Christmas is a time when people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus, Messiah. He is the savior of mankind, and certainly is worth celebrating. But we can’t forget that the reason there was such a high anticipation for the Savior to come is because people were living in desperation, having been ravished by Assyrian and Babylonian captors and seeing the daily oppression that was their new reality. It wasn’t just sin that mankind needed saved from. It was oppression and a lack of justice.
Isaiah 59 foretells a time when the Christ will come: “‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 59:20 ESV). Before the Light came, there was darkness. The people were despondent from living in utter darkness for so long.
Isaiah painted the grim reality: “We hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. . . We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:9-11).
If we truly are going to get into the Christmas spirit, we need to remember the oppressed. We need to reach out to those who are destitute and feed and clothe them. Jesus can’t be reduced to a Christmas tree and lawn ornaments. The reason we celebrate a savior is because people needed a savior. They needed a protector and defender. They needed a savior who was willing to lay his life down for others. Always remember the reason for the season.
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We are coming up on the American Thanksgiving season. It’s a reminder of our nation’s history and how the pilgrims broke bread with the natives after enduring the long, dangerous trek across the open ocean. As we enter this season, we’re reminded of all that God does for us. He sustains, protects, loves, saves, and executes justice.
The current general mental and spiritual outlook in the US is grim. Suicide among our youth is the highest it has ever been and is the second leading cause of death among young people. Drugs and negativity have overtaken our cities and have permeated even the deepest of our rural communities.
An article from two years ago called The shocking impact negative people have on your brain, according to science, is making its rounds again. The article explains how neurons in the brain that “fire” are neurons that “wire.” In other words, if we hear negativity all the time, our brain chemically becomes hardwired to perceive the world through negativity, regardless of reality. The opposite is also equally true–the more thanksgiving we hear, the quicker our brains become hardwired to perceive things with optimism and hope.
It’s no surprise that the Bible instructs us to be thankful. Over and over again. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:1-4 ESV).
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If the Word is the diet part of our walk with God, faith is the exercise. Faith is not only something we “have,” it’s especially something we do. Saying we “have” faith is like saying we “have” exercise. It just doesn’t make sense. James asked, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). Our faith is something that is lived, not something that is sought. Saying, “I just need more faith” is like saying “I just need more exercise.”
It is assumed in the Bible that our faith is something done, not something that is received. By faith all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 obeyed. They went. The followed. They led. The helped. They ministered. There were the actions that resulted in living out their faith. If we are truly people of the faith, we are active every day. There’s not a day that passes where we are not actively living by faith. We must be calling people, visiting with the sick, sharing our time and money with the poor, and helping the orphans and widows in their distress.
The phrase “going to church” is about as helpful as “going to the gym” if all we do is sit and watch others work out. Our faith is the exercise portion of our daily regiment. James was right when he said, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).
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Diets are important. What we consume is what fuels us. We will either be productive or we won’t. We will lie in bed for the day or we will get up and get working. Jesus referred to himself as both the bread of life and the living water. He is the vine; we are the branches. The branches cannot live without the vine.
So what is our steady diet? Are we feeding on Jesus every day? Do we have a steady diet of scripture or do we consume junk “food?” Paul had this to say to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV). Paul told Timothy in an earlier letter to immerse himself in the scriptures: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. . . Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. . . Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15, 16).
Paul prescribed Timothy a steady diet of the Scriptures. He wasn’t just to read Scripture, he was to practice them. This was a daily discipline. Christians weren’t to “find time;” living the Scriptures was their time. Everything they lived and breathed was to be rooted in the Word. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it sure does mean improvement.
Living on a steady diet of the Word requires a plan. It requires us to think through how we become productive. It’s a vital part of being Christian. Living the Word daily is important to our salvation.
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When we hear the word “blessing,” we often think of rewards. Think about it. What is the context of “blessing” that is used over and over again? Typically we talk about rewards, and most often we use it in the context of our rewards. What we don’t hear very often is blessings being placed in the context of righteousness and repentance.
In Isaiah, Israel will bless other people by displaying righteousness and calling people to repentance: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV).
Israel is kept by God, who holds their hand. They do not walk this path alone. God does not abandon His people or leave them stranded on some vacant island. Rather, God walks with His people, hand-in-hand, to instruct them in how to live as children of light. He gives them as a covenant for the people, to open the eyes of the blind and to call people out of the darkness of the prison of sin.
Through God, this is how we bless people still today. We free the oppressed. We give to the needy. We sit with the broken. We teach them to do right by our righteousness. We call them to repentance in the name of Christ. Transformed lives are the beauty of blessing!
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When Paul was on his very first missionary journey, he endured incredible challenges. It is not surprising, because the Lord told Ananias that he would show Paul how much he would suffer for his name. And suffer Paul did. From the very first step he took on the mission trail, Paul experienced opposition.
When Paul and Barnabas came into Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead. Luke records that “when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). When they had gone on to Derbe, they circled back and entered Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
In the midst of hardships, Paul and his companions were strengthening the church, encouraging people to remain faithful, and were appointing elders in every church. This is such an example of what the church could and should be doing! Most people shut down when they are discouraged. It is normal to feel defeated. But what happens when we share our pain and suffering and use that to the glory of God? Luke records that, in those same churches, “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5). God will bless the church when we lean into him and endure hardships together!
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As we’ve been doing a series on caring for the poor, we cannot forget about the foreigner. We are in a political climate where a lot of attention and emotion is being poured out on account of foreigners. Immigration is nothing new. Right now in the United States we have almost 50 million immigrants living among us. These are people who were not born in the United States but are now residents. As Christians, we need to look at what God says about how we welcome and treat foreigners.
In Isaiah 56:1, God reminds Israel to “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” When foreigners resided in the Promised Land, Israel was commanded to take care of them and instruct them with God’s word. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people'” (Isaiah 56:3). The godly foreigner shouldn’t live in fear that they will be separated. God grafts them into the holy family.
God is clear that foreigners who obey the commandments are honored: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:6-7).
We are commanded to care for the foreigners and sojourners who are in need, just the same as everyone else. With nearly 50 million immigrants living with us, we should consider it an honor to treat them with care.
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