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December 25th 2020 – Great Joy!

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. — Matthew 2:9-10

As this is Christmas, may I say Merry Christmas and God bless you and your family as you celebrate this Joyful day.

The joy evident on the face of your children, grandchildren, spouse, mother, father — whoever you gave gift to — that is a pale reflection of the joy people experience when they unwrap the greatest gift of all…Jesus. “For God so loved the world, that He gave the gift of His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Maybe you don’t have any presents under the tree this year…maybe you have many…whatever the case may be, don’t leave the greatest gift of all wrapped up and lying in a manger. Open the gift of eternal life today by trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you have never met Him, and even if you have, will you please confess your sins to Him in prayer — talk to Him — and ask Him to forgive you, to come into your world and become King and Lord of your life. Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, please forgive me of my sin. Please come be the ruler of my world, help me through the power of Your Holy Spirit to make decisions that please you in every way. Help me to read, understand and learn your Word so that I can live the way You desire. Help me to live this New Year in a New Way and find a New Life! Thank You for coming to earth and living the perfect life and being the perfect sacrifice for my sins. Thank You for dying on the cross and rising from the dead, so that I might also rise from sin and death and live a new life with You. Thank You for loving me. I love You and I surrender to You today and every day for the rest of my life…amen.

December 24th 2020 – Do You Really Want to Worship?

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:4-8

It seems so sad that ever since the birth of Jesus so many have known of Him, but rejected or opposed Him. Even at His birth we see those who came with a heart longing to worship (the Magi), those who were asleep and liked it that way (Jerusalem), and those who opposed Jesus and tried to destroy Him (Herod). It should have been the chief priest and the teachers of the law who noticed the coming of Israel’s King. Instead they were firmly asleep in the dark as men from the east came seeking the one born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).

What is interesting is that even in today’s focal Scripture we see a story that has been replayed throughout time. Men who knew of God, who could recite His promises and understood the Scripture. But ultimately, like so many today, they ignored or outright rejected God. As your heart turns towards Christmas morning this is a question you must answer: are you going to worship Jesus with your heart or just with your lips? Simply: do you really want to worship?

Imagine as the Magi saw the fulfillment of the promises they knew and the star of Jesus rise in the night sky. Imagine as they left their homes and families and set out for Israel. Imagine as they came to a people who were asleep longing to find the new King. Think about how full their hearts must have been as they found the child Jesus and worshiped Him. Ultimately the worship of the Magi is a worship that true worshipers will follow for all time: worship in word and deed.

Imagine as the Magi laid the gold, frankincense, and myrrh at the feet of the child. For a moment if you’re not careful you might be tempted to say: “I don’t have a gift fit for the King”. The gift God is looking for is… you. Question: when did Jesus become the King? Was it when these Magi brought all these incredible gifts and worshiped Him? Answer: Jesus has always been the King. As our hearts turn towards Bethlehem and that first Christmas morning we would do well to remember it isn’t about the gifts we bring the King, it is the gift the King has brought for us. In light of His gift… nothing less than everything we are and everything we have is what Jesus deserves.

As your heart and mind turns towards Christmas morning, remember Herod. He said he wanted to come worship Jesus too… but really in his heart he wanted to try to destroy God’s plan. As you meditate today I want to seriously ask you a question: do you get it yet? Do you really want to worship? If the answer is yes today, I pray you would fully surrender to the God who gave everything for you. Let His worship fill every part of your heart and life. Become that obnoxious Christian who is so in love with Jesus He is all you can talk about. In short… worship God with all your heart, not just your lips. (Isaiah 29:13)

Father, I thank You for every person who has read this devotion. I pray that this devotion has brought them closer to You. Lord Jesus I pray that our hearts would overflow with the love and mercy You show us. Help our lives to burn brightly for You Jesus. Let every day be Christmas and Easter for us as Your followers. Let our minds constantly meditate on Your coming, Your life, Your death, and Your resurrection. Jesus, thank you for Your love and our lives, in Your name we pray, amen.

December 23rd 2020 – Jesus Disturbs Everyone

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. — Matthew 2:1-3

Why would the most powerful man in Jerusalem, a King no less, be “disturbed” by the arrival of a baby? Because even as a baby He was destined to become, as the Magi called Him, “king of the Jews.” The advent of a rival king…one who would upset the balance of power not just for the current king (Herod) but for ALL people…for along with Herod “all Jerusalem with him” was disturbed.

Jesus, though he was innocent as a baby, came to disturb everyone. He came to disrupt the perception of power in our lives and the illusions of our self-made world. Jesus would say as he taught, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39

The Silent Night that Jesus came would erupt into raucous praise by the angels and then the shepherds…the Magi would come later and bring their gifts and worship as well! But powerful people — rulers and authorities alike — would be disturbed because Jesus had arrived to challenge perceptions, conventions and the status quo. Jesus had come to bring peace in people’s hearts, but only when they had surrendered to the sword of truth that He brought to tear down the lies of the enemy and the world.

So, would you allow me to ask a very personal question? Do you have peace? Are you at peace with God, or is there still a power struggle going on about who does the decision making in your life? Are you still trying to keep a tight control over your world so that it all makes sense, and nothing is out of place? Maybe, Jesus is disturbing you today. Maybe, He is bringing more truth and light that shatters what you have always been taught or thought about God. Maybe He is challenging you to do something different today.

When Jesus becomes the King of your life, the Lord and Master of your world, another king has to be dethroned…you. If that disturbs you, just know that when you surrender to King Jesus a peace that passes all understanding will begin to rule your heart! Because you will have made peace with the God of the universe, your Heavenly Father, and you can now joyfully walk in this life looking forward to a home eternally with Him.

December 22nd 2020 – Joseph Had a Moment

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1: 18-25

Though we seem to talk about Mary far more than Joseph, we need to understand that both of Jesus’ parents had a monumental challenge in the birth of the Messiah. Imagine… the women you love coming to you, she’s pregnant but it can’t be yours. I can’t imagine the mixed emotions that swirled in Joseph’s heart as Mary explained how she was now with child. I find it comforting that God gives us everything we need spiritually, emotionally, and physically (Philippians 4:19 | Matthew 6:33).

As Joseph struggled in the swirl of emotions, he made the painful decision to divorce Mary. Notice his love for Mary even through the painful thought of divorce as he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace. More than anything else during this season of Advent I would encourage you to know that God isn’t far away in the middle of what you are facing. God was with Joseph, a man faithful to the law, and showed up in power to confirm what Mary had already told him: the child is from the Holy Spirit.

In the proclamation of the angel to Joseph, God made the mission of His only Son clear: He came to save His people from their sins. The Son this angel was speaking about is known as Immanuel, literally God with us. It’s hard to imagine but Jesus was not some lesser created thing, He is God. The Creator stepped down into creation to do something no one else could.

Today as we draw closer to Christmas day, let the gift God has given always be a focus of our lives. Let God’s love be a continual reminder of the love we should have for others. Remember that the divine Creator of the universe chose a young man and young woman that the world did not know to accomplish something the whole world is still talking about today. An extraordinary God uses ordinary men and women to accomplish His miraculous will, and you are a part of that story too.

Father, thank You that You promise to provide for our needs. Thank You that You use ordinary men and women to accomplish the miraculous. Thank You Jesus that because of Your life, death, and resurrection, that we can know God’s love and plan for our lives. Lord help us today began to even scratch the surface of Your divine intervention into time to save each one of us. Thank You for the gift You have given, in Jesus name we pray, amen.

December 21st 2020 – The Shepherd’s Return

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. — Luke 2:20

The fear that had filled the shepherds at the sight of these angelic beings with their strange words and their awesome praise and worship was replaced by an inescapable joy…why? Because everything they saw and heard was “just as they had been told.”

I remember the first time we took our son to Disney World. His grandparents had taken us as a family, along with my brother and his kids a couple of years earlier and my son was so young that his favorite part was the ducks and grassy areas at the parks. He was too young to really appreciate it. But when we thought he was old enough, we took him for his real first-time experience, and we had been hyping it up for weeks! My wife and I have so many fond memories of our times getting to go there when we were younger that we wanted to share that with our son. So, we told him about all the cool things we loved about Disney.

So, imagine his surprise when he arrived and the first ride we took him on was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’d forgotten how well it mimicked a rickety old mine car! It shook us (rather violently), it whirled us, it thrilled us as adults (who had ridden it before)…but for our young son, it was too much. The whole experience was not like we said…where was the magic, and excitement with the throngs of people all around? Where was the fun rides watching stories as you went on gentle rides? What we had told him and what he experienced didn’t line up…and for a moment, there wasn’t much joy. So, we let him catch up a bit. We began to show him slowly other things that were more in line with what we had told him…we rode the People Mover, which slowly carries you around and lets you see different areas of the park above the fray of people, and no violent shaking involved! (It’s no wonder why the People Mover is actually still my sons favorite ride at Disney!) My sons joy returned as what we said before began to line up with his experience.

Now imagine the shepherds having this amazing experience with the angelic host…and then arriving in Bethlehem to see for themselves whether or not this was true. They see this baby “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” — who puts their baby in an animal food trough? Only God has arranged this…if this is true, then it must also be true that “today a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” There really is a Savior! The Messiah has arrived! What joy must have filled their hearts! That’s why they glorified and praised “God for all the things they had heard and seen.” Because what they were told lined up with their experience.

Be reminded today that God has told us many things in His Word. And those things are true, and they are happening just as He said they would. Your experience may not quite line up at this moment…maybe someone told you something, kind of like I told my son, and it did not pan out initially. But remember that God is faithful in ALL He does, and it will turn out for Joy when what He says and what you experience come into alignment. The Joy is coming.

December 20th 2020 – Mary Had a Moment

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

This seems like the understatement of all time. Mary pondered “all these things” in her heart… what things? Being visited by an angel to proclaim the coming pregnancy and birth of the Savior of mankind? The conceiving a child as a virgin and giving birth to Jesus in a manger? Now the shepherds come and tell her about the glorious choir of angels they just witnessed on the plains of Bethlehem… it’s safe to say there was a lot to process.

As we enter the final few days of Advent we would do well to remember: God doesn’t always (rarely even) give us all the details to His plan. God’s ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We tend to look at things from a very temporary, right now perspective when God looks at things from an eternal perspective. Whenever God has led you to do something without giving you all the details or telling you how the story ends, your response requires faith (Hebrews 11:1). Although when Gabriel first visited Mary she had no way of knowing all the details, she trusted God.

It is clear from the way the family of Jesus responds during His earthly ministry (Mark 3:20-21) that not even the family of Jesus really understood the fullness of who He was (is and will always be). To be honest… I hate not having all the details. I struggle with uncertainty and try to plan effectively. Often I think God intentionally thwarts my plans and efforts to be “prepared” in an effort to remind me to trust Him. What about you? Have you got so lost in trying to see the “big picture” or every turn in the road that you’ve lost sight of what God called you to do?

If you think you are the only saint in the history of the world struggling with “all these things”, spoiler alert: you are not. The same God who doesn’t always give us all the details never fails to account for them Himself. God leaves nothing to chance and nothing we face catches Him off guard. So yes, ponder all these things. Meditate and think about them. But more than anything else: pray and trust God. Although the days ahead may hold pain, uncertainty, frustration, and heartache, God is using all things (even those) for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Father, thank you for how real Your Word is. Thank you that you don’t hide the struggles of any of the men and women we find in the pages of Scripture. From Mary to even our Lord Jesus we see over and over again the human struggle. Thank You Father that You love us and know us more than we could ever imagine. As we continue meditating and pondering in our own hearts, please fill us with awe. Help us to have faith and trust You even when the way forward isn’t clear to us, it always is for You. Thank you that you light every step, in Jesus name, amen.

Week 4 Introduction — The Joy

The first three weeks of advent — the Prophecies, the Hope, and the Journey — have all been a building up to this final week and to our Savior’s Birth. Oh, the Joy that a newborn baby brings! Promises fulfilled, Hope realized, and Journey completed. But just as this Journey to Bethlehem comes to an end, a new journey is beginning.

For this child of promise, Jesus, was born in Bethlehem and on Christmas Day we celebrate His arrival on planet earth. But we also look beyond His birth, for He grew as a child into a man who would bring healing to so many. He spoke words, not of His own but, from His Father God who had sent Him to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Atonement means payment or reparation…it’s what we would pay someone if we caused an automobile accident. If we caused the accident, we would have to “make it right” or atone for the loss that we caused.

Sin is anything that we do, or fail to do, that violates God’s teachings or His commands. These teachings or commands are not meant to be burdensome or harsh, but rather for our good and so that we might remain in right relationship with Him as our Holy Father. When we sin, it violates our relationship with God and we must “make it right” by confessing our sin, turning away from our sin, and turning back to our Father, asking Him to forgive us and restore us to right relationship. In the Old Testament, the system of worship involving sacrifice (the killing of animals) was a visible reminder of how sin violates relationship…when we sin, something dies.

But God Himself, would put an end to this endless cycle of death. He would do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He would pay the penalty for ALL our sins by one sacrifice for ALL time and for ALL people. Jesus launched off on a new journey when He was born into this world on Christmas Day. The Joy that came at His arrival would pale in comparison with the Joy that we now have because He finished the work of salvation for ALL people with His death on the cross. And the sadness that His followers would feel at the loss of their Lord and friend, would be replaced with an even greater Joy when He rose from the grave, and defeated sin, death, and hell for ALL time!

Are you ready for that kind of Joy in your life? Perhaps now is the time to recognize what God has done in sending the gift of Jesus as a sacrifice for your sin. This Christmas, how about opening the greatest gift ever given…new life, eternal life, and forever Joy as you are completely restored to God as your Father in Heaven. It is our prayer that today will be the day of salvation for you. That today you will simply accept this great gift of salvation and walk in a new life with God. Place your faith in Jesus as Lord and walk as He walked for a new and eternal Joy forevermore!

December 19th 2020 – First Evangelists

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. — Luke 2:16-18

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “evangelist” (which basically means one who shares/preaches the Good News — the Gospel about Jesus Christ), I think of Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Dwight Moody…maybe you think of more modern examples like T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen or Ray Comfort. Biblically speaking, I think of Phillip the Evangelist or Timothy, Paul or Peter. I don’t usually think of shepherds.

I mean, surely God could have found more credible, articulate and at the very least less smelly witnesses! But God chose these shepherds. And when they saw and heard the amazing witness of the Word of God, and the amazing Worship from the angels, this experience sent these ordinary men out with a testimony of God and His great love for all people.

And probably the most incredible part? The people — “all who heard” them were amazed. People actually listened to them! Why? Because when God shows up, really shows up, and amazes you…it is hard to argue with a real experience of God. Is it possible that on our journey of faith we tried to take someone else’s experience of God and make it our own? It was real to them, so we now use it as ours, but it somehow lacks the conviction and power that the person we gleaned it from had.

The Bible says in Acts 1:8, that the Holy Spirit of God would “come upon” the disciples (followers) of Jesus and would give them power to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Bible says you receive the same Holy Spirit that the disciples did (Acts 2:38-39). If this experience is real, there will be no doubt…people will be amazed, at your witness and your testimony (the story of what God has done for you). But if this experience is fake, imitated or borrowed from someone else…your life, your testimony, your relationship with God — all of these will lack power, authenticity and no one will be amazed.

Are people amazed when they hear what God has done in you? If not, how about taking the time to do in you what He did for those shepherds long ago? Invite God to begin a new journey in you today.

December 18th 2020 – The Action of Worship

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

You know what you call a law student who graduates as valedictorian but never takes the bar exam? A college graduate, not a lawyer. You know what you call a student who graduates a nursing program but never takes the state nursing boards? Here is a hint, it’s not “nurse”. Ultimately hearing the Good News of Jesus and learning everything you could possibly know about Him means nothing if you never respond. Do you know what you call a med student who graduates medical school with a C minus average? Doctor. How we respond to Jesus is critical even if we feel unworthy or unprepared.

I can’t really imagine the shepherds after the angels burst into song on the quiet plains of Bethlehem. Hearing the heavenly choir, listening to the angelic proclamation, I’m sure this was by far the most exciting thing that ever happened to these men who aren’t even named in Scripture. I love how the shepherds respond: “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” Notice, they didn’t stop and analyze, plan, and execute. There is no indication that the shepherds went and took a bath or changed clothes, they were challenged with the best possible news any of us can hear and they responded.

Throughout the Gospels we see that when Jesus called people to follow Him they “immediately” left all they had and followed Him. How have you responded since Jesus called to you? Someone told you the Good News (or maybe you are hearing it for the first time), how are you going to respond? Are you going to try to wait to come to Jesus until you get it all figured out? Maybe you need to “clean up” some things first? If so… you’ve missed the entire point of why Jesus came. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to call the sinners to repentance. He came to save you… yeah, you.

As our hearts continue to turn towards Bethlehem, how is God calling you to “act”? The most beautiful type of worship is in spontaneous response to the Lord’s call. Although there are seasons God calls us to plan and pray, there are other moments He simply wants us to take that first step out on the water. You’ve heard the Greatest News you could ever hear… what are you going to do with it? Notice the shepherds didn’t just talk about going to Bethlehem and finding Jesus… they actually did it. They came… just as they were and experienced a life changing moment they told everyone about.

Father, thank you for the call to action. Thank You that You call us to a life of faith in action. Lord help us remember that we are forgiven through faith alone in Christ alone plus nothing. Yet always help us remember that You call us to a life full of love in action. Faith without works is dead. Help us not only hear and understand the Good News, but help us respond. Help us to worship and adore Your Son as we continue to remember the wonderful gift of salvation we have because of Jesus. In Jesus name we pray, amen.

December 17th 2020 – AMAZING Worship!

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” — Luke 2:13-14

I love music…especially at Christmas time. I love to hear soloists sing some of my favorite songs like, “Mary, Did You Know,” “O Holy Night” or “Little Drummer Boy.” I love to hear worship as congregations from 30 to 300 sing songs like “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I love to hear choirs like the 280 member Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sing amazing songs of praise and worship.

Now I just recently learned that we (in America) don’t hold a candle to the Philippines when it comes to choirs. In 2014, the Iglesia Ni Cristo set a World Record by performing with a choir of 4,745 people! Not to be outdone, the Members Church of God International (also in the Philippines) set a new world record in 2015 of 8,688 singers praising God in the highest! But the Iglesia Ni Cristo would not be bested, for in May of 2016 they would set the current world record for largest choir…drum roll please…21,262 people, all worshipping God together! Wow!

So, when I read in Luke 2 that the message the shepherds received of Good News about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem was followed by “a great company of the heavenly host praising God,” I naturally wanted to know — just how many are in this great company? Are we talking about 30 to 300 or 21,000?

In Daniel chapter 7, Daniel has a vision of Jesus coming before the God Almighty and he sees before him: “Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” Now my math isn’t great, but a calculator tells me that’s about 100 million! A similar vision for John in Revelation 5 tells us: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” Wow! Can you imagine the AMAZING worship that the shepherds witnessed that night?

For the God who brings us along on this Journey to Bethlehem has a plan in store for us to witness (and be a part of) some AMAZING worship. When we see lives changed by the Good News of the Gospel, we worship. When we experience God through His Word, we worship. When God saves us and redeems us and changes us, we worship. When God sends us to tell others about this awesome good news, we worship. And one day we will join those multitudes of angels in a choir of millions upon millions, singing with them as “They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12)

Thank Him today for what He has done in your life and begin giving him some of your own AMAZING worship!