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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Events

I have never been a big one at going out and celebrating New Year’s Eve amongst crowds of people.  My fondest memory of the holiday was the time in the first couple years of our marriage, when my wife and I brought in the New Year alone in our first apartment.  Through the years since then, I have many recollections of my wife and kids doing their best to drag me out of the house on the 31st of December to attend a church event, a gathering with family or friends or even out the door to be with the neighbors as the clock struck midnight!  Come to think of it… It was kinda fun being out in the street shooting off fireworks the night the century marked turned over back in 2000!  

I thought on all this as I read from Luke 1:78-79 this morning.  In reference to the New Day that we spoke about in yesterday’s post, verse 79 declares that Jesus “will give light to those who live in darkness…(and that) He will guide us in to the way of peace.” (God’s Word ©)  I literally jumped in my seat when I looked at this verse from the Literal Translation of the Bible which describes the scene as “those sitting in darkness.”
That description immediately got me thinking about all the people I know who spend a lot of time complaining about their lives, their jobs, their finances, their health, their family or any other multitude of situations and do nothing about them.  According to this verse they are sitting around in the dark and not going anywhere!  Albert Barnes in his “Notes on the Bible” explains that “The figure in these verses is taken from travelers who being overtaken by night, know not what to do, and who wait patiently for the morning light, that they may know which way to go.”
Like I mentioned previously, when I actually got up and went out on New Year’s Eve, I would usually have a nice time and was happy that I went, but I normally wouldn’t go without a fight!  I thought that I would have just as much fun if I just sat around and stayed home.  But once the light came on and I acted on it, it was normally worth the effort.
So what does this have to do with anything… Well, I must admit that I have been getting restless with the events occurring in my life over the last few years and am beginning to sense that 2014 is going to be a year to take action and make some changes.  But nothing is going to happen until I make the first move!  I can think about how restless I have been and even talk about it (although I am not a complainer, mind you!), but until I seek for God’s light and them move out in faith to follow His directions, nothing will change!
Okay… I am going to date myself here… but these thoughts caused me to remember a favorite line from the OLD Gomer Pyle USMC TV show back in the mid-sixties when the Sergeant would get his face about one inch away from the country Private and yell at the top of his lungs: “Move it!” Move it!” Move it!” Pyle! you knucklehead!”  Sometimes we can get so comfortable and/or stuck in a certain situation that it takes a shock to get us to move!
The recent passing of my Dad, and some discussions with my older son tended to act as that kind of “Move It!” speech for me!  It definitely has got me thinking with a renewed sense of purpose and with some new direction as I look into 2014.  And I am excited about the possibilities ahead.  How about you?  What are the possibilities for you in the New Year?  Do you suddenly see Sergeant Carter approaching and preparing to yell at you?  Is it time to “Move it?”  Hopefully you won’t need the “knucklehead” part of the speech, but will listen to the light of God’s Word and boldly step out and make whatever changes, adjustments or total turnarounds that might be necessary!
I’m excited about 2014… and you should be too!  So, wherever you are, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, think about and rejoice at the movement God’s wants you to make in the months ahead!  Have a great and safe New Year’s and we’ll see ya next year (bet you’ve never heard that one before!).  And in case you forget… Keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Its a New Day!

As I read and re-read the Christmas story in the various Gospels and Old Testament prophecies over the last week, I found myself continually returning to Zechariah’s prophecy found at the end of Luke chapter one.  Verse seventy-eight tells us that “A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.” (God’s Word ©)  While this statement is making reference to the incarnation of the Son of God, it also bears a strong reference to the coming of the New Year!

How do you see 2014?  Is it just more of the same, or as the scripture puts it, the dawning of a brand new day?  What are you expecting for 2014?  I am hoping that you, like me, am expecting God’s best!  I am excited about this next year.  I believe that it is a year filled with new adventures in new places.  It is a year to be experienced with the joy of the Lord, directed by His peace, and imprinted with the results of His presence!
As I have begun to pray about the New Year, I am already seeing new directions for us to follow.  It definitely will not be a year for the fearful of heart, but one where we will need to be strong, confident and courageous, where trembling, despair and discouragement cannot be allowed to gain a foothold! (see: Joshua 1:9)
How about you?  Are you excited about His purposes for your 2014?  How do you plan on approaching the New Year?  Are you on the lookout for His success in everything you set your hand to?  As far as I am concerned… that is the ONLY way to approach it!  I would strongly suggest that you make some time over the next day or so and steal away for moments of quiet conversation with the Lord of the universe to make some discoveries of what He has planned for you in 2014.  Remember the last half of Luke 1:78 tells us the new day is dawning because of His intent and nature that is “loving and merciful” toward you (God’s Word ©)
Expect His best and let Him do the rest!  Have a great (new) day.  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… “What NEW and GREAT things am I expecting this New Year?”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Be the Gift!

Tuesday, the fourth week of Advent – Christmas Eve

Reading: Proverbs 22:17, Luke 1:78-79, Acts 2:38, Romans 5:15-16,
                Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 9:15, James 1:17

 
As a final consideration to our understanding and celebration of Christmas this year, I would encourage you to look beyond the time set aside for the holiday season and extend your “good will toward men” (Luke 2: 14 KJV) throughout the coming New Year!  When Zechariah prophesized at the birth of his son, he declared that John would tell of the One who would bring “A new day (that) will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.”  And how “He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow.” (Luke 1:78-79 God’s Word ©)
 
As John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Light to come into the people’s lives, we too can follow in his footsteps.  Or, as we have been talking about in the last couple of posts, we can “Be the Gift” or the bearer of the gift of light and life to those within our circle of influence in our daily lives.  You and I can have the privilege of letting others know that a new day is coming and is available to them!  I can’t think of a better quest for the 2014, can you?  Just imagine the lives that can be changed as you and I become the ones to show forth the love and mercy of our loving God to those in need around us.
 
Then at the right time you can experience their joy as they open up the gift of the new life that only Jesus can bring!  So, once again, I would encourage you to make the time this Christmas season and beyond, to tell your world by precept and example of the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 KJV)
 
May you and yours have the best, blessed and joyous Christmas that you have ever experienced in your life!

 
Pastor Jim & Piper

PLEASE NOTE:  I'll be taking the rest of this week off, so we'll look forward to seeing you again on Monday the 30th - to ring in the New Year together!


Monday, December 23, 2013

The Greatest Gift!

Monday, the fourth week of Advent

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

As we near the end of our daily look at the story of the first Christmas 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 Henrys 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 this 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 Middle School 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 while 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 this Christmas, 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?”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Kids...

Saturday, 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 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 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 that “He gained favor from God and people.”  These 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 prayed and agonized over this, 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 understanding 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, especially if this wasn’t the pattern you demonstrated when your kids were at home!  I have developed a stronger relationship with my adult children 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 kid’s 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 19, 2013

Stigmas

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 was 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 with 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 of returning 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 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 for us 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?”

PS:  Since tomorrow is my Dad's Memorial Service, our Friday Blog will be posted on Saturday instead.  Please look for the Friday, the third week of Advent post on Saturday the 21st.  Thanks!
 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Detour Ahead!

Wednesday, the third week of Advent

Today’s Readings:  Jeremiah 31:15 / 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, in 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 somewhat of 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 royalty and left them with 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 began His public ministry many years later, Jesus named the devil as the perpetrator of the unthinkable atrocities like Herod’s act, that we also 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 detours 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!  Take a moment and think about the detours that you may currently be walking in your life.  Then hand them, one by one, to God and allow Him to redirect your steps in 2014.  Have a good day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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 men 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 searching 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.  These being 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 may be 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 16, 2013

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 about to share.  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 spoke you had the instant understanding that he spent a lot of time in the presence of God!  When he talked 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 tee-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 thrust upon their lives.  To me it would be similar to the comfort that loving, caring and understanding grandparents impart 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, as well as 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 and long simmering expectancy 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!  You might even want to take a clean sheet of paper and write across the top: “What am I expecting this year?”  Then attach the paper to your refrigerator door and jot down whatever comes to your heart throughout the remainder of this month.  And then when January arrives, you’ll have your personal goal sheet for the next year!  Have a great week.  Stay in tune to His word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Excitement and Expectation!

Friday, the second 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 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 share freely 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 expectation and excitement is 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 the 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 12, 2013

Star Gazing

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 arm’s 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 NKJV) 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 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 KLV)  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 glories that present themselves 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 11, 2013

In The Fullness of Time

Wednesday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Readings: Psalms 118:23-26 / Daniel 2:44 / Luke 2:6-7
 

There are many life lessons that can be derived from our small but most important part 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 domain 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 would 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 they had every intention of staying at the inn, but they soon discovered that there was no room left vacant.  This is similar to those who know of and may even desire to accept Jesus as their Lord, but never make room for Him to come into the inn of their hearts.  Then there are those who have received Him as Savior and have every intention of making Him Lord, but as with the others, never make room for him to abide in a preeminent position in their will and with the daily activities of their 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 marvelous in our eyes!” (Psalm 118:23 KJV)  Go ahead… shout that out right now!  Rejoice and be glad that His ways are marvelous for you today!  And with that in mind, have a terrific day!   Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD REPORTS am I expecting today?”
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Road Trip!

Tuesday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Reading:  Micah 5:2-3 / Luke 2:1-5
 
I can but only imagine the tension mixed with an atmosphere of excitement 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 manuscripts 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 took about a week.  The Romans had built an extensive array of roads designed 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 ways to their hometowns.
If Joseph had been anything like me, I am positive that he must 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 2013, 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!  Joshua 1:9 would be a great scripture to memorize and then hide away in your heart for the upcoming year!  Have a great day!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD THINGS am I expecting today?”

Monday, December 9, 2013

“##!!XX the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!”

Monday, the second week of Advent

Today’s Reading:  Isaiah 9:6-7 / Matthew 1:18-25 / Ephesians 2:1-6

In a pamphlet entitled: “Preparing To Celebrate Christ’s Birth, ARRIVAL” by Billy Graham, the word Advent is described as meaning “Arrival” and states that it refers to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.  Over the past week and continuing through the next two, we are taking a daily look into the major events that occurred at the first Christmas as foretold by the Old Testament Prophets and then recalled by the New Testament writers.  It is all about the story of the arrival of God into the lives of mankind.  It is the drama that began the physical incarnation of God’s plan of salvation.
Today we are looking at the potentially unnerving set of events that began to unfold in the life of a “righteous man” (Matthew 1:19 ASV) named Joseph.  Everything in his life was great.  He had a successful carpentry business, a nice house and most importantly, a beautiful young upstanding fiancée whom he would soon be bringing into his home as his bride.  Then everything seemed to turn upside down!  Unexpectedly he comes to find out that his fiancée is pregnant with a child that is not his. 
In Matthew 1:19-20 we observe that Joseph’s first thoughts are for the well-being of the women he loves.  Under the dictates of Jewish law, his fiancée found to be with child before the wedding could be put to death.  As he agonized over the situation he experiences a heavenly visitation in a dream.  Once more we see the hand of God interceding into the midst of the upheaval, in order to assure that His plans go forth without a hitch!
Notice the first words that come forth from the angel to Joseph.  He said: “Joseph, son of David…”  Just as his whole world began to spin around him, God’s messenger arrives on the scene and immediately “puts this carpenter in mind of his high birth.” (Matthew Henry) Joseph was a direct descendant of King David from whose lineage was prophesied the coming Messiah.  The angel, who most scholars assume was the same Gabriel who had brought God’s messages to Zechariah and to his fiancée Mary, knew the importance of quickly diverting Joseph’s attention from the natural order of things to the supernatural purpose and power of God.   And from the looks of things, it worked!
Gabriel then proceeded to tell the plan of the coming of Immanuel to Joseph, who from that point never flinched but was “aroused from sleep, (and) did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife.”  (Matthew 1:24 NKJV)  Now, don’t ask me why, but as I read this the other day, I was immediately reminded of the famous saying of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut as he stood lashed to the rigging of his flagship, the USS Hartford at the all-important battle of Mobile Bay during the waning days of the American Civil War.  As his naval fleet began to charge into the bay, which was the Confederacy’s last major port open on the Gulf of Mexico, one of his ships, the monitor USS Tecumseh hit a mine and sank.  When that occurred the other ships began to pull back.
Upon the observation of this turn of events, it is reported that the Admiral shouted through a trumpet to another one of his ships, the USS Brooklyn, asking “What’s wrong?”  Upon hearing the reply of “Torpedoes,” Farragut declared the words that have been etched in infamy shouting: “##!!XX the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”  After that, the bulk of his fleet succeeded in entering the bay and Farragut triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of the Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanon.*
It is evident that Admiral Farragut was not moved by the force of the opposition.  He was given a task to complete that would advance the end of the war, and he pushed on no matter the depth of the powers that he faced.  To me, Farragut was like Joseph who was given a fantastic, almost unconceivable task that most of the powers to be would have thought to be improbable, if not impossible.  But he quickly thrust aside the doubts and the thoughts of what the people might say and pursued the task given to him by God with earnestness and vigor!
From Mary’s point of view, she must have been greatly relieved and at awe as her husband to be stood by her side, became her protector and led her through the path ahead.  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment “with what deep and reverential joy would this now be done on his part, and what balm would this minister to his betrothed one, who had til now lain under suspicions of all others…”
Once Joseph was reminded of his legal position as a member of the royal family of David, he brushed aside any questions and set his mind to be the master of his calling.  As Christians we should be reminded to do the same in our lives.  Ephesians 2:6 gives us the legal right to claim and move on in the special blessings of our heavenly Father.  People may criticize, the enemy of our souls may try to condemn us, but as we turn aside from the natural order of things as Joseph did and focus upon the truth of where we stand in Christ Jesus, we will be able to face the torpedoes of the opposition and triumph for the glory of God! 
Are there any obstacles in your life that have caused you to retreat from being the master of your calling?  I might suggest that you write these down on small individual strips of paper, pray over them and release them to God.  Then hang these listings of your former obstacles on your Christmas tree among the other ornaments as a reminder of the new life that Jesus has given you, as your pursue His callings in view of your place in Christ Jesus!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What battles am I expecting victory over today?”

 *  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Farragut