It’s Time!

Have you ever messed up? I mean REALLY messed up. Most of us have. The people of God had messed up, too. God had a special relationship with His people, Israel. But they slowly turned their backs on Him. Everything was great under King David, but it started going downhill after that. There were several kings that sat on the throne of Israel, later called Judah, and all of them David’s descendants. But they slowly fell further and further away from God and eventually lost everything. Israel was destroyed. They were kicked out of their land and overtaken by their enemies. They’d blown it. But God is good, all the time. Even though they had messed up, He still promised that one day He would send a Savior. Lots of prophets said it would happen. They knew it would. And they waited. And they waited. And nothing happened for a long, long time. But then one day an angel shows up and says, “It’s Time!” It was time for God to make good on His promise and send the long awaited Messiah, who would not only come to save His precious Israel, but He would come to save us ALL. Way back in the beginning of the story, God told Abraham that one day all the world would be blessed through him. And it was time.

The birth of the baby Jesus was a world-changing event. All of history would be changed by it. It was a miracle. It was finally time for God’s promise to come true. That’s why we celebrate Christmas and the miracle of the Baby Boy that was born of a virgin. That was part of the prophecy that said we would know when God was at work making His promise come true.

I hope you won’t just take my word for it, but read the story for yourself. It starts with lots of hard-to-pronounce names. That’s just saying that the promise to Abraham, that one of his descendants would be the Savior, was true. It also linked the Baby Boy up with the kings who had once ruled Israel. They were His forefathers. He came from a line of kings and that made Him eligible to be a King, too. Not just of Israel, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Here’s how the story goes. I hope you read it and see just how much Grace is found in the story.

Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 — The genealogies of Joseph and Mary

Luke 1:5-25 — John’s birth foretold

Luke 1:26-38 — Jesus’ birth foretold to Mary

Matthew 1:18-24 — Jesus’ birth foretold to Joseph

Luke 1:39-56 — Mary visits Elizabeth in Judea, then returns home

Luke 1:57-80 — John is born

Luke 2:1-5 — Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem

Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:6-7— Jesus is born

Luke 2:8-20 — The angels appear to the shepherds and they go visit Jesus

Luke 2:21-38 — Jesus is presented at the Temple, met by Simeon and Anna

Matthew 2:1-12 — The visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:13-18 — Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt

Matthew 2: 19-23 and Luke 2:40 — Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return to Nazareth

Merry Christmas!

Suzanne

(If you want to read this online, go to www.biblegateway.com and type the references in the search bar)

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Journey Through The Bible

For many years, Read THE Book Ministries has been focused on local teaching with the long-term goal to share the information with more than just those who commit to a 30 week class at my local church. I have loved teaching “Journey Through The Bible” in the classroom for many years and at several different locations. It always surprises me how many people tell me how much that class means to them and how little they actually knew about the Bible before taking my class. Almost half of the people who took the class took it again so that the second time through they were able to absorb things they missed the first time through. I especially love how many older, engineer, logical-minded men would come to me in the hallways and admit they thought they were the only ones who struggled with the Bible, that it’s not laid out in a way that makes sense. They say that I make it something they can understand – and they are so very grateful.

But this past summer, as I began thinking about teaching in the classroom again, I realized I want to do more than just tell you the stories and walk you through the events of history which is how the class works. I want you to read them for yourself. I know, I know – it’s hard! So I want to do some hand-holding while we go through it together. And I don’t want to be limited to just those who can be with me in the classroom. I want to reach out to those who may not be able to take a class with me. So I began thinking about ways to do that. I’ve decided on the Book Club format and will be using a Facebook group for discussion and accountability. I’ll give weekly reading assignments and send out helpful information to keep you on track. I’m going to start in January with a reading plan to read through the Bible in 2017. I’ll host weekly gatherings to discuss what we read and answer questions, but I won’t be actively teaching – that’s what the weekly notes are for. Hopefully I will be able to tweak the idea as we go and as I get feedback from those who will join me as I wander into new territory with this new idea. Contact me for access to the Facebook group. A new Journey begins!

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The Land of the Lost

There used to be a TV show called The Land of the Lost. It was about a family that somehow fell through time and ended up in prehistoric dinosaur days. I tuned in every week to see if they miraculously got back home without being eaten by a T-Rex. There is a story in the Bible (Luke 15) about a guy who found himself living in a Land of The Lost. There was a son that went to his father and asked for his inheritance money so he could leave home. The father gave it to him and he hit the road. He spent all the money and one day realized he didn’t have any money, he didn’t have a job, he didn’t have anything left. He was living in The Land of The Lost. He tucks his tail and goes home to ask his dad for a job; he’s willing to work for his father to earn some money; he had hit rock bottom. When he gets home, he sees his father standing out in the road, waiting for him. He tells his Dad he’s sorry and after his father hugs him, the father prepares a big feast to welcome his lost son home.

Jesus was telling the story to make a point. In fact, He told three different stories about lost stuff being found and how happy it made the person who had lost them. He was making the point that when something that was once lost gets found, you stop worrying about the circumstances in which it got lost and you just celebrate its return. He even said that was how God felt when a person who has been lost, gets found. When someone who has been living a life away from God comes BACK to God, He rejoices.

Have you been lost? I don’t mean – you can’t figure out which exit to take on the freeway lost. I mean – you can’t figure out which way to go in LIFE lost. I have. I have BTDT and it stinks. I sort of hit my own version of rock bottom and cried out to God for help. And you know what? He took me back with open arms. At that point, my journey toward a NEW LIFE IN CHRIST began.

Are you tired of living in The Land of The Lost; desperately wanting another chance? A fresh start? A New Life? The Bible says that His mercies are new every morning. It’s a good thing, too, because there are many, many times I need another chance. And another. And another. In the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son, Jesus said the father (God) was waiting, watching, hoping the son would come home. God is waiting, watching, and hoping you will come home, too.

You’ve probably heard the song Amazing Grace before. The first verse says: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.” Are you ready to pack up and leave The Land of The Lost? If so, welcome to your NEW LIFE IN CHRIST!

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New Life In Christ – Accepting Christ as Your Lord and Savior

You’ve probably heard the phrase “accepting Christ” before, but WHAT does it mean and HOW do you do it? Christians are called Christians because we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We learn about Christ by reading the Bible. I’ll explain more about the Bible in another post, but for now, just know that the bold words below are from the Bible. As you learn more about Christ, you may want to become a Christian. Why would you want to do this? Because Christians believe anyone who does not accept Christ cannot enter into eternal peace after our physical bodies die. We believe God is calling out to each of us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or what we grew up believing, everyone can be Saved by Accepting Christ. This is one way to understand it:

Nobody’s perfect. We have all sinned against God and against each other. You don’t have to be perfect in order to talk to God; you don’t even have to be good: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Nobody deserves God’s mercy. That’s what makes it such a great gift! The gift of salvation is better than any present you have ever received because it lasts FOREVER! If we all got what we deserved, we would get a one-way ticket to nowhere. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) It’s because Jesus already took our punishment for all the rotten things we have ever done, or ever will do, that we don’t have to get what we deserve. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) All we have to do to receive this gift of eternal life with God is to simply ask Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior – and believe that He will rescue us from sin and death. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Jesus doesn’t mind if we still need some work once we accept Him. The good news is that now we have His help to do all that He would ask us to do. Once we call Him Lord, He will be our guide through the rest of our lives, both here on earth and forever in life-after-death. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

If you would like to have Jesus as your Lord and Savior, pray this prayer or any other that comes to your mind (you might even consider praying out loud):

Lord, I know I don’t deserve it, but would You please take me as one of Your own? I want to be included in Your family and live with You forever in Your eternal kingdom. I haven’t done such a great job with my life so far, but if You will have it, I give it to You. I believe You sent Your son, Jesus Christ, to take my place on the cross and set me free from the eternal emptiness that I deserve. I’m sorry it had to be like that. Thank You for what You did for me. I now completely turn my life over to You and commit to a life of learning more about You, serving You in every way that I can, and sharing Your love with everyone that You put along my path.

In the Holy Name of Jesus Christ- Amen!

That’s it. No magic fairy dust, chants, or ceremonies. If you have not been baptized, please find a local church where you can do this. It is important to become part of a church family where you can worship Him weekly, study about Him through classes and other small groups, receive Holy Communion, and use the gifts and talents you have been given (Yes! You do have them) to serve Him in whatever way He leads. Don’t worry if it takes a while to figure this out, just commit to getting to know Him and His Word, and in time, you will find your way. And keep coming back here to learn more about your NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.

Congratulations! And welcome to the family!

Therefore, if ANYONE is in Christ, he is a New Creation; the old is gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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Life After Death

John 11 tells the story of a friend of Jesus named Lazarus. The story begins by telling us that Lazarus is sick and his family calls Jesus to come, but Jesus doesn’t come right away and Lazarus dies. A few days later Jesus arrives, goes to the tomb where Lazarus is laid, and calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” – and he does. Fully alive. Resurrected. Given New Life.

Several weeks ago I was invited to participate in an online group called The Lazarus Experiment which posed the question, “Do you think Lazarus lived the same way after his resurrection experience as he did before? How do you think his life changed?” Then we were challenged to live our own lives as Lazarus would have when given his New Life – because, after all, we, too, are a resurrected people given New Life. The daily devotions and stories that generated out of that group were amazing, wonderful, inspiring, and challenging.

So I ask you – how would you be changed if you were given a new lease on life? A new opportunity to tell people you love them, to apologize for things you should have apologized for but pride got in your way, to hug those around you and not let go, to do all the things you keep saying you are going to get around to one day but never do, to stop worrying about what other people think and follow your heart, to tell people about Jesus and the New Life He offers? What do you think Lazarus would have done when he came out of that tomb? I bet he told everyone he knew and anyone else that would listen about what Jesus Christ had done for him. Will you do the same? I hope so. That’s my new challenge, to think like Laz and ask myself regularly, “What would Laz do?”

To learn more, read:

  • John 11
  • Ephesians 2
  • 1 Corinthians 15

“I Am the resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

 

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Saved By Grace

I grew up in the Bible Belt, the nickname for the deep south given because of the church’s influence and the high number of Christians. Most of us born in the south back in the olden days, the nineteen hundreds, grew up in church. People were identified by what church they went to, “They go to the big Baptist church downtown,” etc. I didn’t know too many people that weren’t identified with some sort of church. Now, I have been involved with the Methodist church, the Baptist church, the Presbyterian church, and several non-denominational churches over the years. One thing I’ve noticed about the different denominations – they aren’t so different when it comes down to what we believe. We all believe we are Saved by Grace. What does that mean?

“Saved by grace” means that we are saved from eternal punishment for our sins because of God’s love for us and not because of anything we do to earn it. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God loves us because He loves us, the end. We don’t have to earn God’s love, it is a free gift. That’s called grace. We don’t deserve it, but He gives it anyway. We can have faith in His grace and not have to depend on our good works. Good thing, huh? We’d all be in trouble if that weren’t the case.

This is an important concept to understand because there are many people who feel they should DO certain things, boxes they should check off, actions that are required of them before they can be ‘saved.’ That is not what the Bible teaches. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:8-9, “You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.” (CEV)

So, does this mean that we can accept Christ as our Savior and keep on sinning? What if we become a Christian and then keep on acting the same as we did before? Didn’t we already learn that we become new creatures when we accept Jesus? Well, to me this is where grace comes in. Yes, when we accept Christ we are saved. Period. But it is my personal belief that it is at that point that we start becoming new creatures because the Holy Spirit comes to live and work inside us. The more we know about God and His love for us, the more we desire to live in such a way that we bring glory and honor to Him. Is it an overnight change? Sometimes. Sometimes it takes a while. It can be a gradual thing for some of us. The more we invest ourselves in knowing Christ, the more like Him we become. From the time we accept Christ, we are saved and we begin to grow more and more like Christ. In John 3, we read that Jesus said we must be born again. I think He understands that just like babies, we need time to grow, develop, mature. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit working in us to bring about the new creation. That’s what sets Christians apart. We believe that we are saved not because of what we do, but because of what God does. That’s called Grace. Isn’t it amazing?

To learn more, read:

  • Romans 3, 6, 8, and 15
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • 2 Timothy 2

“But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His Name.” John 20:31

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His Mercies Are New Every Morning

If you were to read the first part of Lamentations you would hear the writer crying out about how hard his life has been, about how everything that could go wrong did, and then it got worse. Poor guy. Talk about being raked over the coals. We might think we’ve got it bad, but this guy probably had it worse. In fact the whole book tells about a terrible time in the history of the nation of Israel. A lament is a sad song or poem and the whole book tells the sad story. But right at the end of chapter 3, he says – “Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.” (Lamentations 3:21-24 NRSV)

There’s a hymn based on this passage:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Wow. Every morning. Can you imagine? Yes, we endure hard things and sometimes it feels like the sun will never shine again. But this tells us that every morning brings new mercy because of His steadfast love. And this gives us hope. Don’t lose hope. It might seem dark right now, but the sun will come up in the morning, and with it – new mercies. I don’t know about you, but that brings me great comfort. I have been through hard times, and you have, too. But just like the writer of Lamentations 3, we must choose to find hope in the knowledge that His love, His mercy, and His faithfulness will outlast our troubles. Keep reading Lamentations 3 and you find, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him.” (vs 25) Are you seeking Him and His mercy? I hope so. That’s where hope is found.

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