My father was part of a big, post-depression family. With six other brothers and sisters, and his mother’s two youngest siblings, there were plenty of hands to work on the central Oklahoma farm. But with all those mouths to feed, everybody had a part to play in the daily chores to help put food on the table.
In my younger years, I can remember riding to Oklahoma City for the annual Walker Family Reunion. With nine children in the Walker family household, my family of only three children seemed small indeed. But imagine the matriarch of the Walker family with two younger siblings and seven children of her own, and then to have all of them bring children and grandchildren to the annual reunion. The crowd was close to a hundred people, and certainly no house was big enough to hold us all. My grandmother would arrange for the city park on S.E. 29 th street to be our meeting place. The reunion lasted for a couple days, and activities, stories, and food were in no short supply. It was truly a Walker family annual affair.
One of the biggest family events in the church are baptisms, especially those of children. Rows of immediate and extended family pack the front of the church, just to get a “front row” seat at the joyous event. Cell phone cameras capture the moment, and smiles and tears are on the faces of the proud parents.
Do you think God was proud of His son when He was baptized? Do you think family was present? If you answer yes, then you’re correct on both.
Jesus’ cousin was in the Jordan River, baptizing new believers in repentance of their sins. All the while, he clearly indicated one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Here was John preparing to baptize a member of his own, extended family; Jesus.
Remember when after Jesus came up from the water? Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and landed on Him. Then a voice from Heaven spoke; it was God the Father. He told everyone in attendance that day He was proud of His Son – “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
The Holy Trinity was present in one place at that moment, with family and friends looking on, in amazement I’m certain. If there was any question whether or not those being baptized were doing the right thing by following John’s message, it was erased with the clear audible and visual presence of the Trinity.
If you have been baptized, whether you can remember or not, you became a new creation in Christ. You followed the example given by Jesus thousands of years ago. This was the beginning of His ministry which would eventually lead Him to the cross. This week, remember your baptism, and once again pledge to Christ to follow His example and begin your ministry, no matter what that may look like, for Him!
I remember living in a foreign country when I was very young. My brother and I couldn’t understand the people on the television, so we spent our time “shooting marbles” and reading/trading comic books. Looking back, I’m certain some pretty valuable comic books by today’s standard’s passed through our hands.
As I grew, reading the comics in the Sunday paper became a pastime. The majority of the characters I followed every week have and will remain part of a fantasy world, such as Superman, Batman, and Charlie Brown. But there is one comic strip whose main character had some pretty futuristic ways to communicate – Dick Tracy. Now before you begin to scoff, start looking on people’s wrists to see if they are wearing one of the new iPhone watches! The only thing they will not do (yet!) is to perform video calls. Other than that, they have more stuff than Dick Tracy’s wrist communicator! The future is upon us!
There are both advantages and disadvantages to the new high-tech forms of communications. We can make video calls on our phones and even video conference with several people on our living room TVs. Days of writing letters to family and friends has all but disappeared, and have been replaced with instant messaging, text messaging, snap chat, and even audio text messaging. Are we loosing the art of not only letter writing, but also face-to-face human interaction?
My 20-something nephew expressed his concern with this phenomenon, as he was having a hard time making new friends socially in his new town. Out of his wise mouth came the answer: his generation’s comfort zone is interacting socially using electronic media, and direct contact skills have diminished!
Have we done the same with our worship? We post our services on websites and stream them live on social media platforms. This is a huge advantage for those who cannot attend for whatever reason, or while we are traveling. But have some replaced going to church with watching church?
There are places outside of church where we can have individual and powerful experiences with God. God is everywhere, right? So why should we gather together in worship?
In Hebrews we find “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” There is a purpose in “corporate” worship.
When we gather, we can look into the eyes of another person as we talk with them. We can see joy, pain, sorrow, gladness and a host of other emotions. How much better is a soft handshake than a smiley-face emoji? One may need to be blessed, while another is encouraged to be used by the Holy Spirit and bless others. It is through this gathering we use our Spiritual gifts to bind ourselves together and become the full body of Christ!
Social media is good for keeping up, but let’s not replace our worshipping together with it! Call your friends and tell them “see you Sunday!”
This is the question many students may ask themselves after graduation from high school or college – what next? The completion of something we’ve worked toward for so long can produce some anti-climactic emotions. They may consider “do I continue in my education or grab the world by its tail?” For those who think the latter, they may find letting go once the tail has been grasped a little unpleasant, sort of like grabbing a tiger!
The armed force places a great deal of importance on the transition from military to civilian life. After serving twenty years, a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman can feel like they’re standing on the edge of uncertainty when retirement comes. “What will I do now?” “What happens next?” To mitigate this event, a program of transition begins almost a year before the important date to help service men and women make a productive leap from career to career.
Do you think Mary, the mother of Jesus ever asked, “what next?” She had been visited by the Archangel Gabriel, became “with child” through the Holy Spirit, and heard about the wonderful visit her husband-to-be received where he received very specific instructions.
They traveled from Nazareth to the city of their ancestor David to be counted in the census. It was obvious she was pregnant when they arrived in Bethlehem. We can only guess Mary and Joseph were the only two who knew all the details of the visits and instructions, as well as the mighty things their son would do.
Without warning, stinky, dirty, lowly (on the societal ladder) shepherds appeared in the stable after the birth. No doubt Mary and Joseph were amazed by what they told the new mother and father. They had also been visited by an angel and sat front row for a concert of heavenly hosts! “How could all this be” Mary must have thought. The only answer was everything they were told and heard had to be true.
Mary was overjoyed at all she was seeing and hearing. Her heart was filled with excitement. But Mary must have also thought about the words of the prophets foretelling of the Messiah, as well as the words of the angel.
Luke 2:19 gives us a little insight into the mind of Mary: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The things she was seeing was worth more than silver or gold to her, but she also started to look to the future and the future of her son. She had to ask herself “what next?”
What’s next for us after Christmas? Will we return to the same old routine, the same old “me” or are we going to make a change? Joseph changed. Mary changed. The shepherds changed, as well as everyone they met on the road back to the fields.
Knowing what we know, looking at the story of the birth of Jesus, we should all ponder all these things in our heart, and like the shepherds, tell everyone we see on our roads about the wonderful Messiah born in the city of David. This is the greatest treasure we all can share!
We don’t think a thing about it, other than the inconvenience, when we sit on an airplane for three hours. We board on one side of the country and exit the aircraft on the other side and don’t think much about the distance we’ve just traveled. I remember traveling home from the middle east for “R&R” from one of my deployments and it only took fourteen hours to go halfway around the globe (including stops).
Just think about how far and fast we travel, compared to fifty or even one hundred years ago. The Interstate Act of 1956 authorized the construction of a 41,000 miles interstate system that would crisscross the country. Even as a young child, there were places in Oklahoma where Interstate 40 had yet to be completed in the mid-60’s. Before the interstate system, driving the ’57 Belair coast to coast would have taken a few weeks.
Now consider fifty, sixty, or seventy years prior to the authorization of the interstates. Travel across the nation would have either been by wagon, train, or by boat in some cases. The internal combustion engine was a thing of the future, as well as the corner gas station!
Contemplating all the ways we have traveled over the last 120 years in this country, we forget in the early days of western expansion – we walked! Yes, there were covered wagons drawn by oxen, but people walked everywhere they went. Think about all the hardships that accompanied a family as they moved west across the nation in this manner. The world would not have been as small as it seems today.
Now, add in a late-term pregnancy and you really have issues. This was the situation Joseph was in. It was required that he take his bride-to-be from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestors – the city of David. A census was ordered, and they had to travel. On a good day, twenty miles was about the maximum amount of walking one could comfortably do. Add in a nine-month pregnancy and you’ve got real problems. The caravan they were traveling with for safety sake would have been slowed down, and the path they took would not have been a straight line. Considering terrain and the fact they would have avoided Samaria, the caravan probably covered in total about 90 to 100 miles.
On top of all the robbers and wild animals, Joseph and Mary would have been looked down upon, because of course everyone knew Mary was pregnant long before Joseph took her as his wife – they could count months too!
Even in their hardships, trials, and the treatment they received from others, both Mary and Joseph knew what was about to happen. They knew God was watching out for them, so they could overcome anything! Eventually, just as the Archangel had told them, Mary would give birth to the Messiah!
We all know people around us who are going through hardships during this season. Let God work through us to bless others and make their trip through Christmas time and life a little more blessed!
It’s an old saying, but can we really have writing on our heart? When we were young and preparing the small gifts for our classmates on Valentine’s Day, we carefully chose just the right candy to place in each bag. And it was the special people who received the little candy hearts with the messages written on them in red – the pink ones, yellow ones, and blue ones. And there was that special person who received the little heart that read “be my valentine.” We certainly didn’t want to send the wrong message to the wrong person!
As things touch our lives, specifically our hearts, they leave a mark on them; our first puppy, our favorite memory of our grandparents, or the moment we first laid eyes on our future spouse. There was no way we could erase those indelible writings on our heart, nor did we want to.
Joseph was no different. When he first saw Mary, he must have had the same moment all men have when they lay eyes on their future bride! The marks were so deep, he told his father he had found his future bride. He probably even bragged to his friends he would be the one to marry the beautiful Mary.
As Joseph prepared a place for his future bride, I’m probably certain his carpentry skills suffered. He didn’t exactly have precise wood-working on his mind. Just like all smitten men, his beautiful bride-to-be had written some indelible deep on his heart.
Imagine how his heart must felt when he heard the news his fiancé was pregnant. He hadn’t seen her since he paid the dowry and returned to his home to prepare a place for her, in true Jewish fashion. How could she have done this to him? He was heartbroken.
Joseph knew the law and knew what he had to do. He had to give his future bride a writ of divorce and dissolve the marriage contract. But he loved her so much and respected her family, Joseph decided to put her away privately. The writing on his heart by Mary was just too deep to publicly embarrass her or her family.
It was only when an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife did he begin to listen to his heart instead of his head. The law said one thing, but God was telling him differently. God reminded Joseph what was written on his heart – a writing of God’s plan for all the world.
During the Christmas season, lead with your heart in all matters. Treat people with the love shown to us by God. He sent his only son, to be born to loving parents, and to live the life of a lowly carpenter. Eventually, Jesus would show the same love to everyone who would accept him; the same love His earthly father taught him. Trust in God and His eternal plans!