FAMILY: JOY {Advent}

Family

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

— Luke 2:10-11

Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for?

Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A nonstop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you good news of great joy!”

It was just another night of work in the field for the shepherds, with a chill in the air and the soft bleating of their flocks. Another night of work, a night like thousands of nights before—even thousands of years before when the shepherd David was still a boy and stood watch in those same fields. Life hadn’t changed in a millennium. But on this night, everything changed.

When the angel appeared, bathed in a glorious light, these shepherd men and boys who were used to fending off wild beasts to protect their sheep were suddenly filled with terror. Were they convinced by the simple words: “I bring you good news of great joy”? Probably not. Joy would have to come later. They would need to see proof.

That’s the way it works with joy. Real joy never originates from within; it must come from without. Searching for joy within you is like searching for the ocean within a droplet of water. Perhaps this is why so many of us have a difficult time finding joy at Christmas. Bite into a Christmas cookie and you might enjoy it. Open a shiny package and you might delight in what you find inside. But joy itself—true and pure—is so much more than enjoyment.

Joy is the startling realization that God has claimed territory in this world. He has taken back what belongs to him. Every day we can remind ourselves of this revelation—reignite this joy again and again. Joy is a thirst that doesn’t want to be quenched; a hunger that knows it will go on and on. It’s a good thing to never get enough of God.

This “great joy”—God come into the world—is great because it’s everywhere. A joy “that will be for all the people” is here. Now. Let us delight in this tremendous news today.

Prayer for today:

Dear God, turn my fear into great joy.

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(Source: Bible Gateway)

MOTIVATE ME: Everything You Need to Know About the Daniel Fast

Motivate Me

In the beginning of each year thousands of believers in God (Jesus) are going on a Daniel Fast. While some fully understand what it is and how to do it, others are new to the idea of fasting and need more help than others.  In the next few paragraphs I will talk about the What, Why and the How of the Daniel Fast.

What is Fasting?


Fasting ALWAYS involves FOOD! You might have heard some say: “I am fasting my friends,” or “I am fasting television,” etc. However these people misunderstand what fasting is and isn’t. The Hebrew word for fast means “to cover the mouth.” The Greek word for fast means “to abstain from food.” While we do need to get away from every day destructions of our lives and spend time alone with God, away from people, fasting is always about restricting food! Everything else is self-discipline and dying to our flesh. So, to truly benefit from the fast one would have to restrict/change their normal food intake.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline. It is done not so we can change God’s mind, but rather to get quiet before Him, so we can hear what He is speaking. When we satisfy our flesh with everything that it demands we tend to drown out God’s voice because we become very preoccupied with self-gratification. During fasting we take charge of our flesh, making it a servant to our spirit, and thus we are able to get in tune with what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.

Fasting is NEVER to be done to show off what one might perceive as spirituality. Jesus was very clear on the subject.

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

So, when you fast, don’t toot your own horn, don’t brag about what you are doing and how you are “sacrificing” something for God—let the Lord be your Rewarder, not men! However, if you are taking part in a congregational fast, feel free to invite others to join, with humility. You might find that having outside support will help you be more diligent about your efforts as well.

What is the Daniel Fast?

The Daniel Fast is a Biblically based partial fast* based on two instances of Daniel’s fasting experiences.

“Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.” (Daniel 1:12)

“In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” (Daniel 10:1-2)

Based on the information that we glean from these references we understand that the Daniel Fast eating plan is vegan in nature, with additional restrictions. In the first Scripture, we see that Daniel ate only:

  • Only Fruits and Vegetables
  • And drank ONLY water

Which would also mean that he ate no processed, artificial, or chemically altered foods. From the second Scripture, we learn that Daniel’s diet did not allow:

  • Animal products
  • Pleasant/precious food, which would include all sweeteners, including honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.
  • Alcohol

It has become a tradition that during the Daniel Fast people abstain from

  • Any kind of leavened bread (anything made with yeast, baking powder, baking soda, etc.)

However, digging into the Scriptures, you could not find a reference indicating that it should be the case. If we did the 21 fast, which is referred to in Daniel 10, then what Daniel said was as follows:

“I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” (v 3).

I know that some translations say: “I ate no pleasant bread,” while others say: “I ate no desirable bread” and yet others say: “I didn’t eat any good-tasting food.”

I know some refer to Daniel 1 for food guidelines: fruit, veggies only. However, the chapter never says how long Daniel and his friends ate that way, neither does the Bible call it a fast.

 

Why the Daniel Fast?

Fasting is not a diet! Fasting is not done for weight loss! Fasting is ALWAYS done for spiritual purposes. Fasting should be done with a PURPOSE! Before you begin the fast you should decide on the purpose of your fast. Without a purpose, you will be simply dieting. Take the time to prayerfully consider the reason of your fast.

What is your greatest need at this time? Can your marriage grow stronger? Are you facing financial difficulties? Do you want to learn to trust God and develop a deeper relationship with Him?

Take the time in prayer to decide on the purpose of your fast.

When you are fasting, set time aside for prayer, worship, meditation and Bible study. Keep a journal of your revelations, of what God is speaking to you. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you and to reveal areas in your life that need purification.

What Happens During the Fast?


Daniel Fast is undertaken by people of all ages for many various reasons. However, whatever your need/reason is you can be certain that your entire being will benefit from it: Spirit, Soul and Body.

We are a triune being. When we fast we learn to allow God-intended order into our life: human is a spirit that possesses a soul and lives in a body.

Body
Our bodies are most definitely going to be effected as we change our diet for 21 days. For some the change is going to be very dramatic. You might experience detoxing from food addictions, such as: caffeine, processed or unnatural foods, chemicals and sugar.

The symptoms that accompany detox process might be light or more pronounced: headaches, leg cramps, fatigue, nausea and even light depression. As the body will detox, the symptoms will alleviate and you will experience more energy, better sleep, clearer and sharper mind, and many other benefits. So, take the time to ride it out.

Soul
The soul is the central place of our emotions, intellect and will. It is the place where we make decisions, experience anger, fear, love, frustration and cravings. The soul is frequently referred to as “the flesh” in the Bible.

During the fast your soul may rebel against the change in your diet. You will get an opportunity to experience and win this battle over the flesh, which might prove to be one of the most powerful lessons of the fast.

Spirit
Our spirit is the part of us that has been born again when we gave our lives over to Christ. It should be the part that surrenders to God. When we are fully surrendered we can truly abide with the Father and the Son. Our spirit is filled with the Holy Spirit if we yield to Him.

The purpose of the fast is to place our spirit in control of the other two parts of us: soul and body. When our flesh is acting out with a craving, we take control of it with our spirit (just imagine as parents would take control of a rebellious child).

 

Preparing for the Daniel Fast

In addition to spending time in prayer to decide on the focus of your fast you should take the time to prepare your body as well. Start easing off things that you feel you cannot live without: ease off caffeine, sugar, animal (if you eat an omnivorous diet) and processed foods. Try to do it before the first day of the fast, otherwise you might experience mild-to-strong detox symptoms: headaches, cramping, nausea, etc.

I would also strongly suggest for you not to go on an eating binge of all your favorite food the night before your fast begins! I call it the Last Supper when I train people. First, it really shows that your flesh is stronger than your spirit, secondly, it will be harder for you to start the fast because processed, animal and fatty foods will create a craving that will be hard to deal with for days to come.

To prepare for the fast, start drinking more water to flush out toxins faster and make the transition easier.

A Word About Water

If you don’t drink enough water, your body is probably used to storing water. Water retention=extra unwanted weight. Before and during the fast you need to learn to consume enough water to stay hydrated. How much water exactly? While there is no specific formula, the suggestion is:

HALF OF YOUR BODY WEIGHT IN OUNCES

So, if you weigh 180 lbs., you should drink 90 oz. of filtered water a day.

By increasing fluid consumption you will help your body to flush out toxins and train it not to store extra water. You can drink warm/hot water throughout the day with a wedge of lemon to help reduce fluid retention. However, make sure that you the water you drink is without chemicals as much as possible.

The longer you consume Daniel Fast diet, the more you will find that eventually you not be as thirsty anymore, since most of your foods will keep their natural juices: fruits, vegetables, blended smoothies, etc. You will learn to follow your body’s thirst and hunger signals, as it gets more adapted to a cleaner diet.

During the Fast

Physically, especially in the beginning of the fast, you might experience hunger pains. Before going for a snack or a meal drink some water—most people misunderstand signs of dehydration for hunger. If you drink some water the “hunger” pains might go away. If hunger does not go away, make sure to snack, not to experience sugar spikes.

The purpose of the fast is not to simply change the foods you eat but also to restrict how much you eat, so learn to spend the time you would normally spend eating in prayer and meditation. However it is also advisable that you eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three huge “square” meals and overwhelm your body. By “snacking” throughout the day, you will be able to aid your body in processing the foods you eat faster and easier, while maintaining the level of clarity needed to perform daily tasks.

Spiritually, you will experience a more successful fast when you spend time each day in prayer and communion with God. Establish a time during the day for quite time and meditation on the Word of God. Study His Word and seek His face. You might have to set aside some time at home, or, if you have a long commute to and from work, take it to talk to the Savior, worship and listen to an audio Bible.

Emotionally, you might be tempted during the fast to break a few “rules” and eat/drink something your body craves. For example, you might decide not to drink water only but include herbal teas. However, think that Daniel refused to eat any pleasant food/drinks, and for the most part the herbal teas that we consume are to add a pleasant taste. There are exceptions when you might be drinking certain herbs for therapeutic reasons, such as parsley, chamomile or clover teas.

If the temptation comes, I hope you can learn a lesson by examining yourself. Ask yourself why you would want the thing you desire. If you respond in the manner that will indicate that it is because YOU WANT it, it will be a good time to exercise control over your flesh and show it who is truly in control. However, I would highly recommend not to get too legalistic with some of the guidelines—after all, it is the condition of your spirit (your heart) that matters most to God. So, if drinking an herbal tea is not a big deal (an addiction) for you, and you decide to do it, do so, with peace in your heart.

 

Daniel Fast Approved Foods

I found a great list of foods on-line that is Daniel Fast friendly. You can print it out and take it with you when you go grocery shopping.


All fruits. These can be fresh, frozen, dried, juiced or canned. However, you will fill much better physically if you consume fresh fruit. If you decide on canned fruit, make sure that no sweeteners of preservatives were used in the process. I also would suggest avoiding juiced fruit (if you juice at home), as the released sugars will spike your blood sugar levels too fast. By keeping the fiber you will still enjoy the fruit, while also keeping your body happy.

Fruits include but are not limited to: apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, figs, grapefruit, grapes, guava, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemons, limes, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, prunes, raisins, raspberries, strawberries, tangelos, tangerines, watermelon.

All vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen, dried, juiced or canned. Same rule would apply to canned vegetables as to that of fruit.

Vegetables include but are not limited to: all kinds of greens, artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chili peppers, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, ginger root, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, onions, parsley, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, scallions, spinach, sprouts, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, watercress, yams, zucchini.

All whole grains, including but not limited to: whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, oats, barley, grits, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas, rice cakes and popcorn.

All nuts and seeds, including but not limited to: sunflower seeds, cashews, peanuts, sesame. Also, additive free nut butters including peanut butter, although I highly recommend avoiding peanut butter, unless it is freshly made, as it might be highly processed and roasted oils (as found in roasted nuts) are harmful to our health.

All legumes. These can be canned or dried. If canned, make sure not preservatives or sugars were used.

Legumes include, but are not limited to: dried beans, pinto beans, split peas, lentils, black eyed peas, kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans, white beans.

Beverages: spring water, distilled water or other pure waters.

Other: soy sauce, vinegar, seasonings, salt (sea or Himalayan salt preferred, see below for a detailed explanation), herbs and spices.

Salt
Table Salt is highly processed, and most of the times not vegan in nature, which means it has some sort of animal residue in it, due to processing. Oftentimes, to bleach salt it is processed through crushed animals bones. Not only that, but since it is highly processed it has NO nutritional value and is sure to raise your blood pressure.

As humans we need very little salt in our diet and we regularly consume way too much of it. This fast will be an opportunity for you to retrain your body to eat healthier… and to feel better! If you do decide to use salt, buy the kinds still have minerals in it, such as Sea or Himalayan salt.

 

Foods to Avoid on the Daniel Fast

All meat and animal products including but not limited to: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish.

All dairy products including but not limited to:milk, cheese, cream, butter, and eggs.

All sweeteners including but not limited to:sugar, raw sugar, honey, syrups, molasses, and cane juice.

All sweet baked goods.

All refined and processed food products including but not: limited to artificial flavorings, food additives, chemicals, white rice, white flour, and foods that contain artificial preservatives.

All deep fried foods including but not limited to:potato chips, French fries, corn chips.

All solid fats including shortening, margarine, lard and foods high in fat.

Beverages including but not limited to: coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, energy drinks, and alcohol.

Read the Labels
I would strongly suggest not using any packaged (boxed), canned or bottled foods during the fast. However, if you do, please remember to READ THE LABELS! Foods should be sugar and chemical free. Using boxed whole wheat pasta products, as long as they contain basic ingredients, should be just fine.

Medication & Supplements during the Fast
You should seek the advice of your health care practitioner about medications you might be taking. If you depend on them for any serious reason DO NOT discontinue them without first advising your doctor. Supplements are food for the most part and can be safely taken during Daniel Fast.

Special Note: if you have health issues, please be sure to contact your health professional for advice before committing to any fast. You can print out the list of foods you will be using on the Daniel Fast and take it with you.

Daniel Fast is very sound and safe and most practitioners will be more than happy to approve it. However, if in doubt, check it out!

 

A True Fast

In all things, I would like to remind you that being legalistic about these guidelines is not the best decision. After all, a true fast happens in the heart of the person fasting—it is much more important than the foods s/he eats. If you end up being stranded somewhere and cannot fulfill the fast guidelines you choose, you will have to eat what you can. Maintaining a heart of worship and humility is going to be what matters in the end. That is the fast that the Lord chooses.

Read Isaiah 58:6-9 (and the whole chapter) (NIV):

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

 

I hope to see you there, and I wish God’s blessings for you. May He answer your prayers and may you successfully subdue your flesh into a full submission to your spirit.

Blessings
As you start on your fast I pray God’s blessings for you. May He answer your prayers and may you successfully subdue your flesh into a full submission to your spirit. Remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) If He could do a miracle in our lives, He is sure capable to do it for you too, because “…with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

 

Step 1: Be Specific
Daniel was not vague in his objection to the Babylonian diet. He defined the problem immediately.

  1. The king’s food was against dietary laws.
  2. Daniel and his friends had vowed against wine.
  3. The king’s food had been offered up to idols/demons.

Step 2: Fast as a Spiritual Commitment
The Daniel Fast involves a spiritual commitment to God. “Daniel proposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Step 3: Reflect Inner Desire by Outer Discipline
Many people have an inner desire for better health, but they can’t discipline themselves to avoid junk food, and other foods that are not good for their health. The physical health you seek from God may be more than an answer to prayer. Your physical health can be linked to any of the following factors:

  1. Your food choices.
  2. The level of your spiritual commitment as reflected in constant prayer during the fast.
  3. Your time commitment. If you determine to fast for a certain time, keep it. For example, if you determine to fast 10 days, don’t stop on Day 9.
  4. Your testimony commitment. Your fast is a statement of faith to God that you want Him to heal your body, and faith is foundational to the Daniel Fast.

Step 4: Pray to Perceive Sin’s Role in Poor Health
Notice James 5:13-16:

  • Sin is something related to the cause of sickness.
  • Lack of health/healing may be the result of spiritual rebellion.
  • Lack of health/healing may be due to sin of wrong intake, i.e. drugs, pornography.
  • Repentance is linked to health according to James.
  • Elders have a role in healing both spiritual and physical health.
  • Sick people must desire to be well
  • The anointing oil could mean
    1. Medicine for healing,
    2. Symbolic of the Holy Spirit, or
    3. It could be baptism
  • Prayer alone may not gain healing, faith is the major factor.
  • In Greek there are several words for “sick”. James uses “Kanino”, which not only includes disease, but also means weak or weary.
  • Attitude is important. James said, “are there any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”

Step 5: Fast as a Statement of Faith to Others
Daniel was making a statement of faith when he asked for only vegetables to eat and water to drink, then dared the overseer to compare the appearance of the four sons of Israel with the young men who ate the king’s food.

Step 6: Learn the Effects of the Food You Eat
Why are some foods good for us, and other foods not? What does certain food do to your body? If we really knew, there would likely be some things we would never eat again.

Step 7: Yield All Results to God
Daniel said, “as you see fit, deal with your servants” (Dan. 1:13).

Daniel 1:12
“Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.”

Daniel 10:3 KJV
“I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.”

When going on a Daniel fast, or any type of fast, if you have questions outside of what Scripture says, prayerfully seek the Lord and be led by the Spirit for the specifics for your personal fast.

Be blessed,

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(Source: Jentezen Franklin, Vegelicious, Joel Osteen)

BIBLE STUDY: Verses to Read for Christmas

bible study

Verses to Read for Christmas

Let these verses guide you as you celebrate the birth of Jesus:

Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign : Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders ; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore . The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Luke 1:35

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Matthew 1:18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows : when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold, 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

Luke 2:1

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.  This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.  Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son ; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid ; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people ;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”  So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.  When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.  And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.  The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Praise the Lord!

Be blessed,

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MOTIVATE ME: Prince of Peace

Motivate Me

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isaiah 9:6

Many of us find it hard to read those words without hearing Handel’s Messiah in our mind. That magnificent music beautifully captures the glorious promise and rich truth of these ancient words.

Israel hoped for, longed for, waited for a messiah who would prove victorious over her military oppressors. Israel anticipated a messiah who would bring peace on earth.

God’s Messiah — Jesus, His Son — would prove victorious over a greater enemy: sin. God’s Messiah would also bring a much greater peace: reconciliation between God and man.

Christ can indeed bring peace to any situation.

The most difficult circumstance, the most ruthless enemy, the deepest pain — none of these is beyond Christ’s reach. He can calm your heart and mind. No one brings peace like Jesus.

What do you need from the Messiah right now? A counselor? A mighty God? A Prince of peace? The Messiah will be all those in your life and much more. He is God’s answer to every need in your life.

* * *

Scripture Readings 

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isaiah 9:6

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased! — Luke 2:14

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. — 2 Corinthians 9:15

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. — Matthew 2:10

Joy to the World!

by Isaac Watts

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing,

and heaven and nature sing,

And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,

And wonders, and wonders of His love.

Be blessed,Christ can bring peace to any situation

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(Source: Henry Blackaby)

MOTIVATE ME: Who Would Have Dreamed?

Motivate Me

Christmas is a feast of song, a celebration known even more for its singing than its speaking. Christians cannot merely say the story; we are compelled to sing it — not only with beloved old songs, but with a steady stream of new songs. Why? Because some truths are simply too wild for the heart to ride with prose, they require the harness of verse.

On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep.
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep.
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep.

And what a promise it was:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This promise, combined with others, foretells an event so awe-full, so wildly incredible, that the Spirit must help our feeble minds conceive it. YHWH will become flesh (John 1:14,John 8:58–59, Philippians 2:11); Creator will become creation. A woman shall give birth to a child so holy that all the fallen, futile world is a filthy stable in comparison. It is so scandalous that no first-century Jew would have dreamed it. It is so wonderful that no human would have composed it.

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world.

Who would have dreamed that Immanuel would so literally mean God with us (Isaiah 7:14) — that some would hear him with their ears, see him with their eyes, and touch him with their hands (1 John 1:1)?

Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long awaited Ruler, God’s Anointed One
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son

And what a prophecy it was:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6–7)

Who would have dreamed that when the prophet said, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14), God meant an unwed pregnancy? Who would have dreamed that the “Everlasting Father” would become a nursing infant, soil his swaddling cloths, and lie in a feeding trough? Who would have dreamed that the Messiah of Bethlehem would grow into an uneducated peasant tradesman from Galilee (John 7:15, 52)? Who would have dreamed that he would choose fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes as disciples over scribes and Pharisees?

Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

Who would have dreamed that when this long-expected Savior, God the Son, arrived he would be rejected by Jew and Gentile and crucified by them both? And who would have dreamed that this was God’s plan all along (Acts 4:28), that he had always intended to become himself the Passover Lamb who, in this single act of supreme love, would bear away the sins of all his people throughout all the world for all time (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26)? And who would have dreamed that after his brutal slaughter, he would rise again from the dead so that all who would believe in him would have eternal life (John 3:16)?

This story is not of merely human origin. There is nothing like it in any other human religion or mythology: the Incarnation for the sake of atoning substitution for the sake of our redemption. This stands alone in all of history, measurelessly glorious and fathomlessly mysterious. It makes us sing!

And the singing never stops. This modern Christmas hymn, Who Would Have Dreamed?, reminds us that not all the great Christmas verse was penned in centuries past. With theological richness, beautifully simple poetry, and skillful musical prosody it gives new voice to the timeless Story of all stories.

Each succeeding generation of the church is called to “repeat the sounding joy.” So, songwriters, help us sing the joy of Christmas! Like this hymn, give us new voice in profoundly fresh, skillful verse to harness the wild wonder of the arrival of the omnipotent Infant whose coming brought the advent of our eternal emancipation.

Who Would Have Dreamed?

 

 

Be blessed,

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(Source: Jon Bloom)

FAMILY: There’s No Christmas without the Cross

Family

“For there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity — the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT, second edition)

Christmas without the cross is irrelevant. If Jesus had just stayed a baby in a manger, you could stop reading this right now — it’s pointless. Without the cross, there’s no reason to spend an entire month getting ready for the celebration of his birth. There’s no reason to put up Christmas lights, play music, send cards, or buy gifts.

The whole world shuts down one day a year to celebrate a day that split history into A.D. and B.C. God came to Earth and invaded human history. And because he did, the world will never be the same.

But it wouldn’t have mattered a lick without the cross. God sent his Son as the Savior for the whole world so that all people can know him.

The Bible says, “For there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity — the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT, second edition).

In the Bible the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself is called the “Sacrificial Lamb.” The Bible uses this metaphor because lambs are harmless. They’re not predators. They’re innocent. Jesus didn’t hurt anyone, and he did not deserve to die. He was the Son of God, but God allowed him to be sacrificed for us — all of us.

God knows the pain of losing a child, because he sent his Son to die in your place. And he did that for every person who has ever walked the planet. No person is beyond the love and reach of God.

Not even you.

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God Bless,

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(Source: Rick Warren)

FAMILY: The First Noël

Family

[The wise men] went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9–11)

On the night Jesus was born, that First Noël, one star sang a song for the ages. In all of its brightness, it declared, “Glory in the Highest!” with the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. It was a long-awaited star proclaiming a long-awaited Messiah, a star of stars that announced the King of kings.

Matthew writes that wise men studied the skies and saw this star, a star that told them something profound had happened, something that would change the course of history. They came to Jerusalem, walked into the town in which Herod is king, and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Not, “where is the baby who will become the king one day?” No, a star told us that there is a baby King — a baby who is already King — and we are here to worship him.

No Way to Treat a King

And how do Herod and the Jews respond? With joy and excitement and gratitude? Remember these — the people of Jerusalem — are Jesus’s people. This is Israel, the ones to whom Jesus was promised, their King, their Savior.

But unlike the wise men, Herod was threatened by this baby King and didn’t want to worship the child. He wanted to kill the baby, and so he was willing to kill every young boy in Bethlehem to make sure that Jesus was dead. Jesus’s own people hear that the promised King has arrived to save them, and how do they respond? Over and over throughout the Gospels, we see that the Jews were troubled. They were filled with fear and pride and faithlessness. They try to stop Jesus.

Like so many of us today, the Jews were clinging to what they knew. They were content with the king they knew, the world they knew, the life they knew. They knew that if this child really was the Christ, everything had to change. They were terrified of what changes Jesus might bring or of what he might take away. Instead of running to the newborn King, exalting him, welcoming him into the world, they feared him and they rejected him.

The Brightness of His Rising

But in the very same moments with the very same news, the wise men responded very differently. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). The wise men were beside themselves with joy because of this star. These guys weren’t Jewish priests. They weren’t Jewish at all. They were men from the east. From the moment of his birth, the joy Jesus brings is a joy for the nations, for the whole world. It happened just like Isaiah predicted, “The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:2–3).

And by the light of that same star,
Three wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

The wise men were enamored with the star, the way we might be with the first snowfall of the year or a best friend’s engagement ring or a last second shot to beat our biggest rival. They couldn’t take their eyes off of it. Nothing would distract them or get in the way because they knew the Savior would come by that great light.

The Poor Child, the Promised King

They finally arrive at Bethlehem. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Wouldn’t you think they would be completely disappointed, confused, defeated? The star led them to a humble home with a humble family, who had given birth in a stable.

Yet the wise men are not fooled or caught off guard by the strange circumstances. No, they fall down and they worship the baby Jesus. Give us a poor child with modest accommodations and little fanfare. Just give us Jesus. We need our King.

They brought expensive gifts, but they knew nothing they brought would be enough. This wasn’t just a king; this was the King, the King of kings. And it had been given to them to see his star and to see him — the little baby — with their own eyes.

With His Blood, Mankind He Bought

Why did this baby King come? He came to save his people from their sins, and to bring them to God (Matthew 1:21–23). How do you respond to this Jesus? How do you respond to the baby wielding all power and authority before he’s even spoken a word, the baby whose birth stopped the stars? How do you respond to this unassuming answer to years of promise — little hands and ears and a nose in which infinite almighty God dwelt? Do you rejoice? Are you confused? Is it threatening? Maybe even offensive?

Make no mistake. If you follow this Star, your life will change. When we pursue Jesus and his light, he uncovers and confronts our sin, our selfishness, our resistance to him. But fear not! Through this King, by his death years later on the cross, we are saved from ourselves, and from death, into eternal life with him. Don’t miss the Star, and don’t fear its message. It brings the best news any of us has ever heard.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind has bought.

The First Noël

 

God Bless,

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(Source: Marshall Segal)

FAMILY: The Manger A Sign for the Suffering

Family

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt he was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses. It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying his precious Son who would reign over his people, and all the nations, forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

A Crude Feeding Trough

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away. With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed. The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom. All very typical. Very human.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

A Sign to the Shepherds

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation? As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds’ account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

God’s Ordained Mess

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground, and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along. She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

God’s Strange Confirmation

We all want that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger?

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where he can use us most.

God at Work in Our Deepest Pain

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

Let us join that multitude of heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).

The Manger

God Bless,

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(Source: Vaneetha Rendall)

MOTIVATE ME: Christmas Is About Your Eternity

Motivate Me“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12 NLT, second edition)

Turn on your television or surf the Web this Christmas, and you’ll discover all sorts of Christmas messages. But for the One who invented Christmas — God — there’s only one message that really matters.

God wants to share eternity with you.

That’s what Christmas is all about. You weren’t created just to live 80 or 90 years on Earth and then die. You’re far more valuable than that to God. God has some long-range plans for you. He made you to live forever.

One day your heart will stop. That’ll be the end of your heart, but it won’t be the end of you. You’ll last for eternity — trillions of years! And God wants you to be a part of his family.

He sent Jesus to Earth as a baby so one day he could die for your sins, and then you can spend forever with him.

That’s the great news of Christmas. This offer is available to anyone. The Bible says of Jesus, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NLT, second edition).

God wants to spend eternity with you, so he made the way to him simple: You believe, and you receive. You believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, and you receive him into your life. God sent his Son to Earth 2015 years ago to die for you. That’s God’s very first Christmas gift, sent to you thousands of years before you were even born.

Honestly, celebrating Christmas and not receiving the number one gift God has for you is dumb. Do that, and you’re missing the point entirely. Acts 10:35 says, “It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from — if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open” (MSG).

No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you’ve got a place in God’s forever family ready and waiting for you. The invitation is wide open. Just believe and receive.

Are you ready? What are you waiting for?

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Be blessed,

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(Source: Rick Warren)

BIBLE STUDY: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Learning from the Choirs of Heaven

bible study

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

When I was growing up, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley (revised by George Whitfield) was one of my favorite Christmas songs — but the point of the first line went completely over my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood lines like “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” and “Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings / Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die.” However, there was that lead archaic imperative that escaped me for years: Hark! (Listen!).

In a 2007 Christianity Today article, Gordon Giles notes,

In the Gospel account, the angels praise God, whereas in “Hark! the herald angels sing,” they are inaccurately described as praising Jesus. Furthermore, Luke does not say that the angels “sing,” and so it may well be that this reinterpretation by Whitfield has emphasized the popular but unscriptural picture of angels singing the Gloria.

While Giles is correct, we would do well to listen to and learn from the angels in Luke 2:10. Their praise and adoration towards God about the birth of Jesus is a model for what our attitude should be concerning the Christ Jesus. Why?

Angels didn’t need to be reconciled to God, but man does.

He Didn’t Come for the Sins of Angels

When God brought Jesus into heaven at his ascension, says Hebrews 1:6 (with 2:5), he declares (in the words of Deuteronomy 32:43), “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Angels and humans are different beings. The most notable thing we have in common is that God created us both, and we were perfect in the beginning. But the difference is significant. In particular, Hebrews 2:16 emphasizes that the coming of Jesus doesn’t help angels. The writer declares, “Surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” John Calvin explains why this glorious truth shouldn’t make us proud, but rather humble us:

By this comparison he enhances the benefit and the honor with which Christ has favored us, by putting on our flesh; for he never did so much for angels. As then it was necessary that there should be a remarkable remedy for man’s dreadful ruin, it was the design of the Son of God that there should be some incomparable pledge of his love towards us, which angels had not in common with us. That he preferred us to angels was not owing to our excellency, but to our misery.

There is therefore no reason for us to glory as though we were superior to angels, except that our heavenly Father has manifested toward us that ampler mercy which we needed, so that the angels themselves might from on high behold so great a bounty poured on the earth. (Commentary on Hebrews, 73–74)

The fact that Christ was “veiled in [human] flesh the Godhead see” speaks not to our worth, “but to our misery” and God’s great mercy. Angels sinned and they were immediately condemned and will be judged by us one day (1 Corinthians 6:3). We sinned and God graciously sends us Jesus so that “God and sinners [would be] reconciled.”

Peter declares that this gracious act of God in the gospel is so precious that the angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12). Unfallen angels understand experientially the righteousness and holiness of God, but they have no experience of what it’s like to have sinned and been forgiven. If they sin, they’re judged eternally, but God in the gospel is merciful to mankind. The angels recognize how precious and significant the gospel is. And instead of responding with envy or questions, they respond with curiosity and worship.

Listen and Learn

The angels demonstrate a reverence and admiration that we, in our fallen state, struggle to display and maintain. The gospel is good news for us, not angels; yet they rejoice and worship as if they were the ones experiencing this peculiar good of our merciful God. We would do well to listen and learn.

Christmas is often weighed down with diversions of gift giving, eggnog, and other festivities. But the fact that Jesus entered the world is bad news that ends with good news. He had to come because of our misery and mess, but he came as a merciful Messiah prepared to take on our sins.

During this final week of Advent (and after), let praise and adoration for Christ consume your thoughts. Worship the risen Savior, for “light and life to all he brings.” Listen to the angels worship and join them in this appropriate adoration.

Praise the Lord!

Be blessed,

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(Source: Philip Holmes)