Topic for this week: Presence

Theme for the month of December: God With Us

The Carmichael SDA Church is providing spiritual growth resources for individuals, couples, families, and small groups as an extension during this pandemic for a church that is scattered like salt and to indeed be salty; to be light and receive another infusion of power. Pick and choose from these resources for your spiritual growth, whether it’s during your time of personal devotions or family worship or small group gathering. The 10 options include:


Bible Dialogue

When many people think of Christmas, one thing that often comes to mind is PRESENTS! But that’s because of Christ’s original PRESENCE in the form of Jesus about 2,000 years ago. At creation God walked with people in the Garden of Eden. But since Adam’s and Eve’s Fall, God has provided limited exposure due to the rift caused by the separation of sin.

What a change when God made his presence known in the form of the birth of Jesus! When Jesus shows up, things change! The Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ remain limited. Matthew and Luke give separate stories that we usually blend. Matthew records the announcement from the angel to Mary and then the visit of the wise men who followed the star to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem. Luke wrote the story of the shepherds outside Bethlehem and the dedication of Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, located a little more than five miles from Bethlehem.

With this week’s topic of “Presence” as part of this month’s theme of “God With Us” we could turn to Matthew 1-2 or Luke 2. Here’s a study on Luke 2

When Jesus Shows Up
What happens when parents show their new baby to others the first time?

Read Luke 2:1-40

1. What difference did Jesus make before his birth in Bethlehem?

  • Not enough to get his pregnant mom a room at the Bethlehem Inn.
  • Jesus made things very inconvenient for Mary and Joseph.
  • The difference didn’t really start until after his birth.
  • It took an act of Caesar to get him to Bethlehem, as the Bible foretold.
  • The “nicer things in life” weren’t a necessity for this king.
  • An embarrassment to be showing in a pregnant, unmarried woman.
  • The focus at that time was on taxes, not an imminent birth.
  • Jesus would be comfortable sleeping in a feeding trough for animals.
  • Other.

2.  What did it take for Christ’s birth to become public?

  • The sudden appearance of an overwhelming angel.
  • Shepherds.
  • Anyone open to hear about the Savior’s birth.
  • The vast number of angels that suddenly showed themselves.
  • The music of the angel choir.
  • Once shepherds have a story, everyone hears about it.
  • The angel’s instructions proved to be exactly accurate.
  • Bethlehem shepherds had tremendous influence.
  • Other.

3. What message did the angel give the shepherds?

  • Stop freaking out!
  • You have no idea what just happened.
  • The best is yet to come.
  • The Messiah is here; now!
  • We’re having another choir practice tomorrow; want to join us?
  • THE Lamb of God has arrived.
  • Specific instructions on how to find their Savior, Messiah, and Master.
  • Please notify the religious leaders in Jerusalem about this.
  • Other.

4.  Why did Simeon perceive Baby Jesus was the Messiah at the temple?

  • Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit led Simeon to Baby Jesus.
  • Simeon was at the right place at the right time.
  • He had high expectations to see the Messiah.
  • It was the temple—why wouldn’t you see God there?
  • It was a lucky guess.
  • The priest dedicating Baby Jesus noticed it first.
  • Other.

5.  What did Simeon include in his blessing?

  • God’s presence is now on earth.
  • Joy to the world.
  • Those closest to Jesus will feel pain.
  • You can expect prosperity because of Jesus.
  • Lots of people will miss Christ’s presence.
  • Lots of people will reject Christ’s presence.
  • The light of Jesus will expose things that aren’t seen without Jesus.
  • Other.

6.  What impact did the presence of Baby Jesus have on Anna?

  • She began to prophesy.
  • Anna followed Simeon’s lead.
  • Anna served as Jesus’ PR agent in the temple that day.
  • It was just another day in the temple for Anna.
  • She was ready to die now that she had seen the arrival of the Messiah.
  • Symbolic numbers reveal God’s perfect kingdom (84 = 7 x 12).
  • Anna rebuked the presiding priest for not recognizing the Messiah.
  • Other.

7.  Imagine being one of the shepherds that night outside Bethlehem. What would have been your thoughts, feelings, and actions?

8.  When God is present, why do some people “get it” and others “miss it”?

Prayer Experiences

Do a “Beginning” and “End” prayer experience for one day, several days, or for each day of the week.

BEGINNING—At the start of the day, pray for God’s presence, and your awareness of his presence, regarding specific things you anticipate in your day. It might be your encounter with a certain person or group of people. It could be a task that you want to be sure you face with God by your side and in your heart, head, and hands. It could also be the peace or courage within you—something only God can provide. Pray for this at the beginning of your day, whether that’s the first thing you do when you awaken, while taking a shower, or eating breakfast.
END—At the close of the day, pray a prayer of reflection, re-living God’s presence in your life for that day. When and where did God “show up”? When did you sense God’s presence, even if others might have missed it? When did others notice God’s presence as well? Did something seem miraculous because of God’s presence? Were there times or places you didn’t sense God’s presence and you wished you would have? Close by placing your life into God’s hands; after all, He never slumbers or sleeps, and hopefully you’ll be doing both tonight.

Discussion Questions

Select from these questions, or let them prompt your own questions. You can reflect on these by yourself, or discuss them with another person or group of people.
  • Do you believe God is present? Upon what do you base that?
  • For this Christmas, would you prefer God’s “presents” or God’s “presence”? What would that look like? What would that feel like?
  • Why do some people sense God’s presence while others don’t?
  • The wise men came from the east, following the star night after night, just to be in the presence of baby Jesus. But the religious leaders wouldn’t make the trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (less than six miles) to be in the presence of Jesus. What made the difference for both groups?
  • Would you prefer the presence of a seemingly helpless baby Jesus or the overwhelming power of a supernatural angel like what the shepherds saw?
  • When have you sensed God’s presence?
  • Where is a good place to go to be in God’s presence?
  • When is a good time to be in God’s presence?
  • Which happens more frequently: 1) Your initiative to be in God’s presence; or 2) God’s initiative to reveal his presence to you?
  • Where is God’s presence during this coronavirus pandemic?
  • Where is a good place to go in order to get away from God’s presence? (See Psalm 129:7-10; Jonah 1:1-17; Matthew 28:18-20)
  • When you show up someplace, is God’s presence with you? If so, how do you know? How do others know?

Application Ideas

When a Christian pauses to consider whether or not God is present, most usually acknowledge that God is good on his promise—he is present, Immanuel (God with us). And this isn’t limited to Christmas. In fact, it is far more expansive since the Holy Spirit can be anywhere and everywhere in the world rather than limited to a Bethlehem stable. Perhaps all we need to do is tune our senses to better experience God’s presence.

One way to do this is to practice “I saw Jesus today” reflections. You can do this throughout the day or as a reflection toward the end of the day. Where did you “see” Jesus today? Perhaps it was in a person or group of people. Maybe it was in an action or “circumstance” that was obvious or discernable by faith. When you practice this perspective you are likely to “see” God more often. While this is a personal application of our topic for this week, when you share this with others, it bubbles into “Sharing Options,” which is the next component of the Spiritual Growth Resources (below).

Another application idea is to consciously take Jesus with you during the day. When God is present in your life, wherever you go, you are taking Jesus with you. When a person enters a room, often their presence makes an impact. And what impact is there when Jesus enters a room (with you)?!

If you are “sheltering-in-place” at this time, it’s not a matter of taking Jesus with you, but having Jesus remain with you at home. Are you aware of God’s presence in your home when you are present? How can you, and others in your home, be more aware of God’s presence there?

Another application idea taps into one’s imagination by considering which character in the Christmas story (the birth of Christ) you identify with in particular. Would it be Mary or Joseph? How about the shepherds or the wise men? Angels? Herod? Temple priests? Simeon or Anna? In your imagination play through your response to God’s presence at Christ’s birth. What difference would it make to see God in the form of Baby Jesus? What impact would the location of an animal feeding trough in a stable make on your perception of this being God’s presence? Reconsider where God’s presence might be in your world today.

Intentionally set up reminders of God’s presence in your environment. Some Christmas decorations do this in obvious ways (others . . . well, not so much). When you notice these reminders, respond rather than ignoring them or taking them for granted. Your response might be a quick prayer of thanks, a re-focusing, or a pause for contemplation. It may spur a prayer request or even worship to God.

Sharing Options

The first “Application Idea” above described a practice of “I saw Jesus today.” When you share this with someone else it doubles as a personal application and a sharing option. When did you “see” Jesus today? Where did you “see” Jesus today? If you aren’t accustomed to this, it may take some practice. Share it with others as a testimony. Then ask them to share with you where they saw Jesus today.

Pray God’s presence over a person, a family, or another group of people. Don’t mistake this opportunity as simply a magical trick. You, a child of God, can call on God’s throne of grace at any moment, and acknowledge God’s presence already on earth (see Matthew 18:20). This includes God’s presence in you, with you, before you, behind you, around you—now and always. 

Pray God’s presence over a location—a space. Claim the area as God’s place. Even though Christ has reclaimed this planet for God following the Fall, Satan hasn’t conceded yet. We know the outcome, but because there continues to be skirmishes after victory was assured on the Cross, we claim turf for God everywhere we go. So pray it. Claim God’s promised presence for a given space, whether that’s your house, your neighborhood, a school, another person’s abode, a retirement facility or hospital bed where you may want to be present (but can’t right now). Pray for God’s presence to fill that space.

Engage in the “Bible Dialogue” above for this week (Luke 2:1-40). Do it with another person so the two of you are sharing God’s presence this week. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to be active as you look at Scripture and then wrestle with the question prompts provided in the “Bible Dialogue.” Share what’s on your mind and what’s in your heart. Then challenge each other to live what the Holy Spirit convicts you to do in response to the Scripture experience you shared with each other.

Here’s one more application idea for this week. Share your favorite Christmas song with someone else. Have them share their current favorite with you. Hum along or sing along with the song.

Bible-In-My-Head, Heart, and Hand

Where is God presence, and for how long? Memorize Christ’s promise to his disciples 2,000 years ago, found in Matthew 28:20, “I am WITH YOU always, even unto the end of the world.”


Enjoy the variety of music that speaks of God's Presence

Kids of All Ages by Pastor Melissa

“You’re going to fall and kill yourself!” my Grandmother shrieked, “You come down out of that tree right this instant, Melissa! I MEAN IT!”

From high up in the branches of my favorite birch tree at Dunsmore Park, I could see her tiny shadow beneath me, and I could hear from the tone of her voice that she was upset. Grandma hated it when I climbed a tree - any tree - she was always afraid I would slip and fall to my certain doom.

But for some reason, her fears didn’t stop me. I was never afraid at all. I climbed every tree with branches low enough to swing up into, in every single park and meadow and camp we ever visited. Oaks and aspens and cedars and pines, and anything and everything in between - I climbed them all. I craved the feeling of climbing higher and higher. The higher I got, the greater the adventure, and the better I felt. I couldn’t wait to see what the view would be like. And I loved the solitude of sitting high up above everything, away from all the noise, in a place where I could just think and be. A place where nobody could reach me at all. Because no matter how hard my 3 younger siblings and 5 younger cousins tried to follow, they could never, ever climb as high as me. My climbing trees were the places I could go to get away from everyone.

But there was always One person who did follow me. There was One person I couldn’t out-climb, couldn’t escape from, couldn’t hide away and be unseen by. No matter how high I climbed, He followed me. Even when I climbed the highest pine tree in the forest at Camp Cedar Falls, up to the skinny branches that started to bend and feel thin, when I could feel the sway of the wind and even stick my head right out the top of the enormous tree - even there? He followed me!

 Do you know who that person was? It was God. The Bible teaches us in Psalm 139 that there isn’t anywhere in the world that we can go to get away from God’s presence  - from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the sea, in the highest tree and even way up in the sky, He will still be with us. That might sound a little bit like a pesky brother you can’t get away from, but God’s not like that. It’s GOOD news that we can’t get away from Him, because we never want to be without his protection and his love.

Even as a young girl, it made me feel safe and happy to know that I could talk to Jesus way up high in the branches of my birch tree. I liked His company up there. I could talk about my problems and ask for help. Sometimes, I even prayed that God would help Grandma way back down on the ground to stop worrying about me. I don’t know why He never answered that prayer though....

At Christmas time, we learn and sing about lots of different names for Jesus. The name that the prophet Isaiah predicted and gave to baby Jesus was “Emmanuel,” and that name means “God is with us.” This was a pretty crazy idea at the time, when many people believed that the pagan gods were far away off in the universe, and they didn’t care at all about what humans did or how they struggled. To have a God that literally, physically wanted to be WITH us, was a very new and wonderful idea. To have a God that cared about our every thought and feeling was something that people had never even heard of before. And it was amazing! A God that came in human skin was something that had never happened before, and hasn’t happened since.

Jesus came to be the God who is always with us. This week, talk with your family about all the ways you see God with you, in your lives right now. Oh - and if you find a good one one - go climb a tree for me!

Family Talk Time:
  1. Is it good or bad that there’s nowhere we can go to get away from God? What does this mean about the way God loves us?
  2. Read Psalm 139 together as a family. Not only is God always with us, but He knows everything about us - He can even search our hearts. Wow! What do you want Jesus to see in your heart today?
  3. It’s almost Christmas Day, and we are thinking about Jesus coming as a baby to our earth. What does the name “Emmanuel, God With Us” teach us about who He is? How do we want Him to especially be with our family right now?