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Saturday, December 31, 2016

What do those stones mean to you?

Joshua 4:3 (ESV)
And command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”

Do you think you have a good memory?  How much can you remember that happened in 2016?  Have you noticed that people do a lot of remembering this time of year? Everywhere you look on TV, in magazines and on the internet, people are remembering the best and worst things that happened in 2016. They talk about the biggest news stories, the biggest movies and other special things that happened.

But way more important than remembering all of that stuff is remembering what God has done. New Year’s Eve can be a fun time to look back at the last year and remember the cool things God has been up to in our lives.

In the book of Joshua, the Bible talks about how important it is to remember what God has done. For years and years and years, God had been promising to give His special people, the Israelites, their very own country, a place called the Promised Land. They used to be slaves in Egypt, but God rescued them, and in this story He does a miracle by stopping the water of a river so the people could cross over to their new home.

Wow, what a big day! The Israelites got a brand new home thanks to God’s amazing power, and they didn’t even have to get wet going there.  God did not want His people to forget the awesome things He had done.  He didn’t want them to forget how much He loved them, so here is what He told them to do.

Joshua 4:1-7  When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Look at all of these things that happened this last year. Which months do you think God was with us?  One month?  Two?  No, God was with us every single day. 

Remembering the cool things God has done gives us courage to face the future.  The same God who was with us this past year, promises to be with us in the 2017 no matter what.

Dear Lord, thank You for all that you did for us this past year. Help us to remember how good You are as we go into the new year. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, December 30, 2016

What are some of the goals that will make for 2017?

Psalm 51:10 (ESV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.

The New Year is a time of renewing, renewing your goals, your family, and your friends.  We often spend the first few days of the New Year creating a list of resolutions, goals we hope to accomplish during the year, things we want to change or improve, and possibly trips we want to take or new hobbies we want to start.

Whatever your goals or resolutions may be for 2017, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one. Some resolutions are the same every year, but it’s just a way to renew the commitment we have to ourselves and our family to strive to be better and grow closer. Here are a few resolutions that can make your year with your family more memorable. 
Have a daily family devotion time. This is the perfect way to start the day with your children.
Take a family vacation. The trip has to be a fun-filled trip of quality time together as a familyt.
Better yourselves. It can be something small or something large, but whatever it may be, try to continue to improve your family and your marriage.

Take time to set goals both as individual family members and as a family. What are some of the goals that will make for 2017?

Dear Lord, we thank You for the year that You have given to us. Help us set goals that will bring honor to You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

First gear

Romans 15:13 (ESV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Every time we turn on the news it seems the new buzzword is – CHANGE! So how can we just shift gears and change? Let's learn a lesson about basic automotive mechanics. Generally a car has between 4 and 5 gears. The first gear maximizes power in exchange for speed. As you move through the gears, you can continue to go faster, yet without using any more power, and before you know it – you have to look at the speedometer – cause nobody wants a speeding ticket!

So what can we learn from this? Do you want a breakthrough? Do you want a new direction? Then you need to take that first step! You need to put all your focus – all your energy into that first initial gear! Yes, it takes all your strength, and yet it seems like you're moving sooo slow -- but be encouraged, because once you start moving, you'll be able to shift gears -- and before you know it –- you'll be sailing along, and even need to check to see if you're speeding!

The first step is always the hardest -- but it's necessary for change! You can breakthrough with the power of God empowering you, so GO FOR IT! Put everything you've got into that first start. And just like driving, it'll get easier; and before you know it -- we might even have to issue you a speeding citation, just to slow you down a bit..!  Let's not stay in neutral -- let's get in gear, and start shifting!

Dear Lord, give us the strength to get started. Help us to continue to move in the direction that You have planned for us. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Let's make ourselves available

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV) 
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

At a time when thousands of people were dying each year of rabies, Louis Pasteur, pioneer of immunology, was working on a vaccine. Just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a 9-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog. The boy's mother begged Pasteur to experiment on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph for ten days-- and he lived. Decades later, of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his headstone, he asked for three words: JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED.

We are called to save lives too. Our greatest legacy will be those who live eternally because of our efforts.

Thousands of people are dying each year, so many who don't know the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Let's make ourselves available to be used by the Lord for His Kingdom for Christ's sake!

Dear Lord, as we head toward a New Year help us stay focused on sharing Your good news with those we see each day. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Orders Remain Unchanged.

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

One of the most fascinating sites to visit in Washington D.C. is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a platoon of 30 honor guards protects the tomb through rain, snow and even hurricanes! It's been guarded every minute of every day since 1937.

A single sentinel takes his post guarding carefully, walking exactly 21 steps then pausing for 21 seconds before turning around and continuing his duty. The number 21 is in reference to the 21 gun salute which is the military's highest honor given to a soldier. When the changing of the guard takes place, the orders are passed from one soldier to the next – "Orders Remain Unchanged."

As we get close to another New Year, let us continue to stand guard, watching and being ever alert of the times in which we live; and never forget that our "Orders Remain Unchanged!"

Dear Lord, we pray that we would stand guard as we get ready to enter a New Year.  Help us continue to take our orders from You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2016

What have you heard and Seen this Christmas?

Psalm 119:18 (ESV)
Open my eyes, that I may behold
    wondrous things out of your law. 

What have you heard and Seen this Christmas?

Oh, you say, had I been there at Bethlehem that night I would have seen. I would have understood. I would have known it was the Christ child. Would you? There is one way of knowing:

Ask yourself what you have seen and heard this Christmas Season.
o   When you watched the 6:00 news did you see chaos and strife, or did you see sheep without a shepherd.
o   When you went out to do your shopping did you see only hordes of people in the stores, or did you notice the worried expressions on some of their faces--worried because they are facing this Christmas without employment or enough money and they don't know how they are going to make ends meet.

What did you hear this Christmas?
o   Did you hear only the blast of music and carols, or did you hear the silent sighs of the lonely and the bereaved who may be dreading Christmas because it accentuates their loneliness.
o   And in the midst of the sounds of honking horns and people arguing over parking places, did you hear faint sounds of laughter coming from a Church missions projects because you furnished food and toys for families and children.

You see, so often what you see and what you hear is not dependent upon the event but upon you. If you did in fact hear the cry from the lonely, the laughter of poor children, if you saw the sheep without a shepherd, then, and only then, might you have noticed the events that took place in Bethlehem that night. If you lacked that spiritual seeing and hearing then you probably would have been with the 99% who were present but who saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary.

In the end perhaps one of our carols words it best: No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin. Where meek souls shall receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Dear Lord, help us to use our ears and eyes to see those in need around us. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

O Holy Night

Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

It's a tough song to sing isn't it?  Also hard to play on the piano.  But it is the "show stopper" at many Christmas cantatas.  You just can't help but get a thrill when you belt out the chorus "Fall on your knees. . . ."  But the carol "O Holy Night" was actually banned by church leadership, and if it were not for the common people, the powerful song would have faded into obscurity. 

In 1847 a commissioner of wine in France, Mr. Placide Cappeau, was asked by his parish priest to write a poem for the Christmas Eve service.  On a hard carriage ride to Paris, the gentleman imagined himself a witness to the birth of Christ.  The wonder of that glorious moment flowed through his pen, and he gave us the poem "Cantique de Noel" ("Song of Christmas).  Cappeau had the words, but now he needed the music to lift souls heavenward in song. 

He asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams.  It was an unusual request.  Adams was a trained classical musician, but he was of the Jewish faith.  Nevertheless, he good naturedly received his friend's request and began at once to compose an original tune for the poem.  It was a perfect match and the song was performed for the congregation on Christmas Eve.  The French people loved the carol, but later after Cappeau left the church for the philosophy of socialism, and after it was discovered that the composer was not of the Christian faith, the church leadership banned the song from its liturgy throughout France.

However, the French people would not let the song die and continued to embrace it--even if they had to sing it outside the official approval of the church.  Ten years later, an American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, heard the carol and loved its vibrant message of hope---especially the verse that says "Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease."  His English translation quickly became popular in the North during the American Civil War.  

Legend has it that the French Catholic Church finally received the song back into its worship services after an encounter between French and German troops during the Franco-Prussian War.  During a lull in fighting, a French soldier began singing "Cantique de Noel."  The Germans were so moved that they responded by singing one of Luther's hymns.  The "songfest" encouraged the soldiers to honor a truce for 24 hours on Christmas.

The end of this story involves the beginning of modern technology--the invention of the radio.  On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden (a former colleague of Thomas Edison) was experimenting with a microphone and the telegraph.  Fessenden began reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke chapter 2.  Around the world, wireless operators on ships and at newspaper desks began to hear a man's voice come out of their machines.  It was the first radio broadcast of a man's voice. . . .and it was the Gospel of Christ.  But it doesn't end there.

Fessenden then picked up a violin and began to play a tune.  You guessed it. . . . . "O Holy Night."  The song written by a wine merchant, set to music by a Jewish composer, banned by church leaders, kept alive by the French, adopted by American abolitionists,  sung by troops in the trenches, and at last broadcast to the whole world by invisible radio waves.  The first song ever played over the radio:  "O Holy Night."   Fall on your knees.  O hear the angel voices.  O night divine.  The night when Christ was born.  O night divine.

Dear Lord, we thank You and praise You for coming to Earth that Christmas day so long ago. Help us never forget the sacrifice You made for each of us. Happy Birthday Jesus. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Luke 2:14 (ESV)
 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

One of the most familiar carols we hear during the holidays is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." The story behind the song, based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is very interesting.

In 1860, Longfellow was at the peak of his success as a poet. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected President, giving hope to many in the nation. But things soon turned dark for America and for Longfellow, personally. The Civil War began the following year, and Longfellow's wife died of severe burns after her dress caught fire. Longfellow sustained severe burns on his hands and face from trying to save his wife. He was so badly burned that he could not even attend her funeral. In his diary for Christmas Day 1861, he wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are the holidays."

In 1862, the Civil War escalated and the death toll from the war began to mount. In his diary for that year, Longfellow wrote of Christmas, "'A merry Christmas,' say the children, but that is no more for me." In 1863, Longfellow's son, who had run away to join the Union Army, was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow's diary for that Christmas.

For Christmas Day that year, Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to try to capture the joy of Christmas. He began:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

As Longfellow came to the sixth stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, "How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?" But he kept writing and what did he write?

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
That could be said of our day as well.

But then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ Himself, he wrote:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Dear Lord, we thank You for the reminder at Christmas time that You are not dead or are You sleeping. We thank You that You are always there for us. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Little Drummer Boy

Luke 21:4 (ESV)
For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a popular Christmas song written in 1941. It was originally known as “Carol of the Drum” and is based on a traditional Czech carol. Although there isn’t any reference to a drummer boy in the Christmas story in Matthew 1–2 and Luke 2, the point of the carol goes straight to the heart of the meaning of worship. The carol describes how a boy is summoned by the Magi to the scene of Christ’s birth. Unlike the wise men, however, the drummer has no gift—so he gives what he has. He plays his drum, saying, “I played my best for Him.”

This echoes the worship Jesus described when He told of the widow and her two coins: “ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’ ”  God is worthy of our all.
All the drummer boy had was his drum and all the poor widow had were her two coins, but the God they worshiped was worthy of their all. He is worthy of our all as well, having given His all for us.

Dear Lord, help us give our very best and all to You not only this Christmas but through out the year. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

If you never thought a comma could be confusing, then think again! Shouldn't the comma in this song title come after "you" instead of "merry"? That would be true, except that sometimes words can change meanings over time. For example, "cool" used to mean "sorta cold" but now it can also mean "awesome" or even "unfriendly." Similarly, the word "rest" used to mean "keep" and "merry" is another way to say "joyful," so the title of this carol really means something like "Gentlemen, may God keep you all joyful."  Although nobody is sure who wrote this song, the way it was written makes it sound older than it probably is. Since it was printed in 1833,  people have changed a few words here and there to make the song sound better until we have what we sing today.

"God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" reminds us that nothing should steal our joy because we know that God sent his Son to be born as a child who would save us from Satan's power. It then recounts the story of angels appearing to the shepherds announcing the birth of Christ and telling them to search for the Savior who would "vanquish all the friends of Satan" (that means all the sin and bad guys). With news like that, the shepherds rejoiced, left their sheep, and "went to Bethlehem straightway." When they arrived, they saw Jesus in a manger with his mother Mary kneeling at his side, and they began to worship him. The carol ends by calling us to sing praises to the Lord and to embrace each other "with true love and brotherhood," remembering that the true meaning of Christmas outshines all other worries and brings us lasting comfort and joy.

Dear Lord, we thank You that Your birth out shines any other story. Thank You for bringing love to us that first Christmas day.  In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Joy to the World

Psalm 98:4-6 (ESV)
 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Some of our favorite Christmas carols aren't actually carols at all--they're hymns! One of those hymns is "Joy to the World," written by Isaac Watts as a paraphrase of Psalm 98, about "The Messiah's coming and kingdom."  But why do we sing a hymn based on an old psalm at Christmas? Because that's what the psalm says to do! Psalm 98 is all about singing a new song to God, who promised to "judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity." Ultimately, God fulfilled that promise by sending a king unlike any other king, who would save people from their sin and sadness--that king is King Jesus! So when we celebrate Christmas, we're celebrating when God kept his promise with the birth of Christ Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And what does "Joy to the World" tell us to sing? We sing about being there in the moment of Jesus' birth, and announcing that the King that God promised is coming. We sing that we should prepare our hearts for him, and that because Jesus is king the whole creation should sing. This new king brings joy and he will remove sin and sorrow, and then he will let his blessings flow like a river "Far as the curse is found." That means that wherever there's sin, Christ our King will fix it, and he will rule over his creation with truth and grace, and all the nations will sing about his righteousness and love. Although this is a great hymn to sing year round, it's also a great one to sing at Christmas because it reminds us of the joy that Christians should have as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Dear Lord, we thank You for the time of the year we can celebrate Your birth. May we spread that joy to those around us this Christmas season. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Luke 2:15 (ESV)
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

For an occasion as important as the birth of Jesus, one song just isn't enough! Charles Wesley--who wrote almost 9,000 hymns--wrote his own song about Jesus' birth.  His original version started with "Hark, how all the welkin rings," but thankfully for us, his friend George Whitefield changed it to what we sing today.  The song starts by calling us to listen to the angels singing about Jesus' birth. Hark basically means "listen up!" and herald angels are messengers from God who have a really important message. While "Angels We Have Heard on High" tells the story of the shepherds, Wesley's hymn starts there but goes on to say who Jesus is, and to marvel at the mystery of God being born as a tiny little baby.

So, who is that newborn that the angels sang about? Wesley explains that he is the king who will bring peace between God and sinners, and that even though he is adored by even the most important and impressive beings in heaven, he was pleased to become a man "veiled in flesh" on the earth. Wesley imagines Jesus as a frail little baby and yet calls us to "Hail" (which is like cheering for somebody) him because he is the Prince of peace who brings light, life, and healing to all. The hymn's final stanza sings about the work of Christ as the second Adam, which erases the image of Adam (representing sinful man) and stamps us with the image of Christ. Singing this hymn not only celebrates Jesus' birth, it also reminds us of the larger picture of what he did with his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Dear Lord, we thank You that the angels came to share the God news of Your birth. But more importantly what You did later on the cross an raising from the grave. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Angels We Have Heard on High

Luke 2:13-14  (ESV)
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Do you know what was one of the hardest, smelliest, and most dangerous jobs in Jesus' time? If you said "shepherd" then you're right! Shepherds worked long hours and slept outside. They chased away dangerous animals and thieves, had to find water for themselves and the animals, and nursed the sheep back to health when they were sick.  Even though their job was hard, shepherds didn't always get a lot of thanks. But God cares about everybody--shepherds included--and that's part of why we read in Luke that he sent his angels to shepherds to announce the birth of Christ! These particular shepherds were guarding the sheep at night when an angel appeared and told them about Jesus. Then, more angels appeared, and they sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." The Savior God had promised was coming--and that meant good news for even the smelliest of shepherds!

In Angels We Have Heard on High, we sing the story of the shepherds and we sing the song of the angels, "Glory to God in the highest."  Although we don't know who wrote this carol, we do know that the song was originally French, written in the 18th century and translated into English around 1862.  The carol speaks of hearing the angels' song echoing in the mountains, and then questions the shepherds about why they are so happy. Then it answers, and begs those who hear to come to Bethlehem to see King Jesus, about whom the angels were singing. The carol then invites us to imagine Jesus, lying in a manger, the Lord of heaven and earth whom even his earthly parents ought to worship. God could have sent Jesus' birth announcement to kings and queens all over the world, but instead, he sent it to shepherds. Singing this carol encourages us to praise the God who keeps his promises, and who cares about everybody, whether they are shepherds or kings or you or me.

Dear Lord, we thank You for always keeping your promises. We thank You that You care for each of us so much You came to Earth to bring us salvation. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.

Our greatest joy on Christmas morning is that Jesus entered into our human struggle as fully God but fully human.  His life and His death changed everything.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re male or female, young or old, Jew or Gentile…and there is no difference in God’s love for us.  His love is immeasurable and magnificent and given to us no matter what color is our skin, what social strata we’re from, where we live, or what language we speak.  Every human bears the Image of God.  God’s Image is colorblind and His love is big enough for all.

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)

Go Tell It on the Mountain was first published in a collection of slave songs and spirituals entitled New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907) by John Wesley Work, Jr..  His family before him and after him were devoted to preserving spirituals and he was actively involved with the Fisk Jubilee Singers whose name you might remember from the Overcomer’s series devotional on Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Dear Lord Thank You for that first Christmas day.  Help us to continue to tell it from the mountain about the great gift that You gave to each of us. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Silent Night

Luke 2:16 (ESV)
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

The simple Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, has been recorded more than any other song in history. Yet, the fact that we know it at all is a real answer to prayer. Created out of necessity and performed in a tiny village on a solitary Christmas Eve, “Silent Night” owes its debut to an organ that wouldn’t play and a priest who wouldn’t hold a Christmas service without special music.

A 26-year-old Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr was making last-minute preparations for a special Christmas Eve mass that he had planned and prepared for months. As Mohr cleaned and readied the sanctuary on the very cold afternoon, he discovered the church organ wouldn’t play. The frantic young priest struggled with the old instrument for hours, but the organ remained as still as the dark winter night. Realizing there was nothing more he could do, Mohr prayed for inspiration. He asked God to show him a way to bring music to his congregation for the year’s most meaningful and important worship service. In answer to his prayer, the Lord brought to his mind a Christmas poem that he, himself, had written two years before. He dug the written words from his desk, shoved the worn paper into his coat pocket and rushed out into the cold night.

Joseph Mohr went to see the struggling young schoolteacher who played the organ at his church. He begged him to write some music for his poem. The organist prayed and was quickly inspired to write a simple tune to accompany the words of Mohr’s poem. Just after midnight, on Christmas 1818, Father Mohr and his organist stood in front of their church and introduced a simple little song. They never would have guessed that this song would be remembered not only the next Christmas in their small village, but almost two hundred years later, around the world.

Sadly, in 1848 Joseph Mohr died penniless before being recognized as the carol’s writer. He never knew that by the late 1800s “Silent Night” had been translated into more than twenty languages. In 1905 it was first recorded and by 1960, the carol was recognized as the most recorded song in music history.
Created to make a Christmas service more meaningful, “Silent Night” is as powerful and fresh today as it was on the first Christmas Eve it was sung in a little Austrian church. Few words have better captured the story of the Savior born in a manger than the simple words of “Silent Night”. The answer to the prayer of a young priest nearly 200 years ago.

Dear Lord, we thank You for the silent night of many years ago. We thank You because of the little baby we can have eternity with You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mary Did You Know?

Luke 2:19  (ESV)
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Mary, Jesus mother, had been visited by an angel, became pregnant without a man, married Joseph, traveled to Bethlehem, gave birth and had just had a bunch of shepherds rush in to see her new baby. As these men left amazed and in a hurry to tell others about what they’d discovered, we are told that “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Dear, dear Mary – I wonder what she was thinking about.

One of my favorite Christmas songs asks that very question, “Mary, Did You Know?” Not only is this a wonderful song, the story behind the song is also inspiring. In his book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas Ace Collins writes, “…this song’s gift to the world might have been lost forever if a set of loving parents had not chosen to believe in the promise and potential God placed in their child.”

Mark Lowry, a singer with the Gaither Vocal Band, started singing almost before he learned to talk. When he was in grade school he was often a problem in the classroom. At about the same time he was diagnosed with hyperactivity it became apparent that the boy had absolutely no athletic ability. To some Mark appeared to be little more than an energetic klutz, but his parents emphasized the positive and helped turn what could have been a curse into a blessing.

They encouraged Mark’s obvious love of and talent in music. Over the next few years, Mark became so successful in his singing career that he had to finish junior and senior high school by correspondence.

By 1984, Mark Lowry was living in Houston and was asked by his pastor to write something for the annual Christmas pageant. Mark began to consider what it would have been like to have been Jesus’ mother and then began to write these spine-chilling words. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod and when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?”

After the pageant Mark filed his powerful poem away for several years. In God’s time Mark eventually became a member of the Gaither Vocal Band, met songwriter Buddy Green and “Mary, Did You Know” was put to music. For the first time in decades, a new Christmas song had become an important facet of traditional Christmas celebrations.

Yes, the very things that made Mark Lowry unique could have held him back, yet because his problems were viewed as gifts by his parents, Mark thrived. “Mary, Did You Know?” a song like no other Christmas carol ever penned, written about a mother like no other, came from the hand of a man like no other.

Dear Lord, we thank You that You can use each of us in a unique way.  Help us to have our ears and hearts open to what You have for each of us to do. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Luke 2:10-12 (ESV)
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

We have all sung the carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” during the Christmas season. Did you know that this is one of the most misunderstood carols of Christmas? It’s misunderstood because of two words and one missing punctuation mark. What we think of when we sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is not anything like what the English peasants meant when they first sang this song more than five hundred years ago. When the unique lyrics of this wonderful carol are understood it quickly becomes more than just a jolly song, but one of the most profound and meaningful hymns in the world.

One of the misused words is the one that describes Christmas itself. When we say “Merry Christmas!” today the word merry means “happy.” When “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was written, merry had a very different meaning. For example, Robin Hood’s Merry Men might have been happy, but the merry that described them meant “great” and “mighty.” In the Middle Ages a strong army was a merry army, a great singer was a merry singer, and a mighty ruler was a merry ruler. So when the English carolers of the Victorian era sang the words “merry gentlemen,” they meant great or mighty men.

The other misunderstood word is the word rest. This does not mean to put your feet up and relax. Although that sounds pretty good right about now! The word rest in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” means “keep” or “make.” Now to completely uncover the mystery of meaning in this carol, a comma needs to be placed after the word merry. So in order to have the correct meaning in modern English, the first line of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” should actually read, “God make you mighty, gentlemen.”

Suddenly, understanding the true meaning of the words and intention of this old carol makes perfect sense. This wonderful carol puts to music the words of Luke 1:10-12 when the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.” It is this news the carol says that makes us mighty men and women.

May God, indeed, make you mighty as you remember Christ our Savior who was born on Christmas day…O what tidings of comfort and joy the news of his birth is.

Dear Lord, thank You that because of You we can be mighty men and women. Help us share the great news of Christmas to those around us today. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The First NOEL

Luke 2:8-9 (ESV)
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

One of the oldest Christmas ballads we sing today goes back to the 1500’s. Whoever was responsible for writing this carol was obviously incredibly enthusiastic about Christmas and fully understood the wonder of Christ’s birth, but didn’t have a full grasp of the Scriptures that told the story of that birth. During the Middle Ages, when “The First Noel” was written, there were very few Bibles in circulation. Common people rarely saw a Bible and even if they did, they probably couldn’t have read the words.

With no Bible to guide him, the writer of this carol surely drew from the stories he had been told about the events of Christ’s birth. Most things he recounted accurately, but he erred when he depicted the shepherds following the star to Christ’s birthplace.

Oh, what a privilege we have today to have personal access to God’s Word, and have the ability to read and understand it. We no longer need to be in the dark regarding what the Bible says. Now we have the responsibility to hold everything up to the light of Scripture. For example, when we sing that the shepherds looked up and saw a star shining in the east in “The First Noel” we are aware of today’s Scripture Luke 2:8-9 which says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

The Bible never mentions the star with the shepherds, only with the wise men. Nevertheless we can enjoy singing “The First Noel” because the spirit of this old hymn more than makes up for its deficiencies.

For the first three hundred years of its existence, “The First Noel,” was not allowed in most churches. Because the clergy disregarded this beautiful carol, it became the holiday voice of the people. Over the years English peasants adopted the Scandinavian custom of ushering in the Christmas season by lighting a Yule log. “The First Noel” became the song that was sung as a part of this custom. It was simply passed from generation to generation until it was finally published in 1833.

Today this song, obviously inspired by the story of the birth of a Savior and probably written by a common, illiterate man, remains one of the most loved carols of all time. Although we must keep in mind that the shepherds didn’t follow a star, we can also remember that “The First Noel” represents the real essence of Christmas: the announcement of Christ’s arrival on earth. The tradition of the Yule log may have died out, but the message of “The First Noel” still burns brightly.

Dear Lord, we thank You for coming that first Christmas. Help us like the shepherds seek to find You. In the Name of Jesus Amen. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Angels, From the Realms of Glory

Matthew 2:2  (ESV) 
Saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

The wise men upon their arrival in Jerusalem after Jesus was born asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Yes, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the King of Kings. It’s also a special time to worship this newborn king.

One favorite carol we sing every year calls us to worship. This carol is possibly the best-written, sacred Christmas carol of all time. The carol was written by an Irishman who tragically lost his missionary parents at a young age, flunked out of seminary and became a baker’s assistant. By the age of twenty this man was little more than a vagrant, moving from job to job, often unemployed, and homeless for weeks at a time.

In the early 1800’s James Montgomery finally got paid to do what he most loved to do – write stories for a newspaper. He was also learning firsthand about the hardships of being an Irishman under English rule. Montgomery began to write fiery editorials against the English. At the same time, he began to read his Bible in an attempt to understand the power that motivated his parents lives and ultimately led to their deaths.

As he read the Bible, James Montgomery had a change of heart. This change was revealed in an editorial he wrote in poetic form that was published on Christmas Eve 1816. The poem told the story of angels proclaiming the birth of a Savior for all people, English and Irish, rich and poor….

The poem was eloquent, beautiful and scripturally sound. This changed Irishman soon touched more lives for Christ with the stroke of his pen than his parents did in all their years of missionary work. The poem was titled “Nativity”. God obviously had his hand on Montgomery’s work. Twenty years after it was written, Henry Smart, one of England’s finest organists and composers, somehow discovered the poem. Inspired by the wisdom, power, fire, and beauty he saw in “Nativity,” Smart composed a tune to go with the poem. Today we sing this carol written by an Irishman and put to music by an Englishman, “Angels, From the Realms of Glory.”

God had his hand on the wise men as they searched for the newborn King. He had his hand on an Irishman and an Englishman, and he has his hand on you. Are you looking for Jesus? If you don’t know where to find him do as the wise men did. Ask someone. And when you find him worship the newborn king.

Dear Lord, help us to seek after You this Christmas season. We pray that we will be able to lead someone to the King this Christmas season. In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Banned to the deserted island

1 Timothy 6:17 (ESV)
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

A sailor who was shipwrecked on a desert island was captured by some of the natives of that island. They carried him off on their shoulders to their village, where he was sure he would end up being the main course. But instead, they put a crown on his head and made him king. He was enjoying all the attention he was receiving but was growing a little suspicious. He started making inquiries and discovered that their custom was to crown a stranger king for a year and at the end of that year the crowned king would be sent to a deserted island where he was allowed to starve to death.

Obviously, this did not appeal to the sailor so he devised a plan. Since he was the king and the natives obeyed his every order, he ordered them to ship supplies to the island where he would be sent when the year was up. He had them clear the land and build him a hut and plant enough vegetables and fruits for quite an adequate garden. When his year was up and was banned to the deserted island, he lived in abundance.

How are we using the good gifts God has graciously given us? Wealth and authority can be a dangerous thing -- or it can be a blessing. It can be used to destroy and tear down or to store up good things in heaven.

Dear Lord, we ask You  to help us to be wise in our attitude toward our material possessions so that we might not end up being rich in things and poor with God. In The Name of Jesus, Amen.