Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 370

01/04/16 – 370

So Gomer did the only thing she could do. She went home with Hosea, no doubt wondering all the while why in the world he would show her such mercy. Or maybe the better word is ‘grace’. She would be restored to her home and fellowship with her children, which had to be great! Yet for all that, did you notice that her full restoration (forgiveness) was conditional?

Hosea 3:3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

Much too often, we make the grave mistake of talking about God’s ‘free’ gift of forgiveness, or ‘unconditional’ forgiveness. But I have found no such thing in scripture. What I have found is exactly according to Hosea’s example. This is that God’s love is unconditional and free – it never fails and He never withdraws it from us. His forgiveness, however, is another matter entirely.

Gomer’s redemption wasn’t free for Hosea, it cost him not only the price of a slave, but (I’m pretty sure) endless heartache and soul-wrenching pain. In order to start the whole process in the first place, Hosea had to be willing to give up his entire life and will for God’s purpose alone – there would never be room for anything of his own desires. Our redemption was no less costly for Christ, why we should think of what it cost Him and then think it should be free for us I can’t fathom. So what’s the price for us? Jesus Himself told us.

Luke 13:3 “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Repentance – true repentance – is more than just saying you’re sorry. It is feeling real sorrow for your sins, for how they have hurt others, especially the One Who came to pay the price of a slave to redeem you from that auction block and set you free. It involves changing your life, not repeating the same sinful behavior and choices that caused you to be enslaved in the first place. Truthfully, It means giving your life back to the One who created you as a free soul, redeemed you from the slavery of your own wrong choices and set you free again, by giving up His own life for yours – of His own free will!

I am sorry, I know it’s not the popular or politically correct thing to say anymore, but it is the truth as best I can discern it. And, it makes perfect sense to me. Why should Gomer have expected that after all she had done to Hosea and the kids, she should waltz back into their lives as though nothing had ever happened? Try to put yourself in their shoes. Can those relationships and trusts be rebuilt? Yes, but only with a long time and a lot of effort.

Again, it’s no different with God and us. His love has never wavered. He has redeemed us, our sins have been forgiven, but conditionally. The condition is that we accept His gift by accepting Him, not only as our Savior but as the Lord of our life. This is a decision that we often have to make over and over again as we face many temptations. But make it we must, and He has promised always to help us to make the right choice. Let’s make that our prayer for today – that no matter what temptations or choices we may face, He will be with us and help us to choose Him over sin.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 369

01/03/16 – 369

I know, I should have yelled ‘Spoiler Alert!’ when I told you that Gomer had not yet hit rock bottom. Maybe the guy that was keeping her got tired of her, maybe she just wasn’t so attractive anymore – who knows? Maybe he just saw an opportunity to make a little money from her. Somehow, she finally ended up on the block, being put up for sale as a slave. I have to wonder what she was thinking as she stood on that platform being groped and examined like a farm animal.

Did she remember the faces of her children the last time she saw them, as they begged her to change her ways and stay with them? Maybe she was regretting the loss of a safe, warm home and a loving husband, one who she thought would never even consider forgiving her because after all, she wouldn’t if the situation were reversed. Maybe she was so lost and tired that she had blocked all memories of who she used to be, because remembering is simply too painful. Maybe she convinced herself it was all a bad dream, that it just couldn’t be real.

Yet there she was. And to his credit, Hosea was there also.

Hosea 3:1-5 The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

The price Hosea paid is equal to about 6 oz of silver and about 430 lbs of barley. This was pretty much the standard price of a slave with nothing special to offer. This just may be the most important lesson you ever learn from the Old Testament. What Hosea did was quite literally redeem Gomer. The word means to pay the price of a slave not to keep them as a slave, but to free them from their slavery. This is a picture of what Jesus would do for us some 700 years or so later.

He didn’t argue the price, or try to bargain. He counted the cost – knew what it would take – and willingly came prepared to pay that price. When He did, He set us free from our enslavement to sin. Now it’s up to us. Do you want to enter back into that slavery? There’s not a thing stopping you. If there was, it wouldn’t be freedom.

But the question is – why would you? Isn’t freedom, for all its issues and problems, the responsibilities that go along with it, so much better than slavery? Weird as it might sound, not everyone agrees with that. Many people find comfort in slavery – for a while. But when the time comes that they realize that comfort was only temporary – a lure – it’s too late. Make your prayer today a prayer for freedom. Rather than being a slave o sin, you can commit yourself as a servant to and a child of the Living Messiah, Jesus Christ. Let’s do that instead.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 368

01/02/16 – 368

Yesterday we talked about God always giving us that chance for redemption. As true as that is, it didn’t always work for the individual, at least in the case of Israel. As the nation moved away from God (as ours does today) many people will leave this world having made that irrevocable decision to reject Him. What God has always done has been to protect those that love and are faithful to Him, and leave a remnant of His chosen people so that nation can be rebuilt.

The problem for us is that in the meantime, times can be rough and we are still responsible for the decisions we make. As Hosea’s family began to grow, God continued to use them as a picture of the nation of Israel. He instructed the children:

Hosea 2:2-3 “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst.”

As Gomer’s extracurricular love life became more and more wanton, even her children put pressure on her. She eventually left the household, and apparently lived on the streets for as long as she could find men to support her. Well, as you might guess, this less-than-healthy lifestyle finally led her to live with a man who could barely afford to keep her fed, let alone well clothed and such. Word got back to Hosea, and he did what not too many men I know would even think of. But remember –even if he couldn’t live with her behavior in his home, he still loved her – no matter what.

The man Gomer was living with must have been ready to run or fight when he saw Hosea approaching – not knowing what to expect. But I’ll bet he didn’t expect Hosea to hand him money to take care of Gomer, to buy her clothing and food, and his offer to let him know if she needed for anything more.

Once more, you need to think about it a little, but what a close analogy of our relationship with God. He sends us clear teachings to guide us. When we stray from those to the point where we endanger our own (i.e. threaten the ministry of the church), He has put in place other Christians and things like church discipline that will either help to restore us or separate us with the same end goal still in mind. If we choose separation, He still loves us and watches over us while we work through the valleys until we find our way back home.

Stay tuned. Believe it or not, Gomer will sink even further before she finds her way home. For today, let’s thank God again for His never-ending love. No matter what we do, no matter how far we go – even when our choices make it impossible for us to be with Him – His love for us never changes.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 367

01/01/16

Lo Ruhamah (Not Loved), although the only daughter given to Gomer and Hosea, was not the last child. There was one more son. God gave this one a special name as well.

Hosea 1:8-9 After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son.9 Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

Now Hosea has a wife turned street prostitute, a son who is a walking reminder of God’s wrath yet to come and the scattering of his people, a daughter who embodies God’s promise to withdraw His love from them, and now a second son who reminds them of their ultimate separation from God. I’m thinking they didn’t get invited to a lot of events – it would have been too depressing to make up the seating charts!

But the good news is – as always – God is faithful. Even though it may seem that He stops loving us for a while, He really never does. It’s more of a ‘tough love’ kind of thing. When we don’t get the message any other way, He does what He has to do to get through to us, because the alternative is so much worse. In all the messages God sent through Hosea, notice the one thing he didn’t say. He did NOT say that this condition would be permanent. Let’s read a little more.

Hosea 1:10-11 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.

This is the God we all count on – the God of Hope! This is the God we long for, the One without Whom we wouldn’t have a chance for redemption. This is the God Who came to earth as a baby to suffer and die so that He could pay the price to redeem us – and that is a picture we will soon see clearly in this extraordinary love story of Hosea and Gomer.

A lot of people will use passages like this to accuse God of being vindictive and mean. The ‘God of the Old Testament’, they call Him, ‘always going around smiting people and looking for vengeance’. I daresay these are people that haven’t bothered to get to know Him. I really don’t know how He could be anything different than what He is. If He overlooked all our sin, He would be much less than righteous. If He left no means for redemption, He would be what His enemies claim. But the thing is – He did. Just because someone doesn’t happen to like the offer, well……that’s up to them. It doesn’t lessen the value of the offer.

Someone could offer me a million dollar mansion tax-free for life, utilities paid in a beautiful resort on a Caribbean island (Yes, I know. But it could happen!) If I choose to stay in my 1950s 3 bedroom ranch in Illinois, overpaying taxes to the most corrupt state government in the country (We’re #1 – yay!), it’s not the fault of the person making the offer that I refuse. It’s all on me. I don’t have the right to say “I want the mansion, but on my terms.” Yet that’s what we want to do with God. Take His offer of salvation, but on our own terms instead of His.

Let’s pray today simply that God would remove any thoughts or feelings from us that make us think we have the right to negotiate at all, and accept what He has to offer – on His terms! It’s a good offer, after all. We can pray the same for others who still don’t see it that way, and praise God for being the God of Hope for all of us.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 366

12/31/15 – 366

So yesterday we talked about the name God gave Hosea’s first son (although clearly born of infidelity) – Jezreel. This name not only reminded the unfaithful Israelites that God hadn’t forgotten what they had done, and that He would have His vengeance, but it also had another meaning. It meant ‘scattered’. The message was that God would scatter the Jews among the nations like seeds on hard soil. That doesn’t sound so bad, you say?

Well, think about it. Every time the Jews strayed from their walk with God, they did end up scattered. This caused disunity among them, like a broken family. The people were one in name only, just as their walk with God was in name only. They simply drifted apart, until one cared no more for the other or for their roots. They would lose their identity not only as Jews, but also as Gods chosen people!

But as we said, Hosea was obedient anyway. In my personal opinion, he was more than just that. He could have just married Gomer – gone through the motions. We’ve all seen those sad marriages in which the couple lives together but never really seems to ‘become one’, and marriages of convenience were not new even then. But Hosea put his whole heart into God’s bidding. He allowed himself to fall completely in love with Gomer. So, the children of her unfaithfulness became as his own blood. After the boy Jezreel, a daughter came along:

Hosea 1:6-7 Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.7 Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them — not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God.”

‘Lo-Ruhamah’ sounds kind of pretty – a good thing for a girl’s name – until you know what it means. Can you imagine naming your baby girl ‘Not Loved’? They’d probably lock you up for abuse these days. Yet that was it. To make things sound even harsher, God’s message says He will still show love to Judah while ceasing to treat (northern) Israel in the same way. I know many children may be treated that way, or feel that way, but I think precious few are told that in such a direct manner.

Today let’s pray another prayer of gratitude for God’s directness in speaking truth to us, even when the truth hurts. Most of us won’t respond well to any other approach, and the truth is – why should we want to? The sooner we understand and obey God’s voice, the sooner we can live in right relationship with Him. And that, my friends, makes it all worthwhile.

Have a happy and blessed New Year.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 365

12/30/15 – 365

Remember we said that God speaks to us in many different ways. It seems that in the case of Hosea, He had to use just about every way possible to get the message across. First He spoke directly, through Hosea’s preaching. Then, through the dynamic imagery of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer. This was truly an accurate picture not only of Israel’s relationship with God, but ours as well. Think about it.

In the beginning, God entered into this covenant with man knowing that we would be unfaithful to Him, breaking the covenant again and again. We would bear many children out of that infidelity, and raise them as children dedicated to countless gods other than the One who created us. In biblical days pople may have sacrificed their children to gods like Baal or Molek. Today we trade our children to the gods of materialism and self. You disagree? OK, Just ask a child whose dad left the family for another woman, or one who is being raised by the nanny instead of his mother, the hard-driving career woman.

God knew it going in, and so did Hosea. So the question is – why? Why would you do such a thing, knowing the pain that it would bring you? There can only be one answer. Can you guess? It had to be love. God loved us so much that He chose to go ahead and create us, give us that pesky attribute of free will, and enter into multiple covenants with us – giving us chance after chance to make things right, and redeeming us anyway. Hosea loved God so much that he was willing to be obedient, and then came to love Gomer so much that he went ahead and married her – entering into that covenant even though he knew what would happen. And when the children of infidelity came, he accepted and loved them too.

But then God spoke again – this time through the very names of the children – another not uncommon method in the Old Testament.

Hosea 1:3-4  So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”

Jezreel was the name of a town in which much evil had taken place. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (arguably Israel’s most evil rulers ever) were killed there, and Jehu (who had been sent by God to punish them) went waaay too far, slaughtering Ahab’s 70 sons and taking over the throne. You can read about it in 2 Kings 9-10. Naming the child Jezreel was just God’s way of saying, “I haven’t forgotten, and it ain’t over yet!”

There are actually 2 questions that come to mind as I write this today. The first is this: I wonder how much I have missed if God still speaks to us (to me) in so many different ways? Why wouldn’t He? Are we not as hard to reach as the people of the Bible? I think we probably are – if not worse. So, it makes sense that God would use every means possible to get through to us. Yet how often we write things off as ‘coincidence’ or ‘luck’ etc.

The second is harder. If God asked the same thing of me as He did of Hosea, could I do it? Could I love that much – to enter into a covenant – knowing that she would break it. Shatter it! Do I love God enough to do it anyway? Maybe I would hope/believe that my love would be so great as to change her heart and keep her from becoming unfaithful in the first place. Maybe that was God’s hope for us.

I think today’s prayer needs to be a prayer of repentance – for all those times we have broken our covenant, been unfaithful, broken God’s heart. Only when we really repent of that, that can we ever begin to heal from the scars that our infidelity has left.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 364

12/29/15 – 364

Let’s get to know Hosea a little bit before we get too deep into the story, OK? Hosea was, as I said yesterday, one of the Minor Prophets. This only means that he didn’t write a large volume of scripture for us. It has nothing to do with the importance of what he wrote. At the time our tale began, he was probably still a relatively young man, as he was still unmarried. He was known as a prophet, although from what we can tell not very well liked or with much of a following. He lived around the same time as the better-known prophet Isaiah, but in the northern kingdom of Israel.

He seems to have been known as a preachy-but-harmless kind of guy, that no one really paid much attention to. The culture of the day wasn’t too serious about their relationship with God. Although many people went through the motions, attending services and doing the required rituals, that was about it. In today’s English we might call them ‘nominal’ Jews – Jews in name only. This was one of those periods of Hebrew history that looked a lot like contemporary America, where everyone could believe as he pleased and the god of self-centeredness reigned supreme.

In other words, a good sermon wasn’t going to turn the tide – something more was needed. So God spoke to Hosea. It was a pretty good message – at first. Kind of like “Hosea, I’m going to give you a wife. Not just any wife, either. I am hooking you up with none other than Gomer!” Gomer, you see, was widely known as the most beautiful woman in the northern kingdom. Not bad for an itinerant preacher, eh?

BUT…. there’s always a catch, isn’t there? God went on to tell Hosea that Gomer would be unfaithful to him. In fact, during their marriage, she would become nothing more than a common prostitute! God went on to tell Hosea that the children they would have would not be his – instead they would be borne of her infidelity. So what do you think Hosea was thinking about all this?

He sure had a big decision to make. But one thing I love about this story is that God never pretended that His plan was going to be easy. Another is that He didn’t force or pressure Hosea to do it. As we’ve seen in other stories, any one person saying no to God will not stop God’s plan from going forward. It will, however, interfere with that person’s relationship with God.

Hosea 1:2-3 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

The truth is that God has a plan for each one of us – if we are willing to listen. True, it’s not always that detailed (although hindsight often helps), but it’s often just as challenging. No matter what, we face the same decision Hosea did. Once we know what God is asking of us, do we say yes, regardless of the risk, or do we say no, better find someone else?

Although I believe Hosea knew some of what God was asking, I don’t think he knew all the trouble and heartache that was coming his way – yet he said yes. And what I really love about him is that he didn’t just say it – he put his whole heart and soul into it. He didn’t just marry Gomer – he really loved her. After all, his marriage was to be a picture of God’s relationship with Israel, wasn’t it? How could he have done anything less?

Let’s pray today for God to help us to have a heart like Hosea’s when it comes to doing His will.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – Hosea – 363

12/28/15 – 363

I’d like to start with a reminder to all of you that you I am always open to suggestions and requests for stories or studies that you would like to explore. The Spirit moves us in many ways – maybe next time He’ll even use you!

For now, I actually feel led back to the Old Testament to one of the ‘minor prophets’ – Hosea. Hosea’s story is really a Bible story for grown-ups. In fact, I’ll bet your parents never told it to you for a bedtime story, and it would probably be almost as safe a bet that you never heard it from your Sunday School teacher either. Let’s read the first couple of verses and you’ll understand why.

Hosea 1: 1-2 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel:

2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

Some translations simply say ‘marry a prostitute”.

Wow.

I’m thinking this story did not take place during one of the ‘mountaintop’ periods for Israel. But as we set the stage, we learn a few important things in this short passage. The first is that very often when God wanted to send a message through one of His prophets, it wasn’t simply a verbal or written message. God’s messages to us can take many forms – in this case it was almost a kind of performance art, in which Hosea’s life was to imitate God’s relationship with His people Israel. We may have a hard time understanding a covenant relationship with God, but if a friend came to us for marital advice, starting out with “I’ve got a question. I married this prostitute, and we’re having some issues…” – I think most of us could think of something to say.

Another thing is that God doesn’t always tread lightly. I think we get so used to preachers and authors who tiptoe around the real issues for fear of offending someone that we think that God should approach us the same way. Yet how we got that idea – I have no idea. Whether appearing as Jesus or a pillar of fire, God has never minced words with us. He simply tells us the truth and leaves it to us to respond as we choose. But, we do NOT get to choose the consequences of our choice.

The third point is a main one not only for this story but throughout scripture. Notice that the theme of adultery is to be illustrated through sexual unfaithfulness, but the reality is that in our relationship with God it’s not about the sex at all. It’s about the unfaithfulness – the breaking of a covenant. Keep this in mind whenever you read the word ‘adultery’ in scripture and see if it doesn’t change your perspective. More on that later.

For today, let’s pray that as we begin a new story, God would use it to speak to our hearts in a whole new way. You’ll find that this tale was a particularly painful one for its principal character, Hosea, whose only fault was his willingness to be used by God no matter what. And in that, you’ll find that it’s a whole lot less painful to learn from the harsh lessons of others than to have to go through the same things yourself.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 362

12/27/15 – 362

Matthew 2:7-12 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Welcome to Sunday! You’ve survived another Christmas, another milestone. For many of you it really felt like a matter of survival and not much more, for others it was pure joy. For others, unfortunately, it was nothing but sadness and upset. Whatever these past few days felt like for you, this is a new day, and you’re expected to show up at church and worship God with a smile on your face, right? Trouble is, how do you do that when things aren’t going so well?

I have to wonder how the wise men – visitors from the east – did it. They didn’t even know Jesus the way we do – they didn’t have His story or the gospels. They had just traveled a long way – and travel wasn’t easy anywhere in those days. They had just met with the madman Herod and received orders from him, as well as a warning in a dream from God. They had to be feeling quite a mix of emotions from joy to fear to confusion and doubt. Yet, they worshipped – and then put their lives on the line by disobeying Herod and leaving covertly rather than reporting back to Him.

You see, true worship is not about how you feel. In fact, worship should not be about you at all, other than the fact that it is in worship that we show the value we place on the object of our worship. I know, super long sentence to say this. The word ‘worship’ comes from the same root as the word ‘worth’. So when we worship, we are showing in a very real way how much whoever or whatever we are worshipping is worth to us. The hard truth is that if we put our own moods or desires in first place (i.e. “I’d rather sleep in on Sunday than go to church”, or “I’m not singing because I don’t like that song”), we are saying that we value ourselves more than the God we claim to adore.

It’s not about what we say when it comes to worship – it’s about what we do. Make sense? So, when we talk about worshipping God with our entire life, we should have even more to think about! But let’s start with a church service on Sunday. Or a song, or some prayers. Put God in the place that shows Him how much you value Him – then keep Him there. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when He shows you how much He values you in return.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 361

12/26/15 – 361

Matthew 2:16-18 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning.

Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”

As we come to the end of our Christmas story, we must realize that the story which brings us so much joy was far from ‘good news’ for everyone. Throughout this month I’ve been trying to put myself into others shoes, imagining what they may have felt like, what they might have thought. But as a parent who has already lost 2 of my own children, I can’t even begin to go down the road into the minds of so many who had their infant and toddler sons murdered at the hands of a paranoid Herod, simply because of the prophesy that a new king of the Jews may have been fulfilled.

Would I blame Herod? Would I blame Jesus? How about years later, when I found out that Jesus was the one who Herod had sought? Maybe I would blame Joseph and Mary for running away, allowing so many others to be killed just to protect their own child. Maybe I would have blamed the shepherds, or Simeon, or Anna – all of whom had seen Jesus and knew who He was – yet apparently said nothing to stop the massacre.

I don’t know – it’s too often we still blame God when bad things happen – especially to our children. Comfort? Well, what there is can only come from God, and if we are blaming Him, we certainly aren’t going to accept His comfort. Yes, it sounds like a trap – because it is.

The Return to Nazareth

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

So we come to the end of the story. Is it any wonder that Christmas is such an emotional time for so many? It’s been that way from the beginning. For some it’s the greatest thing in the world, for others the worst. Some use it as an excuse to start wars, others as an opportunity to make peace. One thing is for sure – it affects all of us differently – but it does affect us all.

Maybe next time you read the story, keep that in mind. Try and understand how this amazing event changed history, and in so doing, changed us. Use it for what it was intended – an opportunity for all of us to find our way back to our Creator, to be the people that we were originally meant to be. I know everyone doesn’t agree. It doesn’t matter. Love them anyway. Wish them Merry Christmas. They may be offended. If so, smile, apologize and say ‘God bless you’. If they wish you a Happy Hanukah or Ramadan or Happy Holidays, smile and say ‘Thank you’.

Let’s make our prayer for today a prayer for those whose Christmas is not what God meant it to be, whether it brings sadness or anger, frustration or pain. Pray that they will find a way to allow God’s comfort to touch them. Maybe it will be through you.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 360

[/audio12/25/15 – 360

Hello, my friend. Good to see you again. I hope you don’t mind if I keep packing while we talk – we’re kind of in a hurry. What can you do to help? If you would, just close the door and keep an eye out that window, please. I don’t know for sure – soldiers maybe. So much has happened so quickly, it’s hard to take it all in. I just know we need to get out of here as fast as we can, probably as soon as night falls.

We took the baby Jesus to the temple to be dedicated a few days ago, and it was amazing – pretty much like this whole story has been. The priest – Simeon was his name – knew immediately that Jesus was the Annointed One that God had promised to send to us. He started praising God, and there was a woman there who did the same. I think she was some kind of prophetess. She seemed to know what he was talking about anyway, when he started prophesying about Jesus’ future!

As you can imagine, we were feeling pretty good again with all these wonderful affirmations from God. Then last night we had some more visitors. These men had traveled from a land very far away, they said. They said they had been following the same star that had led the shepherds to us the night Jesus was born. They knew of a prophesy from the prophet Micah that foretold of a new king for the Jews:

Matthew 2:6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.

Well, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they were asking around trying to find this new king, and Herod called them to his palace. They said he was nice enough, but asked a lot of questions, and pushed for them to come back and tell him where they found this baby. They did find us, brought some wonderful gifts and worshipped Jesus as though they too knew who He was. But that night they all dreamed the same dream – not to go back to Herod. They stopped long enough to warn us and headed home. Funny thing is – I had a dream also!

I was hoping to return to Nazareth, but I think we’d be smarter to head south where no one knows us – even if we have to go all the way to Egypt! How long? Your guess is as good as mine, my friend – until the Lord tells us it’s safe. Well, it’s time to go. God be with you.

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Matthew 2:13-14 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Fear is a powerful thing. I can’t help but think that Joseph and Mary felt plenty of it, even though they knew God was with them. I can’t picture things any other way, putting myself in his shoes, fleeing across a harsh land fraught with dangers to a foreign land, with a very young wife and brand new baby. Even if a man thought he could take care of himself, there are just so many things that could happen!

It’s so easy to say – ‘trust in God’. I think the hard part – and the rewarding part – is when we can put one foot in from of the other, doing what God tells us to do, even though we are afraid. In other words, it’s the action, not the emotion that counts, simply because that’s where we have the freedom to choose. Pray today that God would help control your negative emotions when you choose to take the right actions in spite of them.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 359

12/24/15 – 359

Luke 2:25-35 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.

30 I have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared for all people.

32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

My name is Anna. You probably don’t know me, I’m not very important around here really. Although some say that I am a prophetess. I don’t know – I think God sometimes speaks to me in special ways – but never before like I have seen Him speak today! I know how crazy this sounds – but I believe I have seen the Promised Messiah – the Annointed One! What did He look like? That’s going to sound even crazier – He was just a baby!

It started out just like any other day. I went to the temple for my morning prayers and saw my friend Simeon, a priest, with a young couple and a baby. Now, this in itself isn’t unusual, people always bring their babies to be dedicatd when they are 8 days old as the law requires. But I’ve never seen a priest get so excited about it! Simeon was holding the child up and praising God, and prophesying about who He was and what He would do.

The boy’s parents were just as excited, but they seemed to already know that there was something special about the Him. I couldn’t help myself – I went up and looked at Him, and He looked at me. If I didn’t know He was just a little baby I’d swear He looked right through me – as if He could see my very soul! But you know something? It wasn’t scary at all. In fact, there was the deepest sense of peace I’d ever known. All I wanted to do was share it – tell everyone I could about what had happened.

I do know one thing though – I understand what my friend Simeon meant when he said that he could die in peace, now that he had seen God’s salvation. That’s sure what it felt like.

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We all have different goals and dreams for our lives. In today’s language we call them our ‘bucket lists’. What’s at the top of yours? I’ve talked with a number of people about this, and usually these lists have to do with earthly things, like money (make a million dollars) or some adventure (skydiving or travel). In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say ‘I want to see the Savior before I die’. Ever. Why is that, do you think?

Well, maybe because those that are really serious about wanting to see Him don’t wait – and why should they? The fact is that we can see Him face-to-face, and we don’t have to wait another minute! Simeon had it absolutely right. Once we have seen Him (and accepted His forgiveness), we can go home in peace. Anna had it right also. She saw Him, she believed, and spent the rest of her life telling people about Him. Just what we’re supposed to do too, right?

I’m guessing you’ve seen Him, or you wouldn’t be reading these devotions. But if you haven’t, and you’re searching, or you’ve weakened on the follow-through; if you don’t feel that you could die in peace today because you know Him, know that He’s no more than a prayer away. Invite Him into your life as never before, and give yourself the best Christmas present imaginable.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 358

12/23/15 – 358

Hello, how have you been? I know it’s only been a week, but it seems longer doesn’t it? It’s been a busy time for my wife Mary and me – trying to find work and a place to stay. We take the baby to the temple tomorrow to be dedicated to the Lord. We still don’t know how long we’ll have to be here in Bethlehem, but something sure doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s the new baby, but that doesn’t really make sense either. You’d think they could just add him to the census count.

No, I haven’t had too much luck finding carpenter work yet. One thing that did work out, though. It seems that the innkeeper has a lot of repair work to be done, and he has agreed to let us stay in return for my labor. No, he says he can’t afford to give us a room, but he’s letting us stay in the stable with the animals.

Yes, I know he’s taking advantage, but what choice do I have? Besides, I look at it this way. If God didn’t mind His own Son being born in a manger, how can I be too proud to live in the same place? It should be an honor, no? I have to admit that I do wish we could get this done and go home to Nazareth. I know Mary misses her family, and I miss my home and friends too. But above all, God’s will be done! If we have learned nothing else in the last year, we have learned that.

Things seem to have settled down some for us. I think people have short memories – even for such a thing as this. It’s probably just as well though, I hear troubling rumors that King Herod might be hearing talk of a new King of the Jews. Lean closer, I can’t say this too loudly.

That man is not known to be very tolerant of anyone who he believes might be a threat to his throne. He even kills his own sons! I’d hate to think what he would do if he though Jesus had a claim to the throne of David. Please- don’t say anything about this, all right?

Our plan? Well, to trust in God, my friend. We can do no more, and no less. If we leave too soon we draw attention to ourselves. We will live in readiness. God will tell us when it’s time to go. We hope we will be able to return home before anything like that happens, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready.

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Luke 2:21-24 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived. 22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord. 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

As we read stories, especially familiar ones like this, it’s so easy to skip from one spot to another without thinking about all the day-to-day things that had to happen in the meantime. Joseph had to feed and shelter his young family in a strange town with few resources. They were in a shaky political climate to say the least, where a wrong word or false testimony could easily have led to their deaths, no questions asked. Trusting in God takes on a whole new meaning when you are depending on Him for your very life and your next meal!

I wonder how many of us would have stuck it out. It would have been so much easier to simply leave, take a back road and head for the hills. But somehow I think that census was important even to us. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that it was at least one way that the genealogy of our Savior was documented. I think it also shows us in one more way simply that Joseph was a man who did things right. He didn’t back down because something was hard or inconvenient.

If he was the kind of man who did, I don’t think he would have been the kind of man who could have filled the bill for the job he was given as Jesus’ earthly father. And that, my friends, is an example we should all do our best to follow. Let’s pray today that whenever we show weaknesses, wherever we begin to shy away from doing what’s right because it’s hard, distasteful or even dangerous, that God would enter in and help us to finish.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 357

12/22/15 – 357

Hello, what do you want? I hope you’re not looking for a room – the sign I put on the door clearly says ‘No Vacancy’! There have been so many people knocking on my door I swear no one knows how to read anymore. A man can’t get a night’s sleep either – last night, out of the goodness of my heart I let a young couple bed down in my stable. The girl was just about to give birth, and they didn’t have anywhere else to go. Dirty? Yes, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt – after all, they said they had traveled all the way from Nazareth and the road is dusty.

Oh, you’re talking about the stable! Well, maybe a little – but it’s a stable after all. At least it’s some protection from the cold and the night. It’s not like I can just throw paying customers out of their rooms, can I? Besides, women have babies all the time, right? What’s so special about this one? Nothing, that’s what. Just another mouth to feed for people who probably can barely afford to feed themselves.

It’s not my problem anyway – I did more than anyone could have expected by letting them stay there. Now I have to get them out so I can take care of the animals. What’s that you say? You were with them? If they’re friends of yours, you’d better help them get moving before I get the hyperetai (Jewish soldiers and/or mercenaries working for the high priest who acted as police) to do it for them.

What? Didn’t I notice anything special about the baby? No, only that there was some kind of a party going on in there. I gave permission – just out of kindness – to let them stay for a ‘fair’ price, but in the morning I find a bunch of people and even some sheep in my stable! My own animals couldn’t eat because there was a baby in the manger, and no one was lifting a finger to do anything about it! Then one of the shepherds said something about the baby being the promised One – the Messiah. Ridiculous! His mother and father didn’t even deny it! Heresy! And for what? So I wouldn’t charge them for the night?

That’s the trouble with these people – you try to help them and they just want more and more. Give them an inch and they take a cubit every time! And always in the way!

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John 1:10-11 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.

I’m reasonably sure that from the beginning right up until today, Jesus has been quite a bother to many people. True, there are those who hate Him, who get angry, almost violent at the mere mention of His name. But I think that more often, there are those who simply don’t care enough to get that upset.

 

Jesus is just a pain. When the Mormon missionaries knock at the door, or a neighbor invites you to a church function, it’s inconvenient to find an excuse to say no. You want to look like a nice person, but you don’t want to listen to the sermon. Going to church is OK, until something happens and you’re convicted. Then it becomes personal, and too often the reaction is just to push Jesus aside until we can relegate Him to His proper place again.

We’ll send a few dollars to missions at Christmas, but to actually volunteer for that inner city work project? We might meet at church and write cards for shut-ins, but when someone suggests that we actually go visit them? Hmmm….

It’s true – Jesus can be a bother – a big one. He will ask you to do things that are waaaay out of your comfort zone. He’ll ask you to put Him ahead of everything and everyone else in your life – and smile while you’re doing it. And answering His appeals will be the most satisfying, wonderful thing you have ever done. Don’t relegate Him to that low shelf where He’ll just become a bothersome little thing you have to acknowledge at Christmas and Eastertime. Make Him what He should be – the absolute Lord of your life. There’s your prayer for today – nothing less. And my prayer for you.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 356

12/21/15 – 356

OK, where were we? We last heard from the shepherd Simon, who was telling his story about the angels announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, just as it had been foretold in the Mishnah and promised by God. What a celebration it must have been for them! Let’s go back to our friend Simon and find out.

Yes, it is pretty quiet, isn’t it? I mean, considering what all has happened. My frinds and I got here as fast as we could, we thought we’d have to fight our way through the crowds to see the Christ child. Instead, we followed the starlight to this inn, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Oh, some people out drinking and having a good time – people that are here for the census, but no crowds watching or worshipping as we expected.

We knocked on the door and woke the innkeeper. At first he was mad – he said there was no one at his inn with a baby. Then he remembered a very pregnant woman and her husband who he had allowed to stay in his stable in the back – out of the goodness of his heart because there were no other rooms, he said.

But when we came back and found him, we knew. His mother – Mary? I think? – she knew that we knew, too. I know it sounds crazy (as if anything could sound crazier than an angel army and guiding stars) but I would swear that even the animals knew. I’ve worked with animals all my life. I’ve never seen them so peaceful.

It’s just so hard to believe, isn’t it? To look at that helpless little babe, and know that he will be the One to lead our people’s armies against their oppressors, to overcome them once and for all! I guess you have to picture Him all grown up, so strong and muscular that his white robes and armor can hardly do him justice. He will be a true King, riding a pure white horse out in front of his armies, fearless and untouchable as He leads the charge. That is what our Messiah will look like!

And when the final battle is over, we – God’s chosen – will be the ones sitting at God’s right hand ruling over all the earth as our tormentors have long ruled over us. Whether it was the Babylonians in the past or the Romans now, or even our own who have turned against us (such as that butcher Herod), they will pay for what they have done to God’s children!

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Luke 2:16-20 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

In my background reading for today’s devotional, I had to ask myself this question; if Jesus was what the scriptures foretold, why did the Jews have completely different expectations of their Messiah – their savior? Well, one big difference I learned was that they never expected a Savior as a deity – a part of a Holy Trinity. Their interpretation was a completely human savior who would be a great political and military leader, who would bring them to be the controlling world power, thereby bringing peace and unity to the world, then building the third temple, etc.

Still in all, it had to be pretty hard for simple shepherds to deny the angelic birth announcement, and just as hard not to associate it with someone who had a God-like status. I’ll bet a lot of people around Hiroshima Japan didn’t know a thing about nuclear fission before the bomb dropped – but I’d also bet they became believers right quickly!

All too often we let our ‘knowledge’ get in the way of our faith. We can’t understand how something could be true, so we assume it can’t be. That’s a really bad way to render judgment. If you were to carry that out in all areas of life, you would probably not own a TV because you don’t understand electronics, or have a Facebook page because you don’t understand binary or microcomputers. You’d walk everywhere because you don’t understand internal combustion engines.

Yet when it comes to God, we don’t understand how or why He does what He does – so we deny His very existence.

Maybe that’s why Solomon gave us Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

Let’s pray for that today – that we would be able to trust like those simple shepherds.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 355

12/20/15 – 355

Well, thanks to all of you for your patience and understanding this week. My shoulder is still stiff and sore after the surgery, but I can lean over enough to type and the medication is down to a level that allows me to think. Well, as well as ever, I guess. Thanks again for your continued prayers for healing – my goal is to be able to be a viable member of the Work & Witness team we are taking to Peru in late February. We’ll need every hand to accomplish what we’re planning, which is to build 3 buildings and conduct 2 Bible schools in 2 weeks.

Anyway, today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Today in your church you will most likely see the last purple candle lit. This one is usually called the Angel candle. It brings to mind not only the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, but also to Mary, Joseph & Zechariah earlier on. As we think about what the angel said to each of these, we (like they) should reflect deeply on what those announcements meant. Not just what they meant for the world in general, but for us personally. Try to wrap your mind around that, then enter into a period of peaceful anticipation until the time arrives.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the Holy Spirit has us doing the study of the Christmas story the way we have been – so we can put ourselves into someone else’s sandals. But here’s the real question – where would you be today if the Christ child had not yet come? Where would you be if you were still waiting for him? What would you be doing right now? What would your life look like? Would you be living by the same moral codes you are now? Would you be following scripture and believing if it were only the old testament, and there was no talk of salvation for the gentiles?

I think these are some good questions to ponder to help us truly appreciate the peace we can feel in our hearts while we await His return. Think about them in light of this passage from Isaiah:

Isaiah 12:2-6 12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Let’s make our prayer for today a simple prayer of thanks for that peace He brings, and the promise of His coming again.

My Apologies

To all of my faithful readers,

I am sorry, but I find I’m just not able to get an installment out today. I had surgery on my shoulder yesterday, and it seems that I’m either in pain, or groggy from the medicine. Either way, I’m pretty much writing the same sentence over and over. So, if you’ll allow me a day or 2 to get back on track, I promise to make it up to you all. Thanks, and God bless you,

Pastor John

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 354

12/15/15 – 354

My name is Simon. We’ve never met, I’m sure we don’t hang around in the same circles. I’m probably not even allowed in most of the places that you go because I smell too much like sheep. Actually, it’s kind of hard to believe that we’re standing here talking to each other right now. But, I guess tonight’s not like most other nights, is it?

How did you know what was going on here? Did the angels visit you, too? Oh, I see. You’ve been here all along. What’s that? You want to hear about the angels? Okay, I’ll tell you. But let’s go sit in the corner of the stable, where our talking won’t disturb the baby. He is beautiful, isn’t he? How cool is that?

My friend Matthias and me had already bedded down the flock for the night. If you were from around here, you would know that our sheep are special. They are at the temple flocks, raised for sacrifice. We keep them near the Tower of the Flock, you know, the Migdal Eder, that tower along the Bethlehem road not too far from town.

Anyway, all of a sudden there was a bright light! Then there was a beautiful angel. We were scared to death. And he told us not to be afraid, that the Messiah had come, and that he had been born in Bethlehem! The next thing we knew, there were angels all over the place, singing and praising God. So we came as fast as we could to find Him.

Oh, and one more thing. On the way here, I remembered something my rabbi told me. He said once that there was an ancient writing in the Mishnah (rabbinical teachings) that when the Messiah came He would be revealed from the tower of the flock – the Migdah Eder where we were watching our sheep!

Luke 2:8-20  That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,

    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. 

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Isn’t it great that God always gives us more than we need to know that what he says is true? Let’s make our prayer for today just a simple prayer of thanks to a God who always gives us enough that we don’t need to question. A God who always gives us enough affirmation that our faith can be built upon the firmest foundation.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 353

12/14/15 – 353

Hi there. I take it you’ve decided to walk along with Joseph and me to Bethlehem? I’ll warn you, once we start, you kinda have to go all the way – there’s no good place to stop along the road if you change your mind. It will be good to have some extra company anyway. By the way, you don’t know anything about delivering babies, do you? No reason – just asking. Joseph is so good to me – he’s letting me ride the donkey as much as I want while he walks and carries the provisions, I guess he knows how hard it is for me to carry such a lot of extra weight!

So where were we? Oh yes, I think you were about to tell me if you really believed the stories or not – about Elizabeth and Zechariah and their baby John, about the angel visiting me and Joseph – all of that. You’re still not sure? That’s OK – at least you’re being honest with me. I don’t know if I would be sure either, if I weren’t the one carrying the baby myself!

But you know, the more I think about it, the more I realize – God has shown us all many miracles. We just don’t always think about them in that way. Just the fact that a baby can be born and live in such a harsh world is a miracle in itself, isn’t it – even if he isn’t the Son of God? It’s a miracle that we aren’t all diseased or deformed in some way. It’s a miracle that God still loves us and wants us – even after the way our people Israel have broken our covenant with Him over and over, countless times through the years. But then, He gives us proof so that we can believe.

Oh I know everyone doesn’t get to have a vision or a dream personally, but even in this case aren’t there enough witnesses whose testimony would be good in a court of law who agree to what’s going on? Who? Well, there is Joseph to start with. He stands to gain nothing and in fact is risking everything in standing by me and taking me as his wife. Then there’s Zechariah who is a priest by the way, and all the witnesses who can testify that he was struck mute for months after his visit from the angel Gabriel. There’s my cousin Elizabeth and there’s me. Of course, we are just women, so our testimony doesn’t mean anything, but still our reputations as honest, God-fearing women should stand for something. Then there’s the other evidence that backs up the stories. Zechariah’s muteness until John was born and named, Elizabeth’s baby leaping in her womb. My question is – how can people ignore so much evidence?

Oh my, I see we’re almost at the end of our journey. It’s been good to have extra company – thank you. I’m not feeling well, so I guess we’d better find a room soon, but before you go, I want to say one thing. Please don’t wait. Make up your mind whether you are going to believe or not. The journey is almost over, and soon it will be too late. Yes it was nice meeting you too – either way. I hope this is not ‘goodbye’, but only ‘see you later’. OUCH! Joseph! We’d better get going!

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

So what will be your prayer today? Are you praising God for who He is and what He has done? Or are you asking Him for more proof? What will it take for you to believe – and surrender your life to Him. Believing alone is not enough, you know. It takes change.

James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 352

12/13/15 – 352

This is the third week of Advent. Congratulations – you’ve made it halfway through – again!

Happy Gaudete Sunday! OK, show of hands – how many of you knew that today even had a name like that? How do you pronounce it? Just like it’s spelled, of course! Actually, it’s pronounced with three syllables: gow-day-tay. Now, for the bonus round, who can tell me what it means?

It’s actually the Latin word for ‘rejoice, and it’s the first word in the Catholic liturgy that is said on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Hence – Gaudete Sunday! Your church will also probably be lighting a rose/pink colored candle today, which represents rejoicing for the soon-coming Messiah.

Zephaniah 3:14-18 Sing, O daughter of Zion;

    shout aloud, O Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,

    O daughter of Jerusalem!

15 For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment

    and will disperse the armies of your enemy.

And the Lord himself, the King of Israel,

    will live among you!

At last your troubles will be over,

    and you will never again fear disaster.

16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,

    “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!

17 For the Lord your God is living among you.

    He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

    With his love, he will calm all your fears.

    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals;

    you will be disgraced no more.

Now doesn’t that sound like something to rejoice about? When’s the last time you really celebrated Jesus Christ? I know, we celebrate Christmas, and Easter and all that, but when is the last time you got really excited about what He did, and about His return? It’s hard to stay that thrilled all the time, isn’t it? We get bogged down in day-to-day activities, paying the bills, keeping up on Facebook or just watching TV. When it comes time to talk about, think about or celebrate Jesus, we’re plumb wrung out!

Let’s make our prayer today both a plea and a promise. Let’s promise that this Christmas, we won’t let that happen – we will truly celebrate Christ’s coming. Our plea is that God will help us to keep our promise. Have a joyful worship today.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 351

12/12/15 – 351

Hello. It’s nice to finally meet you. I guess you must feel like you know me by now – at last you know a lot about what’s been happening to me. My name is Miriam. My friends call me Mary. What should you call me? Well, I don’t know, I guess that depends on whether you think you’re my friend or not. It’s strange and sad at the same time, isn’t it? When trouble comes, or hard times, I guess you find out who your friends really are. The sad part is, is not always the people you thought it was.

You don’t mind if I sit while we talk, do you? As you can see. I’m a little off balance right now. Joseph is just finishing up gathering provisions for our journey to Bethlehem. I can tell you, I’m sure not looking forward to that! But God will take care of us – I know He will. He hasn’t failed so far, has He?

You know the story, right? What’s that? You say you’ve talked to both of my parents, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah too? Then you must know of all the miracles – all of the visitations of the angel. You must know the story of Elizabeth’s baby John, as well as my own. Well, then there’s only one question left. Wait, though, before you answer.

You’re not the only one, you know. There are many around here who know parts of the story, some who know most of it. There are some who say they believe, others who don’t hesitate to call me a liar and worse. They say it is just a fantastic tale made up by a promiscuous little girl to cover up her evil seduction of a righteous man. They say it is impossible – even though the prophets all said that God would send His Messiah into the world to save His people in just such a way as this! Even the priests and the rabbis who have known me all my life and have never known me to lie refuse to believe me in this – and they say terrible things will happen to me if I don’t say what they want to hear.

 

But, if I do that, I would be lying. Indeed I would be denying the very messenger of God who visited me that day and His Holy Spirit who came to me that night. I would be denying the truth of what happened to my cousins and my husband, and the true identity of Son I carry in my womb! How can I deny that – the real truth – and live to take another breath? Why would I want to – to disobey God in this the most important thing I can imagine – just so that men will not be uncomfortable to face the truth?

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Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary, Did You Know Mark Lowry 1991

 

And the answer, I think, is yes.

Luke 1:29-33 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.33 And he will reign over Israel* forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Even so, have you ever felt that you knew the truth – especially about God – yet were being pressured to say something different because it might make someone uncomfortable? That pretty much describes the culture we’re living in right now, doesn’t it? If someone doesn’t want to hear the truth – change the truth! Colleges even have to provide ‘Safe Places’ for students to go if a professor happens to say something they don’t like. Etc, Etc, Etc.

Let’s pray today for the truth. God’s truth. For courage to live it and speak it boldly, with love, even if someone is ‘offended’. We must stand up for God, even as we must live in a world of men. That’s the only way God’s truth will come through – and the only way that many others might find Him.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 350

12/11/15 – 350

Hello, it’s you again, I see. You remember me – Joseph, the carpenter. Yes, I guess I do look a little better than the last time we talked, although I’m pretty busy right now. My wife Mary and I have a hard trip ahead of us – and not much time to get ready. Yes. I said ‘wife’ – why are you smiling?

Let’s see, if I remember correctly, the last time we talked, I had just had that dream with the angel, right? Yes, I ran away to tell Joaquim. Sorry about that, but it was pretty important. We sure both felt better after that, and then when Mary came back from visiting her cousin Elizabeth for a while, we found out that God had done even more great things with she and her husband Zechariah. Oh, heard about that, did you? Well, I can tell you this – there’s no more doubt in my mind that this child is the Son of the Most High – the Promised One.

I still don’t know how or why God chose me to raise him. But I do know this – If God chose me, He will help me. Right now we have a bigger problem. No, that’s not it. The people around here have pretty much kept quiet – at least they aren’t saying anything to our faces. Even if they don’t believe that the baby is God’s child, they know that I have taken responsibility as his father, so they would be insulting me to say differently.

Mary is heavy with child – and Caesar Augustus has decreed a census be taken immediately. This means that we must travel at least 4 days to Bethlehem – the home of my ancestors. What will we do if she has the baby before we get there, if there’s no help? I don’t know anything about that! She’s never had a baby before, and Anne is too old to make the trip with us. I’m just praying that God will keep that child right where he is until we’re in a nice safe room in Bethlehem!

How long will we be gone? Can’t be sure, really depends on the baby, I guess. Maybe a couple of weeks if he doesn’t come, a couple of months if he does. I have a good business going here, I wouldn’t want to lose it by staying away too long. Besides, either way, I’m sure Joaquim and Anne wouldn’t want to wait too long to meet their first grandson – especially one such as Jesus! – Yes, of course that will be His name – that’s what the angel said, wasn’t it? Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us.

Luke 2:4-7 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

**********************

Have you ever heard the expression ‘man makes plans and God laughs’? Just when we think we know what’s going on – it seems we’re about to find out that we don’t know at all. We know what happened, of course. Mary and Joseph didn’t leave Bethlehem for about 2 years, and then fled to Egypt for probably about another 8 before returning to Nazareth. We don’t know if Jesus ever did get to meet His grandparents. Well, on earth, anyway.

In our own lives, we plan, we work toward goals, everything seems to be going well, when suddenly we stall or we get sidetracked. Sometimes it’s a lot of little things; sometimes it’s a big thing, like a bad medical diagnosis or the loss of a loved one. So how are we supposed to go through life? By planning as best you can, but always being flexible and completely dependent on God. Then we can make our prayer for today exactly what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Never was there a better example of this than in the story of the first Christmas.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 349

12/10/15 – 349

Hi there. This is Anne again – Mary’s mother? Where were we?? Oh yes, I was telling you about what Mary said when she got back from her cousin’s a few days ago. Elizabeth had her baby boy, and they named it John, and her husband Zechariah had been visited by an angel and struck mute and…but you know all that. What I didn’t know was that there where miracles happening all around here too! My husband Joaquim – he never tells me anything. Typical.

Anyway, when Mary got home, there was no hiding the fact that she was with child any more. She was about 7-8 months along or more and getting BIG – and she’s such a small girl to begin with! There were still a few people who looked at her sideways, but for the most part, they didn’t treat her too badly – not nearly the way I expected they would. I think it was because of what happened to Joseph, her fiancée.

When Mary came home she and I both expected the next thing was for him to divorce her – at least we hoped he would find a way to do it that would spare her life. But instead, he came to her and told her about this amazing dream he had. In his dream, the angel Gabriel visited him and told him the same thing that Mary had said, that her baby was the child of the Holy Spirit, and that he shouldn’t be afraid to marry her. What a relief! What a blessing! What a surprise when I found out that Joaquim knew about this for a month and a half and didn’t tell me!

What a good man that Joseph is. He came to us after Mary got home and said that he wanted to go ahead with the wedding, but because of the prophecy they would not share a bed until after the child was born.

Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

I know that people are probably still talking behind our backs. I guess some have nothing better to do than gossip. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Soon they’ll have forgotten about Mary and Joseph and move on to some other poor soul.

Right now it seems we have other things to worry about. Just when Mary is home safe and sound, we heard that the Roman Emperor Augustus has decreed a census! What? That doesn’t sound bad, you say? Well it wouldn’t be, except that everyone has to go to the hometown of his or her family to be counted. Since Mary and Joseph are getting married (and they really can’t put off the wedding), they will have to travel to Bethlehem in Judea, which is where his family was from.

This will be at least 4 days hard journey – and her being ready to have the baby any day now! What more could happen?

Luke 2:1-5 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

**********************

Poor Anne! What’s a mother to do? I’m sure that this woman who is all but forgotten in the Christmas story was one who was an integral part of the real story. She would likely have been the person Mary went to for comfort, counsel, and love when it seemed the world was falling apart beneath her. Soon-to-be-grandma-Anne would have been worried sick over her only daughter and the baby, and probably wouldn’t have been the first one in the loop as far as information if their family were any reflection of the culture.

But I think the lesson for us today is about worry. What do we do when it seems like every time one problem is resolved another pops up? Even when we see miracle after miracle sometimes, we seem to forget them pretty quickly and move on to the next problem. Let’s make it our prayer today to praise God – try to remember the last thing(s) He did for you. Instead of focusing on what you want Him to do next (He knows anyway), just praise Him for what He has already done. Be as specific as possible.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 348

12/09/15 – 348

Well, how about a short break for a word from our sponsor – me? I could really use your help. Since we started this new way of looking at the Christmas story about a week ago, the only feedback I’ve had has been the numbers that I can track. This includes some of the readers, but not all. And, although these numbers seem to be rising (which is encouraging), they don’t tell all that much. Please, if you would, take a few moments and let me know your thoughts and/or comments. Never hesitate to request that we cover a specific topic and as always, please pray for God’s guidance as I write these devotionals. Thank you. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

My name is Anne: By now you’ve heard about my daughter Miriam. It was about 4 or 5 months ago when she came to her father Joaquim and me to tell us she was with child. I was so afraid – I didn’t know what he would do. He’s such a good father, but this? Then there’s Joseph – her husband-to-be. He was sure that baby wasn’t his, but she said the same thing. In fact, you must have heard – she said that the baby was the child of the Holy Spirit! I’m just a woman, and don’t know much about these things. But I know my daughter – and I believed her!

Well, Joaquim was confused himself, so he finally sent her away to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for a few months. She just got back a few days ago, and my heart is jumping for joy since we have learned all that has happened! To start with, Elizabeth was pregnant – and she’s older than me! First, her husband Zechariah was visited by an angel, who said that their baby was to be a Nazarite, dedicated to God, and a prophet whose job it would be to make a way for the Lord to come to the world. When Mary arrived, Elizabeth’s baby jumped in her womb, and she knew right away that it was because he had recognized Mary’s baby as the Messiah! Zechariah couldn’t talk, it turns out he had questioned the angel so he was struck mute until after the baby was born.

Mary stayed until Elizabeth had her baby, and while everyone was arguing about what to name him, another amazing thing happened.

Luke 1: 60 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

Mary said he kept on, singing a great song of praise, quoting from scripture in new ways. She said it was the most beautiful thing she ever heard.

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Have you noticed how so many parts of this story are intertwined with the others? So often the Bible uses the analogy of a plant, a tree or a vine to illustrate life or relationships – especially our relationship with Jesus. As I watch this story unfold, I can picture new vines growing in and around the others, weaving themselves into a beautiful, stong fabric that eventually will be able to withstand anything – unless the strands begin to unravel themselves. There is strength in community. There is beauty in relationship – especially one centered in Christ. Let’s pray for that today – that we would grow into a healthy branch of this vine we call our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – The Christmas Story – 347

12/08/15 – 347

Hi there, this is Joseph again. Sorry for the interruption. As I was saying, my mind was pretty much made up. I really had no choice, unless I wanted to let the law take its course – which meant that most likely the townspeople would have ended up stoning Mary. I really do care for her – I couldn’t just throw her to the wolves. Besides, there was something about her story. She had never lied to me before. In fact, I don’t think she ever lied to anyone!

She was always a good, godly girl. She loves the Lord so much – it’s as though she’s devoted everything to Him. I just can’t see her sinning like this! Her father, Joaquim, and I talked about that. He had the same thoughts, the same questions. Of course, my friends were no help – they had her marked as an adulteress before they even heard any evidence. I was so confused and torn I couldn’t sleep. Night after night I just tossed and turned. Then finally, something happened.

I slept like I had never slept before, and had the strangest dream. It was so real – I wondered whether it really was a dream at all! In my dream, an angel came to me and told me not to be afraid to marry Miriam, that the child she carries is really the child of God, just like she said. He said it would be a son, and we were to name him Jesus because He would be the Messiah!

Well, when I woke up I ran straight to Joaquim and told him what had happened. We both felt better, of course. God is so good, isn’t He, to give us His assurance like this? But it wasn’t very long until another thought struck me. I am a simple man, a carpenter. How is someone like me supposed to raise the Son of God? What do I say to Him? How do I teach Him? How do I protect Him? And above all – why? Why me?

Matthew 1:22-24 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

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I’ve always felt a little bit sorry for Joseph. I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for being the kind of man he must have been, and taking on the task he did. I’ve had the experience of becoming an ‘instant dad’ of 2 completely human boys – and that was pretty overwhelming. I can scarcely imagine what it must have felt like to know that God has entrusted you with His own begotten Son. Then again, every child that is entrusted to any of us is in reality one of God’s children – He only allows us to care for them for a while.

We are often faced with tasks that seem overwhelming. But here’s the key. Make sure, whatever it is, that God is calling you to it. If He is, He will empower, equip and enable you to complete it. If He isn’t, take a step back and figure out what you should be doing instead. Let’s make that our prayer for today – that God would make His will for us clear and evident, and that no matter how daunting the task, He would help us to do it well.

Lessons God has taught me, that my kids aren't ready to hear . . . yet.

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