This year’s theme is “God First,” and this quarter we are looking at scriptures that reinforce our own relationship with God. Hands down, the best way to get closer to God is to spend time with Him in the scriptures. Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV). Because it is the living word of God, “no creature is hidden from his sight” (vs. 13) and we must all give an account before God.
The word of God is not meant to expose, but to direct us toward the heart of God. It shows us where we are wrong and points us to what is right. It instructs us how to treat our fellow man and care for those in need. It shapes our heart and marks out the course of our life, both on earth and our eternal life. God’s word points us to Jesus. Without regular reading, we not only become Bible illiterate, we also lose our connection with God.
Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Wow! Do we read our Bibles every day with that much passion and conviction?
The Bible uses the word “endurance” (sometimes translated as patience) 32 times in the New Testament. It’s a combination of the words “under” and “remain,” literally meaning to remain under challenges we face. One of the most famous occurrences of this word is in Romans when Paul says that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3, 4 ESV).
Remaining under adversity produces character and that character produces hope. The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the races that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Attaining, building, and running with endurance begins to build character that, in turn, produces hope.
Enduring hardships becomes challenging when we don’t completely rely on God. Enduring our afflictions aides in the comfort of our fellow brothers and sisters in their time of need: “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings we suffer” (2 Cor. 1:6). Putting God first means that we learn, as difficult as it is, to endure. Endurance comes at a great cost. But when we endure, we become invaluable to others who are suffering also.
Our theme this year is God First. In the first quarter we’ll be talking about our own relationship with God. A huge part of loving God means that we should care for the bodies God gave us. Physical health is important for spiritual wellbeing. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul urged him, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23 ESV).
Clearly Paul wanted Timothy to get well. It’s interesting that an apostle who had the gift of healing didn’t pray for Timothy or lay his hands on him. Instead, he told Timothy to work on his own health and wellbeing. John was also concerned for the physical health that had a direct impact on the soul of his readers: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).
There is a direct correlation between how we feel physically and how we feel mentally and spiritually. When we are sick, over eat, eat or drink bad foods, or lack exercise, we generally feel bad. Studies show that bad diets contribute to depression. Particularly, processed foods are the worst culprit. Healthy living contributes to a healthy mind and helps keep us fresh, sharp, and better focused on God.
Our theme this year is “God First.” When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, God also gave him the greatest commandment. That is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). God reminded the Israelites to follow the commandments, “that it may go well with you.”
The biggest part of loving God and following his commandments is to bind them on the heart (vs. 6). Learning the commandments so they can be lived out was not just a head exercise, but was one of the heart too. And the Israelites “shall teach them (the commandments) to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (vs. 7).
God was essentially saying that he was to be on the hearts and minds of people constantly. This is far removed from how we connect with God today. Many Christians have been Christians for decades and have never read the Bible from cover-to-cover. The Israelites, on the other hand, recited them every day, seven days a week. God commanded them to impress them upon their kids and to talk about them all the time. This new year will be a year of shifting our priorities and putting God first in all that we do.
Matthew recorded the birth of Jesus. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, assuring him that he shouldn’t fear to take Mary as his wife. The angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). This is literally the best news for mankind! God is the author of life. Sin leads to death. Since we all sin, we need a savior who can save us from our own sins.
That God loved us enough to send his son to take away our sins is a miracle. Sin is destructive. It always harms people, breaks up relationships, and can even lead to self-harm. Being freed from all of our sins is a gift unlike any other. Eternal salvation is something we can’t really comprehend. To worship God for the rest of eternity is the best gift we can ever be given.
As we celebrate Christmas, it’s a reminder of how blessed we are that we serve a God who rescued us from our sins. It’s a time to reflect and share in our blessings with others. Because God loves us, we should take time to share gifts with others who are less fortunate. Many people will spend Christmas alone. We need to remember and bless them in the name of Jesus.
We all know the verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God didn’t just give His son on the cross, but he gave him in birth too. The depth of love that God has for us is difficult for us to grasp.
When the birth of Christ was announced, it was great news for the Jewish people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. We especially see this with a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). Simeon was told that he wouldn’t die until he was able to see the baby Jesus. When he did, he took him in his arms and blessed him.
Jesus’ life was rooted in justice and righteousness, and his love flowed from that foundation. Love required him to radically defend the innocent and vulnerable, to heal the sick and care for the poor and downtrodden. This is what love looks like. Love is a fierce defender. Ultimate love saves. As we look towards the birth of Jesus, we most definitely need to focus on his love!
The birth story of Jesus is absolutely incredible. God chose to announce the birth of His son to a tiny group of shepherds in a field in the middle of the night. It’s very difficult to wrap our heads around just how significant this is. We buy the lie that really big things happen to us when we have enough time, money, or a big enough platform. “If only I had the resources to. . . ” becomes a mantra. Or we make excuses like, “Our church is too small to. . . ” But the reality is that the God of the universe announced His son, the savior of mankind, to a group of sleepy shepherds.
But the message of joy is just as important: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 ESV). This theme of joy is found repeated throughout the scriptures. During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the Israelites heard the Law read and they began to weep. Nehemiah told them not to weep then said, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The joy of the Lord is our strength! And the joy that comes because of Jesus’ birth is for all people. This is most definitely something that more people need to celebrate.