Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the days of the pandemic, until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. This is an opportunity to stay connected, to be together. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  
 
This devotion has undergone a name change to One in the Spirit. Learn more here.
 
Access each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the “Devotions” distribution list.

Struck Silent

Luke 1:5-25

 

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
 
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
 
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
 
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
 
 

I hope you take time to read this passage fully today. The story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, is one of my favorites. They are the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah’s story is the first one told in the Gospel of Luke.


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In This Bleak Midwinter

Philippians 2:5-11

 

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 

who, though he was in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God

    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

 

Therefore God also highly exalted him

    and gave him the name

    that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

    every knee should bend,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.
 
 

Christmas music fills our home these days. I have collected dozens of Christmas CDs and created playlists for home, in the car, even sermon preparation time. I love the music of this season, and I want to share some with you. During this season of Advent from time to time, I am going to share with you some hymns of Advent and Christmas along with the story behind them. I will also share a rendition of that hymn for the day.


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Keep Awake

Mark 13:24-37

 

[Jesus said:] 24“In those days, after that suffering, 

 

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

 

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 

 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

 32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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Hear Our Prayer

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

 

Prayer for Israel’s Restoration

To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.

 

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,

    you who lead Joseph like a flock!

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.

Stir up your might,

    and come to save us!

 

Restore us, O God;

    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

 

O Lord God of hosts,

    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

You have fed them with the bread of tears,

    and given them tears to drink in full measure.

You make us the scorn of our neighbors;

    our enemies laugh among themselves.

 

Restore us, O God of hosts;

    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

 

17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,

    the one whom you made strong for yourself.

18 Then we will never turn back from you;

    give us life, and we will call on your name.

19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;

    let your face shine, that we may be saved. 
 
 

The refrain is spoken three times in today’s psalm – “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

 

Persistence pays off.


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Act Like Somebody

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

 

A Life Pleasing to God

4 Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.
 
 

It sounds like good common sense, doesn’t it? Live quietly, mind your own affairs, behave properly.

 

It sounds like fatherly advice.


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Thankful

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

 
6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,
 

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”
 
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
 
 
 

This reading is one of the assigned readings for Thanksgiving.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving. Your gatherings this year are probably looking different than last year. My prayer for you and your loved ones is that you are all safe and healthy.


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A Glimmer of Hope

Jeremiah 31:10-14

 

10 Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,

    and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,

    and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,

    and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,

    and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

over the grain, the wine, and the oil,

    and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall become like a watered garden,

    and they shall never languish again.

13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,

    and the young men and the old shall be merry.

I will turn their mourning into joy,

    I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness,

    and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,

says the Lord.
 
 

Today is the last day of the church year. That may mean nothing to you, and you likely won’t find a Hallmark card to address the occasion. Tomorrow you can say “Happy New Year” to your family when you gather for your Zoom Thanksgiving, and some of your cousins may wonder if you have started the day with Mimosas instead of Starbucks. But, you can assure them that you are correct in what you say.


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The Worst Thing is NOT the Last Thing

Revelation 19:1-9

 

The Rejoicing in Heaven

19 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,

“Hallelujah!

Salvation and glory and power to our God,

    for his judgments are true and just;

he has judged the great whore

    who corrupted the earth with her fornication,

and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they said,

“Hallelujah!

The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying,

“Amen. Hallelujah!”

And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,

    all you his servants,

and all who fear him,

    small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God

    the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult

    and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

    and his bride has made herself ready;

to her it has been granted to be clothed

    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
 
 

In my first congregation, during my first year of ministry, we had seven funerals in a three-week span from Christmas through the middle of January. Those who died ranged in age from 2 years old to 90+. It was a difficult time to say the least. I had visited a couple of people the day they passed away. After that word got out, congregation members were leery of my stopping by to see them.


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Remember Jesus Christ

2 Timothy 2:8-13

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.
 
 

I invite you to consider the verses above and consider what challenges you and what brings you comfort.


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Sheep vs. Goats?

Matthew 25:31-46

 [Jesus said to the disciples:] 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
 
 

At the end of the worship services, the worship leader will often say, “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” We all respond, “Thanks be to God.” I have a question for you… how did it go? You know, the going in peace; was it a peace-filled week – quiet, serene, full of goodness, no stress, no concerns, only hope and joy?


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