Charles Stanley – Christmas Giving

 

Matthew 2:1-12

Why do we give gifts at Christmas? When we were children, presents were the highlight of the season, and for some of us, the joy of giving and receiving gifts has not waned. Some people wonder what all this has to do with the celebration of Christ’s birth. But there is a connection—although nothing came wrapped in paper, the occasion was marked by extravagant generosity.

God gave His only begotten Son. This was greatest gift ever given, because His precious Son was the only one who could die as a sacrifice for our sins.

Mary gave her body and reputation. When the angel told her she would bear the Son of God, Mary responded, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Although this was a glorious privilege, it also included the loss of her reputation. Her engagement to Joseph was as binding as marriage, and to be found pregnant before the actual ceremony would have been scandalous in the people’s eyes.

The shepherds gave a testimony. After hearing the birth announcement from the angel and seeing the newborn Messiah, they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. They told everyone what they had heard and seen (Luke 2:17-20).

The magi gave gifts and worship. Having traveled a long distance to find this new King of the Jews, they fell to the ground in worship and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).

Although materialism and commercialism have hijacked the tradition of gift giving to some degree, we must also remember the true generosity that is at the heart of Christmas.

Bible in One Year: 1 Peter 1-5

 

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Our Daily Bread — A String of Yeses

 

Bible in a Year:

  • Nahum 1–3
  • Revelation 14

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

Today’s Scripture & Insight:Luke 2:15–19

One Christmas, my grandmother gave me a beautiful pearl necklace. The beautiful beads glowed about my neck until one day the string broke. Balls bounced in all directions off our home’s hardwood flooring. Crawling over the planks, I recovered each tiny orb. On their own, they were small. But oh, when strung together, those pearls made such an impression!

Sometimes my yeses to God seem so insignificant—like those individual pearls. I compare myself to Mary, the mother of Jesus who was so fantastically obedient. She said yes when she embraced God’s call for her to carry the Messiah. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled’” (Luke 1:38). Did she understand all that would be required of her? That an even bigger yes to relinquishing her Son on the cross loomed ahead?

After the visits of the angels and shepherds, Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Treasure means to “store up.” Ponder means to “thread together.” The phrase is repeated of Mary in Luke 2:51. She would respond with many yeses over her lifetime.

As with Mary, the key to our obedience might be a threading together of various yeses to our Father’s invitations, one at a time, until they string into the treasure of a surrendered life.

By: Elisa Morgan

Reflect & Pray

What yeses do you need to say to God? How can you learn to be more obedient?

Dear God, help us to respond, one yes at a time, to Your ongoing work in our lives.

 

 

http://www.odb.org

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Peace That God Brings

 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Ours is a world in which few people would look to the government for signs of hope. Corruption of power seems more the norm than the ideal presented in Isaiah’s vision of a government ruled by a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, or Prince of Peace. Instead, most view government with a sense of cynicism and despair, and few would see government as the conduit for peace.

In Isaiah’s day, there were many foreign powers and rulers that threatened both Israel and Judah. And, within Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah would go into exile under Babylonian rule. Thus, the original recipients of Isaiah’s prophecy would have heard a promise that a king was coming who would be wise and powerful. He would inaugurate an everlasting age of peace, and foreign powers would no longer threaten or rule over the people of Israel. This prophecy brought light in dark times.

However, the history of Israel tells another story. Isaiah lived and prophesied during the divided kingdom of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians, and soon the kingdom of Judah would be ruled by the Babylonians. Judah would continue to see foreign powers rule over her in the form of the Persians, Greeks, and the Romans. Ultimately, Judah would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of its people from the land.

Was Isaiah wrong in his prophecy, or did he see something more than simply a political kingdom or earthly government for the Jewish people?

The promised child foretold in Isaiah’s vision was not simply a human king or ruler who would come to establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, the titles Mighty God and Everlasting Father attributed to the child to be born indicate that this coming ruler is divine. While the Jews did not have a concept of incarnation in their understanding of God, Isaiah foresees a day when God would be with the people, as Immanuel, “God with us.” And if God was the one who would come among human beings to rule and reign, then that rule would be characterized by wisdom, Wonderful Counselor, and peace—shalom—the well-being of all the people.

But, what kind of peace does God bring if it is not the peace that ends wars and strife among human beings and with the created world? We begin to find answers in the advent of Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

First, the peace that God brings in Jesus heals our estrangement that results from sin. The apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15); God is “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

Second, the peace that God brings enables us to have peace within our hearts because of our reconciliation with our Creator and his Spirit at work within us. It is the well-being that comes from reconciliation with God.

Third, because we have peace within, we can pursue peace with others—friends and enemies—alike. Indeed, the apostle Paul marvels at the new unity between Jew and Gentile when he writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:14-15).

Isaiah’s vision came at a time of intense fear for Judah when foreign powers attacked and oppressed her on every side. He saw a day when God would rule the people with wisdom and peace and when this rule would have no end. We, too, can take heart, no matter where we live and no matter the government we live under. God has come near to us in Jesus and established a government that is available to us as we walk in fellowship under his rule. In Jesus, we have a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.

Margaret Manning Shull is an adjunct speaker and writer with RZIM and a licensed counselor.

 

http://www.rzim.org/

Joyce Meyer – Count Your Blessings

 

Through Him, therefore, let us at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name. — Hebrews 13:15 (AMP)

Adapted from the resource My Time with God Devotional – by Joyce Meyer

Recently I have been writing down 10 things each day that I am thankful for, and each day I try to make them something different. I am literally counting my blessings, and it has been a fun project.

It is amazing how many things we can begin to take for granted unless we purpose to remember how blessed we are. By looking for 10 different things each day, I have gone beyond the things I would normally think of, and have been pleasantly surprised by all the things I have realized are blessings in my life that I certainly would not want to do without—even things like the smell of a good candle or hot and cold running water.

Let’s be aggressive in offering God the fruit of lips thankfully praising Him!

Prayer Starter: Father, help me realize how much I have to be thankful for. Thank You for reminding me to be thankful!

 

http://www.joycemeyer.org

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Power Over Discouragement

 

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“Yes, I do get tired inthe work, but I never get tired ofthe work.” I have heard many missionaries, ministers and other Christian leaders make such a statement. I echo their sentiments.

The first half of this wonderful verse is the sower’s imperative; the second half is the sower’s reward. The first half is my responsibility; the second is God’s – which of course means that I should concern myself only with the first half, since our faithful God always keeps His promises.

One of the enemy’s greatest weapons is discouragement. Years ago that great saint and prophet, A.W. Tozer, preached a sermon on this subject in which he recognized discouragement solely as a tool of the devil, hence one he would refuse to accept in his own life.

It is because of Satan’s wiles in this regard – in causing us to be discouraged and give up – that one of God’s greatest gifts to His children is the gift of exhortation and encouragement, with emphasis on the latter. How many believers have been strengthened to carry on because of the helpful, encouraging word of a friend! And how important that you and I become that kind of friend. Yet, God’s promise of encouragement is far more important.

To “keep on keeping on” is easier when we know that God is faithful.

Bible Reading: Galatians 6:1-8

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: With power from the Holy Spirit who lives within me, I will refuse to allow Satan’s trick of discouragement to hinder my work, my walk and my witness for the Lord.

http://www.cru.org

Max Lucado – No Room in the Inn

 

Listen to Today’s Devotion

Some of the saddest words on earth are we don’t have room for you.  Jesus knew the sounds of those words.  He was still in Mary’s womb when the innkeeper said, “We don’t have room for you.” And when he hung on the cross, wasn’t the message one of utter rejection?  “We don’t have room for you in this world.”

Today Jesus is given the same treatment.  He goes from heart to heart, asking if he might enter. Every so often, he is welcomed.  Someone throws open the door of his or her heart and invites him to stay.  And to that person Jesus gives this great promise.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2).  We make room for him in our hearts, and Jesus makes room for us in his house!

 

Read more No Wonder They Call Him Savior: Experiencing the Truth of the Cross

For more inspirational messages please visit Max Lucado.

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Denison Forum – Is Alexa the new Santa? Experiencing the power of Christmas

Here’s a sign of the times: children are asking Alexa to bring them presents their parents didn’t order.

A five-year-old boy ordered a Tesla; fortunately for his family, Amazon delivered Tesla-branded running pants rather than a car. A mother says her four-year-old learned how to use her iPad to shop on Amazon and “boxes and boxes arrived. He was jumping up and down with excitement that he had ordered all this stuff.”

Here’s a more ominous sign of the times: the Wall Street Journal is reporting on “the generation gap over church at Christmas.” The subheading explains: “Strains surface when millennial children who rarely attend religious services visit baby-boomer parents who do.” The article cites a report that 52 percent of Boomers see Christmas as a religious holiday, compared to 32 percent of millennials.

The last statistic explains Pope Francis’ statement to Vatican officials that “we are no longer under a Christian regime because the faith—especially in Europe, but also in much of the West—no longer constitutes an obvious premise of common life. On the contrary, it is even often denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.”

The ceiling at St. George’s Chapel

This Christmas week, we’re going to see what Christmas can teach a post-Christian culture about Christ. Today we’ll learn about his power and discover why such omnipotence is still so relevant to us.

Colossians 1 states that the Christ of Christmas is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15). This is an astounding fact.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it several times and am always amazed by its stunningly beautiful ceiling. But staring up at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground.

When we stand before it, we can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here: Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word for “image” also shares in the nature of that which it reflects. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

Circling our planet 7.5 times a second

The Bible describes Jesus’ pre-Christmas divinity in other startling ways as well.

John 1 notes that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that the diameter of the observable universe is around 92,000,000,000 light-years. (A light-year is the distance light can travel in a year. If you could travel that fast, you could circle the Earth 7.5 times in one second.)

And Jesus made all of that.

Hebrews 1 adds that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that our planet weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. Ours is one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in our observable universe.

And Jesus “upholds” all of that.

The God who became a baby

Then came the moment when the God who made and maintains our universe entered our tiny planet. He condensed his omnipotence down to become a fetus, the tiniest human life, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby within it.

Then that baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous limbs and raise dead bodies. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Because of the omnipotence of Christ living in us, we have his power over temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13); we can overcome Satan (1 John 2:14); we can pray effectively for those in need (James 5:15); and we can take the gospel to the entire world (Acts 1:8).

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the omnipotent God proved that he could live in human flesh.

He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

How can we experience the power of Christmas in culture-changing ways?

One: Go to God first. We will have the power of Christmas when we submit to the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. We will have the power of Christmas when we walk with the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. We will have the power of Christmas when we serve and glorify the Christ of Christmas.

A post-Christian culture will see the relevance of Christ in our world when it sees the relevance of Christ in us. Frederick Buechner: “For millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.”

Will you manifest the power of Christmas today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Charles Stanley – The God Who Chooses Us

 

Ephesians 1:3-12

There’s nothing more humbling than salvation. We might like to think we did something that made our heavenly Father look down and say, “Now, there’s a person worth saving,” but this simply is not the case. We had absolutely nothing to offer God except our sin. And what’s more, today’s passage tells us that “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). How could we possibly take any credit for something that happened before we were born?

God chose us, not when we were saved but before we had done anything noteworthy—in fact, long before we even came into existence. Our part was simply to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the offer of forgiveness by the Son, and the love of our heavenly Father. That should remove any sense of pride about how we were saved.

What’s even more amazing about our salvation is its permanency: Choosing us to be holy and blameless before Him forever, God predestined us to become His adopted children and heirs of His kingdom (Eph. 1:4-5; Eph. 1:11). Our future in heaven is not only free from the penalty and power of sin but also free from sin’s very existence. Never again will we succumb to unrighteous desires or even battle temptation.

In light of this loving rescue plan, we marvel at the fact that God knew us before we were born and chose to save us. My friend, we should fall on our face before Jesus Christ in humble adoration, praise, and gratitude for His great love and mercy.

Bible in One Year: Hebrews 10-11

 

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Our Daily Bread — Failure Is Impossible

 

Bible in a Year:

  • Micah 1–3
  • Revelation 11

This work had been done with the help of our God.

Nehemiah 6:16

Today’s Scripture & Insight:Nehemiah 6:1–9

“Failure is impossible!” These words were spoken by Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), known for her immovable stance on women’s rights in the US. Though she faced constant criticism and later an arrest, trial, and guilty verdict for voting illegally, Anthony vowed to never give up the fight to gain women the right to vote, believing her cause was just. Though she didn’t live to see the fruit of her labor, her declaration proved true. In 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote.

Failure wasn’t an option for Nehemiah either, mainly because he had a Powerful Helper: God. After asking Him to bless his cause—rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem—Nehemiah and those who had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon worked to make that happen. The wall was needed to keep the people safe from enemies. But opposition to the cause came in the form of deception and threats. Nehemiah refused to let opposition deter him. He informed those who opposed the work, “I am carrying on a great project” (Nehemiah 6:3). After that, he prayed, “Now strengthen my hands” (v. 9). Thanks to perseverance, the work was completed (v. 15).

God gave Nehemiah the strength to persevere in the face of opposition. Is there a task for which you’re tempted to give up? Ask God to provide whatever you need to keep going.

By: Linda Washington

Reflect & Pray

How do you normally handle opposition? What cause are you willing to fight for, no matter how tough the opposition?

Precious God, I need Your help to keep going with the work You’ve given me to do, no matter what the cost may be.

 

 

http://www.odb.org

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Unintended Consequences

 

The modern era has been a time of rich progress. It has been a time of scientific and economic breakthroughs and increasing visions for more and more liberty on personal and political fronts. Yet most of us sense that all is not well in our contemporary world order. Our values, visions, tastes, desires, and longings are all clashing against one another with a tremendous cost in civility, uncertainty, and angst about our wellbeing and future. A number of years back, the scholar Alisdair McIntyre sought to address the competing moral conversations and approaches in our time in his book “Whose Justice? Which Rationality?” His conclusion was that in the public square we have arrived at a place of incommensurable demands and conversations that actually cannot be resolved because the principles involved and the methods employed cannot lead to shared outcomes.

This is certainly a sobering thought and not one to bring a burst of enthusiasm or hope on our early morning reflections. Most of us would contend that we want to view time and history realistically. But what does that look like? Who decides what is realistic? For the Christian, we do so in light of God’s sovereign oversight and rule, in light of God’s word and the nature of reality, and in light of the work of Christ, and in the ongoing work on the Spirit in history. We also take note of what real decisions have been wrought by real people in real space and time, and the consequences of those accumulated ideas and decisions on all we face today. The “inheritance,” if you like, our earlier commitments or rejection of things that were seen as hindrances to personal or societal progress have costs and consequences.

I think here of the intense focus on values and on what one sees as personal rights—such as the quest and pursuit of identity, where this pursuit becomes an absolute and a stance that all must respect. In this quest, the individual is elevated as the sum of all goods and the choice as intensely personal, inviolable, and supreme. With such a personalized value and vision statement operating in many hearts and minds, the idea of compromise, the common good, or any serious validity to views that differ or conflict with mine becomes an anathema. The other is made entirely irrelevant, sacrificed at the altar of self. Reflecting on various versions of how I should “look out for number one” as a means of being serious about my vision and rights, I cannot help but hear a new religious creed: If any man or woman would succeed, let them pursue their passion, take up their cause, and follow their deepest self.

In such a world, everything becomes a simple dialectic of win or lose. Life is easily managed and understood in binary terms for those who adopt this approach. Who is right and who is wrong? Who is good and who is bad? Those who agree are welcomed and those who don’t are vilified. The costs and consequences of this kind of thinking are vast. As a society, we lack any shared philosophical basis to even process the questions. The psychological cost mounts as various extreme views lead the way and fuel deep sadness at the tone and style of interactions. The social price is seen in polarization and fragmentation all too readily confirmed in the hyper-vocal media. The political cost is equally plain to see and painful to admit.

But the gospel invites a contrast in imagination. For the centrality and supremacy of love for God and love for neighbor are clear in the teaching of Jesus whose love is costly and sacrificial. Jesus takes the notion of the common good, the other, and grace itself very seriously. The love of God is both an alternative and an antidote to the strident self-centeredness and selfishness that is fostered by our culture. It is a love that cares, that shows compassion, that reaches out, and yes, that stands for truth while being willing to bear the cost vulnerably. The birth, life, and example of Jesus gives us much to reflect on.

This is a call to renunciation that hits us all at the deepest level but it is also one which would have a serious impact on our own lives and those around us if it were to be embodied faithfully. Am I willing to love others with such a cost involved? Am I willing to deny my right to be right, to win, or to dominate? When in doubt, I turn my gaze to the one who so loved this world that he stepped into it not as a conqueror, but as a vulnerable child. The coming of Christ as an infant in Bethlehem is not just an event or a symbol, it is an invitation to a new way of being.

Stuart McAllister is regional director for the Americas at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

http://www.rzim.org/

Joyce Meyer – From the Pit to the Palace

 

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. — Genesis 37:23-24

Adapted from the resource Ending Your Day Right Devotional – by Joyce Meyer

When Joseph’s brothers threw him in the pit to die, God had other plans. Scripture says that even though Joseph was sold as a slave, he did not have a slave mentality. He still believed he could do great things. Ultimately, he ended up second in command to Pharaoh, the ruler over all Egypt.

How did Joseph get from the pit to the palace? It was by remaining positive, refusing to be bitter, being confident, and trusting God.

Make up your mind right now to do something great for God. No matter where you started, you can have a great finish. If people have mistreated you, don’t waste your time trying to get revenge—leave them in God’s hands and trust Him to bring justice in your life.

Prayer Starter: Lord, only You can take the bad things that have happened and work them out for my good. Help me to stay positive, trust in You, and refuse to give up. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

http://www.joycemeyer.org

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Practicing Patience

 

“You need to keep on patiently doing God’s will if you want Him to do for you all that He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

During a Bible study on this passage, Ted made this contribution: “Spiritually,” he said, “I’m a sprinter, not a long distance runner.”

Numerous Christians would identify with that for there is little patience, persistence, and tenacity among believers. When adversity comes, many of us are prone to give up and lose our wind. That is the reason James says in his first chapter, verses 2-4, “Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.”

You will note the emphasis on patience. All of us are faced with problems, testings, temptations, adversities and trials in varying degrees. We can determine, by our attitudes and actions, whether or not our tragedies will turn to triumph. Our heartache and sorrow can become joy and rejoicing simply by our patience, which is the ability to relax in the confidence that God rules in the affairs of men and nations. Everything is under His control. And as we walk in faith and obedience, we will be a part of His wonderful and perfect plan.

But the question may be asked, how can we increase this rare trait or gift of patience that unlocks the door to supernatural living? The answer is simple. It is found in Galatians 5:22-23 in the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, for one of the nine characteristics mentioned is patience or longsuffering.

Are you patient with your husband, wife, parents, children, neighbors and those with whom you work in the office? Or do you find yourself critical and complaining – more prone to judge than to bless?

As we more and more yield ourselves to God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, the fruit of patience is increased, along with all the other fruit.

Bible Reading: Hebrews 6:12-15

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: I will invite the Holy Spirit to control and empower my life moment by moment, day by day, knowing that the fruit of the Spirit, including patience, will increase and mature in my life.

 

http://www.cru.org

Max Lucado – On Which Side Are You?

 

Listen to Today’s Devotion

(simulated news broadcast)  “No question, the Nazarene will  be executed!  They’ve got the Galilean in custody—our sources tell us one of his own men turned him in… film at 11:00.”

A few weep.  A few smile.  A few walk up the hill to see the spectacle. The immensity of Jesus’ execution makes it impossible to ignore.  See the women arguing on the street corner?  The countless pilgrims entering Jerusalem for the Passover?  They’ll go home with a spellbinding story of the teacher who was raised from the dead.

Everyone is choosing a side.  You can’t be neutral on an issue like this one.  And today, two thousands years later, the same is true.  A choice is demanded.  No fence sitting is permitted.  The cross, in its absurd splendor, won’t allow that.  On which side are you?

Read more No Wonder They Call Him Savior: Experiencing the Truth of the Cross

For more inspirational messages please visit Max Lucado.

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Denison Forum – ‘Star Wars’ and the 12 steps of the ‘Hero’s Journey’: Finding God in surprising places

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the last Star Wars trilogy, opens in theaters today.

I remember my first Star Wars film as if it were last week. I had never seen such technology on a movie screen. And when Luke destroyed the Death Star, the cheers shook the theater.

We’ve been cheering for the Skywalkers for forty-two years since.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the Star Wars business has been good business for Disney. The Force Awakens grossed $937 million domestically, the most of any movie in box-office history. Disney’s new streaming service launched with a Star Wars spinoff called The Mandalorian; Disney reported that ten million users signed up a day after the service launched.

An immersive Star Wars-themed attraction called Galaxy’s Edge opened this year at Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. The attraction sells $20 Blu-rays, $84 Darth Vader gold rings, $32 Chewbacca kitchen aprons, and $199 lightsabers as well.

“A fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo”

What explains the remarkable generational popularity of the Star Wars franchise?

Dr. Travis Langley is a professor of psychology and lead writer of Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind. He explains that Star Wars creator George Lucas “deliberately wove the most successful elements of heroic epics from throughout history into his story.”

Dr. Langley points to Lucas’ use of Joseph Campbell’s work on the “Hero’s Journey,” which Campbell based on Carl Jung’s writings about the power of archetypes and myth.

According to Campbell, the hero takes twelve steps:

  1. Living in the ordinary world
  2. Hearing the call to adventure
  3. Refusing the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold to leave the ordinary world
  6. Testing allies and enemies
  7. Approaching a challenge
  8. Facing the ordeal of death or a great fear
  9. Gaining the reward but facing the risk of losing it again
  10. Taking the road back to complete the adventure
  11. Facing the resurrection—one more severe test, a possible moment of death and rebirth
  12. Returning with the elixir—the hero has been transformed.

Shortly before he died in 1987, Campbell told reporter Bill Moyers that this “journey” is “a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo.”

The “God-shaped emptiness” in us all

Campbell is right: we are all on a journey toward God’s purpose for our souls. Unfortunately, many attempt to reach their supernatural destination through natural means.

Observant Jews strive to obey the 613 laws of God. Muslims live by the Five Pillars of Islam. Buddhists seek to follow their Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Hindus practice ascetic rituals as they attempt to progress through multiple reincarnations toward their concept of salvation.

As Pascal noted, there is a “God-shaped emptiness” in each of us. Like the Skywalkers, we battle the Evil Empire in our hearts and our world as we seek to fulfill our ultimate destiny.

But unlike the Skywalkers, none of us can complete the “hero’s journey” without the help of the one true Hero.

“He went to set up his monument”

First Chronicles 18 tells the story of David’s conquest over the enemies of his people. Included in the narrative is this unusual statement: “David also defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah-Hamath, as he went to set up his monument at the river Euphrates” (v. 3). Think of it: just as a king was building a monument to himself and his power over the region, he was defeated by the king empowered by God.

What happens to self-made heroes happens to self-made nations as well. The Lord said of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria: “This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else.’ What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist” (Zephaniah 2:15).

Trying harder to do better is imprinted on our cultural DNA. Self-reliance explains much of the material success of our society.

But self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. None of us can try hard enough or do well enough to compensate for our sins and earn our place in God’s sinless heaven.

That’s why God came to us at Christmas. It’s why he comes to us in his Spirit and word today. It’s why he calls us to submit to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), follow his will (Psalm 16:11), and depend on his power (Proverbs 3:5–6).

“Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best!”

Max Lucado: “Never did what is right involve itself so intimately with what is wrong. God on a cross. Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best! God doesn’t gasp in amazement at the depth of our faith or the depth of our failures. He knows the condition of the world and he loves it just the same.

“Just when we find a place where God would never be, like a cross—we look again, and there he is . . . in the flesh! Inconsistent surprises. Maybe the next time a surprise comes your way, you’ll see God in the middle of it.”

Where in your broken world do you need to see God today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Charles Stanley – The God Who Rescues Us

 

Romans 3:10-28

When we tell people that God wants to save them, they may immediately wonder why rescue is necessary. In their mind, they are in no immediate danger and therefore have no need of a Savior. Before a person can appreciate the good news, he or she has to understand the bad news.

Every one of us is in need of rescue because we are all sinful and worthy of God’s eternal condemnation and punishment. No matter how hard we try, “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12). This means that we lack the ability to make ourselves acceptable to God. In other words, we’re eternally doomed unless God Himself intervenes on our behalf. And that is exactly what He did.

In order to rescue fallen humanity, God ordained a plan for mankind’s salvation before He even created the world. Since His attribute of justice could not be set aside, an acceptable substitute was chosen to bear the condemnation and punishment that sinners deserved. The only one qualified for this mission was His beloved Son, who took on human flesh and lived a life without sin.

The gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to God is free to all who will receive Jesus Christ and believe He made atonement on their behalf. There is no condemnation for those who take refuge in Him. But those who reject His offer of salvation will have to bear the penalty for their sins themselves.

Christ did everything that was necessary to rescue us. All we have to do is believe and entrust our life to Him by faith.

Bible in One Year: Hebrews 7-9

 

http://www.intouch.org/

Our Daily Bread — Written on the Heart

 

Bible in a Year:

  • Jonah 1–4
  • Revelation 10

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.

2 Corinthians 3:2

Today’s Scripture & Insight:2 Corinthians 2:17–3:6

As a professor, I’m often asked by students to write letters of recommendation for them—for leadership positions, study-abroad programs, graduate schools, and even jobs. In each letter, I have a chance to praise the student’s character and qualifications.

When Christians traveled in the ancient world, they often carried with them similar “letters of commendation” from their churches. Such a letter ensured that the traveling brother or sister would be welcomed hospitably.

The apostle Paul didn’t need a letter of recommendation when he spoke to the church in Corinth—they knew him. In his second letter to that church, Paul wrote that he preached the gospel out of sincerity, not for personal gain (2 Corinthians 2:17). But then he wondered if his readers would think that in defending his motives in preaching, he was trying to write a letter of recommendation for himself.

He didn’t need such a letter, he said, because the people in the church in Corinth were themselves like letters of recommendation. The visible work of Christ in their lives was like a letter “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (3:3). Their lives testified to the true gospel Paul had preached to them—their lives were letters of reference that could be “known and read by everyone” (3:2). As we follow Jesus, this becomes true of us too—our lives tell the story of the goodness of the gospel.

By: Amy Peterson

Reflect & Pray

When people read the “letter” of your life, what do they see of Jesus? Who are the teachers who have left their imprint on you?

Jesus, I want others to see You in my life. May I decrease and You increase.

 

http://www.odb.org

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Christmas Through Indian Eyes

 

India is a land seeped in spirituality. Indians have a worthy reputation of being ardent spiritual seekers. It’s no surprise that the subcontinent happens to be the cradle of at least four of the twelve major world religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. The ideas of karma, mukti, moksha, and nirvana are central motivators of life for any spiritual Indian to this day.

In the backdrop of such a salvation-driven eastern culture, the motif of Christmas seems supremely relevant. Different world religions and traditions have looked at the idea of salvation differently through the ages. Christmas offers the biblical explanation of the human predicament and the divine involvement that enables mukti and moksha.

As Charles Sell poignantly observes of the human predicament: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”(1)

Thinking of divine intervention, Hinduism is replete with the idea of Avatars in its religious texts and traditions. Avatars are divine incarnations that would come into this world at crucial points to restrain evil that had crossed a certain threshold. With their mission completed, having accomplished the purpose of their birth, they seal the circle of life with their death.
The story of the historic Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated at Christmas is similar in some ways, yet vastly different. The eternal Son of God puts on human form in the Incarnation. He enters the very world he created as an infant miraculously born of a virgin. But his entry into this world is not to restrain evil, but to overcome it. Not for a time (yug) but forever. He validated his victory over evil by vanquishing death itself, the final tangible evidence of evil through his resurrection from the dead. He  remains forever, fully God and fully Man. Certainly an atypical avatar.

The beauty of the story of Jesus is the purchase of victory, through defeat, another rather radical and unusual departure from any typical avatar narrative. In a world rooting for macho messiahs and avengers, the Jesus narrative is a counter-narrative, it is an odd narrative, and it is a neglected narrative seldom explored, sparsely understood.

The “all is well” anthem that is peddled around is more an indicator of a deep desire than it is of the reality. We live in disturbing times. All is certainly not well within us or around us. All is not well for those mourning the loss of a loved one, for those battling chronic illnesses, for those struggling to repay debts, for those whose marriages are at the brink of collapse. It is to such wounded and weary, downcast and distraught souls that the counter-cultural protagonist, Jesus, reaches out to and communicates hope and cheer. The biblical, historic Jesus, is deeply familiar and intimately acquainted with human pain and sorrow. He is uniquely qualified to not just sympathize but ably empathize with human suffering and agony like none other.

The kind of Savior that this scar-ravaged world needs today is not an avenger, not an avatar, not a macho messiah, but a Savior with scars. Edward Shillito, a World War I veteran perhaps closely acquainted with scars visible and invisible, poignantly captures the image of the mangled Messiah:

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Mukti, Nirvana, and Moksha are the prominent motifs of Christmas through Indian eyes. For those of us who carry deep wounds, may the gift of Christ birth new hope and comfort, mukti, and moksha. This Christmas might he light up our hearts and homes and dispel evil, darkness, and pain both around and within.

Charles Premkumar Joseph is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Mumbai, India.

(1) Charles Sell, Unfinished Business (Eugene, OR: Multnomah, 1989), 121-122.

 

http://www.rzim.org/

Joyce Meyer – What Is Grace?

 

. . . The [Holy] Spirit [Who imparts] grace (the unmerited favor and blessing of God). — Hebrews 10:29 (AMPC)

Adapted from the resource Closer to God Each Day Devotional

Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit available to you to do with ease what you cannot do by striving in your own strength. Grace is God’s power coming into our lives, freely enabling us to do whatever we need to do. God’s grace is always available, but we do need to receive it by faith and refuse to try to do things in our own strength without God.

The Holy Spirit ministers grace to us from God the Father. Grace is actually the Holy Spirit’s power flowing out from the throne of God toward people to save them and enable them to live holy lives and accomplish the will of God.

We can rejoice and be full of peace, joy, and contentment each day because of God’s grace in our lives. It is His grace that allows us to live in close fellowship with Him. With the grace of God, life can be enjoyed with an ease that produces rest and contentment.

Prayer Starter: Lord, help me to rely on Your grace to do everything. In my own strength, I can only do so much, but with You, all things are possible. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

http://www.joycemeyer.org

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – God’s Gift of Himself

 

“Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17,18, KJV).

Near the Church of St. Mark’s in Venice are three 17th century churches often admired for their highly ornate sculpture. On closer inspection, Ruskin points out, they are found to be “entirely destitute of every religious symbol, sculpture or inscription.”

They are really monuments to the glory of three Venetian families who provided the funds for their construction. “Impious buildings, manifestations of insolent atheism,” they were called by John Ruskin, English writer, art critic and sociologist.

Many Christians are like these buildings. Their association with God is more of a facade, formal and ritualistic. They do not know God as a caring Father with whom they experience a delightful, loving relationship.

As we meet God’s conditions, he becomes our Father, and we become His sons and daughters. His gift of Himself is illustrated in the life of a successful young attorney.

“The greatest gift I ever received,” he said, “was a Christmas gift from my dad. Inside a small box was a note saying, ‘Son, I will give you an hour every day after dinner – 365 days. It’s all yours. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about, we’ll go where you want to go, we’ll play what you want to play. It will be your hour.

“He not only kept his promise, but every year he renewed it – and it was the greatest gift I ever had in my life. I had so much of his time.”

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:11-16

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: I will count myself richly blessed for having so much of my Father’s time and will seek diligently to be worthy of His love and availability to me.

 

http://www.cru.org

Max Lucado – Don’t Quit Too Soon

 

Listen to Today’s Devotion

Our human tendency is to quit too soon.  To stop before we cross the finish line!  It shows up in the smallest of things– a partly mowed lawn, a half-read book, or abandoned diet.  Or it shows up in life’s most painful areas like a cold faith; a wrecked marriage; an un-evangelized world.

Am I touching some painful sores?  If I am, I want to encourage you to remember Jesus’ determination on the cross.  Did he ever want to quit?  You bet.  That’s why his words are so splendid. “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

What was finished?  The history-long plan of redeeming man was finished.  The message of God to man was finished.  The sacrifice had been made.  It was over.  It’s a cry of completion.  A cry of fulfillment.  Thank you Lord Jesus, for teaching us to remain, to endure, and in the end—to finish!

Read more No Wonder They Call Him Savior: Experiencing the Truth of the Cross

For more inspirational messages please visit Max Lucado.

 

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