you live like this."

James 1:17-27

16-18So, my very dear friends, don't get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

Act on What You Hear

19-21Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

22-24Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

25But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.

26-27Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Source of Your Pollution

1-4The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren't being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they'd give jugs and pots and pans).

5The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, "Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?"

6-8Jesus answered, "Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull's-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,

but their heart isn't in it.

They act like they are worshiping me,

but they don't mean it.

They just use me as a cover

for teaching whatever suits their fancy,

Ditching God's command

and taking up the latest fads."

Isaiah 35:4-7a

3-4Energize the limp hands,

strengthen the rubbery knees.

Tell fearful souls,

"Courage! Take heart!

God is here, right here,

on his way to put things right

And redress all wrongs.

He's on his way! He'll save you!"

5-7Blind eyes will be opened,

deaf ears unstopped,

Lame men and women will leap like deer,

the voiceless break into song.

Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,

streams flow in the desert.

Hot sands will become a cool oasis,

thirsty ground a splashing fountain.

Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,

and barren grasslands flourish richly.

Psalm 146

1-2Hallelujah! O my soul, praise God!

All my life long I'll praise God,

singing songs to my God as long as I live.

3-9Don't put your life in the hands of experts

who know nothing of life, of salvation life.

Mere humans don't have what it takes;

when they die, their projects die with them.

Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,

put your hope in God and know real blessing!

God made sky and soil,

sea and all the fish in it.

He always does what he says—

he defends the wronged,

he feeds the hungry.

God frees prisoners—

he gives sight to the blind,

he lifts up the fallen.

God loves good people, protects strangers,

takes the side of orphans and widows,

but makes short work of the wicked.

10God's in charge—always.

Zion's God is God for good!


James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

The Royal Rule of Love

1-4My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, "Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!" and either ignore the street person or say, "Better sit here in the back row," haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?

5-7Listen, dear friends. Isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world's down-and-out as the kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn't it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren't they the ones who scorn the new name—"Christian"—used in your baptisms?

8-11You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: "Love others as you love yourself." But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can't pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God's law and ignoring others. The same God who said, "Don't commit adultery," also said, "Don't murder." If you don't commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you're a murderer, period.

Mark 7:24-37

24-26From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn't think he would be found, but he couldn't escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

27He said, "Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there's any left over, the dogs get it."

28She said, "Of course, Master. But don't dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?"

29-30Jesus was impressed. "You're right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone." She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.

31-35Then he left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Ten Towns. Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man's ears and some spit on the man's tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, "Ephphatha!—Open up!" And it happened. The man's hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.

36-37Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. "He's done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless."

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4-9The Master, God, has given me

a well-taught tongue,

So I know how to encourage tired people.

He wakes me up in the morning,

Wakes me up, opens my ears

to listen as one ready to take orders.

The Master, God, opened my ears,

and I didn't go back to sleep,

didn't pull the covers back over my head.

I followed orders,

stood there and took it while they beat me,

held steady while they pulled out my beard,

Didn't dodge their insults,

faced them as they spit in my face.

And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me,

so I'm not disgraced.

Therefore I set my face like flint,

confident that I'll never regret this.

My champion is right here.

Let's take our stand together!

Who dares bring suit against me?

Let him try!

Look! the Master, God, is right here.

Who would dare call me guilty?

Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare

socks and shirts, fodder for moths!

Psalm 116:1-9

1-6I love God because he listened to me, listened as I begged for mercy.

He listened so intently

as I laid out my case before him.

Death stared me in the face,

hell was hard on my heels.

Up against it, I didn't know which way to turn;

then I called out to God for help:

"Please, God!" I cried out.

"Save my life!"

God is gracious—it is he who makes things right,

our most compassionate God.

God takes the side of the helpless;

when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.

7-8I said to myself, "Relax and rest.

God has showered you with blessings.

Soul, you've been rescued from death;

Eye, you've been rescued from tears;

And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling."

9-11I'm striding in the presence of God,

alive in the land of the living!

I stayed faithful, though bedeviled,

and despite a ton of bad luck,

Despite giving up on the human race,

saying, "They're all liars and cheats."

James 3:1-12

When You Open Your Mouth

1-2Don't be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you'd have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.

3-5A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

5-6It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

7-10This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue—it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!

10-12My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

Mark 8:27-38

The Messiah

27Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, "Who do the people say I am?"

28"Some say 'John the Baptizer,'" they said. "Others say 'Elijah.' Still others say 'one of the prophets.'"

29He then asked, "And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?"

Peter gave the answer: "You are the Christ, the Messiah."

30-32Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.

32-33But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works."

34-37Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

38"If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."

Jeremiah 11:18-20

18-19God told me what was going on. That's how I knew.

You, God, opened my eyes to their evil scheming.

I had no idea what was going on—naive as a lamb

being led to slaughter!

I didn't know they had it in for me,

didn't know of their behind-the-scenes plots:

"Let's get rid of the preacher.

That will stop the sermons!

Let's get rid of him for good.

He won't be remembered for long."

20Then I said, "God-of-the-Angel-Armies,

you're a fair judge.

You examine and cross-examine

human actions and motives.

I want to see these people shown up and put down!

I'm an open book before you. Clear my name."

Psalm 54 (4)

1-2God, for your sake, help me! Use your influence to clear me.

Listen, God—I'm desperate.

Don't be too busy to hear me.

3Outlaws are out to get me,

hit men are trying to kill me.

Nothing will stop them;

God means nothing to them.

4-5Oh, look! God's right here helping!

God's on my side,

Evil is looping back on my enemies.

Don't let up! Finish them off!

6-7I'm ready now to worship, so ready.

I thank you, God—you're so good.

You got me out of every scrape,

and I saw my enemies get it.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Live Well, Live Wisely

13-16Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom—it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats.

17-18Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

Get Serious

1-2Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

2-3You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

Mark 9:30-37

30-32Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn't want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive." They didn't know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it.

So You Want First Place?

33They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, "What were you discussing on the road?"

34The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.

35He sat down and summoned the Twelve. "So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all."

36-37He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me."

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Camp Kibroth Hattaavah

4-6The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, "Why can't we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna."

Psalm 19:7-14 (8)

7-9The revelation of God is whole

and pulls our lives together.

The signposts of God are clear

and point out the right road.

The life-maps of God are right,

showing the way to joy.

The directions of God are plain

and easy on the eyes.

God's reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,

with a lifetime guarantee.

The decisions of God are accurate

down to the nth degree.

10God's Word is better than a diamond,

better than a diamond set between emeralds.

You'll like it better than strawberries in spring,

better than red, ripe strawberries.

11-14There's more: God's Word warns us of danger

and directs us to hidden treasure.

Otherwise how will we find our way?

Or know when we play the fool?

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!

Keep me from stupid sins,

from thinking I can take over your work;

Then I can start this day sun-washed,

scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

These are the words in my mouth;

these are what I chew on and pray.

Accept them when I place them

on the morning altar,

O God, my Altar-Rock,

God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

James 5:13-20

Prayer to Be Reckoned With

13-15Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you've sinned, you'll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

16-18Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

19-20My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.

Mark 9:38-50

38John spoke up, "Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn't in our group."

39-41Jesus wasn't pleased. "Don't stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he's not an enemy, he's an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

42"On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.

43-48"If your hand or your foot gets in God's way, chop it off and throw it away. You're better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You're better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.

49-50"Everyone's going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you'll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace."

Psalm 30:4-10

4-5All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God!

Thank him to his face!

He gets angry once in a while, but across

a lifetime there is only love.

The nights of crying your eyes out

give way to days of laughter.

6-7When things were going great

I crowed, "I've got it made.

I'm God's favorite.

He made me king of the mountain."

Then you looked the other way

and I fell to pieces.

8-10I called out to you, God;

I laid my case before you:

"Can you sell me for a profit when I'm dead?

auction me off at a cemetery yard sale?

When I'm 'dust to dust' my songs

and stories of you won't sell.

So listen! and be kind!

Help me out of this!"

John 21:15-19

Do You Love Me?

15After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Master, you know I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

16He then asked a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

"Yes, Master, you know I love you."

Jesus said, "Shepherd my sheep."

17-19Then he said it a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, "Do you love me?" so he answered, "Master, you know everything there is to know. You've got to know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, "Follow me."

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

6So seek God and live! You don't want to end up

with nothing to show for your life

But a pile of ashes, a house burned to the ground.

For God will send just such a fire,

and the firefighters will show up too late.

Raw Truth Is Never Popular

7-9Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar

and stomp righteousness into the mud.

Do you realize where you are? You're in a cosmos

star-flung with constellations by God,

A world God wakes up each morning

and puts to bed each night.

God dips water from the ocean

and gives the land a drink.

God, God-revealed, does all this.

And he can destroy it as easily as make it.

He can turn this vast wonder into total waste.

Psalm 90:12-17 (12)

12-17Oh! Teach us to live well!

Teach us to live wisely and well!

Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—

and treat your servants with kindness for a change.

Surprise us with love at daybreak;

then we'll skip and dance all the day long.

Make up for the bad times with some good times;

we've seen enough evil to last a lifetime.

Let your servants see what you're best at—

the ways you rule and bless your children.

And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,

confirming the work that we do.

Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

Hebrews 4:12-16

12-13God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it—no matter what.

The High Priest Who Cried Out in Pain

14-16Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Mark 10:17-31

To Enter God's Kingdom

17As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?"

18-19Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, honor your father and mother."

20He said, "Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!"

21Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, "There's one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me."

22The man's face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

23-25Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: "You can't imagine how difficult. I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for the rich to get into God's kingdom."

26That set the disciples back on their heels. "Then who has any chance at all?" they asked.

27Jesus was blunt: "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it."

28Peter tried another angle: "We left everything and followed you."

29-31Jesus said, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first."

Isaiah 53:4-12

2-6The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,

a scrubby plant in a parched field.

There was nothing attractive about him,

nothing to cause us to take a second look.

He was looked down on and passed over,

a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.

One look at him and people turned away.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—

our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

We thought he brought it on himself,

that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,

that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.

Through his bruises we get healed.

We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost.

We've all done our own thing, gone our own way.

And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong,

on him, on him.

7-9He was beaten, he was tortured,

but he didn't say a word.

Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered

and like a sheep being sheared,

he took it all in silence.

Justice miscarried, and he was led off—

and did anyone really know what was happening?

He died without a thought for his own welfare,

beaten bloody for the sins of my people.

They buried him with the wicked,

threw him in a grave with a rich man,

Even though he'd never hurt a soul

or said one word that wasn't true.

10Still, it's what God had in mind all along,

to crush him with pain.

The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin

so that he'd see life come from it—life, life, and more life.

And God's plan will deeply prosper through him.

11-12Out of that terrible travail of soul,

he'll see that it's worth it and be glad he did it.

Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,

will make many "righteous ones,"

as he himself carries the burden of their sins.

Therefore I'll reward him extravagantly—

the best of everything, the highest honors—

Because he looked death in the face and didn't flinch,

because he embraced the company of the lowest.

He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,

he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Psalm 91:9-16 (9)

1-13You who sit down in the High God's presence, spend the night in Shaddai's shadow,

Say this: "God, you're my refuge.

I trust in you and I'm safe!"

That's right—he rescues you from hidden traps,

shields you from deadly hazards.

His huge outstretched arms protect you—

under them you're perfectly safe;

his arms fend off all harm.

Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,

not flying arrows in the day,

Not disease that prowls through the darkness,

not disaster that erupts at high noon.

Even though others succumb all around,

drop like flies right and left,

no harm will even graze you.

You'll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,

watch the wicked turn into corpses.

Yes, because God's your refuge,

the High God your very own home,

Evil can't get close to you,

harm can't get through the door.

He ordered his angels

to guard you wherever you go.

If you stumble, they'll catch you;

their job is to keep you from falling.

You'll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,

and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16"If you'll hold on to me for dear life," says God,

"I'll get you out of any trouble.

I'll give you the best of care

if you'll only get to know and trust me.

Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times;

I'll rescue you, then throw you a party.

I'll give you a long life,

give you a long drink of salvation!"

Hebrews 5:1-10

1-3Every high priest selected to represent men and women before God and offer sacrifices for their sins should be able to deal gently with their failings, since he knows what it's like from his own experience. But that also means that he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as the peoples'.

4-6No one elects himself to this honored position. He's called to it by God, as Aaron was. Neither did Christ presume to set himself up as high priest, but was set apart by the One who said to him, "You're my Son; today I celebrate you!" In another place God declares, "You're a priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek."

7-10While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him. Though he was God's Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.

Mark 10:35-45

The Highest Places of Honor

35James and John, Zebedee's sons, came up to him. "Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us."

36"What is it? I'll see what I can do."

37"Arrange it," they said, "so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left."

38Jesus said, "You have no idea what you're asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I'm about to be plunged into?"

39-40"Sure," they said. "Why not?"

Jesus said, "Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that's not my business. There are other arrangements for that."

41-45When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."

Jeremiah 31:7-9

7Oh yes, God says so:

"Shout for joy at the top of your lungs for Jacob!

Announce the good news to the number-one nation!

Raise cheers! Sing praises. Say,

'God has saved his people,

saved the core of Israel.'

8"Watch what comes next: "I'll bring my people back

from the north country

And gather them up from the ends of the earth,

gather those who've gone blind

And those who are lame and limping,

gather pregnant women,

Even the mothers whose birth pangs have started,

bring them all back, a huge crowd!

9"Watch them come! They'll come weeping for joy

as I take their hands and lead them,

Lead them to fresh flowing brooks,

lead them along smooth, uncluttered paths.

Yes, it's because I'm Israel's Father

and Ephraim's my firstborn son!

Psalm 126 (5)

A Pilgrim Song

1-3It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles.

We laughed, we sang,

we couldn't believe our good fortune.

We were the talk of the nations—

"God was wonderful to them!"

God was wonderful to us;

we are one happy people.

4-6And now, God, do it again—

bring rains to our drought-stricken lives

So those who planted their crops in despair

will shout hurrahs at the harvest,

So those who went off with heavy hearts

will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Hebrews 7:23-28

23-25Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus' priesthood is permanent. He's there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.

26-28So now we have a high priest who perfectly fits our needs: completely holy, uncompromised by sin, with authority extending as high as God's presence in heaven itself. Unlike the other high priests, he doesn't have to offer sacrifices for his own sins every day before he can get around to us and our sins. He's done it, once and for all: offered up himself as the sacrifice. The law appoints as high priests men who are never able to get the job done right. But this intervening command of God, which came later, appoints the Son, who is absolutely, eternally perfect.

Mark 10:46-52

46-48They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, "Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!"

49-50Jesus stopped in his tracks. "Call him over."

They called him. "It's your lucky day! Get up! He's calling you to come!" Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.

51Jesus said, "What can I do for you?"

The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."

52"On your way," said Jesus. "Your faith has saved and healed you."

In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

1-2This is the commandment, the rules and regulations, that God, your God, commanded me to teach you to live out in the land you're about to cross into to possess. This is so that you'll live in deep reverence before God lifelong, observing all his rules and regulations that I'm commanding you, you and your children and your grandchildren, living good long lives.

3Listen obediently, Israel. Do what you're told so that you'll have a good life, a life of abundance and bounty, just as God promised, in a land abounding in milk and honey.

4Attention, Israel!

God, our God! God the one and only!

5Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that's in you, love him with all you've got!

6-9Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

Psalm 119:1-8 (2)

1-8You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

You're blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

That's right—you don't go off on your own;

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I'd never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

I'm going to do what you tell me to do;

don't ever walk off and leave me.

Hebrews 9:11-14

Pointing to the Realities of Heaven

11-15But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven's "tent"—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.

Mark 12:28-34

The Most Important Commandment

28One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"

29-31Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."

32-33The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"

34When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God's kingdom."

After that, no one else dared ask a question.

Ephesians 5:8-14

8-10You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You're out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

11-16Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,

Climb out of your coffins;

Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

John 1:1-5

The Life-Light

1-2The Word was first,

the Word present to God,

God present to the Word.

The Word was God,

in readiness for God from day one.

3-5Everything was created through him;

nothing—not one thing!—

came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life,

and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

the darkness couldn't put it out.

Daniel 12:1-3

The Worst Trouble the World Has Ever Seen

1-2"'That's when Michael, the great angel-prince, champion of your people, will step in. It will be a time of trouble, the worst trouble the world has ever seen. But your people will be saved from the trouble, every last one found written in the Book. Many who have been long dead and buried will wake up, some to eternal life, others to eternal shame.

3"'Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.

Psalm 16 (9)

A David Song

1-2Keep me safe, O God, I've run for dear life to you.

I say to God, "Be my Lord!"

Without you, nothing makes sense.

3And these God-chosen lives all around—

what splendid friends they make!

4Don't just go shopping for a god.

Gods are not for sale.

I swear I'll never treat god-names

like brand-names.

5-6My choice is you, God, first and only.

And now I find I'm your choice!

You set me up with a house and yard.

And then you made me your heir!

7-8The wise counsel God gives when I'm awake

is confirmed by my sleeping heart.

Day and night I'll stick with God;

I've got a good thing going and I'm not letting go.

9-10I'm happy from the inside out,

and from the outside in, I'm firmly formed.

You canceled my ticket to hell—

that's not my destination!

11Now you've got my feet on the life path,

all radiant from the shining of your face.

Ever since you took my hand,

I'm on the right way.

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

11-18Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. The Holy Spirit confirms this:

This new plan I'm making with Israel

isn't going to be written on paper,

isn't going to be chiseled in stone;

This time "I'm writing out the plan in them,

carving it on the lining of their hearts."

He concludes,

I'll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins.

Once sins are taken care of for good, there's no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.

Mark 13:1-8

Doomsday Deceivers

1As he walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, "Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!"

2Jesus said, "You're impressed by this grandiose architecture? There's not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble."3-4Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives in full view of the Temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew got him off by himself and asked, "Tell us, when is this going to happen? What sign will we get that things are coming to a head?"

5-8Jesus began, "Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, 'I'm the One.' They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothing compared to what's coming.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9-10"As I was watching all this,

"Thrones were set in place

and The Old One sat down.

His robes were white as snow,

his hair was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

its wheels blazing.

A river of fire

poured out of the throne.

Thousands upon thousands served him,

tens of thousands attended him.

The courtroom was called to order,

and the books were opened.

Psalm 93 (2)

1-2God is King, robed and ruling, God is robed and surging with strength.

And yes, the world is firm, immovable,

Your throne ever firm—you're Eternal!

3-4Sea storms are up, God,

Sea storms wild and roaring,

Sea storms with thunderous breakers.

Stronger than wild sea storms,

Mightier than sea-storm breakers,

Mighty God rules from High Heaven.

5What you say goes—it always has.

"Beauty" and "Holy" mark your palace rule,

God, to the very end of time.

Revelation 1:4b-8

His Eyes Pouring Fire-Blaze

4-7I, John, am writing this to the seven churches in Asia province: All the best to you from The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive, and from the Seven Spirits assembled before his throne, and from Jesus Christ—Loyal Witness, Firstborn from the dead, Ruler of all earthly kings.

Glory and strength to Christ, who loves us,

who blood-washed our sins from our lives,

Who made us a Kingdom, Priests for his Father,

forever—and yes, he's on his way!

Riding the clouds, he'll be seen by every eye,

those who mocked and killed him will see him,

People from all nations and all times

will tear their clothes in lament.

Oh, Yes.

8The Master declares, "I'm A to Z. I'm The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I'm the Sovereign-Strong."

John 18:33-37

33Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, "Are you the 'King of the Jews'?"

34Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?"

35Pilate said, "Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?"

36"My kingdom," said Jesus, "doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king."

37Then Pilate said, "So, are you a king or not?"

Jesus answered, "You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice."

Joel 2:21-27

The Trees Are Bearing Fruit Again

21-24Fear not, Earth! Be glad and celebrate!

God has done great things.

Fear not, wild animals!

The fields and meadows are greening up.

The trees are bearing fruit again:

a bumper crop of fig trees and vines!

Children of Zion, celebrate!

Be glad in your God.

He's giving you a teacher

to train you how to live right—

Teaching, like rain out of heaven, showers of words

to refresh and nourish your soul, just as he used to do.

And plenty of food for your body—silos full of grain,

casks of wine and barrels of olive oil.

25-27"I'll make up for the years of the locust,

the great locust devastation—

Locusts savage, locusts deadly,

fierce locusts, locusts of doom,

That great locust invasion

I sent your way.

You'll eat your fill of good food.

You'll be full of praises to your God,

The God who has set you back on your heels in wonder.

Never again will my people be despised.

You'll know without question

that I'm in the thick of life with Israel,

That I'm your God, yes, your God,

the one and only real God.

Never again will my people be despised.

Psalm 126 (3)

A Pilgrim Song

1-3It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles.

We laughed, we sang,

we couldn't believe our good fortune.

We were the talk of the nations—

"God was wonderful to them!"

God was wonderful to us;

we are one happy people.

4-6And now, God, do it again—

bring rains to our drought-stricken lives

So those who planted their crops in despair

will shout hurrahs at the harvest,

So those who went off with heavy hearts

will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Simple Faith and Plain Truth

1-3The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

4-7He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we've learned: that there's one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.

Matthew 6:25-33

25-26"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

27-29"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

30-33"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

A Fresh and True Shoot from the David-Tree

14-18"'Watch for this: The time is coming'—God's Decree—'when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That's when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, "God Has Set Things Right for Us." God has made it clear that there will always be a descendant of David ruling the people of Israel and that there will always be Levitical priests on hand to offer burnt offerings, present grain offerings, and carry on the sacrificial worship in my honor.'"

Psalm 25:1-10

A David Psalm

1-2My head is high, God, held high; I'm looking to you, God;

No hangdog skulking for me.

3I've thrown in my lot with you;

You won't embarrass me, will you?

Or let my enemies get the best of me?

Don't embarrass any of us

Who went out on a limb for you.

It's the traitors who should be humiliated.

4Show me how you work, God;

School me in your ways.

5Take me by the hand;

Lead me down the path of truth.

You are my Savior, aren't you?

6Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God;

Rebuild the ancient landmarks!

7Forget that I sowed wild oats;

Mark me with your sign of love.

Plan only the best for me, God!

8God is fair and just;

He corrects the misdirected,

Sends them in the right direction.

9He gives the rejects his hand,

And leads them step-by-step.

10From now on every road you travel

Will take you to God.

Follow the Covenant signs;

Read the charted directions.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

9-10What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.

11-13May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.

Luke 21:25-36

25-26"It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.

27-28"And then—then!—they'll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!"

29-33He told them a story. "Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God's kingdom is about here. Don't brush this off: I'm not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won't wear out.

34-36"But be on your guard. Don't let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it's going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don't go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that's coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man."

Malachi 3:1-4

The Master You've Been Looking For

1"Look! I'm sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you've been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you've been waiting for. Look! He's on his way!" A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

2-4But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance?

He'll be like white-hot fire from the smelter's furnace. He'll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He'll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He'll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they're fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.

Luke 1:68-79

67-79Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;

he came and set his people free.

He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,

and in the very house of David his servant,

Just as he promised long ago

through the preaching of his holy prophets:

Deliverance from our enemies

and every hateful hand;

Mercy to our fathers,

as he remembers to do what he said he'd do,

What he swore to our father Abraham—

a clean rescue from the enemy camp,

So we can worship him without a care in the world,

made holy before him as long as we live.

And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"

will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,

Present the offer of salvation to his people,

the forgiveness of their sins.

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,

God's Sunrise will break in upon us,

Shining on those in the darkness,

those sitting in the shadow of death,

Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,

down the path of peace.

Philippians 1:3-11

A Love That Will Grow

3-6Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

7-8It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!

9-11So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6

A Baptism of Life-Change

1-6In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius—it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—John, Zachariah's son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:

Thunder in the desert!

"Prepare God's arrival!

Make the road smooth and straight!

Every ditch will be filled in,

Every bump smoothed out,

The detours straightened out,

All the ruts paved over.

Everyone will be there to see

The parade of God's salvation."

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14-15So sing, Daughter Zion!

Raise the rafters, Israel!

Daughter Jerusalem,

be happy! celebrate!

God has reversed his judgments against you

and sent your enemies off chasing their tails.

From now on, God is Israel's king,

in charge at the center.

There's nothing to fear from evil

ever again!

God Is Present Among You

16-17Jerusalem will be told:

"Don't be afraid.

Dear Zion,

don't despair.

Your God is present among you,

a strong Warrior there to save you.

Happy to have you back, he'll calm you with his love

and delight you with his songs.

18-20"The accumulated sorrows of your exile

will dissipate.

I, your God, will get rid of them for you.

You've carried those burdens long enough.

At the same time, I'll get rid of all those

who've made your life miserable.

I'll heal the maimed;

I'll bring home the homeless.

In the very countries where they were hated

they will be venerated.

On Judgment Day

I'll bring you back home—a great family gathering!

You'll be famous and honored

all over the world.

You'll see it with your own eyes—

all those painful partings turned into reunions!"

God's Promise.

Isaiah 12:2-6

2"Yes, indeed—God is my salvation.

I trust, I won't be afraid.

God—yes God!—is my strength and song,

best of all, my salvation!"

3-4Joyfully you'll pull up buckets of water

from the wells of salvation.

And as you do it, you'll say,

"Give thanks to God.

Call out his name.

Ask him anything!

Shout to the nations, tell them what he's done,

spread the news of his great reputation!

5-6"Sing praise-songs to God. He's done it all!

Let the whole earth know what he's done!

Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion!

The Greatest lives among you: The Holy of Israel."

Philippians 4:4-7

4-5Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Luke 3:7-18

7-9When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God's judgment? It's your life that must change, not your skin. And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as 'father.' Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire."

10The crowd asked him, "Then what are we supposed to do?"

11"If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food."

12Tax men also came to be baptized and said, "Teacher, what should we do?"

13He told them, "No more extortion—collect only what is required by law."

14Soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"

He told them, "No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations."

15The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, "Could this John be the Messiah?"

16-17But John intervened: "I'm baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

18-20There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message! But Herod, the ruler, stung by John's rebuke in the matter of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, capped his long string of evil deeds with this outrage: He put John in jail.

Micah 5:2-5a

2-4But you, Bethlehem, David's country,

the runt of the litter—

From you will come the leader

who will shepherd-rule Israel.

He'll be no upstart, no pretender.

His family tree is ancient and distinguished.

Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes

until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,

And the scattered brothers come back

home to the family of Israel.

He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God's strength,

centered in the majesty of God-Revealed.

And the people will have a good and safe home,

for the whole world will hold him in respect—

Peacemaker of the world!

5-6And if some bullying Assyrian shows up,

invades and violates our land, don't worry.

We'll put him in his place, send him packing,

and watch his every move.

Shepherd-rule will extend as far as needed,

to Assyria and all other Nimrod-bullies.

Our shepherd-ruler will save us from old or new enemies,

from anyone who invades or violates our land.

Luke 1:46b-55

46-55And Mary said,

I'm bursting with God-news;

I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—

I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,

the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.

His mercy flows in wave after wave

on those who are in awe before him.

He bared his arm and showed his strength,

scattered the bluffing braggarts.

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,

pulled victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;

the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;

he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

It's exactly what he promised,

beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Psalm 80:1-7 (alternate)

An Asaph Psalm

1-2Listen, Shepherd, Israel's Shepherd— get all your Joseph sheep together.

Throw beams of light

from your dazzling throne

So Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh

can see where they're going.

Get out of bed—you've slept long enough!

Come on the run before it's too late.

3God, come back!

Smile your blessing smile:

That will be our salvation.

4-6God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies,

how long will you smolder like a sleeping volcano

while your people call for fire and brimstone?

You put us on a diet of tears,

bucket after bucket of salty tears to drink.

You make us look ridiculous to our friends;

our enemies poke fun day after day.

7God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!

Smile your blessing smile:

That will be our salvation.

Hebrews 10:5-10

The Sacrifice of Jesus

1-10The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old "law plan" wasn't complete in itself, it couldn't complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can't get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ:

You don't want sacrifices and offerings year after year;

you've prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.

It's not fragrance and smoke from the altar

that whet your appetite.

So I said, "I'm here to do it your way, O God,

the way it's described in your Book."

When he said, "You don't want sacrifices and offerings," he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, "I'm here to do it your way," he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God's way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.

Genesis 1:39-45 [46-55]

Isaiah 9:2-7

2-7The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light.

For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—

light! sunbursts of light!

You repopulated the nation,

you expanded its joy.

Oh, they're so glad in your presence!

Festival joy!

The joy of a great celebration,

sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—

all their whips and cudgels and curses—

Is gone, done away with, a deliverance

as surprising and sudden as Gideon's old victory over Midian.

The boots of all those invading troops,

along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,

Will be piled in a heap and burned,

a fire that will burn for days!

For a child has been born—for us!

the gift of a son—for us!

He'll take over

the running of the world.

His names will be: Amazing Counselor,

Strong God,

Eternal Father,

Prince of Wholeness.

His ruling authority will grow,

and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.

He'll rule from the historic David throne

over that promised kingdom.

He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing

and keep it going

With fair dealing and right living,

beginning now and lasting always.

The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies

will do all this.

Psalm 96 (11)

1-2Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing!

Sing to God—worship God!

2-3Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,

Take the news of his glory to the lost,

News of his wonders to one and all!

4-5For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.

His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;

Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.

5-6God made the heavens—

Royal splendor radiates from him,

A powerful beauty sets him apart.

7Bravo, God, Bravo!

Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!

In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.

8-9Bring gifts and celebrate,

Bow before the beauty of God,

Then to your knees—everyone worship!

10Get out the message—God Rules!

He put the world on a firm foundation;

He treats everyone fair and square.

11Let's hear it from Sky,

With Earth joining in,

And a huge round of applause from Sea.

12Let Wilderness turn cartwheels,

Animals, come dance,

Put every tree of the forest in the choir—

13An extravaganza before God as he comes,

As he comes to set everything right on earth,

Set everything right, treat everyone fair.

Titus 2:11-14

11-14God's readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation's available for everyone! We're being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.

Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

The Birth of Jesus

1-5About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

13-14At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,

Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

18-20In the midst of all this, Samuel, a boy dressed in a priestly linen tunic, served God. Additionally, every year his mother would make him a little robe cut to his size and bring it to him when she and her husband came for the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "God give you children to replace this child you have dedicated to God." Then they would go home.

Psalm 148

1-5Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven,

praise him from the mountaintops;

Praise him, all you his angels,

praise him, all you his warriors,

Praise him, sun and moon,

praise him, you morning stars;

Praise him, high heaven,

praise him, heavenly rain clouds;

Praise, oh let them praise the name of God

he spoke the word, and there they were!

6He set them in place

from all time to eternity;

He gave his orders,

and that's it!

7-12Praise God from earth,

you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps;

Fire and hail, snow and ice,

hurricanes obeying his orders;

Mountains and all hills,

apple orchards and cedar forests;

Wild beasts and herds of cattle,

snakes, and birds in flight;

Earth's kings and all races,

leaders and important people,

Robust men and women in their prime,

and yes, graybeards and little children.

13-14Let them praise the name of God

it's the only Name worth praising.

His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky;

he's built a monument—his very own people!

Praise from all who love God!

Israel's children, intimate friends of God.


Colossians 3:12-17

12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Luke 2:41-52

They Found Him in the Temple

41-45Every year Jesus' parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn't know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn't find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.

46-48The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.

His mother said, "Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you."

49-50He said, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But they had no idea what he was talking about.

51-52So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

7Oh yes, God says so:

"Shout for joy at the top of your lungs for Jacob!

Announce the good news to the number-one nation!

Raise cheers! Sing praises. Say,

'God has saved his people,

saved the core of Israel.'

8"Watch what comes next: "I'll bring my people back

from the north country

And gather them up from the ends of the earth,

gather those who've gone blind

And those who are lame and limping,

gather pregnant women,

Even the mothers whose birth pangs have started,

bring them all back, a huge crowd!

9"Watch them come! They'll come weeping for joy

as I take their hands and lead them,

Lead them to fresh flowing brooks,

lead them along smooth, uncluttered paths.

Yes, it's because I'm Israel's Father

and Ephraim's my firstborn son!

10-14"Hear this, nations! God's Message!

Broadcast this all over the world!

Tell them, 'The One who scattered Israel

will gather them together again.

From now on he'll keep a careful eye on them,

like a shepherd with his flock.'

I, God, will pay a stiff ransom price for Jacob;

I'll free him from the grip of the Babylonian bully.

The people will climb up Zion's slopes shouting with joy,

their faces beaming because of God's bounty—

Grain and wine and oil,

flocks of sheep, herds of cattle.

Their lives will be like a well-watered garden,

never again left to dry up.

Young women will dance and be happy,

young men and old men will join in.

I'll convert their weeping into laughter,

lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.

I'll make sure that their priests get three square meals a day

and that my people have more than enough.'" God's Decree.

Psalm 147:12-20

12-18Jerusalem, worship God!

Zion, praise your God!

He made your city secure,

he blessed your children among you.

He keeps the peace at your borders,

he puts the best bread on your tables.

He launches his promises earthward—

how swift and sure they come!

He spreads snow like a white fleece,

he scatters frost like ashes,

He broadcasts hail like birdseed—

who can survive his winter?

Then he gives the command and it all melts;

he breathes on winter—suddenly it's spring!

19-20He speaks the same way to Jacob,

speaks words that work to Israel.

He never did this to the other nations;

they never heard such commands.


Ephesians 1:3-14

The God of Glory

3-6How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

7-10Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

11-12It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

Genesis 1:[1-9] 10-18

Heaven and Earth

1-2First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5God spoke: "Light!"

And light appeared.

God saw that light was good

and separated light from dark.

God named the light Day,

he named the dark Night.

It was evening, it was morning—

Day One.

6-8God spoke: "Sky! In the middle of the waters;

separate water from water!"

God made sky.

He separated the water under sky

from the water above sky.

And there it was:

he named sky the Heavens;

It was evening, it was morning—

Day Two.

9-10God spoke: "Separate!

Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;

Land, appear!"

And there it was.

God named the land Earth.

He named the pooled water Ocean.

God saw that it was good.

Isaiah 42:1-9

God's Servant Will Set Everything Right

1-4"Take a good look at my servant.

I'm backing him to the hilt.

He's the one I chose,

and I couldn't be more pleased with him.

I've bathed him with my Spirit, my life.

He'll set everything right among the nations.

He won't call attention to what he does

with loud speeches or gaudy parades.

He won't brush aside the bruised and the hurt

and he won't disregard the small and insignificant,

but he'll steadily and firmly set things right.

He won't tire out and quit. He won't be stopped

until he's finished his work—to set things right on earth.

Far-flung ocean islands

wait expectantly for his teaching."

The God Who Makes Us Alive with His Own Life

5-9God's Message,

the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,

laid out the earth and all that grows from it,

Who breathes life into earth's people,

makes them alive with his own life:

"I am God. I have called you to live right and well.

I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.

I have set you among my people to bind them to me,

and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,

To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:

opening blind eyes,

releasing prisoners from dungeons,

emptying the dark prisons.

I am God. That's my name.

I don't franchise my glory,

don't endorse the no-god idols.

Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.

I'm announcing the new salvation work.

Before it bursts on the scene,

I'm telling you all about it."

Psalm 29 (3)

A David Psalm

1-2Bravo, God, bravo! Gods and all angels shout, "Encore!"

In awe before the glory,

in awe before God's visible power.

Stand at attention!

Dress your best to honor him!

3God thunders across the waters,

Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—

God, across the flood waters.

4God's thunder tympanic,

God's thunder symphonic.

5God's thunder smashes cedars,

God topples the northern cedars.

6The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,

The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.

7-8God's thunder spits fire.

God thunders, the wilderness quakes;

He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.

9God's thunder sets the oak trees dancing

A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.

We fall to our knees—we call out, "Glory!"

10Above the floodwaters is God's throne

from which his power flows,

from which he rules the world.

11God makes his people strong.

God gives his people peace.

Acts 10:34-43

34-36Peter fairly exploded with his good news: "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you're from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he's doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38"You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

39-43"And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn't put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we're not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets."

Matthew 3:13-17

13-14Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!"

15But Jesus insisted. "Do it. God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism." So John did it.

16-17The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."

Isaiah 62:1-5

Look, Your Savior Comes!

1-5Regarding Zion, I can't keep my mouth shut, regarding Jerusalem, I can't hold my tongue,

Until her righteousness blazes down like the sun

and her salvation flames up like a torch.

Foreign countries will see your righteousness,

and world leaders your glory.

You'll get a brand-new name

straight from the mouth of God.

You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand,

a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.

No more will anyone call you Rejected,

and your country will no more be called Ruined.

You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight),

and your land Beulah (Married),

Because God delights in you

and your land will be like a wedding celebration.

For as a young man marries his virgin bride,

so your builder marries you,

And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride,

so your God is happy with you.

Psalm 36:5-10

5-6God's love is meteoric,

his loyalty astronomic,

His purpose titanic,

his verdicts oceanic.

Yet in his largeness

nothing gets lost;

Not a man, not a mouse,

slips through the cracks.

7-9How exquisite your love, O God!

How eager we are to run under your wings,

To eat our fill at the banquet you spread

as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water.

You're a fountain of cascading light,

and you open our eyes to light.

10-12Keep on loving your friends;

do your work in welcoming hearts.

Don't let the bullies kick me around,

the moral midgets slap me down.

Send the upstarts sprawling

flat on their faces in the mud.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Spiritual Gifts

1-3What I want to talk about now is the various ways God's Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often mis-understood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn't know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It's different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say "Jesus be damned!" Nor would anyone be inclined to say "Jesus is Master!" without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

4-11God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts


distinguishing between spirits


interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.

John 2:1-11

From Water to Wine

1-3Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus' mother told him, "They're just about out of wine."

4Jesus said, "Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn't my time. Don't push me."

5She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, "Whatever he tells you, do it."

6-7Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, "Fill the pots with water." And they filled them to the brim.

8"Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host," Jesus said, and they did.

9-10When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn't know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, "Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you've saved the best till now!"

11This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Ezra and The Revelation

1By the time the seventh month arrived, the People of Israel were settled in their towns. Then all the people gathered as one person in the town square in front of the Water Gate and asked the scholar Ezra to bring the Book of The Revelation of Moses that God had commanded for Israel.

2-3So Ezra the priest brought The Revelation to the congregation, which was made up of both men and women—everyone capable of understanding. It was the first day of the seventh month. He read it facing the town square at the Water Gate from early dawn until noon in the hearing of the men and women, all who could understand it. And all the people listened—they were all ears—to the Book of The Revelation.

Psalm 19

A David Psalm

1-2God's glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.

Madame Day holds classes every morning,

Professor Night lectures each evening.

3-4Their words aren't heard,

their voices aren't recorded,

But their silence fills the earth:

unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

4-5God makes a huge dome

for the sun—a superdome!

The morning sun's a new husband

leaping from his honeymoon bed,

The daybreaking sun an athlete

racing to the tape.

6That's how God's Word vaults across the skies

from sunrise to sunset,

Melting ice, scorching deserts,

warming hearts to faith.

7-9The revelation of God is whole

and pulls our lives together.

The signposts of God are clear

and point out the right road.

The life-maps of God are right,

showing the way to joy.

The directions of God are plain

and easy on the eyes.

God's reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,

with a lifetime guarantee.

The decisions of God are accurate

down to the nth degree.

10God's Word is better than a diamond,

better than a diamond set between emeralds.

You'll like it better than strawberries in spring,

better than red, ripe strawberries.

11-14There's more: God's Word warns us of danger

and directs us to hidden treasure.

Otherwise how will we find our way?

Or know when we play the fool?

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!

Keep me from stupid sins,

from thinking I can take over your work;

Then I can start this day sun-washed,

scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

These are the words in my mouth;

these are what I chew on and pray.

Accept them when I place them

on the morning altar,

O God, my Altar-Rock,

God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12-13You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body. It's exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

14-18I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

19-24But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, "Get lost; I don't need you"? Or, Head telling Foot, "You're fired; your job has been phased out"? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the "lower" the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it's a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn't you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

25-26The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

27-31You are Christ's body—that's who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your "part" mean anything. You're familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his "body":




miracle workers




those who pray in tongues.

But it's obvious by now, isn't it, that Christ's church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It's not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called "important" parts.

But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.

Luke 4:14-21

To Set the Burdened Free

14-15Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone's acclaim and pleasure.

16-21He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God's Spirit is on me;

he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to

the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Demolish, and Then Start Over

1-4The Message of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah of the family of priests who lived in Anathoth in the country of Benjamin. God's Message began to come to him during the thirteenth year that Josiah son of Amos reigned over Judah. It continued to come to him during the time Jehoiakim son of Josiah reigned over Judah. And it continued to come to him clear down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah over Judah, the year that Jerusalem was taken into exile. This is what God said:

5"Before I shaped you in the womb,

I knew all about you.

Before you saw the light of day,

I had holy plans for you:

A prophet to the nations—

that's what I had in mind for you."

6But I said, "Hold it, Master God! Look at me.

I don't know anything. I'm only a boy!"

7-8God told me, "Don't say, 'I'm only a boy.'

I'll tell you where to go and you'll go there.

I'll tell you what to say and you'll say it.

Don't be afraid of a soul.

I'll be right there, looking after you."

God's Decree.

9-10God reached out, touched my mouth, and said,

"Look! I've just put my words in your mouth—hand-delivered!

See what I've done? I've given you a job to do

among nations and governments—a red-letter day!

Your job is to pull up and tear down,

take apart and demolish,

And then start over,

building and planting."

Psalm 71:1-6

1-3I run for dear life to God, I'll never live to regret it.

Do what you do so well:

get me out of this mess and up on my feet.

Put your ear to the ground and listen,

give me space for salvation.

Be a guest room where I can retreat;

you said your door was always open!

You're my salvation—my vast, granite fortress.

4-7My God, free me from the grip of Wicked,

from the clutch of Bad and Bully.

You keep me going when times are tough—

my bedrock, God, since my childhood.

I've hung on you from the day of my birth,

the day you took me from the cradle;

I'll never run out of praise.

Many gasp in alarm when they see me,

but you take me in stride.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

The Way of Love

1If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.

Love doesn't strut,

Doesn't have a swelled head,

Doesn't force itself on others,

Isn't always "me first,"

Doesn't fly off the handle,

Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn't revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Luke 4:21-30

16-21He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God's Spirit is on me;

he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to

the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."

22All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, "Isn't this Joseph's son, the one we've known since he was a youngster?"

23-27He answered, "I suppose you're going to quote the proverb, 'Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.' Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn't it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian."

28-30That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.

Exodus 24:12-18

12-13God said to Moses, "Climb higher up the mountain and wait there for me; I'll give you tablets of stone, the teachings and commandments that I've written to instruct them." So Moses got up, accompanied by Joshua his aide. And Moses climbed up the mountain of God.

14He told the elders of Israel, "Wait for us here until we return to you. You have Aaron and Hur with you; if there are any problems, go to them."

15-17Then Moses climbed the mountain. The Cloud covered the mountain. The Glory of God settled over Mount Sinai. The Cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called out of the Cloud to Moses. In the view of the Israelites below, the Glory of God looked like a raging fire at the top of the mountain.

18Moses entered the middle of the Cloud and climbed the mountain. Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2 (7) or 99 (9)

1-6Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples?

Earth-leaders push for position,

Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,

The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:

"Let's get free of God!

Cast loose from Messiah!"

Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.

At first he's amused at their presumption;

Then he gets good and angry.

Furiously, he shuts them up:

"Don't you know there's a King in Zion? A coronation banquet

Is spread for him on the holy summit."

7-9Let me tell you what God said next.

He said, "You're my son,

And today is your birthday.

What do you want? Name it:

Nations as a present? continents as a prize?

You can command them all to dance for you,

Or throw them out with tomorrow's trash."

10-12So, rebel-kings, use your heads;

Upstart-judges, learn your lesson:

Worship God in adoring embrace,

Celebrate in trembling awe. Kiss Messiah!

Your very lives are in danger, you know;

His anger is about to explode,

But if you make a run for God—you won't regret it!

A David Psalm, When He Escaped

for His Life from Absalom, His Son

2 Peter 1:16-21

16-18We weren't, you know, just wishing on a star when we laid the facts out before you regarding the powerful return of our Master, Jesus Christ. We were there for the preview! We saw it with our own eyes: Jesus resplendent with light from God the Father as the voice of Majestic Glory spoke: "This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight." We were there on the holy mountain with him. We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears.

19-21We couldn't be more sure of what we saw and heard—God's glory, God's voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You'll do well to keep focusing on it. It's the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it's not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God's Word.

Matthew 17:1-9

Sunlight Poured from His Face

1-3Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

4Peter broke in, "Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?"

5While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: "This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him."

6-8When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. "Don't be afraid." When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

9Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. "Don't breathe a word of what you've seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk."

Radical Hospitality

Everyone counts at St. Paul, from the oldest to the youngest person. Everyone matters. No exceptions. We take seriously the biblical understanding of the church as the Body of Christ. In our best moments, the people of St. Paul function as interdependently as the parts of a human body working together.

We rejoice in sharing each others’ joys and sorrows. We take an interest in the texture of other peoples’ lives. And we welcome each other warmly as though each and every one of us is a special guest in the house of the Lord.

Radical Hospitality

Passionate Worship

Nothing a congregation does compares with the importance and passion of its worship life. Worshiping together with other believers is our most prized moment for giving honest thanks to God. It’s that focused occasion in a given week for all of us to stop pretending to be God.

Lutheran worship, if it is new to you, is not a spectator sport. Everyone participates in the exuberant praise, stirring music, grace-filled words, holy communion, and prayers that call upon the power of God.

Passionate Worship

Intentional Faith Formation

Lutheran Christians consider their lives to be unfinished products. They are constantly seeking to grow in faith and deepen the meaning of their days. Lifelong learning is a big deal at St. Paul. We delight in every opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God over the entire course of our lives.

Ours is a congregation that does not act as if it has all the answers. In fact, we think clarity in asking the right questions is more important than presuming to have some corner on the truth, especially given the complex issues of our day.

Intentional Faith Formation

Adventurous Mission & Service

St. Paul is a servant church. We take our cues for serving others from Jesus Christ, who in a single sentence summed up the importance of being available to others: I came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).

As easy as it is to take care of oneself in this world, anyone with a heart full of grace and a soul inspired by love can be a servant. The people of St. Paul take pride in strengthening the lives of less fortunate people in our community and across the world, even when it means congregational adventure or personal sacrifice.

Adventurous Mission & Service

Extravagant Generosity

Grateful people are generous people. Interestingly enough, they also happen to be happy people. St. Paul centers its life around gratitude to God for the abundant blessings of life. We believe strongly in the idea that “you make a living by what you earn; you make a life by what you give away.”

Our congregation makes an extraordinary commitment to give generously to others. This generosity is fueled by the individual joy and commitment of all our people seeking to lead grateful (and happy) lives.

Extravagant Generosity