Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room is our Advent theme this year, taken from the beloved Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” This theme reminds us that each of us must be intentional about inviting Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior; prepare is a word of action. In the hush and holiness of the Advent season, we are called to let Him become the true center of our lives.
This 2013 Advent Devotional Guide is a Christmas gift to your family from First Baptist Nashville’s Devotional Service Group: Betty Hassler, Sim Hassler, Fred Linkenhoker, and Melody McCoy. Enjoy!
Cover Art: Jennifer Tramel and Alice Foytik
Layout: Jennifer Tramel
Coordinator and Editor: Melody McCoy
Writer Photos: Scott Schrecker Photography and other contributors
First Baptist Nashville appreciates the children who contributed their art and sayings and the families who shared their Christmas stories and traditions with us!
The Shepherds Luke 2:20Play
Bible Background: Luke 2:8-20
Life isn’t too bad in the hills outside Bethlehem. It’s a beautiful setting, day or night. Oh, my goodness—night! You can see every star. Imagine lying on your back with the sheep down for the evening and the sky full of stars. And the weather is great almost all year. Talk about job security! It’s a family business and the need is constant for sheep meat, fur, the entire animal. As a bonus, you had plenty of time to think, pray, sing . . . normally, being a shepherd was a satisfying, meditative, peaceful life.
Then came those angels with news of THE CHRIST CHILD’S birth just over the hill in Bethlehem. All heaven broke loose! The shepherds hurried to town and found the child and marveled at their good fortune; they were in the right place at the right time. They would never forget! And their children and grandchildren would be amazed every time they told this story!
Have you “seen or heard” from the Christ Child? I know you have heard about Him, but have you heard from Him? Like this week? Or this month? Or this year? Or ever? If so. how did you respond? Are you telling everyone around you? Do those near to you know your story? When did you first meet the Christ? You know this should change your life . . . has it? Has it rendered some things rather unimportant and other things incredibly important?
Your life cannot be the same when God comes calling. We have no choice but to leave “glorifying and praising God.” This Advent season, may you be reminded of your encounters with God or have a fresh one!
Rus Roach has been on the staff of First Baptist Nashville for 26 years. He currently serves as Minister of Pastoral Care and Senior Adults. He and his wife, Debbie, have three grown daughters and three grandchildren.
The Woman at the Well John 4:10Play
Bible Background: John 4:1-42
Taken from the Christmas carol Joy to the World, the theme of this year’s Advent season is the line “Let every heart prepare Him room.” As Christmas approaches, we must all reflect on our relationship with Christ. Does He occupy the “room” He deserves in your life? Or do you keep Him in a box, opening the lid when you see fit?
Jesus was born into this world to bear our burdens and rid us of our iniquities. He came to save us all, regardless of gender or race or custom. As recorded in John chapter 4, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. This interaction was revolutionary in nature. As a Jewish man, Jesus was forbidden to interact with Samaritans because they were considered unclean. Yet Jesus did more than merely speak to her; He offered her the gift of eternal life!
The “living water” Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman is offered to us today. But we must “prepare Him room,” as she did. The woman came to the well that day with her own sins and doubts. Yet she was open to listen to His response. Similarly, in our relationship with Christ, we will have times of doubt and confusion, but we must remain open to His response. We cannot put Him in a box and shut the lid!
We are beyond blessed to have the righteousness of Christ offered to us. We all are sinners and cannot, of our own accord, measure up to God’s glory. We deserve death, but God gave us the ultimate Christmas gift in the form of Jesus Christ. Prepare Him room in your heart this year.
Julia Hodge has been attending The Well class at First Baptist Nashville since August 2012. She is a graduate student at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration. Julia is from Greer, South Carolina, and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.
The Centurion Mark 15:39Play
Bible Background: Mark 15:22-39
There! Over in the corner in the shadows. Do you see him? Look closely. Surely the centurion is there. Perhaps he is by the donkey that Mary rode from Nazareth. You don’t see the donkey either?
Maybe we can’t see him because he really wasn’t there. You will not find a centurion in any manger scene. Several artists have captured the proximity of the cradle and the cross. Holman Hunt’s painting “The Shadow of Death” portrays Jesus working as a carpenter before He began His ministry. He is depicted stretching His arms after sawing wood. The shadow cast by His outstretched arms falls on a wooden pole on which carpentry tools hang, creating a “shadow of death” prefiguring the crucifixion. But even Hunt does not depict the centurion. (And it would have been so easy to have a Roman centurion in the background!)
The centurion may not actually have been there, but his affirmation—“Truly this man was the Son of God!”—is the common thread that linked all who came to the manger. That was the affirmation of the angels, the shepherds, the Magi or wise men (although they didn’t arrive until a couple of years later), Mary, and Joseph.
And that needs to be our affirmation as well as we stand again at the manger this year. As you place your own figures in the manger scene or view other displays, look for the centurion. He is there. And affirm with him that the Baby in the manger “truly is the Son of God!”
Jim Taulman and his wife, Mary, have been members of First Baptist Nashville for about two years. Jim participated in the Easter play “The Ultimate Triumph” by William Hendricks, performed at church earlier this year. A LifeWay Christian Resources retiree, Jim has recently formed Familystories-4-U, a business he provides for families seeking to know and pass on their own histories.
The Widow of Nain Luke 7:16Play
Bible Background: Luke 7:11-17
My friends thought I knew Him. After all, why would a stranger stop my son’s funeral procession at the town gate unless he knew the family?
It was the saddest day of my life, by far. Yes, I had grieved my husband’s death, but at least at the time my son was young and healthy. Now I had lost him, too. No mother wants to outlive her children—especially her only son. Women of my day were totally dependent on the men in our families to take care of us. Without a male relative willing to support me, I would be destitute.
My friends wept with me as we headed toward the burial place. But the stranger at the gate looked at us with a depth of compassion I’d never seen. We stood still as He approached the coffin.
To this day, I don’t fully understand why we were the recipients of such a miracle. All I know is that when my son sat up in the coffin and began to speak, everyone burst into praise. Surely, this man was a prophet, sent from God to help His people!
We were overjoyed to tell everyone we knew about Jesus’ visit. Only later did we realize His identity as the Baby of Bethlehem—the Messiah—and the Source of His compassion. He had a Father who was willing to give His only Son’s life to conquer death and offer new life.
Jesus came to live in our hearts and lives that day. Has He come to dwell in yours?
Betty Hassler is a former LifeWay editor; the wife of Dr. Sim Hassler, a minister and life coach; mother of two grown sons; grandmother of two; and an active member of First Baptist Nashville. She and her husband enjoy ministering to international students.
Simeon Luke 2:30-32Play
Bible Background: Luke 2:25-35
Simeon, described as “righteous and devout,” was truly a man of God. He faithfully expected God to keep His promises as he “[waited] for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25). Luke told us that “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25), and we are reminded that the Holy Spirit, God Eternal, has been working since before the beginning of time.
The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that “he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” Israel’s Messiah (v. 26). In faith, Simeon believed God, and when he encountered baby Jesus in the temple, he praised God for His faithfulness and prophesied over Jesus.
In thanking God for the gift of the Messiah, Simeon knew that Christ’s purposes were for all people and presaged the great missionary calling of Paul, harking back to the rich prophecies of Isaiah and others, and connecting all the way back to God’s promises to Abraham. We would do well to remember that the salvation offered by Jesus Christ is for all people. Moreover, as Paul wrote to the Romans: “‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming” (ch. 10:8); we know that salvation is near to those who do not yet believe. Paul continued, quoting the prophet Joel, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (ch. 10:13).
This Christmas season, take heart that salvation is near those who don’t yet believe, and be encouraged to share the gospel all the more joyful and confidently because of it. Like Simeon, pray in faith and expect God to keep his promises.
Peter York is a senior mechanical engineering student at Vanderbilt University, where he is an active member of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. He hails from the small town of Litchfield, IL and has been attending the college class at First Baptist Nashville for two years.
A Rich Young Man Mark 10:21-22Play
Bible Background: Mark 10:17-27
I grew up in a family that experienced Christmas in a big way. We celebrated with lots of decorations, lots of presents, lots of parties, and lots of good food. We also celebrated Christmas at church with lots of Christmas activities. My mother made sure we didn’t forget what Christmas was truly all about and tried to remind us each day as to the “reason for the season.” Each Christmas Eve she attempted to get our family to sit down together and read aloud the Christmas story from the Bible. But generally my sister and I showed a total lack of interest and were generally embarrassed by the idea, so we seldom read it on Christmas Eve.
Now that I look back, I understand her concern that we might forget what we were truly celebrating—the birth of Christ—and not just all the material things that were involved with Christmas. She wanted to make sure we always had room in our hearts for Jesus and the meaning of His birth.
In Mark 10:21-22, the rich young man asked the Lord what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied that he needed to sell all his goods and give the money to the poor. The rich man decided not to do that as he had so much. Christmas is not the only time we need to leave room in our hearts for Jesus, but it is a great time of year, even with all the distractions, to show others how we make time and space in our heart for Jesus and the way to truly celebrate His birth.
Katie Adcox is a longtime First Baptist Nashville member, serving as the wedding coordinator for the church. She and her husband, Allen, have two adult children: Chris, who lives in Dallas, Texas, with his family, and Sally Adcox Oney, also a First Baptist Nashville member with her children. Katie recently retired from a career teaching kindergarten.
The Rabbis at the Temple Luke 2:46-47Play
Bible Background: Luke 2:41-50
I love to learn! More importantly, I love to learn from other Christians and from God’s Word. I have been very fortunate throughout my life to have the opportunity to learn from many wise people: pastors, Sunday School teachers, and other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I have always learned best through active learning, such as Bible study where there was dialogue between the teacher and the learners.
At age 12, Jesus spent time in the Temple learning in just this way. He sat at the feet of the Rabbis (Jewish teachers), listening and asking questions. There was a dialogue between the Rabbis and Jesus which was unusual considering Jesus’ age. They took time to sit with Him, teach Him, and perhaps even learn from Him.
I have found that one of the best ways to prepare my heart and make room for Him is to learn from teachers, just as Jesus did as a boy. At youth camp a few years ago, the preacher’s message really spoke to me. He asked if anyone ever has a hard time trying to figure out what the Lord is telling him or her. He asked, “How do you hear Jesus”? He then held his Bible to his ear and said, “This is how you hear Jesus. You spend time reading, studying the Bible, and listening to the Lord daily.”
During this Advent season and the coming year, let your heart prepare Him room. Set aside time to spend with the Lord. Learn from other believers, from the Bible, and take time to listen! You will be amazed at how the Lord will speak to your heart.
Shiela Thompson has been a member of First Baptist Nashville for more than 10 years and has worked in nursing at Vanderbilt for 15 years. She is a member of the Connecting Sunday School class and has served on the Missions Committee. The proud mother of two sons and one daughter-in-law, Austin and Jeanne Thompson and Sam Bowker, she loved serving as the nurse on youth trips when her boys were part of the youth group. Shiela is filled with joy as she anticipates the birth of her first grandchild in January.
Magi and King Herod Matthew 2:1-2Play
Bible Background: Matthew 2:1-12
King Herod was not at all pleased to hear the news of a newborn King of the Jews. What the Magi were asking Herod here was political dynamite. Jesus was the true king of the Jews; Herod was not. Herod’s ultimate, tragic response to Jesus’ birth is recorded in Matthew 2:16: he “flew into a rage and gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men.”
The magi’s arrival gives us insight into something Matthew wanted us to clearly understand. If this baby was the King of the Jews, His rule was and is by no means limited to the Jewish people. This coming king, the Messiah, brought God’s justice and peace to the entire world. As Jesus’ ministry played out, He did not grow into the warrior king that so many would have expected. Instead, our peace comes through a humble king destined to die and lifted up in a lowly manner, on a cross. However, it was not just in His death that He was brought low. He lived what Richard Foster calls the “cross-life” in submission to all human beings. He was the servant of all.
Jesus’ kingdom continues, today, to break into this world. All creation is broken, but through the Messiah all creation is being made new. As the Magi looked upon this child, worshiped Him, and bestowed costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on Him, they saw tiny hands that were not merely able to receive their gifts. Those hands bring peace to all of creation. Those hands created you and me to do just that. Won’t you make room for Him today?
Brandon Owen rejoices that he has had the privilege of serving as the Minister to Students/Missions at our great church, First Baptist Nashville, for the past two years. He and his wife, Lesley Ann, have been blessed with three sons, Howell (5), Elliott (2) and Louis (1).
Two Disciples Walking to Emmaus Luke 24:32Play
Bible Background: Luke 24:13-35
As Christmas approaches my life gets busier. There are lots of things to prepare for my Christmas celebration—Christmas cards, cookies, gifts, and decorations. All of these make the season special, but they also make it easy for me to get too busy for Jesus. I am glad that First Baptist Nashville celebrates Advent. I need to take the time to slow down and use Advent to prepare my heart for the coming of the Christ child.
But Jesus doesn’t just come at Christmas. Like the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, I sometimes experience grief and confusion from the circumstances of my life. It is during those times that I most feel the need to open my heart to let Jesus speak to me. While I cannot say that I have felt my heart “ablaze,” Jesus often uses Scripture to help guide me when I seek His help. To me it is not just a coincidence that when I seek God most I get the same response from the Sunday sermon’s Bible passage as the verses of my daily Bible reading and the lesson in Sunday School.
As you prepare to celebrate Christmas, I encourage you to read again the familiar Bible stories to prepare your heart for Jesus. May you hear from Him a fresh message of encouragement and help.
Robbie Hunter, a longtime member of First Baptist Nashville, is married to Kevin. She is an active member of the Joshua Class and oversees the Greeters on Sunday mornings. At the end of December she will finish a 30-year career with Tennessee state government.
A Blind Man Luke 18:43Play
Bible Background: Luke 18:35-43
Picture this: Amid the disarray and clamor of the busy city, a blind man begging beside the road to Jericho learns that Jesus of Nazareth, the Healer, is passing by him (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Mark 10:50 says of the blind man, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” As a beggar, the blind man would not have had many possessions, so the cloak was probably most of, if not all, that he had. Yet as soon as Jesus called him, he threw it away without a second thought, knowing that he had a chance to receive something far greater than any worldly object: the grace of Jesus. The blind man went to Jesus with no pretenses or reservations, not attempting to promote himself or gain any sympathy; his only motivation was seeking grace from his Messiah. He presented himself to Jesus exactly as he was, confident that Jesus could help him if he only asked for it in faith.
The blind man’s faith caused him to make room for Jesus in his heart, and as a result, he became an unbridled fountain of God’s praise, something all Christians should strive for. As we head into the Advent season, it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of presents and decorations, and to celebrate the Christmas season without giving much thought to the actual reason for it all. The ease with which we can forget the miracle that was Jesus’ birth and, consequently, His sacrifice, only makes it more important that we be like the blind man. In order to make room for Him in our hearts, we have to be willing to let go of worldly things, surrender ourselves as we are, and have faith in God’s grace and love for us.
Katherine Scudder is a senior at Harpeth Hall School and a lifelong member of First Baptist Nashville. Her parents are Tommy and Donna Scudder, and her grandparents are Gladys Scudder and the late Henry Scudder. Her sister, Caroline, is a sophomore at Harpeth Hall. Katherine is a talented violinist and an all-around music enthusiast.
Nicodemus John 3:17Play
Bible Background: John 3:1-21
I did a lot of observing of faith from the outside before I finally tried living by faith on the inside.
This misstep was not intentional on my part. I was not trying to complicate the simplicity of God’s instruction (“Believe.”). But that is how I operated for years: knowing a life-changing gift had been offered to me, but continuing unwilling to just accept it. I enjoyed books and conversations about it. I was intrigued by other people who grasped it. I even went through the motions of many practices and traditions relative to it. But in all of my efforts to prepare my mind for understanding, I had left my heart out of it.
In John 3, Nicodemus, likely well educated and highly respected, is introduced as a Pharisee, a member of a religious group known for strict adherence to laws and traditions. He was a good and moral man, more than I could ever claim to be, and also much better versed in spiritual matters than I was. But I understand his predicament of being a God-fearing man still in need of a Savior.
With open curiosity, Nicodemus approached Jesus for further guidance, as he knew of Jesus’ teachings and miracles performed. Who better for Nicodemus to turn to for answers to make sure he was doing everything “right” in order to get into heaven?
Only it is not about what we do or even what we know. It is about a personal relationship. Nothing we do or say can make God love us any more or any less than He does already. His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness are gifts that we did not and cannot earn. And He is the greatest gift of all.
Derek Rodriguez and his wife, Meredith, have been active members in various facets of First Baptist Nashville since joining the congregation as newlyweds in 2006. They have since welcomed three children into their family: Lance, Cate, and Tatum. Outside of church, Derek participates in Bible Study Fellowship, enjoys grilling out and camping, and works as an Area Director with Captain D's.
The Disciples in the Storm Matthew 8:27Play
Bible Background: Matthew 8:23-27
The disciples had been with Jesus and had seen Him teaching with authority. They saw Him healing persons who suffered from the most terrible diseases. He drove demons out of possessed men with one spoken word. Yet the disciples were amazed when He calmed the storm at sea; their boat had been tossed about like a toy in the harsh waves. They had seen Jesus perform many miracles, but still had little faith that God would protect them from this sudden storm that absolutely terrified them. After all, they assumed, who could stop such a force of nature?
We all have storms that come in our life without warning. We become consumed with worry, fear, and doubt because in our human minds, there is absolutely no way out. We tell ourselves that God is surely sleeping ... I must wake Him up. Then ... He calms the storm and we are in awe of His mercy and grace. Oh, we of little faith.
Mary had a sudden storm when she became pregnant with the Son of God. Amazing that a virgin would bring forth a Son. Amazing that the King of the world would be born in a stable. Amazing that God would give up His only Son to save our sins. Amazing that we still have doubts that our God will calm the storm.
Denise and Jim Bronaugh met in the singles department at First Baptist Nashville and have been married for 26 years. They have two daughters, Abby, age 23, and Jessie, age 15. Denise is the Adult Ministry Specialist for Tennessee W.M.U. and is an active deacon. Jim is co-chair of the usher committee.
Mary of Bethany Luke 10:42Play
Bible Background: Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1-8
Dylan was three years old. He had something important to tell his mother. She was busy with household duties, trying to get some things done before the evening was over. As he was talking to his mother, she was cleaning the kitchen and was not looking at him but was responding absentmindedly with “Uh huh, yes, OK.” Finally frustrated that his mother was not giving him her full attention, he grabbed her face, turned it toward himself, and said in no uncertain terms, “I want to SEE your face.”
As we look at today’s Scripture passages, we see Jesus, on two separate occasions, affirming Mary’s attention to Him and His needs; she chose to do what actually was necessary and important. As we plan for the Christmas season, we are many times caught up in what seems necessary for the holidays. But what if Jesus is saying to us, “I want to see your face. What you think is necessary is not! I just want your attention!” Wouldn’t it be tragic if we failed to see what Christ has for us this Christmas because we were too busy with preparations? Remember what Advent is all about—preparation for the coming of Christ. Let me challenge you to spend time looking into the face of Jesus and listening to His voice.
I admit I am already thinking about all that I have to do before Christmas Day—the decorations, the practices, the preparation of food, the shopping, the parties ... Help me during this Advent season to see what you want to show me. Help me to listen to your voice and experience the love you have showered upon me anew.
Twila Greene is new to First Baptist Nashville, having recently moved here from Jefferson City, TN. She is married to a wonderful husband, Jeff, who is a family practice physician, and they have two sons who are students at Belmont University. Twila sings in the FBN Sanctuary Choir and works at the Tennessee Baptist Convention as a collegiate ministry assistant.
Martha of Bethany John 11:21-22Play
Bible Background: Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46
We first meet Martha in Luke’s Gospel as the quintessential hostess. Jesus was coming for a visit, after all! In that exchange Jesus knows her heart and cares about what’s happening internally. He sees she is worried—stressed out!
We meet her next in a time of grief. Her brother is gone—dead now, for four days. It’s hard to lose a brother—your siblings really are your first friends. So here Martha is heartbroken. She knows Jesus can do something, but what? Jesus arrives and is grieved Himself—so compassionate, always moved with compassion.
In her grief, Martha cries out “Lord, if!” Haven’t you cried out the same? She knows Jesus as Friend since He has been a guest in their home many times. At this moment she comes to know the Great I Am. Not “I was” or “I will be” but I AM. He declares this: “I am the resurrection and the life ... Do you believe this?” Martha replies with a beautiful statement of faith. “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world” (John 11:25-27).
As they arrive at the tomb, Martha points out that there will be a stench and Jesus again tenderly addresses the crux of the matter: “IF you believe.” All that transpires in this moment is for their belief, their reliance and trust in Him. Not theirs alone but ours too. In all that you and I are experiencing right now—worry, stress, grief—Jesus is the Great I Am. He cares about YOU! Remember His promises, BELIEVE, trust in, cling to—Him.
Lori Towns has been an executive assistant on the staff of First Baptist Nashville since 2007. A native of Nashua, New Hampshire, Lori was educated at Cazenovia College, Southwest Baptist University, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She loves spending time with friends, traveling, and adores laughter!
Mary Luke 2:19Play
Bible Background: Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-51
'Tis the season for nostalgia and sentimentality, time to pull out the albums or videos of past Christmases. We pore over the images, marveling at how the children have grown, recalling special times with loved ones, mourning those who are gone. Still, some of our most treasured memories were never mechanically recorded; they were simply engraved on our hearts.
The stories of Jesus’ incarnation have been passed down to us by oral and written word, but Mary had only one way to capture these amazing events. She saved them in her heart, to be retrieved and relived, again and again. Were the angel’s words, “He will ... be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32) on her mind when she and Joseph searched for their 12-year-old son in Jerusalem? Did the miracles she had witnessed prompt her to tell the servants at the wedding in Galilee, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5)? When she and her other sons came to see Jesus, was she expecting Him to claim His promised role as Messiah? Finally, at the foot of the cross, did she, in her profound grief, question or doubt the assurances she had received so many years before?
Only Mary witnessed the totality of Jesus’ story, from birth to death to resurrection. Surely, deep within her heart and soul, she held on to a deep, sustaining comprehension of God’s redemptive plan.
René Holt and her husband, Nick, were singing in the choir before they joined First Baptist earlier this year. She also plays flute in the orchestra. Recently retired from LifeWay where she was editor of Mature Living magazine, she is now pursuing freelance editing and writing. They are blessed with three lively grandsons.
Pilate Matthew 27:24Play
Bible Background: Matthew 27:11-26
As Christmas approaches, we focus our hearts and minds on the great gift of God’s love toward us by choosing to come and live among us and, by so doing, providing a way for us to live with Him for eternity. Today’s devotional passage is filled with choices to be made.
From the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ birth, individuals could choose their way of life, and they did. We still today have the freedom to choose and we do ... sometimes to our regret. Sin is a part of our lives. God sent His Son, Jesus, to our world to provide the way for our redemption. We all have the responsibility and the ability to choose Jesus.
In this passage Jesus is in the custody of Pilate, the Judean Governor. The Jewish chief priests and elders charged that Jesus was usurping their leadership, corrupting their religion, and deserving of death. They brought Him to Pilate and demanded He be crucified. Jesus chose to make no reply.
Pilate faced choices. His wife urged him not to get involved in this turbulent Jewish matter. At the Feast being celebrated it was Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner. He decided to offer this angry Jewish crowd either the notorious criminal Barabbas or Jesus. They chose Barabbas to be released, leaving Jesus to be crucified.
God’s plans are beyond our understanding. God used Pilate’s decision to help fulfill His plan of redemption for mankind. He still gives us choices. Let’s pray for openness to respond within His plan for our lives.
As we celebrate the coming of Jesus into this often cruel world, let’s not forget that He came willingly to provide for our ransom. Without His choice of the Cross, the manger would be empty.
Bob Turner has been a member of First Baptist Nashville since 1956. Early on he met Mary Frances, and they were married in 1958. Through the years he has taught Sunday School in youth, young adult, and older adult classes. He has had the opportunity to serve as a deacon as well as on several committees: Finance, Personnel, Property, Building Renovation, Pastor Search, and Minister of Music Search. His 34-year career at LifeWay, working in finance and general management, was very rewarding. Bob currently serves as a life deacon and enjoys farming.
Thomas John 20:27-28Play
Bible Background: John 20:24-29
Have you ever considered yourself to be a “Doubting Thomas”? I have always labeled my doubts as “I can handle this, God; you do something else more important.“ Do those thoughts sound familiar, even in this Advent season when “all is calm, all is bright”—or at least, it is supposed to be?
A year ago it became time for me to ponder and reflect upon my thirty-year career in education and make a decision about retirement. Scared? Slightly. Doubtful? Extremely! Could I make it financially? Could my career really be over? Was I ready to sit down and do nothing?
It wasn’t until I attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference in February that I finally asked God quietly to handle this one. Then He showed me my next journey. In March, my principal showed me a way I could transition slowly out of my comfort zone. I was called to the church administrative office to interview for a position I was not even aware was available; however, God did, and He knew it was time to move my experiences deeper into His ministry.
While in college, I discovered a prayer by Ruth Cowan from Streams in the Desert that rings true for me still: “No longer do I pray as once—‘Dear Lord, bless all my plans;’ but now I pray, “Lord, plan for me; the future’s in Thy hands.’ ”
Pamela Stockett is a retired high school principal and now works part time as church receptionist/assistant to our pastoral care ministry. As a native of Nashville she has been a member of First Baptist Nashville for seven years. Her son and daughter-in-law are the parents of her beautiful granddaughter, Addison.
Simon Peter and the Disciples Luke 5:10b-11Play
Bible Background: Luke 5:1-11
I always get the same hilarious image when I read Luke 5:1-11. I picture Simon Peter, standing there on his boat dumbfounded, with a small thought bubble creeping above his head. It’s an image of James, John, and himself bringing up a net full of people onto the deck of a boat like something from a Far Side calendar.
Then immediately the thought shifts ... I wonder if these guys knew what they were signing up for? Sure, Jesus had just delivered them a huge catch, but He wasn’t asking for some small favor in return. He was asking them for their lives. These three fishermen just walked away from everything they knew, everything that seemed safe, to help Christ cast the net of salvation.
Times have changed. This charge has not. It’s simple enough to understand, but much more difficult to execute. We have been saved and given this gift of salvation through His death and resurrection, so that we may cast His net, sow His seed, and glorify His name. Each of us must wake up every morning and ask ourselves two simple questions: “How will I love God today? How will I love my neighbor as myself?”
Our church, especially, is in an extremely unique location for the fishing of men, women, and children. We stand in the heart of the new urban South, at the corner of art and commerce, and adjacent to both great wealth and extreme poverty. My hope for this Advent season is that we will all find some way to serve those around us and cast our nets without fear.
Hubert (Chase) Worrell is a senior accountant at Covenant Surgical Partners and currently serves as the missions coordinator for the young adult department. His much better half is Chelsie Worrell. They enjoy romantic dinners and long walks on the beach.
Anna Luke 2:38Play
Bible Background: Luke 2:36-38
Aren’t we to be like Anna, spending our time praying without ceasing, thanking God for the Hope that is within us, and then sharing that Hope with others? Yes, of course. Not everything has changed since Anna’s time.
She was an elderly woman who seemingly spent all day, every day, in the temple. I find it hard to believe she did nothing else. Her life was obviously quite different from ours, but she still had to make choices daily as to what was really important. The godly women I know, many of whom are even older than Anna, still face those decisions.
Most of us would find it impossible to stay in the temple or church or any one place day and night. Temple doors are locked; security prohibits dwelling in a place of worship.
But 1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in us. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” which pretty much covers it all. We don’t have to go anywhere; we just have to be.
It took days for me to find the time to focus and write this devotional as I was looking for a quiet place ... that temple. Today I realized it was in me. The Holy Spirit was patiently waiting for me to forget about lists and projects.
During this month we are bombarded with decorating, shopping, cooking, and visiting, all to “honor” the birth of Jesus Christ. May we all acknowledge the temple within us. There is no need to go anywhere—just to prepare room for Him so we can wholeheartedly sing Joy to the World!
Sharon Herrera and her husband, Ricardo, are thankful for the 13 years they have been at First Baptist Nashville and are blessed to be involved in many areas of service and ministry. Sharon has a passion for WMU, and they share a love for the Encouragers Sunday School Class. They are the parents of 6 children and 17 grandchildren.
Nazareth Synagogue Worshipers Luke 4:22Play
Bible Background: Luke 4:14-30
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael, a prospective disciple of Jesus, asked his friend Philip (John 1:46). His prejudice against Nazareth was proven to be well founded when Jesus returned to His hometown during His public ministry.
Imagine that you are sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day, when suddenly a young man rises to his feet to read the Scripture. You have known this young man, Jesus, and His family all His life, watched Him grow up in His father's small business, and perhaps have even heard recently of His spreading fame and influence in the surrounding area. But He reads from the prophet Isaiah as though the passage applies to Him personally and then affirms this assertion! “Isn't this Joseph's son?” you say to those around you in astonishment.
As if sensing the doubt in the room (which of course He knew full well), Jesus reminds the congregation that “no prophet is accepted in his own country” and proceeds to give them a lesson in Israelite history. the arrogance! The blasphemy! Perhaps it is no wonder that “all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath” and actually tried to kill Him.
How far have we progressed in our time? Do we now accept Him and make room for Him in our hearts? Or do we, in our own arrogance, reject Him as did the people in the synagogue that day?
May this Advent season remind us that He is Who He claims to be, and may we welcome Him into our hearts and lives.
Bill and Sharon Chaney sing in the choir and are in the Truth Seekers Sunday School class. The Founding Headmaster of Davidson Academy, Bill has been a member of First Baptist Nashville off and on since 1958. He currently serves as deacon and member of the Finance Committee and the Benevolence Committee. Sharon, the Director of Advanced Academics for Metro Nashville Public Schools, has served on the Family Enrichment Committee. She first joined the church when they were married here in 1970, one of the first couples united in the “new” Sanctuary. Bill and Sharon have two sons and four grandchildren.
The Religious Leaders Mark 2:6-7Play
Bible Background: Mark 2:1-12
I'm an accountant. A tax accountant. I love rules. In my world of debits and credits, if you follow the rules, you'll get the right answer. Tax planning is similar. Structuring income or estate transactions in such a way as to lawfully pay the least amount of tax is just awesome. There is a lot of satisfaction in achieving a great result by following the rules. Don't judge me. As I said, I really like rules.
But rules change. Sometimes dramatically. And if we are not prepared to respond, we run the risk of missing great opportunity. When Jesus was born, the rules changed. Yet for all their knowledge, including the prophecies foretelling the coming of a Savior, the Jewish religious leaders didn't recognize Him or, or more likely, didn't want to recognize Him. Their heads overruled their hearts—their unprepared hearts. Why? Fear of losing their position in society? Jealousy? Fear of losing control over the people?
Jesus was a concept they couldn't grasp. He didn't come in their preconceived form. This Savior, Jesus—a flesh-and-blood human they could see and touch and hear—didn’t follow the rules. Not only did He work on the Sabbath; He claimed to be able to forgive sins. Everyone knew only God could forgive sins. This was blasphemy!
But are we any better? I’m not. If I was, why do I pray for an answer, then work tirelessly to figure it out myself? Pray for God to intervene in a situation, then try to contrive circumstances to get the result I want? Rejoice in answered prayers, then think it's too good to last? Ask forgiveness, then sin again? Perhaps my heart is not as prepared as I pretend. Praise God He loves and forgives us in spite of ourselves!
Amy Freeny is married to Jerry and has the most wonderful daughter and son (Rachel and Stephen) parents could hope for. She sings in the choir and plays flute with the First Baptist Nashville orchestra. She has served on the finance and budget committees. And she really likes rules.
John the Baptist John 1:29, 34Play
Bible Background: John 1:19-36
Zechariah, a priest, and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children, and they were old. One day, the angel Gabriel told Zechariah they would have a son and name him John. John would bring people joy and be great in the Lord’s sight. He would turn the disobedient to righteousness, making them ready for the Lord to come. What news! What a shock! What a miracle!
Six months later, Gabriel announced to Mary a greater miracle: she, a virgin, would become the mother of the Son of God. Mary rushed to share the news with her relative Elizabeth. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby leaped inside her for joy. John would prepare people for the coming of his cousin, Jesus.
No doubt Zechariah and Elizabeth faithfully followed God’s command to parents, teaching their child to love the Lord God with all his heart, soul, and strength. Together they would observe laws concerning sin and holiness; celebrate feasts; recount stories of judges, kings, and prophets; marvel at miracles; sing the songs of David; rejoice in God’s promises and provisions for His people. Each year they would choose a perfect lamb for Passover.
John was humble, zealous, and clear about his purpose: “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord. ...” People traveled from all around to hear him preach. Many repented of their sins, turned to God, and were baptized. Their hearts were prepared—ready to welcome the Lamb of God.
Joy to the world!
Helen Harris Owens has been at First Baptist Nashville since Cradle Roll. She and her husband, Dan, have two married daughters, Mary Frances and Susanna. Currently, Helen teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, Dan plays trombone in the sanctuary orchestra, and they both sing in the choir.
Zacchaeus Luke 19:8Play
Bible Background: Luke 19:1-10
Zacchaeus, a tax collector and wealthy individual, wanted to see who Jesus was as God’s Son entered Jericho. Unfortunately for Zacchaeus, he wasn’t the tallest individual around. So as he ran ahead past the large crowd that was with Jesus, he climbed a sycamore tree to see Him.
Jesus must have known Zacchaeus was waiting for Him because when he spotted the short-standing tax collector, he said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus came down from the tree and welcomed him to his home. But this upset the people Jesus had been with. They said, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
After Jesus spent time in Zacchaeus’ home, there must have been something that triggered a willing heart in Zacchaeus. He said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four time the amount.” Zacchaeus had gained an open heart. Whatever ill-will he had toward others, whatever individual he may have financially cheated—his sins were thrown out the door with his willingness to allow Jesus into his home. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
As Christians, whatever sin we have, whatever guilt we bottle up inside of us, can be redeemed by our Lord and Savior, Jesus. In this fall’s approaching Advent, open your heart and welcome Jesus into it.
Clayton Coffman, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, has been a member of First Baptist Nashville a little over a year now. He is the graduate assistant for sports information and sports broadcasting at Trevecca Nazarene University. Clayton is the son of David and Beth Coffman, who live in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. He has one sister, Carly, who resides in Jacksonville.
The Hungry Crowd John 6:14Play
Bible Background: John 6:1-14
In everything Jesus accomplished while on earth, there was purpose. Consider His miracle of feeding 5,000 men and countless women and children with five barley loaves and two small fish. When seeing the multitude approach the mountain, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” This was a test for Philip, who perceived the task as impossible. What transpired after He posed this question illustrated the vast power of the Almighty. The Ruler of the universe has no limits.
The crowd that gathered realized the magnitude of Jesus’ authority, as evidenced by the verse quoted above. By remembering prophecy, they prepared their hearts and recognized Jesus for who He was and is to this day.
Too often we wait to see the miracle happen before believing in the power of our Lord and recognizing His authority. Mary didn’t wait, and she was ready upon the miracle’s coming. Gabriel told Mary she would bear a Son, a King who will reign forever. As a believer in God and keeper of the Law of Moses, her heart was prepared and she responded with “I am the Lord’s servant.” Joseph didn’t wait either; he too was ready. As a righteous man, he demonstrated integrity and patience in a difficult situation. The angel of the Lord brought clarity and Joseph cleaved to Mary.
We can let our hearts prepare Him room by seeking Him daily so that we may recognize Him and His purpose, as the multitude did, and respond like Mary and Joseph, as servants.
Andy and Renee Matthews and their children, Harper and Dabbs, have been members of First Baptist Nashville since 2010. Andy co-teaches a Sunday morning class in the Cornerstone department, and Renee serves as the GA director and chairs the Family Enrichment Committee.
Jesus, the Christ Child Luke 2:7Play
Bible Background: Luke 2:1-20
We know Bethlehem was crowded, and the story found in Luke's Gospel reminds us that with no spare rooms in the homes, Mary and Joseph made their final preparations for the birth of their firstborn in the only place available to them, a humble cattle stall.
Shepherds prepared for His arrival by leaving their sheep to see the baby proclaimed by angelic messengers.
Magi followed a star that God prepared in the heavens as a sign that the one who would redeem all creation was born.
Mary prepared as only a mother can do. She sought confirmation from her cousin Elizabeth and found it as the child in Elizabeth’s womb, John, leapt for joy.
And then there are the rest of us. Busy days, demanding schedules, tight budgets, life's uncertainties and surprises—they all have a way of distracting us from those things that matter most in life. Preparing room in our hearts for Him requires that we pause long enough to give attention to the story that God is still weaving, the story of a redeemer, a rescuer, a Savior who entered our world to bring glory to God by saving, rescuing, and redeeming sinners like us.
As we celebrate Christ's birth, may our preparations carry us into a new year filled with a commitment to honor Him in all we do.
Dr. Frank R. Lewis has been Senior Pastor of First Baptist Nashville since 1997. His wife, Lori, is a nurse at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where she cares for
newborn babies. They are the parents of two adult children, Lauren and Gregory.