The End of the Christmas Story

nativity

What is the end of the Christmas Story?

Perhaps when Mary was treasuring these things in her heart and the shepherds were  returning and praising God? (Luke 2:19,20)

Or maybe when the magi were worshiping and presenting their treasures? (Matthew 2:11)

Too often, that is where we stop celebrating in December.  A sweet baby (the Son of God) is born in humble surroundings and certain segments of the population respond with fitting praise and wonder.  The end.  But, as we have seen in our devotions this week, that is far from the end of the story.  I have enjoyed reading through Luke especially at this time of year to see once again what we are REALLY celebrating.

Jesus came as a baby – and what a great opening act that was (you, know the opening act that followed thousands of years of God setting the stage)!!  And 30 years later all sorts of people (fishermen, tax-collectors, sinners, chief priests, foreigners, the sick and diseased, teachers of the law, governors and kings and politicians, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men, women and children)  all prepare to meet this traveling preacher, teacher, healer, miracle maker, story-teller, leader, servant.  His favorite topic is always the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).  Through his teaching, his parables, and his miracles, the world sees a clearer picture of God than they have ever seen before.  The son truly has his Father’s resemblance.

And, he also is committed to doing his Father’s will – even when that means death on the cross, crucified as a criminal, to take away the sins of the world.  His followers are crushed as they were sure this Jesus was going to set up the Kingdom on earth and begin his reign right then.  How could they have been so wrong?

Thankfully, that is still not the end.  Three days later…the tomb is empty!  Joy to the World!!  Jesus appears to his disciples and uses Scripture to explain to them again how the Old Testament foretold what must take place.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.   Luke 24:22-28

A way was needed for both Jews and Gentiles to be washed clean before they could be full citizens of God’s Kingdom.  And Jesus’ death made the way.  And his resurrection gives the hope for a future resurrection.  For there is one more key element that must take place before Jesus will begin his reign over all the world and the Kingdom of God will fully begin.  This is hinted above in Luke 24:47 and spelled out in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

There have been many godly men and women who have died while preaching the gospel – but still the good news has not reached all people in all nations.  The Church of God mourned the death of a very special and faithful pastor, Rex Cain, just this week.  But the mourning was not without hope because the Christmas story isn’t over yet.

In the final verses of Luke (24:51), Jesus ascends into heaven.  When the same event is recorded in the book of Acts (Luke’s sequel) the disciples are told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).  The best is yet to come!

The end of the Christmas story is a new beginning.  A beginning that is still to come.  When Jesus breaks through the clouds at his Second Coming this will be the start of his reign on Earth over all who have been faithful.  The dead in Christ will rise and we will see Jesus coming – not as a babe but as a triumphant warrior and king.  A new heaven and a new earth will worship him and his Father.

I pray I will be found ready.  And I pray you will be found ready.  Let’s get to work and tell the nations!

“Come, Lord Jesus!”(Revelation 22:20 b)

-Marcia Railton

 

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It All Comes Back to His Kingdom

Jesus & Cross

In case you have missed part of this week’s study, here is a quick summary of each of our daily devotions this week:

Sunday –  Luke 13 – The Kingdom of God is Like – Like a virus, a mustard seed, or yeast is the Kingdom of God.  The smallest amount can cause a giant reaction in your life.  You are called to be contagious; constantly build and spread the hope you have in Christ.

Monday –  Luke 14 – Counting the Cost – We are to take account of all we hold valuable.  We may be asked to trade those things in to live within the will of God as we seek his Kingdom.  Entry may cost us everything, but it is a meager price to pay by comparison.

Tuesday – Luke 15 – The Parable of the Lost Ring – God will not stop searching for those who want to be found.  He desires that all men are saved, having a home awaiting in His Kingdom.  The whole of heaven rejoices when the lost sheep are restored to their shepherd.

Wednesday – Luke 16 – The Master and Manager – God is the master of all wealth.  He wants us to be faithful in small ways before we are given more responsibility.  When we acknowledge that we are mere managers, we look at our fortunes differently, as the master’s talents to do his bidding.

Thursday – Luke 17 – One Thank You – Like the lepers, we have been restored; we now can enter the eternal city, The Kingdom of God.  We need to acknowledge God’s restoration through Jesus Christ; no longer are we outcast.  A deliberate and thoughtful thank you is a life that turns to Him.

Friday – Luke 18 – The Power of Persistence –  We should not give up our hope that our Father is listening to our appeal.  Perseverance is the outcome of faith.  Stay the course.  Appeal to the Lord.  He will turn His ear and answer you.

As we have taken a closer look at the six chapters of Luke, we see that it all comes back to the Kingdom of God.  Parables, teaching, healing, reproach – They all point towards the eternal hope that all men can have when they accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life.  Jesus does not dilute the truth of the price of admission.  He says we must be faithful with what we are given; it could cost us everything. Consequently, the reward isn’t necessarily immediately.   The crown of life is not for those who casually follow commands, or openly do good works to receive their inheritance in this present age.  The Kingdom of God is for those who become infected with His love, truth, and message and spread His hope at all cost.  Each of these teachings have been immeasurably challenging and equally thought-provoking.

It has been a great opportunity to write for you this week.  I hope my narratives and notions have resonated in some way to the circumstances and challenges presented in your own life.  I pray you have found connection, truth, and hope in these handful of chapters for the Good News of Luke because these works speak the greatest of truths.  Continue to read, grow your faith, and pray for His Kingdom to come soon.

~With love, your brother in Christ,

Aaron Winner

The Power of Persistence

ask devo

Persistence is like the spraying surf or the whistling wind; it erodes away even the most hardened rock over time.  Battle-hardened generals, the most well-meaning of parents, the most demanding of bosses all will give into persistence.  Why?  Like the irritating gnat buzzing around our head, like an adjacent whistling hearing aid, like the canker sore lingering in our gums, we just want to settle the annoyance so our attention is no longer divided.

Luke 18 begins with Jesus telling a parable about a widow who most desperately was seeking justice, so she would seek out the king of her and tell of her request.  The king wasn’t a God-fearing man, or a man-fearing man for that matter, but he eventually gives into the never-ending nagging just to make it stop.  His exasperation becomes her blessing.  He did not even care about the woman, yet he fulfills her incessant request.  Jesus compares this to the matters of our own heart, and how we might constantly convey needs to our Father in prayer.  Jesus states, “Will he delay long over (our requests)? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” because he is a loving Father, who is loftier than any king, but is most desperately desires a relationship with the lowliest of men.

Nearing the end of the chapter, Jesus models his Father’s care for the determined.  A blind beggar recognizes the “King of Kings” is passing by, and recognizes his opportunity to be healed.  He is unrelenting in his pursuit.   He cries out “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!”  The crowd tells him to shut up – a nuisance such as this is not worth the time of Jesus.  Instead, the man cries louder, longer, and harder, emphatically declaring the Lord to have mercy on him.  Finally, he has the attention of Jesus, and he declares the desire of his heart: sight.  This time it is not an unkind king who yields to petition, but a truly benevolent one, acting on behalf of the Father, because this blind beggar has believed.

We serve a Father who does not hide in shifting shadows from petitioners, but makes it clear that He is ready, willing, and able to meet our every need if we would so choose to let him.  Not only this, he will also give us the desires of heart if we are attuned to His will and purpose; however, we fail to recognize that we must be faithful and persistent in our request. Now, I don’t think we can annoy God into submission, but there are more than a few faithful followers in the Bible who petition the Lord Almighty, and there is a change of course.  James Chapter 1, which I highly recommend you read alongside your assigned daily devotional, speaks of the great rewards awaiting those who do not surrender in their pursuit.

God is most certainly in control.  He is also a gracious and loving heavenly Father.   He is awaiting your appeal and ready to meet the desires of your heart – yes, even those, that are locked away, wrapped in doubt, and shouted down. Unashamedly shout them and ask in the name of the King, Jesus Christ, and He will hear your cry.

~Aaron Winner

Live a Changed Life

Luke 12

Be PreparedforHis Return

In the Old Testament God set up the Jewish religious system through Moses as a way to set them apart.  By the time of Jesus the Israelites had turned away from God so many times it gets hard to count, and they had turned the law into something unrecognizable from its original intent and had given into greed, hypocrisy and selfishness.  Jesus spent much of his time on earth battling and rebuking the Pharisees who epitomized all of the flaws with the Jewish religious system of the time.  Knowing that the church will have a strong Jewish culture with these traditions and tendencies and that they will be persecuted after he is gone, Jesus gives the advice found in Luke 12.

First in Luke 12:1-3  he warns them against hypocrisy because that is the quickest way to errode the witness and testimony of the church.  Similarly for us today, if we want to reach those around us for Christ, then we have to be consistent in our actions and words.  If you are a different person on Sunday than the rest of the week, or if your friends outside of church are genuinely surprised that you are a Christian because they cannot tell by your actions, then you need to evaluate your heart.

 

Then in Luke 12:4-12 he warns them to fear God more than the world and the government and people who are persecuting them.  We are also given a promise that when we boldly stand up for Jesus despite the physical consequences he will stand up for us before God.  As believers in Jesus we cannot stand idly on the sidelines.  Now that we have the knowledge of our sin, and the fact that Jesus died for our sins and requires us to live a life set apart we have to make a choice and stand up for it every day.

 

In Luke 12:13-34 Jesus warns his disciples against greed, and being bad stewards of the things that God has given us.  Of those who are given much, much will be required.  This is true for riches as well and talents and abilities.  If we knowingly put ourselves before the Kingdom and spend all our time and talents on ourselves and buying worldly items and position and popularity then we will be held accountable for those actions.  If we are living a truly changed life for the gospel then we should be using our money and talents to further the gospel in any way we can.  If we put God first in this then he will take care of our physical needs as well.

 

Finally in the rest of the chapter he tells them to be watchful for his return, and to not grow complacent.  The entire Old Testament led up to the ministry of Jesus and everybody in Israel knew the scriptures and should have known that Jesus was the Messiah, but they did not interpret the events correctly, and their hearts were not ready.  Similarly we have been given a promise of the return of Jesus in the future and need to be always ready for his return.  We cannot grow complacent in our Christianity.  We cannot let sin creep back into our lives and we cannot allow our passion and fire for the gospel to dwindle.   We should also be familiar with the prophecies of his return so that when they start to be fulfilled we can be prepared for his return.  We do not want to miss out like many of the Israelites of Jesus’ time did.

-Chris Mattison

Return Home

Luke 8

Luke 8_39

Luke 8 is a pretty fast-paced chapter.  Jesus is in full ministry mode at this point and going about performing many miracles and teaching a lot of parables.  Here are a couple that jumped out at me.

 

Jesus tells the parable of the Sower, a farmer who is spreading seeds. The seeds grow based on the quality of soil that they are planted in.  The disciples do not understand the parable, so Jesus explains it in more clear language in Luke 8:11-15.

 

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

 

I think it is important to realize that the gospel is not directly injected into our hearts (metaphorically) but is presented to us.  It is up to us to make the decision to accept it, and then to purposefully fill our lives with the word in order to change our hearts.  As Jesus said, only through perseverance will we grow.  You cannot be passive about your relationship with God.

 

Later in the chapter Jesus drives out many demons from one man and they go into a herd of pigs, which immediately drown themselves.  Which is kind of weird.   But anyway, the man’s life had been completely changed by Jesus and he wanted to serve Jesus, and here is Jesus’ response in Luke 8:38-39.

 

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

Instead of hitting the road with Jesus and spreading his testimony all over he is instructed to stay in his hometown and to give his testimony to the people in his hometown.  When a lot of people think about spreading the gospel they think about people far away that haven’t heard the gospel, and some are called to travel great distances as some of the disciples were, but many more of us are called to stay home and tell our story to unbelievers in our home towns.  Either way it is very important to share what God has done for you in order to help strengthen the faith of other believers.  For my family God performed a mighty act of healing in my Mom with her cancer and I try to share that as much as I can to show the power of prayer.

So I encourage you to “return home and tell how much God has done for you”.

– Chris Mattison

Allow Me to Introduce You to Luke…

Luke 1_4

 

 “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”    Luke 1:3-4

If you have grown up in the church like myself, you were probably taught basic theology at a young age. I sang the songs, made the crafts, remembered my memory verses, and before I realized it, I had formed beliefs. Everything seemed so simple.

As we grow older, everything becomes complicated. We look at all the denominations around us, with many differing perspectives, and that child-like belief starts to become muddled by all of the confusion. This is the point where we ask ourselves, “What do I really believe?”

This is why I love Luke. His in-depth account of the Lord Jesus Christ from his birth through his resurrection not only gives us insight into the Son of God in an intimate way, it gives us backing to the beliefs that we hold dear.

Regardless of any creed, doctrine, or ideal, I know, without a doubt, that I can sit down and read Luke’s account of the story of Jesus and know that it is true. That validity is such a faith builder and invigorates me to dive deeper into the gospel.

This week, we are going back to our roots. Let’s start from the beginning together shall we? Because, sometimes, in order to jump forward, we have to get back to the basics.

 

-Leslie Jones

Not As a Human Word

MONDAY

1 Thessalonians 2-13

Please read 1Thessalonians 2. My perspective in writing these devotions is that you are reading the scriptures. Nothing I write can be as important to you as what God can say to you as you read his word.

 

1Th. 2:1   You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 

1Th. 2:9   You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

 

1Th. 2:13   We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

 

1Th. 2:17   As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 Yes, you are our glory and joy!

 

I highlighted verse 13. We can ask ourselves, “how do I receive the word of God?” Do we see it from a human perspective, or is God speaking to us.

 

Let me add one thing right now. It’s likely that most of the people in Thessaloniki heard the word rather than read it. Only about 10 percent of the people could read. That means this letter was written to be read out loud. It also suggests that we might understand it better if we study it as a speech rather than a work of literature. For example, if we focus on the written word, we might spend a lot of time digging into the meaning of each word. If we take a rhetorical approach, meaning understanding it as a speech, we focus more on the impact of the words. Those who study rhetoric think that this letter sounds like a half-time speech given to a football team that is winning but needs to be encouraged to play hard in the second half. Paul doesn’t write as if the Thessaloniki Christians are messing up, but rather as if they need to be encouraged to keep doing the things that they have already been doing well.

 

Again we ask, “Do you hear this word as the word of the Lord?” What does it look like when someone hears the word of the Lord?

 

-Greg Demmitt