Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We'll Leave It All Behind Us

We'll Leave It All Behind Us
A Poem of Christ's Coming Again
by Sarah Jinright

December 24, 2012
Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Nation against nation
And kingdoms set apart,
And pestilence and famine—
Do you quake within your heart?—
Wars and rumors!—Are you troubled
And stirred up within your mind?
Oh friend in Christ, be not afraid,
We'll leave it all behind!

As lightning threaded over
The canvas of the sky
And striking through the storm clouds
With heaven's battle cry,
So comes the Son of Heaven,
His enemies to bind—
The days of darkness over—
Praise His Name!—Now left behind!

We'll leave it when the trumpet
Tramples oe'r the eastern sky,
When the saved surpass the summits
Of the mountains as they fly!
And Satan's final plummet
From his lie will then be nigh—
Yes, we'll leave it all behind us
When Christ calls us by and by.

The Perfect Present

The Perfect Present
A Christmas Study, Part 6
by Sarah Jinright

December 23, 2012
Scripture Reading: Luke 2: 25-38

Have you been scouring the mall looking for just the right gift to give each person on your Christmas list? Advertisements bombard us this time of year—on the television, in the mail, on the computer, and in the newspaper. Many advertisements boast that their product is “the gift that keeps on giving!” If that is so, why is it after Christmas, so many people keep right on wanting?
In our Scripture today, we are introduced to two devout servants of God who are faithfully serving God and believing that he will keep his promises. Like children waiting for Christmas morning, they were waiting with faith and expectation, that Someone truly wonderful would come from God. They were clinging to a prophecy made by the prophet Isaiah in regards to the Messiah:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The world today is still looking for the characteristics described by these names of God. People are searching for the next best “wonderful” thing, for guidance and counsel, for power and beauty, for immortality, and for peace. During the Christmas season, we tend to rush around buying one another gifts that advance our pursuits for these fulfillments, when what we really need to end our search, is what God sent us so long ago on Christmas Day—the Christ child in the manger.
Isaiah 9:7 says that “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” The time surrounding Christ's birth and life were marked times of political unrest. We also live in a time when there is much concern over the state of our government. People were looking in Christ's time, as they are now, for the assurance of that perfect and just leader.
Fortunately, if we follow the star to the manger, we find help in this regard as well. No matter the state of the economy, we can always know that God's eye is on the sparrow and that He has promised to provide for our needs. No matter the outcome of an election, we can be confident that God's hand is in all things and that He is still on the throne in Heaven.
Whatever you find yourself searching for this Christmas season, open your heart to the wonderful, the counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Christ Jesus is all these things, and He is the child in the manger—the perfect gift of Christmas.

Looking Forward to the Light

Looking Forward to the Light
A Christmas Greeting
from Dr. Bryan Brooks

December 22, 2012
Matthew 24: 36-44

Dear Ones,

Matthew 24:44 says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” What a piece of advice! It encourages us to be ready all the time, not only for the end but for whatever the moment brings!
When we wake up, we should prayerfully commit to live the life God has given us to live right now. Don't live yesterday over and over again. Don't save your best self for tomorrow. Don't put off living the kind of life God desires us to live.
Live a caught-up life, not a put-off life, so that wherever you are—fishing in the ocean or grinding at the shipyard, caring for a family, or just going about the everyday business of your life—you are ready for God, for whatever happens next—not afraid but wide awake. Be watching for the Lord who never tires of coming to the world, and who someday will come again to take His own to eternal light.

Merry Christmas!
Dr. Bryan Brooks

Revelation 22:3-5,
and 16

“No longer will there be any curse.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city,
and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face,
and his name will be on their foreheads.
There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light . . . .
I, Jesus,
have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David,
and the bright morning

Jesus, the Light of the World

Jesus, the Light of the World
by Hal Hostetler

December 21, 2012
Scripture Reading: John 1:1-9

Today is the “Winter Solstice,” the beginning of winter, the shortest day of the year. On this day everyone north of the equator will experience the least amount of sunlight for the whole year. The ancients recognized that fact and celebrated the return of the sun shortly thereafter. It was fitting therefore that Christ’s people would celebrate the coming of God’s light into the world during that same time-frame.

Today much of mankind looks with joy to “Christmas.” We who know Him, the great “I AM,” look to it as CHRISTmas. It is He, Christ, who is the light of the world. In John 8:12, Christ says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of
life.” In turn, Jesus made us to be light to the world around us.

Bearing light to others is a great responsibility. Light brings life, and Jesus is, in fact, both. John 1:4 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” But light also exposes, proves, and reproves. Not all wish to be in that light, and may reject it as described in John 3:19-20: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Nevertheless, our calling as believers is to shine Christ’s light into a world lost in darkness and sin. Acts 1:8 says, “ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” If you know Jesus as Savior and Lord, you know these things, but like all believers, you must grow in His knowledge and grace. Even as we grow older, we need to read, study, and learn—though we may need a stronger light to do so!

If this is new to you, be assured that God loves you and is calling you even now to come to that light. Let Christ fill your heart and make His home within you. Give your R.S.V.P. to the invitation that is offered to all people in Revelation 3:20. “Here I [Jesus] am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

So this Christmas when you put up your lights, “hang a shining star upon the highest bough, and have yourself a merry little Christmas” while reveling in the true Light of the world!


A Poem of Redemption
by Sarah Jinright

December 20, 2012
Scripture Reading: Genesis 22

In a time long forgotten, at the birth of the world,
Before dawn, two brothers sought God in a field.
One brought the fruit of the ground he had tilled;
One offered a lamb, and together, they kneeled.
When suddenly a voice, whispered through the haze,
Rebuked the sacrifice of Cain, now lost within the blaze.
But Abel's, He accepted—for someday He would raise
A sacrifice to cover for the sin of all man's ways.

There would be no wall to climb over, no altar to leap,
No penance to suffer, no stone law to keep,
No priest to confess to, no prayer to the east,
No care to lose rest to . . . For we would be RELEASED.

On the heights of a mountain, a man and his son
Had built up an altar and laid the wood on.
'Twas then Isaac realized what had to be done;
But for trust in his father's love, the child did not run.
His son upon the altar, Abram raised his knife.
How could he kill his only son? His heritage? His life?
When a voice from the thicket said, “Abram here is your relief,
Spare your son, and kill My Lamb; Be blessed for your belief.”

He had no wall to climb over, no altar to leap,
No penance to suffer, no stone law to keep,
No priest to confess to, no prayer to the east,
No care to lose rest to . . . for he had been RELEASED!

On the first Easter morning, a woman in tears
Crept early to the garden where a stone tomb appeared.
But to her amazement, she saw as she drew near,
The stone was rolled away! Her Lord was not here!
The angel said, “Fear not! He's risen from the dead!
The matchless Lamb of Glory has died in man's stead!”
She had come to the garden to weep for her Lord,
But to discover, her hope was restored!

There is no wall to climb over, no altar to leap,
No penance to suffer, no stone law to keep,
No priest to confess to, no prayer to the east,
No care to lose rest to . . . for we have been RELEASED!

Black Lights: Christmas Detectives

Black Lights: Christmas Detectives
A Christmas Study, Part 5
by Sarah Jinright

December 19, 2012
Scripture Reading: 2 Peter 1:19-21

“Okay, officer! Okay, I admit it! I'm guilty!” That's what I would have to say if you put me in an interview room at the police station and asked if I like crime dramas. Guilty as charged. I love NCIS, CSI, Numbers, The Mentalist, Bones, and Blue Bloods. The who-done-it question gets me every time, and I probably spend far to much time watching all these dramas unfold.
Imagine my excitement, when I started to discover a mystery unraveling in the Old Testament. In my favorite shows, I'd seen investigators apply a special substance to their crime scenes, and then hold up a black light to look for clues that they could not see with their naked eyes. Just like the crime fighters on TV, I started applying a steady solution of study to God's word and held up the black light of faith and curiosity. What was I looking for? Blood. Christ's blood.
Throughout the Old Testament, I found picture after picture of what Christ would do for us as the lamb of God, and how his blood would atone for our sins. We've already taken a look at the sign of the passover, but there are so many more awesome pictures of Christ the Redeemer!
One of my favorite clues is when, by God's command, Abraham takes his promised son Isaac to the top of mount Moriah intending to offer him as a sacrifice. Isaac is not a dumb kid. He asks, “Dad, we have all the stuff we need for the sacrifice, except the lamb. Did we forget something?” Abraham must have been in complete anguish, but he expresses faith to his son. “Isaac, God will provide a lamb.” But it isn't until Abraham's shaking hand is raised over his son's exposed chest—prepared to obey at any cost—that God says, “STOP!” He then blesses Abraham's faith, and provides a lamb in the place of Isaac. In the black light, we can see how Christ, the Lamb of God, will be offered in our place.
The trail of clues continues. When Joshua attacks Jericho, Rahab and her family are kept safe only through associating with the scarlet thread hung from the window of Rahab's house. Likewise, we cannot be saved from destruction without associating with the blood of Christ.
During the wilderness wanderings, God is displeased with the complaining of the Israelites, so He sends poisonous snakes to punish the people. God tells Moses to place a brazen serpent on a pole and carry it through the camp. Only those who choose to look to God's means of salvation are saved from the harmful bites. Each individual had to choose to “look and live.”
The clues go on throughout the Old Testament, from the story of Ruth who sought a kinsman redeemer to pull her out of a plight from which she could not save herself, to the very sacrificial system of Israel. The blood of bulls and goats would not always be required. God would provide the perfect lamb. Case closed!
Are you searching the Scriptures for yourself? Christ was God's gift to us at Christmas, but the Bible is God's gift to us every day of the year. Don't forget to open your presents, not just on Christmas morning, but every morning!

The Christmas Strangers

The Christmas Strangers
by George Brisbin

December 18, 2012
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:9-16

The strangers have left their gifts and disappeared into the distance. Joseph, Mary and their new baby are left to wonder.  Strangers come from who knows where, leave gifts fit for a king and just ride off.  How unusual!
Then instructions come in a dream to flee to Egypt. The road most likely taken by Joseph would have been the road to Beersheba.  The road starts in Jerusalem and descends southward from Jerusalem, through Bethlehem, down through Hebron, and on to Beersheba—which is the other port of Palestine on the Egyptian desert.  Joseph had never traveled this road.  He had never been in any of the villages and towns along the way.  The further he and his family traveled south,the more difficult talking would be, since although the language was Arabic, the dialect was changing and word usage was different. 
Now they were strangers.  We know little of the journey to or from Egypt; we simply know that it took place, and that Joseph with Mary and baby Jesus were strangers in that land.  Someone in that land must have reached out to them and taken care of them. Someone must have assisted them with work, food, clothing and housing while they stayed in Egypt.  These people had no idea whom it was they helped, nor the situation from which they fled. Most of all, they had no idea how the child of those two strangers would change the world.
Today we live along an ocean highway. Ships loaded with roundabout 25 strangers come and go from our port daily.  Who are these strangers? Are they important?  Should we care?   We know that none of them are the earthly parents of Jesus, but who are they?  Maybe it is good that we do not know, for if we did, the human tendency would be to only care for those we deemed “important” in our own thinking.
God in His wisdom presents strangers to us as—well—strangers.  We have no idea who they are or if they are or are going to be “important” so we are to treat each of them the best that we can.  Almost everyday, the volunteers of the Portsmouth Seafarers Center, a division of Tidewater Transportation Ministries Inc., meet and help these seafaring strangers along their way. Just like those that took care of Joseph and his little family never knew who they were helping, we don’t know the details of the lives that we touch either.
Once in a while, we get a glimpse—like the wise men who knew the child they visited was special. One such glimpse for TTM  was the day a Filipino seaman requested Tagalog bibles for his brother, a pastor back home. This church had no Bibles until we shared some from the Seafarers’ Center. Who will come from that church? Perhaps it will be a great evangelist, a missionary of exceptional character, or a Christian political leader?  We will never know, but we all have a chance to serve strangers, and in serving strangers we should not forget that Hebrew 13:2 says,by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son
by Greg Wooddell

December 17, 2012
Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

God gives each of us gifts and trusts us to do His will.  If He calls us, we are to obey.  We are to give an account to God as to how we used His gift.  As for Rebecca and I, we tried for 5 years to have a baby; and with lots of prayer and faith, we now have Jacob. As Hannah committed Samuel to God in
I Samuel 1:11, so Rebecca and I have committed Jacob. Our son has been a blessing to our lives and has provided us with a testimony to God's grace and power. 
In February 2012, Jacob became very ill and was admitted into CHKD.  Numerous procedures and blood tests were performed, and by the morning of day 6, the doctors told us that the latest test results looked very bad and that Jacob may not live. The doctors were at a loss, but after consulting with the infectious disease specialists, they thought that Jacob may have contracted Kawasaki's Disease. After a long consult, and as a last resort, a spinal tap had to be performed for further testing, along with a 12 hour infusion of IVIG treatment.  They told us the IVIG treatment was not guaranteed to work; and if the diagnosis was incorrect, it could harm Jacob further.

     So we were left with a very hard decision—to either let things go as they were and pray for the best, or to try this treatment that could go either way. The doctors told us we needed to make a decision very soon as we were approaching a critical time window. If we didn't act, it would be too late.  We prayed for God to make the decision for us and not to leave it up to us.  We prayed for God to present us with an answer, that in our hearts, would tell us what to do.
Within the next couple of hours, God would show us the answer through many signs and wonders. Scriptures came to Rebecca's remembrance that helped affirm our decision. In addition, several doctor shared that if this were their child, they would have the IVIG treatment done.  All of these signs were the answer we were waiting for.  God spoke directly to us through His scripture and through the doctors responses, and we chose to go through with the treatment.

The spinal tap was done, and the IVIG treatment began that night. We were told that we would see results of the treatment by the next morning but that did not happen.  This was day 7 and Jacob was not improving at all and again, the doctors were at a loss.  They were considering beginning a second treatment of IVIG as they did not know of anything else to try. We put out the word of what was happening and asked our family and friends to pray for Jacob's healing. 
Jacob continued to decline for the couple of hours but then all of the sudden, about 9:30 am, we noticed Jacob starting to improve.  He was actually asking for food (which he didn't want any part of before) his color started to return, and he wanted to get out of bed and play in the window seat of his hospital room.  We were in awe and praised God for this miraculous turn of events.  It wasn't until later, we discovered that Calvary Baptist Church held a prayer service for Jacob shortly after receiving news of the failed IVIG treatment. 

When Jacob didn't respond to the IVIG treatment, we sent out a plea for everyone to pray. What we didn't realize was that the entire Sunday School and Worship Service was then dedicated to prayer for Jacob. Little did we know that when the whole church began praying for Jacob, that was the exact moment of his miraculous recovery. So with our faith in God and with support from our christian family and friends, I can truly say that prayer for Jacob worked where no man's medicines or doctors could heal him. With our faith in God that He would see us through this, Jacob began improving and did not need any further treatments.  Jacob had his ups and downs after that and remained in the hospital for 2 more days but recovered enough for him to be released on the 9th day. 

We owe everything to God as He is the ultimate healer.  Without God in our lives and the lives of our friends, I do not believe things would have turned out as they did. We must entrust God with our lives. 
There was one man that God entrusted with the life of His own Son, and that man was Joseph.  When Joseph discovered that his future wife was with child (Matthew 1:18-25), Joseph was heart broken at this news; but rather than put Mary through public disgrace (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), he decided to divorce her quietly.  After much unrest, when Joseph finally did sleep, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “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.”

When Joseph woke up, he believed God and did what we are all supposed to do—to trust in the Lord, to have faith in His works, and to obey. Joseph took Mary as his wife and she gave birth to our Savior on Christmas morning. Rebecca and I both did what the Lord commanded and prayed and had faith in God's healing powers (James 5:15).
Just as Rebecca and I can now use this life experience as a testimony to God's power, love , and grace; do not doubt that whatever you may be going through in life, may be used in the same way someday. May we all have the faith of Joseph, to trust and obey in situations that don't make sense to us or to others, but that are clearly outlined in God's big plan!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Flashlight: A Look into Passover

December 16, 2012
Today's Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-14

Have you ever given your children hints about their gifts under the Christmas tree? Let's face it, we all like a hint! It's part of human nature—inquiring minds want to know! This fact fuels much of the media, magazine, and tabloid industry. People want that juicy bit of gossip, or that spoiler, or the down-low on the most recent scandal. In fact, wasn't it this desire that first got Eve on Satan's hook? In Genesis 3:5, he told her, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Fortunately, God who made us, understood well the human inclination for clues about upcoming events. For that reason, the Old Testament is wrought with signs of the coming Redeemer and what he would do for those who put their faith in Him. Those clues are like the beam of a flashlight shining into the future, creating a “shadow” of what is to come, and perhaps, the greatest of these shadows came with the institution of the Passover.
In our previous studies, we have already looked at the events that led up to the slavery of Israel in Egypt. Now, as slaves, the Israelites are holding tight to the promise given long ago—the promise of a deliverer. God sends that deliverer in the person of Moses, and through the obedience of Moses, he provides the sign of the passover. The passover pointed to the the ultimate deliverer, Jesus Christ.

The passover took place as the last plague of Egypt was about to strike. Because Pharaoh would not let the people go, God was going to send the angel of death to take all of Egypt's first born. In order that the children of Israel would be spared, they were to kill a lamb and spread it's blood with hyssop over the lentils and doorposts of their homes. When the angel of death saw this sign, he would “pass over” that home. In addition, the passover was to take place at sunset and proceed until the end of the next morning. By the end of that time, all of the lamb was to be consumed.

So how is the passover a “hint”? Consider these similarities.

Hint 1) When John the Baptist saw Christ approaching, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) During the passover, a lamb was slain in each household, providing an individual portion for each person. When Christ was killed for us on the cross, he provided each individual an opportunity to be freed from sin, if they would only repent of their sins and accept Him into their heart and life!

Hint 2) The blood of the lamb was spread with hyssop over the doorposts and lentils. The angel of death saw this sign and “passed over” each marked home. Likewise, when a Christian faces death, Christ blood is visible over his heart, and he is spared the deserved punishment for his sins.

Hint 3) The use of hyssop is also a clue. In Psalm 51:7, David writes: “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” Hyssop is a strong smelling herb that is associated with healing. Christ's blood, when applied to our hearts, heals us from sin.

Hint 4) The times set for the passover are mirrored by the suffering and death of the Lord. The meal of the passover lamb was to be taken at sunset. Christ took the passover meal with his disciples. Later that night the soldier's took him. The passover meal was to be entirely consumed by the end of the following morning. Just before noon on the day He was crucified, Christ cried, “It is finished!”

How blessed we are to have a Heavenly parent who gave us such marvelous insights of His love for us. These insights took place throughout Biblical history, and then were mercifully recorded for all generations, through His holy and inspired word ,the Bible. Don't miss this hint! If you haven't already, follow the flashlight's beam to the gift of Christmas. Accept Jesus Christ personally today!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Lullaby

December 15, 2012
Scripture Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Advent Lullaby
by Sarah Jinright

Little Baby, light of the world,
How dark this world must seem.
Did You paint Mary's womb with stars
To warm You while You dreamed?
Did You cry at the cold of the midnight air,
Creator of the sun?
Did Your baby eyes know the future of all,
Little Holy One?

Little Baby, You are the door
Through which all men must pass,
To know the mystery of time
That's been like a darkened glass.
When the shepherds came, did You feel a chill
Through the drafty, open stall?
For only wrapped in swaddling clothes
Lay the Holy Lord of all!

Little Baby, Master of all,
A servant You've become.
When Joseph held Your tiny form,
Did You long for Your Father at home?
As You drifted to sleep, did You dream of the day
Your earthly work was done?
When You would return in glory and power—
Jesus, Holy One!

Ten thousand angels sang at Your coming,
And a star shone Your infinite light!
Ancients asleep in the temple
Woke from their dreams that night.
Messiah!” rang the hilltops.
Salvation! God Most High!”
Sleeps in a bed of animal's hay—
Sleeps among men nearby.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Christmas Afghan

The Christmas Afghan
A personal story
by Sarah Jinright

December 14, 2012
Scripture Reading: Luke 6:20-38

The project hadn't started out related to Christmas at all; in fact, my family called it “the millennium blanket” because the afghan took me three years to crochet. This king-sized monstrosity kept my fingers busy during most of my college breaks, until finally, after the New Year in 2000, I finished it. Months later, I packed it into a box and loaded it onto the moving truck that would take me to my first real job as a high school teacher in Virginia.

The afghan assumed a proud place in my new home. Folded over a loveseat where it caught the streaming afternoon sun, I often came home from teaching and smiled to remember my distant family. Seeing the afghan there reminded me of all the love and laughter that had surrounded me while I stitched its many, many rows. In that way, it rescued me from home sickness, and before I knew it, the Christmas season had arrived. My new church had an interesting tradition. Every year, members donated crafts to a silent auction and had a “Christmas for Others” dinner. The proceeds from the auction were divided amongst the church's missionaries in a bonus Christmas check.
Though I had not been prepared for the first auction, I decided I would participate in the next. I bought yarn in country red, blue, and off-white; and began an ambitious American Flag pattern. Then, about a third of the way through my project, Walmart discontinued my yarn colors. Consequently, my project fell by the wayside, and before I knew it, it was Christmas time again.

On the day of the “Christmas for Others” banquet, I walked into my bedroom and shrugged. It really was too bad I didn't have anything to donate. And then my eyes fell on the millennium blanket.

A still, small Voice said, “Oh yes, you do.”

And I answered the Voice out loud, “Oh no, I don't.”

A battle of the heart ensued. For most of the afternoon, I fought the notion that I knew the Lord had placed in my heart. Finally, I gave in. My four roommates witnessed quite a scene. I marched the afghan out onto the back porch to air it, tears streaming down my face. With shame, I recall that my gift that year, was not given graciously.

Nevertheless, the afghan went for a good price. What was done was done, and Christmas rolled into New Years without too much more thought on the matter. When I returned to Virginia after a pleasant Christmas with family, my roommates and I gathered around our little tree to exchange late holiday surprises. When my turn came, my roommates grinned like four Cheshire cats, and presented me with one large box.

Inside, the box was the Christmas afghan! Apparently, they had conspired with someone in the church, to use their funds to buy the blanket back for me. From that moment on, the afghan's significance changed for me.

I was stunned with this thought—this simple, well known, trivialized thought: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his ONLY BEGOTTEN SON.” At Christmas time we celebrate God's great gift to mankind. God gave his best and his only Son for us. Thirty-three years later, Christ returned to Heaven as only He could, in VICTORY, having conquered sin and left mankind with hope—not just for eternal redemption, but for intimacy with Himself.

A decade later, the Christmas afghan continues to remind me of God's great gift and of His goodness toward me. Every time I look at it, I am also reminded that anything given to God will always be returned far better than I could imagine it.

In September 2011, I got the Christmas afghan out early, on September 5th, to be exact. It was the day my husband kissed me and our children goodbye, the day he put his hand on my belly and spoke love to our unborn son, the day he headed off to Navy boot camp. Though my heart was absolutely certain that Wade was following God's plan for our family, seeing him go was indescribably difficult. He was (and is!) the most precious thing that I have in this life, but by God's grace, I'd let him go—not grudgingly—but with a willing heart.

That night, as I draped the afghan over my bed, I thanked God for a life lesson, given at Christmas time more than a decade before. The lesson it represented had been recalled again and again through the coldest seasons of my life. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

God loves a cheerful giver! This Christmas, give to all and especially to God with a willing heart, and trust Him to return your gifts to you with eternal dividends!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayer for Belief in a Dark World

December 13, 2012
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12, 38-48

Prayer for Belief in a Dark World
by Ceceilia Jones


We live in a dark world—

a world of evil.

Help us

to rightly remember

the birth of JESUS

that we may share in the song of the angels,

the gladness of the shepherds,

and the worship of the wise men.

Close the doors of hate

and open the doors of love all over the world.

Deliver us from evil,

by the blessing that CHRIST brings,

and teach us to be merry

with clean hearts.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Greatest Promise Ever Kept

The Greatest Promise Ever Kept
A Christmas Meditation
by Sarah Jinright

December 12, 2012
Scripture Reading: Matthew 1

“But Mom! You PROMISED!” Have your children ever said this to you? Much to our chagrin, our children often remind us of our own words. Then, we are inclined to act on promises made foolishly and casually—sometimes, so much so, that we say something like this: “I don't remember even talking to you about that!”
Do you ever get to a genealogy in Scripture and become bored? I've been guilty of this many times; however this year, when I read over Matthew 1, I was struck by the scope of time that these genealogies represented.
God promised Abraham that through his future generations, the redeemer would be born, and all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham waited almost 20 years for the son of that promise. Then the wait for Christ the Redeemer began. Abraham lived long enough to see Isaac have twin sons. Isaac lived long enough to meet Jacob's 12 sons. Jacob lived long enough to bless Joseph's sons who had been born in Egypt.
The promise then passed through 400 years of slavery, through the years of wilderness wanderings, through the years of prophets and judges, and finally to King David. At that time, the promise was renewed, when God promised David that the throne would never pass from his blood line. That promise was kept in the person of Christ, but not for another 28 generations, during which time Israel passed through doubt, disobedience, and several captivities.
Often, I've wondered why Israel couldn't “just believe” God's Word and His promises, but recently I've realized that I should not be so quick to judge! Every year at Christmas time, we celebrate that “the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise . . .” Yet the saints of the Old Testament waited hundreds of years for the story that we take for granted. We never have had to a consider a winter season without remembering Mary and Joseph hovering in awe over the gift of their newborn son, or the shepherds left stunned on a hillside having just seen the sight of their dull lives, or the wise men dredging through desert sand to give gifts to a King that was prophesied by a star.
I'm reminded of a story I loved as a child—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—in which C.S. Lewis wrote that Narnia had become a land where it was “always winter but never Christmas.”The Israelites lived through life times of winters that had no Christmases, and they were fallible in their ability to believe through a long period of waiting. They're not so different from us, are they?
The good news is that God is God, and He never changes! Hebrew 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We may forget God's promises, but He never does, no matter how much time passes.
Hebrews 11:13 gives this shining report of the Old Testament saints, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
As these men and women looked FORWARD with faith in God's promises, may we look BACK and take note of how God has faithfully kept his promise through the gift of His Son. Having received the “new promise,” may we move ahead, trusting that God will continue to keep His promises to us every single day!

Great Expectations

Great Expectations
by Rebecca Wooddell

December 11, 2012
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:30-33

Mary was described in scripture as highly favored in the eyes of God and because of that, she was given an amazing charge.  She was to be the mother of God’s own son!  The responsibility and implications are staggering. What if God had asked you?  Mary was obedient and willing, truly a beautiful spirit. Mary was charged to raise Jesus in a manner pleasing to God and worthy of His calling. 
As Mary was charged in the rearing of Jesus, so are we charged in the training up of our own children and future generations.  God blesses us with little ones, just as He blessed Mary, and He has great expectations.  Like Mary, we should be obedient and willing to follow God’s lead in the direction of our children’s lives.  Every child that crosses the path of our lives does so with a purpose, whether it be our own children, grandchildren, students, neighbors or church youth.  We are responsible to do everything in our ability to point them in the direction of their Heavenly Father. 
Trusting in God and in His plan, we must consider the future of those children in our care. Just as Mary must have been in awe at the future of Jesus, God also has great plans in store for those He loves and calls. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We must look to God for guidance just as the wise men looked to the star that night so long ago.  The bright star was a brilliant symbol of God’s hope, promise, and love.  As Mary held the Light of the World in her arms, with her heart bursting with love and joy, she must have gazed at that star and felt the great expectation of His life. 
The star may no longer be visible in the sky to lead others to Christ, but we are visible.  We are called to be beacons of light in a dark world. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they many see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Let us shine for Jesus this season, being obedient to His call, and vigilant to His direction.  Let us also trust God in the beautiful plan He has for each of our lives, and let us hope in the future of every child that God allows to touch our lives.

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Expected Light

An Expected Light
A Christmas Study, Part 3

December 10, 2012
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11

Have you ever seen a child write a letter to Santa Claus? When my son was four, he was quite determined to do so. Having scarcely learned his letters, he sat hunched over a piece of red construction paper with a crayon clenched in his fist. He painstakingly formed the words that expressed his desires to Santa, and with all the faith a child could muster, he sealed the envelope and stood on his tiptoes to shove the envelope into our mailbox.
It never occurred to him to doubt that year—to ask exactly how the letter would get to the North Pole. He didn't ask for delivery confirmation or question Santa's ability to deliver. Oh, that we as God's children, could have faith like that today! We, who have received the fulfillment of heaven's greatest promise into our hearts, are frequently full of doubting. Why has God not answered my prayer quickly? Why do so many suffer? Why does no one seem to understand my struggle?
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This chapter of Hebrews also includes the account of Abraham, who first received the promise of Christ's coming through his bloodline. Genesis 12:1-3 tells this story.
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth [Jews and Gentiles!] will be blessed through you.”
Can you imagine? This account happens more than 400 years after the flood, but before God appears as the “I am” to Israel, before the signs of Egypt, or the Red Sea crossing, or the Ten Commandments. Abraham is living with his family among the paganism of Ur, when he hears a voice telling him to leave it all, wander into the dessert, and sire a bloodline with his wife who is barren. If there was a Chaldean loony bin, it's a wonder Abram's family didn't try to put him in it.
But Abraham had faith and acted in obedience, even though he had to wait twenty years to receive the promised birth of Isaac. So, was Abraham exceptionally spiritual to have walked this road? Actually, he struggled along just like the rest of us. Abraham went down into Egypt because he feared hunger, lied about Sarai being his wife because he feared Pharaoh, and sired a child with Hagar because he thought God might need some help making the promise happen. God had to repeat and reinforce his promise to Abraham several times during the years of waiting.
God did not give up on Abraham. Why? Let's go back to Hebrews 11:6. “... he who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith is not a state of being, but rather an active belief that GOD IS, that he is GOOD, and that he is ABLE. This Christmas season, be recommitted in your faith—expect His light! Whatever is going on in your life, know that God is, that He is good, and that He is able

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Reason for the Season

Reason for the Season
by Donald W. Jinright

December 9, 2012
Scripture Reading: II Corinthians 4

What is this holiday for?
Not for shopping and giving of gifts,
But for sharing and caring for hearts,
That would be lost and in the cold.

Why do we celebrate this season?
Jesus should be the reason.
Have we forgotten what happened long ago
In the little town of Bethlehem?

Why do we take Christ out of Christmas?
Just so we can get all the gifts on our list?
The greatest gift was sent to earth,
And THAT is why we celebrate His birth!

He alone can bring peace on earth,
He alone is our life's worth,
He gave all that He had to give,
So that we might live!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Bird Feeder

The Bird Feeder
The Story of a Child's Christmas
by Sarah Jinright

December 8, 2012
Scripture Reading: II Cor 9:6-15

Three children stood to their knees in snow as they watched their mother pull a rickety blue hatchback out of an icy driveway.  They were so bundled in winter clothing that all one could see of them was their eyes, and for a while, they did not move. Behind them, a winter-worn, white farmhouse with green shutters shivered in the December wind, and at intervals some of the drifts from last night’s heavy snowfall shimmied from the roof, the wall, and the windows.  It fell with a clamor on the evergreen shrubs that grew around the house, and the noise eventually shook the children's attention from their mother’s car, now disappearing around low curve in the road. 
The youngest boy squealed as his brother pummeled him with a sudden snowball, and a short battle ensued.   Their sister stopped them when there were two mittens missing, and possibly a hat.  She sat them on the porch for redressing. 
“I’m cold,” said the instigator of the snowball fight. 
“No wonder,” said his sister.  She smacked his mitten against the porch step to loosen the packed snow and then slid it back onto his hand.  “You shouldn’t have taken your mittens off to make snowballs.”
“I’m cold too,” said the youngest boy, who was not quite five—and frequently only a half step behind his brother.
“Goosy,” said his sister, “How can you be cold?  Momma bundled you up so—you can hardly walk!  Besides, it was you who begged to stay home from the grocery store and play outside in this mess.”  She pulled his stocking cap on, tied it under his chin, and smiled. “Now play.”
Strange always—how the very short influence the very tall with such precision—as had been the case that morning when the curly headed blonde in footy pajamas pleaded, “Please Momma!  Play in the snow!  Please!”  Nothing could have been so calculating.
At first, the older children had been opposed—not because the snow yielded any less temptation to them—but because they had yet to buy their mother a gift, and Christmas was less than a week away.  However, upon shaking their piggy banks, they were convinced of the futility of a shopping trip.
“I heard Momma say she wants a bird feeder,” said the girl.  She looked mournfully at the sparse coins on the floor.
“Couldn’t buy bird seed for that,” said her brother.
So they had joined the little blonde conspirator in his pleas to stay home and play in the snow, and since their father worked in an office right next to the house, permission was granted, provided they stayed back from the road and didn’t try to sled down the porch steps.
“Do you think—when Momma gets home—we can slide down the porch steps?” said the little one who had been so eager to stay.
“Are you bored already?” said his sister, “Build a snow man.”
“Make a snow angel,” said his brother.  He threw himself into the snow. “Ouch!”  He sat up and grabbed his elbow.  “There’s something in the snow!  Help me dig!”
All three children quickly set to work excavating the unseen object from the snow bank.
“It’s blue!” said the shortest.  “Maybe it’s some sky.”
“Goosy,” said the tallest, “Sky doesn’t fall.”
“Aw shucks,” said one who had found it to begin with, “It’s nothing but an old plastic crate.”
“Look!  Look!” squealed the youngest.  Already forgetful of the blue crate, he stumbled toward a new distraction on short, swaddled legs. 
“What is it?” said his sister.
“A bird.  Eating lunch,” said the small boy.  “We should tell Momma not to feel bad about the bird feeder. See? The bird’s eating right out of the snow.”
“So what if we moved the snow?” Said a voice from behind them.  Their brother stood holding the blue crate.
The girl’s eye’s lit up.  “Move the snow to where momma can see it—and the birds!”
Later on, nobody could really remember who’s idea it had been, but all three children were consumed with filling the blue crate with snow and hauling it to the picnic table that stood in front of Momma’s kitchen window.  There they emptied crate after crate of cubed snow until a block pyramid rose four feet off the table.  With that accomplished, they took sticks and carved windows and ledges into their creation.
“Now get bird food!” said the middle brother, who had lost both his mittens again.
They sprinkled bird food in all the crevices and then scurried inside to watch from chairs that they pulled up in front of the window.  Before long, a chickadee—a cardinal—a blue bird—all discovered the snowy bird feeder, had a seed to eat, and flew off to spread the good word.
Behind the kitchen window, three pink cheeked children still in their snow pants, watched thrilled and amazed.
“Merry Christmas, Momma!” whispered the youngest boy.
And it was a Merry Christmas.  Their mother cherished the gift all winter long, for the birds came to her feeder until it melted in mid-May.  It was a gift without price, but one she did not fail to point out to everyone who stood at her kitchen window.
In the years to come, the world would change much for these children.  They would grow up and discover that, in a world much motivated by materialism, everything has a price tag.  However, the bird feeder left them with a truth about Christmas they will never forget. 
Christmas is about a gift without price.  Jesus Christ was born penniless, lived selfless, taught fearless, died flawless, rose victorious, to offer us His salvation—PRICELESS.  He is God’s priceless gift to the world, and all who seek him find salvation, nourishment, and refuge.  His Gift will stand—unmelting and unchanging—through this life’s long winter sojourning.  In a season full of expensive but empty attractions, point out Jesus Christ’s simple and priceless gift to everyone you meet.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Prayer for Power on Our Lives

December 7, 2012
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46-55

A Prayer for Power on Our Lives
by Ceceilia Jones

Dear Lord,
Thank you

for Your divine power in our lives.
We need you not only during difficult times,
but we need you
of the time.
Consecrate our hearts, minds, and spirits
as we get through life’s processes

in a more Godly way.
May your power cleanse us
and allow your light to shine
through us
to others.
In Jesus’ name we pray,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Infant Expectations

Infant Expectations
by Sarah Jinright

December 6, 2012
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55

A Christmas Poem: Today's scripture reminds us that God calls people according to His divine wisdom, and not according to whether or not they are considered worthy by themselves or others. This poem references God's work in the lives of Moses, Gideon, David, Bathsheba, and Christ's mother, Mary. Consider how God used each one despite their flaws, failures, gender, and age!

In infancy, we trust to God those blessings given us,
But as fruition finds them grown, have we still heart to trust?
For infancy knows many dreams of height and voice and climb,
But trust we still the Savior, with growth not matched by time?
Full maturation is His boon—a boon in His own way—
His thoughts match not our thoughts, oft times; His ways match not our ways.

He uses for an orator, the one who cannot speak;
He confounds not with the mighty, but instead He calls the weak.
To suit the battle beyond odds, He takes the trembling hand,
Empowers it to act, and thus, He takes the land.
Anointed to be king?—The youngest and the least.
After God's own heart?—The one caught in a tryst.
Mother of the wisest?—A woman fallen low.
Mother of the Highest?—She who said, "Lord, be it so.”

So let us trust in infancy, the plan that's gone awry,
The child who's gone astray, the dream that's passed us by;
And do not think the one who's small, cannot be nobly borne,
Nor think the servant who is mute, may not announce the morn,
For what is done is not about perfection, rank, or trade;
But rather, it has all to do, with God, by whom we're made.
For He who authored infancy sees best around the bend
And knowing all, He rightly joins--the past, and now, and then.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

O Little Town of Portsmouth!

O Little Town of Portsmouth
by Sarah Jinright

December 5, 2012
Scripture reading: I Corinthians 1:26-2:12

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This statement is made of Bethlehem in Micah 5:2, nearly 700 years before the birth of Christ, and like the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” it creates a soft, nostalgic picture of Bethlehem in the mind.
The stark truth however, is that during the time of Christ's birth, there was nothing warm and cozy about the city at all. Though Bethlehem was the burial place of Jacob's beloved wife Rachel, and the birthplace of King David; at the time of Christ, it was simply a city without fortification located a short distance from Jerusalem with a population of barely 100 people. (jesus.christ.org). Yet despite it's seeming insignificance, it was chosen to be the birthplace of Christ!
Similarly, Portsmouth boasts a past full of historic significance, but today it struggles along. As Bethlehem was located near an area of large importance, so Portsmouth finds itself near the oldest Naval hospital in the U.S., as well as the largest Naval Shipyard. However, observing Main Street, one sees the actual predicament of the city more clearly. Real estate signs fill the windows of empty businesses. Home sales have dropped steadily since 2007. Unemployment is nearly 10%, and more than 15% of the population live in poverty (city-data.com/city/Portsmouth-Virginia.html). The need of the city is great.
The challenge set before Calvary Baptist Church is to see the need of our community, as Christ saw the need of His community. As He offered the light of Himself, we must also offer His light. Though we may fear a lack of acceptance or ability, we must carry on, knowing that Christ understands our fears, and is able to work greatly, despite our weaknesses, backgrounds, and failures. God knows we are incapable of human perfection, but he sees the humble heart, the loving heart, and the servant's heart. Not only does He long to see this heart in us, but He also longs to give us His eyes, so that we can see this heart in others—regardless of their mortal flaws.
Though Christ was without sin, he faced doubt and disbelief on every side, even by those who eventually became closest to Him. In John 1: 46, when Christ was calling his disciples, note Nathanael's response to the place of Christ's upbringing: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Are we guilty of asking if anything good can come out of Portsmouth? As we minister to the people that God has brought through our doors, do we secretly doubt the good that we can do—more importantly—the good that GOD can do in their lives?
Fortunately, God is in the business of using weak and imperfect people. Consider Abraham, who had a child with Hagar because he doubted God's ability to fulfill His promise through Sarai. Consider Rahab, a prostitute, but also the great, great grandmother of King David. Consider King David, who fell into adultery, but was still called a man after God's own heart.
Truly, God does glorify Himself, by using weak things to confound the mighty! O little town of Portsmouth, how much God loves you, and by His grace, how much He will do here in this community!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Angel of the Lord

The Angel of the Lord
A Chance to Dig
by Lisa Kidd

December 4, 2012

Did you think we were going to do all the research for you? Surprise! Today, I've got some research for you to do, and some questions for you to ponder. True, I'm going to answer some of those questions on the next page, but let me encourage you to take the time to study.
In the Christmas story, we read of many people experiencing a visit from an angel of the Lord. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and the shepherds all find themselves in the amazing presence of this awesome character. But who is he? In the Old Testament, there are also many mentions made of the angel of the Lord. Is this angel the same figure? In the Bible there are many "clues" to whom the angel of the Lord is. Do you know?
Check out these references and answer these questions. Who did the angel appear to? How does this person react to the angel? How does the angel refer to himself?

Old Testament:
  1. Genesis 16:7-14
  2. Genesis 22:11-15
  3. Exodus 3:2-6
  4. Numbers 22:22-38
  5. Judges 6:11-24

New Testament:
  1. Luke 1:11-20
  2. Luke 1:26-38
  3. Matthew 28:2-7
  4. Acts 12:6-11
Fact Finders:
*The word “incarnation” means “The embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ” (dictionary.com). After reading these passages, do you think that Jesus made an appearance before His incarnation?
*True or false: The angel of the Lord who is often referred to in the Old Testament was really Jesus making pre-incarnate appearances?
*Is the angel of the Lord in the New Testament a different figure?

All righty then. I suppose we've made you work hard enough. Turn the page for some answers, but I bet you've already found some on your own!

Old Testament References:
  1. Hagar, she responds to the angel as the “God who sees her”, the angel claims personal responsibility for her descendents
  2. Abraham, he calls the place “the Lord will provide”, the angel says “I swear by myself, declares the Lord . . . I will surely bless you.”
  3. Moses, he was afraid to look at God, the angel in the burning bush says, “I am the God of your father.”
  4. Balaam, he bowed and fell face down, the angel says, “speak only what I tell you” and later Balaam tells King Balaak “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”
  5. Gideon, he calls the angel Sovereign Lord and builds an altar to it, the angel speaks in the first person as the Lord

In the Old Testament, the" angel of the Lord" speaks as God, identifies Himself with God, and exercises the responsibilities of God. Jesus declared Himself to be existent "before Abraham" (John 8:58), so it's logical that He would be active and manifest in the Old Testament world.

New Testament References.
  1. Zechariah, gripped with fear and questions, angel claims to be Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. Gabriel does not claim to be God, or speak in first person as God.
  2. Mary, she is troubled and has questions, the angel claims to be Gabriel and the passage says that he was sent by God.
  3. The women at the tomb, fearful yet joyful, the angel claimed to know they were looking for Jesus. Then the angel said that “He is not here, for he is risen.” He couldn't be “here” as the angel and “not here” as Jesus.
  4. Peter, he thinks he's having a vision, he does not speak with the angel nor does the angel identify himself specifically, but Peter says after the incident, “I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me . . . .”

In these passages, we learn that the appearances of the angel of the Lord change after the incarnation of Christ. So are the appearances always precise ways to the identify God in the Scripture? In the Old and New Testaments, there are differences in reference to identity. Many students of the Word believe that God's appearances as the Angel of the Lord stop after Christ came to earth as a man; hence, the New Testament appearances of the angel are simply messengers sent from heaven.
Whatever the case, whether the angel of the Lord was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ ( Christophany) or an appearance of God the Father (Theophany), it is highly likely that the phrase "the angel of the Lord" identifies either a physical appearance of God or the appearance of one sent by God. What a blessing to know that He would take such extraordinary measures to communicate with mankind!
Father, help all of us to understand who the angel of the Lord is, and for us to give less to the world and more to the One who made it. May we all give thought and give You all the praise and glory. Amen.