Our New Home

Our New Home
I love all the summer greenery around our home!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The In-Between Times...


Last night proved to be an interesting evening.  Soon after we had retired for the day I found myself totally enveloped in my new Clive Cussler action- mystery “Fargo Adventures Series” novel entitled “The Eye of Heaven.”  This new series in the author’s long line of mysteries follows the fictional adventures of a married couple who are world renowned treasure hunters named Sam and Remi Fargo.  I find it humorous how the female lead tends to remind me of my own wife.
The character in the book is always up for any new adventure no matter how impossible the plan may be.  She exhibits a personal confidence and spark of sassiness that I have always seen in Piper!  The only difference is that the fictional character has long red hair while my wife’s is brown… although I do occasionally catch a glimpse of red highlights in her hair that must come from her Dad’s side of the family since both he and his brother are redheads!
But back to my original thought… As you can tell it is quite easy for me to get sidetracked over my lovely wife!  My imaginary scuba diving with the heroes of the story was suddenly disturbed when I heard the faint sounds of sirens coming from streets outside our neighborhood.  Our apartment home is in a community unto itself.  There are only two entrances in and out and from most of the apartments there are no direct views to the town outside our tree lined borders.  Well, those faint sounds got louder and within a few moments I had set my ebook aside and focused my listening as it was clear that there were numerous fire engines responding to whatever their call was.
After a few minutes the sirens quieted, I took a few moments to hand the situation over to the Lord, as my wife always did whenever she heard sirens, and went back to reading.  But my reading was short lived as my attention was drawn to the roving light that reflected through the blinds on our large bedroom window and the sound of men talking over a two-way radio!  With that I turned to my wife and then over to our dog standing with her ears peeked as she glanced my way and I said… “Hummm, now this is getting interesting!”
Well, to make a not too long story even shorter, it would seem that all those trucks were responding to an alarm at our apartment community!  And while I didn’t step outside clad only in my jogging pants and socks, I did discreetly turn out the lights and look out a window or two only to see the reflection of flashing red lights off the bushes outside our bedroom and living room windows.  After a little time the adventure seemed to be over, the flashing lights disappeared and silence once again returned to our quaint bedroom.  It took me a few minutes, but I finally returned to my Kindle book and within moments was scuba diving at Sam and Remi’s (or Piper’s!) side…
All that adventure last night got me to thinking about how Jesus’ return to Nazareth after His three day adventure in the Temple must have been similar to how I felt following the multiplicity of fire trucks responsing to our home.  Life suddenly returned to normal and the excitement of the moment was over.  As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus was probably most satisfied when He was “about His Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49  Jubilee Bible).  After the Jerusalem adventure at twelve years of age, He went back to His former life as a youth growing up under the tutelage of His earthly parents.  The first thought that comes to my mind as I think about His predicament is: “BORING!”
But as I read Luke 2:52 I get a totally different picture of how Jesus must have responded to the letdown after getting a taste of His ministry to come.  The God’s Word translation tells us that once Jesus returned home he “grew in wisdom and maturity.  He gained favor from God and man.”  That short and simple view into Jesus’ life from twelve until His public ministry at the age of about thirty says a lot!  To me it demonstrates how Jesus bloomed where He was planted!  I am sure that He was a little disappointed at having to return home for another eighteen years, but that small insight into His “in-between time” tells me that instead of whining and complaining, that He kept His focus on His call and thereby on the voice of Papa God until such time as He was perfectly prepared to face and perform what was ahead for Him!
Today marks the end of another year and allows us a peak into the expectations of the New Year ahead.  In other words, it gives us the opportunity to look back, to look ahead and to look to Him!  As He related the story of the Good Shepherd, Jesus stated that “After he has brought out all his sheep, he walks ahead of them.  The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice… I am the good shepherd.  I know my sheep as the Father knows me.  My sheep know me as I know the Father.” (John 10:4&14 God’s Word ©)
It would seem that the key to Jesus' success during His “in-between time” was that He knew the Father.  The word “know” demonstrates a very intimate, personal and physical knowledge of His Father.  In that verse Jesus also declares that this is the type of relationship that He desires His followers - we His brothers and sisters - to have with Him!  Close, upfront and very personal… just like a husband has with his wife!
If you should find yourself in an “in-between time” today, tomorrow or at any time in the New Year, Jesus is showing and telling us to joyfully and successfully go through it by staying in an ever-growing and intimate relationship with Him!  To not give into the natural urge to complain or feel sorry for yourself (that’s one I’ve had to deal with lately!), but to focus evermore strongly and single-mindedly on Him and His Word!  Then even though you may not be real excited about where you are at the time, you will continue to grow in favor with God and man… just like Jesus did as He waited for eighteen years to pass before He could enter fully into the ultimate calling Papa God had planned for Him!
So, as you celebrate this New Year’s Eve, celebrate all that Jesus has done for you in 2014, all that He is doing for you right now and all that He will be doing for you in the year ahead!  Be happy NOW!  No matter where you find yourself, stay EXPECTANT and rejoice and be glad for “This is the day (and the New Year) that the Lord has made…” (Psalm 118:24 God’s Word ©)  Dedicate yourself to getting to intimately KNOW the Good Shepherd better and closer this year than you have ever known Him before… then on this day one year from today you’ll look back and see how you have increased “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man!” (Luke 2:52 ESV)
Have a blessed, joyful, worshipful and safe New Years… and throughout the evening, keep asking yourself “Where and on Whom am I EXPECTING to keep my focus on in 2015?”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Satisfaction!


Yesterday I mentioned my calling to the ministry at that youth snow camp many years ago.  I can remember that day like it was yesterday!  The Baptist organization that our church was a part of had recently purchased an older camp in the Sierras near the town of Placerville in eastern California.  I believe that our regional youth camp was one of the first groups to use the camp.  The main building housed a large meeting hall with a kitchen and was situated above the offices and some sleeping quarters.  Scattered around the hall were group cabins in various stages of disrepair! 
As I lay on my bunk at night I could see through various cracks in the old wooden slat walls out to the snow covered grounds around our cabin!  On the second night of the retreat I reclined on my sleeping bag and although I was totally exhausted from all the activities of the day (that was the first time I really appreciated my newly grown beard as it helped to keep my face warm when our kids buried me in the snow!) but yet found myself to be contented and very much at peace.
A little while later I began to quietly pray when the chatter in the cabin went into remission as the boys quartered with me yielded to the tiredness that finally caught up with them.  As I prayed I became aware that I had an uncanny sense of satisfaction that filled my heart.  It was when I sought to discover the source of the satisfaction that I heard the voice of the Lord begin to talk to me about entering the ministry.
That feeling of satisfaction has become very familiar to me over the years since that cold night in that somewhat snug, but pretty sorry looking cabin!  I have sensed that same feeling while leading many a youth service, while having the honor of bringing a congregation of adults, youth or kids into the presence of the Lord through praise and worship, through writing puppet skits, directing Vacation Bible Schools, or making what some might consider a fool of myself as I sang and jumped up and down before an assembly of students at various school chapel services.
I have come to realize that it is a satisfaction that cannot be met by any other means than by serving the Lord with the gifts and talents that He has given me.  I would bet that it was the same satisfaction that Jesus must have felt, maybe for the first time, as He sat at the feet of the teachers of the Law in the temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve years old.  The Jubilee Bible tells of Jesus’ reply to His parent’s anxious question to Him in Luke 2:49 saying: “How is it that ye sought me?  Knew ye not that it behooves me to be about my Father’s business?”
According to Dictionary.com the word “behooves” means “to be worthwhile to, as for personal profit or advantage.”  The Greek word that is translated “must” in the King James implies “it is necessary as binding.”  So not only was Jesus’ need to be “occupied by my Father’s business” (Easy To Read Version) good for His personal benefit, it was something that He was bound to do!  In some respects, He probably couldn’t help Himself as He stated “it is my duty to be engaged upon my Father’s business.” (1912 Weymouth New Testament)  Doing the work of the Father was the one thing that satisfied the calling Jesus had upon His life.  It was the occupation and activity that gave Him satisfaction and meaning in life!  Wow!  How I can attest to that!
How about you?  What activity, calling and occupation gives you satisfaction in your life.  What is it that gives you the meaning and purpose in life that fires up the zeal to get out of bed each day?  I have known people throughout my journey in this life who are very dissatisfied with their lives.  Some come right out and talk admit it, while others demonstrate it through their constant complaining about their jobs, or their spouses, or their kids, or even about the ministry that they are participating in.  Just because you may be active in a certain arena of the ministry doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing exactly what the Lord has called you to do!
As we come to an end to 2014 and look with expectation to the New Year which is arriving in just a couple of days, I would encourage you to check out your heart, your thoughts and your mouth in order to locate yourself in this life!  Are you satisfied or are you wondering what could have been or what could be if…?  Are you speaking out words of complaint or words of thanksgiving?  When you shut off the light at the end of the day are you filled with the content joy of satisfaction at knowing that you are doing exactly what Papa God has called you to do?
I know that I have found myself many a time quietly content, tired but yet smiling as I stood at the door with my hands on the light switch and gave the church hall a last once over at the completion and clean-up following a program that took months to prepare for, involved the church congregation and gave glory to God.  That feeling of satisfaction can hardly be explained, but flows from deep inside and originates from the very throne room of God!  There is just no other feeling in the world like it!  Wouldn’t you like to sense that satisfaction in 2015?  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What sense of satisfaction am I expecting today and expecting to continue through 2015?”

Monday, December 29, 2014

Re-Kindle the Flame!


The week after Christmas may have different effects on each of us.  For some it is a week of relief and rest after the push to complete all the Holiday activities.  For others it can be a letdown after the fun, excitement and anticipation inherent with the celebration of Christmas that comes complete with the joy of giving, being with family and friends and the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  Then there are those that use this week to focus their attention on their plans for the coming New Year.
While I have never been one that’s been keen on New Year’s Eve parties or even church gatherings to bring in the New Year (believe it or not!), I am one to give into prayer and thought concerning the Lord’s vision for me and my family for the next 365 day period as we come to the end of each year.
This morning as I read from the last story of Jesus’ childhood in Luke 2:42-52, I caught a glimpse of something in the young lad that I have witnessed in myself many times over the years of my life.  When His parents found Jesus in the temple after a frantic three day search, Jesus calmly replied to their inquiries saying “Why did you look for Me?  Do you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49 MKJV)  Jesus’ response gave me the feeling that He was actually surprised and a bit miffed at His parent’s reactions to the whole situation!
I remember the time back in the late 1970’s after having felt the call to ministry at a youth camp that my young bride and I had taken our group from the Baptist church to, when I stood before my parents in their living room telling them that I wanted to go to seminary.  The look on their faces was priceless!  Probably a lot like the look on Joseph’s and Mary’s faces when Jesus responded to their question in the temple that day when He was twelve years old.
There was complete consternation written on their expressions and they just sat on the couch with a look that defined a total lack of understanding to the zeal that was pouring forth from my mouth!  You must understand that my parents were very active and devout Catholics and were clueless to the whole Protestant side of Christianity!  My Dad would jokingly refer to churches outside of the Catholic belief system as “Protest-ants!”  To put it mildly, Luke 2:50 perfectly described the situation when it reported: “And they did not understand the word which He spoke to them.” (MKJV)
Over the many years that followed that confusing, but yet humorous event, my parents came to an understanding and appreciation of my wife’s and my beliefs and subsequent lifestyle in the ministry.  As I have mentioned many times previously, they were our main supporters (physically, spiritually and emotionally) in the difficult early stages as we faced the battle of my wife’s health.
We’ll be looking a little deeper into these verses at the end of Luke chapter two throughout this last week of 2014.  But for now, I would just like to have us think about our callings in life and the zeal that propels us through the ups and down of our pursuit of them.
I am not really sure as to why, but this Christmas was especially difficult for me.  I usually consider myself a pretty even keeled individual, but during the last two weeks I have had to fight to keep my emotions on track as I thought about past holidays with my wife and family and at the same time try to keep a positive outlook on our future together.  This morning as I studied the Word and read of Jesus’ adventures with His parents, I asked the Lord for a re-kindling of the zeal and/or passion for Him that I have experienced since those first days of youth ministry leadership at that Baptist church so many years past.
That zeal or passion for Him and His Word is the thing that has kept me afloat throughout the past five years.  It is the vision of His Word working in my wife that has helped me to look past what I may see from day to day in the natural and it is what has given me the strength to go on even when other’s don’t seem to understand the approach we have taken and the Word we have spoken to them.
I can fully appreciate how excited Jesus must have been as He sat at the feet of the teachers in the Temple over those three days.  I can also understand how difficult it must have been for Him to realize that it was not yet time to fully devote Himself to His Father’s business and to submit to His parent’s wishes and return to His home and to their authority.  But by obeying and doing what was right, our story concludes with the results of His actions saying that He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52 MKJV)
I think that the years that ensued under the care of His folks was the time when Jesus, like His mother had done, “kept all these sayings in (her) His heart.” (See Luke 2:51 MKJV)  He must have kept the zeal for His Father’s house aflame throughout this time as He continually studied, meditated upon and acted on the Word of the Lord. (See Psalm 69:9)  And that is also the way for you and me to keep the zeal and/or passion for the callings of Papa God aflame and stroked during our daily walk through the ups and downs of our lives.
On a scale from one to ten, with one being at low ebb and ten being fully aflame, where would you rate your own level of zeal and/or passion for the things of God for the end of 2014 and the New Year that is but a few days away?  You know, it doesn’t really matter what others may say, think or look like when you share your zeal with them.  Don’t allow the impressions of other people or your memories of bad or even the good times of the past influence your today and tomorrow. 
What matters is hearing the voice of what Papa God thinks and has said about you and your future!  His Word is the one item to keep foremost in the front of the line of your sight in your daily walk!  Have a great week, a wonderful end to 2014 and an uplifting and expectant pursuit of the New Year!  …and keep asking yourself… “What Flame am I expecting to Re-Kindle in me today?”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday - The Fourth Week of Advent - Christmas Eve


“Twas the night before Christmas

 when all through the house

 not a creature was stirring

 not even a mouse…” *

 It is pretty clear to me that the author of that poem wrote from a vision of fantasy rather than from reality!  If you are anything like my wife and I, then you would know that the night before Christmas would not find everyone sleeping contentedly “nestled all snug in their beds” with Mamma and Papa “settled for a long winter nap…” 
 

Sure the kids may be in the sack, but I can assure you that Mom and Dad are still up and covered in a furry of wrapping paper and scotch tape as they madly rush to wrap all the presents, only to see them torn open a very few hours later!  I can still clearly remember the consternation I felt back in the early 1980’s when I opened up the box of our young son’s gift of a GI Joe jet plane that was marked “some assembly required,” only to find an instruction sheet that when spread open would reach from one end of the room to the other!  I kid you not as there must have been a least a million pieces to painstakingly put together!  I think that my wife and I might have gotten about an hour’s sleep that night!
 

Then there was the doll house we bought for our girls a few years later that when it was finally completely assembled, I think I had just enough time to take a shower before we got the kids up!  But you know… now as I look back… I kind of miss those days!  For there is nothing like seeing the glee in your children’s eyes as they excitedly open up their gifts on Christmas morning!
 

As you read the concluding installment of this year’s Advent Calendar today, I might suggest that you do so with the idea of experiencing that same joy of giving throughout the coming New Year.  Why not be the gift to another in need of everlasting life?  You have the ability and the means to be the carrier of the greatest gift any man or women could ask for… the gift of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  It is the gift that literally lasts a lifetime!  It is the gift that will cause that similar glee as seen on your children’s eyes on Christmas morning to be permanently etched in the eyes and countenance of those you give it too…
 

Be the Gift
 

Wednesday - the fourth week of Advent – Christmas Eve
 

Today’s Reading: Proverbs 22:17, Luke 1:78-79, Acts 2:38, Romans 5:15-16, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 9:15, James 1:17-18
 

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 2015, 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 both 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… and as you do, remember to keep asking yourself… “What joyous gift am I expecting to share with others today?”

Pastor Jim & Piper

 
*Originally Written by Clement Clarke Moore for his family on Christmas Eve in 1822.  First published in the Troy (New York) Sentinel on December 23, 1823.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday - The Fourth Week of Advent


I couldn’t help but pick up a sense of excitement and expectation as I thought about the twelve year old Jesus sitting at the feet of the religious leaders at the synagogue in Jerusalem, in today’s Tuesday – the fourth week of Advent reading.  That picture sent me down memory lane in many different directions!  The thought of the “excitement and adventure that must have been glowing in the eyes of Jesus” immediately reminded me of that one special signature mark of my wife’s that has been missing over the last few years.  Ever since day one of our meeting back during our high school days, I have always been captivated by that wonderful glow of excitement, adventure and daring shining forth from those beautiful brown eyes of hers!
 

That is one of the things that I miss the most and is the strongest visual change that simply tears at my heart everyday as I look upon her face nowadays.  It is the reason that I hold Papa God’s promise to us through Job 33:25 where He has unequivocally given us His rhema word declaring that “Piper’s brain and anything and everything that is associated with it, is in the process of becoming fresher than a child’s and that she is returning as unto the healthy days of her youth.” (Paraphrased as I heard the Lord tell it to me!)  Her joy and excitement for life and for new challenges must have been similar to what Jesus felt as He sat hungrily at the feet of the teachers of God’s word.
 

The idea of Jesus staying behind in the synagogue also reminded me that church is one of my favorite and most comfortable places to be.  It is a trait that my wife and I passed on to our kids.  Not too long ago I had a conversation with our youngest daughter who related her same sentiments to me.  She fondly recalled all the hours we would spend alone in the church as we prepared for the numerous programs that we put on over the years!
 

Is being in God’s home enjoyable and important for you?  Do your eyes glow with excitement and adventure when you are in His presence?  I would encourage you to think on that thought as you experience today’s Advent reading…
 

 

The Greatest Gift!
 

Tuesday, 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 and then fully utilize the greatest gift of all.  Then you’ll 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, share this reading with another today and keep asking yourself… What Exciting and Adventurous things am I expecting today and to continue through 2015?” 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday - The Fourth Week of Advent


I have mentioned before that you would find yourself amiss if you ever entered my parent’s house without hearing music wafting through the atmosphere in their warm, brightly lit home.  For many years, my Mom was an avid listener to the local radio station KSRO.  In the fifties and sixties they played top 40 songs that were disc jockeyed by hometown celebrities.   With the growing popularity of FM, the station switched over to a news-talk format sometime in the seventies.  As a regular listener, my Mom would often times enter the various contests they had throughout each month.

One spring she actually won a contest where she could choose two participants to march in their “radio band” during the city’s annual Rose Parade.  Well, she chose me and my lovely girlfriend (Piper) and a few weeks later we marched with our KSRO T-Shirts and transistor radios tuned into KSRO through the parade route in downtown Santa Rosa, California.  Piper, in her normal spunky disposition, decided to have some extra fun and tied a helium filled balloon on a string to one of her pig tails as she marched!
 

That parade memory reminds me of Paul’s words to us in 2 Corinthians 2:14 where he declared: “Now thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ…”  (MKJV)  The word “triumph” actually means “to make an acclamatory procession.” (Strong’s)  In modern vernacular one could say that “God always causes us to march in His victory parade in Christ!”  The key to this verse being “in Christ.”
 

Today’s Monday - the Fourth Week of Advent readings shows us how the main characters in the first Christmas marched in their victory parades in Christ.  It would seem that they accomplished the tasks set before them by hearing and obeying the voice of the Lord.  Is this something that is a regular part of your daily life?  Think on that as you read today’s story.
 

The Voice!


Monday, the fourth week of Advent
 

Today’s Readings:  Matthew 2: 19-23, Luke 2:39-40, Acts 9:1-8, Acts 22:6-10
 

 

In concluding the story of the first Christmas, Luke 2:39 begins by stating that “When they finished everything required by God… they (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) returned to Galilee and their own home town, Nazareth.” (The Message Bible)  I would imagine that as they turned their attention back up north from whence their journey had begun, they did so with a sense of relief but yet with an expectancy for what lie ahead in the years to come for their small family.  As I read this verse, I was over-taken with thoughts on the significance of what was meant by “they finished everything required by God.”
 

As I went back over the various parts of the written documentation of the event that would change the course of history for mankind, I noticed that the common thread was that each of the participants in the story began their journeys by hearing and then obeying the voice of the Lord spoken directly to them.  Beginning with Zachariah and then continuing with Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, each of these individuals heard the voice of the Lord through a variety of interventions and channels of communication.
 

I began to see that it was the recognition of that voice that gave them the peace, confidence, commitment and fortitude to follow through on everything required of them to the point of completion.  It was the memory of that voice that empowered them to keep going no matter what others around them thought or said about them and the unusual mission each one of them were carrying out!  Their ultimate trust in that voice gave Mary and Joseph the confidence and strength to begin a long journey on a donkey when their baby was due at any time.  That voice instilled in them the ability and wisdom to set out in the middle of the night to a foreign country when their baby’s life was threatened.  And it was that voice that led them safely back to their hometown when the coast was clear and safe.
 

As I look back now, I can clearly see that it was my wife’s and my confidence in that same voice that we heard when He told us that it was the right time to move to Oklahoma to attend Bible College.  It was our trust and familiarity with that voice that gave us the joy, stamina and grace to endure the persecution we received from various family members concerning their disagreement to our decision to follow that voice and “Go Ye!” (See Matthew 28:19 KJV) during as well as after we concluded the event!
 

In some respects though, I can now understand some of their confusion with our following that voice.  In Paul’s recollection of his saving encounter with that voice in Acts 22:6-10, he stated that “The men who were with me saw the light but didn’t understand what the person who was speaking to me said.” (Acts 22:9 God’s Word ©)  John Wesley in his Explanatory Notes wrote that “they did not hear the voice – Distinctly; but only a confused noise.”  It would seem that the words were only for Paul’s ears and heart to hear, and not for those around him.  That would explain why others around us, even those with a close family relationship, did not understand what we were called to do.  To them our move didn’t make a lot of sense.  It was a confusing noise that they were determined to clear up for us!
 

To Joseph and Mary and the other main characters in our story of the first Christmas, that voice meant the difference between failing the unique mission in life they were called to complete or to be able to march in God’s planned victory parade!  As you enter into this Christmas week I would encourage you to think about the many times that you may have heard that voice in your own life over the years.  I can’t help but wonder if those who disagreed with our following that voice throughout the years were just unknowingly reacting to their own past experiences with that voice and the possibility that they may not have obeyed His directions due to their concerns with financial security, the seemingly impossibilities of the request and/or of the fear of what others might have said…
 

Maybe 2015 is to be a breakthrough year for you to follow that voice the next time you hear it, without any reservations.  If that is your decision, then why not cut out a star shape from a piece of white paper and jot down that decision on the star and then hang it on your tree or among your other Christmas decorations displayed around your home.  Then when you take down the decorations after the holidays, tape that star on your refrigerator or bath room mirror as a reminder of your new found commitment to faith in His love-generated, faithful and faith-filled voice!  Have a great week and keep asking yourself… “What commitment am I expecting to His VOICE today?”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday - The Third Week of Advent


Over the last few years I have found myself in a sort of weird environment!  When we returned to California after attending Bible College in Oklahoma, I suddenly found our home void of children since they were all grown up and pursuing their dreams and my wife’s mental abilities being savagely attacked to the point that in many physical respects… she was not quite at home with me either.  Please don’t miss understand me here!  My stand of faith is in the Word of God and in Peter’s’ declaration of Jesus’ finished work of the cross that : “…by whose stripes you (Piper, in this case) were healed.” (I Peter 2:24 MKJV)  But while that Word is working in her body, we still have to deal and live with the physical symptoms.
 

During all this time I have thought a lot on our marriage and family through the years and wondered what and where I could have done better.  And like most of us, I have found areas that I could have improved on as well as things I would not repeat if I could do it over again!  Lately though, I have come to the conclusion that I did the best I could with what I knew to do at the time and with the resources we had at our disposal.
 

Today, when I look at my kids, their growing families and where they are in their place in life and the decisions that they are making, I realize that everything my wife and I attempted to do, whether successful or not, whether the results were positive or negative have been of aid to them.  It is interesting and exciting for me to observe that they are not making the same mistakes that we did (and if they did, they cleaned it up a lot faster than we did!) and used our mistakes or miss-steps as a lesson NOT to be followed!  On the other hand, they have followed through on the good lessons and used those as foundational stones in their lives.
 

The most wonderful inheritance that they have continued and developed is their love for the Lord and their sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.  Because of that one success, I feel that everything else comes in second place!  My point is that as parents we will make mistakes with our kids, but the one redeeming factor is to be an example of Papa God’s love, peace, joy and patience to them… as well as to the kids in your neighborhood, church and city!  I think that this is the best gift that we can give to the younger generations!  As you study today’s Friday – The Third Week of Advent reading you’ll come to understand that as it obviously worked for Mary and Joseph in the raising of their son, it will work for you!


 

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 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 returned 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.  While Jesus was a well-rounded individual in His secular and spiritual education, 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 came one day 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 now 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 Be An Example To today?”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday - The Third Week of Advent


As I read through today’s Advent reading my interest was piqued as I saw myself in a similar position as Joseph and Mary must have been in during their stay in Egypt.  As they looked over their new home, they must have been wondering about how long that they would be there.  And with that question leading all of their thoughts, I imagine that every plan for their present and future circumstances was filled with a tinge of confusion mixed with a bit of anxiety over the decisions they were faced with.
 

This week marks the seventh month that we have been in North Carolina.  Now that we are fairly settled and have completed all the legal requirements of living in a new state, we have turned our attention to the potential purchase of a home.  But I am finding out that this step is not as easy as I had thought it would be!
 

We recently received the exciting and joyful news that our youngest daughter JoAnna and her hubby are expecting their first child with a due date of early August 2015.  The wonderful announcement of the upcoming expansion of the number of our grandchildren got me to thinking about the possibility of us moving even closer to them! 
 

This potential is heightened with the understanding that our other two grandkids and their parents in California are desiring to re-locate to this side of the coast and that JoAnna and Jeremiah have mentioned that they would enjoy eventually living near them.  The only snag in the plan is that North Carolina is second on their list to the Nashville, Tennessee area!  So the big question arises… What do WE do?
 

That’s where Joseph and Mary come in!  As I read the scriptures I see that they followed the Lord’s plan for their lives and not what they wanted to do!  When the coast was clear and the command was given, they started back to Bethlehem only to be redirected by the Lord to go to Nazareth in the region of Galilee.  That folks is called putting the directions of the Lord before your own desires!  God had prophesied this plan many, many years before and by obeying His Word, Joseph, Mary and Jesus ended up in exactly the right place at the right time for their lives as well as for the future of Jesus’ ministry!
 

So where does that leave Piper and me?  Well, our number one job is to find out and follow Papa God’s plan for our lives.  And whether it is my first choice or not… We will find ourselves to be in His best place for us, in His perfect timing!  Think about that from the perspective of your own life plans as you read today’s Thursday – The Third Week of Advent reading…
 

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 their 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 idea!  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 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, rejoice and be glad that God has your back!  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)  Is there someone that you can share the greatest gift with today?  Take a look around you whether you are in Egypt or not, for there are others in a worst place than you!    Go ahead!  Be brave and make their day!    Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What or Whom am I expecting to BLESS today?”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday - The Third Week of Advent


Most people who know me would probably agree that I am a pretty “Up” person.  But I must confess that I do have my moments where I could enjoy a good old pity party!  Especially over the last few years as we have stood for my wife’s health.  I must also admit that although many opportunities have presented themselves to feel sorry for my current predicament in life, I have not yielded to them!  It is almost like something inside of me just won’t let it happen.  I suppose it is the effects of the Word of God that He has had me to speak over my wife over these last years… It hasn’t just been for her benefit!

I have had to learn during this time, sometimes in painful experiences, that I am either going to trust in Papa God and His Word or I’m not!  I think that this is the same conclusion that Mary and Joseph had to come to as they were faced with another obstacle as they pursued the plan that God had laid upon them.  I would imagine that they came to the place where they declared that they were going to trust God no matter what they faced!
 

I have had a family friend and a close relative of Piper’s both try to persuade me in my stand of faith by their own experiences.  One experienced personally by the individual and the other by a close life-long friend of theirs.  Both of their stories ended with negative results.  I finally had to tell them both that I could not live my life or base my faith on their experiences.  My wife and I had decided early on that we were going to trust God for this battle and nothing else!  I will not give up on Him, nor on Piper!
 

In His prayer to Papa God in John 17:17 Jesus asked Him to: “Sanctify then (believers) them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (KJV)  The word “sanctify” means to set apart or “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” (Thayer’s)  When we wholly trust in God’s Word we have to separate ourselves from what we see or hear that is contrary to what His Word declares.  I’ve come to learn that there is no gray area here!  We either believe Him or we don’t!
 

As you read today’s Wednesday – The Third Week of Advent story, I would encourage you to take personal stock in where you stand concerning the truth and separation of God’s Word.  You might want to check and see if you see any shades of gray…
 

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 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 as 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 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 2015.  Have a good day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What or Who’s STEPS am I expecting today?”