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. Where scripture is quoted, I used the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2001
December 1, 2001
Hesitancy Things can get quick hectic around our house, just like any other house with children. We often have scout meetings or other commitments that require everyone’s cooperation to get out of the house on time. As the children get older, their responsibilities become greater, yet they do not always want to do the tasks assigned. At times they prefer to do something else. Other times they think they are not capable of accomplishing the job. They even question the importance of the task. When they do not want to do it, they find ways to avoid it. They hesitate, often finding some excuse or simply ignore my request.
Jesus Christ came in flesh, died on the cross and was raised again so that we would be reconciled to God. Through Jesus, we become heirs to the kingdom of God, children of the Most High. He calls us by name, and as we grow in faith He gives us work to do. Throughout the Old Testament, God called people to be prophets, kings and judges. At times they were less than enthusiastic about the request. Moses and Jeremiah questioned their ability to speak for God. Samuel did not realize it was God speaking to him. Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to be saved. Even in the New Testament, men questioned God’s orders. When God told Ananias to go to Paul and heal him, he said, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”
So often God’s word seems ridiculous to us. We don’t think we are capable or we simply do not want to do the work. At times God asks us to speak His Word to our enemies, or bring healing to the lives of those who have hurt us. He asks us to go beyond what we believe is our ability. He works through our weakness to show the world His power. It is His Spirit working through us. Yet, we still question His Word in our lives.
Isaiah lived and began his ministry in the year 740 B.C. The biblical book that bears his tells the revelation of God’s judgment and salvation. It speaks of punishment for rebellion, but also redemption. It shows God as Sovereign, whose fire will cleanse the nations, but also compassionate because He will rescue His people. God used a vision to call Isaiah to His service. It was frightening, filled with woes to the disobedient and judgment against their sin. With these images in his mind, Isaiah meets the LORD.
Read Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah knew that he and his people were not living according to the Word of God, and he thought that his presence in the throne room of God meant certain death. But God had chosen him for a purpose, and gave him all he needed to accomplish the work. First he received forgiveness, and then God called him to serve. With the assurance of God’s salvation, Isaiah willingly accepted the task.
By the blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven and reconciled to God your Father. When God calls, “Whom shall I send?” will you answer with the words of Isaiah? Are you ready to accept the responsibilities of being a child of God, to take on the tasks that will spread His Kingdom to the four corners of the earth? Or will you continue to doubt and question God’s ability to choose the right one for the task? As a cleansed and chosen child of the Most High, it is time to say, “Here am I. Send me!” He will give you all you need. Thanks be to God.
Advent This weekend we attended our first two holiday parties, watched a Christmas parade, shopped for presents and began transforming our house for the season. There is still so much to do to prepare and enjoy this lovely time of year. It can be quite exhausting and at times we seem to lose the purpose of Christmas in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
The word Advent means “arrival, especially of something momentous.” People in the secular world are preparing for something wonderful. The children have visions of visits from Santa Claus and wishes for toys to be left under the tree. Adults are planning special gatherings to share their love and joy with their closest family and friends.
For the Church, Advent is a different sort of preparation. We will spend the next few weeks preparing our hearts for the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We look toward the manger, waiting for it to be filled with the Light of the World. We listen to the prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold of His coming and we reenact the story of His birth. It is an incredible time as we remember how Christ gave up the glory of heaven to put on the flesh of a baby and become Emmanuel, “God with us.”
Yet, there is far more to Advent than waiting for Christmas. It is a time to examine our hearts and prepare for another advent – His coming in Glory. Many churches are being decorated with greenery and candles, which are meant to remind us of the everlasting light and life we have waiting for us in Jesus Christ. There will often be a wreath with five candles located somewhere in the church. Each Sunday, beginning today, a candle will be lit. We begin today in darkness, reminded of our sin and our inability to stand before God. As each week passes, another light is added until Christmas Eve when the fifth candle – the Christ candle – is lit for the world to see. Each week we add a new part to the story as the light grows and the Saviour enters the world. We will hear the preaching of John the Baptist who called for repentance of all people because the Kingdom of God was near. We will share in the joy of the mother of our Lord as she sings her praise to God. We will come to know the depth of the love of God, who sent the greatest gift to the world, His Son.
Advent is such a glorious time, and yet we must remember that it is more than just parties and a tiny baby in a manger. Many would prefer to leave Him there, He is not threatening as a tiny baby. Yet, we must also look toward the new Advent, the day of His coming in judgment as King.
Read Romans 13:11-14
On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a journey of repentance and transformation as we look forward to the day of the Messiah. We begin in darkness, but we should not stay there. We need to examine our hearts and set aside those thoughts, words and deeds that keep us in the darkness – the actions of the sinful nature. As Christmas day approaches, let us ever be mindful that we are waiting for a greater day. Are you prepared to meet your Saviour, not only as a baby in a manger, but as the King of Glory? It is time to wake up, to set aside your sin and live in His light – clothed with the righteousness only Jesus can give. Thanks be to God.
Mercy The LORD loved His chosen people, the Israelites. Throughout the history of Israel, there were those who loved the LORD with all their hearts, but most often the people rebelled. As we read through the Old Testament scriptures, we see the story of Israel. The LORD created the world, then called His children to follow Him, beginning with Abraham, the patriarchs and then Moses. Moses was chosen to deliver His people out of the bondage of Egypt.
Even though God did these things for His children, they sinned against Him. They forgot His miracles and His promises. Yet, each time they did this, He saved them. The Psalms are filled with hymns that praise God for His mercy in spite of the people’s sin. Psalm 106 tells the story of the Exodus into the Promised Land. The Psalmist begins with praise to God and asks to share in the inheritance. But he recognizes the sins of Israel. “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.”
He tells of their life in Egypt, when the people forgot the LORD. Even as they were being led out of bondage they rebelled by the Red Sea, preferring to live a life in bondage to dying in the desert. Yet, God saved them and they praised God. They forgot again while they were in the desert, feeling hungry for the good food they had in Egypt. So, God provided but it made them ill. They became jealous of Moses and rebelled against God’s chosen leaders. They built a calf, rejecting the Word of God for the things of this world, worshipping gods who had no power instead of the God who saved them. Yet, because of Moses, God showed mercy.
They hated the land where they were led, grumbled about their lives and disobeyed the Word of God. Again they worshipped other gods, Baal, and provoked the Lord to anger. Yet, God showed them mercy because Phinehas intervened. They rebelled against the Spirit of God and caused Moses to speak without thinking. The words he spoke were against the will of God and Moses was unable to enter into the promised land.
When they crossed into the land God had promised, they did not destroy the people there but joined them, mingling their lives with those who worshipped idols and sacrificed their sons and daughters. God was angry again so He handed them over to the nations who ruled over them. They rejected the love and mercy of God, so He gave them over to the ways of the world.
Read Psalm 106:43-47
Over and over again, the Israelites received God’s love, rebelled, were saved and then sang His praise. Sin has too heavy a hold on our lives. We have sinned, even as our fathers did. God, our heavenly Father, knew the only way to break this cycle of rebellion, salvation and praise was to reconcile His people to Himself through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Moses delivered the people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. But God sent Jesus to be the final deliverer, to take us into a new Kingdom, the Kingdom where God is the only God we worship and He is the only King we obey.
The day will come when we will praise God at His throne, no longer tempted by the desires of our flesh to rebel against God in our thoughts, words and deeds. We continue to call out to God, just as the psalmist, “Save us, O LORD” and we are drawn together out of the nations to praise His Holy name with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is just a glimmer of the glory we’ll see and the joy we’ll know in the Day of the Lord.
Read Psalm 106:48
Read the entire text of Psalm 106 to see the story of the Israelites rebellion and God’s mercy.
Lines I went to the post office yesterday to send a package to a friend. There were already nine people standing in line and there was only one person serving the window. The other teller decided to take an early lunch so that she would be around during the lunch rush. Unfortunately, the rush came much earlier than expected. Most of the people were very patient, but a few were like caged lions. Several people came in the post office and turned around when they saw the line.
Americans don’t like to wait for anything. In this age of technology, we have become a people looking for instant gratification. Our microwaves cook everything quickly. Email makes communication immediate. We can watch the news as it happens. You can even become an ordained minister in a matter of minutes on the Internet.
I’ve had difficulty getting my Christmas decorations organized because of my hectic schedule. I have had an artificial tree standing in my living room since Friday, and it is still has no lights or ornaments. I hope to find the time today to finish decorating today so that I can work on other holiday preparations. I need to get boxes ready to ship to our family far away. I need to work on Christmas cards and cookies. There seems to be so much to do, and so little time. Unfortunately, when we get frustrated with our own inability to complete the tasks at hand, we often get impatient with others.
The events of this year have made this Christmas season unusual. While we are still going about our business, we have to consider the safety issues that have arisen. We have to be more careful about our mail and packages. Several people I know have decided not to send cards to their friends because of the possible dangers. Others are hesitant to shop in large shopping areas because of threats of violence. We have been warned to be watchful and patience during this time so everyone stays safe. The added precautions at the post office, airports and other places will cause longer lines and more careful inspection of packages and bags.
As Christians, it is important for us to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus every moment, but even more so at those times when the circumstances around us bring us into temptation. Long lines give us plenty of time to gossip and judge the strangers who are standing with us. It is easier to get angry, to speak negatively about each other. Our lack of time means we are more likely to speed while we drive from one place to another. We tend to prioritize our tasks, setting aside the moments of prayer and scripture study we desperately need to get us through the day, so that we can spend time doing the things that seem most important.
True hope rests in only one thing. We shouldn’t focus on our earthly hopes – that our packages will arrive safely and quickly, or that we will be able to find everything we want to purchase as gifts. Our hope is not in the ability of the mailmen to keep the mail clean or in the ability of the emergency services people to keep things safe. We should be thankful for their hard work, but our hope rests in the Lord God Almighty.
Read Psalm 33:20-22
As we go through this season of standing in line, let us always wait in hope for the LORD. Our purpose at that moment may be to mail a package or purchase a gift, but our expectation is in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should be rejoicing in that knowledge, rather than getting angry and frustrated. Our trust is in God, so even as we are watchful for the possible dangers that exist in our world today, we should be focused on Him and His love. Patience is never easy, but it is even harder when there is so much to do and when there is danger around us. However, we wait in hope for the LORD, so our time is never spent in vain. Thanks be to God.
Reluctance Have you ever been used by God despite your own reluctance? Several days ago we looked at the lives of several biblical figures that hesitated when they were called by God to accomplish His work. Their reasons were varied, but they eventually stepped out in faith to do as God directed because they believed in Him. But what of those who do not believe in God? Can God use them too?
In the book of Numbers, there is the story of a sorcerer who was so powerful he was used by kings for national defense. As the Israelites began to move into the Promised Land, Balak, the king of Moab, knew that there was no military means that would defeat them. He knew that the God of the Israelites had a power that was much greater than the power of men. So, he summoned Balaam to use pagan divination against them. Balaam told the messengers to wait until he has an answer from the LORD. By his use of language, it appears that he believed in the God of Israel, and yet he is condemned throughout the scriptures for his greed and false teachings.
The LORD spoke to Balaam and told him to reject the request to curse the Israelites, because they were a blessed nation. At first he did, telling the messengers to go back to Balak without him because the LORD had refused to allow him to go. They came a second time with offers of great wealth. Balaam seemed to stand firm, but told them to stay the night so that he could ask the LORD again.
The Lord God Almighty knew Balaam’s heart. Even though he used the language of faith, Balaam really did not know the God with whom he spoke. This time God allowed him to go with the men, but ordered him to obey his commands. Along the way, God sent an angel to stand in the path of Balaam’s donkey. The donkey saw the angel, but Balaam was blind. When the donkey refused to continue, Balaam beat her. Then she spoke to him, asking why he would beat her when she had served him so well. He said that she had made a fool of him. Then he saw the angel who told Balaam that he had been sent to stop him from going on this foolish journey. If the donkey had not stopped, he would be dead.
Balaam saw the seriousness of the situation. The angel let him continue on his way, but warned him to speak only as God directs. When Balaam met with Balak he said, “Can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” At that moment, this sorcerer became a prophet of God. He spoke four oracles, which blessed Israel and cursed her enemies. Each time, Balak was incensed. “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” Balak even tried moving to another location, thinking that if Balaam saw the Israelites he would be able to curse them. When Balaam’s words were another blessing they moved again, thinking that perhaps God would allow a curse from another place. A third time Balaam blessed the Israelites. Finally Balak’s anger was too much to bear and he sent him away without reward. Balaam answered that he did not want the reward and that he could only do what the LORD told him to do.
Balaam spoke once more.
Read Numbers 24:15-19
This oracle begins with what appears to be a confession of faith and ends with a prophecy. The star out of Jacob was first fulfilled in David, but was ultimately about the coming of the Messiah. These words were from God Himself, out of the mouth of one whose heart was not turned toward Him. Balaam continued to work his magic. Later in the story, he is killed by the Israelites because he was among their enemies. He taught the Midianite women how to seduce the Israelite men into worshipping their false gods.
Balaam, a man whose heart was filled with greed and whose lips spoke false teachings, was used briefly for the glory of God. Balaam seemed to be willing to serve the LORD, but his heart was filled with other desires. Balaam nearly succeeded in destroying Israel with his false teaching, giving Balak what he desired. Yet, God is more powerful that even the most powerful sorcerers. He can even make donkeys speak and evil people do good things. His ways are far beyond our ability to understand. How much more can God use those of us who have His Spirit in our hearts? Let us praise God together today for His greatness, His wisdom and the incredible work of His hands. Thanks be to God.
Feast of St. Nicholas December 6th was traditionally the day that the Christian church celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas. He has long been identified with the character known in today’s world as Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra and the story of his life is filled with miraculous events and generous gifts. His feast day was dropped from the liturgical calendar because so little of his life is verifiable.
It is said that Nicholas was orphaned at a young age by wealthy parents. His generosity showed from a very early age. One story tells of a time he 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. Nicholas provided the dowries for the man’s other daughters and similar gifts for other young girls. Other stories describe him as a lifesaver – sailors from a storm and three innocent men from execution whose deaths were bought with a bribe. Yet another story tells that one day as Nicholas knelt in prayer in a church, an elderly minister approached him and asked who he was. The young Nicholas replied, “Nicholas the sinner. And I am your servant.” Soon after, Nicholas was made bishop of Myra.
Over the years, the image of St. Nicholas has changed, making him more like a magician than a saint. It was traditional to give gifts to children on his feast day. As Christians began to celebrate Christ’s birth around the winter solstice, Nicholas 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. Nicholas’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 Nicholas answered the call into ministry.
The focus on children has continued with the modern image of Santa Claus. Today we use Santa to bribe our children into good behavior, but the stories of Nicholas should be taught with the proper focus. The gifts of St. Nicholas were gifts that saved the recipients from horrible lives, even death. He gave the dowries to the girls, not because they earned the money, but because Nicholas wanted to spare them life in prostitution. The men who were saved from death were not necessarily innocent, but Nicholas gave them the gift of life. In these stories, we see examples of the kind of love our Lord Jesus had for us. We did nothing to earn His love or deserve His gifts, yet He gave more than we can even imagine.
Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17
I have heard several people suggest that perhaps the holiday tradition of giving gifts should be moved to December 6, to the time it was originally celebrated. Then we can return our focus on Christmas Day to the birth of our Lord. There are even some Christians who think we should have nothing to do with the stories of Santa Claus.
It seems as though many Christians are putting a greater focus on our Lord this year, desiring to better understand the purpose of Advent as a time of repentance and watchful expectation. Many are spending more time in prayer and study, remembering the child in the manger but also looking forward to the King of Glory. There are definitely aspects of our modern Holiday season that should be changed – the overindulgence, the greed and the lusts for our earthly desires. Though we should be wary of the focus on Santa Claus, there are many aspects of the St. Nicholas story we should continue to impress on our children – love, generosity and commitment. But most of all, we can look at the stories of St. Nicholas and remember the great sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us the greatest gift of all, eternal life. Thanks be to God.
Hope The Advent theme for this past Sunday and for many of the devotionals that are used during this period focused on the hope for the Messiah. The scriptures include the prophecies of the Old Testament that looked forward to the day when God would fulfill His promises to Israel. These prophecies described a man from the house of David that would rule over Israel again, the kingdom would be restored.
The Jews looked forward to the day when they would be a free nation again, under the rule of their own king, rather than under the rule of foreigners. They were the chosen people of God – the children of Abraham – and the promises were for them. As we look back to those prophecies and see that they were fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ, we realize that there was a far greater promise hidden in those words. The reconciliation that was to come from the Messiah was more than just a promise for a kingdom on earth. Rather, God was promising reconciliation for all men to Him – Jew and Gentile alike. As Jesus ministered in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, He touched people from every nation, bringing His word and His healing to people who believed whether they were Jews or Romans or Samaritans.
Yet, in the early days of the church, the Jews kept the promises to themselves. If men came to them believing in Jesus Christ, they required adherence to the laws including circumcision. Gentiles had to become Jews to receive the promises found in the Gospel. Then God called Paul to be an apostle, to send him out to preach to the Gentiles and bring them into the Kingdom. This turn of events was shocking to many in Jerusalem, who questioned Paul about his ministry. Paul often had to give testimony to God’s calling in His life and to battle with those who refused to understand the mystery of the Gospel.
Read Ephesians 3:2-6
Paul was given the grace of God to share the Gospel, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. He knew that the promises of the Old Testament were not meant to be kept in the House of Israel, but to be shared with the world. This mystery was not understood until the Gospel was revealed in its fullness in Jesus Christ. Jesus showed them in His own ministry that the gifts of God were for all people, by sharing His word and power with their enemies as well as their brothers.
Paul writes to the Ephesians that believers, whether they are Jew or Gentile, are heirs to those promises. He uses the word ‘together’ three times in this passage, clearly showing that there is no superiority in the Kingdom of God. The mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that there is equality in the body of believers, one body of which Christ is the head and the fulfillment of the promise. With hindsight, we can look back to the prophecies of the Old Testament with confidence and know they were given for us by the grace of God. Today, we share together in the promise with all those who believe. Thanks be to God.
Wisdom Warren Bennis is a management guru and university president. He interviewed a number of top leaders in corporations and public service to find any common traits for a book called, “Why Leaders Can’t Lead.” He had some difficulty because they were far more diverse than he expected. In the end he wrote, “I was finally able to come to some conclusions, of which perhaps the most important is the distinction between leaders and managers: Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right. Both roles are crucial, but they differ profoundly. I often observe people in top positions doing the wrong thing well.”
Wisdom is defined as being an understanding of what is true, right or lasting. The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament shows wisdom personified. She calls to all men to reside in her, to listen to her instruction and to walk in her ways. Wisdom was there in the beginning of time and participated in the creation of all that is. Wisdom is the Word of God. In the Old Testament, wisdom was found in the hearts of the righteous and the words of the prophets. Jesus Christ was the incarnation of wisdom, God’s Word in flesh. For those of us who are Christians in the world today, we have the Holy Spirit who lives in us so that we can have an understanding of what is true, right and lasting. Jesus Christ is the truth, and when we live in His life we do what is right and lasting.
Unfortunately, we don’t always do what is right even though we do things right. Like the manager in Warren Bennis’ book, we often do the wrong things well. During this time of Advent, we are looking forward to the day of our Lord’s coming, both as the child in the manger and as the King of Glory. As King, He will come to judge the nations, separating the goats from the sheep, the wheat from the chaff. In that day, He will look at many who called Him Lord and tell them that He does not know them. They are not living as He has called them to live. They still live in the darkness, doing the wrong things right rather than doing as wisdom instructs.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8
In this day, we should be watchful and alert, doing as God has called us to do, living as God has created us to live. We are in Christ, saved by His blood and Spirit, called out of darkness into the light. In that light, we are to love God with our whole being and our neighbours as ourselves, doing what is right according to the wisdom granted by God’s Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Wisdom is the understanding of what is true, right and lasting and is found only in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If you are still sleeping, if you are still living in darkness today is the day to wake up and see the light. God has given you His Holy Spirit to give you the strength to be self-controlled. He has given you the faith and love to wear as a breastplate. His life is your hope of salvation. You have no excuse to continue to walk in darkness, to do the wrong things right. Today is the day to do the right things. Thanks be to God.
Christmas tree We went to purchase a Christmas tree for our home yesterday afternoon. I was anxious to find a special tree, since last year was so unusual for us. We were in the process of moving from Europe to Arkansas and all our Christmas decorations were already in transit. We hung a paper tree on the wall with ornaments the children made. We used Christmas wrapping paper for our curtains. We spent Christmas in Austria and had the most wonderful time. Yet this year, we have looked forward to having a real Christmas at home once again.
It was important to find the perfect tree, so we went to one of those cut-your-own farms. As we began our trek to the field of trees, the guide told us about the types they have planted. One was a long-needled pine. The other was a cyprus. He pointed to a field of cyprus trees close by that were very young. Both Bruce and I rejected those because they had very flimsy branches that blue easily in the breeze. There was no way a tree like that would hold our special ornaments.
As we began wandering in the field of pine trees, we noticed that every one had dead needles in the middle. It has been a very dry year here in Arkansas and the drought has affected the trees. Some of the trees had dead branches, making the damage quite noticeable. I looked across the field and noticed a large cyprus tree that had a beautiful shape. The branches of a mature tree are much stronger, easily capable of holding our favourite ornaments. We also saw that the cyprus trees were not nearly as affected by the lack of water. They were very healthy and had no dead needles near the trunk. After a few minutes mulling over every tree in the field, we cut down our favourite and brought it home. The lights and ornaments fit perfectly and the tree is lovely.
Our Christian walk is much like the growth of a tree. In the early days, our branches are weak and easily blown by the wind. It seems like we’ll never stand under the weight of whatever burdens are placed on us. Yet, as we grow and mature, we become strong as God fills us with understanding and His wisdom. As children our understanding is limited, so we reason from a very shallow perspective. We tend to focus our attention on the gifts that are seen and felt. Our love is not a deep, abiding love, but rather a love based on our emotions and needs. But as we grow in faith, our understanding of God’s love becomes much greater. We come to the realization that we owe everything to Him. We set aside the childish ways and are able to stand firm under the burdens of life, knowing that it is God Himself, out of His deep and abiding love for us, who has given us the strength to stand. In that faith we live in the love of Christ, sharing that true love with others.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Our growth is not complete, and will not reach perfection until the Day of our Lord. We look forward to that day, watchful and expectant. Now we see the Lord as He has appeared before us, as a babe in a manger and a man on the cross. We see Him as our Saviour, God in flesh, but our understanding is not yet complete. One day we will see Him face to face. In that day we will be taken home, to live for eternity in the glory of our Lord. Everything will fit perfectly as we fully abide in the love that has abided in us. Thanks be to God.
Promotion We recently found out that my husband will receive a promotion to the highest enlisted rank in the United States Air Force. He has worked hard for many years to achieve this position and it is one he is looking forward to filling. Even though the actual promotion date is still a number of weeks away, he is already seeing added responsibilities and respect.
We have been hoping for this promotion for a number of years, but it has not come. Both his superiors and those who work for him have long respected him; everyone has had good things to say. His paperwork has been quite impressive, with awards and good reports. Yet, it was never quite enough to get the promotion. The good words and physical evidence of his work showed his achievement, but it was the actual promotion that made it complete.
We can talk nicely about people, we can even commend them before men, but the true blessing in our relationships comes when we are actively involved in their lives. We certainly like hearing the good words and have the recognition we deserve for the work we do, yet there is always something missing when there is no real connection between people. Our work is useless if there is no love; it is fruitless if there is no action.
The Lord God Almighty has always meant for our relationship with Him to be more than just something superficial. His love has reached far beyond that of the other gods the world worshipped. In the Old Testament, when the Lord was establishing the nation of Israel and directing her in His ways, He provided everything she needed to be His – life, provision, hope and faith. His blessing went far beyond meeting the physical needs of His children. He made them prosperous so that the other nations would know they were blessed. He was with them and they lived in the peace that comes from the presence of God. He directed the priests to speak a blessing upon the people so that the world would know that they were His.
Read Numbers 6:22-27
This three-fold blessing directed by God was more than just words to the people; it was a promise that God would be with them. In today’s churches we often use the same words as we end a service. We are asking God to continue to take care of our needs, to grant us everything necessary to do His work and to be near us so that we will know His peace. That peace can come only from God Himself and it is more than a lack of violence in the world. The peace that comes from God turning toward us is a state of total well-being.
Bruce has finally reached the pinnacle of his work and career. The words and commendations he received over the years were nice, but not enough. By choosing him to receive this promotion, they have shown that they value him as a member of the services. God values us, too. His love is so great that He took on the flesh of man to live and die so that we can truly be reconciled to Him. The peace we seek is found in our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the answer to the prayer and the fulfillment of this blessing. God not only turned His face toward His people, but He came to live among us and to die for our sin. Now, as Christians we wear His name and live a life of true blessing, one of peace and well-being in His Kingdom. Thanks be to God.
Fear Factor I haven’t watched the show called “Fear Factor.” According to the commercials I have seen, it takes people and puts them in the middle of their worst fears to see if they can survive. The 30-second trailers show people in situations that cause them to scream and squirm. This new type of reality TV is popular. People like to watch others in situations that cause them pain and suffering.
There are some who believe that fear is a healthy emotion in our lives. They justify movies and television shows that glorify fear by saying they help us to cope during the times of real danger. However, fear can take over our lives. The times in which we live are scary. Terrorism looms at our door and we do not know our enemy. The cases of cancer and other diseases seem to be growing. Though there are cures for many of these diseases, even the treatment is frightening. Viruses are becoming immune to our antibiotics. There is a greater likelihood of violence affecting our lives, particularly among the young. We live in a society where there is much to fear.
Fear is something that we should not allow to rule our lives. Fear is defined as ‘alarm and agitation caused by the expectation or realization of danger.’ Fear can help us be watchful and prepared to deal with those moments when we need to protect our lives or families. However, a life of fear will only bring harm to our emotional, physical and spiritual health. There is one fear that should be a part of our lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.” This is a different kind of fear. It is a trust in and obedience of God’s Word.
Martin Luther spoke during one of his table talks about the difference in how God and Satan use fear. He said that the Lord first allows us to be afraid so that He might relieve our fears and comfort us. The devil first makes us feel secure in our pride and sins, that we might later be overwhelmed with our fear and despair. The devil uses our security to his benefit by threatening to destroy the things we love. So, we become afraid and do everything we can to protect our lives, our homes, our families, our jobs and our things. We even willfully disobey the Word of God, living in anger, hatred, violence and war, justifying our actions as a way to overcome the things of this world that threaten our lives.
The fear of the Lord is much different. The Law provides for us an insight into our own sinful nature. Through it we can see our inability to be obedient. We know of God’s power and justice, so we fear the wrath that we deserve. Yet, God comes to us through the Gospel, not with threats, but with love and mercy and grace. Jesus Christ relieves our fears and the Holy Spirit comforts us. We hear the promises of God that He will not destroy us, but rather He will give us eternal life in His Kingdom. Rather than reason for alarm, we are given reason for hope and peace.
Read Psalm 147:7-11
Yes, we live in a dangerous world, one where we need to be prepared to face whatever harm may come our way. But as Christians we are to fear only the Lord God Almighty, for it is there we will find true peace. Our bodies and our material possessions may be destroyed by the powers of this world, however when we fear the Lord, by trusting in Him and being obedient to His Word, we have nothing to fear in this life. Thanks be to God.
Directions I went to a Christmas party last night with the spouse’s group of my husband’s squadron. We enjoyed good food, wonderful fellowship and exchanged Christmas presents. The hostess worked very hard to make it an enjoyable evening for all of us. The party took place at the home she and her husband share, several miles from here. Since it was in a development I’ve never visited before, it was necessary to get instructions. Joe drew a map and gave it to Bruce. He explained the directions and ended with, “You have to drive by Jesus to get to our house.” Their house was a few blocks into the development and a beautiful decorated house stood as a landmark. Once we passed that display we would see their house on the left.
It was a fun way to lead me to their home, but it made me think. How often do we pass by Jesus to get to our destination? During this hectic holiday season, what things are we forgetting to do while we rush around in the hustle bustle of the season. As we talked last night, many of the ladies shared how busy they are with work and other commitments. Many are finding it impossible to accomplish everything they need to accomplish.
One friend, a social worker, is drowning in work right now. For those families with little or no income, the holidays are an especially difficult time. My friend’s office is helping provide Christmas presents for families all over Arkansas so that the children will have some Christmas. She recently got a call from a single mom with a twelve-year-old son. The woman had just lost her job and had no way to provide for the boy. “Can you help?” My friend thought, “I’m already overwhelmed, there is no way I can take on another project.” She said, “Yes, we’ll find you help.” She knew that she could not pass by.
Read Matthew 10:40-42
My destination last night was a party at a friend’s house, and along the way I passed by Jesus. In this case, it was just a beautiful yard display, which I enjoyed seeing. Everyday we pass by people who need something from us – our love, a smile, a message of hope or a reminder of God’s grace. Others need more tangible help, such as a present to give to their child or some meat for Christmas dinner. There are plenty of opportunities to share of our wealth during this time of year, through organizations like food banks and Toys for Tots. However, we should also be watching for those small things we can do for the people who cross our paths. If we don’t, we might be passing right by Jesus. It is in living the life that Christ has given to you, by sharing Him with others, that you’ll find the true blessings of this season. Thanks be to God.
John the Baptist John the Baptist came for two purposes – to announce that the kingdom of God was near and to call for repentance. He rejected the religious order and societal expectations of the day. As the first-born son of a priest, it would have been his duty to follow his father’s footsteps. The priests lived well, dressing appropriately for their station, resting in comfortable homes and eating well. John lived in the desert, dressed in camels’ hair and ate locusts and honey.
John was unusual but the people flocked to the River Jordan to be baptized by him. He had many disciples who followed him and helped to baptize the masses who came to the river. One day, his cousin Jesus came to be baptized. By the Spirit of God, John knew that Jesus was far greater than himself; He was the Son of God. John knew that he was unworthy to even touch Jesus’ sandals, a task meant for only the least of the servants, yet consented and baptized Jesus. In the months that followed, John’s ministry began to dwindle as some of his disciples began to follow Jesus. Andrew was a disciple of John when he heard him proclaim Jesus was the Lamb of God and he left John to follow Jesus.
When John ended up in prison, his followers questioned his words. After all, could someone so blessed with the knowledge of the Kingdom of God end up in prison? Some months later, Jesus was preaching and healing around the country, but he did not seem to fulfill the expectation that the people had of Him. They thought Messiah was to be a political entity, a new king. But Jesus only talked about the kingdom of heaven and forgiveness. He healed the sick and cared for those who were rejected by the religious and political leaders.
After several months in prison, John and his disciples may have been understandably disappointed and frightened. Nothing was going as they expected. John may have even hoped that Jesus would rescue him from prison. He was the forerunner, the one the prophets spoke about who would announce the Messiah. How could he do his work if he was stuck in prison and if the people stopped listening?
Read Matthew 11:2-6
A member of our bible study asked, “If John knew earlier that Jesus was the Lamb of God, how could he ask this question?” We don’t know for sure the reason. Perhaps he was discouraged. John knew that he had to become less so Jesus could become more, yet this was worse than he expected. Perhaps he did it so that his discouraged disciples would hear the words from Jesus Himself and understand. Jesus sent word back to John, using the promises given by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35) as proof that He was the One. Jesus was healing the sick and preaching the good news to the poor. He encouraged John to remain patient and to stand firm in his belief.
As we look around the world today, there are many reasons to be discouraged. There is violence and hatred, pain and poverty. We have so many worries and burdens that distract us from the joy of life. At times we wonder, “Is He really who I think He is?” Yes, Jesus Christ is your Saviour. He loves you. Rest assured and stand firm in the knowledge that God’s promises have been, are being and will be fulfilled through Jesus Christ the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Searching We all spend time looking for something. For many it is a better job. Others are looking for the perfect relationship. Some are searching for happiness. But the greatest quest of all is the search for God. Many people are trying to fill a spiritual emptiness. It is particularly true during times like those in which we live – when we are facing the big questions of life and death. The fear and uncertainty that has consumed our lives leaves us searching for answers through prayer, reading of holy texts and religious experiences. During the weeks that followed the attack on America in September, many people were found congregating with others of similar faith. The churches were filled with people seeking something. As the weeks have passed, the congregations have thinned out once again and people are returning to their normal lives. They did not find what they were looking for, so they’ve moved on to some other search.
Throughout the history of mankind there have always been prophets who have claimed to speak with and for the divine. God did appoint some to be prophets, He put His word in their mouths so that His people would know Him. Yet, there were many who were false prophets. In the Old Testament times, it was easy to identify the prophets because they wore garments made of hair and often had wounds on their body. In their quest to seek the Lord, they would slash their own chests, to bring about a prophetic ecstasy in religious ceremonies involving their idols. God warned of these people and promised a day when there would be no more false prophets.
Read Zechariah 13:1-6
God never intended for His prophets to seek Him in a manner that would bring harm to themselves or others. When He spoke through a person, He did so by the power of the Holy Spirit, placing His word in their mouths, as He did for Moses, Elijah and the other prophets. The false prophets sought too hard to find the divine, but what they found was not the Lord God Almighty, but a self-centered faith.
There are still many false prophets in this world. They seek for God in all the wrong places, when He is easily found in our Lord Jesus Christ. The false prophets are more difficult to recognize today, they rarely dress in garments of hair or cut their bodies to induce the ecstasy of Old Testament prophets. They hide behind ministries that appear to be true, but they do not speak the Word of God that is found in our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus. He is not their foundation; they preach a gospel that is centered in self or some other god.
Jesus Christ has come to cleanse the world of our impurity. He did so at the cross and through His resurrection we have the hope of the world to come. Today, we should continue to seek the Lord through prayer and study of His Holy Word as found in the scriptures. But we must beware of trying too hard to find Him. If we seek the Lord as the prophets of old, we will never find the truth that is found in Christ. We will be left with wounds on our soul. Jesus Christ has come to us from heaven above. He has come to fill the emptiness in our souls, to heal our wounds and cleanse us from all that makes us impure. Look for God in Christ Jesus. He is the answer. Thanks be to God.
Mentors We have a mentoring volunteer program in our school district. Each volunteer is asked to give one hour a week to spend time with a child and be his or her friend. The adult and child talk, play games, read together or eat lunch. During the year, the mentor may help the child put together special projects. Some mentors have been with their children for their entire school career. They have given the children some extra support to help them succeed.
Throughout history, the greatest Christian leaders had adults who guided their faith and ministry. St. Augustine would not even be a Christian if it had not been for his mother’s support. She prayed for him for years, until he finally turned from his wicked ways and was converted. Peter Boehler was a Moravian who showed John Wesley how to have a personal, restful trust in God.
English preachers rejected the work that was being done by men like Martin Luther early in the Reformation. Hugh Latimer was one of the most vocal teachers who attacked him. A scholar from Cambridge University named Thomas Bilney understood the work of the reformers and prayed that God would use him to lead Latimer to understanding. Bilney himself had come to understand the truth of the Gospel by one line of scripture, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) One day after listening to Latimer rant about the Reformation, Bilney took him aside and shared that verse. From that moment, Hugh Latimer led the English into the Reformation with a simple faith in Christ.
We all have some person or people in our lives who have helped lead us in our lives of faith. It may be a parent, pastor, teacher or friend. These people helped guide our walk with Christ by sharing their faith and understanding. It is because of their encouragement and love that we can do the work God has called us to do. Every Christian is a disciple, born anew to live in Christ and share His Gospel with the world. We could not do it without the help of those who came before.
Read Mark 6:6b-13
The disciples had the greatest mentor, our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. They were the first to then go and share the message of Christ with the world, encouraging other Christians and teaching them to live according to the Word of God. In the two thousand years since Jesus Christ walked on the earth, millions of people have been led to a life in Christ by disciples such as Augustine’s mother, Peter Boehler or Thomas Bilney.
Who will you mentor into a life of discipleship today? Will it be your child, a neighbor or a friend? Will you help a preacher who rants against the truth of the Gospel find a simple faith in Christ? Jesus gave his disciples all they needed, the faith to go out and do His work. He does the same for us, touching us through the lives of those who come before so that we will go out and continue to work. He then touches others through our own lives, passing the faith from generation to generation.
The mentoring program at school is established so adults can touch the lives of the children who need some extra guidance and love. The mentors do not need any special talents; they simply must care for the child. The same is true of Christian mentors. It doesn’t take years of training to share your faith and encourage discipleship in another. It takes only faith in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Christmas Lights The show “Home Improvement” starred Tim Allen as Tim “the toolman” Taylor. The most humorous aspect of the show was how Tim had the tendency to overdo everything. When he got a new tool, he added more power – so much power that the tool always blew up in his face. Tim spent so much time in the Emergency room that he knew the doctors and nurses by name. He always had some sort of bandage on his body.
Some of the funniest episodes were when Tim put on his Christmas display. He was constantly trying to out do a doctor in his neighborhood to win a contest. His house from yard to roof was covered in animated characters, symbols and every sort of light. Tim used so much electricity for his display that either burned out the system or needed sunglasses to look at it. His creation led to more misadventures as he fell off the roof or ended up wrapped in strands of lights. This storyline made for good laughs because it seemed so outrageous that anyone would go that far with their Christmas display.
Yet, there is someone in every neighborhood that is like Tim. They fill their yard with thousands of twinkling lights. We went for a drive through our neighborhood last night to look at the lights. It was wonderful to see how everyone shares their joy of the season. Many of the houses had symbols of the secular aspects of Christmas – Santa Claus, elves and candy canes. Others had a patriotic theme, with red, white and blue covered trees. Yet others focused on the message of Christ’s birth. Many people spent lots of time and money to create a beautiful display.
Why do we do this at Christmas? For one thing, the lights take away the gloom and darkness of winter. There have long been traditions involving candles and fires in the dark days of December. The Christmas story itself has many references to light. The light that is the glory of the Lord surrounded the angels who reported the birth to the shepherds. The wise men were led to the manger by a bright light in the sky. But the greatest light in the story is Jesus Himself. He is the light of the world.
Read John 1:1-13
Jesus Christ is the light of the world and for Christians He is the reason for this season. There are many who light their homes just for the fun of it and we share in their gift. Yet there is no greater gift than the one given to us by the Lord God Almighty, the gift of His Son. The Christmas lights on homes bring light to the darkness of winder, but our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, brings light to the darkness of our world. Men like Tim may go overboard with the decorations, and they may do it for all the wrong reasons, but be thankful for the joy they give to many because of their work. Even more so, as you enjoy the lights of this season, be thankful for the greatest light of all, Jesus Christ, who overcame darkness so that we can be children of God. Amen.
Puddles It has been raining in Arkansas and around the region. Several weeks ago the weathermen were reporting that our annual rainfall was well below normal. Over the weekend, Little Rock had a total rainfall of nearly four inches. Other places around the state had five or more inches. The annual rainfall total is now well above normal.
The weather warnings include flash flood watches today. Many roads have been closed and several schools have closed for the day. There are huge puddles everywhere, including over roadways. It is dangerous to drive through such a puddle, because you cannot see how deep it really is. A story on the news showed a car driving through such flooding and the headlights disappeared below the surface of the water. The lake near our home has risen over a foot over the past week. Lakefront benches are now underwater and the pathways are mud. Our yard is a marshy mess with standing water all around the house.
Though we needed the rain, it has been too much. The children have been stuck inside, driving has been more difficult and we are all suffering from the effects of cold damp weather. The rain is even affecting our Christmas lights. In the days to come, the rivers and lakes will continue to rise, cresting several days after the rain stops. The danger will continue in the next few days and anyone with homes near these bodies of water will need to take precautions to protect their homes and lives.
During conversations yesterday, I heard several people making humorous references to Noah and his ark, wondering if we should be thinking about building our own. We all got a good laugh out of the jokes, and yet there are people who are frightened about the future. What will happen to their home? It is at times like this that we begin to question the promises made by God.
Read Genesis 9:14-17
This promise was made to mankind, that God would not destroy the whole earth by the waters of a flood. Yet, when a localized flood destroys your whole world – your home, family and livelihood – it is hard to realize that God is keeping His promises. The same is true when we suffer in other ways. Our faith rests in God’s promises, which includes caring for our physical well-being. However, we still get sick and die, we still suffer financial difficulties and persecution. During those times of hardship we often forget that God does keep His promises.
The promises of God have been fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. During those times when we doubt, we look to the cross for our comfort and strength. Without Him, we would not be able to go on. He provides all we need to take us day to day in this world. Are the floodwaters raging at your door? Remember that God has fulfilled His promises and our hope does not rest in the things of this world. Our faith and hope is in Jesus Christ and the world to come. Though times may seem difficult today, stand firm in your Savior. He will see you through. Thanks be to God.
Illness Today is the feast day for Saint Winebald, a son of Saint Richard the Saxon of England from the eighth century. Winebald went on a pilgrimage with his father and brother to Rome. He spent time as a student there and became a monk. He went with St. Boniface to Germany to share the Gospel and he became a priest there. He took charge of seven churches and despite the efforts of the locals to hamper his work, he pressed on. He eventually joined his brother at a cloister and together they founded a monastery for both men and women. They brought their sister to be in charge of the nuns and Winebald became Abbott.
The thing that makes Winebald’s story so incredible is that he accomplished all this while he suffered a grave illness. He had become sick during his journey to Rome and never fully recovered. He was patient in his suffering even though the last three years of his life were spent in great pain. He often could not even leave his cell, even for worship.
There are modern examples of people who have continued to do incredible things though they were disabled by dis-ease in their bodies – Christopher Reeve, Muhammad Ali, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Michael J. Fox are just a few examples. Each one in his own way has risen above his suffering to impact the world. We all can name people from our lives – friends, family, and members of our congregations – that have done incredible things in the face of suffering. Not all have done so for the sake of God’s glory, yet God has a way of working in and through the most difficult of circumstances.
Read John 9:1-5
Throughout the ages, illness was seen as some sort of punishment for individual sins. Even in the modern world, many claim that suffering is deserved because of past actions. Too many who hear that sickness has entered their body lay everything aside and wallow in guilt and despair. They stop living and just wait for death. Those who overcome look beyond their own circumstances and continue to live with a purpose. The greatest examples of this come from the lives of Christians who continue to witness to the greatness of God, His forgiveness and love. The Gospel is proclaimed in their lives as it shines out of the darkness that is their illness.
St. Winebald walked in faith, even when he could not walk. His life glorified God because he did not allow his flesh to stand in the way of his faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross has overcome whatever suffering we face in this life. Though our bodies may fail, our true life is found in Him. In the scripture for today, Jesus says that we must do the work of him who sent him. He includes all of us, no matter our circumstances. He has made it possible, so go in faith and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymns “Music is God's gift to man, the only art of heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to heaven,” said Walter Savage Landor, an 18th century English writer. Through this gift of music we are able to express ourselves – our joy, our hope, our faith and even our despair. Hymns make it possible for us to share Christian fellowship with other believers as we worship God and sing His praise in one voice.
Stories surround the creation of many of the hymns. They tell of sinners who are converted from their old ways of life by the grace of God (John Newton, Amazing Grace), pastors who decline positions of prestige and success to stay in the midst of a loving Christian community (John Fawcett, Blest be the Tie that Binds) and writers whose novels are forgotten except for a small poem recited by a character to comfort a dying child (Anna B. Warner, Jesus loves me). The hymn writers shared their love of God and their hope for His fulfilled promises in word that were eventually set to music.
Many of the hymns we sing today were set to the music of the great composers such as Bach or Handel. “The Hymn of Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth or “Choral” Symphony is one of the most widely adopted hymn tunes. What makes this incredible is that Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony when he was over thirty years old and completely deaf. That piece of music is a true gift from God that has glorified Him for ages.
The words of the song “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee” were set to the tune of “The Hymn of Joy.” This is the best-known hymn of Henry van Dyke, a Presbyterian preacher and Navy Chaplain during World War I. He explained his writing in these words, “These verses are simple expressions of common Christian feelings and desires in this present time, hymns of today that may be sung together by people who know the thought of the age, and are not afraid that any truth of science will destroy their religion or that any revolution on earth will overthrow the kingdom of heaven. Therefore these are hymns of trust and hope.”
“Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee” speaks of the joy we have in God’s great mercy and grace. It is a hymn of praise and joy. The second verse tells that all of creation calls us to rejoice in His greatness. “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in thee.”
Read Isaiah 35:1-2
Music is truly God’s gift to mankind, a way for us to praise Him when mere words are not enough. Creation cries out to all of us to see the glory of God and to rejoice in His splendor. Even the incredible ability of a deaf man to create one of the most beloved hymn tunes speaks of God’s greatness. As you walk in grace this day, take time to see how God’s creation – from flower to desert to mountaintop – praises God and glorifies Him. Then join in the song and thank God for His many blessings.
Closer Christmas Day is soon upon us. As each day passes, more of the work to prepare for our special day is complete. The shopping is finished, the presents are wrapped, the cards have been mailed and the cookies are baked. The house is decorated, ready to receive visitors who come to share in the joy of the season. The children are excited about the days to come, with school closed for the holiday and fun activities planned. There is joy in our hearts as we turn our attention from the work of Advent to the celebration of our Savior’s birth.
Over the past few weeks, through this Advent season, our preparation has gone beyond outward appearances. We have looked into our own hearts, our attitudes, our hopes and faith. We have heard the words of John the Baptist, reminding us to repent of our self-centeredness and to turn to the Lord. We have been reminded of the promises of God, His faithfulness and His mercy. Through the voices of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, we have heard the message of Hope that is to come. That message is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who came first in the manger more than two thousand years ago and who will come again when the time is right. God has heard the cry of His people and He has answered.
Read Psalm 28:6-9
We still have a few days before we can celebrate the birth of our Savior. We do not know how long we have until His return. We will continue to look forward to that day with hope and faith, knowing the God is an awesome God who keeps His promises. The day of our salvation came so many years ago at the manger and at the cross. The day of our salvation is now as we hear God’s word and He fills us with His Spirit. The day of our salvation is to come when He returns to bless us with our inheritance and He carries us into eternity to live in His glory forever. Thanks and praise to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The preparation is nearly complete, Come Lord Jesus!
Alarm clock When the children are in school, we get up very early in the morning. Zack leaves for school shortly after 6:00 a.m. and Vicki around 7:00 a.m. My alarm clock is set for 5:00 a.m. so we can get up, get breakfast and prepare for the day. Now that school is closed for the winter holiday, I don’t bother to set my alarm because we can sleep late in the morning.
Felix doesn’t understand this change. On normal mornings he comes to my side as soon as the alarm rings to help me get out of bed. For the past few mornings, Felix has been at my side at exactly 5:00 a.m. as if my clock has not working. “Awake, awake, the morning is here.” The first time he did this, I thought it was because he was hungry, but Bruce had already fed him. It was Sunday morning, and I was very tired, so I decided to wait until after church to write the message for the day. Felix came at his usual time and would not let me go until I got up. He was not hungry; he just knew it was time for me to get up.
Isaiah the prophet served the Lord during the time of the Assyrian expansion. Judah’s greatest problem at the time was that they did not trust in God alone for their protection, but turned to other nations for their help. That very defense is what led them into captivity. Isaiah’s writing speaks of God’s judgment and his salvation. He warns the Jews to be obedient, foretells the consequences and encourages them to continue to hope in God’s faithfulness. He cries out for the people to wake up, hear God’s voice and rest in His word. They have work to do. They have been created to glorify God with their faith – blessed to be a blessing. God spoke through Isaiah to remind them who they are – His people.
Read Isaiah 51:12-16
Felix wakes me up because he somehow knows I have things to accomplish. God spoke through Isaiah to wake up the Jews so that they could accomplish the work He had given to them. The work was not difficult; they simply needed to have faith. However, they thought they needed the aid of other nations, so joined together with them in war. Even in their failure, God speaks of His mercy and grace. Even when they deny Him, He calls them His people.
How often do we fear, doubt and turn to men for our protection even though God has promised to be our comfort? Why do we continue to sleep, turning to the ways of the world rather than doing what God has created us to do – simply live in faith? God is truly an awesome God. He created everything that is and yet has chosen you to His people. The world does hold many dangers, but God is faithful. Wake up. Do not turn to the power of men to protect you. God is your refuge and your strength. Thanks be to God.
Presents In a recent episode of the comic strip “Luann”, Luann and her mom had just come home from shopping, overloaded with bags full of gifts. Luann said, “Holiday shopping is like 80% of some stores business, Dad.” Her mom added, “We’re being patriotic, honey, helping the sagging economy.”
Christmas is just three days away. The shopping malls are expected to be jam packed with people doing their last minute shopping. The experts are saying that this weekend will be even more profitable for the shops than the weekend following Thanksgiving, which is normally the biggest weekend of the year. People have put off their shopping for one reason or another. We live in an uncertain world today, our safety is threatened and we are concerned about tomorrow. We wonder about the security of our jobs, our homes, and our families. Will someone come into our lives and steal everything we hold dear like they did to the families who were victims on September 11?
Even with this uncertainty, people are shopping for gifts to give. There is something about Christmas that makes us want to share whatever blessings we have. We need to see the faces of our children light up with joy when they open that special doll or truck. Our need for human companionship is magnified at this time of year and we want to show those we love how much we care. We can certainly do that without all the glitz and glitter of the presents under the tree, and yet the gifts are tangible evidence of our love. At a time like this, it seems even more important to have something to physically hold on to.
The danger at Christmas time is that the gifts often become the focus, rather than the reason for celebration. For many children, Santa and his presents are far more important than the baby in the manger. Yet, we should not abandon the tradition. Gifts at Christmas has been a tradition for a long time, going back to the visit from the magi who brought gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense to the new born Christ. We do not have the living Christ with whom to share our gifts, but we continue the tradition out of thankfulness for the greatest gift of all, given to us by God on that beautiful night in the stable.
Read 1 John 3:1-3
Though we do not have Christ in flesh with whom we can share our love and wealth, He still lives. He lives in the hearts of His children. By sharing our blessings with the world, even through something so worldly as Christmas presents, it is just like giving to God Himself for He delights in our unselfishness. Many who are shopping today have other motives – they are supporting a weak economy or giving because it expected. This is true even among Christians. Yet, as we grow in faith, our gifts are truly from the heart, for it is His love that is shared with the world.
One day we will give more than just a pretty package with sparkly ribbons and bows. The day will come when we give everything back to God and we will live in His presence forever. Until that day, we will give as we can, sanctified a little more each day by His love. Thanks be to God.
It has been several months since I’ve taken a day off from writing the daily word, so I thought I would take a short break by reaching into the archives for the next few days. This was first run on December 23, 1999.
Reader Poetry has never been my favorite form of literature. I rarely seem to understand the intent of the writer, so am therefore confused about the meaning of the poem. I have a dear friend who writes poetry. One day he sent a poem, and jokingly told me to send back a report about the poem. As I read and studied this wonderful story in verse, I found myself interjecting my own thoughts and feelings into the poem. Through writing in response to that lovely gift of words, I learned a valuable lesson. When I apologized for making the poem my own, he told me that it is what is supposed to happen. Once the writer gives it away, it belongs to the reader.
I recently watched a documentary on the writing of the Bible. At the end, the expert being interviewed said that in his opinion, "Who wrote the Bible is far less significant than who reads it. It is the reader who keeps it alive, especially those who read with their heart, soul and mind." He also commented that as long as there is a need to hear from God, the Bible would exist for those to read it.
Read Revelation 1:3
God, the master author, has given you His Word to read. As you read it, put yourself into the words, the stories, the love and mercy. Make it your own, so that it becomes a part of you and you become a part of the Word. It is through your life that God's Word remains alive for the world. As someone once said, "You may be the only Bible some people will ever read."
Blessed are you who read the scriptures. The world will be blessed through you as Jesus Christ comes alive in your day-to-day living.
It has been several months since I’ve taken a day off from writing the daily word, so I thought I would take a short break by reaching into the archives for the next few days. This was first run on January 12, 2000.
Poinsettias One of my favourite Christmas traditions is having a poinsettia in the house. These beautiful flowers bring colour and life to our home. The other day, a friend noticed his poinsettia was dying, and asked if he should try to bring it back to life. I said, “Why bother, it is just a weed.”
These flowers are highly misunderstood. They were named after Joel Poinsett, a US statesman who brought them to America after visiting Mexico. In the wild, these weeds grow up to ten feet high and are even found growing on the sides of the road. Over the past few centuries, these plants have been cultivated into the beautiful flowers we purchase as gifts or for ourselves over the holidays.
The flower however, is not what you would expect it to be. We look at the beautiful red, salmon or white ‘petals’ and think this is the flower. They are not. They are bracts or modified leaves. The flower is actually the tiny yellow centre of the plant.
It is possible to keep these flowers alive from year to year, but that takes more care than most people are willing to give. So, these weeds last a season and are tossed in the garbage heap.
Read Ephesians 3:16-19
As we begin new relationships, it is like we’ve gotten a beautiful new poinsettia. We see how beautiful the leaves look, and do not look at the true flower. After a time, we begin to see imperfections. How easily we cast away our fellow man when their leaves begin to fall!
God does not cast us away. He sees our heart, our true self that is often ignored by the world. As we begin to fade, He nurtures us so that we might grow more beautiful for His glory. We are rooted in His love. I pray that this day you might fully grasp this love of our Father.
The Story of our Savior’s Birth
The Light, Genesis 1:1-5
The Fall, Genesis 3:8-15
The Promise, Genesis 22:15-18
The Prophecy, Isaiah 9:2-7
The Place, Micah 5:2-5
The Mother, Luke 1:26-38
Magnificat, Mary’s Song, Luke 1:46-55
The Birth, Luke 2:1-7
The Proclamation, Luke 2:8-16
The Mystery, John 1:1-14
On this Christmas Day, as we are buried in the piles of papers from the gifts of love and joy we share with one another, let us give thanks to God for the greatest gift of all, His Son our Savior Jesus Christ, light from light, who brings redemption to our fallen world. We have seen the glory, Hallelujah! Our Christmas wish, from our house to yours, is that you will have a blessed and bright Christmas Day. Thanks be to God.
Surprises Christmas was filled with surprises for the children this year. Their presents were things they wanted, but did not think of to ask. Zack received a compact disc player and some CDs and Vicki found a new bike under the tree. There were also surprises for Bruce and I. The children had so much fun keeping their secret from me, giggling about how my present was the biggest box on the pile. Vicki was especially guilty of this game. Imagine her shock and amazement when she saw her box on Christmas morning!
Christmas has long been a time of wonder. The lights on the trees and the pretty packages wrapped in colorful paper are filled with love. The children look starry eyed at the magical wonderland of Santa and his elves in video and at that mall. No matter how often we do it, we are always shocked at the long lines at the stores as everyone shops for the perfect gift. Amazement is a state of extreme shock and wonder, it is not always a good thing.
During His ministry, Jesus often amazed the crowds. They saw Him perform incredible miracles, but it did not always bring about repentance or faith. In the beginning, many people began to follow Him because of the amazing things He did. As He continued His ministry, His message became harder for them to hear. The early days were filled with wonder, as they pondered the question of Jesus’ identity and purpose. The later days were filled with shock and bewilderment when Jesus did not fulfill their expectations.
Read Mark 1:21-28
The wonder of Christmas is still upon us. We can still hear the sleigh bells ringing and recall the beauty of our candlelight worship on Christmas Eve. The sweet baby born to us in Bethlehem is still in the manger and the thoughts of the cross of Christ are far off in our minds. We are still in a time of wonder, a time of joy. The memories of Christmas will fade as we see the decorations removed and we find credit card bills in our mail. The joy of the surprises under the tree will disappear as the toys are broken and discarded.
This story of Jesus casting a demon out of a person came very early in His ministry. They shared the wonder of what they saw with others, spreading the news of this great man to the whole region. Jesus cast other demons that did not bring such reaction. In Mark 5, Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs, which jumped over a steep bank into a lake and were drowned. The people were afraid and begged Jesus to leave. In Mark 3, the teachers of the law claimed that it was by Beelzebub, not by God, that Jesus cast the demons.
As the wonder of Christmas passes, how will we react to the work of Jesus in our lives? We will continue to be amazed, wondering at the great and glorious gift of salvation He brings? Or will our amazement be shock as He accomplishes the work of God in such a strange manner? I pray that the wonder of Christmas will continue for you each day and that the miracles of Jesus and the work of the cross will always be seen with joy.
Potluck dinners Throughout the children’s school years, the parent volunteer organization at their schools often held potluck dinners for the teachers. It was a party in appreciation for the work they do for our kids. During the planning stage of these dinners, the organizers often wonder if there will be enough food. Even the day of the party, the fare seems light, not enough to feed the many who will come seeking food. Yet, as time goes on, more and more parents bring in delightful dishes. On one occasion, we were so concerned about the amount of food, we sent someone to the grocery store to buy rolls and lunchmeat to make sandwiches. By the time she returned, there was no room to put it on the serving table.
We have all had experiences like this – when we were unsure if our resources would be enough to meet our needs. My own family has lived the last few months on a prayer that God would see us through. We have tried to change our habits, living within our means, though we have failed miserably at times in the past few months. Through it all, God has remained faithful, providing for our needs even when we have been less than faithful stewards of His gifts.
Jesus often taught His disciples to trust in God’s provision by presenting them with impossible situations. They were sent to share the Gospel with nothing – no extra clothing, no food, no money. Jesus told them to rely on the hospitality of the people where they were teaching. I can’t imagine leaving on a journey with nothing. I tend to over pack to ensure that I will be able to meet every possible need along the way. One of the most incredible stories was when Jesus wanted to feed five thousand people who were following Him.
Read John 6:1-13
In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s version of this story, the disciples told Jesus to send the people away so that they could find something to eat. In this story, Philip sees this as an impossible situation. Eight month’s wages would not even begin to feed the crowd. Andrew noticed a young boy with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He pointed it out to Jesus.
Jesus threw a potluck for five thousand, and only one small boy brought a dish. Yet Jesus was able to feed the entire crowd until they were stuffed full. In this story, Jesus filled the bellies of the people, supplied their physical needs. In the process, He taught the disciples a lesson in trust. God will fulfill their physical needs. Five barley loaves and two fish would have probably fed the disciples and Jesus. How easy it would have been to keep it for themselves and send the crowd to seek food on their own. Yet, Jesus met their needs, the needs of the crowd and even had leftovers to share.
When we are faced with the challenges of life, will we try to solve the situation by our own means or trust in God’s provision? At the school potluck, we went to purchase unnecessary food because we feared not having enough. In the life of our family, we’ve considered possible job situations that would help financially. In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples wanted to send the people away. In every case, God already had a plan and He was faithful even when we weren’t. Thanks be to God.
The Nanny “She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, ‘til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes. What was she to do? Where was she to go? She was out on her fanny... So over the bridge from Flushing to the Sheffield's door. She was there to sell make-up, but the father saw more. She had style! She had flair! She was there. That's how she became the Nanny!”***
These lyrics are the theme song from a show called, “The Nanny” which ran on CBS from 1993-1999. The storyline is about a woman from Queens who becomes the nanny for the three children of a British theatre producer. Over the years, her role changed and she became far more than just their nanny. Eventually Fran and Max were married and had a child of their own. I’m sure the creators of the show always intended for the two to be married, but they held our attention for many years as we watched their relationship grow. What began as a simple working relationship became something deeper and much more important.
In yesterday’s devotional, we saw Jesus provide a large crowd of people with food to eat. It was an incredible situation, one even the disciples questioned. Yet, in the end Jesus came through for them. Not only did they have enough to eat, but also there were leftovers. This incident made the people think about Jesus and His purpose.
Read John 6:14-15
The people were aware of the prophecies about the Messiah to come, but their understanding was very shallow. They expected the Prophet to be a redeemer like Moses or an earthly king like David, who would fulfill their physical needs. They expected him to be like the nanny, there to serve as their ruler, protector and provider. He knew His purpose was much deeper. He held for the people an eternal love, one that would meet their spiritual needs and feed their inner hunger. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the people were always confused about the purpose of His actions. To them, the miracles were the end result. To Jesus, the miracles were just a means to the end, a part of the journey to the cross and His ultimate purpose.
After Jesus left them that evening, He joined the disciples and went to the other side of the lake. The next morning, the people realized He was gone and went searching. When they found Him, He said, “Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled.” They were working for the wrong things. When they asked Jesus what work they should do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”
Our prayer life is often filled only with requests for Him to fill our physical needs. We also spend too much time wondering what we can do to serve Him, to expand His Kingdom. We still look at Jesus as little more than the nanny or a worldly king who will feed our bellies. But He is much more. He came to give us eternal life, to forgive our sins and make us children of God. When we seek Him in prayer and study of the scriptures, let us look beyond His provision for our needs and see the miraculous things He has done. He is the bread of life, the source of all we need both physically and spiritually. Most importantly, we can have more than just a working relationship with Him. Our life with Christ is intimate, loving and eternal. Thanks be to God.
***Thanks to the Really Unofficial Nanny Home Page for the words to the theme song from the show "The Nanny" and other information.
Jingle Cat Felix got a new collar for Christmas. The collar is a lovely sapphire blue and holds a small jingle bell. Last night we were all watching a movie and Felix came into the living room. He looks so handsome with his new collar and the bell jingled as he walked. He was so cute we laughed and began calling him Jingle Cat.
The same sweet sound of the jingle bell is extremely annoying in the middle of the night. He jingles with every move he makes – every time he gets up to change positions and every time he jumps off the bed to go do whatever cats do at night. The not so sweet little jingle seems more like a clanging bell and wakes us out of a deep sleep.
The ministry of Jesus Christ was filled with many marvelous things – miracles, kindness, words of wisdom and truth. For many, this is the extent of their knowledge of Jesus. To them He is nothing more than a prophet with incredible gifts from God. However, as Christians we know there is more to Jesus. He is the very incarnation of God in flesh who came to do more than be a king and meet our physical needs. He came to reconcile us to God the Father, to forgive our sins and make us children of God. When He ascended into heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit so that He would continue to dwell with us, in us, and give us everything we need to continue His work in this world.
When we become Christians, when the Holy Spirit enters into our lives, God blesses each of us with at least one gift. We are blessed to be a blessing. God gives these gifts according to His purpose, with each person being part of the whole body of Christ. As Christians we need to find our spiritual gifts and use them to His glory. Unfortunately, we are still human and we often fail to use our gifts as God intends.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
The jingle bell on Felix’s collar is sweet at times, but at others it is like a clanging bell. As we learn about our spiritual gifts and begin sharing them with the world, the foundation of our actions must be the source of our gift – God’s eternal love. When we speak God’s word, share the Gospel, live our faith, it must be from the very heart of God – from the Holy Spirit Himself, or it will be like Felix’s bell in the middle of the night. We are blessed to be a blessing – given the Holy Spirit of God to continue His work in this world. Let us always do so with love as the foundation by the grace of God. Amen.
Bird nests Our church has large picture windows behind the altar, which look out into the world beyond our sanctuary. The residential area it faces is filled with many trees. During the summer, the trees make a lovely backdrop to our worship, a vivid reminder of the beauty of our Father’s creation. Through autumn we watched the leaves turn from green to red and yellow and then fall to the ground. Now, with the coming of winter, the trees are bare.
Today I noticed that the branches of these trees are filled with bird nests, some large and some small. It amazed me how much is hidden from our view at the height of summer. During those summer months, when the trees were little more than a lovely green backdrop for those of us worshipping in the church, the trees outside were filled with life. Those nests were home to baby birds chirping for food, mothers singing for joy at the life of their children. Those same trees provide food and protection to other animals such as squirrels and insects. We rarely see the activity that goes on because we look at it from a distance, from inside a church building.
Our life together as a family has been very transient due to Bruce’s job with the Air Force. We have lived in many houses, most of which had no trees at all. We have long wanted to purchase a home of our own, with a large yard filled with trees. We want to be able to watch the birds come and go from their nests and watch the squirrels play in the branches. Today I found myself longing for that dream to come true as I was reminded of the world that exists hidden under the cover of the leaves in summer. Sometime soon, we will take the step and purchase such a home for ourselves, and watch that world unfold right in our own backyard.
Read Matthew 14:44-47
God’s creation is just a glimmer of the awesome reality of God’s Kingdom. The hidden things of the forest are a joy to behold and we will do what we can to make it a part of our life when the time is right. It will mean sacrifice on our part, as we take on the financial responsibilities that are part of purchasing a home.
Yet, all of that is insignificant when we think of the great and glorious world that our Lord Jesus has brought to us through the cross. It is a treasure, hidden from our view, but not out of our reach. When the truth of the Gospel is revealed to us in the love of Jesus, we see a kingdom of such great value that we are willing to give up everything in this life to make it ours. He gave up the glory of heaven so that the hidden things of God would be revealed for you. Thanks be to God.
Jubilee In the beginning, God created everything in six and then He rested on the seventh. The seventh day became the Sabbath, and by God’s word it was made holy. As the nation of Israel grew, the LORD gave the people laws by which they should live. These laws were designed to protect the people from the dangers of the natural world and the frailties of our human nature. Even today doctors agree that the sanitation and dietary laws were valuable to the health and safety of the people. Blood carried disease and the forbidden animals were unhealthy to eat. They did not have the resources available for cleaning their bodies or the ability to prepare and store the food to ward off disease.
In the law, the LORD gave the people the gift of the Sabbath; the seventh day was to be a day of rest. This day was designed for the people to set aside their work and worries so that they could devote all their heart and soul to the worship of their Creator in thanksgiving and praise. The LORD also established the seventh year as the Sabbath year. They were not to work the fields on the seventh year so that the land would remain fallow and rest. Agricultural experts agree that this method helps keep the fields healthy and produce better crops for the other six years. The Sabbath year was also a time for the people to forgive the debts of their brethren. Every creditor was to cancel the loans made to fellow Israelites.
Finally, the LORD established the Jubilee year. This was the year that followed seven Sabbaths of years, forty-nine years. A trumpet was sounded at the beginning of the fiftieth year and liberty was proclaimed for all. The land was to remain fallow, the slaves set free and all debts wiped clean. Every person was to return to his or her own home and clan. The Jubilee was established to keep the people from taking advantage of each other. In Leviticus 25:1, the Lord says, “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.”
The Law was perfect, but human beings are imperfect and are unable to keep God’s perfect Law. This leaves a divide between God and man. Our sin, our inability to keep God’s Word, has broken our relationship with our Father. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ was borne into the world, forsaking the glory of heaven for the humble manger and cross. He is our Sabbath rest, our Jubilee. We no longer are burdened by the word of the Law because we live in the Word itself, in Christ our Lord. The Sabbath is no longer one-day a week or one year out of seven. The Jubilee is no longer just the fiftieth year.
Read Colossians 3:12-17
We have reached the end of another year. This has been a difficult year for many and we have a great deal to forgive. We have faced death, discouragement and fear. The news programs are showing clips from the top stories for 2001, and the images are mostly of violence, hatred and war.
Those of us who are in Christ, God’s chosen people, live in the Jubilee every moment of every day. The Spirit of the Living God has called us into His kingdom to live in thanksgiving and praise. We are clothed with His righteousness and by His love we can live together in peace. As this old year closes and the New Year begins, forgive one another. “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”