Sunday, December 18, 2016

A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given,
And the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)
  
Wonderful stories of Christmas miracles have been recorded throughout the centuries. However, the greatest Christmas miracle recorded was the birth of Jesus Christ, the King of kings, who entered this world in obscurity and was placed in a lowly manger.

Mary, a young teenager, had been told by an angel, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). 

Ponder the enormity of this young girl being told this news? She was betrothed to Joseph. How would she tell him she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Many of us, like Joseph, would have been more than skeptical. 

Joseph considered her news and decided to quietly divorce her (a betrothal was considered a marriage) but an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,' which translated means, “GOD WITH US.' And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus" (Matthew 1:20-22). Joseph and Mary submitted to the plans of God. 

Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod. The Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you will come a Ruler, Who will shepherd My people Israel” (Matthew 2:1-6).

Christmas literally means the mass or celebration of Christ and His birth and life. Most of us recognize Christmas as a time when families gather together to fellowship, exchange gifts, and enjoy foods that delight the palate and tempt us to overindulge in luscious, calorie-ridden sweets. Despite merchants who take every opportunity to use Christmas as a means of bolstering sales and profits, the true meaning of Christmas and the purpose of giving gifts is to remember the greatest Gift that God gave to us, "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).

Eternal life. What an astounding and extraordinary gift! Because Jesus Christ was willing to come to earth and sacrifice His life in exchange for ours, we can choose life with Him instead of life separated from Him. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

I have written the following poem to express my sentiments about the meaning of Christmas:

A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

The Infant's cry broke the silence of the night
Proclaiming His HHHarrival, God's one true Light.

He didn't come in splendor dressed in robes of royalty.
He came unannounced with a purpose and destiny.

In the distance, a star illuminated the night sky,
Placed by God's hand, it guided the three Magi.

There in the stable, they found asleep in the hay
God's Son who had come as the Truth and the Way.

Bearing lavish gifts as prophets had foretold,
The Magi gave frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

God sent a treasure far greater than gold,
His Gift, the greatest story to unfold...

A Christmas miracle; His love expressed to man,
The Gift, if opened, receives His redemptive plan.

So, as families and friends gather this Christmas day,
Let us lift our voices with praise and say...

"It is with grateful hearts, we give thanks to You...
For lives reborn and made brand new.

You willingly took on the form of a man
Your birth and death were part of a greater plan.

So as we gaze upon twinkling Christmas lights
We will remember Salvation came that night."

Joy Bollinger
Christmas 2016


From our home to yours, may you have a blessed and
Merry Christmas!



Sunday, December 11, 2016

 LOVE
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 
 Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christmas is the time when we reflect on the greatest gift of love that was delivered to mankind on a starlit night in Bethlehem. Sadly, love has taken on a new definition,  beginning with the 60s "Flower Children" who promoted "free love." In the 70's, many of us heard the Coke commercial, I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing, with one of the verses, "I'd like to see the world for once, all standing hand in hand, and hear them echo through the hills, for peace throughout the land."  John Lennon sang, "Love is what we need." The 80s had a lot of protest songs, and in 1992, Rodney King pleaded, after being beaten, "Can we all get along?" The 2000s have seen the moral high ground slip further away, as honesty, justice, integrity, love, and forgiveness have been traded for moral nihilism, which believes there is no right or wrong, because each person is their own god. Ironically, those same people appeal to the masses for love and harmony, but they want it without God, even though it is GOD who is the Source of real, authentic, lasting love and peace. And yes, God has clearly established in His Word what is right and what is wrong, what brings peace, and what brings hatred and division.

Jimmy Stewart said the following quote in the 1939 film, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, in which he played a newly appointed United States Senator, fighting against a corrupt political system: "Great principles don't come to light when they are here. You have to see them?"


Stewart was stating a principle that is scripturally correct. Look at the world around us. Corruption is at every level. Murder, terrorist attacks, treason, adultery, abuse of children, fornication, and every other sin and depravity plague mankind. Yet people cry out for peace and love, while ignoring God's biblical principles as foundational truths, which guide our lives with love.

Jesus said, "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 ESV). This world will never know real peace and love unless people turn to God. John 3:19 states that the Light has come into the world, but men love the darkness (sin) rather than the Light (Jesus who is truth). Truth is there for them to see, but they choose not to see it.

I recently read a story about a first grader in West Marion, North Carolina who had written a poem to be read at her school's assembly honoring Veterans on Veterans Day. Her poem referenced God, but because ONE PARENT COMPLAINED, "God" was redacted from the child's poem. What has happened in America, that the majority is forced to change because of the whims of one person or a few who oppose the greater number? The answer is that they either choose to deny that God exists or they accept that God exists and may even have a concept of God, but they don't really know Him.

God has been removed from our schools and government, and there have been ongoing attempts to remove Him from our currency and coins. God is a gentleman; He does not force His will upon us. When we tell Him to leave...He leaves. However, without His protection, we are vulnerable to evil. So it should be of no surprise that we see evil of every kind being perpetrated against innocent men, women, and children around the world, but more specifically in the United States, which had once been the standard bearer for morality and godliness.

How do we return to morality and godliness? We, like Job, need to really know God, as I referenced last week in "The Refiner's Fire." To reiterate, Job was a man who "was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). Yet we discover the real issue at the end of the book of Job, when God questions Job and he answers, "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes (spiritual revelation) have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Job had known about God through tradition passed down from his forefathers, but he didn't really know the Person of God by having a personal relationship with Him. As a child growing up, 
I knew about God, because my mother had told me about Him, but I did not have a personal relationship with Him until I surrendered my life to Him at age 25.


God wants us to know Him, His character, nature, and His infinite love. In knowing Him, we are then able to love Him according to His Word. Ironically, we can't truly know or love Him, unless we first understand the four definitions of love:

·      Agape is the most important from of love, because it is God's love, which is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional, and non-judgmental.
·       Phileo is an affectionate, warm and tender platonic love that we find in friendships.
·      Storge is parental love for one's children, siblings, family members, and pets. A sign of the end times will be a lack of storge.
·      Eros is a passionate, intense, erotic love that arouses romantic feelings. Carnally driven, it demands gratification.

I John 1:6-7 tells us that if we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness (deception), we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light (truth), as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin. 

We are encouraged to love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. But those who do not love with agape love do not know God, because God is [agape] love (I John 4:8).

Agape love heals, mends, forgives, extends mercy and compassion, and loves unconditionally. It is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never arrogant or selfish or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will seldom notice when others do wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone, you will be loyal to them, no matter the cost. You will always believe in them, always expect the best of them and always stand you ground in defending them (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

The question remains — How do we come to that place of loving others with an agape love? The answer is that we can't unless we learn to really love God with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul?

The word, "really," means an actual fact, as opposed to what is said or imagined to be true. Like a broken record, the following truth needs repeating over and over until we finally grasp it: We come to really know God through Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment and fullest expression of God's Word. For "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him, all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:1-5).

The Bible is the embodiment of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet only 20 percent of Americans have read the Bible from start to finish. Most who read it, pick and choose scripture that fits their situation and appeals to their sensibilities. 

When I was in school, I would rush through reading a textbook, often skipping relevant material and marking only what I thought would appear on the test. Of course in following that method, I missed relevant facts that would have brought clarity to the text. Eventually, it dawned on me to read the entire text for an overall understanding and then go back and highlight those things that I believed were important. It took a few years to realize that I needed to read and study the entire Bible for an understanding of the relational values interwoven and connecting everything from Genesis to Revelation.

We cannot really know God unless we read and study His Word, for His Word is a revelation of God as Creator and Father who loves us with a perfect agape love. When we study His Word, we come to know Him and when we really know Him, we are able to really love Him. That love for Him then becomes a passion to serve Him.

So the next question is: "Where is our passion? Is it for the things of this world, or is our passion for God? If our passion is for God, then we will daily seek Him in His Word and in prayer. Jesus said this, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). As Christians, this should be our first passion in life...to love God above all else. We do that by knowing Him through His Word and by engaging Him through our daily prayers. We are then able to develop an agape love that transforms our life and those around us.

PRAYER:
LORD, help me to really know You through Your Word. I admit that there have been times when reading Your Word was not easy and at times, confusing, so I became discouraged and quit. I ask that You bring clarity and understanding through the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that I may enter into a relationship with You, unlike anything I have had before. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

*I highly recommend the Chronological Life Application Study Bible. It takes you from Genesis to Revelation sequentially as the events happened.