“I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling. They will ban you from the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they haven’t known the Father or Me.” John 16:1-3 HCSB
The clouds began to roll in as the sky darkened. The winds blew. A storm was coming. My wife and I were sitting in a restaurant eating when the storm intensified and the traffic signals outside were almost standing horizontal due to the strength of the winds. Then we heard the sirens. A tornado had been spotted and was quickly moving through the area. The sirens served to warn people to take cover.
Just like sirens that warn of impending danger, Jesus warned His disciples of the problems that would soon come their way. They would be forced out of the synagogues and eventually people would try to kill them because they would teach that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul (Paul) went throughout the country killing and persecuting the Christians because he felt he was doing what was right until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Challenge: As believers we will face ridicule and opposition when we take a stand for what is right. We have observed in recent days Christians who have faced discrimination because they have made statements concerning their personal beliefs based upon the Word of God. Yes, trouble is coming. You will face persecution if you do what is right. You will be challenged from those who are in the world and do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Pray for strength and courage as you stand for what is right and witness for Jesus Christ.
When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father – He will testify about Me. John 15:26 HCSB
It was a hot day in the middle of summer when I turned on the air conditioner in my car only to feel hot air coming from the vents. I visited my usual repairman and discovered the compressor needed replacement. With a new compressor everything worked well for just over a year, until I again experienced hot air coming from the vents and was told that the compressor needed to be replaced. Wondering why the compressor went out again in a year’s time, I decided to take my car to the Ford dealer to get another opinion. The technician confirmed that indeed the compressor needed to be replaced, but the clutch on the air conditioner was the reason the compressor had stopped working. After replacing both the compressor and clutch, my air conditioner has functioned properly.
Just as we sometimes need to go to the source who best knows the car (the dealer) to get expert advice and direction, we also need to seek good counsel in our lives. As believers in Jesus Christ, each of us has the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, given to us by God the Father. He is our Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Strengthener to guide us in making wise choices and give us the courage to do what is right. God is our Creator and knows what is best for each of us. He is the one we should seek for counsel when troubles and decisions come our way.
Challenge: Who are you seeking for advice and counsel? Turn to God and the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction. The Holy Spirit (Counselor) will give you good counsel and help you to resist the temptations of Satan.
You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. John 15:14-15 HCSB
We just celebrated my mother’s 90^th birthday with a surprise party. I was reminded of the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is one of my favorites. I usually watch it during the Christmas season. This movie reminds us that money, power, and possessions are not really important. Friends, family, and relationships hold the most importance. I was inspired to see so many friends and family help celebrate my mother’s 90 years and to reflect upon the many ways God has blessed her and used her to touch the lives of many other people.
Just imagine – Jesus is our Lord and we should be His servants; instead He calls us His friends. What a privilege! We are a friend of the Lord and Ruler of the universe. That is hard to imagine. God has richly blessed me with many earthly friends, but my greatest friend is Jesus!
Challenge: A good friend is always available to celebrate with you and to walk with you through the difficulties of life. What type of a friend are you? Thank Jesus for being a faithful friend. I am reminded of the old hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Listen to Alan Jackson sing this great hymn on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X35JDIdQF5A.
“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:11-12 HCSB
What brings you complete joy? For me, it is being with my family. There is nothing that I enjoy much more than being with all of my children and grandchildren. Being a part of seeing someone come to know Jesus as personal Savior also brings me great joy as does helping someone in need.
Jesus wants our joy to be complete. How can our joy be complete? By loving one another as He has loved us. Jesus loved us with “agape” love, a love that does not expect anything in return – a love that is willing to literally give one’s life for another. Jesus gave His life so we might be forgiven and have eternal life. As we truly love others as Jesus loves us, we will experience complete joy.
Challenge: Thank Jesus for His never ending love for you and for His willingness to die in your place and pay the penalty for your sins. How are you doing in following His command to love one another as He loves you? What can you do to love those you encounter today? Are you experiencing complete joy? If not, then try a little more love.
“As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” John 15:9-10 HCSB
It is a song that we all have sung as children, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” The lyrics are “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” Jesus challenges us to remain in His love and to keep His commands.
Jesus taught His disciples many things but He gave them a new command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If we follow these two simple commands we will fulfill the other commandments and teachings of Jesus. Our obedience to His commands is an expression of our love for Him. Love compels obedience and obedience nurtures a greater love for Him.
Challenge: Jesus modeled the perfect “love” relationship between Himself and God the Father. How do you measure up against Jesus’ love? What type of “love” relationship do you have with God, the Father? What can you do this week to improve your relationship with God the Father and to specifically love those whom you find hard to love?
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.” John 15:5-6 HCSB
Last year I planted some small mums on each side of our driveway. This year they grew to be three to four times bigger than when they were first planted. Their branches were weighted with beautiful yellow blooms. One Wednesday October night I rolled the trash can to the end of the driveway for pick up the next morning as usual. The next day the trash men emptied the trash and without taking care, they tossed the can back toward the driveway where it hit one of the plants and severed a stem that had several blooms on it. Within a day the stem had withered and died. It did not produce any more blooms because it received no further nourishment from the plant. Consequently, I had no option but to discard the withered branch.
As believers we must stay connected to Jesus if we are going to produce any fruit. The fruit mentioned here is more than just evangelism and bringing others to Christ. This Scripture also refers to the fruit of the Spirit that is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-24: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we remain in Christ and His teachings, we can produce fruit that brings honor and glory to God’s kingdom.
Challenge: Are you producing fruit or are you withering? Review the fruits mentioned in Galatians and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being low and 5 being high on how well you are doing with each fruit. What can you do to remain in Christ and produce more fruit for Him? The closer you stay to Christ, the more fruit you will produce.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. John 15:1-2 HCSB
Each fall I trim back or prune our bushes and landscaping. I want to make sure each bush or plant has the room to grow properly and maintain the right shape. This past summer my wife’s siblings and our families re-landscaped my father-in-law’s yard. We removed and replaced some plants and others we just trimmed and shaped. I noticed the other day that some of the bushes we planted this summer already need to be pruned in order to remain proportionate to the other plants. Pruning is necessary to promote growth and to keep the yard looking well- manicured.
Jesus used the analogy of a vine and a branch to describe the relationship that we as followers have to Him and the importance of allowing God the Father to prune us and shape us to be more like Jesus Christ. When God observes some activity, behavior, or thought that needs to be removed from our lives because it does not make us more like His Son, He carefully prunes us back so we can bear more fruit for His kingdom.
Challenge: Jesus is the vine and we are His branches. Only when we remain in Him can we produce fruit for His kingdom. God, the vine keeper, will prune back any unproductive branches and will remove anything that hinders our growth. He wants us to be more like Jesus in order to produce more fruit.
Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough – because there was no room for them at the lodging place. Luke 2:7 HCSB
The traditional scenes of Christ in the manager surrounded by shepherds and wise men with the bright star shining down to light the scene is probably not very accurate. Realistically, the scene would have been very dark with minimal light because it would have been inside a cave, which was where most stables were made to hold animals. There probably would have been several different types of animals – sheep, goats, horses, and cows. One can only imagine the odor from the animals. The manager or feeding trough would have been made out of stone with hay inside it.
The shepherds who came to see the Christ child probably would not have brought the sheep they were watching. Some of the shepherds would have stayed to care for the sheep while others went to the city to check out the validity of the message they had heard from the angels. Finally, the wise men would not have arrived until approximately two years later and would have found Jesus as a young boy and certainly not living in a stable.
Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the lodging place. The stable was just what God ordered. Mary and Joseph would have had more privacy in the stable for it provided a much better place to give birth to a child. I can imagine but can not prove that the wife of the innkeeper may have been a midwife or knew a midwife who could assist with the birth. Jesus came as a humble servant, not as a king or ruler. Jesus came for all people, especially for the common people, not for the priests and religious leaders. God’s plan is always best, even when it does not seem logical.
Challenge: Do you have room for Jesus in your life? Will you make time each day for Jesus or are you too busy to take time for Him? He came into our world as a little child, but we must not leave Him there. We must see the rest of His life and His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. We must see Him as our Lord and Savior and more than just a tiny child in the manager.
And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy. Luke 1:46-49 HCSB
I always enjoy hearing Christmas carols at Christmas time. Each song proclaims the birth of Jesus Christ and celebrates His arrival in the world and what He has done for mankind. Even though we live in a culture that seemingly rejects Christ and the message of Christianity, people are bombarded by the message of love, forgiveness, and hope for the future at Christmas time.
Today’s Scripture passage is often referred to as “Mary’s Song” because she was singing praises to God for His holiness and the great things He had done. Her song recognized God’s greatness as well as her humble, yet exalted condition.
Challenge: Reflect upon the lyrics and melodies of longstanding Christmas carols such as “Joy to the World”, “Silent Night”, and “O Come All Ye Faithful”. Put a Christmas CD in your player, crank up the sound, and sing along with the music to proclaim the greatness of God and the Good News that Jesus, the Messiah, came to our world to offer forgiveness for the sins of all mankind.
“I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38 HCSB
In Biblical times an unmarried girl who became pregnant faced a difficult time. Since Mary was engaged to Joseph and engagement was considered to be the equivalent of being married, she could have been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her husband to be. Additionally she could have faced being rejected by her fiance and possibly by her own father, which would have forced her into begging or prostitution in order to be self-supporting. More than likely she would have faced a lifetime of being unmarried. Telling others that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit would have undoubtedly brought ridicule and rejection from others. Even though Mary faced all of these potential trials, she willingly submitted to become a slave of the Lord and to carry out His plan.
Slavery is usually considered to be an inhumane condition that carries a negative connotation, but in this verse Mary willingly stated that she was the “Lord’s slave.” She was willing to humble herself and be obedient to God’s plan for her life even if it meant severe hardship. Many times obedience to God’s will for our lives can cause us to sacrifice and experience hardship. God is always faithful and will bring good out of the trials we encounter.
Challenge: Be willing to humble yourself and submit to God’s plan for your life. Praise God for the opportunity to be His slave and to serve Him. Be willing to do whatever will bring honor and glory to God’s kingdom.