Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve Message - Hope in the New Year

As one time zone after another bids farewell to 2018 and slips into 2019, many people are celebrating. Some do not want 2018 to end. For them, it was a year full of great achievements and wonderful events. For others, like myself, 2018 was filled with sorrow, pain and upheaval in their lives. For those, they cannot wait for 2018 to end. No matter what situation you are in, we all look forward to 2019 as a year of renewed hope.

While I was shopping at a local grocery store, I noticed all of the “Happy New Year 2019” decorations being unpacked and put up on shelves. Bottles of champagne, fireworks and snacks were being stocked up. Those celebrating New Year's Day in the South were paying for all of the ingredients for the traditional meal of ham, collard greens and black-eyed peas. Every family has a set of traditional rituals that are observed without fail all to do one thing: ensure a prosperous new year.

We place more emphasis on family traditions and rituals than we do on the hope that is already available to us. As each year starts, we make resolutions to do various things. The number one resolution shared by most people is to lose weight by eating less and exercising more. Some are successful at keeping the resolution. Most, however, often give up within a couple of weeks citing various reasons for their inability to lose the weight. The average American, I am told, gains seven pounds during the holiday season. Instead of gaining wisdom, we gain weight and lament the fact that we cannot lose it due to having no time to exercise or that losing weight is too hard. Once we begin to make those statements, the resolution is quickly forgotten until the end of the year. We often remind ourselves that we made the same resolution and found it difficult to keep. We say to ourselves, “This new year will be different.” We promise to find the time to exercise and to have better willpower when it comes to eating. But, alas, we do the same thing. We never quite complete our resolution.

Our spiritual lives are a bit that way. We start out strong in our faith in the beginning of the year and by year’s end, our relationship with the Lord has suffered. During Christmas, we may have received a daily devotional book from someone and we say, “I will read it every day.” In just a couple of days, we find ourselves too busy to read and that daily devotional book sits quietly somewhere collecting dust. Some are often taken to charities and given away. Others often find a place on a dusty bookshelf never to be opened again. There they sit collecting dust and occupying spaces on shelves.

Instead of spending time with the Lord, we choose to spend time doing other things. When things are going great and there are no problems, we often forget our relationship with the Lord. We set our relationship with God on autopilot and just cruise along with no cares in the world. We do not even try to find time to pray or meditate in His word. When problems pop up as they often do, that is when we start looking to God.

Have you been in situations like this? Have you allowed yourself to slip quietly into a relationship of mediocrity when it comes to your relationship with the Father? We all have times when we lapse in our faith. We put our faith in ourselves to get us out of our problems; however, when we face big problems, it is only then that we reach out to Him.

This year should be different. We must realize first that God never forgets us nor does He ever not have time for us. We are His and His alone. Our debt of sin was paid in full, not in part, by the precious blood of His son, Christ Jesus. We need to always remember that and never, ever forget that blessed fact or take it for granted. The psalmist writes in chapter 91, “9 If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, 10 no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. 11 For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. 12 They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. 13 You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

God has already given you His word and you can count on Him to deliver every time. We, in turn, must make the Lord our refuge and shelter each and every day of the year. That means that we seek Him daily, meditate in His word daily and praise and worship Him daily. You may have noticed a word that I repeated. That keyword is “daily”. We must never put Him aside or just go about our lives without thanking the Father for all of His daily blessings.

Over the past year, my family and I have faced daily struggles. There were times when we were ready to just give up, but we remembered the words of the psalmist in Psalm 91, “14 The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. 15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. 16 I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.’”

The Lord has given my family and me His word and promise. When I seek Him, express my love for Him and trust in His name, I have nothing to fear. I know, beyond all doubt, that God will rescue and protect me. Referring back to verse 11, God will even send His angels to protect me wherever I go. With an assurance like that, why should we just take those promises for granted? We should be thanking God daily for His words and promises. Each day we live in the New Covenant of Christ Jesus who is the mediator of that covenant. Because of Jesus, we can go to the Father in prayer. We can, in the name of His holy son, lift up our prayers to Him and know that He will lift us up in honor and victory.

When we do all these things, we can rest assured in the words of Proverbs 4, “12 When you walk, you won't be held back; when you run, you won't stumble.” Because of the love of our Heavenly Father, our path is broadened beneath our feet and we walk safely with the surety of each step. It is only through our daily obedience and love for Him that we are able to do all these things. When we face problems that come up, we can know that He is there with us. By not letting the world corrupt us or cause us to lose our focus on Him, we can face our trials and troubles with knowledge that He will rescue, protect and place us on a higher ground.

The author of the book of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, ”5 Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ 6 So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Do not let anything stand between you and the Lord. Discard the things of this world like dirty clothing and, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 13, “12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

As the New Year comes, greet it with prayer and dedicate yourself to building a strong, daily relationship with the Lord that cannot be shaken by any problem or worry. When you discard the things of this world and focus your attention and make God the center or your life, you will not only be assured of a great 2019 but you will also stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Daily Word of God - Romans 2:5-11

Romans 2:5-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

5 But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will judge everyone according to what they have done. 7 He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. 8 But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. 9 There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.[a] 10 But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

2:9 Greek also for the Greek; also in 2:10.

Daily Word of God - Proverbs 16:1

Proverbs 16:1 New Living Translation (NLT)

1 We can make our own plans,
    but the Lord gives the right answer.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Daily Word of God - Psalm 138:4-6

Psalm 138:4-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

4 Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
5 Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
6 Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - The Often Forgotten Gift

As I was doing my weekend grocery shopping, I wandered through the Christmas clearance sections of the retail store. I saw signs posted everywhere reading, “50% off All Christmas Items”. Decorations, wrapping paper, bows, cards, gift bags, candy and so many other items were on sale. After seeing the signs, I realized that Christmas 2018 was over and things were slowly changing to New Year decorations and Valentine’s Day. Even at our home, our Christmas tree, once a home for gift-wrapped presents, stands quietly in the corner of our living room waiting to be taken down and put back into its box. It is yet another sign that Christmas 2018 is over. All of the gifts have been given and the stockings are empty. All of the wrapping paper and boxes have been thrown to the curb.

Many people, before New Year’s Eve, will take down their Christmas trees and decorations. Children will begin to dread the day that they return to school. These events happen every year. Christmas decorations go up during the Thanksgiving weekend and soon come down after Christmas. Many feel a certain emptiness after Christmas. Each looks so forward to the day of celebration and then it goes as quickly as it came.

I cannot help but think about the one gift that was not given. If you think about the Wise Men, they visited Jesus after he was born. They were not present at his birth. According to some Bible scholars, Jesus may have been at least two years old when the three kings arrived to worship him. Matthew writes, in chapter 2 of his gospel, about the three kings, “11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Did you notice the word “house”? It does not say “stable”, or mention anything about a manger, shepherds or stable animals. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh did not come until later. So, what did Jesus receive on the night he was born? Mary and Joseph were not registered at Tiffany’s or Neiman Marcus. Mary’s friends did not give her a baby shower. No one gave her a layette for her new son. She did not have much of anything other than a manger, some straw as a bed and cloth to swaddle him. There were no boxes of diapers, formula, car seats or anything else for Jesus. He came into the world humbly. Nowhere in the scripture does it say that the women of Bethlehem brought clothes, even used ones, for the child. The shepherds did not stand in line at the nearest big-box retailer to buy gifts. No one had anything in their hands to give to the small child who would one day bear the sins of the world on his shoulders and die a criminal’s death in order to provide salvation to all who freely accept it.

However, if you think about it, each person at Jesus’ birth did have a gift for him. Each possessed something that Jesus valued enough to lay down his life for as well as for those who were never present at his birth. That gift is often forgotten and sometimes we forget to give that wonderful gift to our Savior and Lord. It is the gift of ourselves. That is the one gift that Jesus valued enough to die on a cross for and to give us the gift of life everlasting with the Father. It is the most precious of all gifts and is the one that truly is priceless.

While we post, twit and text to others descriptions and pictures of expensive gifts of cars, diamonds, precious stones and metals and expensive trips, we sometimes forget the often forgotten gift. We do not give of ourselves and we do not give Jesus the gift of ourselves. We do not present ourselves just as we are. We are individuals who often walk in fear, uncertainty and doubt. We let those things distract us from the one who gave us a peace that the world cannot give. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah. He writes in chapter 53 of his book about the Messiah that was to come, “5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

As I had discussed in my last message, “Salvation in Christ Jesus”, Jesus gave us this wonderful gift freely and fulfilled the prophecies by being our sin and atonement sacrifice for once and for all. Even as a baby, Jesus was already providing us with gifts. Gifts more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His gift is never on a clearance shelf or marked down. 

Just as Jesus gave of himself, we have our gift to give him. We give ourselves to him and it is only through him that we can draw near to our Heavenly Father. James writes in chapter 4 of his epistle, “7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” 

By accepting Jesus’ precious gift, we each give him, in return, a very precious gift. We give him our lives. When we do that, we draw near to God and God draws near to us. As sinners, we allow our loyalties and worldly desires to divide us from the Father. When we, however, accept the greatest of all gifts, salvation, we become children of God. James later writes in chapter 4, “10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

God blesses us each and every day of our lives. We have nothing to fear or dread. Uncertainty gives way to the surety of eternal life with our Father. All of this happened because of a simple gift exchange. Jesus gave us the path to the Father through the freely given gift of salvation and we gave ourselves to him. It is only through him that we are able to draw near to the Father and He to us. As we humble ourselves before Him, God will lift us up in honor and give us victory over sin and death. We receive the gift of eternal life.

As you and your family begin to take down your Christmas decorations and close the chapter on Christmas 2018, I ask you to open a new chapter that starts with a simple sentence, “Today and every day I give myself to God and follow His son, Christ Jesus.”

That new chapter starts not only with that simple sentence but it also starts with giving that often forgotten gift of ourselves. It does not require a bow, wrapping paper or a gift bag. It is a simple gift that is more precious than the gifts he received from the wise men. It is a gift that Jesus cherishes every day. Peter, in his first epistle, writes, “6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

By giving and humbling ourselves to the Lord, He will lift us up in honor and call us holy. When we accept this gift, we no longer walk in darkness and fear. We can stand firm in His grace. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Daily Word of God - Isaiah 33:5-6

Isaiah 33:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

5 Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven,
    he will make Jerusalem[a] his home of justice and righteousness.
6 In that day he will be your sure foundation,
    providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
    The fear of the Lord will be your treasure.

33:5 Hebrew Zion; also in 33:14.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Daily Word of God - Proverbs 20:24

Proverbs 20:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

24 The Lord directs our steps,
    so why try to understand everything along the way?

Daily Word of God - Jeremiah 10:6-7

Jeremiah 10:6-7 New Living Translation (NLT)

6 Lord, there is no one like you!
    For you are great, and your name is full of power.
7 Who would not fear you, O King of nations?
    That title belongs to you alone!
Among all the wise people of the earth
    and in all the kingdoms of the world,
    there is no one like you.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Daily Word of God - Matthew 2:13-18

Matthew 2:13-18 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Escape to Egypt
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”[a]

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
    weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
    refusing to be comforted,
    for they are dead.”[b]

2:15 Hos 11:1.
2:18 Jer 31:15.

Daily Word of God - Hosea 11:1-4

Hosea 11:1-4 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Lord’s Love for Israel
11 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and I called my son out of Egypt.
2 But the more I called to him,
    the farther he moved from me,[a]
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
    and burning incense to idols.
3 I myself taught Israel[b] how to walk,
    leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
    that it was I who took care of him.
4 I led Israel along
    with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
    and I myself stooped to feed him.

11:2 As in Greek version; Hebrew reads the more they called to him, the farther he moved from them.
11:3 Hebrew Ephraim, referring to the northern kingdom of Israel; also in 11:8, 9, 12.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Daily Word of God - 1 Samuel 1:9-18

1 Samuel 1:9-18 New Living Translation (NLT)

Hannah’s Prayer for a Son
9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.[b]”

12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

1:9 Hebrew the Temple of the Lord.
1:11 Some manuscripts add He will drink neither wine nor intoxicants.

Daily Word of God - Deuteronomy 33:1-5

Deuteronomy 33:1-5 New Living Translation (NLT)

Moses Blesses the People
33 This is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, gave to the people of Israel before his death:

2 “The Lord came from Mount Sinai
    and dawned upon us[a] from Mount Seir;
he shone forth from Mount Paran
    and came from Meribah-kadesh
    with flaming fire at his right hand.[b]
3 Indeed, he loves his people;[c]
    all his holy ones are in his hands.
They follow in his steps
    and accept his teaching.
4 Moses gave us the Lord’s instruction,
    the special possession of the people of Israel.[d]
5 The Lord became king in Israel[e]—
    when the leaders of the people assembled,
    when the tribes of Israel gathered as one.”

33:2a As in Greek and Syriac versions; Hebrew reads upon them.
33:2b Or came from myriads of holy ones, from the south, from his mountain slopes. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.
33:3 As in Greek version; Hebrew reads Indeed, lover of the peoples.
33:4 Hebrew of Jacob. The names “Jacob” and “Israel” are often interchanged throughout the Old Testament, referring sometimes to the individual patriarch and sometimes to the nation.
33:5 Hebrew in Jeshurun, a term of endearment for Israel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Daily Word of God - Proverbs 19:21

Proverbs 19:21 New Living Translation (NLT)

21 You can make many plans,
    but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

Mid-Week Message - Don't Forget the Baby

"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. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."  Matthew 2:9-11 (NIV)

Christmas Day is over.  Soon the lights will be turned out, the trees taken down and all of the ornaments will be packed away.   Everything will be stored in garages, attics or storage units and be forgotten about until next year.  Wrapping paper, ribbons and bows that were so painstakingly used to make each gift beautiful will be wadded up, placed in garbage bags and thrown away.  Christmas music on the radio and holiday programming on television will cease and life will return to normal.  

Each year, this causes me to grieve.  All of the time spent in planning and anticipation culminates in hours.  My husband has a saying each year at the end of the long awaited day.  He says, "Another Christmas is in the books."  He's right.  The packages are opened, the meals are consumed and the visitors leave for home.  The memories have been made and it is time to focus on the future.  Soon it will be a New Year that will bring its own joys and sorrows.  We cannot stay in today.  

The most difficult thing for me to pack away each year is the Nativity.  Somehow it seems wrong to me to put the Baby Jesus in a box or bag to be hidden away.  I know it is just a symbol and that I am not actually packing away the Son of God, but I wonder how many people will continue to focus on Him when those symbols are less visible.  I am so grateful for the story of the three wise men from the east because they didn't give up following the star.  They sought the Lord until they found Him.  Many experts believe that Jesus may have been at least two years old by that time.  These men could have chosen at any time to stop and go home, but they continued their journey until they found who they were looking for and had delivered their precious gifts.  

Years ago, my husband suggested in church that we continue to say "Merry Christmas" throughout the year because the birth of our Savior is every bit as important in July as it is in December.  His coming is cause for continual celebration, just as His death and resurrection are.  It was at this point that we began leaving a Nativity figurine up all year in our home.  It isn't a large one but it is placed where we can regularly see it.  Beside it is a figurine depicting His death and resurrection.  This was a personal decision to daily remind us of the sacrifices made on our behalf.  

This year, as we all put away the Christmas decorations, I pray that we don't forget the importance of the baby that laid in that manger.  As the wise men continued to seek Him, so should we.  His birth was for all mankind, but it was also very personal.  He desires to be included in each part of our lives.  His love for you and me is immeasurable.  He gave up Heaven to walk among us and He didn't disappear after the day of His birth.  May we all remember His presence throughout each day of the year and may we all continue to bow at both the manger and the cross.  

Daily Word of God - Isaiah 26:7-11

Isaiah 26:7-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

7 But for those who are righteous,
    the way is not steep and rough.
You are a God who does what is right,
    and you smooth out the path ahead of them.
8 Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws;
    our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.
9 In the night I search for you;
    in the morning[a] I earnestly seek you.
For only when you come to judge the earth
    will people learn what is right.
10 Your kindness to the wicked
    does not make them do good.
Although others do right, the wicked keep doing wrong
    and take no notice of the Lord’s majesty.
11 O Lord, they pay no attention to your upraised fist.
    Show them your eagerness to defend your people.
Then they will be ashamed.
    Let your fire consume your enemies.

26:9 Hebrew within me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Good News of Great Joy!

John 3:16-17 New Living Translation (NLT)

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

3:16 Or For God loved the world so much that he gave.

Good News of Great Joy!

John 1:16-18 New Living Translation (NLT)

16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.[a] 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God,[b] is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

1:16 Or received the grace of Christ rather than the grace of the law; Greek reads received grace upon grace.
1:18 Some manuscripts read But the one and only Son.

Good News of Great Joy!

John 1:10-13 New Living Translation (NLT)

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

Good News of Great Joy!

John 1:14 New Living Translation (NLT)

14 So the Word became human[a] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[b] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

1:14a Greek became flesh.
1:14b Or grace and truth; also in 1:17.

Good News of Great Joy!

John 1:1-5 New Living Translation (NLT)

Prologue: Christ, the Eternal Word
1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
    and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

1:3-4 Or and nothing that was created was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything.
1:5 Or and the darkness has not understood it.

Good News of Great Joy!

Matthew 2:1-12 New Living Translation (NLT)

Visitors from the East
2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

2:1 Or royal astrologers; Greek reads magi; also in 2:7, 16.
2:2 Or star in the east.
2:6a Greek the rulers.
2:6b Mic 5:2; 2 Sam 5:2.

Good News of Great Joy!

Luke 2:8-20 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Shepherds and Angels
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 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.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Good News of Great Joy!

Luke 2:1-7 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Birth of Jesus
2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Message - Salvation in Christ Jesus

As we reflect this Christmas Eve, let us always remember that Jesus did not come into the world just to be a teacher, brother and friend. He came into the world to save it by being the sin and atonement sacrifice for all of us once and for all. When we see the Nativity scene, we should always remember that the shadow of the cross is always present. 

In the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah and of the Old Testament, God gives Moses the laws that he must repeat to the Israelites. In the pages of that book, we see a list of rituals and legal and moral practices that must be carried out. Faithful performance of the sanctuary rituals can make that possible, so long as the people avoid sin and impurity whenever possible. The rituals, especially the sin and guilt offerings, provide the means to gain forgiveness for sins (Leviticus 4–5) and purification from impurities (Leviticus 11–16) so that God can continue to live in the Tabernacle in the midst of the people. Following the practices and rituals is stressed rather than belief.

For the Israelites, following the laws, practices and rituals, became the only way to gain God’s forgiveness. When Jesus is born, a new covenant is created between God and His children. That covenant requires only one sin and atonement sacrifice to be made. That sacrifice is through the blood of Christ Jesus. It is through his death that our debt of sin is paid in full. By receiving him as our personal Savior, Lord and Master, we freely accept the gift of salvation provided by the Father. It is only through Christ Jesus that we are able to do this.

Salvation comes through faith. The author of the Book of Hebrews clearly tells us in chapter 11, “6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It is only through faith that we can find favor with God. It is not through sacrifices or following the letter of the laws, practices and rituals. Our relationship with the Lord is more than just those laws. Our relationship comes through faith in Him and believing that He exists. No matter how many sacrifices we offer up, we could not repay our debt of sin. The only way for that to occur is through the blood of Christ Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice and unblemished lamb who, in Philippians 2, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!

He became the sacrifice for all and for all times. In Hebrews 10, the author writes, when speaking about Jesus, “12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God's right hand.

Notice some very interesting words and phrases in this passage. The first is “single sacrifice”. Christ Jesus became the one and only sacrifice that secured our forgiveness and paid for our sins and transgressions. The other is “Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” Jesus does not return to the cross each and every time we sin or become disobedient. He has once and for all paid our debt. Additionally, this does not mean that we can continue to sin and wander from the path of righteousness. We must repent for those moments when we become disobedient. Christ as the single sacrifice means that we are not required to make sin or atonement sacrifices, as required under the Mosaic covenant, for each time we fall short. The new covenant and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant are done once and for all through the blood of Christ Jesus.

Salvation came to us in the form of an innocent child and our debt of sin was paid by innocence. Jesus was and continues to be our perfect sacrifice. As we reflect on Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus, many would say, “Why are you focusing on his death? Shouldn’t you be looking with joy, hope, love and peace at his birth?”

I feel the peace, joy, love and hope of the season through both events of his life, his birth and death. Without both, we cannot receive the gift of salvation. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, tells us in chapter 6, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That free gift from God comes through His son, Christ Jesus, and his once for all and all time sacrifice for our sins and transgressions. So, when you think about it, you must always remember both events in his life, because they go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. It is through his death that we have received the gift of salvation. It is through his life that we know the heart of the Father. It is through his birth that we know the Word when it became flesh.

The apostle Paul writes his dear friend and brother in Christ Jesus, Timothy, in his first epistle to Timothy, “15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Before becoming the apostle Paul, Saul persecuted Christians and had them imprisoned. He followed the laws, practices and rituals of the old covenant; however, he was convicted in his heart by the “trustworthy saying” that Jesus came into the the world to save sinners. Just as Jesus came into the the world quietly and in the humble form of a baby, he, too, can come into your life. Remember the gift comes freely. It is up to you to accept it.

As you prepare your heart for the blessed event of Jesus’ birth, always remember the reason why he came into the world. He came to save us from sin and the terrible penalty of death. When we accept Jesus into our life and begin our daily journey with him, we have, as written in John 10, received “life and have it abundantly.

We cannot simply follow the laws, rituals and practices in order to receive that abundant life. Our salvation is dependent on Jesus AND our obedience to God. We cannot secure our salvation alone or work our way to heaven. We cannot just simply do things that are good and win our way past the “pearly gates”. It requires us to have faith.

James tells us, in chapter 2 of his epistle, that faith without good deeds is dead. We must not only believe in God and accept His son as Savior and Master of our life, but we must also be obedient to God’s will and follow the laws and the teachings of his son. We must have a Christ-like attitude and live a righteous life.

Paul further points out in his epistle to the Philippians in chapter 2, “13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Between John and Paul, we see that faith and good deeds go hand in hand. We cannot do one without the other and salvation, once again, is given and not earned. It is a freely given gift that came in the small body of a child born to a virgin.

On Christmas Day, I urge you take a few minutes and reflect on the birth of Jesus and not just think about his birth but also why he came into the world. When you do that, you will see the deeper meaning of Christmas and its impact in your life. The birth of Jesus becomes more than just a day of gift giving and dinners. It becomes a day that lives on everyday and with that knowledge firmly planted in our hearts and minds, we can stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Daily Word of God - Job 19:25-27

Job 19:25-27 New Living Translation (NLT)

25 “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and he will stand upon the earth at last.
26 And after my body has decayed,
    yet in my body I will see God![a]
27 I will see him for myself.
    Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
    I am overwhelmed at the thought!

19:26 Or without my body I will see God. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.

Daily Word of God - Ezekiel 34:11-16

Ezekiel 34:11-16 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Good Shepherd
11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Daily Word of God - Ephesians 4:31-32

Ephesians 4:31-32 New Living Translation (NLT)

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Love in Christ Jesus

With Christmas Day just a couple of days away, it is so very easy for us to forget the “reason for the season”. While I was doing our weekly grocery shopping Saturday morning, I noticed that the number of people in the store was considerably larger than what I normally see. More carts and people mean some chaos and a lot of apologies for bumping carts and getting into the way of others. Each person had a look of determination to get through the list of items to purchase quickly. I cannot blame them for that. I, too, wanted to just get out of the store and enjoy a peaceful Saturday, especially one that has no rain or clouds in the forecast. I wanted nothing more than a day filled with hope, peace, joy and especially love. 

As I watched people scurrying around the store, I could not help but think about the message for today. I remember watching a television commercial with children telling the Christmas story and what it truly meant to them. It was very interesting to hear the wisdom of children reminding adults that they “get” Christmas and grasp its true meaning.

If I were to ask you to choose only one word to describe Christmas, what would it be? Would you say, “Gifts?”  Others might say, “Bills.” Still some would say other things. Very few would say that Christmas means “hope, peace, joy or love”. For me, Christmas means, in one word, “love”.

When you think about the Christmas story, the word, “love”, must not only be one of the words used but also must fill our hearts. John, in chapter 3, perfectly tells us of God’s love for us, “16 For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” In other translations of this verse, it starts, “For God so loved the world…” In any translation, we cannot fully understand or even comprehend the love of the Father.

In the Greek, the word that is used to express the love of the Father is “agape”. This love is completely foreign to us. It is a love that is so deep and profound that the world cannot understand it. It is a love that is unconditional and is undeserved. When you try to understand this love, your heart and mind can scarcely take it in. We have no real foundation for that sort of love for someone, because that love comes from the Father. 

John, in his first epistle, discusses love and our relationship with God. He writes in chapter 4, “7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

True love comes from God, because He truly is love. When we become Christians by accepting Christ Jesus as our personal Savior, Lord and Master of our lives, our relationship to God changes. We are no longer denizens of this sinful world. We are reborn to walk in newness of life and light not in darkness and the shadow of death. If we use the New International Version of 1 John 4, we see the beauty of God’s love in action, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

The love that we should have for one another does not come from this world. It is a gift of God, because we are born of God. Once we are born of God, we know God through His love for us. That love was expressed in the birth of His son to a virgin. That tiny little baby grew up to show us the way back to the Father. It is only through His son that we can have that loving relationship that we need in our lives.

Jesus, in the Gospel of John, tells Thomas and, by extension, us, “6 I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!

Christ Jesus not only shows us the way to the Father but he is also the way back to the Father. When we became disobedient in the garden, we began to move away from the Father. We lost our way. As humans, we tried to regain that way by creating laws to govern our relationship with the Lord. We began to reason that if we do this and not that, we can regain the love of the Father. Simply following laws is not enough. We must do more than just follow rules. We must believe in Jesus and follow his example in all that we do.

It is not rocket science and does not require a doctorate in theology to understand the meaning of the season and God’s very essence. That essence is love, unconditional and undeserved. We received His gift that is given out of His love for us and is everlasting.

Think about the gifts under the Christmas tree. In one study, children usually play with a toy for less than thirty minutes and then find it boring and move on to something else. Parents see this happening so very often. Children will start to play with the cardboard boxes that the gifts came in rather than playing with the toys themselves. In fact, one study pointed out that forty-one percent of all Christmas toys will be be broken within three months. 

In Jeremiah 31, God says, “3 I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

Notice the words that are used by God. The words, everlasting and unfailing, describe His love for us. We do not need to lose interest in His love or feel that it will break and disappoint us. His love remains a constant in our lives and will not wane or wander from us. 

As you think about the reason for the season, spend some time today thinking about God’s love and how He gave the gift that is everlasting, unfailing and keeps on giving each day beyond just the one day called Christmas. It is only because of God’s great love for us that we are saved.

Paul, as a prisoner in Rome, writes to the church in Ephesus in chapter 2, “4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Once again, we see the extent of God’s love for us. Even when we were dead because of our debt of sin, He gave us the gift of life through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His son, Christ Jesus.

I urge you to take time today and every day to thank God for His everlasting and unfailing love for you and remember the true meaning of Christmas. It is a time to love one another and, most importantly, to love our Father who is love. When we take that time to reflect and remember, we can rest assured that we can stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Daily Word of God - 1 Chronicles 16:7-36

1 Chronicles 16:7-36 New Living Translation (NLT)

David’s Song of Praise
7 On that day David gave to Asaph and his fellow Levites this song of thanksgiving to the Lord:

8 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
9 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
10 Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
11 Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
12 Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
13 you children of his servant Israel,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

14 He is the Lord our God.
    His justice is seen throughout the land.
15 Remember his covenant forever—
    the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
16 This is the covenant he made with Abraham
    and the oath he swore to Isaac.
17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    and to the people of Israel as a never-ending covenant:
18 “I will give you the land of Canaan
    as your special possession.”

19 He said this when you were few in number,
    a tiny group of strangers in Canaan.
20 They wandered from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another.
21 Yet he did not let anyone oppress them.
    He warned kings on their behalf:
22 “Do not touch my chosen people,
    and do not hurt my prophets.”

23 Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
    Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
24 Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
    Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
25 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
    He is to be feared above all gods.
26 The gods of other nations are mere idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens!
27 Honor and majesty surround him;
    strength and joy fill his dwelling.

28 O nations of the world, recognize the Lord,
    recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
29 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
    Bring your offering and come into his presence.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
30     Let all the earth tremble before him.
    The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.

31 Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
    Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
    Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
33 Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.

34 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.
35 Cry out, “Save us, O God of our salvation!
    Gather and rescue us from among the nations,
so we can thank your holy name
    and rejoice and praise you.”

36 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who lives from everlasting to everlasting!

And all the people shouted “Amen!” and praised the Lord.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Daily Word of God - Ecclesiastes 9:12

Ecclesiastes 9:12 New Living Translation (NLT)

12 People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.

Daily Word of God - John 14:6-7

John 14:6-7 New Living Translation (NLT)

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.[a] From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

14:7 Some manuscripts read If you have really known me, you will know who my Father is.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Third Week of Advent Evening Scripture Reading - 1 Peter 1:8-9

1 Peter 1:8-9 King James Version (KJV)

8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

Daily Word of God - Exodus 4:29-31

Exodus 4:29-31 New Living Translation (NLT)

29 Then Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt and called all the elders of Israel together. 30 Aaron told them everything the Lord had told Moses, and Moses performed the miraculous signs as they watched. 31 Then the people of Israel were convinced that the Lord had sent Moses and Aaron. When they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

Third Week of Advent Evening Scripture Reading - Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7-18 King James Version (KJV)

7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?

11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.

12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?

13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;

16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.

18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.

Daily Word of God - Malachi 3:16-18

Malachi 3:16-18 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Lord’s Promise of Mercy
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.

17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. 18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Third Week of Advent Evening Scripture Reading - Isaiah 9:3

Isaiah 9:3 King James Version (KJV)

3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

Daily Word of God - Psalm 37:23-24

Psalm 37:23-24 New Living Translation (NLT)

23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Third Week of Advent Scripture Reading - Philippians 4:4-7

Philippians 4:4-7 King James Version (KJV)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.

5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.