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Post  Admin on Tue 28 Dec 2010, 5:07 pm

28th December
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:1-3—Are we beginning to commend ourselves
again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to
you or from you, do we? You yourselves are out letter, written on our
hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter
of Christ, prepared by us written not with ink but with the Spirit of
the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Reflection: Your inner character is like a letter. On your heart the
Holy Spirit of God writes the will of God and it can be seen by the
neighbors in the lifestyle characteristics of your life. And the best
letter is not one you have written yourself, but one written by someone
who knows you well and can attest to your genuineness. If Paul wins
someone to Christ, that person is a letter about Paul's life and
work.
Paul sees himself as the scribe—he handles the paper and pen—but
the actual writing of the message (the practical changes that happen)
are produced by the Spirit. Paul just sees himself as the one who is
used by God for God's communication. Mother Theresa one time said,
"I am only a pencil in the hand of God." This is something like
what Paul is saying. What do people read when they look at the letter of
your life? Is it the letter you alone have written telling people how
great you are and of your successes—or is it the imprint of the
Spirit of God at work on your blank manuscript?
Prayer Starter: Father, write on our hearts every word of your truth;
every divine and noble emotion; ever desire for your name to be
glorified, your kingdom to come, and your will to be done. We praise you
for producing in us such witness to yourself for others to see. Amen.
<><
27th Dec
Scripture: Joshua 20:1-6--"Appoint the cities of refuge…so that
anyone who kills a person without intent or by mistake may flee there;
they shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. The slayer
shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the
gate of the city, and explain the case to the elders of that city; then
the fugitive shall be taken into the city, and given a place, and shall
remain with them. And if the avenger of blood is in pursuit, they shall
not give up the slayer, because the neighbor was killed by
mistake…The slayer shall remain in that city until there is a trial
before the congregation, until the death of the one who is high priest
at the time; then the slayer may return home, to the town in which the
deed was done."
Reflection: Our laws reflect ancient principles. Joshua was told to get
the Israelites to appoint six cities where one who had accidentally
killed a person could flee for safety until a trial and proper
disposition of the case could be made—think "protective
custody." A near relative usually was sent by the family to take
revenge on the killer—this was standard. The slayer met with the
elders of the city in the gate—this was where the elders hung out
and where much business and negotiation was done. When the high priest
died, there was no continuation— think "statute of
limitation." There would be a trial before the elders and other
important leaders of the city—think "trial by one's
peers"—when the case was over, it was settled and the avenger had
no right to keep pursuing the slayer—the slayer was vindicated and
could reenter normal society as a free man. The principles modern
countries have followed are here. Not every killing is murder—we
have several designations with punishments to match. This is found in
ancient times. We prevent mob justice and revenge by wronged
individuals. It all started long ago in the Law of Moses and the
Judaeo-Christian heritage. Our modern society is not self-invented; it
acknowledges its great debt to God who told Israel how justice is done.
Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for the foundations of justice and
fairness. They have come from your revelation in the wilderness and
shine clearly against the background of the secular and pagan worlds of
revenge, unfair and unjust punishments. Amen.
<><
26th Dec
Scripture: Deuteronomy 19:14—You must not move your neighbor's
boundary marker, set up by former generations on the property that will
be allotted to you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to
possess.
Reflection: The Deuteronomistic law recalled the days of Moses and the
scenes of wandering in the wilderness—its purpose was to clarify and
expand the covenant law, applying it to later circumstances when the
Israelites would be a settled agricultural people instead of a nomadic
sheep-herding folk living in tents. But the earlier revelations of
God's will were not rescinded—the same principles during the
Exodus would remain with Israel for all its national existence. One such
principle resulted in commands to respect the property rights of others.
It was necessary to be explicit. There is continually present in
humanity's fallen nature the abuse of possessions—especial ly the
way many treat property that is not theirs. You can see this tendency in
small children—the arguments over whose toy this is ("Mine"
the child screams)—or at a later age having no conscience over
damaging something if it belongs to someone else. How many cases are
brought to court to settle questions of easements, boundaries, titles
and contracts dealing with property? What is theft except the abuse of
property rights? What about stolen identities? What about ripping off
someone you have the advantage of—who is behind on his
payment—who has something worth far more than he will realize from
it at your hands? Business is not exempt from God's laws—honesty
and openness are good for business—more importantly, they are
essential for your relationship with God.
Prayer Starter: Father help me to be honest with every person whose life
I touch—to respect what is not mine, to guard what I am entrusted
with, and to listen to you above all else. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Fri 24 Dec 2010, 5:06 pm

25TH December
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Colossians 1:15-18—He is the
image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him
all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all
things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before
all things, and in him all thing hold together. He is the head of the
body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so
that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the
fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to
reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making
peace through the blood of his cross.
Reflection: It's Christmas Day, 2010. When I was only 4 or 5 this
was the day we got up early in great anticipation to see what Santa had
left under the Christmas tree. When I was a teenager we enjoyed the
family celebration, the talking, the holiday from school. When I was of
middle age it was a time to surprise the kids with gifts.
Now my perspective has changed—every meaning has been re-invented. I
reflect on the coming of the great revelation 2000 years ago —the
Incarnation of the God-Man—the coming of the Messiah—the Christ.
We still give gifts but without forgetting that Jesus is the greatest
gift ever given. We still enjoy family—but without forgetting that
family is not just relatives and in-laws, but brothers and sisters in
faith who share in the family of God. We still watch ball games, but
like the game that ends after four quarters we see this world as
approaching its end point and the great sorting out of victories or
defeats for the home team—and there won't be a rematch next
year—this one is for eternity itself. We still eat—but not
forgetting that perhaps 3 billion humans are going to bed tonight with
no supper. We still talk with each other but without forgetting that
nearly half the people in the world cannot speak freely without being in
danger of punishment, persecution or death.
Prayer Starter: Father, accept our thanks for what you have done in
Jesus the Messiah. Amen.
<><
24th December
Christmas Series, 2010: Scripture: Philippians 2:5-8—Let the same
mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form
of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human
likeness.
Reflection: Jesus did not come into being when he was born of the
Virgin Mary in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. He is the eternal, divine
Son of the Father—with God always—and with the Father and the
Holy Spirit comprising that Triune God whom Christians serve. But his
birth in a manger is something special—never heard of before, never
to be repeated again. Tomorrow is the day that many Christians celebrate
the birth of Jesus—the symbol on display for all of history and
every nation to celebrate. There have been other days celebrated for
Jesus' birthday—we do not know the actual date—but it makes
no difference. My notion is that it is the second greatest day the world
will ever know. I nominate as first greatest the day when Jesus returns
and "every tongue…confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the
glory of God the Father." (Phil 2:11)
I realize you're busy this time of year. Gift giving, being with
family, watching a ballgame, stuffing yourself with delicious food are
all important—I like these things too. But not everything is of
equal importance in life's priority list. Christmas decorations are
not a zero, but they are not equal to taking the Incarnation with sober
seriousness. Don't let another Christmas slip by without just
sitting still and for a few minutes thinking about the Savior's
birth and the theological implications involved. From all eternity, the
Son has taken you and your needs seriously—so seriously he died for
you. Is it too much to ask that you and your family take him seriously
at least once a year?
Prayer Starter: Glory be to the Father who sent the Messiah, the Holy
Spirit who generated his conception, and the Son who was born in a
manger for the benefit of us all. Amen.
<><
23rd Dec
Christmas Series, 2010: Scripture: John 1:14, 18—And the Word became
flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a
father's only son, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen
God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who
has made him known.,
Reflection: I am always intrigued by the word "glory." It meant
from earliest days what has weight and is important—then what one
could see—at first the majesty of kings, the brightness of fire, and
the holiness of God. But it gradually became a God-word and was only
used to speak of the majesty of God. Since God is invisible spirit, the
word "glory" came to mean "what you can see of the invisible
God." What I can see of the love of God—I see it in Jesus. What
we observe of the holiness and moral nature of God—we see in Jesus.
Jesus is the great revelation of God—and the Incarnation brought
this revelation into human terms: human language, human example and
human experience.
Jesus lived among us—literally he "pitched his tent" among
us. Remember that in the days of Moses it was in the tent in the
wilderness that God would meet with Moses to talk "face to
face"—it was in the tent that God and man met and man was changed
(remember the bright face of Moses?). It is in Jesus that the divine
nature has encountered the human and God has taken the form of a slave
(doulos) and been born in human likeness. This is never to be undone,
only consummated in eternity. The Incarnation forever unites immortality
and mortal nature, holiness with forgiven humanity, power with weakness,
desperation with hope, and the finite with the infinite. This is what we
celebrate at Christmas—it' s bigger than family, gifts,
greetings, cards, decorated trees, cake or snowmen.
Prayer Starter: Our Father, we praise you with all that lies within us
for your coming to this earth in the Incarnation in Jesus. Thank you for
your love and your gift. In Jesus name, amen.
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Post  Admin on Thu 23 Dec 2010, 10:42 am

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15—Now after they
had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain
there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to
destroy him. Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was
to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
"Out of Egypt I have called my son." (See Hosea 11:1)

Reflection: The story of Jesus intertwines with the story of gross evil.
But God will not be thwarted. He warns Joseph that Herod is looking to
kill the child. Humble and obedient Joseph does not hesitate or doubt
the angel's message. The implication is that he got them out of bed
and left immediately. And it was probably a close call at that—we
don't know how long it was after the wise men left Bethlehem until
Herod became aware they were not returning to Jerusalem—he had spies
everywhere and it could not have been very long. I can envision Herod
shouting commands to his military officers to get the troops down to
Bethlehem to murder babies. Herod's fortress was only an hour or two
away by horse—but whatever the actual situation; there was no time
for Joseph and Mary to lose. Egypt lay several days to the
south—they may have traveled the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) through
sandy coastal land beside the Mediterranean. They traveled by
night—a dangerous thing in itself. Hosea had commented about Israel
being called out of Egypt but Matthew adopts the saying to the present
situation of Jesus. He parallels Jesus' life with that of the nation
in many points—wilderness, out of Egypt, revelation on a mountain,
deliverance—all themes common to both Jesus and his ancient
predecessor Moses.

Prayer Starter: Father the story of Jesus' coming and the inevitable
opposition of Satan's powers in the form of Herod give us strong
assurance that this is real and true—and that you will be victorious
in the total scheme of things. Amen.

<>< <>< <><
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Matthew 2:16-18—When Herod saw
that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent
and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years
old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise
men… a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because
they are no more."

Reflection: One's true inner character is invariably revealed by
one's deeds. Herod, who had lied to the wise men about wanting to
honor Jesus, is soon seen for who he really was. In jealousy, anger, and
blind rage he sent soldiers to ill innocent children in Bethlehem. So
much for Herod's fake piety before the strangers from the east! The
bit of poetry Matthew quotes is from Jeremiah 31:15. It is a poignant
remembrance of the wife of Jacob who had died centuries before while
giving childbirth very near Bethlehem. Perhaps Jeremiah is speaking more
immediately about the capture, slaughter and deportation of Israelites
in the sixth century BC—but the images of loss, grief, and evil
intruding on the righteous were very much alive in the experiences of
the ancient Jews. The coming of Jesus resurrected these traditional
memories and caused deep and moving reflections among the faithful.
While we celebrate Christmas as a time of joy, we too need to remember
the conflict between God's righteousness and the world of
sin—it's a perennial battle and into this battlefield Jesus was
born. Long before Jesus was able to care for himself or handle the
duties of manhood, evil attacked him to kill him and block the purposes
of God.

Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for protecting the infant of your
Incarnation from the ravages of a man controlled by evil—providing a
contrast that still resonates as we read the story. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Wed 22 Dec 2010, 4:21 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 2:36-38—There was also a
prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of
a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her
marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the
temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At
that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the
child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Reflection: I am suspecting that heaven will be the home of some of the
greatest people of faith ever seen on earth—and that many of these
will be women—that category so often not mentioned, recognized or
honored. Matthew specifically points to one of these faithful servants
of God—Anna, the prophet—a lady of great age and great faith
among the Jewish family of God in Jerusalem. The temple complex in
Jerusalem was huge and beautiful; bustling with people of all kinds; and
the home to some saintly widows like Anna. The image that comes to my
mind is that of the sisters attached to one of the great cathedrals of
Europe, or Mother Theresa ministering to the dying in Calcutta, or one
of the missionaries working with HIV infected people in the hospital at
Migori in Kenya, East Africa. Such as these feed the hungry, administer
medicines and hope to those who have no one to turn to, teach people to
read and write, pray with the sick and dying, touch the lepers and
praise God day and night. Most of them are not famous or mentioned in
scripture or even in the newspapers—but such are to be found among
those who faithfully awaited the coming of the Messiah and formed the
nucleus of the Church.
Prayer Starter: Father, we honor before you those saints who have given
their lives in serving you—for they preach greater sermons by their
actions than the rest of us have ever done by our words. Thank you for
Matthew's story of Anna the prophet—the woman who greeted the
holy family and announced the coming redemption to Jerusalem. Amen.

<>< <>< <><
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Matthew 2:7-12—Then
Herod…learned from them the exact time when the star had
appeared…sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search
diligently for the child…bring me word so that I may also go and pay
him homage." …they set out and there ahead of them went the star
that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where
the child was…they were overwhelmed with joy…they saw the child
with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then
opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold,
frankincense and myrrh…
Reflection: Luke mostly focuses on the pure and holy recipients of the
news about Jesus—but Matthew keeps his audience conscious that evil
was astir at the Incarnation. Jesus is presented as the great king on
David's throne—but Herod the Great, the vassal king of Judea is
the counterbalance representing earthly hatred, jealousy, self-serving,
cruelty and vileness. Matthew saw the opposition that would characterize
the coming of Jesus. Herod was Matthew's prototype. What a liar
Herod was!—what sarcasm and mockery when he tells the wise men he
wants to honor Jesus! The wise men (Magi) travelled many days to come to
Jerusalem. They were honest seekers—but in their ignorance asked
directions from the devil's assistant himself. Why is their story
included by Matthew? Reflect on the symbolic nature of the story—the
world of magic, astrology, oriental and pagan cults—bowing down
before the Son of God—it's more than a mere Christmas story.
Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for the insights into the significance
of the Incarnation that you have given us through Matthew and Luke, your
servant-scribes. Keep us from getting lost in the details of history and
overlooking the theology of Incarnation you have revealed. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Mon 20 Dec 2010, 5:13 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 2:33-35--And the child's
father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then
Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is
destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a
sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be
revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Reflection: Simeon pronounced a blessing on the holy family in
accordance to the traditions of the temple at the dedication of a
newborn—it was customary and usual to do so. What was not usual was
Simeon's prophetic oracle about the child. He will be what no child
had ever been—a pivot point for eternity. Some will accept him and
some reject him—and we know from reading the gospel story how that
played out. It is still so in our time. There's something about
encountering Jesus that strips the heart of its pretending, its excuse
making and its claim of innocence. There is no possibility that
God's Son will make no difference in our lives. Each of us must make
a choice concerning how we will deal with this savior. Beyond earthly
life, eternity will bring us face to face with ultimate reality and no
one is exempt or excused. Simeon had a small side message for
Mary—this was going to be for her the most painful thing she would
ever experience—like being stabbed by a sword. Scripture modestly
mentions, "But all his acquaintances, including the women who had
followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these
things." (Lk 23:49) John is more direct—he writes
"Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his
mother's sister…" (Jn 19:25). All this had been revealed 30
years earlier by the old man in the temple.
Prayer Starter: Father for the little baby in the manger that has
captured the imagination of the world we give you thanks—but even
more for the savior who died on a cross to gain for us the atonement and
forgiveness you have had planned since before the beginning of time
itself. Amen.

<>< <>< <><
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 2:27-32—Guided by the
Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the
child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took
him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are
dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes
have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all
peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your
people Israel."
Reflection: The story of Jesus has a world-wide theme and relevance.
Jesus is the Messiah come to Israel—but time after time we get clues
that God is doing something greater than just blessing the Jewish
nation. This little story about Simeon illustrates that Jesus is for all
nations, races and times.
Simeon in praising God did so because God was doing something "in
the presence of all peoples." He comments that this is a "light
for revelation to the Gentiles" as well as glory for Israel. The
Gentiles were the non-Jewish nations who were not descended physically
from Abraham. God called the Jews to be the people of God—a nation
he could use to bring Jesus into the world, but from the beginning, God
had in mind a world-wide blessing to come about through this
Incarnation. Jesus was born among the Jews but his coming was to be a
"light" to all nations. There is nothing narrow and restricted
about God's Incarnational activity. When God called Abraham into his
service he promised him, "I will bless those who bless you, and the
one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the
earth shall be blessed" (Gn 12:3). The blessing of all the earth
finally came some 2000 years later and was seen by an old man in the
temple in Jerusalem.
Prayer Starter: Father, we are grateful that you sent Jesus to be the
glory of Israel—but also that your purpose in his coming was to
bless the whole world and provide for the salvation of all who come to
you through faith in him. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Sun 19 Dec 2010, 3:52 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 2:25-26—Now there was a man in
Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout,
looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested
on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not
see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.
Reflection: Each Christmas, I am intrigued by the old man in the
temple. Some of this may come from my own getting older—perhaps
I've reached the age Simeon was that year. He was waiting for the
"consolation of Israel." There was coming to Israel a
consolation! (The word "parakalein" used by the Greek OT—it
is related to "paraclete" a title for the Holy Spirit (Jn
14:26). Isaiah had written, "Console, console my people," says
your God; "speak, priests to the heart of Jerusalem, for her time of
humiliation has been filled out." (40:1) "…as one whom a mother
consoles, so also I shall console you; and you will be consoled in
Jerusalem" (66:12-13). For years it had looked like God had
forgotten Israel—no prophets, loss of political sovereignty,
captivity, no king—they had been crushed, beaten, enslaved, and
removed from their homes. Was there no comfort, no presence of God, no
one to stand beside them, no encouragement? But God's promises are
not in vain. In Jesus, Israel's glorious future would shine as the
God-Man begins his work. The yearning of Simeon's own heart—the
earnest desire to see God take action on earth—this was to be
allowed him before his days were over. The Holy Spirit revealed to him
that this would happen and on the day that Joseph and family came to the
temple, the Holy Spirit arranged for Simeon to be there also. He might
have been a priest in the temple—at any rate it was his voice that
spoke "to the heart of Jerusalem."
Prayer Starter: Father, In Jesus we too find peace, reconciliation and
consolation. Thank you for the bright future his coming laid out for
those Jews who experienced him first-hand and for all of us whjo have
comre afterward and been saved by faith in Jesus. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Thu 16 Dec 2010, 1:03 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 2:22-24—When the time came for
their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to
Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the
Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the
Lord,") and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in
the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young
pigeons."

Reflection: In Jewish faith, the first and the best always belong to
God. In sacrifices, the offered sacrificial animal had to be without
blemish—not crippled or in some way damaged. In crops the
"first-fruits" were offered—that is the first of each
harvest was offered to God along with prayers and sacrifices. This idea
was extended to include people as well. Remember Hannah who prayed for a
son and said if God gave her a son she would (1 Sam 1:11) dedicate him
to the LORD?

Holy means set apart for a special purpose, reserved, special,
different. Never was there a more holy purpose than the dedication to
God of this first-born son; for this was indeed God's own son. He
was that special first-born that Mary had given birth to according to
the Messianic expectation of Israel and the specific promises of the
angel to Joseph and to Mary. Jesus was taken as a tiny baby to the
temple in Jerusalem (5 miles away) and given into the hands of the
priests who conducted the ceremonies. We don't know the exact
rituals involved, but prayers of thanksgiving and dedication almost
certainly were involved. Then a sacrifice on the child's behalf was
offered by the parents—in this case two pigeons—especially
allowed to poor families who could not afford more.

Prayer Starter: Father, just as Jesus was completely yours, let each of
us offer ourselves and our children to you alone—for your glory and
our salvation. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Thu 16 Dec 2010, 2:43 am

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 2:21After eight days had
passed it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the
name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Reflection: Jesus was born to the Jewish race and the Jewish faith. His
family were devoted practitioners of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacobworshippers of Yahweh and keepers of the traditions of Moses.
Small note: the circumcision and the naming occurred 8 days after the
birththis was the Jewish way of counting one week. Many of us would
say "seven days" because we do not count the day in which we are
speakingif this is Monday and I spoke of Tuesday, I would say
"1 day from now"but in the Jewish way of speaking this would
be two days because they count today as one day and tomorrow as a second
day.

Circumcision of every male was the sign of the covenant God had made
with Abraham some 2000 years earlier. God had promised that through
Abraham's lineage the whole world would be blessed and his
descendents would become a great nation. Jesus, the Messiah sent from
God, was the blessing promised to the covenant people. He was not only
everything that the ancient faith was expecting; it was through him that
the promise expanded to include all the people on planet earth. This was
no accidental happeningGod intended it all alongbut he started
with the core of Jewish faith. The naming of a baby was connected with
this circumcision the latter being a commitment to God for life.
Jesus' family remembered the angel's words and gave him the name
God had selected.

Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for the name of Jesus which captures
the truth that it is you who saves us through the sending of your son
into this world. Teach us to respect and hallow that name in all the
earthjust as it is in heaven. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Tue 14 Dec 2010, 5:32 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 2:15-20—When the angels had
left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
"Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and
found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw
this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all
who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary
treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds
returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.
Reflection: In my imagination, I picture these shepherds in old age.
Some thirty years older, I wonder if one or two of these shepherds (now
middle aged or beyond) were still around Jerusalem as the pompous
priestly managers of the Temple engineered the death of Jesus on the
cross just outside the city wall. If so, did they realize that this was
the same baby they had seen in the manger that dark night in Bethlehem?
Do you suppose any of them had become followers of Jesus? It is probable
but not certain that Luke had talked with Mary the mother of Jesus in
researching his gospel story. Had she informed him of the shepherds'
visit—their story and their faith? The gospel accounts do not
attempt to answer all our questions. They are almost footnotes in the
story of the Incarnation and they leave more unsaid than they say. But
it is within the context of yearning for more and more acquaintance with
Jesus that they have been studied in detail by every generation. Through
Luke we are touched by the memories of Mary—through Mary the minor
incident of the shepherd visit—through the shepherds a dim view of
the excitement of the birthday of Jesus. This feeds our faith and for
that we are thankful.
Prayer Starter: Father, show us how you brought the Messiah into this
world. Open to us the minds of Mary, Joseph, Angels and Shepherds—as
they grew excited over what had happened. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Tue 14 Dec 2010, 12:14 am

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 1:4-7—Joseph also went from
the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called
Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was
expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to
deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped
him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no
place for them in the inn.
Reflection: It is Luke the researcher who has given us so much
background and detail about the births of Jesus and John. In the first
paragraph of his gospel account he has mentioned that he had
investigated everything carefully from the very first so he could write
an orderly account to Theophilus (Lk 1:1-4). We can suppose that Luke
had talked with many people who remembered personally those
days—Mary, Joseph, perhaps shepherds, wise men, and innkeepers. Luke
wasn't around Jesus during his ministry—but he had taken the
time to check for himself with those earlier people who had been
eye-witnesses. The trip to Bethlehem was occasioned by a registration
requirement of the Romans. No historical reference besides this one has
been found referring to the event. Bethlehem was known as David's
City for centuries. It was where in OT times King David was born and
worked as a shepherd in the hills around. A manger was a feed trough for
cattle—and that was where Jesus was born because (as Luke points
out) the inn was full and there was no space for mothers about to give
birth. But God will not be defeated. Inn or not, at home or travelling,
rich or poor—the Messiah was to be born at that time and place.
Don't you get the impression that the whole drama was in the hands
of God and that the background details are not the focus at all?
<><
Christmas series, 2010: Luke 2:8-14—In that region there were
shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
"Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great
joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a
Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you
will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on
earth peace among those whom he favors."
Reflection: Shepherds were generally considered (by the upper classes)
to be ignorant, uncultured, and needing a bath. They were listed by the
Pharisees as undesirables and unclean—not fit for social
interaction. It is true they were common, uneducated and
uncultured—but it is to these who had nothing to brag about—no
money or any of the other things people seek—that the angels
appeared. From the first, Jesus came to ordinary people—not to kings
and scholars and religious people. It was in such earthy people that the
real meaning of faith resided and it was to this kind of person that God
revealed what he was doing for the benefit of all humans. And it was a
marvelous message—received with celebration and enthusiasm. The
humble Messiah born in the humble manger to humble peasant
parents—was revealed by angels to humble shepherds.
Prayer Starter: Father your incarnation was marvelous—and completely
beyond anything we could have imagined. Truly your ways are above our
human ways and your thoughts higher than ours. Work in each of us to
make us humble and receptive that we may not be blinded by pride,
wealth, position or fame—so that we may see the Savior from your
perspective. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Sun 12 Dec 2010, 12:57 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 1:76, 80—And you, child,
will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the
Lord to prepare his ways….The child grew and became strong in
spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly
to Israel.
Reflection: A giant character in the time of Jesus was John the
Baptist. Like Jesus, his birth was special and announced by an
angel—not a virgin birth, but God's hand was in it. Elizabeth
had for years been unable to bear a child. In the announcement to Mary,
the angel had told her about this special event to her relatives
(Zechariah and Elizabeth) and she went quickly to Judea to their house
where she stayed some three months before returning home (Lk 1:56) John
was apparently to be raised as a Nazirite—at least he was forbidden
wine or "strong drink," and the angel who appeared to Zechariah
said that "even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy
Spirit" (Lk 1:15). He would be great before God and "turn the
hearts of parents to their children, and hearts of the disobedient to
the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the
Lord" (Lk 1:15-17). John's role was to get the people ready to
receive the Messiah. No prophet had been heard in Israel for many years,
so when he appeared the people heard him with great excitement. Israel
had been expecting such a forerunner ever since the OT prophet Malachi
had written, "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the
great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of
parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents,
so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse." (Mal
4:5-6) Matthew commented "This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah
spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness;
Prepare the way of the Lord."
Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for the forerunner—the man some
people called Elijah but whom the people along the Jordan knew as John
the Baptist. In Jesus' name, Amen.
<>< <>< <><

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Luke 1:46, 67—And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my
Savior"….Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit
and spoke this prophecy: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he
has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them."
Reflection: Two great hymns of praise are in Luke 1 (46-55; 67-79). The
first is called the Magnficot, from the first word (magnifies) in the
Latin translation. To magnify is to declare the greatness of something,
in this case the holiness and grace of God in Mary's eyes. The
second hymn is called the Benedictus, a word also from Latin which means
"blessing." The word blessing is used in several ways—when
it is referring to something God has done we might think of it as
God's gift. When we use the word in a sentence such as "bless
his holy name" we are speaking of recognizing what God has done and
giving him thanks for his actions and gifts.
Mary was astounded at God's holiness and grace in sending the
Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. She reflected on the happiness that
arose in her heart upon her recognition of all that God was doing.
Zechariah looking at the birth of his own son (the forerunner) saw the
birth of John the Baptist as a gift from God. Both Mary and Zechariah
were full of gratitude, rejoicing, and both were lost in wonder at the
mighty acts of God which brought the savior into the earth. One of the
great things about the Christmas-time reflections on the birth of Jesus
is the opportunity we have each year to remember not only what God has
done for us, but what attitudes should attach to that great
event—things like happiness, holiness, blessing and praise.
Prayer Starter: Father, we, too would magnify your name and acknowledge
your blessings. May every Christmas celebration acknowledge your gifts
and give you our sincerest thanks. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Thu 09 Dec 2010, 12:56 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Matthew 1:18-19— When his mother
Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was
found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a
righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to
dismiss her quietly.
Reflection: Matthew and Luke each have an announcement of the coming
pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus—but in Luke the
annunciation is to Mary herself while in Matthew it is Joseph to whom
the angel appears. We mustn't read too much into it but to say that
God's messages are appropriate to the recipients. Mary's
message was to help her accept what God was doing. Joseph's message
was overcome his disappointment and skepticism. Both were people of
great faith. The message to Joseph was just as important if there was to
be a holy family and not simply an unwed mother. Joseph was a working
class fellow (a carpenter) but one who was conservative in matters of
family and marriage—completely traditional. The unwed mother in
Israel was rejected socially and religiously—great disgrace attached
to such a person in Jewish society. Joseph was not going to marry Mary
since it was obvious (to him) that she was not eligible to become his
wife according to Jewish standards. But also note that his love and
concern for her was also great—instead of reacting angrily, or
vindictively— he was seeking a way to let it all pass quietly without
causing Mary harm or embarrassment. He was trying to break off their
engagement, but quietly. It was the Holy Spirit who made it all
work—He gave to Mary great vision and to Joseph great healing of his
fear, anger and insecurity. In both cases there was humble faith and
acceptance—that' s part of why they were chosen in the first
place.
Prayer Starter: Father we thank you for the holy family, whose faith
and humble obedience became the foundation of your glorious work in the
Incarnation of your Son on earth. Amen.
<>< <>< <><
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Matthew 1:21—"She shall bear a
son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from
their sins."
Reflection: The appearance of the angel to Joseph made sense. Up to
that point Joseph's dilemma was frustrating and enigmatic but now
the angel explained to Joseph the situation and told him to go ahead and
marry Mary. He was to form the family which would nurture the baby
Jesus. Notice that Joseph is still the one to name the baby. That was a
traditional role of the father—but now it was a partnership between
Joseph the nominal father and God, the real father. God selected the
name but Joseph administered it. "Jesus" is derived from earlier
Hebrew words that meant "God (Jah) saves." It was a common name
in Israel—still common in many cultures (in Spanish for example).
In Jewish history, the name given a child was often an indicator of the
child's future—it was never given lightly or without much
thought. We are not able with our limited information to say much about
how Joseph felt in his new role as stepfather to the savior of the
world. Just guessing, I would think it was a marvel to him—and more
so after the baby was born and he began to realize how big his task. It
was through this put-together family that Jesus first learned manners
and propriety, first heard the stories of the people of God (everything
from creation to the prophecies), first experienced the daily faith of
Israel and synagogue, and first heard the scholarly arguments of the
Rabbis. Long before Jesus' ministry began, his earthly character was
forming under the tutelage of godly parents. How could we think that
parents' influence is not important? God himself selected these two
parents and his instructions began before the baby was born.
Prayer Starter: Father thank you for the early days of Jesus and the
righteous training he received at the hands of your chosen family. They
have become a blessing for the entire world and for all time to come. In
Jesus' name we pray our prayers. Amen.
<>< <>< <><
Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 1:46-48—And Mary said, "My
soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he
has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now
on all generations will call me blessed."
Reflection: One of the greatest pieces of poetry in the bible is the
Magnficot of Luke—the hymn of praise in the mouth of Mary visiting
the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents to be of John the Baptist.
We are impressed with the sincerity and humility of this young girl from
Nazareth when she sees what God is doing through her and her relatives.
It is typical that hymns of praise are composed to celebrate such
occasions—they have a part in the earliest scriptures as well and
are often expressions of worship on the part of women God has touched
(for example the Song of Deborah—Judges 5; the Song of
Miriam—Exodus 15:21; the song of Hannah---1 Samuel 2).
Notice the elements in Mary's hymn: God gets the credit—"my
strength is exalted in my God"; deliverance from enemies is
acknowledged— "My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in my
victory"; the One true God of Israel is praised—"There is no
Holy One like the LORD"; the hearers are admonished to praise
God—"let not arrogance come from your mouth". Read carefully
the entire hymn and weigh each phrase. How does our worship measure up
to the free-ranging ebullience of those earlier believers? Can we say
"The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to
his king, and exalt the power of his anointed?"
Prayer Starter: Lord, teach us to be like Mary in our humble acceptance
of your divine activities among us. May we hold her up a a great example
of motherhood for all time to come. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Mon 06 Dec 2010, 11:54 am

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Lk 1:35—The angel said to her,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he
will be called the Son of God."
Reflection: The child will be holy—remember that true holiness
comes from God—it is used of places where God is, of deeds God has
done, of people God has possession of. Only later did it come to have
connotations of "dedicated to" or morally upright. Remember
Moses and the bush—the voice said "this is holy ground"—and
it was because God was there. There was never a birth more qualified for
the title "holy" than that of Jesus'. Scripture comments
that in him "God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19) and the birth
itself was a miracle brought about by God.
Holy from its beginning referred to something different that all that
surrounded it. It was a word intuitively applied to God since he is
different from anything else in creation—he was often called the
Holy One of Israel—the utterly supreme, different and unique,
eternal, and unchangeable God—the universe's only creator and
sustainer. Now he was bringing about the birth of a son—a son of
divine (and thus holy) origins. In his son, God would unite the eternal
with the temporal, the finite with the infinite, and the human with the
Divine. Never before had this been done—never again would it be. To
understand even a little of the meaning of Incarnation leaves us with
few choices for words; and these choices are never adequate. As God is
holy, so is this unique Son of God.
Prayer Starter: Our Father in Heaven, teach us the meaning of holiness
and show us your character and nature as the Holy One. Thank you for
this holy child we call Jesus and for the atonement he accomplished that
we might become holy as you are holy. In Jesus' name, amen.
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Post  Admin on Sat 04 Dec 2010, 1:23 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Micah 5:2-- But you, O Bethlehem of
Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old,
from ancient days.
Reflection: Two thousand years ago, it was a small village where Jesus
was born. The houses were built of stone (in fact it is built on the top
and side of a rocky hill). The people who lived there were mostly
shepherds, farmers, small merchants and craftsmen. They were uneducated,
hard working, common people living in a quiet back-water part of the
world. It was about 6 miles to the big city of Jerusalem where the rich,
powerful and important people lived and its only claim to fame was that
1000 years earlier it had been the birth place of Israel's second
and greatest king—David. His family business was raising sheep and
it was he who conquered Jerusalem as king and moved the center of
government there. But Jerusalem had not produced David—on the
contrary, David had produced Jerusalem and all its fame.
So why did God choose to bring the Messiah into the world in such a
place? And in that lowly place, why was Jesus born in a stable and
placed in a manger or feed trough? It was because Jesus was coming as the servant of all mankind—"to seek and save the lost" he said.
I recently read that there are now thought to be 300 sextillion stars in
our universe—that' s a 3 followed by 23 zeros. The God who
created all this sent his son to this nothing planet in a small galaxy
to be born in a stable. The foolishness of God, scripture comments, is
wiser than men. Only the infinitely high can go infinitely low—and
that was the plan. The high God "emptied himself" and was born
in human form as a servant. It is the most incredible story ever told.
Prayer Starter: Father, we marvel to see dimly the outline of your love
and righteousness on behalf of humans—so counterintuitive, so
unexpected and strange, so impossible for humans to accomplish or even
to imagine. Thank you for the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
<>< <>< <><
Christmas Series 2010: Scripture: Luke 1:31—The angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now,
you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him
Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David."
.
Reflection: The angel's name was Gabriel and he was sent by God to
Mary in Nazareth to announce the birth of the Messiah. Mary was a
virgin—betrothed to Joseph but not yet married to him. In humility
and obedience Mary responded to the angel, "Here am I, the servant
of the LORD; let it be with me according to your word." Both Luke
and Matthew considered Mary to be a virgin when Jesus was born—but
that has been a focus of unbelief among many who see the laws of nature
as inviolable. On the other hand, Christians who believe in the
greatness of God's power see no problem with a virgin birth—they
believe that the God who created billions of stars and life itself would
have no difficult in producing one little baby into which He could pour
his essence. Since Jesus is actually the Incarnation of God, we would
expect something like this—the coming together of the human and the
divine—and a virgin birth seems as good a way as we can think of.
Most of our religious questions and hang-ups come from having a
too-small view of God—and perhaps a too-large view of ourselves.
Prayer Starter: Father, we thank you for the virgin birth of the
Messiah. It is no more incredible to us than that you have loved us so
much you gave your son to die on a cross for our sins. The mysteries of
Christianity are great indeed—from beginning to end. We praise you
for these wonders. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Fri 03 Dec 2010, 4:33 pm

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7—For a child has been
born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and
he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father Prince
of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be
endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish
and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward
and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will do this.
Reflection: This is a Messianic prophecy looking the future and giving
Israel hope. George MacDonald said that fatherhood is at the heart of
the universe—He saw God as the supreme Father—the Almighty
progenitor, creator and origin of all things. Thinking of God as Father
is the only starting place for calling Jesus the Son. In Matthew he is
called "Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God." Terms like Father
and Son, though imperfect, are the best we can do with human language to
describe the relation between God and Jesus.
How was Jesus different from any other person in world history? God made
lots of stuff—we are his making—like sculptures carved by an
artist. But sculptures are made and sons are begotten. Jesus was not
created in the sense of an artist molding some clay—he is the
offspring of God himself. He has descended from the Father. As such, he
has within himself the DNA of the father. The difference between created
and begotten is huge. Science can prove conclusively the relationship of
a father and son because the chromosomes that carry the traits of the
father are to be found in the son. Christians believe that Jesus is the
very offspring of God—bearing the essence of God's
nature—his holiness, power, purpose and mind. You and I are brought
into God's family by adoption—but Jesus is the blood
relative—the only begotten Son of the Father.
Prayer Starter: Father, thank you for Jesus in whom we can see your
nature, power, love, peace, wisdom, forgiveness—and all those other
eternal characteristics. Thank you for adopting us into your family and
making Jesus our heavenly big brother for all eternity. Amen.
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Post  Admin on Thu 02 Dec 2010, 10:23 am

Christmas Series for Doulos Meditations

Each December, we dedicate the first 25 days of the month to the stories
of Christmas--especial ly the birth stories of Matthew and Luke.
This year we will focus on the personal impact these stories have on
each of us in living the Christian life. We will try to take a look at
the meaning of those events for us today.
Please join with us in reading and using the Doulos Meditations for
December.
In Christ, Robert Barkley, Doulos International


<>< <>< <><

Christmas series, 2010: Scripture: Mt 1:1—An account of the
genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
(See Mt 1:1-17)

Reflection: Do you find genealogies in the bible to be dull reading? If
you mean a list of names that no one knows or cares about—I can see
your point. However, suppose you were reading a list of names belonging
to your own origins—stuff about Uncle Chadwick or your great
grandmother Molly Murgatroid? It's different then! The names
intrigue your search for meaning from your past.

The ancestry of Jesus fascinated early Christians—things on the list
got them all excited. Jesus was called son of David—the great
king—God had promised to build a house (dynasty) for David (2 Sam
7)—but wait—wasn't David trying to build a house for God?
What did Jesus have to do with the promise to David?—have you
noticed the many kings in Jesus' ancestry?—(a whole section of
them: Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asaph, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah,
Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amos, Josiah,
Jechoniah—David' s lineage spoke loudly of kings and kingdom).
What does that have to do with Jesus? Just this—he was crucified
because he claimed to be a king! And he was called son of
Abraham—the patriarch claimed by 3 world religions. Romans 4 is
where the apostle Paul names both Abraham (father of the faithful) and
David as people connected intrinsically with Jesus and with the
sacrifice on the cross. Was Jesus a nobody? Or a King?

Prayer Starter: Father, show us Jesus and the deliberate intention you
had in bringing him into the world that he might be king on David's
throne and the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. Amen.
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