Shepherds 5

Psalm 126:1-2

With the exception of a broken kitchen pipe in 2004, we have often said that it is nice to go on vacation but even better to come back home. What can bring about that kind of feeling? It is a return to safety, security, and familiar settings. It is a return to a place of comfort.

The psalmist in this passage is talking about the return of the Jews from captivity and exile. They were permitted to come back home, back to a place of comfort and safety. How are these returning exiles described? How did they react? What did others say about them?

This is an event that happened hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, yet these words can describe the present-day believer in Jesus Christ. Our exile is a life of sin and hopelessness. Our exile is fearing that there is nothing for us but the struggle of life in this world.

When we realize the importance of the profound gift of Jesus and the salvation he brings, then we too can be like the returning exiles. We can feel as if life is a dream when we recognize the importance of what Jesus is to each of us.

Our mouths can be filled with laughter and songs of joy when we know in our hearts that God loved us so much he gave His Son to us so that we might be reconciled to Him. We are brought back to a place of security and comfort, brought back into the presence and mercy of our God.

Christmas is a time of joy for all of us when we see that we are returned to everlasting life through the gift that was given in Bethlehem.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Take time this holiday to thank God for bringing you back to a safe place.

This will be our last 10/2 Grow for 2007. We will resume during the first week of January 2008 when we begin a series looking at the Fruit of the Spirit – based on Galatians 5:22. It is our sincere desire that all of you have a happy and blessed holiday.

Shepherds 4

Isaiah 12:4-6

“What did you get?” This is a question we will hear a great deal over the days we celebrate Christmas with friends and family. It is not a time of empty boasting or bragging, but a time of sharing the joy we know from the gifts we receive. It is a time of celebrating with the one who receives that they have been given a gift they wanted.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of sharing the joy of the faithful believer. This joy is experienced when the faithful know that the Messiah has come. What is the first thing we should do? Then what do we do? The second half of verse 5 talks of who should hear of this. Who is it? Why should we shout and sing for joy?

The first reaction of joy talked about in this passage is giving thanks to the Lord. As we celebrate Christmas, in the midst of all our excitement and gratitude, we should turn first to God and give thanks. We should thank the Lord as the source of all good gifts.

Then we can proclaim our joy to others. We can share the happiness and excitement of the many gifts we have received. But the first and most important gift we have received is the gift of Jesus.

God has been made flesh. He has come to earth to dwell among us, to offer guidance and mercy. And this is the greatest gift, making all others pale in comparison, but also paving the way for our happiness in other gifts because the most essential concern, salvation, has been taken care of through Christ.

This passage from Isaiah is a gushing forth, an outpouring of gratitude and elation over the gift of the Messiah. This holiday we too should gush forth with praise and gratitude for all that we receive, but primarily for the great gift of God’s Son in Jesus Christ. God has done glorious things, and He has done them for you.

Let us not forget to thank the Maker of all things with joy for what He has done.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you shout and sing for joy this holiday?

Shepherds 3

1 Peter 1:7-9

The great evangelist Billy Graham once said, “I have never seen the wind. I have seen the effects of the wind, but I have never seen the wind.”

The wind is not something we can see with our own eyes. We can see the results of it, and therefore we know it exists.

The same is true of our faith in Jesus Christ. Peter is talking about the trials and struggles of faith. Why do believers experience these trials? What emotion do we have even though we have not actually seen our Savior? What is the goal of our faith?

Faith is confidence in things left unseen. Although we have not actually seen the person of Jesus, we have faith in him. Most of us who believe have seen the evidence of Jesus in the lives of others, in the stirring of our own hearts, in the joy we have in knowing of our salvation.

Our trials and tribulations should not weaken or defeat our faith, but should refine it, perfect it. The struggles of life should strengthen our faith and build up our reliance on God.

And this should bring us joy. We should have joy in knowing God is with us, starting with the birth of His Son, our Savior. And part of that joy is knowing that Jesus was given to us as a way to achieve eternal salvation, eternal life with God.

Now, we should share that joy and the opportunity for joy with others. Christmas is more than a celebration of God’s gift; it is an opportunity to invite others to know the glorious and life-giving joy of our faith in Christ.

This is a gift to you. This is a gift to others that you can bring to them.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who do you know who needs to see and experience joy with you?

Shepherds 2

I dare you not to laugh at this.

Luke 2:8-15

When there is good news to be shared it is easy to tell everyone you see. With the birth of each of our children there were many phone calls, some even from the delivery room shortly after the birth, as we called friends and relatives about the miracle of life and the gift that we had received.

This story from Luke is about the shepherds, special shepherds who tended the flocks of special, perfect sheep. Who appears to them? What is their reaction? What news does the angel announce? How do the shepherds react then?

These shepherds were the first group of people outside the immediate family to hear about the birth of Jesus. A Savior was born, the long-awaited Messiah had been brought forth to begin the lifelong ministry that would change the hearts and lives and the very souls of all who believed.

What tremendous and exciting news. What incredible information had been imparted to these men who were out in the cold, lonely world.

Like the shepherds, we too are out in the world going about our daily tasks of work and caring for ourselves and family. But good news breaks into our lives and we are made aware of the wonderful love that God has shown all of us. And with that news comes great joy – not just for ourselves, but for all people. There is hope. There will be peace. God has shown His love, and so we experience joy.

The shepherds went to bear witness to this incredible birth, and from there they went back out into the world sharing the joy they had experienced personally.

This is the introduction of our ministry. We too must experience Christ on a personal level, and then we should go into the world spreading the news of joy we have known.

DAILY CHALLENGE: With whom can you share your joy?

Shepherds 1

Psalm 16:8-11

One talent that I developed years ago (and now has begun to fade) is the ability to tune out co-workers and activities going on around me when I worked. Employed in a business that involved hundreds of cubicles and people talking and working all around me, it was essential to be able to focus on my work goal and ignore everything else.

A similar talent is needed in our spiritual life. We can be led away from God or caused to doubt if we allow our spiritual attention to fall on anything other than God.

What has the psalmist done? What benefits are there in that (verses 8-9)? According to verse 11, what else does God offer?

The birth of Jesus was the answer to a centuries-long desire and hope for the Jews. They had prayed and longed for a Messiah, a deliverer to save them from the fears and difficulties of life. Unfortunately, much of the image of the Messiah became the image of a political king who would resolve the physical hardships of an oppressive life.

Instead, God sent a Messiah with a more valuable salvation. Jesus came, not to stop the troubles of life, but to rid the world of our fears and sorrows for eternity. Sin was removed. Spiritual freedom and joy was given.

For those who set the Lord always before them, who can keep their souls focused on God and obeying the commands and examples of Jesus, there is security. God does not always prevent bad things from happening to faithful believers, but faith in God certainly makes it easier to endure the hard times. As I grow deeper in my own faith I find fewer and fewer problems in my life, and those difficulties I do experience are not so devastating when I know that God is with me.

Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the opportunity to be shown the path of life. With the gift of Jesus, all who believe may have glad hearts and may rejoice. The gift of Jesus is a gift that brings joy to all who set the Lord always before them.

This Christmas, take the time to be joyful in the gift of Jesus and then set the Lord before you, keeping your faith focused on God through the holidays and into the new year.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to keep the Lord always before you?