Merry Christmas!

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. (Proverbs 22:17-18 ESV). Perhaps one of the greatest American preachers of this century was Herschel H. Hobbs. He was well known for his teachings and writings. He was indeed a wise man. Even though Dr. Hobbs is now gone from this world, he continues to teach me much through his thoughtful writing and biblical analysis. Here’s what this wise man once wrote in response to the question, “What Is Christmas All About?”  “Christmas is more than tinsel and toys, trees and toddies, gifts and greetings. It is not merely a word of goodwill lightly spoken and soon forgotten in the raucous cries of conflict. Christmas is a message of peace on earth among men who are pleasing to God. It is Immanuel, God with us. It is God bending low to lift men up out of the sin and mire of a world, which has forgotten God and His will for lost men. It is God in a cradle, the Eternal in a tender baby’s flesh and form. But Christmas does not stop in Bethlehem. It reaches beyond to Calvary, to the empty tomb, and to the throne where the Savior sits, waiting for His enemies to become His footstool. It is the good news of salvation to all men who will receive it. As the shepherds came to the manger, saw the Christ child, and went forth to tell the glad tidings; as the Wise Men came from afar to worship and give gifts to Him, so should the faithful today bow before Him in worship, praise, and consecration, and then go forth to declare the gospel to a lost world. That is what Christmas is all about!” Our reading today reminds us to listen to the words of the wise. These words certainly qualify!  Apply them to your Christmas celebrations this year. But don’t stop with Christmas. Think about 2015. As Dr. Hobbs put it, go forth to declare the gospel to a lost world in 2015. Jesus, the One whose birth we celebrate, expects nothing less than that from every Christian. If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. My prayer for you is that you will know this Savior and be filled with His presence all year...

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Merry Christmas!

Today’s devotional is quite different than any I have written recently. It is the birth of Jesus as told in the Scriptures. I hope by compiling these verses in chronological order from all the Gospels, it might be helpful for you to use in a Christmas eve reading with you family. Gather around the tree, or your Crèche, and read these verses. It will be a wonderful way to begin your Christmas celebration. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-36) “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21) “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1) “And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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...

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Time to Unwrap the Gifts

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 ESV). I love watching my children and grandchildren open their presents at Christmas. Sometimes they open them slowly and other times they dive right in and rip off the wrapping so quickly you almost miss watching them open the gift. Watching their faces and their reactions is one of those things we love. For the kids you can tell pretty quickly if they like the gift or not by how quickly they hold it up and put it back down. For Faith, she likes the clothes, so she holds them up and looks them over for approval; Logan, on the other hand, will take the clothes and hold them up for everyone to see while looking for something else more exciting in the box! As I thought about that, I also thought of the gifts that Jesus received that first Christmas. They each convey a message to us concerning the gifts He brings through his redemptive work. Let me see if I can summarize them into two categories for your encouragement. First, there is the gift of His love. I’m so grateful that Christ loved us so much that He wants to take us to Heaven to be with Him, but I love the fact that His love sustains us here on earth. Nothing can take that gift of love away from us. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we cannot be separated from His love through Jesus (cf. Romans 8:31-39). Second, there is the gift of His grace. Through Christ we have access to that wonderful grace that’s given to us. Not a gift we deserve but because of Christ we can have it. It is the strength that allows us to continue the journey. It is peace that calms our fear and anxiety as we face uncertain futures. It is the joy that prompts us to laugh in the face of challenge. It is the unyielding certainty that assures us of our eternal destiny with him and all those who have gone before us. There’s just so much that we are given through Christ. These are but two of many. It’s like there’s this big tree with the bottom piled high with gifts and all the branches bulging with gifts nestled in just for us. We have wonderful and precious promises, strength, the Holy Spirit, peace, joy, and much more because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ our lives can become so full, so rich, so meaningful. It should not surprised us that Jesus said, I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10 ). Most of us don’t leave our gifts unwrapped under the tree. We want to see what’s inside. I wonder if you are like me and leave some of the gifts unopened. Don’t. go ahead, rip the wrapping off and enjoy what has been given to...

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Sights and Sounds of Christmas

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 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 9:2-6 ESV). I am nothing if not a “big kid” at Christmas. This year Aaron, our youngest, came home for Thanksgiving and we went to pick out our tree together. Of course, we found one that was just perfect. Bringing it home I cut off a bit of the bottom and mounted it in the holder. We spent a good deal of time making sure it was straight and facing just the right position for the room. We strung the lights so that later Mary could hang the ornaments. Our tree has no real “theme” as some do. We have ornaments from the past forty-five years that have been treasured for the memories they represent. Some of them are those that the boys made for us when they were in Sunday School as youngsters. We have some that have Aggie logos on them; while others were bought in some of the places we have visited through the years. They all are special in some way. After the tree is finished, we begin to decorate the rest of the house with various Christmas items. We have a musical Santa that belonged to Mary’s mom and still plays electronic music that sounds tinny and out of tune, but it brings back the memories of those days we spent with them for Christmas filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas in the Perry house. We always had a big meal with at least three entrees and all the trimmings. Of course, we also had rolls that were burned on the bottom. As great a cook as she was, she always seemed to forget about the rolls and they burned on the bottom. We laughed and talked, sharing the joys of the moment and the time of the year. Everything seemed enveloped in happiness and magic, and appeared a little unreal. Everyone seemed a little nicer and more considerate. It is always like that. There are empty chairs at our table now. We have some new ones filled with precious additions to our family, but the empty chairs still remain. If I’m not careful, it is easy to forget the joy that the Prince of Peace truly brings. Perhaps you remember those sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas past and sigh, wishing for those days. Be encouraged. These new days will soon be new memories. To be sure, for some, they will be difficult memories; however, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate will make all of those challenges fade in His presence as we are reunited with those whom we love someday. Go ahead, take a trip down memory lane; but, look forward to your salvation because it draws near! His promises...

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Happy Anniversary, Mary!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV). Forty-five years ago at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I began the most incredible journey imaginable. It has been filled with wonder, awe, and breathtaking joy. That was the time and date that Mary and I stood before family and friends, aided by our pastor, Bailey Stone, and repeated our vows to one another. They were simple and brief, but packed with meaning and commitment. Those of you who are married have exchanged similar promises. You know the phrases: “in sickness and health, in adversity and prosperity, and to be true and loyal so long as you both shall live.” We’ve had all of those from one extreme to the other! And, through the grace of God we have done much more than merely “survive” the years. As we read our text today, I wonder what Joseph may have thought; after all, it took an angel to make him see the plan of God in his marriage to his Mary. It was much easier for me. I saw her and knew from the moment I met her that she was the woman for me. However, there are some similarities that we can notice about both of the decisions, Joseph’s and mine. Like Joseph, I would not have been complete without my Mary. He had second thoughts because of the circumstances. While I had no second thoughts, my Mary did. She knew I was not a Christian at the time. To be committed to a man who would not be able to hear the Spirit of God in his life would have been disastrous. God had a plan for Joseph and a plan for me. Isn’t it amazing how great our God is in the working of that plan for the good of His children? Also, like Joseph, I had no idea what the future would hold. Some of it was very good, and other parts of it were very difficult. We have had those experiences in our life these past forty-five years. Space does not allow me to detail them, but it can be said that out journey has not always been an easy one. As with Joseph, God was more than enough for us in every situation. Isn’t it incredible how God proves His faithfulness every moment of our lives, even when we fail to see it as it happens.  And, perhaps greatest of all, like Joseph, God gave me strength in the...

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Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men!

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 ESV). These words of our reading this morning were spoken as a part of the prophecy of Jesus’ birth. But are they relevant words? Are they true words? Do we have peace on earth, goodwill toward men? That’s not what the headlines suggest! How can we celebrate peace when this is going on around us? We sometimes forget that while the story of Jesus’ birth is sweet and precious, it is also stark and real. The headlines in Jesus’ day might have been the same as today. I would imagine they’d have been like these: Taxes Displace Family Awaiting First Child Poor Family Takes Shelter in Barn No room in the Inn for Newest Bethlehem Citizen Family Flees Neighborhood to Protect Child Many Babies Senselessly Murdered by Rampaging Army Mother Marvels at the Future of Her Child While Experts Warn of Difficult Future Long Journey Ends in Gift Exchange Superstitious Shepherds See Great Light — Report Strange Sounds on Hillside King Hatches Paranoid Plot to Murder Unlikely Rival This is the way God chose to come to earth, not as a conquering king, but as one of us. Not in a royal procession isolated from human struggle, but in a feed trough in the middle of it. God anchored himself to the common, everyday things of our world so we could survive it. When you read or see the headlines this week, remember this: Jesus came to insure our peace by taking part in our turbulent world. The headlines of today are the headlines he lived long ago. More than a sentimental journey, Christmas is a reminder that God loved us so much that he would wear human skin and face human challenge so we could find peace in him even when we can’t find it here. “Peace on earth, goodwill to men!” This is God’s blessing to his troubled children. So don’t just look for God’s grace in the twinkling lights and the sweet smiles of happy children at Christmas. Hear the bad news of the headlines and be reminded: Jesus has lived beneath those same headlines so that we wouldn’t always be bound to...

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