Beginning Wednesday, January 6 we will be offering
Financial Peace University
Wednesdays through March 9 @ 6:15 pm in ROC 305
Registration is requested
Click here to register for the class: http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/locations/class/1011479
This life-changing class taught by Dave Ramsey and the FPU teaching team on video and coordinated by Tom Braden at Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL will help you achieve your financial goals by showing you how to eliminate debt, save for the future, and give like never before. You will be challenged and motivated to make a plan for your money and change your family tree forever.
It is here! The anticipation, the planning, the wrapping, the whispered secrets, the phone calls… all finding their culmination for most today. Christmas morning! Finding brightly-wrapped gifts beneath the tree with YOUR NAME on them.
In the midst of the stress this holiday can bring, the love that gets poured into Christmas morning makes it worth coming back and doing it all again next year! Well, let’s enjoy this one first.
Christmas memories seem indelible. Like many, I can remember way back to waking my parents bleary-eyed on Christmas morning. Only later did I learn why they were always so tired, as my own children awakened me after a night of assembling part A to non-existent part B and trying to make the toy look at least passingly like the cover on the box.
But it’s all done in love. The gifts chosen, some beautifully wrapped and some clumsily taped by young fingers, are in a deep sense a giving away of love. While to some Christmas may feel like obligation, to most it is a way to tell those who matter most to us “we love you.”
And that’s exactly what God did as He sent His only begotten Son, born of a woman, to come and be our substitute, our sacrifice for sin. The Son of God willingly came, becoming a real human being. The One Who died for us created the tree that made the manger in which he was laid. The Son of God… created the parents Who bore Him!
Let the mystery of Christ’s coming soak in before the wrapping and tinsel and lights and trees go away, and Christmas memories fade into the new year. The Savior we celebrate at Christmas made it all. He was the eternal “Word made flesh.” He is the One Who holds it all together, and Who is the exact image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15-20)
And He is truly the Reason for the Season. And the greatest gift you can give Him this Christmas is your affection, your devotion… your heart. Enjoy the day. All of it. Love your family, laugh, eat and celebrate.
But don’t forget the reason why.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
FOR REFLECTION: During the day, find a few moments to quietly read the Christmas narrative in Luke 2 either privately or aloud to your family and friends. Thank God again for His indescribable gift!
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie.
These familiar words were written by Philip Brooks in 1868 following a visit to Bethlehem. While the words, “how still we see thee lie” certainly had application to that evening in 1868, it had little to do with the time Jesus was born.
Bethlehem of Judea, described by the prophet Micah, was “the least” among the cities of the region. It was hardly a city, but more a hamlet or village. Certainly Bethlehem was not a commercial or marketing center, but more of a layover for travelers on the way to the Holy City.
The time of Jesus’ birth, during the census being mandated by the Roman authorities, would have found Bethlehem a place of chaos and turmoil. It would have been struggling with overloaded housing accommodations and the throng of travelers making their way to Jerusalem for the census.
We get our modern term “bedlam” from a corruption of the name of a hospital founded in 1245. It became a hospital to treat the mentally insane called “Our Lady of Bethlehem,” shortened later to “Bethlem,” and finally referred to simply as “Bedlam.”
Though there is no Biblical record of an innkeeper turning Mary and Joseph away, it may have been that they settled for one of the many shelters carved from rock out of the hillsides outside the city. These were the “barns” of the day where animals would be sheltered. It was likely there that Mary gave birth to the Christ child.
And it was there, in the midst of “bedlam,” that our Savior came. Not in the serene silence of a winter night but within the sight and sound of human chaos, pain, and turmoil. Not separated from our pain, our stresses, and our despair but in the midst of it.
And that is where He meets us even today.
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in…
“But to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God.”
FOR REFLECTION: As Christmas Eve has arrived find a still and quiet moment to bow in gratitude for the gift of God’s Son.
Our daughter Allison has always been our “Christmas child.” While her brother loved the gifts Christmas brought, Allison loved the music. I still remember listening to Kenny G’s Christmas CD flowing from her room until long into the New Year… like Valentine’s Day.
Her favorite Christmas CD still today, however, is Michael W Smith’s Christmas CD. She would sing it from the backseat of our car on trips back to see grandparents. She would sing it through the day, and throughout the season, and into the New Year also!
One song on the CD is entitled “All is Well.” It’s one of the most haunting and lovely Christmas songs on the CD, and (thanks to Allison) has LONG reminded me of Christmas. A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the Christmas crush, Allie texted us a brief video of her singing that song. It was a deeply moving experience for me and for Pam to hear this. Partly because of memories it kindled. Partly because of the meaning it conveyed.
The message of Christmas is captured with those words. The message delivered by the angels of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” is one that resonates with us. It has never been more needed than it is now.
Perhaps the greatest gift that Christmas brings is the gift of peace. Not peace in the form of the serenity painted on Christmas cards of starlit, snow-covered fields with a horse-drawn carriage or roaring fires roasting chestnuts. The peace Christmas brings is more gritty, more real-world than that. It is peace in spite of circumstances. It is not peace that comes in the absence of a storm, but in the midst of it. It is peace while living on a planet in the middle of a war zone.
It is peace that was purchased with a price. On a cross. With blood and nails and tears. It is peace with God that can only come from God. And because of the peace that comes with the baby of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, we too can say,
“All is well.”
Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
FOR REFLECTION: What is one practical thing you can do to share God’s gift of peace this
Hopefully by now your Christmas shopping is about wrapped up (corny pun INTENDED). I’ve often thought about the person who wrote the Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. If you add up the number of gifts sung about in the song, you would see there are 364 gifts!
Someone has said that Christmas is that time of year when you buy presents you can’t afford, for people you don’t like, to impress people you don’t know. Hopefully your Christmas giving is not going to be that cynical!
But the gifts we give are important. We want the person to know they are loved. We don’t give expecting to get back an equal or better gift. Truly the best Christmases I remember are those when I had a gift to give that was so meaningful and given in so much love that I literally could not wait for the privilege to share it!
That’s what the wise men did. They traveled from afar bearing gifts from their homeland. If we estimate the time of their journey correctly, they traveled two years to bring their gifts to the newborn King! That’s some long road trip. (see Matthew 2:1-12)
But there was no hint that they gave their gifts in selfishness or with resentment for what they had to go through to get to the house where Jesus was. They opened their gifts gladly, carefully deciding who got to approach the manger first.
A missionary teacher shared the story of a student who traveled on foot for two days to bring her a Christmas gift. While he didn’t fully understand what Christmas was about, he carefully crafted a clay candle holder for her gift, and then began walking. When he arrived, hungry and weary from the trip, she gently scolded him for coming so far to present the gift. He said something she never forgot: “I came because I love you. The journey was part of the gift.”
And at Christmas, we hear the Father whisper the same to us.
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
FOR REFLECTION: Think of the most meaningful Christmas present you ever received. Thank God for the person who loved you enough to give it.
Of all the gifts of Christmas, light is one of the greatest. We all know the relief of walking out of a dark room into the light, or out of a dark night into the warmth of light in our home. Some know the experience of walking out of a dark and hopeless season of life into the light.
And maybe you are yet to find your way to that gift. American astronomer and astrologist Carl Sagan spoke of our predicament in this way: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great, enveloping cosmic dark.” It reminds us of the words of Isaiah who wrote of “people who walked in darkness….” This darkness of which the prophet spoke is not simply the absence of a candle. It was a depth of spiritual gloom that enveloped the world.
For some who read these words, an “enveloping darkness” just about describes life for you. Many feel a gloom and pessimism about the world that steals our hope and robs our joy. Again to quote Sagan, “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
How do we “save ourselves from ourselves?” Isaiah continues, “The people who walked in darkness have seen A GREAT LIGHT!” A light has come! Dawn has cracked the darkness open. “For unto us a child is born…..!” And now light has come to scatter our darkness….hope has come to dissolve our despair. Joy to the world, THE LORD HAS COME.
And so, though we often try to light up Christmas, it is really Christmas that lights US! We have the light within us. The light of the knowledge of Who was in that manger…that light is a gift that needs to be shared. You didn’t receive it to keep it, but to give it away.
A world that thinks no help will come from elsewhere to save us needs the light you have. The light has come at Christmas.
Go light your world.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
FOR REFLECTION: Find a candle, light it and pray for a person you know who is walking in darkness. As you blow it out, remember what it was like to “walk in darkness.”
On December 17th of 1903 the Wright Brothers made history as they first flew in an airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The world has changed as a result of their amazing feat, as Orville manned the airplane for a twelve second flight. Wilbur rushed immediately to the nearest telegraph office, and sent the exciting message, “Have flown for 12 seconds. Will be home for Christmas.” Receiving the message, their sister Katherine rushed to the local newspaper office with the exciting report from her brothers. She told the editor of their accomplishment and said they would be home December 19th if he would like to set up an interview. He said he would put something in the paper about this. On December 19th, the newspaper had a small paragraph with the following headline: Wright Brothers to Be Home for Christmas.
How could anyone be so blind? The most important message of the year… the decade… perhaps of the century and the editor missed it. But let’s be honest. How many of us miss Christmas the same way?
The trees are ready, the special recipes prepared to cook, the presents bought and wrapped. By now the stress and strain of Christmas has begun to sink in. The tinsel and decorations are wearing thin and the rounds of festivities and parties is wearing us out. And Christmas comes and Christmas goes in many of our lives and in some of our homes without mention of the One whose birth we celebrate.
How could we miss it? How much clearer could God have made it? And yet, the same thing happened that first Christmas: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” The message came, but other things took precedence… business had to be conducted, supper cooked, clothes cleaned, animals fed, fires stoked. “HE came…” and they missed it.
How could they, we wonder? More to the point:
How can we?
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:14)
FOR REFLECTION: What is one thing you can do to make certain you personally don’t miss the real reason for Christmas this year?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 ) God doesn’t change. His essential nature (“morphe”… see Day 18) has always been and will always be God. But in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh… Jesus; though being in “morphe” God (see Philippians 2:6), did not consider God-equality something to be clung to but made Himself nothing, and taking on Himself the form of a servant and being made in likeness of man….” (Philippians 2:7) And there we encounter the second word that will deepen our thinking about the incarnation.
“The likeness of man” translates a word having to do with shape or external appearance. The word is “schema” which is the origin of the English words “scheme” or “schematic.” Jesus, you remember from our devotional yesterday, has the essential, unchanging nature of God (“morphe”) but He also possessed the external “schema” (shape or likeness) of man. His morphe never changed. His schema (external appearance) changed radically from embryo, to fetus, to preschooler, to toddler, to adolescent, to young adult, to adult….just as our external appearance changes and yet we continue to be human beings through all those changes.
Now I know this is deeper than we may want to go, but we must try and get a glimpse of what our Savior experienced so that we may know something that is hopeful. He knew what being human meant. He wasn’t playing a game when He walked among us as the God-man. He really hurt. He really cried. He really lived. And He really died. We can know He is never far from any of us, never distant. Always as near as our call to Him….as our need for Him.
And we need to see Him for Who He is. “Why should the eye be so lazy? Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see,” said GK Chesterton. Let us use our eyes until we can see past the superficial, past the piled up layers of unreality, past the Photoshop portrayals and into the reality of the mystery of the Word made flesh.
Then, and only then, will we really see Christmas….and Jesus for Who He is.
“Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has been told us.” (Luke 2:15)
FOR REFLECTION: Take a moment now, as your day begins or ends, to close your eyes and see with eyes of faith. What is God leading you to see that your physical eyes cannot?
Sometimes it’s hard to see the true value of a person or of anything really if we allow the externals to distract us. This is why, I believe, we are told to “judge nothing by externals.” And why in the Old Testament story of the choosing of David to be Israel’s king, God told the prophet Samuel, “I do not look at things as man sees them. For man looks at the external. I look at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
It seems as though God made it abundantly certain that we would have to look hard to see Jesus in the flesh of Mary’s baby. The externals of “humanity” and the status of “humility” blocked our ability to truly see Jesus for Who He was in His eternal nature.
There are two words in the Philippians hymn of incarnation (Philippians 2:6-11) that help us to clarity this issue. The English language, while popular around the world, is actually not as rich and textured as the common Greek the in which the New Testament was written.
For instance, when the text tells us that Jesus, “though being in the form of (morphe) God.” That word “morphe” is where we find our English word “morph” or “morphology.” It means “the essence of something that never changes.” For instance, you are a human being. Your essential being, your “morph” is human. No matter how your outer person changes, your “morphe” never does.
Likewise when Jesus came to Earth as a baby in the incarnation, He still continued in His essential nature, His “morphe,” to be Deity. That was something about Jesus that never changed though His outer appearance did.
I have in my office a camel skin cane that was given to me as a gift from the mission field. It is intricately woven on the outside, and curved at the top. It is built around a cork/wood core. But what you can’t see by looking at it is the sharpened sword blade inside it. It was shaped by a craftsman for a Somali warlord. So the question I sometimes ask is, “Is this a cane or is this a sword?” Practically, it’s both cane and sword. But its creator determined what it was to be: a sword disguised as a cane to surprise and kill an enemy.
Jesus always was and continued to be God (and continues to BE God) in His eternal essence, His “morphe.” Is He what we can see, or really what we cannot? ________________________________________________________________________
“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance but the Lord judges the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
FOR REFLECTION: Is there something you should repent of because you passed a judgement based on externals?
I know, I know. It messes with our nativity sets and our Christmas cards when we allow the truth of the Christmas story to seep through. Our Mary and Joseph portrayals are often too old… and too white. The holy family probably did not have halos around their heads, nor did the baby Jesus.
And the wise men? Well there were not necessarily just three. We know there was more than one (wise “MEN”), but we don’t know if they arrived on camels or horses. Camels are certainly more exotic; horses more practical for longer distances. I actually sat on a camel once… wouldn’t want to cross the desert on one! They do look cool on our nativity scenes, though, but then so did my son’s plastic Godzilla when he occasionally appeared.
But we do know this. They were perhaps not wise in how they went about the search for Jesus. I can only credit their lack of knowledge of Herod and his insanity with their coming right into the lions den… looking for the baby born to be his replacement! Herod was driven mad with jealousy over this child born “king of the Jews!”
We do know that the wise men (magi) from the east did not appear in the story of Jesus until he was at least two years of age. (see Matthew 2:16) They came to the house (in Nazareth) to worship Him and bring their gifts. And after they left, Herod madly set out to search for the male child, born within the past two years, and slaughtered every child in the area in an effort to destroy his competition before he became old enough to rule.
No one can imagine with accuracy the depth and length our spiritual enemy will stoop to destroy the image of the Christ child. It is a reality that all who bear that image drive him to jealousy and rage. He is intent to stamp out the image of the One who, at the cross, crushed his head as God promised in Genesis 3:15. Satan is a defeated foe because of Jesus.
The wise men went home a different way. An angel appeared and warned them not to return to Herod. And so, the Gospel tells us, “they went home a different way.” That’s about more than geography. That is a clear statement that their meeting with Jesus changed them. They saw salvation… hope personified… Divine love in the person of a child. And it changed them. They went home a different way.
And when you meet Jesus, you will, too!
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother and they fell down and worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:11)
FOR REFLECTION: Ask God to help your worship this year to transform you.