My wife came home from her Women’s Bible Study group thrilled once again with the Christmas Story. The lady who brought the devotional focused on ‘The Christmas Star’, and she touched Sue’s heart. The scripture was familiar: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him”(Matthew 2:1-2 NKJV).
The emphasis was on the light of the Star that guided the Magi to Jesus. The lady then spoke of her ‘Christmas Star’ – the person in her life whose light led her to Jesus. The group was then asked to think of a person whose life helped guide them to Jesus. It was a wonderful time of reflection and remembrance as they thought of those special people that influenced them to seek and to find the Savior.
The final step in this moving devotional was to ask each lady if there was someone in their sphere of influence for whom they could be the light to guide that person to Jesus. Could they be a Christmas Star for someone?
I am grateful that my wife shared that devotional thought with me. I love the Christmas Season. With the emphasis on the birth of Christ all around us, it’s easy to speak the name of Jesus to those with whom we have contact. That is certainly true of Christian family and friends, but it may also be an opportune time to share our faith with those who are not Christian.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew5:14-16).
Prayer: Lord, help me to be a Christmas Star for someone who sits in darkness.
Christmas season has descended upon us again and will soon be over for yet another year. Many will breathe a sigh of relief. Others are left with melancholy feelings and loneliness. Mixed emotions are the order of the day. There is the joy of sharing with family and friends, the wonderful music of the Christmas season, and the excitement of children. Nativity scenes and carols fill the holidays. Add to these activities decorating, buying and exchanging gifts, baking cookies, making fudge, Christmas gatherings, family dinners, travel, and more. For many, all of this causes the adrenaline to flow, and perhaps a few develop a ‘bah humbug’ attitude. *The normal events mentioned above have been altered for most of us because of Covid Pandemic.
In what seems like an instant, the holiday season is over and we come down from our high. It is time to return to the routines of our lives. What lasting impact has Christmas really had on us? I’m talking about more than depleted bank accounts, credit card bills, and exhaustion. Will this year be like so many others? Will the message of Christmas soon evaporate into an occasional pleasant memory?
The second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew relates the marvelous account of the Wise Men. They followed the light of the Guiding Star to the Christ Child. When they arrived in Bethlehem, “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy”(Matthew 2:10, KJV). When they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, “theyfell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11, NIV).
If we are aware of His presence in this Christmas season, we should emulate the ‘Wise Men’. If we have truly worshipped Him and have also given Him the gifts of ourselves, our time, and our treasures, we will be blessed and eternally changed for the better. The Wise Men left their encounter with the Christ of Christmas differently than they came. “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12, NIV).
May we be committed to returning to our normal routines as different people in a different way. Because of a fresh, or perhaps for some a first, encounter with Jesus, we ought to be better people. Let us travel into the days ahead another way, a different way than we came.
I have never (to my knowledge) had an angel appear to me to deliver a message from God. But would you agree with me that it would be a startling experience? Would you be inclined to believe your own experience, or would you have doubts that what you were experiencing was real? When the archangel Gabriel appeared to the young Mary – a girl, really – in Nazareth and told her that she was blessed, she wasn’t quite sure what to think. But Gabriel reassured her not to be afraid, for she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, NASB).
Gabriel went on to give Mary impossible news – she would become pregnant and give birth to a son, a royal descendant who would rule over Israel forever (v.31-33). In our nation where leaders are chosen by vote of the people, it is perhaps not uncommon for parents to believe their child may grow up to be President, but the idea that the son of a girl from Nazareth would sit on the throne of David in a kingdom that would not end – unlikely!
In addition to the seeming impossibility of bearing a son who would rule Israel, Mary also finds the science behind this proclamation to be dubious – “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”(v.34). So Gabriel delivers another mind-blowing detail – “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the son of God…For nothing will be impossible with God”(v.35,37).
Mary has just been given earth-shattering news. It is a message that will alter human history. It is the long-awaited dawn of the redemption of a fallen world. It is the culmination of the hope of the people of Israel – the prophesied Messiah come to set His people free. And He is coming through Mary? It seems…impossible.
What would your response to such a message be? Would you be eager to believe it? Would you be inclined to doubt? Would you perhaps wonder if God couldn’t find someone else? Or would you dare to dream that what the angel said is possible and welcome your own participation in it? That’s what Mary did: “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word” (v.38).
Now, you and I are not likely ever to receive a message quite like Mary did. But God has delivered some “impossible” promises to us as well. My question about our response is the same. Would we be eager to believe? Would we be inclined to doubt? Would we prefer God offered His promise to someone else? Or would we dare to dream that “nothing will be impossible with God” and reply as Mary did – “May it be done to me according to your word”:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). May it be done to me according to your word!
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”(I John 1:9). May it be doneto me according to your word!
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth”(John 16:13). May it be done to me according to your word!
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint”(Isaiah 40:31). May it be done to me according to your word!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). May it be done to me according to your word!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight”(Proverbs 3:5-6). May it be done to me according to your word!
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8). May it be done to me according to your word!
“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe”(Proverbs 18:10). May it be done to me according to your word!
“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday”(Psalm 91:4-6). May it be done to me according to your word!
“The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”(John 10:10). May it be done to me according to your word!
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). May it be done to me according to your word!
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”(I Thessalonians 5:23-24). May it be done to me according to your word!
“Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Recently, my daughter Lori called and said, “Daddy, I’m having my devotions and I’m looking at a verse that is perfect for you to develop into a devotional thought for your website.” It is not unusual for Lori to call with an idea for a sermon or devotional. We have always been soulmates, and she knows my heart. During her elementary, high school, and college years, I pastored a church that was two and half hours away. Every weekend the journey with my wife and daughter was ‘a family affair’. Lori also liked to travel with me during the week to revivals and retreats closer to home. Her insight and support has proven to be invaluable.
The verse that was gripping her heart and now grips mine is this: “Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the Lord has spoken against him”(Isaiah 37:21-22, NIV). The phrase ‘Because you have prayed’ resonated with her and prompted her call.
As we talked, we both recalled with joy the times that we had experienced God’s hand in our lives because we had prayed. God had so often intervened to our benefit in times of crisis and distress. We also considered times we should have prayed and didn’t. The words of the beloved hymn came to my mind: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer”.
Both of us have since spent time reflecting on those challenging words of scripture. They are helping refocus our attention on prayer. While there is a cornucopia of wonderful verses of scripture on prayer, I’ll share just two:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12, NIV).
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).
May I encourage you to consider how God has touched your life ‘because you have prayed’. Pause and give Him thanks. Consider how different things might have been if you had prayed and didn’t. Determine to be more faithful in prayer.
“Rejoice always,pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV).
Heading over Tim Couch Pass deep in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, I was apprehensive. I was making the three-hour-plus journey from my home to a church that is part of New Hope’s church planting partnership. The church struggled greatly in the beginning, but had experienced solid growth in the last year. Regular church goers were growing in the faith and a number of people in the community had experienced the Lord’s saving grace. A new couple had started working with the youth and the numbers were growing. Things were going well, and the future looked bright.
Then a disturbing phone call came to me from the pastor. An argument had erupted in the church. Two church members had a heated exchange that could be heard in the sanctuary. Both of the men entered the sanctuary, took their family members, and left the church. It was a heartbreaking event. The pastor had to be away on the following Sunday, and he asked me to preach for him. With great apprehension, I was on my way.
A flashback came to me of a time earlier in life when I had experienced dread and trepidation about an upcoming meeting. My grandmother said to me, “Don’t borrow trouble. Pray! Things are seldom as bad as we imagine”. A comforting verse also emerged from that earlier conversation, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).
As I traveled to minister to a church in crisis, I was once again ‘borrowing trouble’. Heeding my grandmother’s advice, I prayed. I could sense a calm in my spirit. The final miles of my journey were spent in prayer and thanksgiving. As always, I found God’s word to be true! How I’ve proved it over and over! The trouble I had anticipated did not materialize.
While it was tense in the beginning, I invited the congregation to come and gather around the altar. We repeated together Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” After a time of prayer, I delivered the message I believed God had given me. There were six people that humbly came to the altar when the invitation was given. There was a sweet spirit in the sanctuary. Although there remained apologies that needed to be made and forgiveness that needed to be offered in the days ahead, the church now had a chance to moving forward.
Conclusion: Don’t borrow trouble! “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).
I had the car radio tuned to a Christian station while I was traveling on the Mountain Parkway. I love to drive on this scenic highway that leads into the heart of Eastern Kentucky. I was half listening and half enjoying the beautiful scenery. During a few minutes of listening, I heard one of the program speakers share an incredible account.
In my best recollection of the radio account, a healthy young athlete in his early twenties was in a tragic automobile accident. He sustained massive head injuries. At the hospital, the parents faced the grave reality that their only son was showing no brain activity. Prayerfully, the heart-wrenching decision was made to donate their son’s organs to those in urgent need of a transplant.
After a couple years of healing with the help of the Lord, the young man’s mother started on a quest with the help of the medical personnel who organized the procedures necessary to remove the healthy organs and get them to quantified recipients. She was eventually able to contact each organ recipient and asked each if she might meet them. One at a time, she met the people who had received her son’s healthy organs. Tears and expressions of thankfulness greeted her from those who had received these life giving gifts. These meetings helped her continue the healing process and brought her great joy.
Her final contact, purposely planned, was the man who had received her son’s heart. She walked up on the porch and faced the man who was alive because of her son’s heart. She momentarily lost control and ran toward the man. She threw her arms around him and gave him a bear hug, nearly lifting him off the floor. She held on for the longest time. Stepping back, she offered a tearful apology for the prolonged hug. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to feel my son’s heart beat!”
I can’t help but wonder if that’s what it will be like when we arrive in Heaven. Our Heavenly Father will open His arms and give us a hug and hold us for a moment. Then we’ll hear Him say, “I just want to hear My Son’s heart beat.”
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:4-5)
A sign, a bumper sticker, or catchy phrase often serve as a catalyst for a devotional thought. A little phrase I recently saw, “Autumn leaves – Jesus stays,“ is a case in point.
The world around us is in a constant state of flux and change. The old phrase, ‘Here today – gone tomorrow,’ seems to be the order of the day. Dress fashions change, lifestyles change, opinions change, even relationships are subject to change. Fifty percent or more of those who stand before a minister or government official and say they will remain together ‘til death us do part’ will sooner or later end in divorce. Contracts are broken, promises fail, and guarantees prove unreliable. Things are constantly changing. Some say, ‘the only things that are sure are death and taxes.’
Continuous change often leaves us disillusioned and confused. Depression that stems from instability in our lives haunts many of us. The heart cry arises, “Is there anything that I can count on?” The answer is YES! The heavenly Father speaks, “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6a). A kindred verse in the New Testament resonates with the same assurance, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I love to sing the old refrain, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!”
Across the centuries, through a myriad of changes, in the face of devastating uncertainty, Christians have taken refuge in Scripture. Believers have proved God’s word to be true over and over again. Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you”(John 14:18). Hear the last words Jesus spoke just before His ascension, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20). You can take solace in these words from Scripture, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The writer of Hebrews gives us this assurance, “ For He Himself (Jesus) has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
There are many changes taking place around us, but this one thing I know, “Autumn leaves – Jesus doesn’t !” We have His word of it.
JESUS said,“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples struggle to understand Who Jesus is and why exactly He has come. Despite sitting under Jesus’ teaching and seeing the signs and wonders He performs, it is made clear at many times that they just don’t get it. And all of this culminates with an important conversation with the disciples in Mark 8:27-38.
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Caesarea, and Jesus just comes out and asks – “Who do people say that I am?” They reply that some think He’s John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others say one of the prophets. So Jesus continues: “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter, perhaps the boldest of the disciples, says, “You are the Christ.”
In Matthew’s account of this interaction (Matthew 16:13-28), Jesus praises Peter for his response, and says “upon this rock I will build My church” (v.18). He promises Peter the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ – but did he really understand?
Today we use the term “Christ” as interchangeable with Jesus’ name. In our minds it is clearly identified with Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. But “Christ” was not a new term when Peter used it to answer Jesus’ question. It was a title, not a name. The word christ (Greek) and the word messiah (Hebrew) mean the same thing – “anointed one”. So when Peter referred to Jesus as the “Christ”, he was saying that Jesus was the anointed one, perhaps like King David.
Today we would understand Messiah, Christ, Anointed One, to be synonymous with Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. But in that day, the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah who would deliver them, like Moses of old, from the political and economic oppression of foreign invaders. They were not anticipating one who would come to preach a gospel of repentance and humility and servanthood.
Jesus did not come to take Herod’s throne, or to lead a rebellion, or to overthrow Rome. So when Peter confessed to Him, “You are the Christ,” Jesus “warned them to tell no one about Him” (v.30). And Jesus begins to explain, Mark says “plainly”, that He must suffer many things, and be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He is explicitly telling them not only Who He is, but also what He is there to do.
Peter pulls Jesus aside, and begins to rebuke Jesus (v.32)! If it wasn’t clear before that Peter’s answer wasn’t evidence that he finally understood, then surely this is. When Peter said, “You are the Christ,” he wasn’t talking about a suffering servant who would be rejected and assassinated. In this crucial conversation it became clear that Jesus’ plans did not mesh with Peter’s plans for Jesus. Who Jesus was was not Who Peter wanted Him to be. And Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s”(v.33).
Peter’s understanding of Who Jesus is and what He is there for was so bad that when he tries to convince Jesus to be what the people want Him to be, Jesus says it’s like hearing from Satan himself. (In fact, Jesus had heard this from Satan himself – when He was tempted in the wilderness in Matthew 4:8-9.)
Perhaps Peter and his buddies thought they were going to be the brain trust for the “George Washington” of Israel. They thought Jesus was going to set up shop on the throne in Jerusalem, and they would be his trusted advisors. They imagined freedom from Roman oppression, deliverance from puppet dictators, and real political power, and they said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
But Jesus says, “That’s not what I’m talking about!” He calls the crowd to Him, and He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it”(v.34-35). Wait a minute, this is not what we signed up for! Deny myself? Take up a cross? Lose my life?
Yes, Jesus says. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world (to gain political power or an earthly throne), and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(v.36-37). Jesus is saying that His purpose is so much more important than a throne or freedom or power. You can have all of those things, but if your soul is damned, what good is it?
But Peter and the disciples don’t want a servant’s life. They don’t want the kind of love that would compel one to lay down one’s life for another. They’re so embarrassed by Jesus’ obvious misunderstanding of His own purpose that Peter feels compelled to rebuke Him over it. But Jesus says, “whoever is ashamed of me and my words…the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His father with the holy angels”(v.38).
There is a Kingdom coming. But it is not like any other kingdom in the history of the world. We dare not be dissatisfied by or ashamed of Jesus and His mission, lest He be ashamed of us when He comes to establish His Kingdom. Instead, let us pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and live our lives toward that end.
At the end of Mark 4, Jesus had been teaching and healing, and He and His disciples took a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. A huge storm blew in, but Jesus was a heavy sleeper. (Remember, when someone says, “Be more like Jesus,” napping on a boat is a legitimate option.) The frightened disciples woke Jesus, He spoke to the storm, and the sea became calm.
So the disciples have had this terrifying and harrowing experience on the sea, and they’re freaked out because Jesus just spoke to the weather and it listened, and where do they come ashore? A graveyard. It is probably still night. And they begin to hear screams in the darkness. And out of the tombs comes a naked man with superhuman strength who is screaming and gashing himself with stones. This is some creepy stuff!
The wild man comes running up to Jesus, and Jesus, sensing that the man was demon-possessed, commands the unclean spirit to come out – like He has many times before. But the man claps back at Jesus, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torment me!”(Mark 5:7). (Notice that what he doesn’t do is come out of the man.)
So Jesus commands the man to identify itself, and the man responds that he is called “Legion”, because there were so many demons possessing him. (A legion was a Roman regiment of 6,000 troops.) This cadre of demons is clearly powerful. They do not come out immediately. Instead, they beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs; Jesus permits, and the herd of 2,000 pigs runs into the lake and drowns.
No one was more surprised by the mass suicide of pigs (sooey-cide?) than the herdsmen, and they ran and reported all over the place what had happened, and the people came to see for themselves. And when they came, they saw this wild man – whom they called “Legion” because of all the demons in him – sitting down, clothed, in his right mind. Amazing! And then the herdsmen told how the pigs all jumped in the lake. And the people’s response was to worship and follow after Jesus, right? No, they begged Him to get out of town!
What a tragedy! The Savior of the world is right there in their midst, and they’re crying over lost bacon! And you know what? When they said, “Jesus, we don’t want you here,” He got back in His boat and left. What a tragedy. Who knows who all may have been healed, who may have been saved by Jesus’ ministry in that region. We may never know the ripple effects of rejecting Jesus instead of receiving Him.
As Jesus was getting into His boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged Jesus to take him with them. But Jesus said no. Instead, He tells the man who was once called Legion, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you”(v.19).
Mark tells us the man’s home was the Decapolis, a region that was essentially Greek in population and culture – they had Greek gods and Greek temples and Greek art, and they were devoted to the Greek way of life. And here comes the man who was called Legion – who roamed the graveyard naked, screaming and cutting himself – and he is clothed and in his right mind, telling the story of how Jesus radically redeemed his life. And the people were amazed.
I have heard all my life the stories of great missionaries – Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael, E. Stanley Jones. Can you believe that the first missionary Jesus sent to the gentiles was a wild man called Legion? Now that is a great missionary story. And if Jesus can take the man called Legion and commission him to carry the Gospel, surely He can use you and me.