Category Archives: Devotionals

The Christmas Story: The Birth of Jesus

Today we will look at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20)

This is what we are so familiar with when we hear of the Christmas Story. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that everyone was to be registered. The decree called for you to be registered in the town of your fathers, which led to Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem at this time when she was due for the birth of her son.

When we read there was no room at the inn and that Jesus was placed in a manger. We get an image of a very pregnant Mary being turned away from a nice hotel and sent to spend the night in a barn on a cold snowy night. The Sheppard tending their flocks make it more likely it is fall and while the nights would be cool, they probably weren’t cold and snowy.

Second our image of the manger and stable are probably a little skewed by what we picture for a place to keep animals. Albert Barnes in

Sarihan Carivanserai, Cappadocia, Turkey built in the 13th century

his notes on the New Testament gives us a better picture of where Mary and Joseph more than likely settled down for the night. He quotes a description of an inn given by Dr. Kitto. I’m going to paraphrase that description; an inn at that time would have had a grand archway that led to a large open area with a well in the middle. In the walls around this open space would be doorways leading to oblong shaped rooms. The rooms would be unfurnished and the only light would come from the doorway which opened to the center opening. In most inns the animals would be kept in the open area. If the inn was one of the fancier establishments it would have an empty hallway that led to the back wall. The hallway would serve as the stables.  There would be a bench built into the wall. So a traveler would have a place to set or place food for their animals.[1]It was more than likely on one of these benches that Jesus was laid. So while this would not be the best accommodations for a king, it wasn’t exactly what we picture when we thing of a stable.

The thing that is significant isn’t how bad it was. We don’t have to try and make the birth of Jesus sound horrible, as if he was in a feeding trough freezing to death while animals ate food from under him. The point is that Jesus is the eternal king. He is God with us. The birth of Jesus was God’s plan of restoring fallen sinners to Himself and it was part of his plan for Jesus to coma as a humble servant that was willing to die for us. If Jesus the King can humble himself to be born in this way then shouldn’t we definitely humble ourselves in His service.


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  1. [1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Luke & John, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884-1885), 18.

The Christmas Story: Joseph

Today I’m looking at Joseph. (Matthew 1:17-25)

To me Joseph is one of the most amazing characters in the Christmas story. He also seems to be one of the most overlooked. We have heard sermons about what a good guy Joseph was. How he was going to divorce her quietly until an angel showed up and told him not to. There is so much more going on here.

Joseph had some hard decisions to make. First keep in mind he truly loved Mary or he wouldn’t have been willing to divorce her quietly. The Jewish law said he could accuse her of misconduct, which carried the sentence of her being stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:21) Jewish law was so strict on this that a betrothed virgin that was raped in the city could be stoned for not crying out.(Deuteronomy 22:24)

So Joseph is waiting to marry the woman he loves when he finds out she is pregnant and he knows beyond a doubt he is not the daddy. This isn’t as simple as trying to decide if you want to raise a child that is not yours. If Joseph decides he is going to go on and marry Mary and raise this child that isn’t his, then he has to pay the bride price and cannot ever divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28) He is basically admitting to everyone that he sinned and seduced her, which brings shame upon both of their families. Plus in this shame he has the shame of knowing he did not actually commit this sin. Joseph is in a no win situation. The bible said he considered these things I imagine Joseph agonized over these things.

So an angel show s up and tells him not to worry, Mary did not cheat on him. The Angel reminds him of Isaiah’s prophecy that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son called Immanuel or God with us.

Clears everything up for Joseph right!

While with all the miraculous things going on, Mary and Joseph swearing that Mary was pregnant, and the baby belonged to the Holy Spirit, and this is really God’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy seemed logical; most people did not go for it. Joseph was quite the man. He did what God told him even though it meant tremendous shame on him for the rest of his life.

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The Christmas Story: Mary

Today we will look at Mary’s story. (Luke 1:26-56)

 

We all are probably familiar with Mary’s story. She was a teenage girl pledged to be married to Joseph. One day the Angel Gabriel shows up and greets her by calling her the favored one and telling her that the Lord is with her. Mary was afraid cause she couldn’t understand this strange greeting. Gabriel explains to her that she is going to have a baby that will be the Son of God. That He will take the throne of David.

Mary is now really confused since she is a virgin and therefore it would be impossible for her to have a child. The Angel explains that the child will be from the Holy Spirit and to give her a sign tells her that her aunt Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age.

We then see Mary quickly heading into Judah to see her aunt. So let’s try ro picture what Mary is going through. Mary is an unmarried young lady. For her to become pregnant is a big thing. It will bring shame on the family. I think it is interesting how Mary handled everything. She leaves Nazareth to go and see her aunt to confirm the sign the angel gave her. Imagine her surprise upon seeing her pregnant aunt and hearing her declare to Mary, who would not be showing yet, “Blessed are you and the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth even calls the baby in Mary’s womb the Son of her Lord, and blesses her for believing the Lord. Mary at hearing this breaks out in praise of God.

So many prophecies are filled in Mary right here. Isaiah 7:14 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. That there would be a savior king come from the line of David to rule and judge an eternal kingdom.(2 Samuel 7:12, Psalm 132:11, Isaiah 9:6-7, 1Chronicles 22:10, Daniel 7:14, Daniel 7:27, Jeremiah 23:5-6)

The Jews missed all of this happening right in front of them when God prepared three signs for them to wake up and see. Zechariah’s muteness, Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and Mary’s miraculous pregnancy

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The Christmas Story: Elizabeth

Today we will look at Elizabeth. (Luke 1:24, 39-45, 57-66)

Elizabeth was the wife of the priest Zechariah and the Mary’s aunt. At this time children were considered a blessing of God. The more children you had the more God had blessed you(Psalm 127:3). To not have children was shameful and it was assumed that God was holding back his blessing from you.

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had both faithfully served God all their life, yet she had no children. She was at an age when it was impossible to have children. Then all of a sudden her husband comes home mute, and tells her he will be that way until she gives birth to their son; John. Can you imagine the disbelief that Elizabeth had! That would be the answers to the prayers she had prayed but it was an impossibility.

Elizabeth hid herself from everyone while she waited for God to accomplish what he had promised through the angel Gabriel. Everyone had heard what had happened to Zechariah. The test of a prophet is did the prophecy come true. Everyone would be watching to see if Zechariah was really going to have a child. I imagine that Elizabeth was also worried even when she started showing, because of her age she probably worried about complications. Until she knew that this child was going to be born she did not want to be out where everyone could see her.

Six months into her pregnancy her niece shows up with a miraculous story of her own. Can you imagine the conversations these two ladies had? Both are in the process of a miraculous pregnancy that was foretold by an angel.

Elizabeth does give birth to John, thereby giving Zechariah his voice back.

So why did God bring John into the world in this way? I remind you it has been 400 years since God has spoken to Israel.  Almost 2000 years before this there was a woman named Sarah who gave birth at 90 years of age. A birth that was physical impossible and was prophesied by God. I believe Elizabeth was a reminder that God could do the impossible. Everyone should have been expectant of Christ arrival. The Old Testament is all in expectation of Christ. God had the miraculous circumstances of Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a reminder and preparation of what was to come.

In Isaiah 7:14 Isaiah had prophesied that a virgin would give birth to a son that would be God with us. A son called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. A son that would have the very government upon his shoulders. I think Elizabeth was God’s way of waking everyone up to what He was about to do.

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The Christmas Story: Zechariah

The first person I want to look at is Zechariah.  (Luke 1:8-23)   Zechariah was an older man. He was a priest and at the time of his meeting with the angel Gabriel his wife was past the child bearing age, and they were childless. Every morning and evening a priest would enter the temple and burn incense on the altar of incense.(Exodus 30:1-8)  He would offer incense to the lord and ask forgiveness of Israel’s sins. This was a serious task as not doing it in the correct way would bring about God’s wrath leading to the death of the priest. (Exodus 30:9, Leviticus 10:1-2) At this time in Israel’s history the priest that would offer incense was chosen by lot. All of the priest would meet in a room and a number would be agreed upon by them. They would form a circle and each would put their fingers out upon command. The priest in charge would then go around the circle counting the fingers that a person put out; be it 1, 2, or 3 fingers. The person whose fingers made the number that was agreed upon was the one that was chosen. Tradition only allowed a person to burn incense once in their life, so before they cast lots for incense the priest would call all of those who had never burnt incense to step forward. It was believed that burning the incense brought about riches.[1]   Zechariah was chosen this morning. Keep in mind it has been 400 years since God has spoken to Israel. As Zechariah enters the temple an angel appears to him and tells him the impossible is about to happen. His wife Elizabeth is going to have a child, and this child is going to be the forerunner preparing Israel for the Christ to come. Zechariah doubted the angel which led to the angel making him mute until the child john was born.  When Zechariah comes out of the temple everyone is wondering why it took so long. Why can Zechariah not speak? He makes signs to tell what the angel said. Just as the angel said Elizabeth becomes with child. Zechariah is mute until the day John is born when he tells them that his newborn son will be named John he gets his voice back.(Luke 1:57-66) So why did Zechariah have to be mute for 9 months? What part was he playing in the Christmas story? God was about to bring all of the Old Testament prophecy’s about the Messiah to fulfillment. He wanted to prepare everyone. By Making Zechariah mute everyone wanted to know what happened. Zechariah was then able to give them a prophecy that seemed impossible plus they were going to be able to see it come true.(Luke 1:67-80) When we stop expecting the supernatural we start missing it when it is right in front of our eyes. Zechariah comes out in front of thousands of worshipers and shows them that God has struck him mute. He explains what the angel has said. So the birth of John and the message that John brings when he begins his ministry was preparing Israel for what God was about to do through Jesus.

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  1. [1] This information came from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

The Ringing of the Bells

Exodus 28:33–35 (ESV) — 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. 

I was reading this section of Exodus a few mornings ago. It is a description of what the priestly robes should look like. The thing that jumped out at me was the description of the bells on the hem. Not so much their description as their purpose; and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.

It’s as if the bells are there to tell God, “Hey I’m coming in, Please Don’t kill me!” And to some extent they are, but God already knows when the priest is coming in so their real purpose is to make sure the priest hears the bells striking and realizes that he is about to walk as a sinner in the presence of the holy God.

Picture this you are the priest, walking into the holy of holies. You have heard the stories of the other priest that did not approach God reverently(Leviticus 10:1). The bells ringing signifies to God I’m coming, I ask you to spare me as I come to worship you. With every ringing bell you realize how powerful and holy God is.

So why am I making such a big deal out of the bells. Maybe we should remember this verse as we walk into church, as we enter into prayer on our own, or just we we go out and tell the world we are a Christian. We are in the presence of the holy God and we should approach Him with the same caution as the priest did.

Through Jesus we have been allowed to enter the presence of God just as the priest did, we do not need to forget it is the same God as the priest met with.

 

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Disregarding the Word of God

I was reading through Jeremiah 36 this morning and it got me thinking. The Lord told Jeremiah to write on a scroll all the words of prophecy the Lord had spoken to him. Jeremiah calls the scribe Baruch and dictates to him what to write.

After the scroll is finished Jeremiah tells Baruch to take it to the Lord’s House and read it aloud. Word of mouth gets the scroll into the hands of Jehudi who reads it to king Jehoiakim. As Jehudi reads it Jehoiakim cuts it and burns it in the fire to show he is not afraid of the Lord.

It sounds incredible that this king would ask the scribes to tell him what God said and then show total disregard for it. But it makes me wonder how many times we do the exact same thing.

God tells me to love my enemies, sometimes I can’t say its love I feel when I think about them. God tells us to go and spread the good news of salvation, but there have been more times than I would like to admit that I ignored God’s prompting to speak about Him. I imagine all of us can think of times we took what God has said and disregarded it.

Just ask, do I tithe like God asks? Do I love like God asks? Do I share like God asks? The list can go on and on and if we are honest we all fail somewhere.

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Ransomed

I was studying John 5 this morning and I read a cross reference that sent me to Isaiah 35. As I read Isaiah 35:10 “and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” It struck me how beautiful that is.

We are the ransomed of the Lord. Sin had taken us but God paid the ransom. God sent Jesus as the price that had to be paid to release us from our captives. A ransom is a price you must pay to someone who took something from you to get something that was yours and you want back.

Knowing that you are something God paid a ransom for should give you everlasting Joy.

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The Glow from the Clouds

I did a sermon on the sermon on the Sermon on the Mount a few weeks ago and In Matthew 5:14 (NIV) “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. I used an illustration that I thought went over pretty good.

This verse is talking about how Christians should be something that stands out and guides others to Christ. Jesus lives in us and we should reflect Him. People should see Jesus in us. It’s like when you are driving at night. You are in the middle of nowhere. You are lost, turned around, and you don’t know which way you need to go. You come to a stop sign. You look at all the choices of directions you can go. You have no idea which way to turn.

You look up into the sky and you can see a glow in the sky. It is the lights, from the city you are trying to make it to, reflecting off the clouds. You can follow the glow and get where you need to be. This light reflecting off the clouds has showed you what you need to know, to not be lost any more.

We should be those clouds! A lost person trying to figure out which way to turn should see Christ’s light reflecting off of us. We should be the light that shows the direction and stops them from being lost.

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Joseph’s Decision

I want to look at Joseph for a minute. In Matthew 1:18-25 we read the story of Joseph learning about the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were betrothed which means that an arrangement for marriage has been made and they would be married after the set time was up. This betrothal process was just as binding as marriage and would require a divorce to get out of.

So let’s put ourselves in the mind of Joseph. He loves Mary and is awaiting the day that they will be married. Then one day she comes up and tells him she is pregnant. To top it off she has come up with a crazy and blasphemous story involving angels and being impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

So Joseph is trying to figure out what to do. The law (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) says he is to take her to the priest, make an example of her, and carry her out to be stoned. He also has the option to quietly go and divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) her without publicly making an example of her. Neither of these options is pleasing to Joseph, because his heart aches for Mary.

He can not stand the idea of stoning her, yet if he divorces her he will be shamed. Think about this. If he divorces her quietly, when the town realizes she is pregnant they will assume that Joseph and Mary had sex before marriage. That would put shame on them both. Joseph has a hard choice to make.

Joseph drifts off to sleep with these thoughts on his mind. He dreams and an angel appears to him telling him, Mary’s story is true. She is pregnant with a child by the Holy Spirit. This is the promised Messiah you have been waiting on (Isaiah 7:14).

Joseph awakes the next morning with a whole new dilemma. God has confirmed Mary is telling the truth and he should go on and marry her. Yet if he does this he will be shamed forever for having sex before marriage (John 8:41). Joseph being a righteous man and putting his trust in God married Mary.

So my question today is if you knew God wanted you to do something and knew that it would bring public embarrassment to you, would you do it? Are you willing to be embarrassed for Jesus?

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Paul’s Defense

In Acts 21 things really start to get exciting for Paul. He goes to Jerusalem and meets with James (Acts 21:17-19). He tells them of the wonderful things that God is doing with the gentiles and they all glorify and praise God (Acts 21:20). Then they tell Paul that thousands of Jews have come to believe in Christ. The problem is they do not agree with Christian liberty and are zealous for the law.

The elders go on to tell Paul that these Jews have been telling everyone that you teach the Jews that are among the gentiles to forsake the law of Moses (Acts 21:21). Of course they have a plan though, they tell Paul to take four men, that are under a Jewish vow and pay for their purification rites, along with doing them hisself. This way everyone will see that you still obey the law (Acts 21:22-24).

So Paul agrees to do this and when they had almost completed the week long purification some Jews noticed him and having seen him earlier with the gentile Trophimus (Acts 21:27-29) they had him arrested. It’s very important that we notice Paul was arrested for bringing a gentile into the temple, (Acts 24:6) which he did not do.

Keep in mind from this point forward, Paul has been arrested for something he did not do. So the  Jews nearly rip Paul into before the Roman tribune came and arrested him(Acts 21:31-33), as he is being drug away he asks for a chance to make a defense (Acts 21:40-22:1). I love this part! Instead of standing up and pleading his innocence, Paul jumps up and starts preaching Jesus Christ brings salvation to everyone Jew and Gentile (Acts 22:2-21).

The next day Paul gets a chance to make his innocent plea to the priest and chief council. He preaches the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 23:6). Five days later he is to speak in front of the high priest, the elders, and the governor. Guess what Paul does, he preaches the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 24:1-21, Acts 24:21).

While Paul is in prison he speaks to Felix and his wife Drusilla about faith in Jesus, righteousness and the coming judgment. Think about this Paul is in prison and tells the judge that gets to sentence him that he will go to hell unless he puts faith in Jesus and repents of his sin(Acts 24:24-25).

Finally in Acts 25 Festus meets with Paul and asks if he wants a chance for defense and Paul says I’m innocent and I want this opportunity to speak to Caesar (Acts 25:11). King Agrippa shows up and Paul gets to stand in front of him. Again Paul says he is innocent but he does put forth a case to defend himself, he uses the opportunity to preach (Acts 26:1-24).

What is amazing to me is Paul is using his imprisonment to gain audiences to preach to. Paul says just enough to show that he is innocent and then moves on to preaching about Jesus.

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The Cowardly Disciple

Isn’t it amazing how the Holy Spirit can take a man like Peter in Matthew 26:69-75 and turn him into a man like Peter in Acts 3-4.

In Matthew 26 Peter denies Jesus three times. Even swore and took an oath that he did not know Jesus. Peter walks outside and cries because of his failure. He completely gives up and goes back to his old career as a fisherman. (John 21:3)

This broken man who has failed the one he said he would die for completely changes once the Holy spirit comes unto him. In Acts 2:4 the apostles receive the Holy Spirit. This man that was so scared of dying a little over a month ago stands up in Acts 2:14 and starts preaching to thousands of Jews (Acts 2:41). Peter tells them that they murdered Jesus (Acts 2:36) and then calls them to repentance(Acts 2:38).

This same cowardly man was going to the temple in Jerusalem a few days later when he healed a lame beggar. (Acts 3:1-6) While standing right outside of the temple Peter starts preaching again, saying you killed the Author of life. (Acts 3:15) Of course this preaching of Jesus’ resurrection angered the priest so they carried Peter to the council, where Peter again filled with the Holy Spirit asks the high priest, If I am  being questioned about doing a good deed done to a cripple then lets talk about the power of Christ that made this possible. (Acts 4:9-10)

This same spirit that empowered a man that denied Christ to stand and preach the resurrection of Christ to the very men that killed Christ is available to us. If we accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour then he will grant us the Holy Spirit and then we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Philippians 4:13

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Is There No God In Israel?

King Ahaziah of Israel falls from his balcony in Samaria and is seriously injured. He sends a messenger to go forty mile to the city of Ekron and asks the Priest of Baal Zebub if he will recover. As they are heading to Ekron Elijah stops them and asks them, “is it because there is no God in Israel that they are heading to Ekron.” Then Elijah tells them that The true God has said because you did not trust in Him you will die.

King Ahaziah was the son of Ahab. Ahab worshiped idols and had been warned over and over again that his problems were caused because he did not worship God. There was prophets of God in Samaria that Ahaziah could have consulted, but he didn’t.

So where am I going with this. We are dying in sin just as Ahaziah was dying of his injuries. Yet we do not seek Jesus who can heal us and is always right wee we are. We travel as far as necessary to find our idols. Whether it be money music, sex or what ever your personal idol may be, there is something you go to for healing and comfort.

Just as Baal Zebub was a fake god that could truly offer nothing so are our idols. They promise healing and comfort but after we fill or appetites with them we are still as empty afterward as before. But seek Jesus and we can be filled up. He is the true healer and physician.

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The Fool Says In His Heart, There Is No God.”

The Fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1a)

It is amazing how someone can look around them and say there is no God. I wake in the morning, and it is immediately evident that there is a God. Our bodies are too well designed to be a cosmic accident, or descendants from a single cell. When I get hungry, my body lets me know. If I eat, my body takes the food extracts what is necessary and removes what is not. My body knows when it needs rest.

Even more amazing is when I go outside and think about photosynthesis. I breathe oxygen in then it is turned into a waste product called carbon dioxide which plants take in and turn into oxygen. How can you say that it just evolved that way?

There is no part of life that you can look at and say wow, isn’t that amazing how everything just coincidentally worked out where the different seasons, creatures, and everything else work together.

The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2 ESV)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:19-23 ESV)

God created the world. It was a well thought out plan, so that even if there was no one to show us God His creation would reveal Him. Indeed only a fool could say there is no God.

Read Genesis 1 today and then reflect on how God created everything to reveal and proclaim His glory.

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Christianity is a Lifestyle

I finally got around to listening to the Mars Hill podcast from February 21. It is the section where Jesus calls Peter, James, and John. Anyways, this quote struck me.

“And this, Mars Hill, is what absolutely troubles me to my core. We enjoy so much of God’s grace. We are a miracle. We are a miracle. What we enjoy is miraculous, miraculous. We grew by almost two thousand people last year, baptized eight hundred. It’s insanity. Hundreds of people married, hundreds of children born. And at the end of the day, it seems like it takes about twenty minutes for someone to meet Jesus, get baptized, get in a community group, and retire. Done. If they even get to a community group, retire. “Great, my sins are forgiven, I met Jesus. I got some Christian friends, the church is there for me. I’m done.” “What about all those other people?” “Tough.” Some of you would say, “I would never say that I don’t care about lost people.” You vote with your wallet, you vote with your schedule. Don’t tell me what you believe, show me how you behave. Don’t tell me that Christianity is a belief system, it’s also a lifestyle.”

It seems so many people today are happy having said a little prayer and they feel that is it. All Christianity is about to them is reciting a prayer. They may come back to church they may not, but its okay they are good they said a prayer. There is no life change, no fruit, no growing in spiritual maturity. No one in the bible that came to believe in Jesus left without it being obvious something changed about them. As Driscoll said, “Christianity is a belief system, it is also a lifestyle!”

Christianity changes you.It makes you want to go out and tell everybody about Jesus. Persecution in America means someone may make fun of you. Persecution in the day of the apostles meant you would be ostracized from society or killed. Yet when people heard about Jesus in the New Testament they went out sharing the message. Christianity is a way of life and if Jesus is Lord of your life it is something that will shine in a way that everyone will see.

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A Man After God’s Own Heart

I have been reading through 1 and 2 Samuel lately. The life of David is such an amazing representation of who we are in Christ. David constantly goofed. He committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:4) and murder to cover it up (2 Samuel 11:15). He almost murdered a man because the man would not give him something to eat (1 Samuel 25:33). He had a census (2 Samuel 24:2) taken knowing that God did not want him to. He did a poor job raising his children. One son raped David’s daughter (2 Samuel 13:11-14) another murdered his own brother (2 Samuel 13:28) and tried to take the kingdom from David (2 Samuel 15:10).

David’s life was filled with mistake after mistake. Yet God felt David’s heart was right. (1 Samuel 13:14, 1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Kings 11:4,1 Kings 14:8, 1 Kings 15:3, Acts 13:22) When David sinned he would cry out to God forgive me, make me pure, wash me (Psalms 51:1-19). David prayed to God when his enemies attacked (Psalm 3:1-8, Psalm 109:1-31) and David knew where his strength came from (Psalm 18:1, 28:7, 59:16-17). God forgives and overlooks our sin when we worship Him through the Son. When we accept Jesus as Lord and savior then we like David are washed as white as snow.

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Even the Idols Bow Down to God

In 1 Samuel 5:1-5 the Israelites have just suffered defeat by the Philistines and to top it off the Philistines have taken the ark of God. Just imagine to the Israelites everything is going bad. God has abandoned them and their symbol of Him has been taken by their enemies. A whole family of priest have died.

On the other hand the Philistines are celebrating. Not only have they defeated the Israelites but they have also captured their God. Remember we are talking about a pagan nation that believes the idols are actually true and breathing gods. To them this ark is their god. So to celebrate and show their appreciation to their god, Dagon, they place the ark in front of a statue of Dagon.

Just imagine as they finish a night of celebration and mocking the Israelites and their captured God, the Philistines go to bed on top of the world. Then they wake up and go to worship. When they enter the house of Dagon, their god is bowed down in front of the ark. The priest are scratching their heads asking how did that happen. Someone suggest , “They probably bumped it when they were putting the ark in here. It fell after everyone left.”

They carefully place Dagon back on his stand and make extra sure he will not fall again. The next morning they walk into the temple and a look of horror comes upon their face. Not only is Dagon back bowing before the Lord. his hands and head have been cut off. In 1 Samuel 5:9 they have realized that the hand of God is hard against them and their god. They are ready to give the ark back to the Israelites.

What gets me about this passage is that it is blaringly obvious that God is sending them a message. If their god is bowing to Him, shouldn’t they bow to Him. He has given them victory over the Israelites and here he is speaking to them. As Paul says in Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. They have an opportunity to turn to God. He is revealing Himself to them and they send Him away so they can go back to their idols.

How often does this same scenario reveal itself in our lives. Jesus shows us what he wants from us. Yet we turn to our idols. Instead of taking up our cross and following we complain about going to church. instead of worshipping him as Lord we carry Him around like a genie in a bottle expecting Him to bow to us. We never seem to notice we keep falling on our faces in front of Him.

The saddest part of this story though isn’t that the Philistines chose not to turn to God, but that the Israelites picked up a pagan custom from it. (1 Samuel 5:5) The priest of Dagon started to avoid the threshold of the temples because the head and hands of Dagon were lying on the threshold. Jump forward to Zephaniah 1:9 On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold. The Israelites missed what God was telling them.

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85 Years Young

What a beautiful illustration of faith in Joshua 14:12! The Israelites have been in all out war trying to get the land God has promised them. Now Joshua is letting the tribes take the land allotted to them and here is Caleb going to Joshua. Remember when we were younger and we went and scouted out the land for Moses. We saw all those Giants. They were everywhere.(Numbers 13) But we told Moses, We can do it. God won’t let us fail. Then them other guys said no we can’t. We will be killed. Moses told us, you can have that land. the rest of you will never step foot on it.(Deuteronomy 1:35-36)

Joshua I’m 85 years old. I still feel like a forty year old man. Give me the land of the giants. I know there are some still hiding in the mountains and caves , but I have God and I was promised that land. (some may take note here that Caleb says assuming the Lord is with me[NET translation] and say he has doubts. This is not what is going on Caleb knows if he has been obedient to God, God will live up to that promise. Caleb also realizes that no man is righteous{ Romans 3:10} and there are times he has stumbled, hopefully he is right with God and can take that land.)

Can you imagine at 85 years old going and taking on an army of giants just with your immediate family. We often think of the faith David had to have to approach Goliath as a young man, but here is an old man going to a place where he knows many giants will lay in wait to ambush him. That is faith. God promised God will give.

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The Miracle From Afar

Joshua 3 is an interesting chapter in that it is such an amazing miracle. The Jordan river is overflowing the banks. The priests carrying the ark walk towards it and as soon as there feet touch the water it stops flowing.(Joshua 3:15-17) They walk into the middle of the river and stand as everyone passes by. This is amazing by itself but for everything there is a cause and effect.

In Joshua 3:16 the older translations say the water “rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam” (KJV). The newer translations say “rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam” (ESV) I’m going with the newer translations here, so let’s look real close at what happened. The priest step in the water and it builds up in a huge mound. God is performing a miracle for the Israelites.

Let’s go to the city of Adam and think through this though. You are a citizen of Adam and you have heard rumors of the Israelites and their God. Supposedly God has given them all this land on the other side of the Jordan. You know as a riverside resident that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Then one day you go out to the river and see the most amazing thing. It is higher than normal and it’s no longer flowing and it’s as if it hit an invisible wall. You walk around and look and the water just stops. you stare downriver and there is nothing in sight. Then some kids (I say kids simply because they are always the nosiest and first to see what is going on.) come running up and tell you the Israelites are crossing the river. They have priest with this huge box just standing there as they go across.

You think, “Wow, there God truly is delivering them!” This story plays out everyday in the lives of Christians who believe in an all powerful God that can do anything. The Christians witness God’s miracle and the non Christians get to see the results of that miracle. For example Elevation Church is doing a series called storytellers. they had there praise band do a concert where between songs they would get up and do their testimony. Wade Joye (starts at 27 minutes) talked about his twin girls and how one was born with a bleeding brain. The doctors told them the girl would never walk, probably never be out of diapers and even said that she wasn’t going to make it and they should take her off life support. The girl is now two years old and walking.

The family saw the miracle happen. The doctors saw the family’s faith and the results of that faith. That can sometimes be the most powerful witness we can give.

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Lovely Monday

What a day last Monday was! I went to bed Sunday night thinking about what a simple day it was going to be. I was getting up and taking my wife’s truck to Jackson to have a noise from the front tire fixed. While there I would be attending an associational meeting to help me get to know the pastor’s in my area. I woke up did some bible study, read some blogs and wrote a little. My wife and kids got up, so I said I was going to take the tire off and make sure it wasn’t something I could fix. (By the way the noise started Wednesday on the way home from church and the truck had been driven only once since then.) As I’m looking at the rotor and brake caliper, my oldest daughter peeks her head around and said, “I’m having trouble with the Jeep.”

I go to see what is wrong and the key is stuck in the ignition. It will not turn and it will not come out. I tell her to take my van and go onto school. I’m messing with the Jeep when I realize my wife has to be at work pretty soon and the tire is still off the truck.

I get the tire on the truck and go in to see if my wife is ready to go, since now I will have to pick up the van so she will have a vehicle to carry my son to the doctor, while I go to my meeting and the shop. I walk in the house and she tells me my Savannah called and said the van would not go any faster than thirty miles per hour. She made it to school but people were honking at her and passing her all the way there.

I have my wife drop me off at the school to get the van and I head home at a little over thirty miles per hour. I Get a quick shower and head back into town. I drop the van off at her work and tell her I’m on my way to Jackson for my meeting. This is a thirty minute drive and I have fifteen minutes left. She tells me the truck got worse after she left the school, but one of her customers recommended a shop in Henderson. I tell her I still have my meeting and it will make it.

A half a mile later I call to tell her the truck isn’t going to make it to Jackson and I need her to pick me up at the shop in Henderson when she takes our son to the doctor. I call my pastor friend in Jackson and inform him that I’m not going to make it because I have had three cars quit all in one morning.

I gave up!

I gave up and quit trying to go where I was going. Why do I tell you all this? Because this is what our lives are like until we come to Jesus. We are trying to go our own way and one thing after another keeps stopping us, but we keep plowing on in our sin as we get further broken down. But we must give up! We must realize we have to stop and ask for help. We have to give our lives to Jesus and he will change our direction. He will take the stress of our broken down lives and fix them. But we have to realize we are not going anywhere first.

Just to finish the story. To top off everything else, the doctors think my son is diabetic. He goes later this week to take a three hour glucose tolerance test to find out for sure. That really isn’t that big of a deal except he has one kidney and high sugar is really hard on the kidneys. Luckily I have faith that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose and I can look at last Monday as God just wanted me to have an Illustration.

May the grace of the Lord be upon you,
MSW

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God’s Love Letter

I’m currently reading through the NIV Application Commentary written by Gary M. Burge. On pages 83-84 where he is writing about the contemporary significance of John1:19-51, he talks about some test him and a colleague at Wheaton College ran. He footnotes an article from Christianity Today he wrote, but I’m going to quote from the NIVAC on John. Remember these are conservative Christian students who truly love Jesus and live a life that reflects that.

“We have been shocked at what we learned. Students from strong, conservative churches were sending us some of their best Christian eighteen-year-old students who did not know who came first, Abraham or Moses. They were not sure if Barnabas was in the Old Testament or the New Testament. When asked to put a list of major biblical books in proper order (such as Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans), they failed miserably. When asked if Paul believed in the resurrection of the body, most said “No.” … “Recently one of my students told me that she was sure Jesus was baptized in the Dead Sea of Israel. Another thought that Paul was one of the twelve apostles.” He goes on to say they did not know of heroes of the faith like Luther, Augustine, or Wesley. Matters of doctrinal basis for their Christian Identity were beyond their grasp.

As I read this I remembered something that happened as I was teaching a youth class. I had a list from a post by Greg Stier called What if Jesus was on Twitter. It was several quick sentences in twitter fashion about things Jesus might say if he used twitter. I figured the youth would love it. As I read them off I noticed many confused faces. They did not know these bible stories. Go and check out the list these are basic bible stories that should stand out (such as Jesus clearing the temple, the disciples going fishing after Jesus’ death). They did not know them. I’m not blaming the church or the teachers because it’s our own responsibility to meditate on the word of God.

It isn’t just youth and young adults. I know many people that are strong Christians. There is plenty of fruit in their life to show it and you can see it in the way they care for others. Yet they have never read the whole bible. They have never even read the New Testament. So why are Christians not reading the bible? I was saved and baptized at age 14. I tried reading my bible and never got very far. It was hard to understand so I would give up. This happened over and over until I was in my early thirties. I then set a goal of getting through the bible in a year. It took a little over a year. I tried it again. It went a little quicker. Every time I read through the bible I pick up more and more and it gets easier and easier to understand.

Wayne Grudem explains the biblical reasons for this in his essay “The Perspicuity of Scripture ” in Themelios 34.3 especially section 2.3. God expects us to have put forth the effort to read the bible (Ezra 7:10) and have the willingness to obey it. (James 1:22-25) Then through the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:18, 27, 34, 73) we will start to understand what we are reading.

So what do we do about this lack of bible reading? We must show Christians that the bible is fun to read, pastor’s need to teach that God expects us to spend time meditating on His Word, and we should exhort each other to spend time in scripture.. The bible is God’s love letter to us. Would you not read a love letter from the one you truly loved? Then you should read the love letters from the one who loved you so much that he saved you through the death and resurrection of His Son.

G.M. Burge, “The Greatest Story Never Read: Recovering Biblical Literacy in the Church,” Christianity Today 43 (Aug., 1999), 45-50
Wayne Grudem, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” Themelios 34:3 p 288-308
Another post about this problem that contains a lot of statistics can be located at http://www.theologicalstudies.org/page/page/1573625.htm

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Fleeing Into The Danger Zone

I was at my dad’s house a few weekends ago and he was working on his swimming pool. For some reason it had a huge rip in it and obviously no water. He had taken the ladders out and sat them on the grass next to the pool. Before I go any farther with this story I need to let you know something about my dad. He hates snakes. I’ve seen him turn the channel on TV because a snake was on the screen. He is a true advocate of “the only good snake is a dead snake!”

Anyways my son, my dad, and I are staring down into this empty 12 foot hole in the ground. He is explaining that there are several small holes in it besides for the gash down the side. He tells me that there are holes where the ladder was and he doesn’t understand that because the ladder has always had rubber ends on it. He then proceeds to turn around and start to pick up the ladder. Remember the ladder is laying a few feet away on the grass. This is the moment my son calmly states, “Hey that’s a snake.”

I’m trying to see where my son thinks he sees a snake when I realize my dad is rather quickly stepping backwards towards the empty pool. My mind realizing the scene is about to get really bad, but not being able to form a complete sentence yet just starts repeating, “the pool, the pool!” Luckily, by God’s grace, my dad understood that “the pool” meant the snake is not the biggest problem you need to avoid right now.

So in an attempt to get away from one danger my dad almost stepped right into a worse danger. That is how it is with us and sin sometimes. We try to do like Paul told timothy and flee immorality,(1 Timothy 6:11) but we don’t watch were we are going. What do I mean? For example we may make man made rules to avoid a sin yet we become proud. Or maybe we avoid people that we know are living in some sort of sin so that we are not sucked into the same sin. That’s a good thing. But what if we are the only person that might be able to bring that person to Christ yet we cross the street like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan.(Luke 10:30-31)

Fleeing from sin is a good thing and we definitely should not go where we know our weaknesses are, (for example a recovering alcoholic probably shouldn’t go and witness to people in a bar.) but putting ourselves in a bubble and avoiding the world is not living out the great commission.(Matthew 28:19-20)

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Only Be Strong and Courageous

Last week I read through the book of Joshua and so many things jumped out at me. I’m going to start today with Joshua 1 and the secret of success. This is as close as you will see me get to a Joel Osteen Gospel.

Upon Moses death God speaks to Joshua and gives him command of his people and tells him what it will take to be successful. I listened to a sermon on this passage once and the preacher pointed out several things in this passage that we can apply to our lives to be successful. I see one that all the others are based on. Joshua 1:6 “Be strong and courageous”, Joshua 1:7 “Only be strong and courageous”, Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous”, and Joshua 1:18 “Only be strong and courageous.”

Who is saying that was two things? When God repeats Himself it means listen up. Normally God stops at three times, yet here He repeats Himself four times. that means listen up and pay close attention this is very important.

Before telling Joshua to be strong and courageous in verse 6, God tells Joshua that He will never leave or forsake Him. In verses 7 and 8 God reminds Joshua to obey the law, but immediately goes back to letting Him know that Joshua is doing what He willed and that He is with Him. The final command to be strong and courageous comes after Joshua has commanded his men and they repeat to Him what God has told him.

God is making sure Joshua understands that he is in His will and doing things for God. He can’t fail. This stands true for us to day just as it did for Joshua. If we are in God’s will and doing what He has called us to do we can’t fail. Success is guaranteed. That is not to say there won’t be times when we feel like things are not going as they should, it’s just saying that it will work out in the end.

look at Joshua 7:6. Joshua has had thirty six men killed in an attack that God ordered. He is doing what he was supposed to do yet God allowed him to fail. Joshua falls to his knees and prays why, Lord, why?

We will have times in our lives when we are trying to do what God wants and it seems we are failing and the task is impossible but God has told us be strong and courageous because He will not fail or forsake us. Let us always put our trust and hope in Jesus and we will succeed.

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Painting Pictures of Egypt

It’s been two years since the Israelites have left Egypt. They have wondered through the wilderness following the cloud that God puts over the tabernacle(Numbers 9:15-23). God provides manna for them to eat and then they complain. In Numbers 11:1-3 They complain and God sets fire to the camp. Moses prays for them and then and God stops the fire.

That should be the end of the story, but its not. Keep in mind God just set there camp on fire due to their complaining. Now they start complaining again(Numbers 11:4-6). God has graced them with food everyday. they wake up and it’s there. All they have to do is gather it up and cook it. No slaving away at the ground trying to make it grow. It’s almost as if God is saying I give you a second chance I’ll take my curse back and we will go back to the way it was in Eden.

Yet the very thing they complain about is the blessing God has provided them with. It’s as if they completely forgot the hardships they suffered in Egypt and now all they can think of is the food and how “good “things were back in the days of slavery.

How often do we think back longingly to the days of  slavery. The days that we were ruled by the taskmasters of our sin. We think back to the days before we were truly following Christ and think, but that was so fun. We forget that at the time we were constantly being beaten down by our sin and how it was slowly destroying us. Lets not believe that lie of Satan’s. Sin was never fun. Let’s look to the cross of Jesus Christ and not complain about the blessings he has given us.

After all God did give the Israelites what they wanted and a plague came with it.

Just as a bonus I’m embedding the Sara Groves video Painting Pictures of Egypt Which was the inspiration for the title of this post

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Grasshoppers in our Midst

In Numbers 13 we have the story of the twelve spies. God told Moses to send a spy from each of the twelve ancestral tribes to go and scout out the land. In verse 2 it is made clear that God is giving the land to the Israelites. So Moses sends the twelve men out and they are gone for forty days. What an incredible adventure it must have been. The come across the Anakites, giants of people and they come to the valley of Eschol and see all kinds of fruits.

They return to Moses and the Israelites and tell them it’s everything God promised. it truly is a land flowing with milk and honey. BUT, The people there are strong. The cities are well built for defense. Plus there are giants there. The giants are so big we are as grasshoppers to them. What an uproar there must have been. It was everything God promised , but how could they take it with such a powerful military there.

Then a young man named Caleb speaks up. Let’s go and take this land. He speaks as a man who truly trust in God for his strength. Ten of the other men speak up though. We can’t do this they are stronger than us. Then these men lay it on thick. Remember a few minutes ago it was the land of milk and honey now it is a land that devours its inhabitants who all just so happen to be giants. (Numbers 13:25-33)

In Numbers 14:1-3 The Israelites are weeping and wailing about how they would have been better off in Egypt. Jesus promises us if we will follow Him he will take up our burdens but when the going gets tough we seem to want to start whining about how he should make us go through what ever trial we are facing. We are quick to remind Jesus that his burden is supposed to be light and right now it feels like he has a bag with a ton of bricks strapped on our backs. So how is our burden supposed to be light when what we are going through puts such a heavy weight on us?(Matthew 11:29-30)
Because we are supposed to look at whatever trial is there and say Jesus you take care of this one. When we realize that God is in control and that everything that happens is to his will (Romans 8:28) and our good the weight will be lifted. We just have to realize entering a land full of giants and a military more powerful than us is just God’s way of showing that He is more powerful than all.

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