Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to everyone

Merry Christmas to everyone that reads this Bible study blog. I appreciate all of you, and hope that this is a very special and blessed Christmas for you and your families.

I'll be taking a break from posting for this next week. Please join me after New Year's Day, and we'll continue our studies together!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Slowdown

Today's post is a story-telling. A story of almost one hundred years ago.

A story of a world, like today, torn by war.

One of my grandfathers was an ambulance driver during WWI, and I often wonder if he was near the front lines on Christmas Eve, 1914.

If he was, he may have been a part of a miracle.

In the dark days leading up to Christmas Eve, soldiers of three different nations had been slogging through their duties in muddy trenches, six to eight feet deep. To raise one's head above the edge was to invite certain death from sniper fire. The English, French and German armies were locked in place near Flanders, and nothing seemed like it would ever, ever change.
Men dreamed of the warm firesides of home and the loving embraces of family. Morale was slipping lower. The French and English soldiers were surprised to spot tiny Christmas trees along some of the German trenches, and both sides began to shout Christmas greetings across the stretch of ground in between the armies, and to sing carols.
Then on Christmas Eve, it happened. Making pacts to lay down their weapons, soldiers began to climb from the trenches into the no-man's land between the lines. They banded together to bury their dead, and then conversed in broken phrases; the peace of Christmas surely helped them understand each other. They even exchanged their rifles for soccer balls, having impromptu games; some traded pictures to post to relatives in far off lands. One gave a medal to his one-time enemy, and the recipient responded by gifting his scarf in return.
As night fell, the men drifted back into their trenches. They knew that they would be called on to resume hostilities the very next day. As they did, a lone voice began to sing. Then another joined him, and another. Soon the night air was filled with the pensive sounds of men's voices, each singing the familiar song in their own language.
The carol?
Silent Night.

And yes, this is a true story. Some of the details may have been embellished as the men went home, grew old, and told their stories. But enough of them told the story to let us know that it truly happened. In fact, their superior officers knew that it had happened and rotated in "fresh" soldiers because these men might not be counted on to shoot and kill their companions from that Christmas Eve.

One special night, in the midst of war-torn France, men stopped and reached down inside themselves, to the best that they could be. They extended their hands in peace to one another. God's peace. May we find the strength in ourselves to follow their example.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What would you have done?

Back in 1966, Guideposts magazine published the story of a children's Christmas pageant that took an unexpected turn.
I like it so much that I have posted it here in its entirety. I appreciate the opportunity to post this and hope that it will bless your heart as you read . . .

For years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling.
Wally's performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty keeping up. He was big and awkward, slow in movement and mind.
Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.
They'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was a helpful boy, always willing and smiling, and the protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. If the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're no bother."
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant, but the play's director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices.

No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.
"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
"We seek lodging."
"Seek it elsewhere." Wally spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
"No! Begone!" the prompter whispered.
"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Begone!"

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
"Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

Which begs the question . . . if you'd been in Bethlehem that night, what would you have done?

Courtesy Guideposts Magazine, originally published in1966

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Familiar verses, Part III

A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 40:3-5)

We've seen that the voice crying in the wilderness calls to us in our desert places, and tells us to prepare for His coming . . .

The voice also promises us something!
We will see God's glory revealed  God has promised that the power and glory of His presence will be seen again on the earth.  The prophet also says that all mankind will see it. This will not be hidden or secret -- everyone will know.
As we make our Christmas preparations, have we readied our hearts? Or are we like the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23?   Our houses may be decorated beautifully, the presents wrapped in lovely papers, the lights twinkling . . . but if we have neglected to clean up the sin that is in our hearts, then we're not much better than the Pharisees. We look great on the outside, but pretty bad on the inside.

The point of the story is, we're not just preparing to welcome the baby Jesus at Christmas. We have just as many prophecies that tell us Christ is coming again.  Nobody predicted it correctly the first time, and nobody will be able to predict it correctly this time either. In fact, the Bible says "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36)
But Jesus Christ is coming again – as the risen and victorious Lord who will take us home to live with Him forever!
You see, we shouldn't repent and clean out our hearts only so we can celebrate Christmas in a more religious or spiritual way -- we also want to welcome Christ on the day of His appearing. That way we know Him, and He knows us!
We prepare the guest room of our hearts so that nothing stands in the way of His taking up residence there. We make our hearts open wide to His will and His ways – living every day as though He might return at any moment. Because He might! I Thessalonians chapter 5 tells us that the day "might come like a thief in the night" --- it may sneak up on us.

Is the guest room of your heart ready for Him this Christmas?

I hope that you will all forgive a personal appeal here . . . I would appreciate your prayers for our family. Some issues have surfaced recently that are troubling and we need His wisdom to handle things. Please bear us up in prayer. Thank you so much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Familiar verses, Part II

A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 40:3-5)

We've been exploring what these verses have to say to us. . . .

We've discussed that the voice cries out in the wilderness -- in our wilderness, in the desert places and times of our lives.
Why does the voice cry out?

First, the voice tells us to prepare:
In ancient times, when a king was planning to travel to another land, or through an unfamiliar territory, he would send heralds, or "criers" to announce that he would be coming that way. Some rulers even sent out what we might consider construction crews. They would fill ravines and level precipices, and remove obstacles to a smooth, pleasant journey for the potentate.
Our application could be that if the Lord is going to come our way, and take up residence in our hearts, that we must remove any obstacles that would stand in the way.
Secondly, the voice tells us to repent:
In the New Testament, John the Baptist assumed the role of the crier, and in Matthew 3:2 he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We've said before that to repent is to change -- to turn away from our sin, because we are sad. We are sad because it separates us from God.

Unless we are saddened by our sinful ways, our sinful habits and sinful practices, and turn away from them, we are not ready for the Lord to come.  When we know that we have guests arriving soon in our homes, what do we usually do? We straighten things up, we mop, we dust, we scrub and clean. We put fresh towels in the bathroom and clean sheets on the beds. Then we go and prepare a wonderful meal.
We do all of this so that our guests will feel warmly welcomed, right?

Jesus our Lord is waiting -- first to be welcomed as a guest, and then to take up residence in our lives. He was born as a baby in humble surroundings, but now is exalted and standing at the right hand of the Father. He is waiting for us to invite Him into our hearts as Savior and Lord.

If you have never asked Him --- won't you ask Him today? 
Let this be the Christmas that you celebrate a new life in Christ!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Familiar verses

A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 40:3-5)

These are certainly some familiar verses that are often read at this Christmas season. Some of us may even sing these words in a cantata, or in a performance of Handel's Messiah.  I'd like for us to explore these a little more deeply, as we draw closer to the day that we celebrate Christ's birth.

The prophet Isaiah is telling of a voice; he is telling of a yet-to-be-heard messenger. And that messenger is telling us of the coming of the Lord. Isaiah prophecied during the reigns of several of the kings of Judah -- during this era the nation was divided into two states: Israel and Judah. 

Now that we've established a little background, let's look at the passage. 

Where is the voice heard? In the desert.

In a literal sense, the people of the Hebrew nations were quite familiar with desert areas. Their countries were pretty much surrounded by deserts and wilderness areas -- harsh, unforgiving land. 
In a figurative sense, the Bible often uses the term "desert" to refer to some aspect of the wilderness, and the effect that it has on people. The children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years, and Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by Satan. 
The wilderness can be a terrifying and lonely place.It is a barren and dry land, where water is hard to find. It is a silent, lonely place, and it's desolate; sometimes that desolation was used by the prophets to illustrate the effects of the people's sins on their relationship with God.

There are "desert" times in our lives but that voice calls to us wherever we are -- even in the desert. We may feel like we are living in a desert: a spiritually barren wilderness. Our souls may be dry and parched, in need of that living water from Christ. We may find ourselves living routinely without taking any significant time for prayer and fellowship with the Father -- perhaps months or even a year has gone by since we've really prayed or studied the Word. We are certainly in the desert. 
Some of us may feel like we are in a desert, all alone -- that we are wandering around, trying to find our way home. This desert can be a frightening place; and where is God? The climate in our desert life is extreme . . . intense heat and stress by day, and bone-chilling solitude at night.
Maybe we are dealing with a heart that is a place of desolation. Our sin may have destroyed any signs of our spiritual life. We may even feel drained and numb. Like we are in the desert.
Or perhaps we feel we are living in a world that is threatening and sometimes terrifying. We live the best we can for Jesus, but the world around us seems so barren. We live and work in the midst of a desert, and signs of spiritual life are so hard to find . . .

But still the voice cries out, even today. To me. To you. To the hurting world. 
In the desert, the wilderness --- where the climate is dry and cold. Where we are tired, and we feel we've been abandoned. Where we feel lost in our discouragement and solitude. The voice cries out -- and we're startled and surprised by it.

It reminds us of God's unfailing love toward us -- He wants to take (or re-take) residence in our lives!

I hope you'll come back tomorrow as we continue to explore these verses.  There is so much here for us!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Slowdown

I hope that this weeks' posts have helped all of us to make the best Christmas preparations of all -- the most needful ones . . . those of preparing our hearts for Christmas. I know that I have wept as I've written, and it has touched my heart and renewed my wonder of the coming of our Lord.

I hope that this week's Slowdown will continue with our theme, and that as you read these lyrics and watch the video if time permits, that you will receive a blessing. I chose this video for the reverence and wonder expressed on the faces of those who portray the characters of the story.

Pause for a few moments. Renew your own wonder, and re-discover the joy that is Christmas. Thank God the Father for His gift . . .

1. What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
2. Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
3. So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

William Dix, 1865

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Preparations, Part IV

See that picture? One of the lights is shining, and one is not . . . but I digress. I'll get back to that presently.

We've been talking this week about preparing our hearts for Christmas, and today's post is the final one. The last way to prepare is this: turn on the lights. You read it correctly!

One of the warmest, most special memories that I have from Christmases past is that of lying down on the floor just under the edge of the decorated Christmas tree with our kiddos. We would gaze up through the branches, and study the ceiling as well. The play of the lights on the ornaments, the branches, and the ceiling, was something very wonderful to behold. It was a quiet activity, except for when one of us would point out to the other an especially beautiful shimmer of light, or a glistening ornament that caught our attention. Some would say that we needed to get a life, but we truly enjoyed that once-a-year beauty. 
Our Lord Jesus called Himself the Light of the World. But He also called for us, His followers, to be a light as well. And Paul echoed that in his letter to the church at Philippi:
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:16)
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky. (Phi. 2:14-15)

The world without Christ is a world in deep darkness. I think that at no other time do we as believers have a better opportunity to shine for Him, than at Christmas. There are folks where we work, where our children and grandchildren go to school, and where we live, who don't really know what Christmas is all about. They may sing the carols and have a small idea that Christmas is connected with Jesus, but they don't know the whole story. The birth of Jesus has very little to do with their day to day lives.
Christians, then, have a chance at this season to shine clearly and beautifully for Him. Not to show off how "good" you are, and how "bad" they are, but to show them that the baby born in Bethlehem came to earth to change our lives --- to give us peace with God, and with each other; to give us a purpose for our life and life after death.  It's our job to show them why He came, and to lead them to His light, and "dispel the darkness." 
Does that sound easy? Um, no. We have to prepare ourselves to shine for Jesus. As we have discussed in previous studies, we have to pray: asking God to prepare us and to show us opportunities to share. This has to be important enough to us, for us to take time to think --- to think about what we will say when asked why our life and outlook are different.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... (I Peter 3:15)
So, now I've come full circle. Back to those lights at the top of the post. Are we going to be like the one that is lit and shining, or like the one that is not? Are we going to survive the Christmas season, or will we prepare our hearts for the most awesome Christmas ever -- by becoming a child again, by re-discovering the blessing of giving, and by shining like lights in a dark world? Let's allow God speak to our hearts today in our prayer time, and consider which kind of Christmas it will be for us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Preparations, Part III

Have you watched the old animated Christmas feature, about how the Grinch was planning to "steal Christmas"? He schemed and he planned, and then he stole all of the decorations and presents and food from the village, but --- to his shock, Christmas still came!
Modern-day Scrooges and Grinches mutter about the season being "all about the presents," but in a way, they are right . . . but it's not the presents we get that bless our hearts; it's the giving of presents that brings joy! If we want to prepare our hearts for Christmas, we need to re-discover the blessing of giving.

In Acts 20:35, Paul tells us:
35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
He was speaking these words to friends that were saying farewell, and heading back to Ephesus, and he quoted Jesus in his farewell to them. We have the record of Christ's own words in Luke:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)
The Biblical principle is the same: giving brings even more blessing to the giver than to the receiver. Hmmmm . . . are we living this truth? Our whole culture is 'way more into "getting" than into "giving." Kids (and some adults, too) make lists of what they'd like to get, not what they can give. And who among us hasn't gone into the store, spent quite a bit of money, and then put just a few coins into the bell-ringer's bucket outside? Are we getting the proportions wrong, here?
It's not wrong to exchange presents --- I think what Paul and Jesus were telling us is this: the pleasure of receiving a gift can't compare to the joy of giving a gift. I bet we all can recall times, as kids or adults, that we've been super excited to unwrap and play with/use a gift, only to have it soon sit on the shelf, largely forgotten.
But here are some joys that won't fade away:
The smile of a soldier overseas who received  your card or package, as he or she is many miles from home, protecting the freedoms that you enjoy.
The joy of a homeless mom and kids, who have escaped the battering at home to start a new life -- the quilt or toys that you gift them will help them realize they truly have a new beginning in safety.
The warm feeling that you get, after visiting a home-bound person, and relieving that loneliness that was about to overtake them completely -- the meal you brought with you will remind them for days of the fellowship you shared with them.
The peaceful feeling that you get, when you have shared some of your financial blessings to feed or clothe someone who has nothing. When you do without something that you want, in order to give them something they need --- that feeling of joy is a blessing that will last far longer than any gift that you can receive.
the streets. What a perfect way to celebrate the birth of Christ--giving to others.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)
When we give, we are doing what God did at Christmas -- He gave His best to us. Let's prepare our hearts for Christmas by re-discovering the blessing of giving. Let's enjoy the presents that we receive, but let us never forget that the real joy comes from having a giving heart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Preparations, Part II

This week we are discussing preparing our hearts for Christmas. Personally, this is very timely for me, so I guess the Holy Spirit had me in mind, and hopefully someone out there will receive a blessing from it as well.

The first way to prepare for Christmas is to (in today's vernacular) channel your inner child. So often I hear people say, "Christmas is for kids."  Sometimes they sound rather sad, or pensive, as if they are recalling past holidays and the joys that they shared. Do you long for the days when you enjoyed Christmas as a child? Do you long for the times that you shared Christmas with your own children?

I've always joked that growing "old" is mandatory, but that growing "up" is optional. We smile at that, but did you know that Jesus encouraged folks to become like children? He told Nicodemus and also told His disciples that children are our model for how to enter, and how to live in His kingdom. 

Whoaaa! Let's put the brakes on here! Jesus wasn't saying that we should be childish, but childlike. He wasn't saying that we shouldn't mature with age . . . in fact, as you may see in those around you, there are some adults that are still selfish, or unforgiving, or quick-tempered; these are things that we should outgrow! Yes, these negative things are ones that we should lay aside as we mature -- but there are some positive ones that we should hold on to:

First, dependence. Children need someone to take care of them, and they trust that someone to do what is right and good for them. So, we too should be dependent -- on our heavenly Father. 
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:9-11)
We should truly become like children in our dependence on God the Father . . . not for the things that we can do, but for the things that we cannot do ourselves.

Second, wonder. Depending on what stage you are in, in your life, you may recall walking with your children, or with your grandchildren, through the woods or some other natural area. Remember the delight that they take in finding a butterfly cocoon? They see things so differently than we do. Catching a glimpse of that red-headed woodpecker, or watching the stones glisten in the creek, or seeing the water cascade over a falls --- all of these are astonishing and filled with wonder for a child. As adults, we may take these for granted. We don't take time to see, and we especially don't take time to wonder and be amazed. If we were Moses, we'd walk right by that burning bush, and miss out on the glory that God wanted to reveal!

That's why some of us may feel that Christmas is just another day --- we've forgotten to really look at the baby in the manger, and to think about who He really is, and why He came. Jesus calls to us at Christmas to become like children again. To look in wonder at the world around us. To study deep in His word that He gave us. To be amazed and astounded and dazzled by His goodness and His mercy.
So, as you prepare for this Christmas, don't go back to childish ways and actions. But we can practice depending on God a little more, instead of fretting and fussing about everything. We can take the time to stop and look around us at the wonderful world that He created, the wonderful Bible He gave to us, and the wonders of what God is doing -- right this minute -- in our lives.  We can prepare our hearts to celebrate the birthday of our Lord Jesus!     

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Preparations, Part I

There are some events and times in our lives that it truly pays to be prepared. Brides and their moms go nuts about upcoming weddings. Birthday bashes sometimes have more choreography than a Broadway show. And Christmas is no exception.

If you didn't know it already, it's time to prepare for Christmas. It's time to bake the cookies and cook the fudge. It's time to check the lights on the tree, put it up, and get it decorated just so. It's time to hang a wreath on the door and make certain the outdoor lights are all twinkling. It's time to go through the list, address the cards, and mail them to the folks that send us cards each year. Don't forget to help with the letter to Santa, hang up the stockings, shop for presents and get them wrapped, tied, and tagged. You'll also need to get to choir practice, sing the songs, and practice the Christmas play or cantata. Somewhere in there you'll travel to see some family and friends, and cook a meal or two for those who will visit at your own home. Are you tired yet?

Is it any wonder that some of us feel like there are more headaches than hallelujahs in Christmas? Could it be that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparations, we've not taken the time to prepare our hearts for His coming?

In Isaiah 40, verse 3, the prophet says, "…prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God."  He's not talking about a engineering or construction project, but instead he is talking about preparing our hearts for the coming of our Lord.

In the coming days I'd like to discuss this with you all, and I hope that you will read and comment as we prepare for this wonderful season of the year. See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Slowdown

I thought that since we were enjoying the Christmas season, that I would take some days this month to examine favorite carols and hymns of the birth of our Savior.
While I know that scholars and historians have theorized that His birth actually happened at a different time of the year (and the Scriptures tell us the wise men arrived at a whole different time), this is the month that most folks celebrate and mark that wonderful  night. Personally, I think it matters far less "when" we celebrate, and far more "how" we celebrate.  Keeping our focus on Him is a wonderful way to enjoy this season.

"O Holy Night" has always been one of my favorites. There is so much of the gospel woven into this song, and the melody is so uplifting, that is the one I chose to start with. I hope you will read and ponder the words that I've posted below, and consider taking time for prayer right where you are, thanking God for His most precious gift. (The video embedded below is one that I like to listen to. You may want to click to listen and then come back to the text while it plays. If you choose to watch as you listen, that is fine, too. I sometimes am left unsatisfied by portrayals of Biblical events, but this one comes pretty close to doing justice to the song. The actors truly portray the feelings that must have been shared that night -- Joseph exults in the new baby's life and health, then gives way to emotion as he considers the future of that babe, which the angel foretold in his vision. Mary is seen as she observes the adoration of her child, and tucks away those things into her heart of hearts, to take them out and examine them later. The shepherds' childlike homage, and the reverence of the wise men -- it's all there. Enjoy.)

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Proverbs 28:12 While you're hiding

When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.

We are all familiar with the children's game of hide and seek. It's a light-hearted game and rarely goes beyond the playful exclamations and counting, of running about and finding the hidden players.

Far different is the hiding that is necessary when wicked people are in control of a situation or of a country. Religious persecution is routine in some countries, and we've talked before about how precious the Bible is to people in these areas. It is a rare blessing for them to be able to gather with other believers and worship and praise God. We've noted how blessed we are to have freedom of religion in many parts of the world.

It's easy for those of us in the free world to denounce the leaders of countries who allow persecution. It is easy to point the finger at those in our own country who seem bent on reducing our cherished freedoms. Much harder is the effort to see within them, a person loved by our Father. But they are there, and they are loved.

Even when we see humanity at its worst; when we see baseness, immorality, or intolerance, we need to remember that this is a person (or persons) who needs the working of the Holy Spirit in their life, and that we can best help them by praying for them. Hearts can be changed, and then lives restored to their full potential, if only an individual will turn to God.  And prayers for them are the will of our Father. Paul tells us:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
I Timothy 2:1-5
In Ezekiel, chapter 9, we see a plan from God that marked those who were sickened and disheartened by the sin of the world. These people were to be marked, and then saved from the destruction (judgment) that was to come. If we are disheartened and distressed by the sin in our world, we need first to separate ourselves from the sin, and then to pray for the sinners.  There's an excellent example for us to follow, in the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel --- Daniel is imploring God to turn away His fury from the wickedness of the land. He includes himself in the equation, asking forgiveness for himself and his countrymen, and praying that the unconverted neighboring countries will be blessed. Check out verses 16 through 19, and you will see.
Jesus gave us another example to model our lives upon, in Matthew 5:44-45:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
We don't know for sure what the future may bring for those of us who are Christians, or for our children and our grandchildren. But if we do have to go into hiding, and worship and praise in secret places, we will need to remember these verses . . .  and pray for those who "despitefully use" us. God will help us to pray, and He will watch over us as we do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Proverbs 28:11 Seeing right through us

A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.

Rich people may think they are wise, but a poor person with discernment can see right through them.

I listed three different translations of this verse, because I thought it would be helpful for us to use them in our discussions today. There are verses in both the Old Testament and in the New, that warn us not to be wise in our own eyes, or in our conceits:
Proverb 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Proverb 26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.

Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Solomon notes in Ecclesiastes that rich people are not necessarily all wise, and poor people are not necessarily foolish. (Ecc. 9:11)  The poor man or woman who has wisdom, can "see right through" the wealthy person who is exhibiting foolish behavior, but thinks they are wiser and better than everyone else.
I believe this verse is not only a warning to us, to watch out and not think ourselves wiser or better than others --- it is also an admonition for us to use our own wisdom and understanding when we observe others.
We can rely on Him to give us wisdom. Job said:
But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  Job 32:8 
We need to be careful not to interpret cleverness, resourcefulness, or success for wisdom. And we need to make certain that we model the understanding that comes from above, in our dealings with others. If we don't, and we think "more highly of ourselves than we ought," they may see right through us!

Lord, help me to be a testimony to the wisdom and understanding that come from a close walk in fellowship with You.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Proverbs 28:10 Banana peels

He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.

This proverb is as much a warning to the unbeliever as it is a comfort to the believer.  I'm sure that in Solomon's day, as in ours, there are people who take delight in tripping up other folks.  They laugh at Christians who are seduced by worldly pleasures, or who are led astray by unbelievers.

These people, as well as those who do the leading, will need to beware -- this verse says that they will fall into their own pit. The evil that they planned for us will actually happen to them, or maybe something even worse!

Here is the comforting part, though: those of us who strive to stay on the narrow path, to do the right things and say the words we should, will receive "a good inheritance."   Oh, I think it's the best inheritance! For one thing, we have peace:
I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints-- but let them not return to folly.  Psalm 85:8
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

For another thing, we have promises of an eternal inheritance:
And this is what he promised us--even eternal life. I John 2:25
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.  
Psalm 23:6
"Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14: 1-3
Surely these are, as Peter said, in II Peter 1:4, "exceeding great and precious promises" for our future! So beware, those who would trip us up! You might want to think twice before you do that!

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Read more:
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Read more:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Proverbs 28:9 Plastered on the ceiling

9  He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

I attended a Christian high school (we won't go into how many years ago that really was. . . suffice it to say that the earth had cooled, but there were dinosaurs frolicking around) and daily chapel attendance was mandatory. Even Christian teens can have moments when their minds wander to the upcoming Latin test, or what will be for lunch, and I was no exception.

Even so, some of the speakers and their words have stuck with me to this day. One of these was an older preacher, who in his guest sermon, talked about how our prayers "might just be stuck to the ceiling."  That we might need to take a shovel and scrape them away . . .
Well, that got my attention, if for no other reason than the vivid images that his words were able to evoke in my mind.
He was talking about how sin blocks our free communication with our Father. That free-flowing, talk-to-you-at-all-times-of-the-day kind of prayer life that is so rich, and so sweet. The kind that brings you the most wonderful peace you have ever experienced.
I'm not sure which scripture he was using for his message -- it might even have been this one -- but that memory came back to me as I read this verse.

You see, God wants to answer our prayers! Look at this verse in Isaiah:
Isaiah 65:24, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."
Even before our minds can form the request, He is waiting and wanting to answer. That's a promise from a loving, holy God.
But that same loving, holy God must be true to Himself -- check out another verse from the prophet Isaiah:
“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your sins have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear."  Isaiah 59:1-2
And Solomon is drawing another picture for us. Not only are prayers unheard because of sin, but because of stubbornness -- the Bible calls it hardening your heart, or stiffening your neck -- it's rebellion, plain and simple. The verse talks about someone who "turns away his ear from hearing" God's word. Ouch! Someone who looks away because the Word tells her of a sin or a fault that needs to be rooted out? Someone who turns away and doesn't want to hear, because the Spirit will tell her to comfort or encourage that person that she isn't all that fond of?
I wonder if there are any prayers plastered to my ceiling . . . I think I'd better apply the "shovel" of repentance to scrape them down, and start praying again, when I'm right with my Father.