Gifts

wise men

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

 
‘Tis the season to be giving gifts. Like the Wise Men from long ago, we present our loved ones with gifts each Christmas. The gifts that were brought before the young Messiah, held great significance. The gold was representative of Jesus’ kingship. The incense points to Jesus’ priesthood. And the myrrh was an indication of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All three were costly. All three were given as an act of worship.
But what about the gifts that we bring to the Messiah? What is it that you and I have that can be presented to the Prince of Peace? I can think of another trio of gifts that would be pleasing:
Acts of service
Acts of devotion
Acts of faith
I may not have gold to give, but I can serve. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. How we choose to do that on a daily basis are acts of service. When we put ourselves in a position of lifting others up, we are making an offering that is pleasing in God’s sight.
I may not have incense to give, but I can be devoted. We are instructed to love God with ALL of our heart, and with ALL of our soul, and with ALL of our mind, and with ALL of our strength. When we stop holding back and finally submit to our Lord all that we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we position ourselves to be forgiven by the great High Priest.
I may not have myrrh, but I can be faithful. When circumstances don’t make sense; when we are in a season of loss; when we have given every last effort, when we don’t know what else to do, we can still be faithful and trust in the One who gave himself for each one of us.
Friends, whether today is a day that you can be surrounded by those you love or you’re in a place where your heart is hurting (maybe it’s a combination of the two), know this: whatever you have, your joys and your sorrows, out of your wealth and your poverty, in your health and in your illness, the gifts you bring will be treasured beyond measure.
Bethany Ligon

The Reason

Luke Chapter 2

Luke 2 11 NIV

Luke chapter 2 begins with the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the little town of Bethlehem.  Caesar Augustus ordered everyone to be registered, so Joseph and Mary traveled from the town of Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is where he was to be registered because of his lineage, the lineage of David.  When they were in the small town of Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

 

The location of Jesus’ birth at first may seem insignificant.  However, the small fact that Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem is extremely important.  It is important because of the words of Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient of days.”  Here, it is recorded that there will be a ruler of Israel born in Bethlehem, whose coming forth is from of old.  We know that the ruler talked about in Micah is Jesus!  Jesus is the fulfillment to this prophecy!

 

The date of the writing of Micah was about 700 BC, about 700 years before Jesus was born!  One of the best ways to prove that the Bible is true is that there were many prophecies written in the Old Testament that were fulfilled later on in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.  Jesus being born in Bethlehem is just one of many examples of a prophecy in the Bible being fulfilled.  Prophecies being fulfilled hundreds of years later is a great way to defend the authority of the Bible.

 

It is very appropriate that we are reading about the birth of Jesus at the beginning of December, as the birth of Jesus Christ is the reason of the season of Christmas!  The weeks leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself has been my favorite time of the year.  Everybody seems to be in a holly jolly mood, we get time off of work/school, the exchanging of gifts, and especially time with family are all reasons to enjoy the holiday season.  We can get so wrapped up in the festivities of the holiday season that sometimes we forget the true reason for the season.  I urge you to not let the festivities of the holiday season cause you to forget about the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Sometimes even the innocent joy of hanging out with our families can cause us to miss the true reason of the season.  While enjoying the holiday season, put your focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior.

 

I hope you all enjoy this Christmas season, and most importantly, I hope you remember and focus on the reason of the season – the birth of Jesus Christ!

 

Kyle McClain

 

The Second Coming

Revelation 19

Revelation 19 11 NIV
 
We’ve had some really heavy topics, and we are not quite out of the woods yet. We are coming to the point in the reading where there is just joy and happiness and peace, but we are not there yet. It takes someone showing up on the scene to make that happen. We have the coming of a rider on a white horse. The images that John uses only highlights that he is speaking about Jesus.
I love Christmas; the songs, the snow, the presents, the expectations. I even love the time leading up to it. In the wider Christian tradition, this time is called Advent, which is Latin for “to come”. We recognize in Advent the first coming of Jesus. And in Revelation 19, we are shown a picture of the second coming of Jesus. Those two images could not be more different. 
Jesus came as a peaceful prince riding on a donkey. Jesus will come as a conquering rider on a white horse.
When he came, many called him a liar and a demoniac. He will come and be known as “Faithful and True.”
He came to bring salvation. He will come to bring judgment.
He came with eyes full of tenderness and sorrow. He will come with eyes of fiery flame.
He came and bore a crown of thorns. He will come crowned with many crowns. 
He came and was wrapped in tattered cloths. He will come in a blood stained robe.
He came and was known as Jesus. He will come and be known as Word of God.
He came and refused the help of the legions of angels. He will come and be accompanied by the armies of heaven. 
He came preaching words of truth. He will come and his words will be a sword coming from his mouth. 
He came and only a small number knew who we was. 
He will come, and his name, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will be emblazoned on his thigh.
 
This is the Messiah we serve. He is not weak; he is not a push over; he is not a doting parent or Santa Claus. 
He is the conquering king, coming to claim the world that is rightfully his, to avenge his servants who have been oppressed, and to drive out those who did not honor him. 
 
Let this image of Jesus wash over you, and praise God that the King is coming. 
Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.
Jake Ballard

New Beginnings

 

the Light has come!

On this Christmas morning I think back to the beginning of the world when God said, “Let there be light”, revealing that light was in the plan of God since the beginning of time. Shortly following the beginning, sin and darkness slowly crept into the picture when Adam and Eve decided to turn their backs on God and His commands. But darkness would not win because God wasn’t done with us yet.

 

New Beginnings:

 

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life,a and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

 

The birth of Jesus marked the start of the new beginning that God had planned for since the beginning of creation. And it showed that God wasn’t going to leave us in the dark, even though we deserved it. God sent his Son to save us and to be a Light for all men. If we choose to walk in his ways and commands and make him the Lord of our lives we can walk in the Light.  When you walk in the Light of Jesus the darkness will never be able to overcome you. So no matter what you received for Christmas this year, just remember that we were given the ultimate Christmas gift a little over 2000 years ago in our Emmanuel, “God with us”. God gave his son to the world to restore the Light, and to make sure we would never have to unwillingly walk in the darkness ever again. Thank God for His son and new beginnings!

 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

-Luke Elwell

Preparing for the King

_Let every heart prepare him room_

Yesterday we looked at how we should anticipate the King and His second advent just like the Wise Men anticipated His first advent. We now have our own “Star” to turn our eyes towards and to follow. Today we will look at how the Old Testament prepared the way for our Lord and how we now have the same opportunity to prepare the way for His second coming and how we need to be prepared and ready.

 

It’s Christmas Eve and we are almost to Christmas day, the day we have been preparing for at least the past month. Whether we are going out to buy that last minute gift, or we are getting food ready for Christmas day, we are all probably busy preparing in some way today. I am constantly reminded of the forefathers of our faith in the Old Testament who gave us a little glimpse of the coming Christ and helped to prepare the world for him.

 

Joseph, for example, was left for dead by his brothers and when given the opportunity to get his brothers back he had mercy on them, and then he gave credit to God, saying “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” –Gen 50:20.   Jesus was placed on a cross by the very people of whom He was supposed to be the King, yet during his pain and agony he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

 

Moses delivered the Israelites from pharaoh and his army. Likewise, Christ delivered the world from death and sin for those who choose to follow him. Abraham followed the commands of God and left his home country, and later was willing to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac.  God was willing to provide Jesus, His son, as a sacrifice for us. The list goes on and on, but the point of mentioning these patriarchs is to recognize that they were preparing the way for the Lord and showing us a glimpse of what was to come.

Christmas is a reminder to us also, that as we prepare for our celebration tomorrow, we also need to believe that Jesus will come back to this earth (maybe tomorrow) and in the same way prepare ourselves and our hearts for his coming and the great celebration. When I think of being prepared I am reminded of the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.

1“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9“ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

None of the ten knew when the bridegroom was coming, they only knew that he was coming. When he did come, five were wise and five were foolish. The only difference between the wise and foolish was in their preparation, or lack thereof. We have the same privilege as our patriarchs of knowing that Jesus is coming, yet it’s left up to each one of us to choose whether we will be prepared. I promise you that it’s a celebration you do not want to miss out on!

 

“Let every heart prepare Him room”.

 

-Luke Elwell

Looking For and Following the Star!

Romans 8 24 a

This week, as we look forward to Christmas and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus, we will look at his birth and what that means going forward for us. Just as the wise men looked for and followed the star to find Jesus, we also have a “Star”, Jesus, to look for and to follow.

 

As Christmas draws near I, like so many others, am filled with anticipation. Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. I remember growing up as a kid and being filled with so much excitement and anticipation counting down the days and looking forward to Christmas Day! When I think back to the anticipation I felt, it reminds me of the anticipation that the wise men must have felt. No one really knows for sure where the wise men came from, but it is believed that they could have come from the Babylon area, a journey of 800 miles.  If that’s true, they must have really been waiting for and anticipating the sign of the star that would show them the way to the “King of the Jews” –Matthew 2:2. They must have been watching and waiting for the day when that star would appear so they could honor and worship the King.  Once they saw that star, they followed and never looked backed, but followed that star until they found him.

 

If I were to relate this story of the wise men to myself and the time we live in now, following the first advent of Jesus, I am reminded of the anticipation I have for the second advent of Jesus when he will come back and when God himself comes back and “makes all things new”- Revelation 21:5.

 

Romans 8:23-25 beautifully states how we should be anticipating the return and coming of our King!

 

“23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

 

The prayer that I have for myself and for everyone who reads this is that we anticipate and long for the coming of the King as much as the wise men did.  May we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly”, may we turn our eyes to the risen “Star”, Jesus, and follow him and never look back, until God sends him back to this earth at his second advent.

 

-Luke Elwell

 

 

Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain”

Go, tell it on the mountain

 

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” was first sung by slaves on American plantations during the 19th century.  The slaves could identify with a Messiah that was born in a lowly manger and lived a humble life.  They embraced the Savior’s promise of a better life for all who would follow him.  And so the slaves eagerly sang the Good News for all to hear.

 

Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching o’er silent flock by night,

Behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light.

 

Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled when, lo above the earth-

Rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior’s birth.

 

Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger our humble Christ was born,

And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn.

 

The song tells the story of shepherds watching their sheep on the night Jesus was born.  A bright light startled the shepherds and an angel told the frightened shepherds the news of Jesus’ birth.  As soon as the angels left, the shepherds excitedly decided to go find Jesus.  “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which was just as they had been told” (Luke 2:16-18, 20).

The shepherds were excited to see Jesus and they were eager to tell everyone they met about all they had heard and seen!  They were thrilled that the promised Messiah had finally come and they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm.  They were motivated and anxious to spread the Good News!  Consequently, others in turn learned of the Savior’s birth.

The angel’s announcement to the shepherds was not just good news for the shepherds, but “great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  Are you doing your part to spread the good news to all people?  You must go and tell the gospel on your mountain, in your neighborhood, at your school, where you work and everywhere you go.

-Jill McClain

“Away in a Manger”

Away in a Manger

 

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And help me with others Thy mercies to share.

 

When Jesus was born he did not come with the splendor and pageantry that would be expected of a king; instead, Jesus was laid in a manger.  A manger is a feeding trough for hungry animals, such as cattle, horses and donkeys.  It is no place for any sleeping baby to lay, much less a king.  Although Mary and Joseph probably tried to clean the manger up before they laid Jesus down, it was still undoubtedly a dirty and rough place for a baby to sleep.

Baby Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no other place for him to lay.  “She [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  At first it may seem that it was just a series of misfortunate, unforeseen circumstances that resulted in the baby Jesus being laid in the manger.  However, that simply can’t be the case. God had centuries to prepare for the birth of his son.  Since the first sin in the garden, God had foretold of Jesus’ coming (Genesis 3:15). 700 years before Jesus was born Micah prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  So, God had plenty of time to plan every detail of his son’s birth.  God could have easily arranged to have Jesus born in a castle with an ornately decorated cradle as a bed; after all, He is God, and He can do anything.

So, why would God choose that Jesus’ first bed should be a manger? Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant king because he came to teach mankind that God’s expectations are often opposite of the world’s.  Jesus taught his followers that the last would be first and the least would be the greatest (Matthew 19:30).  He humbled himself and became a servant, washing his disciples’ feet.  Jesus’ entire life was an example of humility.  Based on Christ’s life-long example, Paul instructs us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  In verse 8 of the same chapter Paul goes on to say, “he [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”  The manger was just a foreshadowing of the humility that that would lead to the cross.

What about you?  Are you ready to live humbly to follow Jesus?

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him [Jesus], ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57-58).

Jesus’ first bed was a manger, because there was no other place for him to lay his head.  Later, as an adult he still had no place to lay his head.  We have been called to follow Jesus.  What are you willing to leave behind to humbly follow your Savior?  Are you ready to give up your comfy cradle for a manger?

-Jill McClain

 

 

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

While shepherds watched

The theme for each of our devotions this week is based on a different Christmas carol.  Today, I would like for us to examine, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”.

 

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,

And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he; for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds,
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind,

To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town this day,
Is born of David’s line,
The Savior who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:

And this shall be the sign:

“The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid;
And in a manger laid.
“All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace:
Good will henceforth from heav’n to men,
Begin and never cease,

Begin and never cease.”

 

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” tells the story of the shepherds found in Luke 2:8-20.  At the time of Jesus’ birth shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder.  They often lived for long periods of time, right in the same fields where they took care of the sheep; so most people looked down on them.  God could have announced the birth of his son to the most influential, rich and successful leaders of the time.  However, instead God chose to first tell the lowly shepherds. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).  God sent his son for all people – for the rich and the poor, the leaders and the abandoned, the educated and the uneducated, the popular and the friendless.  God had his good news first delivered to the shepherds to demonstrate that the gospel is for all people.

The angels told the shepherds that baby Jesus was “born to you” (Luke 2:11).  Typically, we think that a baby is born to his parents.  But Jesus was a gift given to the shepherds, and each of us.  Jesus was born for us, to save us from our sins so that we may one day have eternal life.  Jesus is the ultimate Christmas gift, given to each of us.

When the angels left, the shepherds said, “’Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:15-17,20).  The shepherds heard the good news, they believed it, they told others the good news and they worshiped God. What about you?  Do you believe the gospel?  If so, are you telling others the good news?  And are you spending time worshiping and praising God for the wonderful gift that has been given to you?

 

-Jill McClain