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December 16th 2020 – God’s Sure Sign

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:11-12

Often when expecting a sign from God we long for the days of His thunderous voice as He showed up in the pillar of fire as smoke descended on Mt. Sinai in the days of the Exodus (Exodus 19:16). Simpler yet, we sometimes demand and expect a miraculous sign from God only to find that He speaks in much gentler ways. The Scripture reminds us that although God is behind the supernatural, He speaks to us in a “still small voice”. Everything God does and says is intended to draw us closer into His presence, deeper into our relationship with the God who loves us.

Imagine as these majestic angelic beings were praising God above the plains of Bethlehem with these frightened shepherds looking and listening in awe. Imagine them hearing the heavenly choir singing in all its glory as the angels heralded the birth of the King of kings. How would the shepherds know which of these new babies in Bethlehem was the savior, Messiah, and Lord? By the simple sign of Him lying in a manager wrapped in cloths of linen. The most peculiar part of the birth of Christ was where He was born. The God of the universe stepped down into time and lay as every other Hebrew baby wrapped in cloths of linen yet among the animals because there was no room for them at the inn.

In this simply profound proclamation the angel tells the shepherds three of the most important titles concerning Jesus: he is “Savior”, “Messiah”, and “Lord”. As our hearts turn towards Bethlehem and we continue to reflect during this season of Advent, I wonder: which role of Christ is most difficult for you to accept or submit to? Is it His role as Savior? Do you struggle to show yourself the grace and mercy God has through His only Son? Is it His Lordship? Do you struggle with walking in loving obedience to Christ as Lord of your life? Remember: Jesus is Lord and Savior. He came in Grace and Truth (John 1:17).

As you meditate today, let your heart drift to that first Christmas morning. Born into a world that had no room for Him even at His birth, yet Jesus came. Worshiped as Savior, Messiah and Lord by men who were ceremonially unclean and couldn’t worship at the temple without being cleansed. Born supernaturally and heralded by angels, yet asleep in a manger among the animals. The richness of this moment is hard to fully understand. More than anything else my deepest hope for us during this Advent season is we would know (and believe) that God so loved each one of us that He gave His only Son…

Father, thank You for that first Christmas day. Thank You that you announced the birth of Your Son to shepherds the world may have considered nobodys on the plains of Bethlehem. Thank you that you came to seek and save the lost. Lord Jesus we ask that you would help us clearly see the significance of Your coming. How you came. Why you came. Let Your Word sink deeply into the depths of our hearts, let us treasure all these things, let us move closer and closer to you. It’s in Your name we pray, amen.

December 15th 2020 – Unlikely Witnesses

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. — Luke 2:8-10

Okay, reality check again…If you are the God of the universe, and you are about to perform one of the greatest miracles (up to this moment) that will ultimately result in the salvation of all humanity, who would you want to witness this? CNN? NBC? The New York Times? I know, not around at this time…how about the colosseum — center stage with thousands to witness it? Maybe to the rulers of the earth, Kings, Queens and foreign dignitaries?…how about shepherds?

Perhaps one of the most undignified and lowly professions of the day, herding sheep, was for uneducated, crude and lowly people in society. Let’s be honest, not the people we would choose for a grand entrance. These people were often questionable in character and not very credible as witnesses to testify about what they had seen.

But perhaps the same God who meticulously set the stage for Christ’s coming also knew what He was doing in making these the first witnesses of the Gospel (the Good News of the Messiah’s arrival). Because, if this “good news” really is for “all the people” then maybe for people who have always thought of themselves as less than or marginalized, maybe this message should start with them. Maybe this is God pointing to the fact that we are all “poor in Spirit” and lowly, less than, and marginalized. Maybe from the very beginning He is trying to tell us that He will take anyone who desires to come to Him and set them free, give them hope, and a new life…eternal life!

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” — 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

“So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” — Galatians 4:3-7

From “lowly” to “loved!” From “shepherds” to “sons!” God took us from slaves to sin and death and made us sons and daughters of righteousness and heirs to the great inheritance of God’s riches in salvation!

Let today be filled with the thought of your own unlikely choosing as a witness to the great God of all creation! Unlikely perhaps, but God knows EXACTLY what He is doing!

December 14th 2020 – Perfect Timing, but No Room

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:5-7

Imagine for a moment the panic that must have filled the heart of Joseph and Mary as they were turned away from place after place because there simply was no room for them. On a practical level as a dad with five amazing children, I couldn’t imagine my wife giving birth to one of my children in such circumstances. As He always does though, the God of the universe provided an answer for the very practical need of Joseph and Mary there in the manger that first Christmas day in Bethlehem.

Don’t think for a moment that God was caught off guard when there was no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. He didn’t come back late from a round of golf in the cosmos to discover His beloved Son was about to be born among filthy animals and placed in a feeding trough. Even in His birth God was showing us the depths of His love for us. Although there are so many times there is “no room” for Him in our busy lives or in the midst of our hurting hearts, Jesus comes to make a way.

In some ways I think the very fact that there was no room was a picture of things to come. The Creator of the universe stepped down into time because He loved mankind too much to let us die in our sins. When Jesus comes knocking at the door of your heart, will He find no room available for Him? Often in the midst of the hectic Christmas season, I think we miss so much in the simple beauty of the Christmas story. It isn’t about the gifts, the food, or the fellowship, it’s about God’s love for you. The God of heaven knows your name and gave the greatest gift that could ever be given: His only Son Jesus.

As your heart continues to turn towards Bethlehem, think about this truth: God gave His only Son Jesus to save you. The perfect, sinless Son of God came into this world with you on His mind. From His birth to the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension Jesus has given everything so you become God’s child. The Scripture asks: how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3). The gift God gave will invade every part of our lives and heart to see forgiveness, restoration, eternal life, and redemption flood our weary souls.

Father, thank You. The gift You have given us in Your beloved Son Jesus invades every part of our lives. Lord we surrender to You and ask that You would fill our hearts and our minds with an overwhelming reminder of what Christmas is all about. Father help us not to take Christ out of Christmas in our own lives and homes. Help us set everything else aside as we turn our hearts to the true reason for this season: Your love for us. Thank You for loving us and giving everything so we can be forgiven and free, in Jesus name, amen.

December 13, 2020 — God Sets the Stage

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. — Luke 2:1-4

We ended last week with a swirl of prophecies all fulfilled so that God’s Word, His purpose and His plan would be accomplished. As God prepares us for the journey ahead, He must often “Set the Stage,” or prepare things in advance. We use this idiomatic expression to give us a visual picture of what takes place before any theatrical performance.

Before any patrons sit in the audience, a crew of people work feverishly behind the curtain painting backdrops, setting up furniture, constructing platforms…they are making certain that every detail and prop is where it should be. So that, when the actors hit their mark on stage to deliver their lines or perform their actions in telling the story, everything goes off without a glitch! Every great stage performance is prepared in advance by countless hours of rehearsal and attention to detail.

In the same way, God leaves nothing to chance. How would Mary and Joseph be assured to have their child come from Nazareth? God moves in the heart of the ruler of the most powerful empire in the world to take a census. A seemingly unimportant detail, but to the God of the universe — every detail matters. Sometimes the crazy turns, the painful twists, the joyful roads we are led down don’t make much sense to us. But God is exceedingly efficient in using all the apparently inconsequential details of our lives to “Set the Stage” for the most amazing story that our lives will tell of His glory.

Today, is there a path you are on (or have been on) that doesn’t seem to make sense? Could it be that the God of the universe, who moved the most powerful man in the world to do His bidding, is simply setting the stage for greater purposes than you understand right now?

Perhaps on this day you can take a moment to thank God, even for the details you don’t quite understand…and trust His ways.

Week 3 Introduction — The Journey

You’ve heard it, haven’t you? “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Sure, that sounds great and yes, to a certain degree, that’s true. The journey provides the context and experiences that shape us along the way to our destination. But that doesn’t mean the destination is irrelevant, does it? I mean, there’s a big difference between Paris, Texas and Paris, France…a BIG difference.

The Good News is, we are now familiar with where God wants to take us. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus said to His followers (He called them disciples), “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:2-4) But there remains a journey for each of us to that place. That journey began for Joseph, Mary and Jesus with a Journey to Bethlehem.

And you can probably be assured that just like Mary and Joseph were not certain of all the twists and turns along their journey, you too may be a little surprised at where the long and winding road takes you. You may, in fact, respond like Thomas to Jesus’ assurance that His followers knew “the way to the place” where He was going…Thomas responded, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) He wanted the destination not the journey. But Jesus did not point Thomas (or the disciples) to the destination…he pointed them to the journey, saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v. 6) The road, the path, the journey, the Way comes first. Then the destination…eternal life, heaven, the Father’s house…the Father Himself.

Just as there is a big difference between Paris, Texas and Paris, France — there is a huge difference between heaven and hell. Eternal life with God or separated from Him. This week we take a closer look at the Journey to Bethlehem. Hopefully, you will join us on that journey. Hopefully, you have already begun that journey to meet God. If not, just know that journey can begin today…and the journey begins with Jesus.

December 12th 2020 – Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth, Oh My!

“‘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.’” (Matthew 2:6)

So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:14-15)

and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)

At first glance, there are several seemingly insignificant statements about Jesus and the early years of His life in Matthew chapter 2. Within these three separate verses, we see prophecy concerning the Messiah fulfilled in a dramatic way. A deeper study of today’s focal Scripture reveals that Jesus fulfilled the promises of God made hundreds of years before His birth.

Jesus, born in the city of Bethlehem would eventually flee the wrath of King Herod to Egypt. Joseph and Mary fled quickly to Egypt to avoid the murderous plot of Herod to kill the One proclaimed by the magi as the “born King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Although God did not orchestrate the cowardly act of Herod and the cruel death of the children under two who were murdered, He was working to fulfill His promises even in this tragedy.

Years would pass before Jesus and his family would return to Israel after the death of Herod. Interestingly Herod’s son began to rule after his father and so Jesus and his family settled into the town of Nazareth. In these three verses, specific promises made of the Messiah hundreds of years before they came to pass were fulfilled. As you reflect on this truth and as our hearts continue to focus on Advent, I wonder: do you think your situation has caught God off guard? We serve a God of order, purpose, love, mercy, justice, and grace. This good God who gave His only Son Jesus for us (John 3:16) is using all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Question: is the God who spoke through Micah, Hosea, and Jerimiah hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus with complete accuracy the same God you serve? If Jesus is Lord of your life, the answer is a resounding: yes. As your heart turns towards Bethlehem my greatest hope is you would have confidence in the eternal, unchanging nature of God. Scripture reminds us: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, fled as a baby with his family to Egypt, returned and settled into Nazareth, is the same Jesus who died to set you free.

Father, thank you! Your Word is unchanging, eternal, powerful, perfect, and provides us with everything You have chosen to reveal to man. Thank you for Jesus and sending Him to fulfill every promise you’ve made concerning the deliverer of Israel and the world. Thank you that you loved us too much to leave us separated from You. Thank you for the life, death, and resurrection of Your only Son Jesus, it’s in His name we pray, amen.

December 11th 2020 – Mary’s Hope

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. — Luke 1:34-38

Okay, let’s get right into it…an angel appears to you and tells you that you are going to give birth to the Savior of all mankind — something promised by prophets thousands of years ago, and YOU are going to be the person that brings that promise to life —how do you respond to that? Never mind the fact that it’s an angel (a messenger from God, most likely shimmering in white, may or may not have wings attached to its back, but clearly not your average human!) talking to you, that would be strange enough. But the other glaring oversight of this angelic messenger is Mary has never been intimate with a man, she is a virgin!

Please forgive me. I’m really not trying to be sarcastic or facetious, I’m merely pointing out that when God gets involved with your story, things can get strange and surreal very quickly! You see, God is supernatural, we are natural. Supernatural simply means, above the natural…therefore, the supernatural does not have to play by the rules of nature because it is above nature. God created nature and is not bound by its constraints. The angel explains to Mary, this will happen because the Holy Spirit of God will make it happen. He says to Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who is beyond childbearing years — in the natural realm, she is too old — is already six months pregnant, because God is involved!

And then we hear this beautiful, hope-filled phrase that we can easily miss in the advent story: “For no word from God will ever fail.” If God has said it, predicted it, promised it…it WILL happen! So, when Paul writes to Timothy these precious words, “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16) we know that the Bible is true and everything in it WILL happen! Mary’s hope is that God’s Word be completed in her life, so quite marvelously replies, “I am your servant.” I submit to your will, I belong to You God, “May Your Word to me be fulfilled” — so be it.

Take a moment today to reflect on the Word God has for you…and make no mistake, God has a Word for you today — and no Word from God will ever fail. Trust God’s Word to you and submit to His super natural ways.

December 10th 2020 – The Messiah and Mary

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” — Luke 1:26-33

It is quite intriguing that every time I see an angel in Scripture that they constantly say some version of “do not be afraid”. I can imagine that dealing with an angelic visitor must be quite an experience, although I’m confident many of us have entertained angels unaware. Mary however was very aware and even the greeting of her visitor made her “greatly troubled”. I can’t begin to imagine what thoughts must have been racing through her mind as the angel began to speak about things far more wonderful than she could have possibly imagined.

I am often cautious when talking about Mary or her role in giving birth to the Messiah who brought salvation for mankind. My hesitation comes from the very wrong thinking of some that Mary is somehow worthy of worship, praise, or has some type of supernatural power. But Mary was special, she was God’s chosen vessel to deliver the Savior of the world. Imagine with me this young lady being visited by Gabriel and hearing incredible news that she was going to give birth to a son! Not just any son, but the “Son of the Most High”. I don’t think we could possibly begin to imagine the thoughts that must have been raging in her heart.

Today as our hearts turn towards Bethlehem, we would do well to remember that an all-powerful, all-knowing God uses us to accomplish extraordinary things we never knew we could. What makes Mary special is that God chose her to accomplish His perfect will. What makes you and I special is that God created us, knows us, loves us, and gave everything so we could be restored and redeemed. God may not send Gabriel to visit you, but you can be confident that He has a purpose for you too. No matter how insignificant you might feel, how unprepared or unqualified, God is calling you to experience an incredible joy filled life through faith in Jesus.

The purpose of every follower of Jesus is clear: to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. (Matthew 28:19-20) Today let us know that what God has called us to is no less important than what He called Mary to. Let us remember that we all have a role to play in seeing the Good News proclaimed to the world. Let our hearts cry out, as did Mary’s: “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38).

Father, thank You that You use ordinary men and women to accomplish extraordinary things. Thank You God that nothing is too hard for You. Lord Jesus we are thankful that You move mountains, open the eyes of the blind, make the deaf hear, and bring dead men back to life. Let our hearts be willing as was the heart of Your chosen vessel Mary. Let us trust You even when we don’t see a way. Help us to trust You and do what You called us to while trusting You with the consequences. In Jesus name we pray, amen.

December 9th 2020 – Holy Spirit Fire — Gathering and Burning

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” — Matthew 3:11-12

Fire may not be what you think of first when you think of something to hope for. Fire often burns out of control and can bring devastation to personal property, wildlife, and even human lives may be lost. But the hope we have that is promised by John the Baptist is the Holy Spirit’s fire.

You see, the Holy Spirit is promised to all who repent (agree with God that their actions are wrong and turn away from that activity and turn toward God and His ways) and believe in Jesus (see Acts 2:38-39). And this promised Holy Spirit will not just be around you and come and go as He pleases but will actually live inside you (see John 14:15-18). This Holy Spirit living in you will set your heart on fire! You will speak and testify about what Jesus has done for you, in you and through you (Acts 1:8)! You will begin to set the hearts of others, people lost in darkness, on fire with the flame of the Holy Spirit. They will likewise, set others’ hearts on fire — and this flame will spread, out of control (human control that is) and blaze around the world!

Those who receive this Holy Spirit fire will be the wheat — the nourishing, useful, beneficial crop that Jesus will “gather into the barn” to be used at His pleasure and discretion for His good, right, and Holy Kingdom purposes. Not so for those who do not receive this Holy Spirit fire…they will be collected and burned with unquenchable fire (and unmistakable reference to Hell and eternal separation from God).

Make no mistake, God does not desire for any to perish in this fire (2 Peter 3:8-9), but desires all to have eternal life. He has made that possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. But a choosing must occur. Some will choose to burn with Holy fire through the Holy Spirit for Him, and some will choose to be burned with unquenchable fire.

As you continue to reflect on the hope and warmth that this Holy Spirit fire and gathering provides you today…does it not also create a fire within you to do all you can to prevent others from unquenchable fire and tell them about this amazingly good God Who loves them?

December 8th 2020 – The Mirror of the Messiah

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” — Luke 2:33-35

Often during the season of Advent our hearts think about the angel’s proclamation of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV). As often happens if we aren’t careful, we may be confused about God’s intention through the Advent of Christ. In His coming, and although God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), God is demanding a choice from mankind. In His great love for us, God has given each of us free will to choose Him or reject His salvation. From the start we see that the peace Jesus came to bring isn’t necessarily the type of peace we might expect.

Jesus, Immanuel (God with us), from the very start was “destined to cause the falling and rising” of many not just in Israel but in the world. A sign that is still spoke against today, the hearts of man are revealed in what they think about and how they respond to Jesus. For many of us, we respond with great joy and marvel that God has given such a great gift. For others, Jesus is just a nice story we tell at Christmas. Even others speak violently against Him and reject the great salvation God has given. The question isn’t about how others respond to the Advent of Christ; the question is how are you going to respond?

As our hearts turn to Bethlehem and the first Christmas morning, what do we really believe concerning Jesus? The answer will echo across how we live, the things we say, and even the very thoughts and hearts within. Jesus (and the Bible) are both meant for us to gaze deeply into so that the true nature of our hearts may be revealed. Jesus isn’t a magnifying glass for us to examine others, He is a mirror so we can see who we truly are and know who we were created to be.

Father, thank you for the gift of Your only Son Jesus. Thank You that You reveal our true hearts, motivations, and thoughts. Lord Jesus help us to gaze deeply into Your Truth and explore the depths and darkness of our hearts. We cry out that You would search us and help us know what You already do. Thank You for coming Lord Jesus even though You were violently opposed. Thank You Father that Your love motivated You to give us the great salvation we have in Jesus, in His name we pray, amen.