Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hope for a Grieving Community

On this cold winter night, as northeast Ohio endures its latest wintery blast, many homes in Perry Township, Ohio are reeling from another kind of icy stab.  Yesterday’s news reported that a sixth student in Perry Local School District has committed suicide since the beginning of this school year!

Meanwhile, the Perry Local School administration has been taking this “epidemic” seriously by making what they consider a valiant effort to provide counseling and other means of support to grieving students and faculty.  The school district had already begun suicide-awareness training and counseling sessions last autumn after the first suicide occurred.  However, this week’s report of a sixth suicide must have many in the district wondering what they should do next.

Superintendant Scott Beatty who was born and raised in nearby Massillon, spoke to Fox 8 TV saying, “I think it goes around one word:  Hope.  I would tell our kids there is hope, there is hope.”

I cannot imagine how I would react to this news if I were a parent of the latest victim; or, if I were any parent, teacher, or administrator of this Stark County, Ohio school district.  But as a resident of nearby Wayne County, my own reaction is one of grief and concern for those affected by these deaths.  How tragic that six students who had walked the “halls of learning” in Perry Local Schools had reached the point at which they could find no reason to live another day.  At the same time, while I commend superintendent Beatty for offering “Hope” to his students, I am curious as to what he believes is the object of this Hope.  In my experience, hope without a reliable object or basis for possessing it, is unfounded, unreliable, and unsatisfying.

Thankfully, Perry Township residents are beginning to realize that, with suicides continuing to occur, something more is needed than simply encouraging students and parents to call suicide awareness counselors, helpful as that might be.  A phone call this morning to two friends in North Canton, Ohio provided both disturbing and encouraging news.

What my Google search revealed--key words: Perry, God, religion, church
First, the disturbing news:  Officials related to Perry Local Schools have reportedly refused to allow people of faith to come onto school grounds to offer spiritual counseling.  Many readers will not be surprised.  As we have often lamented, America has removed God from her public schools; so, what should we expect?  But in truth, the erosion of strong spiritual leadership in America’s families began long before God’s disinvitation from public schools.  Deterioration of the family unit has coincided with a neglect of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, study, and prayer in our homes, the weakening of commitment to the marriage bond, less regular worship and service in a local church, and weakening commitment to exemplary moral living and service to the local community and beyond.

The Bible has been clear in its call for the moral and spiritual disciplines for thousands of years.
Proverbs 29: 18 states
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law.

Hosea 4: 6 claims:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge:
because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…
seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God,
I will also forget thy children. 

It is not enough to offer Hope. The Scriptures make clear that there is no hope unless we turn to our Creator and submit to His plan for living.   In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul professes that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe….(Romans 1:16).  But sadly, Paul continues, explaining how humans throughout the ages have rejected the truth of God, exchanging it for a lie, and suppressing the truth.  Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1: 22).

My previous article in Oikonomia, entitled Resolutions for 2018: Pursuing God --On Purpose, emphasizes the fundamental need of every person to know their purpose for living.  Our schools may do well in teaching the three-R’s along with computers, science, and technology.  But our students are facing many additional challenges outside the classroom, such as learning who they are as developing individuals and finding social acceptance and meaningful relationships.  All the while, individual development in mind, body, and spirit, and self-awareness are challenged by social media, poor family structure, access to drugs, and an ongoing deterioration of morality in our culture—an unbiblical morality that no longer regards the ancient foundations supporting biblical marriage and gender distinctions.  

Good suggestions are meaningless without a moral foundation.
Public school science and social studies undermine student moral and social development when they deny that Judeo-Christian principles have any place in these disciplines.  Instead, students are indoctrinated into atheistic, naturalistic evolution which purports to explain human origins by time and chance movements of molecules, and therefore, offers students a view of reality that is without morality and purpose.

But there is also good news for the Perry community.  A network of people of faith has been forming to assist students and parents who are willing to meet with them.  Rocky Perkson, one of my North Canton friend's former students, has announced on his Facebook page a “Community Come Together” meeting on Monday, January 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm at
Canton Baptist Temple
515 Whipple Ave NW
Canton OH 44708
Enter through Door G please. Opposite side of Whipple Ave
The FREE event is open to all and the speaker is Christopher Milo.

While it is true according to Proverbs 29: 18 that Where there is no vision, the people perish, it is also true that happy is he that keeps the law.  The psalmist David, in Psalm 19: 7-11, expands upon the “happiness” of the law-keeper who turns to God’s Word to find wisdom, joy, forgiveness, and warning:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

What the young people and families of northeast Ohio and our nation as a whole need is more exposure to Christ-followers—people who have found Hope in the Eternal God and have responded in faith to the call of His Son Jesus.  Jesus laid down the path of a true Christian with these words:

If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow  me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  – Luke 9: 23-24

God so loved the world of His creation that He sent His Son to give us the gift of everlasting life (John 3: 16). Christ came to replace our fear and despair with Love and Hope.  But surprisingly, this faith transaction requires a “death”—death to self and sin as we are individually buried with Christ so we can rise to new life in which God’s loving Spirit enables us to yield control of our lives to Jesus Christ.  This “death” to self and resurrection to New Life is symbolized by believer’s baptism.

If you are a Christ-follower, a true Christian by faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and His death and resurrection, you may want to become more knowledgeable of teen and even pre-teen suicide in your community and efforts to prevent it.   For example, you may want to locate a church or community ministry that provides support and spiritual teaching and encouragement for adolescents.  Many communities have so-called “Breakout” programs for adolescents to attend during or after school hours.  Why not Google “Breakout” to find the nearest program in your area?

If you are not a Christ-follower, perhaps you would like to learn more about the Eternal Life of Hope that Christ offers freely in response to your faith in Him.  Check out the website for “Steps to Peace with God” which outlines how you can believe and respond to God’s love, how your sin separates  you from God, what Jesus has done to address your separation, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Resolutions for 2018: Pursuing God --On Purpose

The New Year 2018 has seen the launching of many New Year’s resolutions.  But many well intended resolutions are already falling like leaky balloons.  A sense of failure is enough to keep many of us from ever trying again.   Maybe you can relate to this from your experience.

I’ve been there myself.  But, on this New Year, I’m thinking less about making resolutions and more about my life purpose.   A resolution may express a good intention or aim.  But it seems to me that my resolutions, good intentions, and aims must be based upon my sense of purpose.  I must first define and become committed to my purpose based on what I really value in life.  Then, my resolutions will be "on purpose" and I will become more resolute in my commitment to keep them.

My most recent focus on purpose began on January 1 while I was watching the film, Hugo, with our granddaughter, Della Rose.  This movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, features an orphan named Hugo Cabret who maintains the clocks in a 1931 Paris train station.  The colorful and creatively filmed movie tells the story of Hugo and his friend, Isabelle, who team up to solve the mystery of an automaton.  While attempting to learn more about Hugo’s deceased father, they also discover a mysterious filmmaker who had years before become so discouraged that he stopped applying his great gifts of magic and movie-making.  Hugo’s hideaway in the walls of the train station surrounds him with machines and their gears, springs, and pendulums.  Even the station inspector who seeks to capture Hugo must use a mechanical leg brace to walk.

As Della Rose and I watched Hugo, I began to see an interesting tension emerge—a tension between two contrasting worldviews.  On the one hand, Scorsese could have used his portrayal of early 20th century machines to underscore a naturalistic philosophy.  Naturalism views the world as if it were a giant machine with interacting parts, all functioning according to laws of physics and chemistry.  Human beings in this world are simply another kind of machine operating predictably according to these same laws.  Accordingly, our behavior is determined by interactions of this evolved anatomical, physiological, and molecular machine we call the human body.  Naturalistic evolution claims that humans and all forms of life were “created” by time and chance collisions of atoms and molecules.  According to the naturalistic worldview, there can be no free will or purpose.

But while Scorsese’s movie has busy machines, unwanted orphans, and an old man who had given up on his purpose for living, it deliberately avoids presenting a purposeless view of life.  Just as the movie appears headed toward endorsing naturalism, a beautiful dialog between Hugo and Isabelle reveals their individual need to know their respective purposes for living.  Let’s pick up the dialog as Hugo tells Isabella about the kindness of a librarian named Monsieur Labisse who has just given him a book to keep.  Isabella replies,

ISABELLE:  He’s always doing that—“sending books to a good home.”  That’s what he calls it.
HUGO [reflecting on what Isabelle has just said]:   He’s got real [pausing again]…purpose.
ISABELLE:  What do you mean? 
HUGO:  Everything has a purpose—even machines.  Clocks tell the time, trains take you places.  They do what they’re meant to do.
ISABELLE:  Like Monsieur Labisse.
HUGO:   [pausing thoughtfully] Maybe that’s why broken machines make me so sad.  They can’t do what they’re meant to do.  Maybe it’s the same with people.  If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.
ISABELLE:  Is that your purpose, fixing things?
HUGO:  I don’t know.   It’s what my father did.
ISABELLE:  I wonder what my purpose is.
HUGO:  I don’t know.
ISABELLE:   Maybe if I’d known my parents, I would know.

Upon hearing Isabelle’s sad reflection, Hugo pauses to think.  Then he invites her to follow him into the clock tower to look across the grand lighted city of Paris at night through the face of the clock.  After gazing for awhile in silence, Hugo speaks:

Right after my father died, I would come up here a lot. I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine... I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.    And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

Hugo, Isabella, and automaton

Here, in a tender, thoughtful dialog between two orphans we learn that, while humans are machine-like, they are much more than machines.   Granted, both humans and machines are intelligently designed—“for a purpose.”  But each human being is much more.  Each person is marvelously formed in a mother’s womb and born into a parental relationship.  Seemingly engrained within the DNA and expressed in the soul of everyone is the need to discover and pursue purpose in life.  Isabella wonders if she would already know her purpose if she had known her parents.

After Della Rose and I had finished listening to Isabella’s sobering words, I stopped the movie and replayed the dialog.  Then, I asked,
“Della, can you understand how much Hugo and Isabella wanted to know their purpose for living?”  
She nodded, and I followed with,
“Do you think you will learn what your purpose is as you grow older?” 
She thought awhile and then shared some things she likes to do now as if she already understood how she might learn her purpose from experiences she has enjoyed. 
I continued,
“When you were a little baby, your home and your family was your whole world.  Then, you began to make friends in church, and then in pre-school and kindergarten.  As you continue to grow, learn to love God more, He will help you understand your purpose in life.  For now, God wants you to love Him, obey His commandment to Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20: 12), and obey your teachers so that you can learn from them.

I thanked God for the opportunity to have this special conversation with our granddaughter.  Then, I realized that she and I had introduced the most important element in any pursuit of meaning and purpose in life—the life and teachings of our Creator.  Martin Scorsese had infused the otherwise cold, purposeless, machine-world of naturalistic philosophy with the warmth and human kindness of a librarian who had given a book to an orphan boy.  Then, God had used the movie to inspire a grandpa and his granddaughter to consider how their Creator is helping them learn who they are and what their purpose is as part of His plan for their lives—through parents, family, church, teachers, and community.

As Della Rose and I watched the rest of Hugo, we saw how two orphans in search of purpose found joy in helping a discouraged film-maker rediscover meaning and purpose.  As I now reflect on our New Year’s Day “movie experience,” I realize that God is our wonderful Counselor and Friend regardless of age.  For both a pre-adolescent girl and her retired grandfather, a sense of purpose in life is important—God desires to be a guide to both the young and old.  If this notion is true, then it is also true that we must subject our search of purpose in life to a much grander pursuit—an all-out pursuit of an intimate relationship with God. 

What does it mean to have an “all-out pursuit of God?”  The daily devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest offers words of wisdom and inspiration from its author, Oswald Chambers.  For January 1, Chambers refers to the Apostle Paul’s writing in Philippians 1: 20 and exclaims:

“My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point.  Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only — “My Utmost for His Highest.”  I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone.

In today’s world, it seems that relatively few people make the pursuit of God their primary purpose. Instead, we seek meaning and purpose in human philosophy, material possessions, prestige, and power.  But, the prophet Jeremiah challenges us,

Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…" – Jeremiah 9: 23-24

This God, Who wants us to understand and know Him in an intimate way, came seeking us when the Word [Jesus Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory (John 1: 14).  By reading the Gospel accounts, we can “see” the love of God poured out through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus modeled a life marked by an “all-out pursuit of God”—a life that is rich in meaning and purpose.  John 17: 3 records Jesus praying to His Father in Heaven, stating the essence of Life:  This is Eternal Life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 

Here, we have literally the essence and meaning of life spoken by our Creator, Jesus Christ. The commentator in The Reformation Study Bible (Reformation Trust Publ. 2015) expands upon this truth:

The meaning of our lives is at stake.  Our dignity is on the line. If human beings are considered alone, apart from relationship to God, then they remain alone and insignificant.  Our origin and our destiny are tied to God.  The only ultimate meaning we can have must be theological.

All our vows and resolutions end in denial because we have no power to carry them out. When we have come to the end of ourselves, not in imagination but really, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” — the idea is that of invasion. prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17: 3-4, we can see how closely Jesus’ ties His definition of “Eternal Life” to His sense of purpose in coming to Earth as Savior of mankind:

This is Eternal Life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

All---Of course, Jesus continually realized that He could do nothing on His own initiative (John 8: 28).  Oswald Chambers reminds us that we must follow the example of Jesus in our dependence upon God for meaning and purpose:

All our vows and resolutions end in denial because we have no power to carry them out.,  When we have come to the end of ourselves, not in imagination but in reality, we are able to receive the Holy Spirit.  "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" -- the idea is that of invasion.  

Maybe you are still holding forth and determined to keep your New Year’s resolution.  More power to you.  As for me, I am learning that it helps if my resolutions are first grounded upon a clear sense of purpose in my life.  And my effort to be “on purpose” is helped as I pursue the joy of the gift of Eternal Life—walking and working daily in the power of God’s Holy Spirit living in me, fed by the “bread” of His Word. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Daily Meditations to Enrich Your Christmas

Christmas is drawing near and many are already occupied with shopping, ordering online, baking, and decorating.  All of these traditions are great fun.   But I believe God delights when we take time to slip away from the Christmas frenzy to meditate on the significance of Christmas—to renew our sense of wonder, adoration, and thanksgiving for God’s Gift of Jesus Christ who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

This month, Oikonomia provides a series of “one-a-day, Christmas questions,” each accompanied by a brief meditation supported by a Scripture passage.  I invite you save this web link and visit each day to read and meditate on God’s Christmas promises, their fulfillment, and the future hope available to every believer through the birth, earthly life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

December 1:  Can I Believe What the Bible Says?

Consider:  The hope of Christmas hinges upon our acceptance of the authority of the Bible in matters it addresses about faith and practice.  The Scriptures themselves claim to be God’s inspired Word and are therefore an authoritative revelation of truth from God—truth about our origin, who we are as human beings, the root cause of strife in the world, and how we ought to respond to God’s call to Life and fellowship with Him.  Is your heart (your mind, will, and emotions) submitted to what God is showing you today?
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right (New Living Translation, NLT).
2 Timothy 3: 14-17

December 2:  Why Must I Have Faith to Believe in God?
We’ve all heard people say something like, “I am just not a person who accepts things on faith alone.”  Okay, but doesn’t everyone exercise faith the moment we awaken each day?  For example, we sit in chairs by faith that they will not “let us down.”  We have faith that our eyes will show us what is physically real around us.  We have faith that our car will respond to our hands on the wheel.   Indeed, God created us to exercise such faith in everyday life; and also to trust in the truth claims contained in His Word-- but we must be willing to believe.  What are you trusting in today?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11: 1, 6   New American Standard Bible, NASB).
Reading:  Hebrews 11: 1-6

December 3:   This Christmas, Will We Realize the Only Real Source of Love?
You may remember the lyrics written in 1965 by Hal David and made popular by The Beatles— “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  What was true in the 1960’s is even more obvious now—the World needs love.  And I would add, “God’s love.”  The Bible says in 1 John 4: 16 that “God is love.”  God is the very personification of perfect, unconditional love—love that always seeks the best for another person regardless of what it may cost us.   How is your “love life?”  This Christmas, will you commit to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor, realizing that the only true source of unconditional love (agape love) is from God
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Reading:  1 John 4: 7, NASB.

December 4:   How Does Christmas Demonstrate the Love of God?
Christmas is the time when we give gifts as a way to express our love to others.  But do we realize the true spiritual roots of Christmas joy and giving?  Our giving ought to be a response to the greatest love gift of all—God’s Gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures explain how God’s Gift is the greatest gift He could give us.  How do you respond when you read and meditate on what may be the most popular verse of the Bible, John 3: 16?  Have you received the gift of God’s Son and made Him lord of your life? 
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3: 16-17,  NASB)
Reading:  John 3: 16-17

December 5:   Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

The Old Testament of the Bible promised the coming of a Savior through many prophetic revelations. The New Testament records how these promises were fulfilled by the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Luke 4 records one dramatic instance in which Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from the Book of Isaiah—words first written 700 years earlier!   Amazingly, the Savior had come; and, He was reading His own mission statement which had already been written 7 centuries before.  As you read this statement, take time to reflect on how Jesus actually did fulfill this mission.  How will it impact your life this Christmas? 
Reading:  Luke 4: 14-22

December 6:   How Can Observing Advent Prepare Us for Christmas?
This week is the first week of Advent as observed in many families and churches.   Each week, a candle is lit to represent one of four themes.  The emphasis is on Hope this week, followed in future weeks by Peace, Joy, and Love, culminating in the lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas Day.   
The Advent calendar can help us become more disciplined in a spirit of waiting and anticipation of Christmas celebration of Christ’s coming.   This week, we are asked to consider the importance of Hope in our lives.  Hope is like the air we breathe.  It is just as essential to our physical and spiritual lives.  Christ came from heaven to Earth to bring us Hope.  Take time to re-read yesterday’s Scripture from Isaiah.  It was a message of hope to Israel in the midst of political turmoil and despair—a message intended to cause God’s people to wait in hope and anticipation of a long-awaited Savior.  Then, Jesus came to Earth and fulfilled an important phase of His “mission” (Luke 4: 14-22) through His death, resurrection, and promised second coming.  Are you resting in what Christ has done and in His promised return as your source of Hope today?  If so, thank and praise God; and then, ask Him to lead you to a person this week who needs this same Hope.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.  (1 Thessalonians 4:  13-14,  NLT)
Reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:  13-18

December 7:  What is “the Gospel?”
“Gospel” means “good news.”  The good news is “good” because it brings Hope as we learned in yesterday’s reading.   The Gospel explains how imperfect people can be reconciled, or purchased from the slave market of sin, by Jesus Christ whose sinless life was given as a perfect sacrifice in our place so that we might have eternal life through faith in His Name.  Consider the following words of the Apostle Paul which summarize the “good news” of the Gospel: 
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
Is the Gospel “good news” to you?  If you have received its message “by which also you are saved,” then, pause to thank God for your salvation in Christ and ask Him to give you opportunity to share the Gospel message of Hope to someone else this week.
Reading:   1 Corinthians 15: 1-9

December 8:  Why Are We “Blind Captives” without the Gospel?

One of Jesus’ most notable miracles was to heal those who were blind.  In our December 5 reading, we learned that part of Jesus’ mission was to bring RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND. Jesus demonstrated by His miracles that He is God in human form.  When Jesus gave sight to the blind, He was teaching us that God has the supernatural power to open our “spiritual eyes.”  When God heals our spiritual blindness, we can recognize His love, believe His Gospel, and invite His Son Jesus to forgive our sin and take control of our lives.  When we do this, Jesus through His Holy Spirit works in us to make us what He wants us to be.  If you have accepted God’s Gift of salvation from sin, do you realize it was only possible because God’s power is greater than that of the god of this world, Satan?  If so, thank God for His saving work in your life.  If you have not accepted God’s Gift, why not ask Him for it now?
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Reading:  2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
For more information on how you can invite Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of your life, see
“Steps to Peace with God.”

December 9:  How Did Satan Make Humans “Blind Captives?”
Yesterday, we noted that all people regardless of ethnic or economic status are spiritually blind until their eyes are opened by saving faith in Jesus who came to Earth on that first Christmas.   Jesus lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, and rose victorious over sin and death.  All people are spiritually blind without Christ because the Bible teaches that we are all descendents of Adam and Eve who believed “the lie” of Satan.  “The lie” was and still is we can  reject God’s love without experiencing spiritual blindness and death (separation from fellowship with Him).  What could be a more serious consequence of sin (rebellion against God) than to be separated from His presence forever?  Certainly, this is a good reason to take seriously God’s invitation to salvation and victory over sin, self, and Satan.  Have you sought and found salvation in Christ? 
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"  The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die [become separated from God]!”  (Genesis 3: 1, 4  NASB)
Reading:  Genesis 3: 1-13

December 10:  How Does God View Our “Blind Captivity?”
God has made humankind in His image, meaning that He has given us the rational, emotional, and volitional (our will) capacity to enjoy fellowship with Him.  Then, we can express virtues and attributes that reflect the very nature of God—e.g. love, joy, patience, kindness, mercy, etc. (Galatians 5: 22-25).  But the god of this world (Satan) continually appeals to our fallen nature as descendants of Adam through his deception and allurements to reject God’s rightful authority.  That is, Satan has blinded us to the truth that true satisfaction and joy cannot be found apart from God.  On the other hand, God reveals His truth to us through His Word and those who rightly teach us its truth, through the amazing order and qualities of His creation, and through the conscience He has put within each of us.  Are you alert to the spiritual warfare around you as you decide to whom you will listen?   Are you listening to God or to the god of this world?  Christmas is a good time to consider carefully in whose message you are trusting.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.   Professing to be wise, they became fools…   (Romans 1:  20-22  NASB).
Reading:  Romans 1:  16-22

December 11:  When Did God First Promise to Send Jesus as Savior?
According to Bible scholars, Jesus Christ fulfilled over 300 Old Testament prophecies of a promised deliverer, or Messiah.  Our question for today asks you to identify the earliest Old Testament prophecy of the coming of Messiah (Christ) as Savior?  You will find the answer in today’s Scripture reading:
The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel."  (Genesis 3: 14-15, NASB)
Amazingly, this prophecy was spoken from the mouth of God after the first human couple, Adam and Eve, had fallen prey to Satan’s lie.  Even before the first child was born into the first marriage, God had responded to human sin with the news that a child would be born who would bruise the head of Satan.  How can we help but worship and adore a God Whose love for you and me caused Him to begin to “leak” the news of the mystery (God’s unfolding purposes) that would lead to the birth of that Holy Child in Bethlehem?
  Genesis 3: 1-19

December 12:   Could Anyone Else Have Fulfilled the Prophecies Credited to Jesus Christ?
Many consider Jesus Christ to be a great moral teacher; but not God Himself in human form.  Dr. Peter Stoner, author of
Science Speaks, has studied the probability that any one man could have fulfilled even as few as eight of the over 300 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  Dr. Stoner’s estimate is 1 chance in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  One of the eight prophecies included in Dr. Stoner’s estimate is the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (probability of this prophecy alone is 1 chance in 280,000).   Yet the prophet Micah prophesied in about 700 BC the location of Jesus’ birth (Micah 5: 2  NASB):
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity
Notice that this “Ruler in Israel” was not yet born at the time of Micah’s writing.  Yet He will “go forth from God” as one Whose “goings forth are from…the days of eternity.”  Was there any doubt among the Jewish scholars 700 years later when King Herod asked them where Messiah (Christ) was to be born?  According to Matthew 2: 5, the scholars replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet….”  
I hope this one fulfillment of prophecy alone brings amazement, wonder, and joy to you as you consider God’s eternal plan to send His Son into the world to fulfill His “mission”—to set “blind captives” free!   If you have received your “spiritual sight” and are “set free,” why not pause to worship and thank God?  You may want to use the lyrics of “
O Little Town of Bethlehem” as you consider the wonder of Christ’s coming to Bethlehem on that first Christmas.
Reading:   Micah 5: 2; Matthew 2: 1-6

December 13:   "What Child Is This?"
Christmas is a time to be joyous and hopeful.  But as you may have noticed in this devotional series, there is a dark side to Christmas that we must not ignore.  On that first Christmas, millions of human beings were “blind captives” of Satan.  Likewise, today there are still millions of people who have not received the “Good News” that Christ came to bring RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND.   As the December 8 devotional stated from 2 Corinthians 4: 3-4 , if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  Thankfully, we can return to Isaiah for another prophecy that speaks of a Child that would be born to be a Ruler:
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them. 
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders…
  Isaiah 9: 2, 6a (NASB)
This Christmas, as you see lighted streets and homes in the midst of dark nights, will you ask yourself if your eyes have been “spiritually opened” through faith in God’s “Good News?”  If you have, thank God for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to pierce the darkness with the light of His truth.   If you are unsure, please take time to revisit our December 8 devotional.
Reading:   Isaiah 9: 1-6;  John 1: 4-5

December 14:   What will the “Ruler”Do?
In yesterday’s Scripture, we read Isaiah’s prophecy that people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  Then, the prophet revealed that this “great light” will come because of a child to be born to us…and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9: 2, 6a  NASB).  Clearly, this Child born in Bethlehem 700 years later was no ordinary child.  The names assigned to Him in the Scripture above are worthy of One no less than God Himself.   As you meditate on these names of the promised Savior, take time to humbly bow down before God and acknowledge His worthiness to be worshiped.  If you know Jesus Christ personally through faith, then He is your Wonderful Counselor to guide you with the decisions of life.  He is Mighty God with power to help you face the demands of your life.  He is Eternal Father to help you, even carry you, through the surprising changes and setbacks of life.  And, He is Prince of Peace to calm you and protect you through the storms of life.  Praise God, we need not face the challenges, uncertainties, setbacks, and storms of our lives alone.
Reading:   Isaiah 9: 1-7;  Matthew 8: 23-27

December 15:  Why is Christ Called “Prince of Peace?”As Christmas draws near, there are many who ask, “If it is true that the “Prince of Peace” has already come into the world 2,000 years ago, then why is there so little peace in the world today?”   The third stanza of Henry W. Longfellow’s 1864 Christmas hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” expresses our sad dilemma:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
If Christmas sometimes causes you to have doubt and despair, do not lose hope.  Remember how the first week of Advent is intended to stir our Hope as we consider the long-hoped-for coming of Christ?  Now, as a follow-up to Hope, the lighting of the second Advent candle symbolizes Peace.  Just before He went to the Cross, Jesus assured His disciples (and all Christ-followers) with these words, Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also (John 14: 1-3   NASB).
For many, the season of Christmas can certainly bring a sense of hopelessness.  Maybe you have asked, “Where is the sense of peace in my life—or, in my family—or, in our nation and world?”  But, please don’t lose your Hope or your Peace.  Christ promises His peace can be yours and mine—today!  Jesus went on to say, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful (John 14: 27).  Won’t you take courage, knowing that Christ is our Prince of Peace?  He is coming again to bring complete peace on Earth.  Longfellow’s lyrics boldly echo this truth:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”

Reading:   John 14:  1-3, 25-29

December 16:  In All of Today’s Corruption and Violence, Where is God?
The Old Testament represents about three-fourths of the entire Bible.  In it God reveals how He created all things (Genesis 1-2), how sin corrupted His creation (Genesis 3), and how He plans to redeem mankind and creation from the curse of sin by sending Messiah.  Beginning with the promise of the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3), the Old Testament gradually uncovers the mystery of a Child who would be a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Genesis 17).   More specifically, Messiah would be a descendant of King David (2 Samuel 7), He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7: 14), and His birth would occur in the little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2).  But sadly, the Old Testament ends with the descendents of Abraham and King David living in Palestine in a state of moral laxness.  And this in spite of having just been disciplined by a 70-year captivity in far away Babylon.  The last book of the Old Testament records the preaching of the prophet Malachi to these Jews because of their half-hearted worship, intermarriage with pagan people, and rampant divorce.  Many of them were asking, “Where is God?” because it seemed that He was turning a blind eye toward their corruption.  Here is a portion of God’s message through Malachi:
You have wearied the LORD with your words.
"How have we wearied him?" you ask.
You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil
are good in the LORD's sight, and he is pleased with them.
You have wearied him by asking,
"Where is the God of justice?"--
Malachi 2: 17 (NLT)
As we await the coming of Christmas this year, once again God’s Truth and righteousness are being marginalized and rejected.  In the midst of threats from terror and corruption in government, many are asking, “Where is God?”  But when we are tempted to be discouraged, we must first focus on our own tendency toward doubt and spiritual laxness.   Perhaps you sense God calling you to pause, repent of your sin, and recommit your life to Him—to the One Who sent His Son to rescue us from spiritual laxness and deadness, and to give us Hope and Peace.  Only then can we worship and obey God Who has called us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6: 8 NASB).
Scripture:  Malachi 1: 6; 2: 11, 15-16; 3: 1

December 17:   What Did God Promise Near the End of the Old Testament?
We have learned that God’s covenants to Abraham and to King David during Old Testament history promised the coming of the Savior of mankind.  Yet, the Old Testament ends with Malachi’s woeful message to Abraham’s offspring who were mired in spiritual laxness.  Then came 400 “silent years” between the Old and New Testaments without a prophetic word from God.  But thankfully, just before the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the “silent years,” we read an important announcement from Almighty God, recorded in Malachi 3: 1 (NASB):
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.  And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts.
Do you know who “God’s messenger” was to be?  If not, you will learn his name in tomorrow’s devotional.  What is important from today’s Scripture is that God saw the need to answer the Jews who were spiritually floundering and wondering if He had forgotten them.  Through Malachi’s ministry, God challenged the Jews to repent and get their spiritual house in order.  Furthermore, God promised them that a “messenger” would come to “clear the way” for the Lord, whom you seek …the One in whom you delight, behold, He is coming!  Today, as we hustle and bustle to prepare for Christmas, let’s set aside quiet moments like this to read Scripture and prayerfully prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child?  Thank God that, after so many millennia of waiting for the promised Savior, He came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1: 21).  And, He is coming again! 
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee
.  – Emily Elliott (1864)
Scripture:   Malachi 3: 1-4

December 18:   Who Was the Promised “Messenger” of God?
God’s final prophetic promise in the Bible is given in the last two verses of the Old Testament, at the end of the book of Malachi:
Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse." -- Malachi 4: 5-6 (NASB)
God’s last words recorded in the Old Testament through Malachi promised that He would send  a “messenger” whom He called “Elijah the prophet” (Malachi 3: 1).  Many of us are familiar with the prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1: 12).  This Elijah served in Israel about 500 years before God made His promise through Malachi to send Elijah.  Was God promising that the prophet Elijah would return to Earth 500 years after God had taken him to heaven with a chariot in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2: 1, 11)?  Or, was this a second Elijah?  Or, was he simply a man like Elijah?  The answer is found in the Gospel of Luke which records the fulfillment of this prophecy (Luke 1: 5-17).  This promised “Elijah” is John the Baptist.   We will discuss John the Baptist in more detail elsewhere, but for today, notice that God’s final prophecy of the Old Testament was completely fulfilled as recorded in three gospels of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, and John.  The Bible has two major parts, but it is the supernatural revelation from the One sovereign God Who brought these historical events into one plan of salvation through Christ.  Today, let us thank God for fulfilling His promise to send John the Baptist, a prophet like Elijah who would prepare the people’s hearts for the ministry of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Lord, prepare my heart.  Help me to make it a place of honor for my Lord Jesus today.
Scripture:   Malachi 4:  5-6; Luke 1: 5-17.

December 19:   Why is John the Baptist Included in the Christmas Story?
The Christmas story actually begins in the Old Testament Book of Genesis when God first promised a Savior (Genesis 3: 14-16).  Several thousand years later, and after 400 “silent years” without any prophetic word from God, the Christmas story exploded into full bloom with Hope and Joy at the promised birth of John the Baptist.  Therefore, in the third week of Advent as many of us light the candle representing Joy, it is fitting that we revisit the joyous account of this prophet’s birth according to Luke 1.  Zacharias, a priest, and his wife, Elizabeth were both advanced in years and considered “righteous in the sight of God” (Luke 1: 6).  Elizabeth had lived all of her married life under the scourge of being a barren woman.  Zacharias had faithfully prayed the God would open his wife’s womb and end her sadness, but to no avail.  Then, lo and behold, while he was presenting the priestly service in the holy place near the altar of incense, the angel Gabriel stood before Zacharias, and fear gripped him.  But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1: 13-14  NASB).
What follows is an account of an elderly couple whose faith in God is tested as they wait with a sense of Wonder and Joy for the miracle birth of their son, John.  According to the angel and as promised in the Book of Malachi, It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord"  (Luke 1: 17).
Please take time to read this amazing account that begins with the sadness of a barren couple at a time when there had been no revelation from God for 400 years.  Then allow God’s Word and His Spirit to fill you with Hope and Joy as you read about God’s gracious gift of a child who will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.  Praise God for His sovereign will and faithfulness as a covenant-keeping God.
Scripture:   Luke 1: 5-25; Malachi 3: 1-2; 4: 5-6

December 20:   What Can We Learn from Mary?
After 400 years without a prophetic word from God, the angel Gabriel had announced that John the Baptist would be born to Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1: 5-17).  Then, after only six months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel visited a relative of Elizabeth, a poor peasant girl named Mary, who was engaged to a man named Joseph.  Mary was a virgin, and she and Joseph were responsible to refrain from sexual union until their marriage was consummated.  In Luke 1: 28-30, we learn that Gabriel greeted Mary as “favored one” (or “full of grace”).  It was clear that Mary had “found favor with God.”  Upon hearing this unusual greeting, Mary was at first “greatly troubled” (1: 29).  
Gabriel to Mary: "Hail, favored one. The Lord is with you."
  Then, Mary learned that she as an unmarried virgin would become pregnant by God’s Holy Spirit.  Her troubled spirit must have quickly turned to perplexity—“How can this be, since I am a virgin (1: 34)?”  And very likely, Mary was overwhelmed and even fearful at the thought of what would happen when her pregnancy became known to Joseph and to their families.  How would she explain that her natural body was bearing a supernatural being--God’s “holy offspring…called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35)?  Her explanation would “naturally” be received with disbelief and disdain.  Yet Mary, a young girl with a righteous testimony, was willing to bear God’s Holy Child –and along with Jesus Christ her Lord, bear a stigma of unrighteousness for the rest of her life.  Would you pause right now in prayer while you try to relate to the cascade of events and emotions that must have rolled over Mary’s soul in just a few moments with an angel of God?  Then, ask God to make you more humbly submissive to His will as expressed so wonderfully by Mary in her response to Gabriel:
"Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."
Scripture:  Luke 1: 26-38

December 21:  How Did God Comfort and Strengthen Mary?
Seven hundred years before  the first Christmas, the prophet Isaiah had written, Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (meaning “God with us”)(7: 14).  Then, the angel Gabriel announced that Jesus would be born to Mary, a virgin who remained so while she carried the Holy Child (Matthew 1: 25; Luke 1: 30-33).  Apparently quite early in her pregnancy, Mary went to live with her relatives Zacharias and Elizabeth who were expecting the birth of John the Baptist.  Luke 1: 39-56 records this wonderful account of how God’s Spirit used Elizabeth to encourage Mary.  As we learned in yesterday’s devotional, God had placed a great weight of responsibility and cause for derision upon Mary.  But He affirmed her faith immediately when she saw Elizabeth’s beaming smile and heard her exclamation, Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of you womb!  Likewise, God used the sound of Mary’s greeting to encourage Elizabeth who was “filled with the Holy Spirit” as she felt her baby “leap in her womb for joy” (Luke 1: 39-44).  Then, Mary humbly responded with a beautiful testimony of praise to God for His “regard for the humble state of His bondservant” that He would choose her to be the mother of Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior (Luke 1: 46-55).  As you read and meditate on the Scripture for today, consider how graciously God affirms Elizabeth and Mary, and inspires them to encourage and affirm each other in their respective roles in His plan.  Pray that God will continue to affirm your walk in obedience to His calling.  Then, pray also that He will fill you with His Spirit to express boldly the truth of His Word in actions and in speech.   To conclude your meditation today, you may want to listen to “Breath of Heaven” sung by Amy Grant.
Scripture:  Luke 1: 39-56

December 22:   How Did God Rescue Joseph from His Inner Turmoil?
Mary and Joseph are both described as righteous before God and they were legally engaged to be married (Matthew 1: 18).  But Mary’s pregnancy threatened her godly testimony and presented an equally great dilemma to Joseph (1: 19).  Should he break their engagement and send her away privately without disgrace; or, should he make a public spectacle of her because of her supposed unfaithfulness?  Public exposure of Joseph’s charge could have led to stoning.   Matthew’s account (1: 20) suggests that Joseph had pondered this decision with agony of soul.  Imagine how you would feel if, after mailing all your wedding invitations, you are awaiting the arrival of your wedding dress (or men, your tuxedo) when you receive the news that the person you love very much and are about to marry has been unfaithful; and, a pregnancy has resulted. 

Joseph with Mary and family; From the movie, "The Nativity"
In spite of his agony of soul, the Scripture states, Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 1:19-20  NASB).   Joseph had decided to extend grace to the one he still loved.  But God, by His grace and compassion, addressed Joseph as a part of King David’s royal line as if to say, “Joseph, I know who you are, and I also remember my covenant with your father, David.”  God went on to say in effect, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, for I have chosen you and Mary to have a Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and whom you should name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (1: 21)."  This Christmas season, perhaps you or someone you know is facing a great trial that is causing confusion, pain, and anguish.  God will probably not speak audibly or in a dream.  But, I pray that He is speaking to you now through His Word that can assure us that just as He knew “Joseph, son of David,” so He knows you.  In fact, Joseph’s ancient father, King David, wrote Psalm 139: 1, O LORD, You have searched me and known me.  This lovely psalm concludes with David’s prayer that is so appropriate for us whether or not we, like Joseph, have great need of God’s mercy and guidance:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way
Scripture:   Matthew 1: 18-21; Psalm 139

December 23:   What Can We Learn from the Obedience of Joseph?
Christmas pageantry and holiday writings about the Nativity often focus on Mary and the Baby Jesus, and rightly so.  But, the Bible account credits Joseph with being more than just “best supporting actor.”  He is described as “a righteous man” (Matthew 1: 19), a compassionate and merciful husband to Mary (1: 20), a poor man (judging from his offering, Luke 2: 24), and a carpenter (Matthew 13: 55).  Although these descriptions of Joseph are important, to me his actions speaks more loudly about Joseph’s character.  Take a minute to skim Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 to locate recorde words spoken by Joseph.  Keep your findings for later; and, first consider what God asked Joseph to do: 
1) Take Mary, a virgin who is pregnant, as your wife (Mt. 1: 20)
2) Refrain from sexual union until after Mary’s pregnancy (Mt. 1: 25) and purification (Luke 1: 22).
3) Name the baby who is not your son, Jesus (Mt. 1: 21).
And what was Joseph’s response to God’s instructions?  He immediately obeyed.  Matthew 1: 24-25 records, And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and (1) took Mary as his wife, but (2) kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and (3) he called His name Jesus.   Joseph also demonstrated strong leadership and commitment to Mary and to Caesar when he and Mary made the 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register and pay his taxes.  After the birth of Jesus, God spoke to Joseph two more times through dreams—First, with clear instructions to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape danger from King Herod (Mt. 2: 13-14); and then, to return to Nazareth following Herod’s death (Mt. 2: 19-21).  In all accounts of his actions, did you locate any words spoken by Joseph?  I found none.  Instead, Joseph’s record shows only responsible obedience to God’s commands, each of which required a growing faith.  Today, thank God for the example of Joseph whose humble, quiet obedience provided a safe and nurturing environment for “God in flesh” who grew into an adult and demonstrated the ultimate obedience to His Father, being made for a little while lower than the angels (Hebrews 2: 9), made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (2: 17)Praise God, what a plan!  What a God, our Savior!
Scripture:  Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2: 1-7; Hebrews 2: 1-10

December 24:   What Can We Learn from “Busy Bethlehem?”
On the first Christmas, a weary, engaged couple named Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.  Mary was ready to give birth to a baby they were instructed to name “Jesus” because He was the very embodiment of God’s Promise, “Jehovah will deliver.”  The pregnant virgin was about to fulfill a unique, supernatural prophecy from Isaiah 7: 14 that a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel, “God with us.”  Because of their poverty (Luke 2: 24), Mary had walked, or ridden, most of the 80-mile trip to Bethlehem on an animal owned or borrowed by Joseph.  But, if that were not enough, the Scripture records that Mary laid her newborn baby in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2: 7).  The fact that Jesus was born among the animals in a stable evokes a number of responses.  Some of us may view “busy Bethlehem” with distain because it was only the beginning of how we have seen Christmas being crowded out by commercialism.  But hopefully, many of us will respond more personally with a contrite, heart-felt response—Lord, help ME to open MY heart—and MY life, to make room for Jesus.  Indeed, right now you may want to pause and pray such a prayer.  As you consider doing this, I want to thank you for taking an important step of “making room” by reading and meditating on God’s Word today.  Maybe you have sensed God urging you to make room in other specific areas of your life, family, and community.  Some families make room in their homes during Christmas for a person who lives alone or has recently lost a loved one.  Others make room in their schedules to assist in ministries to needy families at Christmas; and we know that other families have taken in foster children.  Whatever we do, “making room” ought to grow out of spending time in God’s presence—in prayer and in His Word so that His love can be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5: 5).  In so doing, we may become compelled by the same love that compelled God to send His Son, born of a virgin, and destined to transform our hearts and the whole world.
Scripture:   Luke 2: 1-7

December 25:   What Can We Learn from the Shepherds?

On Christmas Day, many families keep the tradition of reading the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2.  What an amazing, joyous account. Yet, I’m always saddened by fact that there was no room for a weary Mary and Joseph to rest for the night, and for Mary to give birth to her Child, the baby Jesus.  But ironically, the overcrowded town and the nearby hillsides witnessed an explosion of the relentless love of God.  Instead of reigning judgment on “busy Bethlehem” for rejecting the Gift of a Savior, God split the darkness with this glorious announcement:
Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2: 10-12).  And who did God choose to receive this announcement?  He gave it to the shepherds who were watching their flocks on a hillside outside Bethlehem—lowly men who were often marginalized from society, being misunderstood, mistrusted, and regarded as inferior.  Instead of bringing judgment on Bethlehem and these shepherds, God comes with loving concern in His first words-- Do not be afraid.  God’s perfect Love overcomes fear (1 John 4: 18).  This is week, many will pause to light the forth Advent candle representing Love, so appropriate because we can see throughout the Bethlehem story the height, and depth, and breadth of God’s Love.  Indeed, we celebrate God’s Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love on this Christmas Day because God came to us, welcome or not.  As we celebrate the birth of Christ today, won’t you pause to marvel at the undaunted faith of Mary and Joseph, the unusual provision of God for these weary travelers, and the unlikely audience for God’s thrilling announcement?  How can we help but exclaim, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace and good will…?  Yes, even so come into my heart Lord Jesus.  And, help us this Christmas Day to make room in our hearts for your Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love.  Then, may we follow the example of the shepherds and make known to others what has been told about this Child (Luke 2: 17).
Scripture:  Luke 2: 7-20

December 26:   What Can We Learn from the Magi?

By this time, you may have already exchanged gifts as a part of your celebration of Christmas.  It is also likely that you have learned from reading Matthew 2 the account of how men known as magi, or “wise men,” followed a certain star and came to Jerusalem bringing gifts and asking,  Where is He who has been born King of the Jews (Matt. 2: 2)?  The magi had embarked upon their 500 mile trip to Jerusalem based upon their astrological studies of the stars.  But it is also very likely they had read accounts from the Hebrew Scriptures available since the time of Daniel.  Recall that Daniel was one of many Jews who had been taken into captivity in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 52: 27-30).  Now, some 500 years later, pagan astrologers were moved to travel a great distance to find the King of the Jews.  Matthew 2: 10-11 records the excitement of the magi in the final leg of their trip from Jerusalem to the house where baby Jesus and his family were now staying:  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The magi recognized the infant Jesus as being of a royal line of kings, and they offered him gold.  They also offered frankincense, the dry sap of Boswellia trees (Boswellia sacra and B. carteri ) which symbolized purity.  Finally, the magi offered myrrh, and extract of trees of the genus Commiphora which is in the same plant family as Boswellia.  Myrrh was commonly added during embalming of bodies prior to burial.  The three gifts of the magi honor Jesus as royal king who is also pure and holy, and One who will give up His life for the sins of mankind, be buried, and raise again the third day (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4).  Like the lowly shepherds, the wise and wealthy “wise men” demonstrate for us the response we should all follow.  They show how to seek the Lord while He may be found (Isaiah 55: 6) and then humbly bow down in adoring worship of Jesus as the King of kings, as the pure and holy One Who can redeem us from our sin, and as the One willing to die for our sins.  As you meditate on the story of the magi, come in repentance of your sin and reverent worship of God’s Son, Jesus, Who was born to die in order to set us free from the Law of sin and death (Romans 8: 2).
Scripture:  Matthew 2: 1-12  

NOTE:  Thanks for reading Daily Meditations to Enrich Your Christmas.  This concludes the series.  As stated earlier but with slight modification, “Stay Faithful—Jesus is Coming Soon!”

Friday, November 17, 2017

America’s Open Season: Spiritual Awakening?

During the past few months, America has been engaged in what appears to be an “open season” of accusations and confessions of past indiscretions.  On a national and historic level, men like Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson have been criticized for their racism and bigotry.  Angry reactions have led to the toppling of time-honored statues that have honored these and other American leaders.  

"Search ME O God...see if there be any wicked way in ME."
On the Hollywood scene, disclosure of the sexual improprieties associated with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others has exposed a whole culture of immorality with a long history that is strewn with ruined lives.  Then, in recent days, the “open season” has spread to Washington where names Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Bill Clinton are making the news.   It is clear that, not unlike the culture of Hollywood, the “swamp” of Washington has been growing and festering for many years.

On the surface, America’s soul searching appears to be driven by political and ideological motivations, and maneuverings.  However, many Christ-followers are viewing this season as a call to pray that something deeper, more fundamental, and lasting may be possible.  Is it possible that America is beginning to realize the heavy price it has to pay for having rejected God’s moral absolutes?  Will America realize that her foundation has been strong because she has respected the Judeo-Christian moral code that includes loving God above all else and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10: 27)?  These laws were given by a loving God to promote abundant life and blessing, not boredom and pain.  God has been lovingly saying to us through His Word, “thou shall not, because I love you; and if you do, you and others will be hurt!   If you lie, hate, gossip, steal, commit adultery, and covet, it will separate you from my love, and my Life.  I have given you a choice:  life and blessedness, or death and dispair.”

How should Christ-followers respond to the daily news of the “toppling” of statues and the improprieties of personalities representing in many cases people that we held in high esteem?  Many Christ-followers have been praying that God would bring healing of the great political, moral, ethnic, and socioeconomic divisions in America.  Yet this morning, I am struck by the need for the light of God’s truth to be directed into my own heart, first and foremost.  What is being played out in Hollywood, Washington, and in cities across America is not foreign to my own life experience.  I too have sinned.  I sin daily--sometimes in my private thought life, and sometimes outwardly though ill chosen words or actions toward my wife or others.  I am not who I think I am.  I am who God knows me to be.  And, when I open God’s Word, the Bible, I can see as in a mirror the man that I really am.

The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 7: 7, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “Thou shall not covet.”   He goes on to say that, once he realized the Law against coveting, it produced in me coveting of every kind (v. 8).  Paul admits that nothing good dwells in me  because I do the very thing I do not wish to do (Romans 7: 18, 20).”   I can so clearly relate to Paul’s dilemma.  Can’t you? 

We all share the same “flesh” because we are biological and spiritual descendents of fallen Adam (Genesis 3).  But, Romans 8 explains that

Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8: 3-4).

Based on this truth, it follows that when we “die to the flesh” (i.e. give up on our own attempts to be righteous before God) and accept the offering of Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, that we can be “born again” to walk in newness of life.  Then, as spiritual reborn individuals, we have the power of God’s Spirit within us to direct us along the morally right path in life and to convict us when we tend to go astray in thought or action (2 Timothy 3: 16).

How should I respond to the apparent “open season” on moral transgressors in America?  I must remember that as far as I am concerned, God’s first love and concern is not about Roy Moore or Kevin Spacey, or even about a spiritual reawakening in America.  Rather, God is concerned about my sensitivity to sin and my willingness to confess and turn from my wicked ways. 

Gordon T. Smith, in The Voice of Jesus, Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit, explains that we must “avoid the temptation to look at others rather than yourself.  We cannot know how God is convicting another; we can only know our own hearts.”  We must first examine our own life.  The Spirit of Christ within us calls us to pray with the psalmist David as he prayed (Psalm 139: 23-24),

Search me of God Search me, O God,
and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way

As we search our hearts in light of God’s Word (Hebrews 4: 12), we realize that, as Smith further notes,

Sin is not merely bad deeds. 

Rather we are wise to be attentive to…how the Spirit might be convicting us with respect to our speech, the attitude of our hearts, our mental propensities as well as what we have actually done [or]…what we have neglected to do…  But the bottom line remains:  “Lord, where are you calling me to turn—not the person next to me in the pew on Sunday, not my colleagues at the office or family members, not anyone else but me?”  We seek the grace to know the convicting ministry of the Spirit that calls us from death to life; that empowers us to embrace the life of God.

Yes, we are in an “open season” of disclosure of the sins of celebrities and political leaders, and of toppling of historical statues.  But, sadly many don’t know the next step.  We can see “the spot” of individual or national sin.  And, like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, we are beginning to cry, “Out, damn spot!”  But we don’t realize that only by turning to God can the spots be removed through repentance and confession of our sin.  It’s not Bill Clinton or Roy Moore, “It’s me first, Lord!  Open season on my heart!  I must open my heart to your loving search for what is not life and peace, but sin and death.  May I humbly confess and turn from that which dishonors you and separates me from walking with You.  With David (Psalm 51: 12-13) I will pray,

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.

Me first!  Then, what next?   Maybe God will bring another “Great Awakening.”