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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Christmas and the Christian Faith

Nativity-Merry-ChristmasI ran across the following article this morning on a Public Domain website titled, Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith by Steven Arnold King (source here). It is actually a speech given by the Honorable Steve King of Iowa in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 11, 2007.

It’s significance cannot be underestimated. Here is the text of that speech (quote source here):

RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTMAS AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

SPEECH OF
HON. STEVE KING
OF IOWA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

manger cross kingMr. KING of Iowa: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, for her support and help in getting this important measure to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to address the House today to discuss the importance and relevance of Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

As this resolution notes, there are approximately 225 million Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population. Beyond that, there are approximately 2 billion Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population.

And yet, Mr. Speaker, in recent decades there have been some who have undertaken efforts to diminish the significance of this great religion, and these efforts are no more apparent than during this time of Christmas.

It is not hard to look out over this great country of ours and find those who, for one reason or another, have engaged in a highly-politicized and highly-publicized crusade to rid the public square of any reference to the religious underpinnings of the Christmas holiday. These are individuals who have subscribed to a radical interpretation of our Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses and have sought to impose their secular views and beliefs on the nation as a whole.

In many respects, it is this ongoing effort to bring about the secularization of Christmas–and all of our everyday lives for that matter–that motivated me to bring this resolution before the House today.

Regardless of how others may define it, Mr. Speaker, Christmas is a religious holiday. It is the day on which Christians–those who identify themselves as believers in the salvation from sin offered to them through the death and resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible–celebrate the birth of their savior. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is cause for great celebration. As the Son of God, Jesus was sent to earth, by our Heavenly Father, to become a human being, live a sinless life, be crucified on a cross for our sins, and rise from the dead three days later. The purpose of this, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, was to save sinners from eternal death–the price to be paid for their sin.

And so, Mr. Speaker, the birth of Christ, as celebrated by Christians on Christmas is a truly important and significant day because it is celebrated as a recognition of God’s redemption, mercy and Grace.

The importance of Christmas, however, does not end with the tenets of Christianity. Because Christmas is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar, I believe that its annual passage should serve as an opportunity for all Americans, Christian or not, religious or not, to recognize the important role played by Christianity in the formation of our nation and in the founding of our civilization.

It is no coincidence, Mr. Speaker, that courthouses throughout this country proudly display the Ten Commandments. It is no accident that, in this very chamber, it is the face of Moses, the human author of those divinely dictated commandments, that looks down upon you, keeping close watch on all that transpires in this chamber. Mr. Speaker the framework of our laws and the fabric of our society is heavily dependent upon the maxims of Christianity, and I believe that as we Christians begin our annual celebration of the birth of our savior, the one from whom Christianity derives its name, it is wholly appropriate for us, as a nation and as members of this House, to take the time to acknowledge the contributions that the Christian religion has made to our country and our way of life.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all can agree that virtually any American, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise, when confronted with the fact that he has in some way wronged his neighbor, will rightly respond in one universal way–knock on his door, confess to him, repent, and ask for forgiveness. The neighbor would then forgive them as Christ has taught us. True and simple as this may seem, it is important to ask why we as Americans naturally react in such a way. The answer of course is that in this “conditioned behavior” we see very clearly the positive effect that Christianity has had on the development of our country and culture.

There are few places in the United States–if any–that you can visit where the laws “do not steal” and “do not murder” do not apply. Likewise, there are few households in this great country in which moral character is developed in young children without the invocation of the ninth and tenth amendments regarding lying and coveting that which belongs to others.

Mr. Speaker, we as Americans live in a moral society and in a country that is governed by moral laws. While many of these laws obviously cannot be found in any explicit sense within the pages of the Holy Bible, when we survey the content of that book–the document that outlines how it is the Christians are to live their lives here on earth–we do find much in the way of foundational principles that has come to guide not just the development of our laws, but also the foundation of our nation.

It was from the Bible and the example of Jesus that Pilgrims first established government on this continent, from which the Founders outlined the political thought that shaped our nation, and by which Congress first intended to educate our children. Furthermore, as the scholar David Barton and others have tirelessly pointed out, it was from the Bible that early American leaders derived concepts like private ownership, the free-enterprise system, an industrious work ethic, and workfare rather than welfare. As a result, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ have permeated every aspect of life in America. He has shaped our culture and transformed every great leader to rise from our population. As a testament to this, each of our American Presidents has acknowledged God’s hand on this Christian nation that is the United States. If there never had been a Jesus Christ, there would never have been an America.

In an address to the nation President Truman once said that, “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!”

Luke 2v13-14He went on to say that, “This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.”

In 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said of Christmas, “it is well for all humanity to remind itself that while this is in its name a Christian celebration, it is participated in reverently and happily by hundreds of millions of people who are members of other religions, or belong actively to no church at all. The reason is not far to seek. It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth.”

President Eisenhower called the nation to reflect during his remarks at the lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree on December 15, 1957 when he said, “In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. We shall recreate in our minds, once more, the ancient coming of that Spirit who remains alive for millions in our time. We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men.”

He went on to say, “That Child–we should remember–grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony. But His death–so the Christian faith tells us–was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph–when the spirit of life triumphed over death. So–if this Christmas season in a time of war is to have real meaning to us, it must celebrate more than the birth of a Baby.”

During his Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve, 1983 President Reagan pointed out that “It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.” [YouTube Video of speech is available here. Length of video: 5:10]

As the words of these great men–these revered and honored presidents of the United States of America have clearly demonstrated, it is not a stretch to say that the precepts and principles of Jesus have so completely permeated the culture of this nation that even an American atheist would be hard pressed to separate his worldview from the impact of the first Christmas.

Though we are not all Christians, Mr. Speaker, we are all Americans. By virtue of that simple fact, I will again reiterate my belief that it is not only appropriate but, more importantly, is necessary during this special time of year to remember not only the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, but also to recognize the important impact that the Christian faith has had on the foundation and development of our society, our nation, and our civilization. (Quote source here.)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. . .

Let Earth receive. . .

Her King. . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston:

In case you’re interested, here’s the YouTube Video of President Reagan’s Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve 1983 referenced in the speech above:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

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Beyond the Manger

Beyond-the-MangerI would like to believe that most of us living in America know the real story behind Christmas. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that is true anymore. Today, many kids are being raised to believe in Santa then they are ever (if ever) taught about Jesus. Of course, that speaks to the issue of what their parents believe, and possibly how they were raised, too. Other than a surface glance at a religious/formal version of Jesus who appears to be anything but human except as a sweet little baby in a manger, they might wonder what Jesus could possibly have to do with them and the way they live their own lives today. And it’s a sad state of affairs that we learn to believe mostly in ourselves and to keep Jesus at a distance if we acknowledge Him at all.

Unless we are shopping in a specifically Christian store, we rarely find anything beyond Santa and all of his enticing presents glistening in store windows and aisles in the malls of America. And it’s been this way for a very long time, too. So long, in fact, that the younger generations among us often have no idea who Jesus really is and they don’t pay much attention, either. Their technology can do more for them then they think any Jesus might be able to do for them. And the version of Jesus they may get (if they get any version of Him at all) is rather weak and placid, which is absolutely nothing like the real Jesus that previous generations laid down their very lives to serve.

Jim Elliot quoteIn fact, the Bible tells the story of many, many people who gave up own their lives to serve Him (the twelve disciples as well as the Apostle Paul are classic examples, see also the people listed in Hebrews 11), and there have been many more down through the ages, too. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and pastor during the time of Hitler’s reign, comes to mind from the 20th Century (he lost his life at the age of 39 in 1945 right before the end of World War II). And it was Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador, who was murdered by them in 1956 at the age of 29. It was Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (quote source here). His wife, Elizabeth Elliot, later spent two years as a missionary (along with her infant daughter) to the tribe members who killed her husband, returning to the United States after many years in South America. She died recently on June 15, 2015 at the age of 88.

If we don’t believe there is actual power and forgiveness in the name of Jesus, we will never understand what He is all about and why He came in the first place. There is more power in the name of Jesus then in all the technological wonders available in our world today. But do we really believe that? We often only believe in what we can actually see and experience (or manipulate) until something comes along that rocks us to our very core and we have nowhere else to run.

But back to the topic at hand . . . Christmas. Another Christmas is rolling around, and commercialism reigns supreme once again during this season. However, there is One who transcends it all, and this is the story of His birth and early childhood (from Luke 2):

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Simeon's Moment by Ron DiCianni 2011 - www.tapestryproductions.com

“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus at the Temple

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Jesus Christ has always existed, even before this earth was created, and this is clearly stated in John 1:1-5, 14:

In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus-in-the-Old-TestamentIn an article titled, The Portrait of Christ,” by Adrian Rogers (1931-2005), Dr. Rogers clearly shows how Jesus Christ is pictured in the Old Testament and how He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy:

[Jesus stated] “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

We now have available, instantaneously, the wisdom of the ages. Or do we? We have the ability to read or hear or view the opinion or beliefs of anyone who thinks they are an intellect.

Now intellect is a wonderful thing.

• You can understand biology, but if you don’t know the Giver of life, you’re still uneducated.
• You can comprehend geology, but if you don’t know the Rock of Ages, you don’t really know anything of importance.
• You can know all about botany, but if you haven’t met the Lily of the Valley, your knowledge is useless.

You can know all the facts of history, but if you reject the central figure of history, your time has been wasted.

• The wise man who doesn’t know God is ignorant.
• The strong man who doesn’t know God is weak.
• The rich man who doesn’t know God is poor.

Only the Lord can fulfill all our needs and answer all our questions. Jesus came to fulfill all things.

The Lord said He had come to fulfill the prophets. The historical figure of Christ is the secret to understanding the Bible. Everywhere you look in Scripture, you see the writer pointing toward Christ.

In Luke 24:27, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to two forlorn followers and began teaching them the secret to Scripture. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” The Old Testament points toward Jesus Christ. Every story and every event leads directly to the Savior.

In John 5:39, the Lord Jesus told His followers to “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” Of course, the New Testament had not yet been written, so Jesus is telling His disciples to explore the Old Testament writings, because they all point toward Him.

As you read through God’s Word, see how it points you to Jesus.

• Christ is the Seed of woman and in Genesis 3:15 we are told He will one day crush Satan.
• In Exodus we find the story of the Passover Lamb, and Christ is the sacrificial Lamb given for us.
• In Leviticus we read of the high priests making sacrifices for the people, and Christ has become our High Priest, making the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.
• In Deuteronomy Moses prophesied of a prophet who would come that would be greater than Himself. Jesus is that Great Prophet.
• In the book of Joshua, Joshua met the Captain of the Lord’s host. That man is Jesus Christ.
• In Judges, the leaders were judges who delivered God’s people, each of them typifying the Lord Jesus.
• Boaz, the kinsman who redeemed Ruth‘s inheritance, is a picture of Christ.
• David, the anointed one, pictures Jesus and Jesus is described as being the Son of David.
• In 2 Samuel when the king is being enthroned, the entire scene is descriptive of the Lord Jesus.
• The books of Kings speak of the glory of God filling the temple and the Chronicles describe the glorious coming king, both referring to Jesus, the King of Kings.
Ezra depicts Jesus as the Lord of our fathers.
Esther offers a picture of Christ interceding for His people.
Job says clearly that the Redeemer is coming!

• Christ appears time after time in the Psalms, including when David describes Him as “the Shepherd.”
Isaiah details His glorious birth.
Jeremiah reveals that He will be acquainted with sorrows.
Joel describes Him as the Hope of His people.
Amos tells us that Jesus is the judge of all nations.
Obadiah warns of the coming eternal kingdom.
Jonah offers a picture of Jesus being dead for three days, then coming back to life to preach repentance.
Zephaniah says that He will be the king over Israel.
Zachariah is the prophet who speaks of Jesus riding on a colt.
Malachi is the one who calls Him the Son of Righteousness.

Can you see it? The entire Old Testament points toward Jesus as Savior, and if you miss that, you’ve missed the entire point of the Scriptures. Jesus is the Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy.

four-gospelsThe New Testament opens up with the birth of Jesus Christ in the four Gospel accounts that also include details of his life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection. GotQuestions.org gives us the reason why there are four specific Gospel accounts:

While the entire Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), He used human authors with different backgrounds and personalities to accomplish His purposes through their writing. Each of the gospel authors had a distinct purpose behind his gospel and in carrying out those purposes, each emphasized different aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Matthew was writing to a Hebrew audience, and one of his purposes was to show from Jesus’ genealogy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that He was the long-expected Messiah, and thus should be believed in. Matthew’s emphasis is that Jesus is the promised King, the “Son of David,” who would forever sit upon the throne of Israel (Matthew 9:27; 21:9).

Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ as well as being a friend of the apostle Peter. Mark wrote for a Gentile audience, as is brought out by his not including things important to Jewish readers (genealogies, Christ’s controversies with Jewish leaders of His day, frequent references to the Old Testament, etc.). Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Luke, the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 KJV), evangelist, and companion of the apostle Paul, wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles. Luke is the only Gentile author of the New Testament. He has long been accepted as a diligent master historian by those who have used his writings in genealogical and historical studies. As a historian, he states that it is his intent to write down an orderly account of the life of Christ based on the reports of those who were eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). Because he specifically wrote for the benefit of Theophilus, apparently a Gentile of some stature, his gospel was composed with a Gentile audience in mind, and his intent is to show that a Christian’s faith is based upon historically reliable and verifiable events. Luke often refers to Christ as the “Son of Man,” emphasizing His humanity, and he shares many details that are not found in the other gospel accounts.

The gospel of John, written by John the apostle, is distinct from the other three Gospels and contains much theological content in regard to the person of Christ and the meaning of faith. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because of their similar styles and content and because they give a synopsis of the life of Christ. The gospel of John begins not with Jesus’ birth or earthly ministry but with the activity and characteristics of the Son of God before He became man (John 1:14). The gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Christ, as is seen in his use of such phrases as “the Word was God” (John 1:1), “the Savior of the World” (John 4:42), the “Son of God” (used repeatedly), and “Lord and…God” (John 20:28). In John’s gospel, Jesus also affirms His deity with several “I Am” statements; most notable among them is John 8:58, in which He states that “…before Abraham was, I Am” (compare to Exodus 3:13-14). But John also emphasizes the fact of Jesus’ humanity, desiring to show the error of a religious sect of his day, the Gnostics, who did not believe in Christ’s humanity. John’s gospel spells out his overall purpose for writing: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

Thus, in having four distinct and yet equally accurate accounts of Christ, different aspects of His person and ministry are revealed. Each account becomes like a different-colored thread in a tapestry woven together to form a more complete picture of this One who is beyond description. And while we will never fully understand everything about Jesus Christ (John 20:30), through the four Gospels we can know enough of Him to appreciate who He is and what He has done for us so that we may have life through faith in Him. (Quote source and entire article at this link.)

And in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus is presented as the “Alpha and Omega, First and the Last” (Rev. 1: 8-13), “Son of Man” (Rev. 1:13), “Son of God” (Rev. 2:18), “Faithful and True Witness” (Rev 3:14), “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 17:14), “the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), and “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). And He will soon rule the nations (Rev. 22:16-21; also see this link at GotQuestions.org).

Jesus Christ is far more that a sweet little baby sleeping in a manger . . . .

He’s Alpha and Omega . . .

He’s the Beginning and the End . . . .

He is the great “I AM” . . . .

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.
(from “Mary Did You Know”)

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
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 here 
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Photo #5 credit here

Celebrating Advent

Advent-Candles-with-Messages

The season of Advent started this past Sunday on November 29, 2015, and will end on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015. The following article titled, Celebrating Advent,” published on Christianity.about.com, describes Advent:

Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.

Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spiritand in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance.

For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent. (Quote source here.)

Advent Dates for 2015

November 29First Sunday of Advent
December 6Second Sunday of Advent
December 13Third Sunday of Advent
December 20Fourth Sunday of Advent

GotQuestions.org also provides the following information on Advent::

Churches that observe Advent usually decorate their sanctuaries in the liturgical color of Advent, purple (or in some cases royal blue). Some churches change the color to rose on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent to signify a greater emphasis on the joy of the season.

One of the most common Advent traditions involves the use of evergreen wreaths, branches, and trees. On the first Sunday of Advent, churches and homes are decorated with green to symbolize the eternal life that Jesus brings. An Advent wreath—an evergreen circle with four colored candles surrounding a white one in the middle—is placed in a prominent spot. The candles are then lighted one at a time, on successive Sundays. The first candle is the candle of “hope” or “expectation.” The three remaining candles on the perimeter are given various meanings depending on the church. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the center white candle is lighted; this is the “Christ Candle,” a reminder that Jesus, the Light of the Word, has come.

Advent calendars, used to count down the days till Christmas, are popular in many homes. An Advent calendar contains a number of covered “windows” that are opened, one a day, until Christmas Day. Each open window reveals a picture related to the season or a poem or a Bible verse or a treat of some kind. Many parents find that an Advent calendar is a good way to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas—although there are secular versions of the calendars, too.

Should Christians observe Advent? This is a matter of personal conviction. Here is the biblical principle: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Romans 14:5–6).

There is certainly nothing wrong with commemorating Jesus’ birth and anticipating His return—such commemoration and anticipation should be an everyday part of our lives. Are Christians required to observe Advent? No. Does observing Advent make one a better Christian or more acceptable to God? No. Can celebrating Advent be a good reminder of what the season is truly all about? Yes, and therein lies its greatest value. (Quote source here.)

advent-candles1The symbol most prominent in the celebration of Advent is the wreath with candles placed on it which are lit, one at a time, on the four Sundays in Advent, and the fifth candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. The Advent wreath and candles are described as follows on Christianity.about.com:

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one pink candle.

In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger.

On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” and it represents joy.

The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle,” represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world.

The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.

Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas. Another Advent tradition that can be very meaningful and fun for children is to celebrate with the Jesse Tree. (Quote source here.)

god-with-us1In an article titled, What is Advent? The Meaning Behind the Christmas Message,” by Justin Holcomb, he gives us the history of Advent and how it is celebrated today:

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.) 

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future. (Quote source here.)

Four related articles written by Justin Holcomb can be found by clicking on the following titles:

Advent I: Waiting for Christ’s Return
Advent II: The Messiah is Coming
Advent III: Rejoice! God Is With Us
Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

Advent-Calendar-TitleOne more item associated with Advent is the Advent Calendar. The history behind the Advent Calendar is given to us compliments of GotQuestions.org:

The word “Adventhas a Latin origin meaning ‘the coming,’ or more accurately, ‘coming toward.’ For Christian believers, Christmas is one of the greatest events in the yearly cycle, being the celebration of the greatest gift ever given by God to mankind. That gift was Jesus, the Son of God Himself, born into this world in human form and coming to live among us to show us the true nature of God, experience human joy and sorrow along with us, and finally, going of His own will to die a horrible, agonizing death. In this way the price was paid for all human sin that had cut us off from our Holy God and Heavenly Father, resulting in our complete and total reconciliation with Him.

Centuries ago, the importance of this event caused many Christians to feel that it was inadequate merely to mark off only one day on the yearly calendar for celebrating this incredible gift from God. Believers had (and still do have) such a sense of awe and overwhelming gratitude and wonder at what happened that first Christmas that they felt the need for a period of preparation immediately beforehand. They could then not only take time themselves to meditate on it, but also teach their children the tremendous significance of Christmas.

At first, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on believers’ doors. Then in Germany in the late 19th century the mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, and how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. As an adult he went into partnership with his friend Reichhold and opened a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the first-ever printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent. Later on, at the beginning of the 20th century, they hit on the idea of making the pictures into little shuttered windows for the children to open day by day in order to heighten their sense of expectation.

The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period. By now the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, and children all over the world were clamoring for them as December approached. Unfortunately, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the First World War when cardboard was strictly rationed and only allowed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the Second World War, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and again it was an immediate success.

Sadly, with the wane of Christianity in Western nations, the Advent Calendar, although still enormously popular with all children, has lost its true meaning. Many, many children and their parents have no idea of the history of the little calendar or its true purpose, which is to prepare us for the celebration of the advent of the Christ-child. Even if they do know, most would not care. Also, the makers of today’s Advent calendars are anxious only to sell their product, and the majority of these neither know nor care about the meaning and purpose of Advent. Their calendars depict Santa Claus and his reindeer, snowmen, holly, mistletoe, and all the secular trappings of Christmas behind the little windows, often along with a piece of chocolate. Fortunately, however, Christian printers are still with us to manufacture calendars for children from Christian families that unfold the story of the nativity with each window that is opened. We, as Christian believers, pray that one day the whole world will be aware of the incredible wonder of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I hope this background information on the celebration of Advent provides additional meaning for us as we celebrate this Christmas season. In the hustle and bustle of all the activities, let us take time to pause and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. . . .

O come . . .

O come . . .

Emmanuel . . . .

YouTube Video: “O Come, Emmanuel [Christmas Version]” (Piano/Cello duet) by ThePianoGuys [Original version can be viewed at this link–the music is identical in both videos]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

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