Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
When writing, I used the New International Version of the Bible. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves.
A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2000
December 1, 2000Today's word originally ran on August 10, 1999 and is the third of a four day series.
Beyond SCUBA diving The Mariana Trench is the deepest discovered submarine trench. It is 1500 miles long, averages over 40 miles in width, and has a maximum known depth of 36, 201 feet. Obviously, we have very little information about this wonder. Man is not able to swim at those depths. Diving would also be impossible, even with the best equipment. Recent technology has made it possible for robotics to explore the bottom, but the vastness of area makes it impossible to study every inch. There are mysteries of the deep, which will go unanswered.
Read Romans 11:33-36
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to seek God. The word 'seek' is used over 200 times and 2/3 of the instances of that word are in reference to seeking the things of God. Bible studies and prayer are necessary for us to know God as He is. There are certain things that are easy to explain and understand. Yet, there remain mysteries too far beyond our comprehension. God is bigger than we can grasp.
We all too often try to put God into a box. When people ask us the tough questions of life, like "Why?" we become frustrated because we are unable to give a simple answer. When people ask for proof of God, all we can offer is clichés and our faith. For some, this is not enough.
The next time you face the tough questions of life, remember the Mariana Trench; so deep, so long and so wide, that it will always hold mysteries beyond our ability to understand. Remember that God does not fit in a box. To God be the glory. Amen.
Today’s word originally ran on August 11, 1999 and is the fourth of a four day series.
A final word on SCUBA You’ve made the decision to go below the surface. You’ve been trained in the use of equipment and safety procedures. You understand your limitations. What comes next? It is time for an adventure. You are standing on a beach and across the water you see an island. Wouldn’t it be fun to swim to that island and explore? All geared up and ready to go, you step into the water and start to go down, when you realize that under the water you cannot see the island anymore. Which direction should you go? Even the slightest turn and you’ll miss the island completely.
The method for swimming to such a destination is this: On the shore, set your compass for the proper direction. In the water, with the compass always pointing in the right direction, find a landmark a few feet ahead, perfectly aligned with the compass. Once you reach the first landmark, then you find another and another until you reach the island. Always keep the compass aligned, even the slightest miscalculation and you will miss your destination. The same is true with our walk with God. We have made the decision to walk the Christian life, we have been trained, and we understand our limitations. Now it is time for the adventure. Sometimes on our journey we are unable to see our destination. We must have our compass perfectly aligned or we will miss the mark.
Read Proverbs 20:24
In diving, our compass is aligned with the destination, but we must travel one landmark at a time. So it is in our walk with God, we must travel one moment at a time. It seems to be such a slow process, rather frustrating at times. You know the destination is ahead but you cannot seem to reach it. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) Keep the compass aligned. Take each adventure one moment at a time. Have faith in His guiding Hand to take you to the destination that lies just ahead.
Advent I’ve heard it said, “If you have seen one medieval church, you have seen them all.” It is true that they are all very similar. Most of the building programmes went on at approximately the same time, so the style is the same. The churches began with a simple box shape, much like a stone barn. Centuries later, the churches were extended to include an area for the high altar and choir. As the community prospered, side chapels were added with ornate decorations. The wealth of the community is evident in the detailed carvings found on the walls.
Even though the buildings are very similar in design, I still enjoy visiting these ancient churches. Each one offers some new insight into the people, architecture and religion from the time. We regularly attend one church that has the most unusual stairway. It is very tiny, barely 18 inches wide, and leads to a blocked doorway above the pulpit. I never understood the purpose of that stairway. We visited a church last night that had a similar stairway, but the doorway was open. It appeared as though perhaps a lector or intercessor may have stood there to speak.
As I stood gazing at the opening, a man who cares for the church approached me and explained why it was there. At one time, the church had an ornate screen, which divided the quire and high altar from the nave where the people sat for service. There was a cross suspended above the screen. A walkway extended from one end to the other, giving access to the cross. They are unsure of the purpose of this walkway, but theorize that perhaps it was used to light candles near the cross. If I had accepted the idea that all medieval churches are the same, I may have not taken the time to visit this lovely thatched roof church. There I found an answer to a question that has plagued me for so long.
Today is the first day of Advent. Over the next four weeks, we will prepare for the coming of the King of kings, Lord of lords. This time leading to the miracle of Christmas is a time of waiting and watching. Churches all over the world will look at the Old Testament prophecies about our Lord Jesus and hear the story of Christmas once again. We will also search our own hearts to discover if we are ready to meet our Lord. I hear many saying, “If you have been through one Advent, you’ve been through them all.” I have found, however, that each year I gain something new from the repeated messages from the stories of our Saviour’s birth, the Good News.
Read Isaiah 11:1-9
As we prepare in the coming weeks for Christmas, let us keep in mind the purpose of this period. It is not just a time to buy presents and go to parties; it is about hearing the story of our Lord once again. Listen to God’s Word and find something new in the stories and experiences. You might just find the answer you have been looking for. Thanks be to God.
Redundant The word redundant describes the unemployed in England. According to Merriam-Webster, redundant means, “exceeding what is needed or normal.” England’s Parliament set up an organization called the Redundant Churches Fund (now called the Churches Conservation Trust) to care for churches that are no longer needed for Sunday worship. There are churches all over England that have outlived their usefulness. Once prosperous villages that had several churches are much less populated today and cannot provide for the maintenance of more than one building. In many cases, these churches fall to the natural ravages of time and weather. The roofs fall and the walls crumble away. Windows are broken by vandalism and weeds overcome the churchyard. Over time, these centres of worship disappear into the landscape, its service to the Lord only a memory.
Saturday night we attended a service in one of the churches cared for by the Conservation Trust. Some of the walls of this building are at least 800 years old. The majority of the construction took place 600 years ago. This building was solidly constructed and still stands strong after all these years. When the village no longer needed two worship centres, the other church was chosen because of its location. All Saint’s was made redundant. The villagers have continued to care for the church. Despite the lack of regular worship, the church remains consecrated and is used for very special services each year.
Mr. Roy Tricker, a representative from the Conservation Trust, gave the message at Saturday’s service. He spoke about the churches under his care and the people who continue to love them. He thanked the villagers for their time and commitment caring for All Saints’. He said that the building was not redundant, but rather retired, having served the Lord faithfully for hundreds of years. He encouraged the people to share the church with everyone who would like to visit. “This church is a place where all people, despite their faith or lack of it, can find peace, love and beauty; and all Christians, despite their denomination can find a home.”
Read Psalm 71:9-13
This time of year is difficult for the elderly. They have lived long and full lives, but are often set aside for more important ventures by the younger generations. Yet, they are not redundant. We should continue to seek fellowship with our elders. In their presence, we can find peace, love and beauty. This holiday season, remember those who are shut-in or living in nursing homes and need a friend to listen to their stories. Share in their wisdom and understanding. You will be blessed.
Generations Living life as a military family has some benefits, such as the opportunity to live all over the world. There are disadvantages, however. We often live far away from our family, and the children miss the opportunity to spend time getting to know their grandparents. I remember as a child how exciting it was to go spend a week at Grandma’s house. She had a pond for fishing and a forest with a creek where I spent hours dangling my feet in the cool water. We would visit her house for Sunday dinner and play with whichever cousins were also visiting. Our grandparents lived a few hours from our home, but some families are lucky enough to have the older generation close enough for daily contact. The fellowship between generations is valuable to all involved. The children learn about history, the elderly see the hope of the future.
Unfortunately, the children of military families rarely have the opportunity to visit with the elderly. Our neighbourhoods, chapels, schools and social circles are filled with people who are approximately the same age. Yesterday, Zack’s class had the opportunity to visit a local hospice. They sang Christmas carols and presented the residents with gift bags filled with goodies to brighten their day. We had some concern about the children’s reaction to the men and women. We were pleasantly surprised when the children were at ease as they sang and visited. They children joyfully shared their gifts and talked to the people, telling them about how they prepared for the trip and about their experiences as Americans.
The residents were thrilled to receive the gifts and chatted with the children, asking questions and telling them about themselves. The generations seemed to fade as the young and old shared smiles and wishes for happy holidays. Our concerns were unfounded. When love is shared, age doesn’t matter. At the hospice, each generation gave a bit of themselves to the other, bridging the gap.
Read Psalm 145:3-7
Share the love of the Lord today with someone. Reach beyond the limits of your usual circle of friendships. Laugh with an elderly woman or your neighbour’s child. Bridge the gap of age and speak about the greatness of God in joy. Give a bit of yourself to someone from another generation, and enjoy the blessings that will come. Thanks be to God.
Feast of St. Nicolas We identify St. Nicolas with Santa Claus and Christmas time. Traditionally, however, the feast day of a saint is celebrated on the day of his death. This is the day when we celebrate the life of the Bishop of Myra, otherwise known as St. Nicolas. His feast day was dropped from the liturgical calendar because so little of his life is verifiable, but the stories that surround him describe miraculous events and generous gifts.
Nicolas was orphaned at a young age by wealthy parents. His generosity showed from a very early age. It is said that he once threw a bag of gold coins through the window of a poor man’s house, so that his daughter would have a dowry to marry. The man would have had to sell his daughter into prostitution if it had not been for the generous gift. Nicolas provided the dowries for the man’s other daughters and similar gifts for other young girls. It is said that he saved sailors from a storm and that he saved three innocent men from execution brought on by a bribe to the governor of Myra.
Over the years, the image of St. Nicolas has changed, making him more like a magician than a saint. His cult disappeared in most Protestant countries during the Reformation. He was known as Sinterklaas in Holland, and the Dutch brought the traditions to America. It was traditional to give gifts to children on his feast day. As Christians began to celebrate Christ’s birth around the winter solstice, Nicolas became known as Father Christmas and the traditions surrounding his feast were moved to Christmas.
Children were always an important part of the celebration of St. Nicolas’s life. The ceremonies of the Boy Bishop took place on his feast day. A boy was selected to be bishop from December 6th to Holy Innocent’s Day (December 28). This probably came from the story of how Nicolas answered the call into ministry. One day, as Nicolas knelt in prayer in a church, an elderly minister approached him and asked who he was. The young Nicolas replied, “Nicolas the sinner. And I am your servant.” Soon after, Nicolas was made bishop of Myra.
The focus on children has continued with the modern image of Santa Claus. Today we teach the children to be good for the rewards from Santa, but the stories of Nicolas should be taught with the proper focus.
Read 1 Timothy 4:8-12
Many Christians today are changing the way they celebrate Christmas. Many have decided to remove Santa Claus from their holiday traditions. Yet, there are many aspects of the St. Nicolas story we should continue to impress on our children – generosity, commitment, a remembrance that we are sinners saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. As adults, we should also remember that there is value in youth, for the children do share their faith in a very real way – in love, faith and purity.
Gift exchange This is the time of year when many organizations are having Christmas parties. One of the traditions at these parties is often some sort of gift exchange. There are lots of different ways these exchanges are done. Sometimes they have a secret Santa game, where the giver chooses a name out of a hat and purchases specifically for one person. Sometimes the givers purchase something that could be given to anyone, and then they participants play some sort of game to decide who receives which gift. There is a fun game where everyone sits in a circle and holds their gift. A narrator reads a story that includes many instances of the words ‘right’ and ‘left’. As those words are read, the gift is passed to the right or left. At the end of the story, each person is holding a different gift than the one they brought.
In another game, each person is given a number. When their number is chosen, they go to the table of gifts and choose one. They can also choose to take one that was already open. It is fun to watch what makes people choose their gift. Some people go for the pretty packaging. Some people just pick haphazardly. Still others choose by the size of the gift. After all, a big package must be a bigger gift!
We know this isn’t necessarily true. A small box under the tree could mean a lovely piece of jewelry. A small flat box might have plane tickets or a set of keys. A big box might have some large ugly lamp or a practical item like a vacuum cleaner. At a gift ornament exchange the other evening, the small packages had wonderful homemade ornaments.
God doesn’t pay much attention to the size of a package. The people He chose to serve Him were never the biggest, smartest, wealthiest, prettiest, or strongest. Very often, He chose the least likely man to perform a task. David was the youngest son. He was not a warrior; he was a shepherd. Yet, God anointed him as king of Israel. When God was establishing the line from which He would bring forth the Messiah, He did not choose the most powerful tribe of Israel.
Read Micah 5:2
God brought forth that ruler out of Bethlehem. The ruler was not a powerful man, but rather a baby born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. God gave us the most wonderful gift in a tiny package. He gave us a Saviour, the One who would bring reconciliation to the world. Thanks be to God.
Tortoise and the Hare On a beautiful spring day, the animals gathered together to enjoy some fellowship. Skylark was singing, Squirrel was nibbling on some seeds, and the fawns were romping together. Tortoise slowly arrived and greeted the group with a cheery, “Hello.” It was a peaceful time until another friend arrived. Bursting out of the bushes flew Hare who was filled with energy and enthusiasm. He hopped circles around Tortoise, bouncing here and there and everywhere. The rest of the animals were tired just watching him.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
As Christians, we run a race against the world. Satan taunts us with accusations of imperfection, pushes us along the way, and attacks when he does not get his way. Yet, we must prove faithful through it all, continuing along the path until we reach the finish line. We should be like the tortoise, with constancy, integrity and hope. In the end, we will know and understand all that we faced, and we will enjoy God’s glory. Thanks be to God.
Snow Christmas images in American traditions are filled with snow-covered paths and snowmen. There are many places in America where it rarely snows, and yet people in those places still yearn for a “White Christmas”. My sister lives in a warm part of the United States and every Christmas she complains that she can’t wear her special holiday sweaters. We are planning a trip to Austria for Christmas, and one of the greatest joys about that will be that we will probably enjoy the beauty of a snow covered landscape. The trip includes opportunities for sleigh rides and toboggan runs. We’ve seen little snow during our time in England, so the children are quite excited about the possibilities. I think they want to thrown snowballs at their dad.
Christmas images are different in the Southern Hemisphere, however. We are entering the winter season, those in the south are just entering summer. We tend to celebrate the holidays with cozy fireside parties drinking eggnog, the people in the Southern Hemisphere can be planning barbecues and trips to the beach.
It is doubtful that Mary and Joseph saw any snow on that first Christmas two thousand years ago. The Holy Land rarely sees snow. Jesus’ birth did not actually happen on the 25th of December, and the gospel writers give us few clues as to the actual date. The date was chosen hundreds of years after the fact, and is simply a day when we commemorate an event that has great meaning to those of us who love and follow the Lord Jesus.
It is a topsy-turvy world. Many people who celebrate Christmas are not even aware of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They see the Nativity and think of the birth as a nice story, but not a real event. They give gifts like the wise men, but often do it out of duty rather than with a desire to give back to God in thanksgiving for His great gift to the world. They sing Christmas carols, not realizing the importance those songs have to Christians as we share God’s love.
For Christians, Christmas is not simply a secular holiday to party and give gifts. It is a time for us to reflect on when Jesus was born and to look forward to the moment when we will be face to face with Him again. The world has changed the image of that special event two thousand years ago, but we can keep His birth in the proper perspective as we live our life. Not only should our Christmas celebrations be different that the world’s, but our whole life should reflect our upside down attitude.
Read Romans 12:9-16
Many people are surprised to discover that Mary and Joseph did not travel along snow covered paths when they went to Bethlehem. They do not realize that the stable was not covered with snow. Even more so, they do not understand the Christian lifestyle because it is so different than their expectations in this world. The words Paul wrote in this chapter of Romans are difficult. They go against everything we desire in the flesh. Yet, it is the life we are called to live. We can, with the help of God.
Love We were once at a birthday party in a place that had video game machines. At the end of the party, the kids were having fun watching the machines go through their demonstrations, but that got old after awhile, so they went searching for quarters from whatever mom or dad was nearby. A friend’s five year old approached him and said, “Daddy, I love you.” It was the kind of “I love you” that makes you giggle with the knowledge that the child is out for something. Our friend asked, “What do you want?”
This is a game that children play throughout their lives. It doesn’t take away from the real love they feel for their parents. Children show their love in many ways – with hugs, obedience, and moments when the words “I love you” are said with great sincerity. It is not always that way with adults. We all have friends or acquaintances who never call unless they need something. When you hear their voice on the other end of the line, you think to yourself, “What do they want now?”
In yesterday’s scripture from the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “Love must be sincere.” The word sincere means ‘free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.’ These are hard words for us to hear. We don’t love everyone. There are some people that we do not even like. However, Jesus taught us that we are to love our neighbour, our enemies, and our brethren. We can do that, use the words of love for those we dislike. It is easy to say, “I love you.” Then, behind closed doors with other friends, we can just as easily gossip about the person we have so recently claimed to love. The words often have some expectation attached. We love people when they can do something for us. We love people out of duty or convenience.
Paul makes it more difficult. Chapter 12 of the book of Romans is about being a living sacrifice. As Christians, our lives should manifest living faith. In faith we know what Christ has done for us, and our lives show that faith in the way we live. As Christians, our love should be sincere. No strings attached. No expectation. We should not even expect the love to be returned. The love must be real.
Read John 3:16
God knew before He sent His Son that some would reject His love. He sent Jesus anyway. God’s love is sincere. As Christians, we too share the love of Christ with the world. That love must be sincere, without pretense or deceit. We should not be like the five-year-old when he is looking for quarters, or like the adult that only calls when they need something. Rather, we should be like the child whose love is free and shows in hugs, obedience and words that are genuine.
Hate We were sitting together as a family at a school event one evening when three girls approached him. In sing-song seven year old voices, they said, “Hi, Zack.” He replied, “Oh, hi girls.” We knew from that moment that we were going to have to deal with second-grade love. In days since, when I have visited the classroom, I have overheard conversations between the children about this boy loving that girl, or this couple breaking up. The changes in relationships occur on a daily basis, moving as easily from love to hate as ice melts in the tropics.
This does not only happen in the relationships between boys and girls, but also between children of the same gender. Very often children will come home after playing with their best friend and say, “I hate my friend. I never want to see them again.” Sometimes a simple word or glance brings on the hate. Sometimes it is just boredom, a need to move on to someone, or something, new. This sort of hate rarely lasts very long. The children are usually playing together the very next day.
Things change, as we grow older. Our reaction to the things that upset us is not so quick. When someone hurts or angers us, we find ways to deal with it. Hate is a word we tend to avoid because it is such a strong emotion. It is defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger or a sense of injury.” In Hebrew, the word hate can also be translated as enemy.
When adults do hate, however, the reaction is far more intense than when children hate. The emotion comes and goes so easily in childhood, but as adults we suppress the emotion and it simmers within us. When it finally reveals itself, we react violently with the fear or anger that we’ve kept hidden inside. Christians try hard not to hate. It is natural for us to want to hate our enemies, and yet our Lord Jesus told us we must love them. We try not to hate the bad things that happen to us, because Paul wrote that we should be joyful in all circumstances. We try not to hate things because Peter learned in a vision that nothing God created is unclean.
Yet, Paul writes in Romans 12:9, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” The word translated as hate in this passage is only used here, and means to shrink away. This is not the sort of hate we expect, one with a violent reaction. It means to stay away from things that are evil. Paul not only gives us what we should avoid, but he tells us that we should remain close to what is good.
Read Matthew 19:16-21
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus tells us that only God is good. The passage from Romans, Paul tells us to cling to good. We are not being admonished to attack the world with violence, but rather stay away from the things that are not from God. In all things, we are to cling to God, relying upon His wisdom, strength and love to get us through every moment.
Fellowship I enjoy spending time in Christian chat rooms discussing theology and love for the Lord. For me, it is a time of fellowship. Through those times I have made lasting friendships with people who share common interests. There are certainly times when the rooms are filled with negative experiences. Christians come in with an agenda, a certain thought or idea and they want to convert people to understand as they do. Non-Christians come in with similar agendas, sometimes simply to harass or annoy those who are there to fellowship and worship. Even among brethren, there is division and hate. It does not set a proper image of Christianity to those who happen upon the room in their search for the Lord. It is at times like these when we are reminded of Jesus’ harsh words about the teachers of the law.
Read Mark 12:38-40
There are times, however, when we can see brotherly love in the chat room. One day, a dear friend came in aching with physical problems. She was frightened and lonely, needing fellowship with her sisters and brothers. The group prayed with her, lifting her needs before God. God gave her courage and strength. She was encouraged by the loving response from those she loves in Christ.
In Romans 12:10, Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” At those times when the room is filled with hate and division, individuals are honouring themselves. The arguments are due to a focus on our personal needs, rather than the needs of others. This statement from Paul tells us that we should be devoted to one another. That means we should give all or a large part of our time and resources to others. He goes on to say we should honour others above ourselves. These are difficult words for us to hear, and even more difficult for us to live.
I’m brought lastly to the phrase ‘brotherly love’. Our homes are rarely the perfect, loving environments as siblings go at each other over tiny issues. However, in times of need, they stick together and share in true love, honouring each other above themselves. It is difficult, but let us begin today by living these words from Paul. The times of division and hate would disappear if we just spent more time being devoted to one another, lifting each other above ourselves.
Apathy One of my favourite movies is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In this movie, the main character’s name is Holly Golightly. She moved to New York when she was very young, and she is determined to find wealth. She spends her time earning a few dollars here and there, but her survival is dependent on very wealthy men. She meets Paul, and they become great friends. A woman supports Paul financially while he writes a novel, in exchange for love. Together, Holly and Paul get into all sorts of adventures as they seek the things they desire.
On the surface, they desire only money. Throughout the movie, however, they begin to care about one another. Paul realizes that there are better ways to live life, so he sets his mind to his writing. When he sells one of his works, he tries to convince Holly to change her ways, to love him. She continues to pursue wealth rather than love and finds a rich Latin official who wants to marry her. When she gets into trouble, he sets her aside; concerned about the publicity a woman like Holly could bring him, and the difficulty that could cause his career.
Toward the end of the movie, Holly decides to go to South America anyway. In the cab, she tells Paul that she can’t give up her dreams for anybody. She even throws her unnamed cat into a cold, wet alley in an attempt to prove her lack of concern for anything but her future. She finally gives in to Paul and they go out into the rain to find the cat. The find true love and happiness together.
Holly was zealous about her dreams of wealth and had no concern for anything else. Her apathy showed in her life and the way that she treated her friends, like Paul. Apathy is defined as ‘lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern.’ Many Christians today are zealous about certain aspects of their lives, but are apathetic about the things that really matter.
Read Revelation 3:14-19
The Laodiceans are not zealous about their faith, no heat. They are also not feeding the needs of the people by offering the cool springs of knowledge in the Lord Jesus. In Romans 12:11, Paul writes, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Do not be like Holly Golightly, seeking only the traps of surface happiness, or like the Laodiceans who do not see the truth of their lives. Rather, follow the words given to us by Paul. Be zealous about your faith and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Childhood dreams The closer we get to Christmas, the more we are bombarded with TV commercials for the latest toys. The stores are stuffed to overflowing with pallets filled with dolls, trains and video games, waiting to be purchased and placed under the trees. The children’s heads are filled with wishes and dreams of the newest Gameboy game or a Scooter. One of Zack’s favourite activities is to spend time looking through the JC Penney Wish Book, searching for the perfect item to put on his list. Children all over the world are sending letters to Santa, telling him they hope for this, that or the other thing. This hope is nothing more than a dream.
Our circumstances this year has made this a most unusual Christmas. We are not exchanging gifts. The wishes and dreams of our children will not be fulfilled because of the move. We have decided to spend this final Christmas in Austria, rather than in an empty house, so the possibility of piles of presents is out of the question. When the children say they hope for this, that or the other thing, it is a wish that will not come true.
Paul writes in Romans 12:12 that we should be joyful in hope. How can we be joyful if the things we hope for are not going to come true? Christian hope is much different that the Christmas hopes of children. There is no guarantee that we will receive the gifts we desire, because human promises often go broken. But God is faithful. Our hope in His promise is not some wish for something that we might not receive, but rather an expectation of what we have already received. Is God’s promise something we can grasp with our hands? Smell with our noses? Taste with our mouths? No. But God’s promise is more real than the toys left under the tree, the freshly baked cookies, or the candy canes that taste so good. God’s promise is eternal life, and we can rest assured that God is always faithful.
Read Titus 2:11-14
Childhood dreams come and go. Christmas day is a day of joy for those children who get what they desire. However, they are often disappointed. As Christians, we are to be joyous in our hope, knowing that God is always faithful. That joy will be a testimony to the love of God, shining for the world to see.
Difficult road Every year at our annual Christmas party, members of our squadron spouse’s group tell the story of the party four years ago. The route to get to the place where the party was held was a typically small country road with deep ditches on either side. English roads are barely wide enough for a normal American car, so driving on these roads in the best weather can be rather difficult. Four years ago, while the women enjoyed the fellowship of their party, it began to snow. The snowfall left deep, heavy snow on the ground. When the ladies finally left the party, they found the drive home even more difficult than they expected. The driver could barely see a few inches in front of her window, and the women were afraid they would go off the road into the ditch. A twenty minute drive took two and a half hours.
During the past week, we have looked at the difficult words of Paul about being a living sacrifice. As Christians, we are expected to live a topsy-turvy lifestyle, much different than the world expects. It’s a life of love, hope and faith in a world that teaches a focus on self. On the surface, the ways of the world seem so much easier, so much better. We seem to be strong and happy when we have self-confidence (self-trust) and all the advantages that go with it – success and possessions. Christianity teaches about joy and hope, and yet when the world looks at our lives, they see the same sort of problems. Christians get sick, Christians are poor and Christians face persecution. What good does it do to live as a living sacrifice?
In Romans 12:12, Paul writes that we should be patient in affliction. That is a difficult statement. We are not willing to wait for very much. It is even harder to wait for bad times to pass. Yet Paul tells us to be patient in our affliction. This means that we should wait for God during our times of suffering. Too often, we preach a Gospel of prosperity – that knowing the Lord will bring us only good times. But the topsy-turvy life we live in Christ is not always one of sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we face difficulty.
Read Psalm 27:13-14
The ladies had to be patient while they drove home from the party. The tendency was to drive faster to get home and off that difficult road more quickly. But they knew that going to quickly would be dangerous and if they made even one mistake, they would end up in the ditch. It was a time when they had to be patient in their affliction so that they would arrive at their destination safely.
The Psalmist writes of the confidence we have when we are patient in our affliction. We know what good will come at the end of the road – our true home. In all things, good and bad, we should wait on God and His goodness, and we will be blessed.
Prayer The words written by Paul in Romans 12 are calling us to a more devoted Christian life, showing ourselves transformed by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This life is quite difficult to live. We do not love easily, particularly when we have been hurt. We often put ourselves before others. When times are rough, we battle with doubt, fear and even anger. There are times when it seems impossible for us to even consider living a Christian lifestyle.
The only way to do so is to rely entirely upon God – His strength, wisdom and love. We ask for those things in prayer. Prayer is communication with God. It is in those silent moments alone with Him that we can truly share our hearts and listen to His Word. We are not always able to find the words to express our needs to our Father, particularly when we are in times of doubt and uncertainty.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:12 that we are to be faithful in prayer. This does not only mean that we should be committed to a disciplined prayer life, taking a few moments every day to talk with our Lord. It also means that we should believe that we would receive. The word ‘faith’ means ‘to trust’. We are to trust in God to provide our needs. Does this mean He will give us the million dollars or new car we desire? He will not give us things that we desire if they are harmful to our spiritual lives.
There is a third meaning to the statement by Paul. To be faithful in prayer means that we will pray in a trustworthy manner. We have been given the privilege to approach the throne of God’s incredible Grace to ask for His provision of our needs. If we abuse that privilege, by asking for that which does not line up to His will and purpose, we will be denied. When we are faithful in prayer, our words and desires will seek to glorify Him above all else. How do we do this? Our Lord Jesus showed us how to pray.
Read Luke 11:1-4
The Lord’s Prayer is a simple, yet powerful way to talk to God. When Jesus taught this prayer, He was giving us the perfect pattern of that which we should take to God in prayer. In this prayer, we see that we can be intimately close to God, our Father. We learn that we are to ask for our daily needs, whatever they may be physically, emotionally or spiritually. We admit our failures and ask forgiveness. We ask God to give us the gifts we need to walk the Christian life.
If you cannot speak a prayer in your own words today, personalize the Lord’s Prayer by submitting yourself, asking for your needs, confessing your sins, and admitting to the presence of His Hand in your life. Ask God to give you the things you need – His strength, wisdom and love – to live the life that Paul has described in these verses. Be faithful in prayer, by committing to a disciplined prayer life, trusting in God to provide, and asking according to His will and purpose. In all things, live so as to glorify God our Father, in the name of Jesus, by the power of His Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lineage One of the neat things we were able to do while we lived here in England was to have a company trace our roots to find our family coats of arms. It is fun to look at our lineage, to see our past and the people who make up or heritage. Many people spend a great deal of time and money researching the details of their ancestors. They often find pleasant surprises, such as being a distant relation to some duke or earl of somewhere. Many times they find things that they would rather not know, such as their great uncle who was a mass murderer.
Genealogies were quite important to the Jews. Since their position was dependent on which tribe they belonged to, it was necessary to keep careful records to establish their place. This was especially true with the Levites, since they were the men who made up priesthood.
Several of the gospels describe the lineage of Jesus Christ. The writers felt it was necessary to establish who Jesus was according to His heritage. They needed to show that He belonged in the royal line of David, since the prophecy about the Messiah promised He would be king. They needed to show that He had roots in the tribe of Levi, because He was the Great High Priest of God.
The interesting thing we discover as we look at the genealogy of Jesus in as recorded by Matthew, is that Jesus had a wide scope of people who make up His heritage. He was a son of the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was a son of the kings – David and Solomon. He was also the son of a prostitute and a foreigner. The men and women who are listed in Matthew 1:1-17 were not perfect. There were murderers and cheats. There were rich and poor. There were those who were free as well as those who lived in exile. We are shown did not come to represent just one people but the whole of humanity.
Read Phillipians 2:5-11
As Christmas draws ever closer, let us remember that Jesus, the child born in Bethlehem is just like us. He has a lineage of humans who failed in many ways. He gave up everything that He was to be born into this world as our perfect Saviour. He did so out of love for all people – the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. He did it for the hungry, the lonely, the weak, and the foreigners. He did it for the sinners. He did it for you. Thanks be to God.
Mary Mary was a young girl from a small town in Israel. She was probably no older than fifteen years old, not an extraordinary woman in any sense of the word. Tradition in Nazareth says that Mary was playing by the well with her friends when the angel Gabriel came to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” This statement troubled her because she was a humble Jewish girl who was brought up in a society that looked upon her as little more than property. The angel assured her that the message was one of good news, that God had chosen her to carry within her womb the Son of the Most High. Mary was uncertain how this could happen since she was still a virgin. When Gabriel explained to her what would happen, reminding her
Mary was a young girl living in a very strict society facing this incredible blessing from God. But was it a blessing? When she was found to be pregnant, her fiancée wanted to cancel the marriage. The community would look down on her as a fallen woman, even as a prostitute. Her people were praying for the Messiah, but they did not believe her story. The news from the angel was not good news. Yet, Mary did not complain. As a matter of fact, Mary was spiritually confident. She humbled herself before the Lord, and sang for joy from the very depths of her soul.
Read Luke 1:46-55
Mary will always be remembered as the woman who gave birth to the Saviour. She was His mother, brought Him up feeding Him when He was hungry, cleaning his tiny body. She taught Him to walk, to laugh, to sing and to pray. She taught Him the scriptures, as she knew them from her own heart. The mother of our Lord was not an extraordinary woman in any sense of the word. But she loved the Lord with her heart, soul, strength and mind, and she served him in a very extraordinary way. She humbled herself before Him, sang His praises, and did according to His will and purpose for her life. As we near the day we celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus, let’s remember the example of Mary, and sing for joy at God’s goodness and be obedient to His Word!
Humble beginnings Jesus of Nazareth was born in the most humble of circumstances. His father and mother were not wealthy. Joseph was a simple carpenter from a small town in Israel. He was from the line of David and therefore had royal lineage, but many generations had passed. Joseph’s wife Mary was a young Jewish girl. During the time of her pregnancy, the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken of the entire Roman world. The people traveled to their hometown. It was necessary for Joseph to travel to Bethlehem with Mary to be recorded. The journey was long, over harsh wilderness. We do not know the sort of transportation they used, but tradition holds it was by foot and donkey.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, the town was crowded with others who had traveled to register. There were no rooms left for Mary and Joseph. Mary was feeling the early pains of childbirth as they searched for a place to stay. At last, they found a place of warmth in a stable. There, among the smell and noises of the beasts of burden, Mary gave birth to her son. Joseph served as the midwife, a feeding trough as the cradle. The first visitors to this humble scene were shepherds, the lowest of the low in that society. This child was born into a dangerous situation, because when the powerful and mighty discovered His presence, they killed many innocent children in their attempt to protect their own position.
Humble beginnings for a child of any parent. Incredible because Jesus of Nazareth was not just any child.
Read Isaiah 9:6-7
Jesus of Nazareth should have had the best of everything. His parents should have traveled with a grand procession. He should have been born in the finest room, in a palace. He should have had the best doctors. His bed should have been more than a simple manger in a stable. He should never have feared the swords of men.
But God never does things as we would expect. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, arrived in this world in the simple, even frightening way. There was nothing about this event that would indicate the Saviour of the world had arrived. However, God has given us the greatest gift of all… not only the Saviour, but also the faith to know that Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ, born into this world for us. Thanks be to God.
We would like to take a moment to wish each of you a very special Christmas. We will be away from a computer over the holiday. During that time A WORD FOR TODAY will not be sent. We will return to normal on December 29th. Thank you for your kindness, your prayers and your love. May you always know God's peace, love and joy in your life as you walk with Jesus our Lord.
Merry Christmas At Christmastime, we celebrate the most extraordinary event. Our Lord Jesus was born. During this season, we have parties, give gifts, and share the message of hope and love that He brought to this earth. At times, our holiday celebrations don’t look very much like a religious experience. We drink in excess and spend too much on presents out of duty rather than love. It is a time when many people face depression and anger. Families argue over trivial matters. Divorce is rampant. What should be a time of worshipping our Lord God Almighty, is a time when our human failures are most pronounced.
Jesus does that to us. When we have a relationship with our Lord, we see the reality of our human failures. We see that we are sinners in need of the Saviour. We humble ourselves before the throne of mercy and grace and ask for God to forgive our sins and make us new again.
In that stable two thousand years ago, a baby was born who would show us the truth. The truth is that we are focused on self when we should be worshipping God with our whole being. The truth is our human nature is imperfect and that we will die because of our sin. However, that baby was more than just a good example, special teacher. Jesus Christ was born on that day as the perfect Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Throughout His life, He taught us how to live. At the end, however, He knew we could never live according to God’s Will. In the stable, Jesus humbled Himself and became man. At the cross, Jesus Christ humbled Himself even more by dying for us.
We rejoice this Christmas in the birth of our Saviour. We should always remember, however, that it is in His death and resurrection that we find the hope of His purpose.
Read Revelation 22:1-5
Each Christmas, we linger a moment over the infant Jesus in the manger. We sing a few carols and share our blessings with those we love. We share the joy of God’s gift with the world. Then we act in ways that are not worthy before the Lord.
For just a moment this Christmas season remember the man who hung on the cross and died for your sins. Look forward to the future hope that came wrapped in swaddling clothes on that first Christmas day. Then worship Him.
Bus Tour We just returned from an eight-day tour to Austria. We left very early one morning and drove for two days. The people on board the bus were strangers when we began – some American, some British. We all had a common purpose, to spend Christmas in the Alps. It is difficult to spend so much time in such close quarters without getting to know one another. We shared our thoughts, our hopes and our dreams. We ate together and watched out for each other. We shared everything – batteries, cold medicine, books and even chocolate. We were equally confused by the language and currency. Someone was always willing to bail out a fellow passenger when they did not have the appropriate coin to use the rest rooms. Even the children joined in the fellowship by sharing their video games.
We left England as strangers, and returned as a family. The only thing that drew us together was a common purpose. It was going to be a most unusual Christmas for all of us, and we knew that it would be miserable unless we found some way to work together. Those who were traveling alone were welcomed into families. We watched over each other’s kids. We even worshipped together at a special English language carol service held at the local church.
The same thing happened during the days of the early church. Christians were drawn together by a common purpose, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Read Acts 4:32-35
Somehow, in the hustle and bustle of the modern age, that sort of Christian fellowship has been lost. We prefer our privacy. We do enjoy giving once in awhile, particularly at Christmas. The rest of the year is spent working to keep up with the Jones’ and accumulate more stuff. Many churches no longer have that familiar atmosphere, its more of a social club than a community of believers. Not only did we lose the heart of the gospel message in this change of attitude, but we also lost the power of that message. The church has stagnated in many places. Non-believers do not see the love of our Lord in our lives, because our lives do not appear any different.
Just like the passengers on our bus, it is time that we as Christians find that common purpose and work together to share the Gospel with others. Christmas is over, but we should continue the true Christian Spirit, one of brotherhood, sharing and love.
Misadventures We were nearing the end of our journey. The travel was long, but going well. We were on schedule as we drove off the ferry after the Channel crossing. That’s when the trouble began. We found ourselves stuck in the middle of a traffic jam. After an hour, we had only moved a few miles. At that rate, we would never make it home. The bus drivers decided to turn off onto a country road. The map showed that it went through to another highway just a few miles to the north.
We were traveling on a double-decker bus, around sixty men, women and children. We had been traveling for eight days, so the cargo areas were packed full with suitcases. A trailer was hooked to the back of the bus for the rest of our stuff. During the trip, we’d made plenty of purchases around Europe. The bus was filled, and heavy. The road was a fairly wide country road. Our only real concern was the low bridges. It had snowed in England so some of the roads were wet and a bit icy, but this road seemed to be in good condition.
The bridges proved to be no problem, but as we traveled along this road it became smaller and smaller. We also headed into a hill, climbing deeper into the woods. Eventually the road was a single-track road. The trees were scraping against the top and the sides of the bus. We had difficulty making some of the turns, and it grew darker by the minute.
Unfortunately, at this point the road was thick with ice. The tires began to spin under the weight of the bus. We were stuck. There were chains for the tires of the bus, so as we hung precariously off the side of that hill, the drivers began the hard work of putting them on. They chains worked and we continued on our way. After a time, we came to the top of the hill and headed back down. The road widened a bit, the forest thinned.
The misadventure was not yet over, however. As we reached the bottom of this tiny country road, we came across a stalled car in the road. Always willing to help, a bunch of men got off the bus and began to move the car. As they did, a man came running out of a house yelling, “Do not move the car, it is a stolen vehicle!” We had nowhere to go. We could not go around, we could not go back up the hill. They moved the car, let the bus pass, and then moved the car back to where they found it.
At the end of this adventure, our bus driver said, “Obviously that was a wrong decision.”
Read 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
Our Christian walk is often just like this misadventure. We seem to be stuck in a traffic jam, going nowhere and wanting desperately to get to our destination. So, we find a cut off, a different path. Unfortunately, what seems like a good way often turns out to be more difficult, more dangerous. Do you feel like you are stuck in a traffic jam? Stay the course. Wait patiently for God to clear the path ahead. Do not try to take your own way into the woods. Your labour, even if it is just sitting still, is not in vain when you do the work of the Lord.
Endings A year ago at this time, the world breathlessly awaited the beginning of the new millennium. Y2K seemed to be a very real threat. Many people prepared by filling their cabinets with extra food, candles and batteries. There were concerns about electricity and water systems. Many people thought the world as we knew it was going to end. The year 2000 was going to come in like a lion. It came in like a lamb. There were very few problems around the world with computer systems halting. The world breathed a sigh of relief as January 1st came and went without disaster.
The year 2000 has not remained so calm. Throughout the year there have been incredible political, financial and religious battles. In the last month, the weather has brought hardship to many people around the world. Here in England, the medical establishment is concerned about the possibility of epidemics of diseases such the measles. In every aspect of life, the year is going out like a lion.
Through it all, many people are concerned about the future. After all these problems, what is next? What will the year 2001 hold for us? There is always hope.
Read Jeremiah 29:11-13
As you consider the events of 2000 and look forward to a new year, always remember that God is in control. Through it all, the pain and hardship, one thing has occurred that pleases God. His people are praying. They are spending time in worship together, interceding for the world and its inhabitants. They are singing together in praise for the good things that have come from the difficulties. More people are coming to know the love and mercy of God, and the incredible work of our Lord Jesus on the cross.
As this year closes, let us set aside our memories of the problems and look forward to the good things to come. God knows exactly what is in store for us, so rejoice in the hope of His goodness. May you all know the peace, love and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ and may you continue to seek Him with all your heart.