What Time Is It?

In last week’s post “Moving Forward” there were a number of resolutions for the new year that I shared with you which revolved around my Christian life. I’m aware that they all sound very spiritual and it certainly would be a wonderful thing if I were successful in meeting the challenge. However, we all know that most resolutions, especially those of a spiritual nature, are never kept in their entirety. This is usually because we attempt to do it on our own and not realize it is an impossibility to do it without the help of the Holy Spirit. The minute the enemy realizes that we are serious at the start, his attacks begin with trying to convince us that we don’t need any help. And sooner or later we buy the lie and we are in deep trouble. I can’t count the times this has happened to me and I can safely venture to guess that it has most likely happened to you.

So the question becomes “What can we do to combat this situation and when do we plan to start?” We can all relate to how our first glance at the hands on the face of a clock causes our mind to automatically asks the question “What time is it?” And I believe this is the question we need to ask ourselves as we proceed with this new year. What time is it? I conclude that it’s time for a change. It’s time to:

  • Realize that we have a real enemy in Satan and just as the Bible says, he goes about seeking who he will devour with his deception and lies. He is not some make-believe character or a figment of our imagination. He is real. He is the enemy.
  • Realize that the world is also our enemy. All we have to do is watch what is going on in the political arena in our country, the trash that is being produced in the music and entertainment world, the acceptance of the sin of homosexuality as a viable alternate lifestyle, the murder of innocent babies for the sake of “women’s health”, the growth of false religions and cults, and many other ungodly activities going on all around us. And, yes folks, the invasion of the world into our churches.
  • Realize that our own flesh is sometimes the fiercest enemy we have. The battles that rage within us are won by the flesh and is simply because we are not “filled with the Holy Spirit” as God’s Word says in Ephesians.
  • Return to the real reason why we are still here and that is to share the gospel with those around us and even to the uttermost parts of the earth.  To turn our focus away from programs and events that seem to be designed for entertainment instead of evangelism.
  • Make a much better use of the power of prayer. To return to corporate prayer times that is fueled by the presence of the Holy Spirit and offered by sincere believers. to return to individual prayer that is more than just mere repetition but comes from a heart of gratitude for all He has done for us.
  • Insure that what we hear from the pulpit and what we are taught by others is doctrinally sound as we compare it to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us during our personal bible study time.
  • Take a stand against the rampant immorality of our time and return to the truths and standards that were so important in the past. If we don’t do it now, what chance will our children and grandchildren have in the future to stand firm? 

I believe that if we would take seriously the things above, a great revival could begin in our midst and we might see God again do some mighty things. I sincerely believe that we need that revival now more than anything but it is up to us as individual believers to be instruments that God can use. Revival needs to start in our hearts and it needs to start in mine first. Lord, give me the desire to yield to you and become your vessel for revival! 

Moving Forward

Time just keeps marching on and it feels like the speed of it increases with every passing day. We have left the year 2018 in our rear view mirror, never to be seen again and we are already several days into the new year. So where do we go from here? Well one thing is for sure. Our eyes should be on the road ahead and what 2019 is going to bring our way. We can’t do anything about the past but learn from the mistakes we may have made and then endeavor to not repeat them. 

With tonight’s post being the first of the new year I thought I would mention a few of the things I want to improve in my life over the course of the year. And with a little luck you may be able to relate to some of these and maybe even include some of them in your list of objectives for the upcoming months. But we need to keep in mind that there are many things that we don’t have personal control over and therefore they can have a negative impact on our endeavors. But with that said, here we go with some thoughts I have about making 2019 a better year. I resolve to:

  • Strive to make the most of my relationship with God the Father as I abide in Him and continue to fellowship with Him through prayer and obedience.
  • Make very effort to keep the interests of other people ahead of my own interests especially with my wife, family and friends and to remember it is not about me but about them.
  • Continue to grow in my walk with the Lord by developing an even stronger desire for His Word and spending more time in personal Bible study.
  • Wisely use the spiritual gifts and talents that God has given me to minister to and encourage other believers especially those in my local church.
  • Be ready and willing to share the good news of the gospel to those I come in contact with while being alert and aware when those opportunities present themselves.
  • Be a living testimony and witness of God’s grace and mercy to those around me by the way I live my life every day.

And my list could go on and on. But as you have probably noticed everything I’ve said above revolves around my Christian life and my relationship with God and others. Even though I have other resolutions and objectives that are more material in nature, the fact is that they are not important when compared to maintaining the proper vertical and horizontal relationships that God expects. As our pastor said last week, all goes well with us when those relationships are properly maintained. So my greatest prayer need for 2019 is that God will help me do just that and remind me when I am departing from His ways. I hope your resolutions are similar and your prayer is the same. If it is we can grow together as we walk with Him. Amen and amen!

 

Paul’s Christmas Letter

The sending of greeting cards have been another Christmas tradition for many years. It may not be as popular as it once was and in many cases it is used more by businesses than by individuals. Sometime back someone decided to send letters instead of cards to say more than just a greeting around the Christmas season but to summarize everything that had happened during the year. This is what Paul’s does in the three verses that we are about to look at but his is centered around a time period of more than a year.

Titus was one of Paul’s most reliable helpers. Titus is prominent in Paul’s letters although he is not mentioned in Acts. Paul used him for tasks requiring responsibility and discretion. He was Paul’s emissary to the church at Corinth and was in charge of the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. He was also placed over the churches in Crete, a place which was known for people of very low character. Paul sent him to as far away as Dalmatia, modern-day Yugoslavia.

Paul uses this letter to cover the qualifications of elders and places great emphasis on sound doctrine. The letter also outlines the obligations of elderly men and women, young men and women, and even servants. And the letter strongly warns against false teaching. One of its’ two outstanding doctrinal passages (Titus 2:1-24 & Titus 3:4-7) contains three verses (Titus 2:11-13) we will be considering today. So let’s get started. 

Verse 11 – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Obviously this is what we have just finished studying over the last three weeks or so. And we heard the story from different perspectives and characters in the four gospels. Although the first few words are very similar to John 1:14 let’s take a closer look at how this is expressed in the letter. Notice the past tense of the verb in “has appeared”. It begins in the past, celebrating the Incarnation of Christ. And for the expressed purpose of bringing salvation to the world. Remember the words of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21; “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”. Verse 11 gives us a six-word summary of the history of our salvation. Quote: That one sentence captures all that God has done prior to and including the arrival of Jesus: the creation of the world; the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David; the care for the Israelites in exile; and beyond. And at the very moment Jesus was born, God fulfilled the promise of a redeemer. The grace of God – The undeserved, unmerited gift of salvation and redemption for the world. Has appeared – The debt has been paid and there is no need for it to be supplemented, imitated, or repeated. It is a done deal!

Verse 13 – “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Notice the change in focus of the passage to the future. In this verse Paul seems to express a sense of excitement about things to come. Paul’s Christmas Letter to Titus contains a section about “things to look forward to in the upcoming year(s).” Do you think Paul was expecting Jesus to come back during his lifetime? Although he used just six words to describe the past, the words he uses to describe the future just seem to flow on and on. I believe Paul is having a hard time containing his anticipation of what he knows  is still to come. It is as if he is saying “If you think the birth of Jesus was something, you ain’t seen nothing yet!” Ok. So what about now? What do we do in the meantime? Well let’s look at verse 12 and we will find that answer.

Verse 12 – “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” Paul uses just three simple words to describe how we should live “in the present age.” while we wait for His return. We as believers are to pursue holiness in the present moment by living sensible, righteous, and godly lives. These three words encompass our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God himself. In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus summarized the commandments in such a way as to describe these relationships. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,  with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost  commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s now take a look at these three words individually.

The Sensible Life: For most of us sensible means wisdom, common sense, and intelligence. But the Greek word for sensible also means sober, self-controlled and the noun form means temperance. Generally the meaning in the context of the letter is to live a life of balance and moderation, not one of excess. Therefore the implication is a life of discipline and restraint although the world today encourages the opposite. To live sensibly means to live with self-control and therefore it is the very  means by which we can find inner harmony. The sensible life controls the harmful urges we have that cause deep pain to ourselves and to others. This can only be done because “the grace of God has appeared.” A sensible life is the mark of a life restored by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Righteous Life: To live a righteous life means to live with others for the common good and in common regard for one another. In other words to live in harmony with others. The Greek word for righteous is also translated ethical, upright, or just. Our righteous life or ethics are based on the righteousness of God and therefore requires us to live according to God’s commandments. In order to live in peace with others we must do the right thing, follow God’s commandments, and follow the example of Jesus himself. It also means we should live according to the standards of love, self-sacrifice, and generosity instead of selfish agendas. Living righteously is to exhibit a life of a redeemed behavior and one that aligns its’ actions with the will of God. The righteous or ethical life is also a gift from God and then can only be accomplished by the grace of God. As we learned in the past few weeks, the Christmas Story offered several examples of righteous living in the characters of Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth and even John the Baptist.

The Godly Life: This characteristic of a faithful life is probably the most important of the three. It has been described as the lynchpin that holds the three together. Without a full and wholehearted devotion to God it is impossible to be at peace with ourself (sensible life) or with others (the righteous life). The word godly in the Greek is also often translated as “to worship” and therefore a godly life is characterized by true worship out of love for God. Godly doesn’t mean divine nor does it mean perfect but it means that we direct our worship to the One who is divine and perfect. It is interesting to note that none of the Advent characters were described with the word godly although no doubt most of them were. However, there are two people in the book of Acts that were described by that word; Cornelius and his soldier. Neither of these men were Jews but both were converted to Christianity and  were the first among the Gentiles to do so. This means that in addition to a godly life being one of worship it is also one of  being open to be used by God to share the gospel to those in need of it. The fact is that the Christmas Story is that Christ himself, godly in the purest  sense, came into the world to be the very means by which all of us might be restored to a right relationship with God.

In summary, Paul’s Christmas Letter written to his beloved and trusted helper Titus speaks volumes to us in this three verse passage. It is one of the few passages in the entire Word of God that refers to both advents. What sets it apart from other passages is that it also details have we should live in the present age while we wait for His return. And folks, we are closing in on that day. I’m reminded of the words of a song that says “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King”. And like Paul’s words at the end of the Revelation, I too say “Come Lord Jesus.”

John’s Christmas Story

As we continue to celebrate the Advent tradition, the fourth and last Sunday of Advent season is upon us. This Sunday is the end of the second half of the Advent season is coming to a close and the birth of the Savior is here.

On the three previous Sundays we have celebrated each one with the lighting of candle. We have introduced the Candle of Hope, the Candle of  Faith, and the Candle of Joy The candle we will light tomorrow will be the Candle of Peace also known as the Angel’s Candle. It symbolizes the peace that the angels announced to the shepherds when they sang that Jesus came to bring peace, to bring people close to God, and to each other. This part of the Christmas story is also found in the Gospel of Luke. However, this evening we are going to look at another version of the Christmas Story that we find in the gospel of John. Similar to Mark’s gospel there is no narrative concerning the details of the birth of Jesus but we still find the coming of God Incarnate in the first chapter of  John.

John was one of the twelve, the son of Zebedee. He, his brother James, and Peter were  the inner circle of the disciples. Sometimes he is known as “the apostle Jesus loved” and Jesus commended his mother Mary to John while He was on the cross. John wrote the letters that bear his name and the Revelation.

John’s gospel is a summary of God’s relationship to man and he immediately declares the Deity of Christ Jesus at the very beginning of the gospel. The purpose of John’s gospel as he himself writes, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. The Gospel of John is the only one of the gospels that we find the great “I am”   declarations of Christ.

The Deity of Jesus ( John 1:1-2). Jesus was in the beginning, the same beginning that we find in Genesis 1. Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. The Greek word that is used to refer to Jesus is logos which we translate as Word. In the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament it is used as a designation of God. The word means a thought or concept and the expression of the same. So in Jesus the very thought of God and all the treasures of divine wisdom are embodied. In other words, Jesus, in His incarnation the expression of God and the thought of God is found. In the Being, Person and work of Christ, Deity is expressed. In summary Jesus is God, has always been God, and will always be God.

Incarnate Work of Jesus (John 1:3-5). Jesus created everything and nothing was created the Jesus the Word didn’t create himself. In Him was life which was and is the Light of men. The Light is so bright that there is no possibility that darkness can overcome    or over power it. In other passages in John’s gospel Jesus refers to Himself as the light or the  “light of the world”.

The Witness of the Light (John 1:6-8). John the Baptist was sent from God to testify of the Light so that man would believe. John was not the Light but only gave testimony to the light.

The True Light (John 1:9-13). When the true Light came into the world every man was enlightened and had the opportunity to receive that Light. Jesus was and is the true Light and when He was in the world that He had  created that same world did not recognize who He was and rejected Him. He came to His own domain but He was not received by his own creation. However there were some that did receive Him and he gave them right to be children of God for those who believed in His name. These were not born of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man but were born of God.

Jesus the Word Became Flesh (John 1:14). This is the Christmas Story according to John. The birth of Jesus was God Incarnate come to earth. Jesus was born and then dwelt among men in a manner such as a man himself. This allowed man and us to see His glory as the only begotten son of the Father. He was grace and truth although He was man. He was 100% God and 100% man.

Jesus is the Mirror of God. (John 1:18). John the Baptist reveals to us that although no one has ever seen God, Jesus in His time on earth was what gave us the eyes to see God.

The question arises many times as to why the Incarnation was necessary. As John states in 1:18 as we have just read, no one has ever seen God. But God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known. That is why He would be called Emmanuel, God with us. And the fact is, that when He ascended He sent the third Person of the Trinity to abide in us. And as a result of that, God is still with us in a spiritual but real sense. And the other fact is that one day we will be with Him.

Next week we will close our study by considering more of a modern-day Christmas Story by referring to one of Paul’s letters that we don’t study very often. Our text will be Titus 2:11-13.

Luke’s Christmas Story

As we continue to celebrate the Advent tradition, the third Sunday is one of particular importance. This Sunday is the beginning of the second half of the Advent season and it is a reminder that the birth of the Savior is almost here. The Catholic Church and some others refer to it as Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word gaudete is the first word of the entrance portion of the mass on this Sunday and it is translated “rejoice”. It is taken from the passage of scripture found in Philippians 4:4 where Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.”

Gaudete Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday and Sunday of Joy. The candle that is lit on this Sunday is pink or rose-colored and is known as the Shepherd’s Candle and the Candle of Joy. It symbolizes the great joy the shepherd’s experienced when the angel announced to them the birth of Jesus. And this part of the Christmas story is found in the Gospel of Luke which is the focus of our study this evening.

Luke was known as “the beloved physician” and was a companion and fellow worker with Paul the Apostle. Luke was the first historian of the early church and wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. Luke continues the narrative he begins in his gospel in the book of Acts which he also penned. Luke’s gospel is the longest of the four gospels and was written primarily for the Greeks. It is about Gods’ relationship to man and is known as the Gospel of compassion. It stresses Jesus’ sympathy for the brokenhearted, the bereaved, the sick and the mistreated. It also places a great emphasis on a worldwide scope of salvation. So let’s take a look at the Christmas Story as presented by Brother Luke.

Luke begins his gospel with an introduction of Zacharias and Elizabeth found in Luke 1:5-25. In this passage we find the story of how the birth of John the Baptist is foretold to his father Zacharias and the response by his mother Elizabeth. They both were righteous in God’s eyes and blameless in their walk with Him. They were also childless and were quite old. God sends an angel to announce to Zacharias that he would have a son but Zacharias  was afraid of the  angel when he appeared. Zacharias questioned the angel’s announcement and was then silenced because of his unbelief. Elizabeth’s response was one of joy and gratitude. We will pick up this part of the story back up later in our study.

In Luke 1:26-38 we are introduced to the virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. This passage relates the story of the announcement of Jesus’ birth to His mother Mary and the miraculous conception that will bring this to pass. The angel Gabriel is sent by God himself to make this announcement and the event occurs in Galilee in the town of Nazareth. Luke reinforces the fact that Mary was a virgin and was engaged to be wed to Joseph. Gabriel reveals the name of the child to be born and what His purpose will be. In response to Mary’s concern of how this could be Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit would be the power that would cause it to happen. Mary is also told of Elizabeth’s conception of a son in her old age.

As Luke’s story continues in Luke 1: 39-56 we see a very special event involving both Mary and Elizabeth. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, a relative, in the hill country of Judah, possibly to check on her since she had been informed by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth was also pregnant. When Mary arrived and Elizabeth heard her voice the baby in her womb leaped and she was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result of this visit we see both Elizabeth and Mary burst forth with a song of praise to God. Elizabeth’s song is found in Luke 1:42-45. Mary’s song “The Magnificat” is found in Luke 1:46-55. After these things, Mary decides to stay with Elizabeth for three months.

Luke closes the first chapter of his gospel with the birth of John and another song of praise, this time by Zacharias. Thus us all seen in Luke 1:57-80. John is born to Elizabeth and it is time for his circumcision as was the custom on the eighth day after the birth of a male child. Her relatives were prepared to name him after Zacharias his father but Elizabeth said his name was to be John. When they consulted Zacharias he wrote on a tablet that his name was John. Zacharias opened his mouth and once again began to praise God and fear came on all those around. Zacharias’s song “The Benedictus” is found in Luke 1:68-79.

Luke continues his account of the Christmas story as he opens the next chapter. He describes the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Luke 2:1-7 and portrays it as a lowly birth. Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to register for the census and Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room available in the inn. Luke finishes his account of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:8-20 by relating the story of the shepherds and the angels. The shepherds were minding their own business with no thought of being surprised by an angel. Therefore, they were also afraid when the angel appeared. But the birth of Jesus was announced to the shepherds by an angel of the Lord. That is, the Angel of the Lord was announced by an angel of the Lord. Suddenly there appeared a multitude of heavenly host with the angel and they also burst into a song of praise to God. The short song of the multitude of heavenly host of angels is found in Luke 2:14.

I know all of us realize that Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is the one used most often in annual story readings and children’s plays and even in live nativity presentations. But as we light the Candle of Joy on this third Sunday of the Advent we should all be full of joy and gratitude that the promise that God made in Genesis continued to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 

Matthew’s Christmas Story

As a way of review of last week’s post I want to remind us of what we learned the last week. Mark’s gospel has no Christmas Story narrative. He opens with John the Baptist and his message of the birth of Christ to come. John quoted both Isaiah and Malachi as saying prepare the way because the Messiah was coming. One was saying prepare yourselves to be a vessel through which God’s love could enter into human history. And the other was saying be prepared for a major event that was coming. John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance for forgiveness and that One was coming that was mightier than him carried that same meaning that the two prophets were emphasizing.

Now let’s start with our study of the Christmas Story from Matthew’s perspective. Matthew was also known as Levi and was one of the 12 Apostles as we see in Matthew 10:3. Matthew was a Jew and collected taxes from his own people for the Roman government. Although he was despised by loyal Jews his gospel was originally written for these same Jews.

Matthew presents Christ with three different title; Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Christ the King. Only in Matthew’s account does Jesus speak of “His glorious throne”. Only in the gospel of Mark is Jerusalem referred to as “the holy city”. Matthew uses the word “kingdom” more than 50 times in his gospel. The expression “kingdom of heaven” is found nowhere else in the New Testament but appears thirty or so times in Matthew’s gospel.

The Christmas Story according to Matthew is found in Matthew 1:1-2:18. It actually begins with a lengthy description of the Genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17. In this passage the ancestral tree is based on the number seven. Numbers were very important to the Jews of that day, especially the number seven. Whenever the number seven is used in the Bible it suggests completeness, wholeness, restoration and healing. Seven is the number of days for a complete week. The Sabbath was the seventh day of the week when there was rest, healing and restoration. Jesus used the number seven when questioned about how many times one should forgive another when he replied to Peter not seven but seventy times seven.

Matthew gives us a very detailed description of the genealogy beginning with Abraham and ending with Joseph the husband of Mary. But in verse 17 he describes three distinct sets of 14 generations to match three prominent eras of Jewish history. This is obviously equivalent to 6 sets of seven generations. However, in verse 18, he begins his story concerning the birth of Jesus which ushers in the seventh set of 7 generations. In other words, Jesus was the ultimate completion of the promise of the Messiah. He was the greatest and final work of God to bring wholeness and healing to a broken, bruised and conflicted world.

A Truth for Today: In His perfect timing God sent His Son into the world to begin the completion of his plan to redeem man and reconcile him to Himself. The plan that originated in the mind of God before the foundations of the world was now on its way to full and final completion.

As we continue in Matthews gospel we find a short story of the conception and birth of Jesus in Chapter 1, Verses 18-25. The Bible says in this passage that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary conceived the baby who would be named Jesus, but Joseph was not the baby’s father.

Can anyone explain how this is possible? Keep in mind that Mary would go through the normal time span of carrying the baby and most likely encounter the same discomforts that any mother-to-be would expect. The real question is this. Why was it necessary for Jesus to be physically born of a woman? May I suggest that it was necessary in order for Jesus to be able to relate and empathize with all aspects of being human. However, we will spend more time on Mary when we consider the Christmas Story from the gospel of Luke.

Continuing is this passage we can take a look at Joseph’s faith and character. In this passage we can find out a great deal about Joseph and his character traits. We see in verse 19 that Joseph was a righteous man. Apparently Joseph had a good understanding of the need to act according to divine and moral law and so he attempted to stay free from guilt and sin. In other words, he obeyed God. Joseph was also a humble and unselfish man. His reaction to finding out Mary was pregnant was to seek a divorce privately in order to keep the shame and embarrassment to a minimum for Mary.

Can you imagine how he must felt when he heard that Mary was with child? How would you have reacted? Joseph was a man of tremendous faith and placed his trust in what God was doing in his life. He heeded the instructions of the angel. In this account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph is what I call a hero of the faith.

Now here the story changes directions as we look at the wise men’s visit and Herod’s evil plot. This part of our study is found in Matthew 2:1-12 and really bring’s out Herod’s ego and fear. So let’s take a closer look at this character.

Herod was a nominal Jew and the Tetrarch of Galilee. His grandfather had been governor of Idumea and his father had been procurator of Judea, all positions appointed by the Roman leader at the time. All of these were more loyal to the Roman government than to God or his people. Known as Herod the Great, he was responsible for the erecting of the temple at that time and built other buildings that added to the splendor of Jerusalem. All of this was to fuel his ego.

The visit by the wise men however brought out fear in the heart and mind of Herod. Herod’s concern was the idea that the Messiah had come and He was a king. Being a Jew, I’m sure he had knowledge of the expected arrival of the Messiah but certainly was not expecting Him during his reign.

The situation at hand was much like that of the Pharaoh of Egypt when the children of Israel were multiplying very rapidly while being held in bondage by the Egyptians. The Pharaoh feared that they would become so numerous that they could overwhelm and overpower Rome so therefore they were a threat. That’s when Pharaoh ordered that every new male child born to an Israelite woman was to be drowned in the Nile. So after determining from the wise men when the star first appeared Herod ordered all the male children under two years of age to be killed after he realized that the wise men had returned to their country without coming back through Jerusalem.

But God already had a plan for the protection for Jesus as we see in Matthew 2:13-15. Joseph had a dream in which God revealed to him Herod’s plot and had Joseph to take Mary and the baby into Egypt. They remained there until after the death of Herod. The angel appeared once again to Joseph and told him that they could leave Egypt and return to Israel. Joseph brought them to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up and become a man.

A Truth for Today: In His perfect plan God uses people to bring His plan to full and final completion. Satan’s attempts to interrupt God’s plan in hopes that his ultimate end can be changed has never been nor will ever be successful.

From this story I think we glean a couple of reflections and applications. We should approach the celebration of the birth of our Savior with the same faith and trust that Joseph did realizing that His birth began the completion of the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem and reconcile us to himself. Matthew reminds us that Jesus is not just any man, He is the King of Kings. As we have lit the Candle of Faith on this second Sunday of the Advent we should exercise that faith to be what God desires us to be.

Note: Next week we will consider the Christmas story from Luke’s perspective. Our text will be Luke 1:1-2:20

Mark’s Christmas Story

This evening I am beginning a series that will last for the month of December. We will take a look at the Christmas story from the perspective of each of the four gospel writers and hopefully see some truths that we have not discovered before. We will follow along a path that aligns itself with the tradition of Advent and will attempt to keep on the same track of the theme for each Sunday of the Advent season. I will also be presenting this same information in our Sunday School time at church for the month and I certainly would appreciate your prayers that God will get all of the honor and glory for anything that is accomplished.

This post will be the first in the series and we are going to start in the gospel of Mark. But before we begin I would like to share something from my pastor Mark Mayfield’s message last Sunday morning which he entitled “Christmas Hidden In A Curse”. He used Genesis 3:15 as his text to point out that Christmas really began in eternity passed. Even before God spoke this world into existence, before He created Adam, and before Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden the plan for man’s reconciliation was in the mind of God. In other words, the seed of Mary which was spoken of in Genesis and who we know is Jesus Himself, would come as God Incarnate to seek and save that which was/is lost. God made a promise and He always keeps His promise.

So, with all of that said let’s take a look at Mark’s gospel and specifically at chapter 1, verses 1-8. What is really interesting about the Gospel of Mark is that it does not include a narrative about the birth of Jesus. However, the story of preparing for the event is  there. Mark begins his gospel writing at full throttle. He immediately reflects on the writings of the prophets Isaiah and Malachi declaring that there would be a messenger or forerunner of the Messiah proclaiming that Jesus was on His way. While quoting these two prophets he uses two different words for prepare which have somewhat different meanings. The first word for prepare Mark uses has a basic meaning of making oneself ready to be a vessel through which God’s love can enter into human history. The second word for prepare means get ready for a big event that is about to occur. John the Baptist was preaching those very same preparations.

By preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins he was saying prepare yourselves to be usable vessels. As he was preaching that One was coming that was mightier than him, he was saying that they are to get ready for that event. 

There is no better way to begin the Christmas season than being reminded that God keeps His promises. Is it any wonder that on the first Sunday of Advent the purple Prophecy Candle is lit and it is considered the Candle of Hope? It represents the prophets and the hope they foretold about. And His name is Jesus.

We tend to begin the season with way too much on our minds and our to-do list.Mark reminds us that we need to stop in the midst of our busy lives and prepare ourselves to be the instruments God wants to use to share the good news of the gospel. God’s plan for the reconciliation of man to Himself has always been in the mind of God and there is nothing that can prevent it from being completed.

Maybe we should eliminate some of the unnecessary activities during this time and focus on what is really important to our spiritual growth and relationship with Him. Maybe we should try new ways to be a more useful servant for His glory. Maybe we should put our total trust in His Word because we understand that He never fails to do what He said He would do.

Next week we will consider the Christmas story from Matthew’s perspective. Our text will be Matthew 1:1-2:18.

Forever Thankful

Good evening everyone. I hope each one of you enjoyed the Thanksgiving Holidays and were able to share them with the people you love. But I would also like to remind all of us that there are many folks that faced the holiday without someone they love and there are many reasons why that was. For some, there has been a recent passing of a loved one. Some are faced with theirs serving on foreign or even domestic soil protecting the freedom for us to celebrate. Some are alone because there has been an argument or a loss of trust that separates them from their loved ones. Some are in hospitals or nursing homes and have no loved ones left to enjoy the holidays with. And I’m sure there are many other reasons that i have not thought of or failed to mention. But the point is this. If we are fortunate enough to not be in any of the above situations we should be full of thanks and holding our loved ones close to our hearts.

There are so many things that we should be thankful for that it is impossible to recall all of them. However, we know that many of them are centered around our relationships with our families and even our friends. And we when stop and think about those we love we should be thankful that God has placed them in our lives.  It would be such a lonely world if we weren’t surrounded by other people. I believe God knew exactly what He was doing when He designed us to experience the feelings of what we know as love and acceptance. And we will talk some more about that later in the post.

We certainly should be thankful for the freedoms we are favored with in this country in which we live. In spite of the problems we have and the seemingly increasing presence of evil, there is no other country in the world that can be compared to the United States of America. So we should be very thankful. We also should be thankful for all the blessings we have even though we may not recognize them as that all of the time. God has provided us with jobs that allow us to provide for the needs and yes, many times the wants, that we have. He has provided many of us with good health and when we are not up to snuff, the doctors and medications that most of the time brings back up to par. And let’s not forget that He has provided us with special gifts and talents to use to be a blessing to others. That is another way He blesses us. And I could go on and on. We are so blessed!

With everything I’ve said so far I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the main thing we should be thankful for. Actually it was where I was headed the whole time and thus the title of the post. God in His infinite wisdom, His endless mercy, His matchless grace and His boundless love has blessed us with the greatest blessing of all. Even though we have inherited the sin nature that Adam brought on all mankind when he disobeyed God, God  provided the means by which we could be reconciled to Him and could again be called His child. By giving of His only begotten Son through His death on that cruel cross, our sin debt was paid and God sees us as if we never sinned. And all because we are covered by the blood of Jesus and His righteousness. Can you think of anything that we should be more thankful for than that? I certainly can’t. As a matter of fact, I am forever thankful.  How about you?

Proper Priorities

I don’t know about you but I am so glad that the mid-term elections have finally come and gone. Or almost. At the time of this writing there is still no final vote count for the senate race in Florida and it’s like deja vu. We could spend the next two or three hours talking about the whys but they really don’t matter at this point. And, in fact, it’s really not as important as many of us think it is. Many of us have let the ugly politics of today become a leading factor in determining our overall attitude and what a number it is doing on our joy and peace of mind.  And what a shame that is! We get so caught up in things that really don’t have an eternal impact on anything or anyone that we lose sight of the most important things. And that is the issue I want us to consider tonight. The issue of proper priorities.

We have previously considered major issues that we are faced with today and have come to the conclusion they are just battles being fought in the bigger war between good and evil. And of course I am referring to those things that God considers good and, on the other side, those things He makes it very clear that are evil. It is very easy for most of us to take a strong position against such things as abortion and homosexuality but it is much more difficult to really consider that we place too much emphasis on some things that really don’t matter in the long run. And I’ll be the first to admit that I am just as guilty as anyone else and sometimes I get my priorities out of whack. So I’ll use myself as an example of what I am talking about.

During the past couple of months with all the campaigning going on and especially the endless barrage of notes on the front door, flyers in the mailbox, radio and television commercials, and candidates surrounding the entrances to the high school football stadiums, I have found my attitude bottoming out to the lowest level it has been in a long time. I found myself getting angry every time I heard the words progressive, socialism, racism, and so many other terms that don’t fit my idea of what is right and acceptable. And I had convinced myself it was righteous anger so it was justifiable. I was becoming more and more bitter with those who would dare stand for those kind of ideas and was ready to unload on them if the opportunity presented itself. All of this was coming to an ugly end with some unintended results. My prayer life began to suffer, my bible study time began to decrease, my relationship with those I love began to wane, and my joy was certainly fast disappearing. And all of this just because my priorities were out-of-order.

So, what happened? Well I guess you could say, like the prodigal son, I came to my senses. Not in some incredible event but in a still, quiet moment as I was reading God’s Word and trying my best to stay focused on what I was reading. It suddenly dawned on me that my priority had become me and not Him. And not my family. And not my friends. And not my church. But me. I felt so dirty and ashamed but realized that it was the Holy Spirit doing what He does best. Convicting, convincing, and correcting. He reminded me of those very powerful words John penned in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”, 1st John 1:9. And that is exactly what I did. I’m clean again and I’m putting the right order back to the priorities in my life. There is an old saying that “confession is good for the soul” and I can tell you first hand there is really something to that.

It so happened in my case that my obsession with the battles in the political arena were what took me down the wrong road but there are many other things in life that can do that to someone. As a matter of fact it can be anything that causes us to lose our sense of proper priorities and the results can be very much like the same as mine. It seems many times that it is very small things. But we have a way of making them much bigger than they are but the problem is still the same. The priority becomes ourselves and God, our family, our friends, our church must take a back seat to our desires. It is one of Satan’s best tricks and he knows how and when to use it. So what is yours? What do you put before Him? If we are not as close to the Lord today as we were yesterday we are heading in the wrong direction and where we end up won’t be good. As for me, I am so thankful that He is always near and ready to forgive just like we would forgive one of our own children. That’s why we call Him our Father.

 

New Issues to Consider

Last week we finished the series I had titled The Old Testament Jesus and over a four-week period we covered quite a few Old Testament accounts of HIs appearance. We saw that he appeared as the Angel of the Lord, as a man, as an angel and as the king of peace and a priest of the Most High God in the person of Melchizedek. We looked at numerous scriptures that provided some details of these appearances and I might add that many of these accounts are described by more than one writer. In other words, the proof is in God’s Word.

At this point I would like say that I have presented these accounts from a layman’s perspective and may have embellished some of the appearances as being Jesus when it is possible that it may not have been. However, nothing was presented as an attempt or with any intention of misrepresentation but to clearly show that Jesus has always been active in the lives of men long before His physical birth, His physical death, and His bodily resurrection as we find accounted for in the New Testament scriptures.

The opening words of John’s gospel tells us all we need to know about His existence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  John 1:1-2  and then And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. So, even before the foundations of the world, Jesus was. And now He is seated at the right hand of the Father. And He will one day return for His own to reign with Him forever more.

With all that said let’s move on to this evening’s post and a new topic. In light of this week’s events I would like to come back to the reality that this world is in a mess and it is obvious that Satan is hard at work. Several months back we did a series centered around the most prominent issues of today’s times and we took a close look at what God’s Word says about them. We considered abortion, homosexuality, and disobedience to civil and government authority and then talked about how we as Christians should react to each one of them. But as we have seen recently, there are other issues that are not necessarily new but are just now beginning to surface on a regular basis. And again, they are most assuredly evidence of the evil that is all around us.

Over the next few weeks we are going to look more closely at some issues that have begun to rapidly divide our nation and even in some cases our families. Some are obvious but some are very subtle in nature and hardly seem worth considering. However, we all know that the sins that seem so small have a way of growing into something large and unmanageable. The magnitude and the pace of change that has very negative consequences is further proof of our evil environment and a foresight of where we are headed. But God is not caught off guard and He has been warning us that these times were coming.

I appreciate each of you that faithfully reads the post each week and I certainly cherish any comments that you make. Again, most of the time I am just putting in writing what is on my mind and trying to apply what God’s Word has to say about each situation. I have enjoyed what research I’ve done and I have learned so much as I have done so. I have also been reminded over and over that God’s Word is complete, infallible, inerrant and consistent in all ways at all times for all time.

Until next week, may God richly bless each of you and your families.