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Emanuel, God with Us

As we get into the holiday season, we naturally reflect on the birth of Christ. The next two weeks will focus on Emanuel, God with us.

emanuel

Photo credit: Mike_tn (cc)

From my own “Harmony of the Gospels,” here is a narrative of the coming of Christ from John, Luke, and Matthew.

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:1-5

The Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

Joseph traveled to Bethlehem from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

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

Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Within a couple of years, some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod interviewed the wise men and they went on their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why did Jesus come in such a humble manner? Why was it necessary for the divine to come to earth?

Next week I will unfold some answers to these compelling questions…

In Need of an Advocate

While driving through a busy intersection in Khartoum, Sudan, my family and I were involved in a car accident. No one was hurt. Resolving the issue, however, was another matter.

advocate

Waiting for an advocate

After spending hours at the police station, the officers determined the other vehicle had right of way. I was considered guilty of causing the collision. They required me to wait in jail for a Sudanese citizen to come and advocate my case. As a foreigner, they wanted to insure I would remain in the country and pay the repairs.

Hospitality is an important part of the Sudanese culture, so I was allowed to sit at the counter instead of behind bars. I appreciated the kind gesture and waited for my advocate.

Jesus our advocate

John states you have an advocate in the person of Jesus Christ,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1

Without Jesus you stand condemned before the holy God, unable to give a righteous plea and gain freedom from your sins. Jesus acts as an Advocate and intercedes for you. He alone has the ability to free you from sin’s bondage and its consequences.

Your only hope is in Christ, the One seated at the right hand of the Judge of the whole earth, making intercession for you.

Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” Romans 8:34

A late release

Around 11 PM, my advocate arrived at the police station and made arrangements for my release. I was thrilled not being required to stay overnight.

Jesus has come that you may be free from the darkness of sin.

The challenge

Thank God for sending His Son Jesus to serve as your advocate. Live a life worthy of the price He paid on your behalf.

How do you live worthy of having Jesus as your advocate? Share your comments below.

Seize the Day

Each day is a gift

Nate, our kindergartner, and I walk to and from school every day. We pray about the day in the morning and he shares the best part of the day and the greatest challenge he faced on the way home. This helps him understand that each day is a gift worth remembering.

The Blessed Hope

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

second coming

Mt. of Olives in the background – where the second coming of Christ is predicted to occur.

Eternity on your mind

At one time the church liberally sang choruses referencing the second coming of Christ, such as “The King is Coming; Soon and Very Soon; and We Shall See the King.”

Carpe Diem

The result was a sense of urgency to make the most of every moment, knowing you either move people closer to heaven or hell by the way you live. Living with the imminent return of Christ creates an urgency to tell others about Him and seize each day for Jesus.

Always with the Lord

In the toils of life there is a longing for more of Him, a longing not fully actualized until He returns and the church is caught up to Him in the clouds. Eternity is your final rest, remaining forever in His presence. What a day that will be!

The return of the King

The Bible closes with Revelation 22:20-21,

‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Our blessed hope is the return of Jesus Christ.

A final act

These verses confess that answers to life’s problems do not rest in human ability. The answer comes in the return of Him who brings lasting peace.

Redemptive history remains incomplete until Christ returns.

The challenge

Make the most of each day, live expecting the return of Christ and do not miss a moment telling others about Him. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

How can you live each day with intentionality? Share your comments below.

An Encouraging Word

Hope in the Word

Throughout my life Scripture has encouraged and spoken to me. While living in Sudan I could identify with David crying out to God in the Psalms.

I cry out to the Lord; I plead for the Lord’s mercy. I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn.” (Psalm 142: 1-3)

Living and working in challenging locations has given me a greater understanding of his thoughts and feelings.

The Word

Photo credit: jimforest

Christ fulfills scripture

Paul in Romans 15:4 encourages believers to find hope in Scripture,

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

The 66 books of the Bible, one Author with 40 writers, spans 1500 years and includes history, poetry, and wisdom. The Book describes God’s dramatic interaction with people.

The Old Testament prophets point to events that would occur hundreds of years later:

  • Daniel 2 and 8 – the rise of Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire.
  • Zechariah 12:10-13:1 – a description of the crucifixion of Christ.
  • Isaiah 53 – the sufferings of Jesus.

Prophecies express the supernatural inspiration of the Bible. When people examine Scripture, taking into account the miraculous and historical elements, they discover an authenticity that points to one, perfect person – Jesus Christ.

The authenticity of scripture

Bruce Metzger wrote in Chapters In The History of New Testament Textual Criticism that the New Testament is 99.5% textually accurate. No other ancient manuscript has this kind of accuracy. Over 5400 New Testament manuscripts point to its authenticity.

Our hope is in Christ

Since Christ fulfills Scripture and promises eternal life to those who believe in Him, our confidence and hope rest in Him. As followers of Jesus hope is not in homes, jobs, friendships, or anything offered by this world. Hope is in Christ.

The challenge

Place your hope in the person of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of Scripture. He is the unchanging, everlasting promise you can hold onto.

In what ways have you struggled to put your hope in Jesus? Share your comments below.

The Meaning of Christmas

The city where Jesus was born

This is our first Christmas in Jerusalem, fifteen miles from the birthplace of Jesus. Many people visit Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, mostly to visit the Church of the Nativity and look at the “star-shaped” cave under the church altar where Jesus was possibly born.

Bethlehem

Photo credit: stevenconger@sbcglobal.net (Creative Commons)

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

The bread of life

Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread.” Jesus is “the Bread of life” and whoever receives Him will not be spiritually hungry (John 6:35). When abiding in Him you experience the greatest satisfaction in life.

The sacrificial lamb

Bethlehem in Arabic means “house of meat.” Jesus is, “the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (1 Pet 1:19). Isaiah states the Messiah “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7).

Cast out our sin

The Child born in the place of bread and meat is the sacrificial Lamb that provides spiritual sustenance. His birth in Bethlehem points to Calvary, making a way for you to have forgiveness and fulfillment.

Living Water

Jesus was born in a manger. Manger’s are thought to have been places to hold water for animals. They often grazed fields for food. Jesus, the living water (John 4:14) was laid in a place that likely kept water.

Light of the world

The birth of Jesus was announced by starlight (Matt 2:2). Wise men from the East came to worship him by following this light.

God with us

Jesus, the Bread of life, sacrificial Lamb, living water, and light of the world is Emmanuel, God with us.

The challenge

This Christmas season reflect on the Christ born in Bethlehem as the Bread of life, Lamb of God, Living Water, and Light of the World. Come worship Him and experience the Lord Emmanuel.

How has God made Himself known in your life? Share your comments below.

A Joyful World

Christ is coming again

My family and I love the various holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whether celebrated in Chicago, Missouri, Sudan, or Jerusalem, we love decorating, reflecting on the goodness of God and giving gifts, as modeled by the Father’s gift of the Son and the Magi bringing presents to Jesus.

joy

Photo credit: mmwm (Creative Commons)

Christmas music

We also love listening to Christmas music, especially songs bringing glory to God. The next few articles will give attention to some of the best known Christmas carols.

A Joyful World

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

Prepare Him room

God sending His Son is joyful, defeating the works of the devil and providing the way of salvation. Will the world receive the King this holiday season? Will every heart prepare Him room?

Psalm 98

Issac Watts wrote the song, based on Psalm 98. Verses 4-6 read:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”

His second coming

This song is sung to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem yet Watts wrote “Joy to the World” to celebrate His second coming, when He gives lasting peace.

A coming judgement

Psalm 98: 7-9 reads:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”

Will you be ready?

Jesus came two centuries ago to the shouts of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” He will come again for the church (His bride), and will rightfully and fairly judge the world.

The challenge

Prepare room for Jesus this Christmas. Allow the Greatest King to joyfully enthrone your heart. Experience the divine peace lacking in the world, coming from the Ruler of peace.

How do you express joy during the holiday season? Share your comments below.

If God Wills

Planning for an unpromised future

Where we live people have an “Inshallah” mentality. The word means, “If God wills!” The belief has several different effects on life. One relates to making future plans.

future food

Buy only what you need for the day

We recently picked up a prescription from the pharmacy. The medicine is to be taken for several months. Shellie asked the pharmacist to fill the prescription and was only given a two weeks supply. She was informed to come back in two weeks for more, not because the medicine was not in stock, but rather no one knows if it will still be needed by then.

What about tomorrow?

Where we live people do not assume tomorrow is guaranteed. They usually buy the groceries for a day and buy medicine needed at that moment. They rarely make preparations for the future.

What does Jesus think?

Luke records a parable where Jesus talks about making plans.

Luke 12:16-21

“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Rich with God

The parable does not infer you should not plan, but does say what should get top priority – a rich relationship with God. When making plans, be sensitive to God and His will.

God’s desire

You are an eternal being meant to have a relationship with the living God. Busily pursuing wealth and menial things robs you of eternal living.

The challenge

Live your life focused on eternity. Place God in the center of your plans. Experience true riches!

In what ways are you living for eternity? Share your comments below.

The Power of Prayer

Godly intervention in a time of need

On October 10th, a little after noon, Shellie and I welcomed our third child into the world, Lucas Ryder. A smaller bundle than the other two (weighing in at 6 lbs, 14 ounces), he is a wonderful addition to the family.

prayer for Lucas

Good son of Jerusalem

Shortly after Lucas made himself known I was following he and a nurse to the nursery where he would get more fully examined. While we were headed to the nursery, the Israeli nurse congratulated me for having a “good son of Jerusalem”. In transliterated Hebrew, “waled tov Yerusalem”.

When it rains, it pours

After we had been home a few days, we noticed that Lucas was more jaundice and that he didn’t seem to be gaining weight. Shellie also began to have some difficulties after picking up a stomach virus in the hospital. Nate came home sick from school with a fever and runny nose and our daughter, Haley, was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection.

Calling all saints

Shellie and I posted Facebook messages and I emailed some friends and family and asked them to pray. Within a day of that message going out, Nate and Haley seemed to be healthy, Lucas started gaining weight and losing his yellow color, and Shellie’s and I’s spirits were lifted.

Psalm 118:25

Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!”

We are grateful to serve a God who answers prayer. We are thankful for a worldwide body of believers who are willing to pray on our behalf. We are blessed to be a part of the kingdom of God.

Psalm 118:28-29

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

The challenge

If you are in need of God, seek Him in prayer. Ask others to pray with you. When you have received an answer to your prayer, give God thanks for His steadfast love.

How has God shared His love with you lately? Share your comments below.

To Live is Christ

Living as though you don’t have tomorrow

Cross of Christ

Our work overseas limits our ability to form concrete relationships. We make friends fast and have deep conversations. We never know when we will see each other again.

Some people quickly make an impression on you when you meet them. This summer I met such a man, Stan, a man that loves his wife, his family and his work.

Sad news

I received a message from Stan. He stated he has Stage 4 cancer. Even with chemotherapy, he only has a few months to live.

I do not know what to think about the email. I hope to catch up with him and his family, but am not sure that will be possible.

I wept for his family, prayed for healing and struggled with what this meant for his work.

Living with conviction

Paul wrote in Phillipians 1:21-24,

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

God’s gain is our loss

I know God will be pleased when Stan is in His presence. I know Stan will be blessed being in the presence of the Lord. We, however, will experience a sense of loss.

Stan has dedicated his life to and lives for Jesus. He loves his wife, his two kids, and the work God has given him.

How to pray

The email is asking for prayer. He wants wisdom about doing chemotherapy. If the treatment will add some months to tell others about Jesus, he wants strength. If it will take away his ability to work for God, he would rather skip the treatment.

How can someone make that kind of request?

When you spend time in the presence of Jesus, singing songs of praise, meditating on Scripture, and talking with Him, you gain a desire to serve Him and spend eternity with Him.

Stan has no regrets. His life has been well-lived. His prayer request aligns with a desire to have his remaining days filled with opportunities for Jesus.

The challenge

Live in such a way to bring glory to God. Pursue Him and tell others about Him. Fulfill the words of Paul, “Living for Christ.” Live in a way that makes your life a testimony of Jesus.

Comment, if you would like, but my preference is for you to take a moment and pray for Stan. Pray God will give him wisdom and peace in the coming months.

Doctors, Diabetes, and Demonstrations

The challenge of living overseas

Photo credit: Razan Ghazzawi (Creative Commons)

Photo credit: Razan Ghazzawi (Creative Commons)

My wife and I are about to have our third child, Lucas. Our other two children were born in the U.S. so it has been interesting to figure out the process here. One of the challenges of living here is that Shellie has not been able to do as much exercise through her pregnancy which has led to her developing gestational diabetes.

To help monitor the diabetes it has been necessary to have regular doctor visits.

A late doctor

Though we live in Jerusalem the doctor works out of Bethlehem, about a 40-minute drive. The doctor was not at the office when we came for our last visit. The nurse called and he arrived about 45-minutes later. He was surprised we had come. The community was planning a demonstration at 4:00 PM to show their disdain for the rising costs of gas and groceries. We were unaware of the protest and hastily finished the visit. We wanted to leave before the protest began.

The sugar level was not as we had hoped. The doctor suggested that Shellie spend the night in the hospital. This was not an option considering we had left our five-year-old son at a birthday party in Jerusalem.

Let the demonstrations begin

As we left the hospital there was shouting in the streets. We pulled out of the parking area and saw crowds of men blocking the way back to Jerusalem.

A country not your own

Abraham is the first recorded Biblical figure directed by God to live in a different country. “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you…I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others’” (Gen 12:1,2).

God designed Abraham to be a blessing to the world. This required leaving his father’s household and establishing himself in another land. He obeyed God and was blessed. In turn he became a blessing.

There’s always another way

We could not return to Jerusalem along the same road. We thought there must be another way. Making a few quick turns down unblocked roads we found ourselves heading back to Jerusalem within 30 minutes.

Blessed to be a blessing

Shellie and I live with the conviction we are blessed to be a blessing to the nations. We face some interesting scenarios living in a different country. That’s okay! God is greater than the challenges life offers. He is greater than late doctors, diabetes, and demonstrations.

The challenge

Bless others as you go through your day. Trust God through the challenges. Sometimes a different way is possible.

Has God brought you through challenging moments in unique ways? Share your comments below.