Archive for December, 2016

Want to keep Christ in your Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” ― Steve Maraboli

Christmas time is here.  Some say that it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Their lists of reasons vary, of course.  The anticipation of Christmas morning with bright paper packages filling the void beneath the festive tree is high on many a list, no doubt.  Family, friends and parties are certainly there as well.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional Christmas story as told by Christendom.  There is that manger scene in Bethlehem with Joseph and Mary, and the Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.  Suddenly, Angels appear announcing to them the birth of a savior.  And, let’s not forget the Wise Men who traveled from afar, led by the very special Christmas star.

Three of the four Biblical narratives contain this customary Christmas chronicle. Not so the Gospel of John.  His New Testament writing is unique as it refers to the birth of Jesus as “The Word” becoming a human being and living among mankind.

Here then is the Christmas story according to John:

1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 That light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

 10 He came into the very world he had created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are the reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:1-14)

Clearly the birth of this man known simply as Jesus is presented by all of the Gospel writers as part of a supernatural plan.  The Almighty Creator took on human form in order to visit the world that He created.  But why did He do this?  Let me suggest four reasons:

We are each one on a road going toward home, but we’re not trying to get there for Christmas. We’re trying to get there for eternity. We want to arrive home safely to our loving Father in Heaven. He wants us to make it safely there, so He has sent a guiding light for us to follow: a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect example.” ― Margaret D. Nadauld

God wants to relate to us.  It is difficult to relate to someone if you have nothing in common with them.  The Newer Testament writer Paul said,

20 “When I am with the Jews I seem as one of them so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Jesus. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. 21 When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence[a] and help them too.  22 When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Jesus and let Christ save him. 23 I do this to get the Gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to know Jesus.”  (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

Paul learned this concept of ministry from his encounters with the Almighty.  He understood that you can’t communicate with someone unless you relate to them. To relate to His creation in a most intimate way, the Word became flesh – God became a man.  Just as light is focused into a sharp image through the lens of a camera, Jesus was the Almighty God in focus.  His life says to all who will pay attention, “This is what God is like and this is what he wants from you”.

Jesus lived his life on earth in much the same way as we live our lives.  He was exposed to the same temptations.  He is familiar with our fears.  He felt life’s pressures.  He relates to us and we can relate to him.  Because of this relationship, we can approach our Creator as one who knows what it is like to be human.

This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols, but the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift –  Jesus the Christ.” ― Frank McKibben

God wants to enlighten us.  We live in the professed “age of enlightenment.”  It’s an era of awareness as we all travel on the information superhighway.  We’re caught in the World Wide Web.  Knowledge travels at light speed.  And yet, confusion is everywhere.  People are wondering what to do and where to turn for the answers.  Of course, advice is dispensed on every cyber-corner.  Much of it is no more than the blind leading the blind.  Seekers everywhere cry out for direction as they search for truth and illumination.  Many wonder, “Whom do we trust?”  In the midst of it all, the message and invitation of Jesus, first proclaimed when he came aboard space ship earth, remains the same: “I am the way, the truth and the light of life… Learn of me…”

God wants to adopt us.  Jesus knew that his visit to earth in human form would be brief.  So he made two important promises; I will not leave you on your own and one day you will be with me.  Followers of the Liberator Jesus are not strays; we are children of the light.  Look at what several verses found in the Bible’s Newer Testament have to say about our position:

 15 “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

5 “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (Galatians 4:5)

5 “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”  (Ephesians 1:5)

It is obvious; God wants to welcome us into his family!  Remember what John wrote “… to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” ― Sigrid Undset

God wants to redeem us.  There is another reason why the Eternal Word became a man.  In fact, it is the most important reason of all.  For without this one reason, the others would have no significance.  Our creator was born embodied in a baby called Jesus so that he could grow up among us, reveal himself to us, die in our place to liberate us, and show us the way back home.

The baby Jesus (God born in human form) grew into a great man.  He lived a normal life until the day when he commenced the mission for which he had come into the world.  He then traveled extensively teaching the truth (to all who would listen) about who he was and why he came to the earth.  It was (and still is) a radical message which promised eternal life to everyone who would put their trust in him.  He upset the religious establishment of his day, and as a result he was executed at the urging of the Jewish leaders by the Romans who occupied Israel.  But that was always part of the plan.  His death was the doorway to another dimension (eternity).  He took our guilt and shame upon himself.  When he cried out in his final moments of life as a human, “it is finished,” the debt owed for the original transgression of mankind was settled once and for all.

It is because of His death that the Almighty One can relate to us and enlighten us.  The death of that one unique solitary man called Jesus has made possible our adoption as sons and daughters of the Creator and our liberation from spiritual death.

Remember that, when you see a manger scene this Christmas, when you think of that star shining brightly in the ancient Bethlehem sky, when you read of the angelic beings announcing his birth to the shepherds, and especially when you see a reference to the Magi.  They are called wise men that came in search of the truth.  Indeed, they were very wise.  How about you?  Wise men and wise women still seek Him today.  Do you?

Merry Christmas!

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved. For additional information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ― Helen Keller

Horatio Gates Spafford was a prominent American lawyer, a devout Christian and a senior partner in a thriving law firm in mid-1800’s Chicago. By 1870, Horatio and his wife, Anna, were living in comfortable prosperity with their four young daughters in Lake View, located on the city’s North Side.  And then, in October of 1871, came the Great Fire of Chicago.  The Spaffords had significant real estate investments in an area reduced to ashes by the inferno. They were ruined financially.  In spite of their personal misfortunes, Horatio and Anna Spafford worked tirelessly for the next two years helping victims of the blaze put their lives back together.

The Spaffords were close friends and supporters of evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899). In November of 1873, Horatio and Anna Spafford were in need of a breather, and so decided to join friends in Europe.  They chose England knowing that D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall.

The family arrived at the docks in New York City on Saturday, November 22nd to board the steam ship Ville du Havre bound for England.  As it happened, Horatio was detained on business and had to return to Chicago.  He sent his family ahead planning to join them as soon as possible.

At about 2 a.m., in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn and sank in less than 15 minutes.  226 people died, including the four Spafford daughters. Among the 61 surviving passengers was Anna Spafford.   Upon arriving at Cardiff in Wales on December the 1st, Anna cabled her husband the following devastating message:

“Saved alone. What shall I do. Mrs. Goodwin children Willie Culver lost. Go with Lorriaux until answer. Reply Porclain 64 Rue Abouckir Paris.”

Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his grief stricken wife.  Many years later, Bertha Spafford (a fifth daughter born to Horatio and Anna 5 years after the tragedy) told of how her father, while on that grim voyage, was summoned to the bridge.  The Captain told Spafford that the ship was “…now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked and sank.”  The waters in that area were over 2640 Fathoms (3 miles) deep.

Later that night, while sitting in the solitude of his cabin, Horatio Gates Spafford put to paper the words of a poem that would go on to become one of the most beloved Gospel songs in all of Christendom – It Is Well with My Soul.

 “When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul…”

“… Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Life can be miserable; sometimes downright tragic.  I’m sure Horatio and Anna would agree.  But I think they would also remind us that God does not want His children to lose heart in the face of adversity or give up over things we cannot control. “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Sometimes, you will go through awful trials in your life and then a miracle happens–God heals you.” ― Shannon L. Alder

I’d like to tell you about two little words: Even and So.  They don’t seem like much when you first look at them.   All the same, they can be a powerful twosome in the lexicon of your daily life.  Together, these two little words never feign pretense.  They don’t deny reality by disguising the hardships of survival with paste on “everything is just fine” smiles.  In fact, even and so unflinchingly recognize that sometimes life just stinks.

This linguistic dynamic duo helps us to stare courageously at the obstacles we face each day.  With the assistance of their cousins – however, nevertheless, withal, still, yet, all the same, nonetheless, and notwithstanding – we can learn to shift our gaze from finite natural experiences to the infinite things yet invisible to our senses.  In the process, our attention is redirected from the limits of what we know to our Creator whom by nature is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-wise. (1 John 3:20).

And that, my friend, changes everything.

  • Facing situations that are difficult?

Even so, you can do anything if you believe. (Mark 9:23)

  • Up against cliffs of challenge that seem impossible to climb?

Even so, God will see you through. (Hebrews 13:6)

  • Are storm clouds looming and you feel too weak to pray? 

Even so, God will be the strength that you need. (Philippians 4:13)

  • Do you feel like an angel of darkness is harassing you?

Even so, His grace (favor) is all you need. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

  • Are you confused; full of fears and doubts?

Even so, God has given you an overcomer’s spirit of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Yes indeed, they are just two little words.  Even so, they can help you overcome the tribulations of life.  In Brazil they say mesmo assim, in Italy, nonostante ciò, comunque, and in Greece, Akóma ki étsi.  All over the world, in any language, the meaning is clear: in our most desperate hour, God will supply us with the strength to face anything – if we’ll only believe!

By the way, sometimes, life really does stink.  Even so brethren… even so…

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2016 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved. For additional information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.