Baby Jesus: Worship Worthy

Baby Jesus: Worthy of Worship

Baby Jesus: Worthy of Worship

Workout for the Week: Worship Worthy

Memory Verse: Matthew 2:10-11b

Meditation Passage: Choose one from below.

Key Thought: Jesus was worthy of worship at the first Christmas, and He is worthy still.

Our Christmas carols ring with worship. Can you identify these carols?

  • “O come let us adore Him.”
  • “Born is the king of Israel.”
  • “Fall on your knees.”
  • “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

The Christmas story is loaded with worship too. Are Matthew and Luke trying to tell us something? This week, join each Bible character as they worship. Let’s get their training tips as we look to worship in the New Year:

  1. Humility: Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55) Mary focuses on God’s promises.
  2. Thanksgiving: Zechariah’s Song (Luke 1:67-79) Zechariah zeroes in on prophetic fulfillment.
  3. Praise: Angelic host (Luke 2:13-14) Do you know this one by heart?
  4. God’s Word is True: Shepherds (Luke 2:20) Good news is for sharing.
  5. Promise Keeper: Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) Simeon demonstrates how personal God is.
  6. A Worship Lifestyle: Anna (Luke 2:36-38) Worship embodies Anna.
  7. All Out Effort: The Magi (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12) The Wise Men worship extravagantly.

Carry Jesus with you beyond Christmas and into the New Year. Make 2017 a year of worship.

Come, let us adore Him.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Answers to Quiz:

O, Come All Ye Faithful

The First Noel

O Holy Night

Silent Night

Tweetables:

Jesus was worthy of worship at the first Christmas. He is worthy still. Click to tweet.

Our Christmas carols ring with worship. Click to tweet.

The Christmas story is loaded with worship. Click to tweet.

Are Matthew and Luke trying to tell us something? Click to tweet.

Make 2017 a year of worship. Click to tweet.

 

Are We There Yet?: Christmas Story Travel

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

Workout for the Week: Are We There Yet?

Memory Verse: Luke 2:15

Meditation Passage: Luke 2:8-20

Key Thought: If God said, “Get up and go,” would you?

Are we there yet? Family travel tests our patience. Snacks, videos, and “I Spy” help, but travel takes a toll. Imagine travel in Mary and Joseph’s day.

Let’s take a quick look at who’s going where in the Christmas story. I’ll compare them to places close to me (Fort Worth, TX) for perspective:

  • Mary and Joseph: Nazareth to Bethlehem (about 70 miles). Seventy miles gets me from north Fort Worth, out of the DFW Metroplex, and almost to Waco. No Chip and Joanna in Bethlehem, though I bet the stable looked like a fixer upper.
  • Shepherds: They came from nearby fields, but had to search for the right stable. Ever run a 5K? You’re probably close to the amount of ground covered by the shepherds. A 5K covers 3.1 miles. That’s about twelve laps on a track.
  • Mary and Joseph: Bethlehem to Jerusalem and back (about 5 miles each way). For me, a five-mile trip gets me from Fort Worth to Keller. Not far, but I wouldn’t want to walk it (carrying an infant).
  • Magi: The east (Not sure how far east. Babylon? Persia?) to Jerusalem. This trip could have easily covered 1,000 miles one way. Heading west from Fort Worth, one thousand miles takes me close to San Diego. California.
  • Mary and Joseph: Bethlehem/Jerusalem area to Egypt (about 200 miles). Going east, two hundred miles brings me to Shreveport, Louisiana.
  • Mary and Joseph: Egypt to Nazareth (well over 300 miles). Heading northeast, three hundred miles gets me to Springfield, Missouri.

Here are your training tips for the week:

  1. Check out some maps in a Bible atlas.
  2. Pay attention to the terrain as well as the major trade routes. Several mountain ranges run through parts of Israel. Trade routes served as the interstate highways of that time.
  3. Try a family 5K this month or mark out several miles. How long does it take to walk one mile? Multiply it out. How long would it take you to make each trip in the Christmas story? Don’t forget. No strollers. You get to carry any children who can’t walk.

Get into the logistics of the Christmas story.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Tweetables:

Imagine travel in Mary and Joseph’s day. Click to tweet.

Tip #1: Check out a Bible atlas. Click to tweet.

Tip #2: Look at terrain and trade routes. Click to tweet.

Tip #3: How long does it take to walk a mile? Multiply it out for each Christmas trip. Click to tweet.

Get into the logistics of the Christmas story. Click to tweet.

Track Your Christmas Package

Track Your Christmas Package

Track Your Christmas Package

Workout for the Week: Track Your Christmas Package

Memory Verse: 2 Peter 1:21 (NIV)

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Meditation Passage: Matthew 2:1-11

Key Thought: Track God’s prophecy to fulfillment.

The big brown truck rumbles down my street before screeching to a stop on its daily trip to my house. The only thing better than Santa right now is the UPS man as I scramble to finish my shopping, okay, start my shopping. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime and a tracking system. Remember when we just had to wait? Today we track packages from the warehouse to our front door. Gotta’ love technology.

However, God had dibs on the tracking idea long ago. He called it prophecy, and Matthew’s gospel packs it in like boxes in a UPS truck.

As we track with Matthew, here are some training tips:

Use a study Bible or keep a commentary handy.

Meditate on the logistics. What had to happen for this prophecy to be fulfilled?

Mark both the OT and the NT passages so you can track the prophecy.

Let’s start tracking:

  • Begin with Ruth 4:21-22 and track to Matthew 1:5, 16 to see the inclusion of the Gentiles in Jesus’ heritage.
  • Begin with Isaiah 7:14 and track to Matthew 1:22-23. This passage in Isaiah is interesting because the prophecy was given as a rebuke to a disobedient King Ahaz. The prophecy likely had a double fulfillment, one in Ahaz’s time and one in the Christmas story.
  • Though not specifically mentioned as prophecy by Matthew, one has to wonder how the Magi (Matthew 2) knew about an earthly Israelite king that was also divine and worthy of worship. Balaam, the guy with the talking donkey, gave a prophecy regarding such a ruler in Numbers 24:17. Years later, the prophet Daniel had great influence in Babylon and Persia where the Magi are thought to have lived.
  • Begin with Micah 5:2 and track to Matthew 2:5-6 for the Bethlehem prophecy.
  • Begin with Hosea 11:1 and track to Matthew 2:14-15. Meditate on what it meant for Israel to leave Egypt. How that might relate to Jesus?
  • Begin with Jeremiah 31:15 and track to Matthew 2:16-18. The passage in Jeremiah refers to the Israelites and their journey into exile.
  • Matthew 2:23 tags several Old Testament verses: Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12. These verses refer to a descendant of David, specifically the Branch. Nazareth and Nazarene are tied to the Hebrew word neser or branch. Jesus was the Branch man.

I hope I didn’t give you tired head this week! Marvel at the craftsmanship of God’s Word and just think about the unfulfilled prophecy ahead of us!

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Tweetables:

God had dibs on the tracking idea long ago. He called it prophecy. Click to tweet.

Matthew’s gospel packs in prophecies like boxes in a UPS truck. Click to tweet.

Meditate on the logistics. What had to happen for this prophecy to be fulfilled? Click to tweet.

Mark both the OT and the NT spots so you can track the prophecy. Click to tweet.

Think about the unfulfilled prophecy ahead of us. Click to tweet.

Marvel at the craftsmanship of God’s Word. Click to tweet.

Outside the Christmas Box

 

Workout for the Week: Outside the Christmas Box

Memory Verse: Tailor to the Christmas Bible character of your choice

Meditation Passage: Tailor to the Christmas Bible character of your choice

Key Thought: The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

–Marcel Proust

This week, I want you to think outside your Christmas box.

Children master this skill at Christmas time. Visions of sugar plums, Santa, and lots and lots of presents! We adults favor practicality. The to-do list cracks the whip, but there are no reindeer for us. It’s easy to lose the sparkle of Christmas.

Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” This week, let’s use our imaginations. Get outside the Christmas box and into the Nativity story. Matthew and Luke offer an extensive cast in telling the Christmas event. Think of them as your training partners for December. Here are some training tips for the week:

  1. Choose one or two characters and read their story.
  2. Meditate on their story for the day.
  3. Choose one verse tied to their story.
  4. Write down Scripture that jumps out at you.
  5. Write down insight from the Holy Spirit.
  6. Share what you learn with family members.

Here’s your cast:

  • Zechariah: Watch with this silenced priest through nine months of a miraculous pregnancy as prophecy unfolds before him. Elizabeth: Prepare for new life. Though barren for decades, this elderly lady gets a nursery ready as she mentors the Virgin Mary. (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80)
  • Gabriel: Travel with Gabriel as he zips between heaven and earth. (Luke 1:11-20, 26-38) The Angelic Host: Lift your voice with the heavenly host. Consider the angelic perspective on Christmas. (Luke 2:13-15)
  • Joseph: Ride Joseph’s rollercoaster through an unthinkable betrayal by his fiancée, angelic dreams, the delivery of a child he didn’t father, and an escape from a murderous king. (Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-15, 19-23) Mary: Yield to God’s impossible, making-no-sense plan. (Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-7)
  • Shepherds: Play hide-and-seek through the Bethlehem countryside. (Luke 2:8-20)
  • Magi: Take a thousand-mile road trip with the Wise Men to worship a little Jewish kid. (Matthew 2:1-12)
  • Simeon and Anna: Spread the word of the coming Messiah. (Luke 2:25-38)

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Tweetables:

Think outside the Christmas box. Click to tweet.

Tip #1: Choose a Christmas character and read their story. Click to tweet.

Tip #2: Meditate on that Xmas character’s story for the day. Click to tweet.

Tip #3: Choose one verse tied to that character’s story. Click to tweet.

Tip #4: Write down Scripture that jumps out at you. Click to tweet.

Tip #5: Write down insight from the Holy Spirit. Click to tweet.

Tip #6: Share what you learned. Click to tweet.

Set the Story Straight, The Christmas Story

Set The Story Straight, The Christmas Story

Workout for the Week: Set the Story Straight, The Christmas Story

Memory Verse: Acts 17:11 (NIV)

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Meditation Passage: John 1:1-18

Key Thought: Be a Berean. Go to the Word for your truth.

Our stack grows higher every year. We love Christmas movies. The collection ranges from recent films like Elf and Jingle All the Way to classics like The Bishop’s Wife and White Christmas. Movie watching begins on Thanksgiving with Miracle on 34th Street and usually winds down with The Nativity Story or The Little Drummer Boy on Christmas Eve.

We’re not alone in our love for movies, but I’ve noticed a problem.

Too many of us get our knowledge of the Christmas story from the movies.

And it’s not accurate.

Mary on a donkey? (The Nativity Story)

Sorry, you won’t find it in Scripture.

The Wise Men at the stable? (The Little Drummer Boy)

Nope. The Magi didn’t show up until Jesus was a toddler. Mary and Joseph had their own digs by that time.

So, how do we set the story straight? Here are some training tips to kick off this first week of Advent.

Read your Bible. You can find the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Don’t skip the genealogy and the part about Elizabeth and Zechariah. You’ll find hidden gems in those passages.

Celebrate Advent. It’s not to late to start, and who doesn’t love candlelight? Advent provides opportunities to explore different aspects of the Christmas story. Between Google and Pinterest, your options are limitless.

Put up a nativity scene. When the kids were little, we had two, a pretty one for me and one the kids could handle. Do me a favor. Please place your Wise Men in route to Jerusalem, not kneeling at the stable with the shepherds.

Men, it’s your time to shine. While Mom is cooking and shopping, lead out on the spiritual side whether you have kids at home or not. Your wife will love you for it. Moms, if you’re going solo, set the tone for the holiday by making first things first. It’s amazing how the gimmes disappear when Christmas centers on Jesus.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Tweetables:

Too many of us get Christmas info from the movies. And it’s not accurate. Click to tweet.

Mary on a donkey? Sorry, you won’t find it in Scripture. Click to tweet.

The Wise Men at the stable? Nope. The Magi didn’t arrive until Jesus was two. Click to tweet.

Men, it’s time to shine. Lead out this holiday. Click to tweet.

Believing: An Angelic Perspective

Believing: An Angelic Perspective

“While I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.” (Daniel 9:21 NIV)

“The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you [Zechariah] and to tell you this good news.’” (Luke 1:19)

“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.” (Luke 1:26-27)

God calls us to walk by faith—and that’s not always easy. Not seeing, simply believing. I have my share of Thomas moments where I just want to see, to feel, to touch the One whom I believe in my heart to be true.

In studying the Gospels this semester, my prof pointed out how adamant mankind is about what they believe, in the face of evidence to the contrary. In Jesus’ time, even the demons testified to who Jesus was—the Son of God. Though truthful, that wasn’t the kind of press Jesus desired, so He shushed them. Still, throughout Scripture, we have not only the testimonies of the patriarchs, but that of the angelic host too.

The perspective of the angel Gabriel stretches me. Daniel’s stint in Babylon began in 605 B.C. and lasted into the 530’s. Gabriel’s appearances to Zechariah and Mary occurred a good 500 years later.

Does time pass quickly for Gabriel and the angelic host? Do the doors of heaven spin as one-by-one God’s children enter, or does time trickle by? Did Gabriel know and understand the details of the visions given to Daniel or is he, like us, watching things unfold in real time?

Is faith a concept difficult for Gabriel to grasp? How about unbelief? Unthinkable for one who stands in the presence of God.

How fickle we humans are. We have much to learn from those who have gone before us—those who literally walked with God and those who presently stand before Him.

Read Luke 1:5-20 where Gabriel speaks to Zechariah regarding John the Baptist. Focus on verses 18-20. I can almost picture Gabriel saying to Zechariah, “Dude, really? You’re going to question this? God Himself sent me, and you don’t believe my message? You want a sign? You got one, buddy. No speaking or hearing until the kid gets here. How’s that? Take the next nine months and work on your faith.”

Sheesh! Humans!

We humans are a hard-headed, hard-hearted bunch. May God soften our hearts and help us to believe, fully and actively, what the angelic host has always known.

Questions:

How much of Scripture do you really believe? So much so that you actively apply it?

What things in Scripture do you see more as suggestions than commands?

What things about God do you find difficult to wrap your head around?

What would strengthen your faith?

The Christmas Story: Joseph

The Christmas Story: Joseph

He felt the rumbling in the village long before he heard the news. Word traveled fast in a small town like Nazareth. Groups of women clucked together at the market or by the village well. God help their next victim. He would be pecked to pieces by morning.

Joseph checked his tools and headed for the synagogue. If he hurried, he could finish the repair work at the rabbi’s house before dark.

The rumbling stilled as Joseph walked through town. Eyebrows raised. Faces probed and searched as he passed. Some showed pity. He shook his head. What was wrong with everyone?

He knocked on the door of the rabbi’s house. The rabbi’s wife’s eyes widened when she saw him, but she bit her lip and invited him in.

Joseph greeted the rabbi, “I came to work on…” He caught sight of his future father-in-law standing behind the rabbi. Joseph began again, but the rabbi interrupted him.

“Joseph, please join us.”

“No, thank you. Really, I must get to work. Daylight is fading. Just wanted to say hello.” His voice dried up as both men turned toward him with faces of stone.

“Joseph, sit down.”

Joseph sat.

Moments later, his world lay in shambles.

***

That night, Joseph lay in his sweat and prayed for a breeze. Stars peeked through his window but shed little light on his dilemma.

Mary. Pregnant.

And tomorrow, the pecking of the town hens would come right at them.

Which would be worse, the words—or the stones?

He had run through his options more times than he could count, but it was a short list.

He would speak to the rabbi in the morning. Divorce her quietly. They would go their own ways, and Mary would live. Perhaps she could return to her relative’s house near Jerusalem, away from the gossip of Nazareth.

Curtains fluttered as a breeze frisked through the room. His brow cooled, and Joseph slept.

***

A few stars sprinkled the early morning sky. Joseph thanked God his father-in-law was an early riser. Joseph headed for the stable and waited for him there, the dream fresh in his mind. When Mary’s father appeared, his face was lined and worn. Joseph thought he’d aged twenty years in twenty-four hours. Joseph, however, felt sharp and alert. He made his point quickly.

The older man listened without interrupting. “You have chosen a difficult path.” He jerked his head toward the village. “They will never let you forget.”

Joseph nodded. “I know.”

Mary’s father put an arm around Joseph’s shoulder and together, they walked to the house.

It was time for a wedding.

Questions:

Put yourself in Joseph’s sandals. How would you have felt after hearing news of the pregnancy?

How would you have responded to such a dream?

As Jesus grew up in Nazareth, what kinds of things did the family endure?

Joseph: Did public opinion affect his business?

Mary: Was she shunned by the other women?

Jesus: Was He bullied? Teased?

Siblings: Were they embarrassed? Did they believe the story?

What does this part of the Christmas story teach us about how to treat others?

An Unlikely Pair

An Unlikely Pair

God supplies our every need, and the Christmas story gifts us with many such examples. I love how He pairs Mary and Elizabeth. A young teen and an aged lady of great faith.

Both fulfilling prophecy. Both experiencing pregnancy for the first time. One whose shame of barrenness had haunted her for a lifetime. One whose shame of an “illegitimate child” would overshadow the rest of her life.

Elizabeth would not see the fruition of the two boys’ lives—yet had the maturity to help prepare Mary to watch every heartbreaking step of the journey. Mary, even at a tender age, had the wisdom to receive godly advice from her elder.

Both women learned not to judge others by appearances and not to second-guess God. Both learned to trust and obey with humility and grace.

Mary and Elizabeth.

Separated by decades. United by pregnancy and promise.

Can you picture these two? Mary’s first trimester overlapped Elizabeth’s last one—Mary’s sign of confirmation from Gabriel was an aging Elizabeth in her sixth month of pregnancy.

I can see Elizabeth talking Mary through morning sickness, while Mary ran errands as the final three months weighed Elizabeth down. Mary provided conversation and companionship while a silent Zechariah hovered.

Mary confirmed Gabriel’s message to Zechariah. Did he begin outlining plans for John’s religious training even then? Zechariah modeled a husband’s tender concern and commitment. Did he pray for a presently clueless Joseph?

Did Zechariah write a letter to Mary’s parents or accompany her on the trip home? Did Mom and Dad believe her story? Did they believe Zechariah and Elizabeth?

Later, I picture the two women with their growing toddlers, both heads turning to the call of “Mother.”

Did these two have any inkling of the paths their boys would take? Did the Holy Spirit reveal the coming suffering and rejection? Either way, God provided a precious pairing that impacted both women well beyond the three short months they spent together.

With whom has He paired you? Look to your precious pairs for encouragement. Seek out your “Mary,” thank your “Elizabeth,” and keep the holidays in perspective.

Questions:

Has an older mentor spoken into your life at key times?

Have you been that person for someone younger?

What needs do you see in the younger generation?

What lessons have you gained from the older generation?

 

 

The Long Wait

The Long Wait

“A baby? Now? After all these years?”

Her husband gave her a puzzled look as he tried to read her lips.

Unable to speak.

Unable to hear.

He’d been like that ever since Jerusalem.

Elizabeth began a nine-month game of charades. Zechariah’s eyes followed her every move.

He had frightened her when he first arrived, noiseless as a wraith, but then she felt relieved. He was home again.

Until.

Until she realized he was different .

Chosen—finally—to burn incense in the Temple. What an honor! But what had happened in that sacred place?

Bit by bit, she pieced together his story.

An angel. An angel?

Zechariah’s prayer answered . Which prayer?

A son. John. A prophet?

Which led back to her first question. “A baby? Now?”

Zechariah nodded, a silly grin spreading from ear to ear.

Her arthritic knees threatened to give way. She sat, staring at the floor, lost in thought. The years of barrenness, the shame, which had weighted her soul, was blown away as chaff before the wind. As her fingers traced her belly, she felt strangely lighter.

Zechariah knelt before her. Placing a gnarled hand on each knee, he studied her face. His fingers pulled his lips into a smiley face while his eyes asked the question.

“Happy?” she asked. “Yes, of course, just a little taken back.” She grinned, smile lines blooming among wrinkles. “I guess we should have kept the cradle after all.” His bushy white eyebrows furrowed. She shook her head, sighed in frustration, and made another attempt to communicate.

Her own eyebrows drew together as she processed the news.

Our child.

In the spirit and power of Elijah.

To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

As the words registered, her heart nearly stopped. The Lord? Was Messiah coming? Did she understand Zechariah correctly?

Wide-eyed, she looked at her husband and took the silent game of charades to a higher pitch.

“Messiah?” A hopeful tear escaped and ran down her cheek.

He nodded, his own face wet but beaming, and mouthed, “Messiah.” He wrapped her in an embrace, and two hearts raised a silent prayer of thanks to the God of heaven.

The long wait was over.

 

I love the Christmas story, and I relish putting on the characters’ shoes and walking around. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about this part of the Christmas story (Luke 1):

What is the longest period of time you have waited for something?

How does anticipation affect you?

Does this change with the length of the waiting period?

How do you think waiting and anticipation affected Zechariah and Elizabeth:

In regard to the Messiah? In regard to having their own child?

Can you imagine having your first child—a boy at that—as a senior citizen?