Friday, December 22, 2017

God’s Gift to You

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

They say that timing is everything. Well, the timing couldn’t have been worse for Joseph and Mary. The Roman Emperor Octavian, Caesar Augustus, sent out a registration and tax decree while Mary was pregnant. If they were Romans, they could have filled out the forms in Nazareth where they lived. But they were Jews. Jews registered in the city of their birth. So, Joseph and Mary made the seventy-mile trip when Mary was at full term. And they got to Bethlehem just in time, or “in the fullness of time,” as Paul said in Galatians 4.4.

It seems that Joseph and Mary just couldn’t catch a break. When they got to Bethlehem, the town was full of people, perhaps other Jews who had also gone there to register. There wasn’t a single, rentable room in the entire city. They had to settle for a stable.

The time came, and the Baby arrived. A “king of the Jews” (as the Magi called Him) was born to an unwed couple, in an insignificant village, and placed in a feeding trough. Hardly what you would expect of a King. They didn’t get much pity either as word soon spread that the Child was illegitimate.

The “Child” and “Son,” foretold by the prophet Isaiah, tiptoed quietly into humanity. The “wonderful Counselor” was wrapped in swaddling clothes. The “mighty God” was laid in a manger. The “everlasting Father” took on flesh. The “prince of Peace” entered a sin-sick, unpeaceful world (adapted from Isaiah 9.6). 

What a gift! Jesus, the Lamb of God, given to take away the sin of the world. Jesus was sacrificed on a cross to free us from sin’s bondage. No longer slaves to sin, we have peace with God [Romans 5.1]. With redeemed hearts we can now join our voices with the Apostle Paul and say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” [2 Corinthians 9.15]. 

Merry Christmas, one and all!

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2.1-7

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Joy. Not just any joy, but GREAT joy! That really is Good News. And that’s what the angels told the shepherds, who were watching over their flocks by night, that first Christmas. “Good News of GREAT joy.”

What was the Good News? A Savior was born. What brings the great joy? Being saved. Saved! What could be more joyful than that? If you have ever been lost somewhere, or trapped by something, and then saved from it, you know what great joy is all about. 

There are many things that can rob you of joy just like the Grinch who stole Christmas; a “thief” who does everything in his power to “steal, kill, and destroy” [see John 10.10]. One remedy for the loss of joy is to remember the Good News: You have “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

Just think what that Savior has done for you. He has:

1. Saved you from a dark past. You don’t have to be beaten down with the guilt and shame of your past. All of that was taken care of by the Savior. Nothing you have done is a match for the blood of Christ shed for you on the cross. 

2. Saved you from an empty present. As a Christ follower, you are no longer merely surviving, you’re living an abundant life [see John 10.10]. When we follow Jesus, He leads us in a way that our lives have meaning and purpose. Especially as we touch other people with the love and joy of the Savior.

3. Saved you from a hopeless future. Know God. Know hope. Our Savior assured His followers that He is preparing a future home for them [John 14.1-3]. I’d like to tell you about it, but “eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither has it entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2.9]. Oh my! The things in store for those who are saved!

The Savior came. He came for you. Rejoice with great joy!

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2.10-11

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Real Christmas Joy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The joy of Christmas. It’s sad when it ends. For some, it’s over when the decorations are put away and the tree is set at the curb for garbage. For some, it ends when the Christmas music is put back in its digital storage folder, not to be heard for the next eleven months. For some, it’s like a sugar rush, a feel good high that suddenly crashes to the ground.  

If you think about it, that’s the way it is with a lot of people, just waiting for the next feel-good fix. But don’t kid yourself, a lot of Christians live their spiritual lives that way. They bounce from place to place, meeting to meeting, group to group, ever desirous of something to make them feel better. 

Then we read the Magnificat — Mary’s Song, sung that first Christmas. She sang words of praise to God because He was powerful to save. Maybe Christmas would hang around longer if we did the same! She didn’t sing about a life without difficulties. Look at what she was facing: the scrutiny for being pregnant and unmarried, and the shame and anguish it would bring to her family.

Mary’s praise wasn’t rooted circumstances. No praise is, really. True praise is grounded in who God is and what He can do. That’s what makes Christmas special — any day special, for that matter. So, rather than putting Christmas in a box and storing it until next year, keep Christmas alive with praise to God for His power to save.

Because of Christmas, there is separation between BC/AD. Because of Christmas, there is separation between OR/NR — Old Rick/New Rick. That’s reason enough for year-round joy.

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." Luke 1.46-55

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Prepared for Christ[mas]

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

It happened in a store the other day when I had finished my purchase. The clerk asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” “Ready for Christmas.” It took a couple of minutes for it to sink in. As I pulled out of the parking lot, it struck me, “Rick, are you ready for Christmas?”

The answer to that question really depends on how you define ready, and what you are ready for. So, let me ask it this way because it’s the way that it struck my heart, “Are you ready for Christ?” That gets to the heart of the matter

Get ready. Be prepared. The Christ is coming. That was a message preached by John the Baptizer. The Scriptures say that John was sent by God to get people ready, prepared, to meet Jesus. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight’” [Matthew 3.1-3].

How did those people prepare for Christ? Matthew continues, “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” [5-6].

That’s how we prepare for Christ too. Repent. We don’t talk much about repentance anymore, but it’s an important subject in the Bible. It literally means to “turn away” or “turn around” or “turn from.” You’re going in a direction one moment, and then you repent. At that point, you start going in the opposite direction. In the spiritual sense, you turn from your sin and turn toward God. 

That’s was God’s way of preparing for the arrival of Christ according to Matthew. I think it is still His way today. And that’s what I call being prepared for Christ[mas]!

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40.3

Monday, December 18, 2017

Emmanuel, God With Us

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

OK, here’s the deal … I love to celebrate Christmas. Our church puts a few more events on the calendar. Our home has a few more decorations. Our table has a lot more food! I love it all. The lights. The music. The smells. And to top it off, I get a couple of nice things in my stocking other than coal! It’s a joyous way to celebrate someone else’s birthday. 

And there it is, the event behind our celebrations. The core precept of the holiday. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. It’s the day we revel in the profound mystery of “Emmanuel, God with us!”

It is reminiscent of the words spoken to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” [Joshua 1.9]. 

“God with us” makes every day a day of celebration. A day to…

Release my struggles 
Release my fears
Release my self-righteousness
Embrace His love
Delight in His presence

"Emmanuel, God with us." Let’s celebrate. The Lord is with us, present in the fullness of His power, wherever we go! 

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1.21-22

Friday, December 15, 2017

Santa Claustrophobic

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I read an interesting statistic from 2010 — Americans spent more on wrapping paper than the combined GDP of the nine poorest nations in Africa, about $10B dollars. That same year, the U.S. used over 333 million square feet of gift wrap, enough to cover 5,787 NFL football fields. (So says INTERCON in a December 2012 article.) 

Most people don’t give unwrapped gifts. It’s a tradition. And, like most of our Christmas activities, they are just that: traditions. December 25th, Christmas Trees, Yule Logs, Gift Giving, Lights, Santa, Reindeer, Snowmen — say it with me, TRADITION! 

But before I go further, I want you to know that if you come to my church, you’ll find a Christmas tree, garland, and lights on the stage. Most Americans I know, don’t know a lot about the origin of these things, and most assuredly, we aren’t worshipping Babylonian gods and goddesses!

So, how do we handle these traditions? I suggest we do what Jesus did. In John 10, Jesus participated in the festival of Hanukkah, the traditional Festival of Lights. You won’t find that festival among the sacred festivals in Leviticus. This tradition dates from the period between the Old and New Testaments. He used the Festival of Lights (Feast of Dedication) to tell people who He really is [See John 10.22-30]. 

Rather than “Bah, humbug!” this Christmas, let’s shine the light on Jesus. Rather than being “Santa Claustrophobic,” let’s talk about the words people are singing of which they no nothing about. How about this one:

Christ by highest heaven adored, 
Christ the everlasting Lord. 
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! 
Hail, incarnate deity! 
Pleased as man with men to dwell, 
Jesus our Emmanuel. 
Hark, the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the newborn king!”

Since many people who sing these words don’t know what they’re singing, let’s step into their celebration and tell them who Jesus is and what they are singing about. We can redeem traditions by helping people become redeemed. 

Honestly, it doesn’t concern me in the least when Jesus came. What matters to me is THAT He came! The celebration of Christmas has already started. Let’s celebrate with them and talk about the real joy that came to the world!

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  John 10.22-24

Thursday, December 14, 2017

So that He Gets the Glory

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

On one of my trips to Israel, we were in Bethlehem and our guide asked the group, “Why Bethlehem? Why did Jesus come from this place? Why not New York,” he asked jokingly. “Why not Jerusalem? Why not Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea?” It’s a great question. 

A simple answer is, the Messiah would come from the lineage of David, and David was a Bethlehemite. That is true. But I think there is more here than meets the eye. It seems to me that God always chooses something small, quiet, out-of-the-way, insignificant, to let His glory shine. The Apostle Paul said it better: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” [1Corinthians 1.27-29].

God chooses ways and means so that we can’t boast in our merits and achievements, but only in His glorious mercy. That’s why He chose Bethlehem. You would never hear someone say, “Of course He was born in Bethlehem. Look how great she is among the nations!” 

God chose a cave so that no innkeeper could boast, “He chose my Five-Star inn.” He chose a manger so that no craftsman could boast, “He chose my adjustable, memory-foam mattress.” And God, freely and unconditionally, chose you and me to stop our mouths from all human boasting. To hear some people talk, you’d think that God was lucky to have them on His team!

The point here is that God does not bestow His blessings on the basis of merit or achievement. He doesn’t choose on the basis of prominence, prestige, or power. When God chooses, He does it to let His glory shine. That’s why the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest” [Luke 2.14], and we sing, “Joy to the World.” God gets the glory. We get the joy!

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Micah 5.2

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Thrill of Hope

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

We have a radio station that started playing Christmas music 24/7 the day after Thanksgiving. I find myself singing along with the likes of Burl Ives and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We’ve sung these songs so many times, the words pass our lips without a thought of their meaning — that is, until the Lord reminds you of their significance. 

Here’s something that struck me the other day: “A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn” from O Holy Night.

“The thrill of hope.” That’s what helps us make it through a rough marriage. A health crisis. Weariness from the weight of our sin-sick world. There is hope for something better. 

Do you remember the story of the paralytic who remained at the Pool of Bethesda for 38 years? When the waters were stirred, you could be healed by getting into it first. How many times in those 38 years did this guy fail to get healed? We don’t know, but he must have had a lot of hope. He stuck it out for 38 years! When would you have bailed? Year one? Five? Twenty? Thirty-seven? 

Over the years, I’ve seen people lose their hope. There were many reasons for it, here are a few.

Hopeless friends sucked the hope out of them. They got up in the morning, got into the Word, prayed, and started their day with their eyes on the Lord. Positive, ready, trusting God. Then, their hopeless friends showed up. “I’d be miserable if I were you. You’ve been sick… or out of work.. or ???” In a instant, it’s like someone turned the lights off and your hope was gone. 

Some lost their hope because it’s hard to hope. Hope doesn’t come naturally. It takes hard work to keep your hope. You don’t have to work at being hopeless, negativity just shows up. You must discipline your mind to be hopeful

Some lost their hope because it hurts to hope. The author of Proverbs wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” [13.12]. When you hope, you are vulnerable to being disappointed. One of my Bible College professors said, “It hurts to hope sometimes. However, it hurts more not to hope.”

“The thrill of hope!” It’s not just for eternity, but also for here and now. It’s here and now as God forgives sins, answers prayers, lifts burdens, changes lives, and meets our need. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15.13

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

God Came to Us

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

One of the great Christmas texts is found in the little book of Philippians. It tells how God came to earth — not as an infant child, as many celebrate it, but as the God-man to die for our sins. 

The eternal God came to earth in the fashion of a man. That was a major undertaking. He had to “humble” Himself. There are many ways the Greek word for humble is interpreted. In the Philippian passage, it carries the idea of one who “stoops to the condition of a servant” [Thayers Lexicon]. That thought truly amazes me. The love our almighty God had that drove Him to divest Himself of everything eternal for lowly flesh is astounding! Especially in light our how we recoil at the thought of humbling ourselves.

Then, after humbling Himself, He became obedient to die on a cross. Our God, clothed in radiant glory in eternity past, entered the world for one purpose: to die a miserable death on a cross thereby purchasing our salvation. It’s almost beyond comprehension. 

That’s our Christmas celebration. That’s what Christmas is all about!

And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2.8

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Spirit of Power

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Our electricity has been off for a couple of days, intentionally shut off by the power company due to high wind and fire conditions. I set up a portable generator to run a few things in our house, but having partial power is just not the same as having full power. 

Of course, there is a sermon in there somewhere!

My mind raced back to a rather hectic month and a half in the lives of the disciples. Jesus had been arrested, crucified, and resurrected. Their emotions were like a wild roller coaster ride, from extreme sorrow to sheer joy. What would follow? Would Jesus now restore the kingdom to Israel? After all, they had been under Roman rule for about 100 years. Perhaps now was their time for freedom.

They didn’t get the answer they were looking for. In fact, it seems like Jesus just brushed them off. “It’s not for you to know those things,” He told them [Acts 1.7]. There was a more pressing need: Power to witness for Christ. That power would come in just a few days as they “tarried” in Jerusalem. 

Not only would the Holy Spirit comfort them, as Jesus explained in John 14, but He would also give them a power supply; power to be His witnesses. A witness is someone who can give a firsthand account of something they have experienced, seen, or heard. In other words, they furnish evidence. The disciples were empowered to furnish their amazing experience with Jesus; to present it in such a ways as to make it believable and desirable. 

I think they did a really good job of it. Those early Christ followers, few in number and empowered by the Holy Spirit, set the world on fire. Everywhere they went, people turned to God. Obviously, that didn’t please everyone. A group of disgruntled businessmen and religious leaders brought some Christ followers to the city rulers for discipline. At the meeting they said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” [Acts 17.6]. That’s pretty powerful, isn't it!

Regardless of what you've been told, we have that same power available today. Power to witness for Christ. I hope future generations can say of us that we did a good job of representing God in our day. That’s a legacy I’d like to leave behind.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1.7

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More about Grace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

In yesterday’s eDevotion, I wrote about God’s sufficient grace. As I started thinking about today’s eDevotion, my mind, once again, returned to that wonderful subject — God’s grace.  

The Apostle Peter referred to God as the “God of all grace.” The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christ followers that we are “justified freely by His [God’s] grace.”

Here is a biblical truth: None of us deserve, in any way, our salvation. Our story is wrapped up in the profound words, “where sin did abound, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5.20]. If it weren’t about grace, he might have said, “where merit abounds,” or “where good works abound,” or “where faithfulness abounds,” that grace abounded. No, no, a thousand times no! Our story is an abounding grace for abounding sinners!

Peter mentions two aspects of grace.

1. For the hereafter - the “God of all grace” calls us to His eternal glory.

2. For now - to mature, establish, strengthen, and settle us through the suffering we experience in the world. 

God’s grace is not just about the future, when He carries us to heaven. It is also about today, as He trains us in Christlikeness through our challenges, sorrows, and pains.

Say it with me, “God is the God all grace.” Open your eyes and see that the “God of ALL grace” is training you right now — through your experiences, good or bad — preparing you for the eternal glory that is by Christ Jesus. 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 1 Peter 5.10 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

There’s Enough Grace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

What’s dragging you down? A chronic illness tearing at your body and soul? A relationship that has soured? Estrangement from a wayward son or daughter? A dead end career? Perhaps you’ve prayed and prayed about it and the answer has not yet come. Or perhaps you have received your answer and it’s, “NO!”

Have you got one of those ongoing prayers for an ongoing need? If so, you can relate to the Apostle Paul. He had a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what it was, but he didn’t like it and he didn’t want it. 

In his letter to the Corinthian Christ followers, he wrote about three intense prayers asking God to remove his thorn. The answer to each of them was, “No!” But, wait, there’s more! Paul told them that his thorn was actually a blessing because it kept him dependent on God. In other words, his thorn was a continual reminder of the sufficiency of God’s grace. Paul was weak, but God demonstrated His strength in it.

No one prays for thorns in their lives - I guarantee it. In fact, when they come, our prayer is that God takes them away. Listen now, sometimes His answer is, “No,” just like it was with Paul. That doesn’t mean that God is mad at you. It doesn’t mean He has lost interest in you or forgotten you. Accept it as His tender reminder that a sufficient amount of grace will show up when you need it. Then you can proclaim as Paul did, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Have you considered thanking God for the thorns in your life? If not, try it. You’ll discover that God shows His awesome power through your weakness and inadequacy.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12.9

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

God Doesn’t Waste Time and Circumstances

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

When Paul penned his letter to the Philippian Christ followers, it wasn’t from the presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria in Rome. The truth is, this man, called and committed to the Gospel, was in jail, more specifically, a Roman prison. You’d think that a restriction like that would stymie his ministry. But not Paul! He had a foundational belief: He was confident that God never wasted time or circumstances. His strong conviction about that caused him to believe that every situation, good or bad, had eternal significance and purpose. 

Now for the big question: Do you believe that? Let’s be honest, it’s difficult, isn’t it. It’s especially hard to believe it when you’re living in disappointment, discouragement, loss, setbacks, failure, hurt, illness, injustice, or grief. So, say it with me, “God doesn’t waste my time or circumstances!”

Here’s my pastoral counsel for the day: Our loving God uses earthly circumstances for His eternal purposes. It doesn’t lessen the pain, don’t ever think that. The pain you feel is the moulding process God uses today to shape you into the person He needs tomorrow. 

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. Philippians 1.12-18

Monday, December 4, 2017

Transformation, Not Insurance

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Christianity is not a life insurance policy. What I mean by that is, it isn’t a one time decision that gets cashed in when you die. Neither is it something that you think about increasing every once in a while, like when child arrives. Listen, having life insurance isn’t life-changing!

Being a Christ follower who trusts in Christ alone for salvation opens the door to a new life. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation,” Paul told the Corinthians. You are completely and totally transformed. In other words, the Christian life is not a one-and-done event. It is a continual, lifelong process of spiritual growth.

How do you determine if you are a life insurance Christian? Good question. Ask yourselves these questions, then answer them honestly:

Does my initial trust in Jesus make a difference in my life today?

Do I think of Christianity as an event? Like baptism, confirmation, being a church member? Or, is it daily interaction with Christ?

Am I following Jesus more closely now than last year? And the year before that? And the year before that?

Can I honestly say that I am growing more and more in faith?

Do I demonstrate a genuine love for the lost and other Christ followers?

The honest answers to these questions will help you determine if you are a life insurance Christian or not. Being real with God, and honest with ourselves, is foundational to a transformed life.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one other is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1.3