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Our New Home
Fall is defintely in the air!

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Celebrations!

The countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve always brings with it a sense of excitement, a new hope for the future, and the thrill of the party.  For many it comes with a burst of adrenaline causing them to want to go out and accomplish greater goals, make important life changes and make their world a better place to be.  I was more than a little surprised when I went shopping at our local Safeway over the weekend and found it nearly empty!  I was expecting large crowds of people stocking up for the parties and bowl games that go with the celebrations of the New Year.  Maybe they all showed up later in the day as I had specifically tried to get to the store in the morning, thinking I that I just might miss the busiest time of the day.  Ah Ha!  I guess I was successful after all!

As I was thinking about New Year’s celebrations this morning, I kept finding myself going back to 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where the Apostle Paul is encouraging us by stating, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (NKJV)  While I was looking at that particular verse in a couple different translations, I suddenly understood that this scripture is a call to celebrate!  And it is a type of celebrating that does not have to wait until New Year’s Eve, or any other prescribed holiday.  It is a celebration that is to take place anytime and anywhere in the midst of any situation or circumstance in our lives!

When the clock strikes 12 midnight tonight there will be sounds of people shouting, car horns being honked, and fire crackers being shot off.  Well, the seasoned Apostle is prodding us to do the same thing by thanking God in the midst of “all circumstances!” (English Standard Version)  Whether the situation is good, bad or indifferent, we are being instructed: “Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this.” (God’s Word ©)  Sounds like “Party Time” to me!

“Whoa now… Hold on a moment here Pastor Jim!  Is the Apostle telling us to be thankful to God for the terrible thing that is happening to me?  For the bad economy, for sickness and disease, for lack, for difficult relationships and the like?”  NO…  Not at all!  There is one little descriptive word that defines the purpose of our celebrations.  Notice that the scripture in the NKJV says IN everything,” not FOR everything!”  By thanking God in even the hardest situations in our lives, we are putting out trust implicitly in Him and in the power and ability that He alone has to remedy the problems and bring us out on top.  We are not thanking Him for the adverse circumstances, we are thanking Him ahead of time for the solution! 

A good example of this can be found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 where three armies came to fight and destroy the kingdom of Israel.  The story goes that when King Jehoshaphat received the news of the impending doom he “set himself to seek the Lord…” (2 Chronicles 20:3 KJV).  As he counseled with the Lord he received his marching orders, gathered the people and went out to face the enemy as the Lord had instructed him.  Jehoshaphat was told that “the battle is not yours, but God’s!” (Verse 15)  So what did he do?  He placed the Praise and Worship team in front of the army as they marched to the battle field.  He had the people praise and thank God for the outcome of the battle before a sword was ever drawn!  And that giving of thanks won them an overwhelming victory without having to physically fight the enemy armies.

So go and enjoy your New Year’s celebrations tonight.  Give a shout, ring the bells, and shake the party favors!  Then hold on to the thought that this is exactly what our loving heavenly Father wants us to do whenever things in our lives go south in the New Year ahead.  Give a shout of thanksgiving to God, ring the bells of praise, and raise your hands in recognition and submission to the Father’s ability and desire to cause you to come out ahead as He fights and wins your battles for you!  Have an exciting New Year's!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What VICTORIES am I expecting THIS NEW YEAR?”

 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking Back... Looking Ahead

“We pray that God our Father will greatly increase your love for each other and for everyone else, just as we love you.  Then he will strengthen you to be holy.  Then you will be blameless in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all God’s holy people.”          (I Thessalonians 3:12-13 – God’s Word ©)

As I began to study in the Word this morning with an eye toward the rapidly concluding calendar year, I was drawn through one of my commentaries to I Thessalonians 3:12-13.  In these verses Paul is praying from the heart to the people of Thessalonica.  It would seem that his greatest desire for this congregation concerned the importance of the establishment of their hearts in the love of God.  The more I meditated on these verses, the more convinced I became that this is the key to completing 2012 with a strong run and successfully step into 2013!

John Darby’s Synopsis of the Bible encourages us to: “Observe also that love makes us rise above the difficulties, the persecutions, the fears, which the enemy seeks to produce.  Occupied with God, happy in Him, this weight of affliction is not felt.”  There are many things in each of our lives that we can concern ourselves with, but the greatest of these is love!  Walking in God’s love toward others and maybe most importantly toward ourselves, is vital as we face the ever increasing distractions in our world.  The Bible tells us that the problems in this world are only going to get worse, so what good does it do for us to focus our attention on the news rather than on our heavenly Father and the truth and faithfulness of His Word?

I Thessalonians 3:13 informs us that as we are established in His love, He is able to strengthen us to be who and what we need to be in our daily lives.  Yes, the specific context of the verse is talking about holiness, but other Biblical witnesses will confirm that the establishment of His love will cause us to fully mature into the man or women that He has called us to be.

I would whole heartedly encourage you over this last weekend of 2012 to spend some precious time alone with your heavenly Father.  Take those special moments to allow the love that He has for YOU to saturate your very being.  Reconnect with Him and let Him re-establish you in His love, and then commit the giving of your love back to Him.  Thank Him for the good and the not so good that you experienced in this last year and look forward with GREAT EXPECTATIONS to His victories in your life in the New Year ahead!

Have a great weekend.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD THINGS am I expecting today?”

 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions

Webster’s original 1828 dictionary defines the word “resolution” as “a fixed purpose or determination of mind.  The effect of fixed purpose; firmness; steadiness; or constancy in execution, implying courage.”  As I laid back in my comfy desk chair this morning and prayed about some personal changes that I would like to make in the rapidly approaching New Year, this definition resounded within me.  I was especially drawn to the ideal of “firmness; steadiness; or constancy in execution, implying courage.”

I think that it was the need of courage that ignited something inside of me.  As I rolled those words and thoughts around in my heart, I had to be honest and confess a weakness in that area when it comes to following through on New Year’s resolutions.  I can find all kinds of excuses like all the pressures and demands of caring for my wife, how small unexpected changes with her daily health can totally upset any plans or activities we had scheduled for that day, or simply that of being worn out due to lack of sleep.

I’m sure that I am not alone in having a hard time as I attempt to successfully keep my desired New Year’s resolutions.  All of us deal with unique situations that we may feel are completely impossible to overcome.  Sometimes we may even go so far as to think that our situation is like nobody else’s and that others cannot help us.  All these reasons bounced around in my head until I finally quieted the barrage coming at me and sought to hear God’s voice.

Then I remembered one of the first scriptures that I ever memorized found in Philippians 4:13 where it says that “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”  (KJV)  Since I’ve heard that “Christ” actually means “the Anointed One and His Anointing,” you could declare this verse for yourself by accurately confessing that “I can do all things through Christ, the Anointed One and His Anointing, Who strengthens me!”  The reality of that verse working in us as we set out to make personal changes flows in line with Mr. Webster’s definition of resolutions. The truth of that promise of the Lord solidifies the firmness and constancy of our determined actions and gives us the courage to follow through until we experience the successful completion of our goals.

You know, it is kind of like Ironman!  Outside of the suit, Tony Stark is just a normal man, but once he puts on the suit, he is turned into an invincible superhero!  By ourselves we only have our own power, gifts and abilities to make our resolutions work, but in or through Christ, we have the invincible power of God working on our behalf!  Now that definitely gives me the encouragement to set forth and then follow through on the changes I desire to make in my life in 2013.  How about you?  As long as we stay diligent to keep the Anointed One’s suit on, we will have success!  Of course, like Tony Stark, we have to know what the suit is able to do and how to work it… but that’s another study for another blog!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christmas Blues

Well, the presents under the tree are all gone.  The pretty wrapping paper is wadded up and tossed and the countless hours of preparation for the Christmas Day events is all done.  Now what?  Do you have a sense of the Christmas Blues?  For some the day after Christmas is just as special if not more as Christmas itself.  I guess you could say that it is all in the eyes of the beholder.

My son made the point of scheduling the day off from work today so that he could enjoy the kids and all the fun they would have exploring and trying out their new presents.  After all the hubbub and packed schedule yesterday, he felt that today’s rest would be really appreciated!  Years back when our kids were young, I many times took the week off after Christmas so I could also enjoy the aftermath of all the Holiday activities with my wife and kids.

This year was a little different.  I wasn’t really too sure what to expect from the Christmas gatherings and events.  My wife’s condition and the recent passing of my Mom seem to put a damper on everything.  Piper was quite out of it yesterday and I spent the majority of the time with the family at her folks by her side attending to her needs.  But just being with everyone and observing the antics of the little kids was uplifting.  Last night was a rough night and I ended up only getting about three hours sleep, so needless to say, today did not start off with much zing!

But as I sat at my desk while the morning light was beginning to take away the dark shadows of the night, the word “JOY!” began to resonate within me.  I had three of four Bible translations strewn around my workspace tables that were still opened to Luke chapter two, and a quick glance brought me right to verse ten where the angel of the Lord told the anxious shepherds “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people.” (NIV)  As my tired brain attempted to comprehend those words, I suddenly realized that Christmas Day is just the beginning and not the end of the JOY that the angel declared that night.

I also recalled a recent conversation I had with a close friend.  We were talking about Mary in conjunction with our shared Catholic upbringing and she mentioned that as a young girl, she thought of Jesus as sort of a rebel.  As I contemplated her words this morning, I came to the stark realization that she was right!  Jesus was a rebel!  The angel declared a message to those lonely shepherds that was totally radical to the Jewish beliefs of their day! 

The Old Covenant was all about the people’s actions toward God, while the Good Tidings (or Good News) of great JOY was all about God’s actions toward the people!  It told of God coming to them!  The message and more importantly the actions that Jesus took later on in His life removed the veil between God and man.  They brought peace with God and allowed mankind the ability to live a JOYFUL life in right relationship with a loving heavenly Father!

Talk about being able to sit back and enjoy the gift of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 NIV) following the events of Christmas Day!  That reality puts a whole new spin on the meaning of Christmas and should completely remove any vestige of the Christmas Blues!  I would encourage you to take a moment right now to think of all the effort you put out in order to bless your family and friends for Christmas in light of what Jesus did for you!  In some respects you could see yourself as one of His helpers in spreading His JOY to those whom your life touches.  And the best part is that it didn’t end yesterday… It only just began!

So as the lyrics to an old children’s Christmas song that I wrote many years ago say: ♫ “Put a smile on your face and praise the Lord, praise the Lord, and praise the Lord.  Put a smile on your face and praise the Lord, Praise Him all day long!”  Let your smile of JOY and praise to Him shine forth throughout this next week and coming New Year, and allow your presence to bring “good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all (the) people” you meet!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What JOYFUL Things am I expecting today?”

 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Greatest Gift

Monday, the fourth week of Advent – Christmas Eve

Today’s Readings:  Exodus 23:14-17 / Deuteronomy 16:16 / Luke 2:41-52
 

As we bring our daily look at the story of the first Christmas to a close during this season of Advent, it is only fitting that we take a peek at “the only passage of story recorded concerning our blessed Savior, from his infancy to the days of his showing to Israel at twenty-nine years old…” (Luke 2:41-52 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible)  It is interesting to note that this incident takes place when Jesus was about the same age as His mother when the angel Gabriel originally appeared to her as a young teenage girl.

Many years had passed since the miraculous set of events had occurred to Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  Jesus as a young man of twelve was at the age when “boys began preparing to take their place in the religious community the following year.” (Luke 2:42 footnote in NIV Study Bible)  But there was something different about this lad that separated Him from others his age.  I believe that the unique quality that set Him apart is the key to understanding this portion of scripture.

Jesus had a hunger for more of God.  He was also at the age where He was beginning to develop greater cognitive abilities and understanding of the world around Him, as well as seeing the first light of dawn concerning His divine purpose.  His retort to His mother after she had shared Joseph’s and her concern for Him was not one of rebellion, but simply an honest answer as seen through the eyes of a typical Junior High boy!  He was so focused on the revelation that was beginning to unfold to His understanding that I believe He did not even consider the worry and anxiety that His actions had caused His parents.  He was beginning to see that He had a job to do and decided that He would do it!

Jesus walked in the footsteps of David as He marveled and sought after the Lord’s precepts. (See: Psalm 119:99-106)  And like the Apostle Paul who would come after Him, He sat at the feet of the rabbis who were the experts in Judaism, absorbing their every word like a sponge absorbs water! (See: Acts 22:3)  But as the realization of the unveiling of His calling was beginning to come to Him, Jesus was also “an obedient child, whatever sense He also had of another relationship unconnected in itself with subjection to human parents.  Consciousness of the one did not injure His perfection in the other.” (Luke 2: 41-52 John Darby’s Synopsis)  Jesus duly obeyed the word of His earthly parents, went back home with them to Nazareth and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52 NIV)

The example for us to draw from this final portion of our story is Jesus’ hunger for the things of God.  His pursuit and obedience to His father’s Word was the foundation for everything He became in life.  Every action that He took was based on His intimate knowledge of His father’s love and faithfulness to His Word.  That is also the key to yours and my success in the New Year ahead.  Jesus was the ultimate gift given to the world on that first Christmas over 2000 years ago.  It would be quite a shame to leave a gift of that magnitude unopened under the tree this year! 

Think about the look of excitement and adventure that must have been glowing in the eyes of Jesus as He sat at the feet of the religious scholars as they expounded the truths of the scriptures to Him!  You can experience that same excitement, peace and joy that will lead you through every adventure that you face ahead.  2 Timothy 1:7 declares that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power (or ability) and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)  All the tools and all the answers are to be found in His Word… and they are all very user friendly!
 
As you open presents with family and friends tonight and tomorrow, choose to remember to open the greatest gift of all and experience life in the New Year to come with a peace and joy like you’ve never realized before!  Have a Blessed and Joyous Christmas!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… What GOOD THINGS am I expecting today?”


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Kids...

Friday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Proverbs 22:6 / Luke 2:39-40
 

As we near the conclusion of the story of the first Christmas, our portion of scripture in Luke infuses together with Matthew’s details concerning Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ escape to Egypt and their eventual return to Israel.  The author makes a point to declare that “they return into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”  (Luke 2:39 KJV)  It seemed that it must have been very important to God that Jesus be raised in the familiarity of His earthly parent’s home town.  To have the comfort and security of living amongst family and friends who knew and cared for them.

From the scarce amount of information that the canonical scriptures give us, we can come to the conclusion that Jesus lived an ordinary childhood and experienced the same pleasures, trials and challenges that all children do as they grow up.  But verse 40 establishes some very important details about His childhood and the way He was raised.

I believe that this small section of our story is to be read as a tribute to Joseph and Mary! The NKJV says that “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”  The God’s Word translation ends the verse by stating the “He gained favor from God and people.”  Those statements make it clear that Jesus’ earthly parents taught Him by precept and (probably more importantly) by example the things of God.  They did whatever it took to establish Mary’s first born son in the understanding, trust and love of His Father God.  And this was not accomplished at the expense of a natural education.  Jesus was a well-rounded individual in His secular and spiritual education, but what preeminently came forth in His adult life and ministry was the firm foundation of the Word that was put into Him, primarily by the effort of His parents.

I think that this is one of the greatest lessons that parents, grandparents and all relatives alike should learn to follow in this life!  We have a responsibility to the children and youth around us to be the best example of God’s love and holy living that we can be.  I must confess that this was one of the primary reasons that I gave up having an occasional glass of wine or a beer many years ago.  As I had prayed and agonized over this following a conversation with my Pastor, I one day came to the realization of the poor example that I was setting for my own children as well as for the ones that I ministered to in our church and as a soccer coach!

Many times the church will tend to attach Jesus’ unquestioning trust in God to His being the Son of God.  But Jesus lived a normal life as the Son of Man until the Holy Spirit came upon Him following His baptism by John the Baptist.  At that point I don’t believe that He was suddenly endued with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, but came to a much greater revelation of all the teaching that His earthy parents had bestowed upon Him as He grew up under their love and care.  And you know what?  It is never too late to start if this wasn’t the pattern you followed when your kids were at home!  I have developed a stronger relationship with my adult children now, than when they were younger.  Now it is increasingly more exciting and rewarding to share the Word and our experiences with our faith to each other as never before!
 
I also hold my responsibilities as a grandfather in high esteem and honor.  I desire to back up the kids parents and be able to share from my life’s experiences through the Word of God!  Then there are the neighborhood kids, the kids at church, the young adults who bag my groceries and… the potential just goes on and on!  I want to have the same kind of purpose, commitment and unselfish heart that Joseph and Mary demonstrated to Jesus!  How about you?  Maybe that is one of the gifts that you can give to the children and youth in your family, your church and in your world!  Have a great weekend and keep an eye open for those young folks that you can bless this Holiday Season.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “WHO or What am I expecting to BLESS today?”


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Come On Home!

Thursday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Isaiah 11:1 / Matthew 2:19-23 / John 1:46 / John 7:52
 

In some respects it is difficult to sense what Joseph and Mary must have been feeling when they suddenly found themselves on the run and living in a foreign land.  My understanding is that Egypt was a Roman province at that time and that there actually were a fairly large contingent of Jewish settlers living there.  With that in mind, it would not have been as big a shock as if they had to cross the border and try to fit into a totally independent country, with different laws, a different culture and different traditions.  It reminds me of our stay in Oklahoma a few years back when we moved there so that I could attend Bible College.  It too was a temporary stay, but the main difference was that we had a specific purpose in being there and had a definite beginning and ending point.
 
Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the other hand did not have that foundation.  They just knew that they needed to go there in a hurry and then wait until the angel returned with the news that they could go home again.  We took a year to plan our move, search out employment, housing and generally get everything set before the moving van arrived.  We also had been there on numerous previous occasions so we already knew the lay of the land.  As we mentioned yesterday, Joseph and Mary had no such luxury!
 
I have read of all kinds of estimates as to how long they actually sojourned in Egypt ranging from two months to six years.  Think about it for a moment.  What do you do?  Do you get a temp job or go through all the work of starting your business up, rent or buy a home, live off your savings, attempt to set down some roots?  What a quagmire to find yourself in!
 
Then the day finally arrived when the angel shows up again and tells Joseph that “those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” (Mathew 2:20 NKJV) Whew!  What a relief they must have experienced.  But then plans changed again.  According to the scriptures, Joseph and Mary had every intention to return to Bethlehem and raise Jesus there, but once more, God had a different plan!  Being as the new leadership in Bethlehem was as bad or maybe even worse than the previous administration, the angel informed them that they needed to go back home to Nazareth in the region of Galilee.
 
As we have witnessed throughout our story, this was done so as to fulfill the ancient prophecies.  An interesting point about Galilee and Nazareth in particular, was that they were areas “whose inhabitants were objects of sovereign contempt to the Jews.” (John Darby’s Synopsis)  Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says that “The family must settle in Galilee.  Nazareth was a place held in bad esteem, and Christ was crucified with this accusation.”  Jesus carried that “put down” or stigma with Him throughout His earthly ministry!
 
How many of us have “put downs” that sit on our shoulders everywhere we go?  The real question is how we deal with it.  It definitely didn’t stop Jesus from successfully completing the tremendously tough assignment He accepted from His father.  Can you say the same thing?  I think Joseph and Mary probably figured that it would have been much easier to raise God’s Son in the royal city of His earthly ancestor David within the close proximity to Jerusalem, where they assumed that Jesus would have the bulk of His adult ministry.  And they were probably right. 
 
Jesus could very well of lived a more privileged life around those who had heard and or seen the miraculous events surrounding His birth.  But like we said, God had a much different plan and a deeper purpose than just Jesus’ personal well-being.  A privileged life would have made Him less accessible to the common folk, and totally divorced Him from any contact with the Gentiles.  Jesus began His ministry as a common man but ended up making a life-changing impact on this world that is still felt strongly today!
 
What a great example for us to follow in our individual lives.  Each of has a unique background and a special set of gifts and talents, but each share the same love of our heavenly Father.  It doesn’t matter what stigmas we may carry, where we’ve been and what we have been through, He has given each of us the tools in His Word to successfully make our mark in this world!
 
Talk about a Christmas gift that you can really use!  Jesus, God’s love Who came down on that first Christmas thousands of years ago, is on your side, and has your best interests in mind.  If you find yourself living in a type of Egypt today, don’t give up!  Don’t give in to feeling sorry for yourself either!  And don’t think for a moment that you are all alone.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Detour!

Wednesday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Jeremiah 37:15 / Hosea 11:1 / Matthew 2:13-18 / John 10:10
 

Have you ever found yourself in the place where everything seems to be going very well, when something happens that totally rearranges your life?  That is the spot that Joseph, Mary and their child found themselves as we look at today’s section of the story of the first Christmas.

After the rocky start of having to travel to Bethlehem with a baby due at any moment, and then being forced to stay in a stable because the local Inn was full, things had finally settled down into a normal routine for Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.  In fact things were looking up.  Following the birth of the special child they had received confirmation of the calling that was thrust upon them, by the visit of the Shepherds, the words of Simeon and Anna in the temple and more recently by the unexpected arrival of the Wise Men who had travelled a far distance from the East in order to see the One called “The King of the Jews.” The Wise Men had brought gifts befitting a King and left with them treasures of frankincense, myrrh and gold.
 
I would think that Joseph and Mary were just beginning to enjoy a sense of calm and stability when the angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that they had to take the baby Jesus and quickly flee to Egypt as Herod was out “to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2:13 NKJV)  With that urgent notice, there was no time to think but just react by quickly packing what essentials they needed and then head off to a distant land with nothing to go by except the words of God sent through the angel.

From there, all personal plans, hopes and desires where thrown out the window as Joseph, like Abraham his great ancestor, had to “trust God with an implicit dependence upon God, not knowing whiter he went.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible – See also Hebrews 1:8)  The angel told Joseph when and where he needed to take his family, and also left him with the assurance that he would come again and tell them when it was safe to return to their former lives.

That is a similar assurance that we can hold close to our hearts when the circumstances of life interrupt our well laid plans.  It may seem like the rug has been pulled from under us, but we are never left alone!  God is always faithful to His Word. (I Thessalonians 5:24)  A turn of events may look to have rerouted the course of your life, but if the original direction that you were heading was led of the Lord, He will eventually return you to the right path.  In other words, never give up!  Even if what has happened to you or to those around you is cataclysmic in nature, remember that “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (John 4:4 KJV)

The fallout from Herod’s fear and hatred of Jesus and what he thought that He stood for was horrendous when the king had the boys two years and younger killed.  When He had begun His public ministry many years later, Jesus named the devil as the perpetrator of the unthinkable atrocities like Herod’s act that we see around us in this world when He stated that “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)

But in the end, did this stop Joseph, Mary and Jesus?  Well, as we know, the answer is NO!They made their way through the detours in their life (without any written evidence of complaining, I might add!) and successfully accomplished the plan that God had for them.

What about you and me?  Can we do the same?  I think that the answer to that question is also quite easy… YES!  God’s Word gives us the directions, the hope, the strength, the comfort and all the love that we need to look beyond the temporary distractions and live a happy and successful life.  Don’t ever give up.  Joseph and Mary didn’t and either does our loving and faithful heavenly Father!  Have a good day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Following the Star!

Tuesday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Matthew 2:1-12 / Matthew 5:6 / Matthew 8:11

Let’s take a slightly different perspective on the story of the Wise Men who came to visit Jesus as described in the beginning of Matthew chapter two.  Experts say that these men arrived in Bethlehem anywhere between a few months to two years after Jesus was born.  It would seem that these scholarly individuals were not kings as some have thought, but actually members of a priestly upper class among the Persians and Medes, similar to the order of men that Daniel was put in charge of.  (See Daniel 2:48)  They were learned individuals “who cultivated astrology and kindred sciences.”  (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary)
They were men that were hungry for truth.  Their lives were devoted to watching the skies and studying the ancient writings as they searched for meaning in life.  When the extraordinary star appeared they understood its meaning and followed it to the land of Judah where they found an extraordinary person, Jesus the foretold of King of the Jews.  When they arrived in Jerusalem and began their inquiry, they, like the shepherds before them, did not ask “if” such a king was actually born, they asked “where” the One called the King of the Jews was born!
I believe that these gentile Wise Men were like most men and women today who are searching for the truth in their lives.  People all over the world are looking for the peace, love and security that we know only God, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, can offer.  They may not realize exactly what it is they need or where to find it so they experiment with all kinds of substances, lifestyles, religions, jobs, and recreational pursuits, to name a few.
The star that led the Wise Men to the infant Jesus brought them to the successful conclusion of their search.  I think that our heavenly Father would liken His children to that star that showed up a few thousand years ago.  Matthew 2:2 tells how the Wise Men related that “we saw His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (NKJV)  This would infer that they first saw the star while they were in their home country in the Eastern lands, not that they observed the star in the eastern sky, for then they would have traveled east and not west to Jerusalem.  They were going about their everyday lives when the star appeared.  That bright shining celestial object caused them to hunger and thirst after something that they needed to inquire of and they traveled many hard miles to discover Him.
People all around us today are living their daily lives while hungering and thirsting for more meaning.  They are searching for Him and we as His children can act as that bright shining star to lead them to His peace!  John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states that “This star had a motion to it; kept pace with them, and was a guide unto them.” (Commentary on Matthew 2:9-10)  This is the perfect example of how we should allow ourselves to become involved in the lives of the non-Christian’s with whom we rub elbows with on a regular basis- our neighbors, those we work with and even with the store employees that we interact with every time we go grocery shopping or to the Mall!
Get to know them.  Learn what is important to them and then let the light of Christ just shine through you!  Keep in step with them and show them that they are special to you, and that you accept them, whether you agree with their lifestyle choices or anything else that they pursue in life that is contrary to your belief system.  In other words, be who you are, live what you believe and be their friend.  Don’t preach it, live it!
Be someone’s star that leads them to the King of Kings!  I can’t think of a better Christmas gift than the gift of Jesus!  How about you?  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting TO DO for OTHERS today?”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Senior Citizens

Monday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Isaiah 49:6/ Luke 2:21-38 / I Peter 2: 3-8
 

Many years ago there was an older man who was on the board of directors of our church.  He was a deeply spiritual man and the presence of the Lord just seemed to radiate from him.  It was the Pastor’s custom near the beginning of each monthly board meeting, to ask each member if they had anything that they wanted to share.  Brother Chester always had a word that normally turned into 15-30 minute sermon where he would share a bit of insight on something that the Lord had taught him over the years.
While some of the board members would grow impatient or raise an eyebrow as he started talking in his slow country drawl, I would find myself expectantly poised with pencil in hand; ready to record the gems that he was to share that night.  There was just something special about this unique Senior Citizen. He could have been anybody’s grandfather with his snow white hair and easy going personality.  But this kindly gentlemen KNEW God!  When he talked you had the instant understanding that he spent a lot of time in the presence of God!  When he spoke at our meetings concerning a need or situation that the church was facing you knew that he had, in common vernacular, “Been there, done that and won the t-shirt!”
When I saw Chester, I saw the love of God in Action!  I had the honor of officiating at this special man of God’s graveside service when he passed on into glory.  It was a wonderful day as everyone there was exuberant about his life and his new residence at home with our heavenly Father.  I still have the notes from that service, and in fact, carry them around with me in my notebook that I use every day!
Today’s section in our continuing look at the original story of Christmas, brings to my remembrance the qualities that my older friend possessed and freely shared with those around him.  As Joseph and Mary came into the temple in order to complete the requirements of presenting their first born son to the Lord, they were met by two special Senior Citizens.  Both Simeon and Anna radiated the love of God in their lives.  They were two individuals who loved the Lord with all their hearts.  The writer also makes it clear that they, like Chester, KNEW the Lord.
As Jesus came to be a comfort to all of those who would accept Him, Simeon and Anna must have been a great comfort to Joseph and Mary as they began the very important call that had been placed upon their lives.  To me it would be similar to the comfort that a loving, caring and understanding grandparent imparts to their grandchildren.  And once again, Joseph and Mary discovered two more saintly people who knew and understood the task that lay before them.
The excitement that Simeon and Anna must have felt at that defining moment in their lives is quite evident by the words that they spoke that day.  They had waited their whole lives for this time, and finally it was upon them.  Both of them were content that they could now pass on into glory, for as Simeon joyously declared, “my eyes have seen your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples.” (Luke 2:30-31 NKJV)
My desire is to be like Simeon, Anna and my old friend Chester.  To live a life filled with expectancy in seeing the promises of God coming to pass in my life, and in the lives of those around me.  I want to KNOW God as these unique Senior Citizens did.  When I walk into a room I desire that those there will sense the presence of God and then hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can satisfy them with.  I want my life to be an open book that shares the goodness, the faithfulness and the non-judgmental love of God to all I touch.  How about you?
As you study the interactions of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Simeon and Anna today, I would encourage you to allow the joy that radiated in that temple court to attach itself to you. Then take it, develop it in you and spread it throughout your world in the coming New Year!  Have a great week.  Stay in tune to His word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Excitement and Expectation!

Friday, the first week of Advent

Today’s Readings: Luke 2:15-20 / Luke 4:16-22

I can’t help but sense the excitement that must have prevailed in that tiny stable when the shepherds arrived in order to “see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15 NKJV)  When the angels returned to heaven the shepherds were left with a burning expectation of the word that they had just received.  You’ll notice that there were no misgivings of what they had just heard.  They didn’t say “let us go and see if this thing be true.”  No, there was no doubt in their minds that this supernatural intervention of God was true and had, in fact, taken place!  God’s rhema Word spoken to them through the angel had stirred them up and they were ready to go see it and spread the good news to all who would listen!
Can you imagine the unity and fellowship that was experienced between Joseph, Mary and the shepherds?  For the first time in a year or more, Joseph and Mary could freely  share with others who could fully understand all that had occurred to them!  I bet everyone was talking at once, sharing their experiences, their feelings and their thoughts on the future events that would come from that night’s activities!
Luke 2:19 says that Mary “kept” and “pondered” everything that they talked about in her heart. (NKJV)  How important it is for each of us to ponder, consider and weigh the Word that God gives to us.  Vincent’s Word Studies explains that the term “kept” is “a very expressive verb” implying as Robertson’s Word Pictures says, that “she kept on keeping together all these things.  (that) They were meat and drink to her.”  Just like Mary, we need to keep the Word alive and fresh within us.  God’s Word builds excitement and expectation in us, just like it did with our cast of players on that night in Bethlehem many years ago.
The shepherds reacted to the overwhelming event by returning to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2:20 NKJV) They were bursting with glee and could not contain themselves!  Verse 18 states that all “those who heard it marveled (or were amazed) at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (NKJV)  The Word that was being shared that night was different than most people had ever heard before.  Some thirty years later, the people would respond identically to the Word that Jesus shared as He began His public ministry! (See; Luke 4:16-22)
We should always be in a place where God’s Word amazes us!  Jesus said that “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63 English Majority Text Version)  When He said they are life, He was talking about “Zoe” life, which in the original Greek refers to “the absolute fullness of life!” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions)  When we read or hear the Word of God, our spirits should jump with excitement as we look forward with glee to the expected fulfillment of that Word in our lives!
Take some time this weekend to keep and ponder the thoughts of that atmosphere of excitement and expectation that prevailed in and around that little stable after the birth of the Christ child.  As you do, allow yourself to become overwhelmed with His love for you and be like the shepherds who clearly saw that “Everything happened the way the angel had told them,” (Luke 2:20 God’s Word ©) or like Mary who was assured by the angel Gabriel at the very beginning that “No word from God shall be void of power.” (Luke 1:37 ASV) 
Remember Hebrews 13:8 profoundly declares that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (God’s Word ©)  And if He was faithful to His Word for those back then, He will do the same for you and me today!  Have a super weekend.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Glad Tidings!

Thursday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Psalm 23:1 / Luke 2:8-14 / Ephesians 1:22


The story of the angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds who were tending their flocks under the open skies is a very easy one for me to imagine.  A few years back my family and I were camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at our favorite camp, and we decided to do a little high elevation star gazing.  One night about 10:00 pm we hopped in the truck and drove up the narrow road to the parking lot of the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl, the site of some of the original long boarding events in the state of California.  When we reached the lot I noticed that there were other vehicles parked throughout the area, so I turned off the lights and navigated by the reflection of the stars.  As we opened the doors we all made a collective sigh as we were totally overwhelmed by the bright beauty of the overhead stars that seemed to be within arms reach!
The sight was simply amazing and it immediately brought my thoughts to that night when the “glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9 NKLV) in the countryside near the little town of Bethlehem.  What was truly arresting to the senses was that the more you looked at the sky, the more stars you saw!  Then as I viewed it through my camera and telephoto lens set on a tripod, the vision was absolutely spellbinding!  It was almost like the whole sky was one bright light that seemed to shine from eternity.  I would imagine that this was similar to the shepherd’s sight of the “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’” (Luke 2:13-14 NKJV)
It is very significant that the shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of the birth of their Savior.  These weren't just ordinary shepherds, but those commissioned to watch over the sacrificial lambs for the temple in Jerusalem.  They were the protectors of the perfect lambs to be sacrificed for the covering of the people’s sins each year. Isn't it appropriate that these individuals be among the first to pay homage to the Lamb of God who would offer up Himself as the complete and final sacrifice to not just cover, but totally remove our sins, once and for all!
The shepherds also represented the common man, not the intellectuals, the rich or religious leaders.  Jesus came for all men (not just a select few) and is easily accessible to all who come to Him.  It is also important to note that the patriarchs of our faith were all shepherds.  In fact Moses and David were actually called out from keeping sheep to rule God’s people.  Later in His life, Jesus would refer to Himself as “The good shepherd” who “giveth his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11 KJV)
When the angel appeared to the men out in the field in the middle of the night, he instantly calmed their fears and reported that he was bringing “good news… that will fill everyone with joy.” (Luke 2:10 God’s Word ©)  He was excitedly declaring that “I am not come to declare the judgments of God, but his merciful loving-kindness, the subject being a matter of great joy!” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)  The angel was pronouncing Jesus’ life changing task of providing a way for there to be once again, peace between God and man.  (See: Romans 5:1)
Our story also records that the word of the Lord came to those who were “abiding in the field, keeping watch…” (Luke 2:8 KJV)  How important it is for each of us to abide in the fields of our lives and keep watch for the directions and leadings of God.  This is the perfect time of year to take a look for and consider removing the unnecessary things in your life that may distract you from being attentive to the plans and purposes that our heavenly Father may have for you.  I would encourage you to take the opportunity this week to step outside late some night and look up into the heavens and view the glory that presents itself before you.  As you do, think about the shepherds out in their fields and listen intently for the message God has for you!  Have a great day!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In The Fullness of Time


Wednesday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Readings: Psalms 11*23-26 / Daniel 2:44 / Luke 6-7


There are many life lessons that can be derived from our small but most important section of our look at the first Christmas.  Luke 1:26 in the American Standard Version states that “while they were there, the days were fulfilled…”  God’s perfect timing had come.  That which had been prophesied throughout the previous ages was actually happening on that wonderful night over 2000 years ago.  The anxious moments that Joseph and Mary went through finally came to a sweet conclusion as the baby Jesus was born in the stable of an inn.

How appropriate that the King of Kings was born in that lowly place, and then laid in a manger for His introduction to the world.  What is an inn but a place where temporary sojourners in a land stay as they are passing through while they complete their immediate responsibilities.  Jesus was manifest as a man for only a short and temporary time so that He could complete the greatest deed ever known to man.  He was to live His abbreviated stay on this earth as a sinless man so that He could suffer and die in our place, for our sins as the full and total payment to legally free us from the dominion of darkness that had ruled mankind since the original sin in the Garden of Eden.

An inn is also an establishment that receives all who come into its abode, as is the same with Christ.  I believe that God had it planned all along that the Holy Family stay in the relative quiet and privacy of the stable so that they could humbly receive those who would come that night in awe and in worship to their newborn king!

When Joseph and Mary arrived with every intention of staying at the inn, they discovered that there was no room left vacant.  This is similar to those who know of Jesus but never make room for Him to come into the inn of their hearts.  Then there are those of us who have received Him as our Savior and have every intention of making Him to be Lord, but as with the others, never make room for him to abide in a preeminent position in our will and with the daily activities of our busy lives.

Our loving heavenly Father greatly desires that the days be fulfilled in us where His perfect plan for our lives can come into fruition.  Let this season of giving be the time where you give yourselves totally to Him so that He can have a preeminent hand in the events ahead.  Just as He worked out all the details and took loving care of Joseph, Mary and the baby, He will do the same for you!  Then you can shout like the Psalmist did when he exclaimed “This is the Lord’s doing (and); it is marvellous in our eyes!” (Psalm 118:23 KJV)  Have a terrific day!   Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD REPORTS am I expecting today?”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Road Trip!

Tuesday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Reading:  Micah 5:2-4 / Luke 2:1-5
 

I can but only imagine the tension mixed with an atmosphere of excitement that was in the air as Mary and Joseph packed their things in preparation for the trip to Bethlehem.  To many it must have seemed to have been the worst timing ever for the Roman Emperor to have decreed a Census of the people under his authority.  With Mary in the final trimester of her pregnancy, a journey of that magnitude would be unbearable.  But nowhere in the recorded manuscript of the event do we find the principle cast members ever uttering a single word of complaint!  Mary and Joseph had cast the care of their lives and that of the special baby into the hands of their God, and nothing was going to sway them away from their intended course.
God used the reach and authority of the reigning heathen power of the world at that time to unknowingly set the stage for His grand plan.  The timing was perfect, and every detail was in place for our intrepid travelers to set out on a trip that most scholars say would take about a week.  The Romans had built an extensive system of roads designed for them to move their troops and equipment around the empire.  With the world experiencing a time of peace, Mary and Joseph were able to take advantage of the roadways and due to the broad scope of the Census, were able to safely travel with groups of others as they made their way to their hometowns.
If Joseph had been anything like me, I am positive that he would have done some research into the prophecies concerning the adventure that they had been chosen by God to fulfill.  He would have read from the writings of Micah as to the location where the Christ child would be born.  He would have learned that the name Bethlehem meant “the house of bread”, and while probably not knowing the significance of that as Mary’s child would later refer to Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35), he would have understood that Micah’s prophecy “respects the personal character of the Messiah, and the discoveries of himself to the world, (and how) it distinguishes his human birth from his existing from eternity.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary – Micah 5:1-6)   
As the drama began to unfold on that first day of the journey, I can picture Joseph smiling at his lovely wife to be, holding her hand with a comforting grasp and uttering the calming words that “everything was going to be alright!” They may not have known the multitude of situations that they would have to deal with along the way, but they were confident that the hand of their Lord was upon them.  They were aware that they were part of a well-orchestrated plan that had been set in motion many years before. 
When they turned to take one last look at the city limits of Nazareth, I would imagine the words from Mary’s son’s namesake Joshua was buzzing in their hearts saying “I’ve commanded you to be strong and brave.  Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged!  I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9 Contemporary English Version)  With that they would have turned and set their faces toward Bethlehem and the task that was set before them.
As this year comes to an end and you take your final considerations of all that you successfully accomplished, as well as those things that were not done as well, or maybe not at all in 2012, I would encourage you to be like Mary and Joseph.  Let your heavenly Father’s words of encouragement and faithfulness fill your heart and then set your face toward all that He has for you in the New Year to come!  Have a great day!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD THINGS am I expecting today?”