The Christmas Story as Drawn by our Children

This is an epic time of the year.  It’s what happened 2,000 years ago that makes it so important.  God took on flesh to save the world.  This is the Christmas Story.  This year our children made pictures of the main scenes of the story.  Enjoy.

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Unfamiliar or Misunderstood Words of Christmas

Christmas is a special time of the year. We often make time to visit family, give gifts, decorate, and celebrate. As the years go by and history passes there are certain traditions or meanings associated with Christmas that can become lost. Maybe you’ve read the Christmas story or sang carols and wondered what was meant by a certain word or phrase.

Here is a short list of some of the most unfamiliar or misunderstood words of Christmas:

 

Advent is a Latin word that means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Christians have used the word to celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The advent season usually begins four weeks before Christmas.

Bethlehem is a small village in Israel where Jesus was born. Jesus actually grew up in Nazareth, but his parents traveled to Bethlehem while Mary was still pregnant by order of the Roman Emperor who demanded a census (Luke 2:1-7). This fulfilled the prophecy of Micah (cf. 5:2-5). Bethlehem was also the birth place of King David.

Christ the Lord was a title that is given to Jesus by the angel, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The title means ‘anointed’ or ‘savior’ (see Messiah).

Emmanuel (or Immanuel). The word itself means “God with us” in the Hebrew language. It was first prophesied by Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus was born (cf. 7:14). In the prophesy it was said there would be a savior who would come who’s name was Emmanuel. An angel later told Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, that his son would be called, Emmanuel (Matthew 1:22-23).

Frankincense an aromatic resin that comes from a special tree (see Exodus 30:34-38). The magi brought frankincense to Jesus’ birth as a present fit for a king (Matthew 2:11). It was a costly gift and a sweet smelling incense.

Gabriel was an angel and special character in the Christmas story. His role was to announce the birth of Jesus. He visited Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, to let him know that his wife Elizabeth would miraculously give birth to a son (Luke 1:11-20). They were to name the baby John, and he would lead the way to the Messiah. Later, Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

Glory was what the angels said observing the of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the Highest.” (Luke 2:14) Glory means to give praise, honor and worship. the angels thought that the birth of Jesus was magnificent and their natural response was to praise God.

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that is translated into many languages meaning ‘Praise the Lord’.

Heavenly Host is another way to say a bunch of angels. After Jesus was born the heavens opened up with a multitude of angels praise God (Luke 2:14). These angels were visible, audible, and countless in number.

Incarnation is a person who embodies in flesh and blood a deity. Christians acknowledge Jesus is God with skin on. God became a man to save man from their sin (Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Hebrews 2:11 -14; 1 Timothy 3:16; Galatians 4:4). Jesus was 100% God and 100% man.

Jesus is the Greek name for the Hebrew name Joshua. It was the name given by the angel of the Lord in a dream to Jospeh in which he was told he would have a son through his virgin wife, Mary (Matthew 1:20-23).

Magi. The Bible tells us little about the magi. They are often referred to as wisemen, but they were likely astrologers as they were watching the night sky and followed a unique star to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12).

Messiah. The Jewish people had long been promised an ‘annointed one’ or ‘deliverer’ who would come to free them from sin and slavery (Genesis 3:15). Although the Jews rejected Jesus, the title of Messiah is given to Jesus by Christians who recognize him as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament (Matthew 26:54; Mark 9:12; Luke 18:31; John 5:39; 26:22-23; Acts 2).

Myrrh was an expensive spice used in ancient times for making perfume, incense, medicine, and for anointing the dead. It appears three times in the life of Jesus Christ—his birth crucifixion, and burial (Matthew 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). At his birth, it was one of the costly gifts presented to Jesus by the wise men.

Nativity. We often think of it as a small display of figurines from the Christmas story like baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wisemen, manger and animals. In it’s Latin origin, the word nativity means ‘birth’, particularly the birth of Jesus Christ.

Nicholas is not a character from the Bible, yet he is often associated with Christmas. Nicholas was a bishop in the fourth century. According to Catholic history he is the patron saint of children and sailors.

Noël is the French way of saying ‘Christmas’.

Peace on Earth was what the host of angels said after the birth of Jesus. It is often a saying people say to one another during Christmas (Luke 2:14), yet Jesus came to bring peace to the earth. He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; cf. 52:7; 53:5; Micah 5:5; Luke 1:79; John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14,17).

Salvation is what Jesus came to offer to the people of the earth. He was the Savior who came to save mankind from impending judgment due to their sin. Mary sang about it (Luke 1:46-47). Joseph was told about it (Matthew 1:21). The shepherds outside Bethlehem were told about it (Luke 2:11).

Tidings. This is an old English word for ‘news’ or ‘information’. When Jesus came there was an announcement and bearer of glad tidings or good news (Luke 1:19; 2:10). Indeed, it was the greatest news on earth and still is.

 

This list was birthed out of a desire to help my children understand unfamiliar words within the Christmas story. Feel free to use or add to the definitions.

25 Days of Christmas Advent Catechism Calendar

I was looking for a catechism for my daughters this Christmas that took Old Testament Prophecies about Jesus and compared them to a New Testament fulfillment.  I couldn’t find anything, so Sarah and I whipped up something to help our girls understand and remember the reason for Christmas the 25 days leading up to Christmas.

If you are interested in seeing it or using it, check it out here:

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born to forgive

Sunday at church I heard a great message about forgiveness from a familiar passage (Luke 7:36-50).  However, I fall in the trap of hearing a lot about forgiveness, but practicing it superficially.

Jesus was born to forgive.  His life teaches us three things about about forgiveness: 1)  It takes compassion , 2) It is costly, 3) It involves continuity.

One of the most celebrated encounters Jesus has in the Gospels is when a sinful woman washes His feet with her tears and her hair. Those around Jesus were shocked that He would allow Himself to be so intimate with someone so sinful.

People would expect Jesus to shun the woman who washed his feet at dinner because of her past; the Pharisees were shocked that Jesus would let himself be touched by her, but Jesus accepted what she brought to him with love. Not only did He accept her, he defended her. Jesus forgave her, fully aware of what her sin was, and Jesus honored her sacrifice and the enormity of what she brought to him. She didn’t even need to speak during the entire story – she needed no defense. It was not because of her arguments that Jesus bestowed His forgiveness.

We need to recognize our need for forgiveness before we can accept it. However, it is not because of our effort that we receive it – it is freely given. And when something is that freely given, we cannot keep it to ourselves. We often put ourselves into the position of the Pharisees. Who would the people be today that we would shun? Whose sins would we say cannot be forgiven? How might Jesus be asking us to both extend and receive forgiveness?

the gift that keeps on giving

These are some beautiful reflections by my wife Sarah on Christmas.

I can only imagine that both Mary and Joseph were exhausted. For the last 5-9 months as people learned of her pregnancy, Mary had lost friends.  Even her family frowned.  “Really?  You didn’t do anything wrong but you’re pregnant?  An angel you say?  Ok Mary, well, let’s not talk about it.”

If you’ve never had close friends turn their back on you, then you probably don’t know what Mary felt like. And this wasn’t one friend, this was like maybe ALL but one or two.  Mary and Joseph were alone.  Who was going to cook for her after the baby was born?  Who was going to be there to be excited about how cute he was?

Eight days later, there was one person who would be excited.  He had read the ancient writings and he knew that God had promised to come to earth in Bethlehem.  This was the One. The One who would pay.

In that moment, God began to pay for the wrongs that we do every day.  It wasn’t about being “good.”  Nothing that was simply “good enough” could stand in the presence of God.  He is GLORY itself.  Nothing with even one little spot can be allowed there, because there is ONLY goodness there.  Otherwise, we could still hurt each other in God’s presence.  No, he can’t let it be like that.  It WILL be perfect.  Perfect peace.

In that one moment, a sheltered life inside of the womb was born into a dirty room with animals, into the hands of people who had hurt and stolen and even killed with those hands.  A baby.  A baby who could only cry for milk.  Why would God come like that?  He chose it. He chose to be normal. Except for one thing: He would pay.

But Mary and Joseph believed.  They believed that God had a holy perfect place which was the only thing that made sense in a world filled with disappointment and apathy.  They were not born only to suffer with age and die.  No, they were born to see the perfect face of God, but they could not get there with “good enough” actions.  Someone must remove every last action that was not done out of love and thankfulness to God.  How could you erase the past?  It was too big to pay for.

But, maybe you HAVE had someone turn their back on you.  The first time it is simply excruciating.  The one and only person you love with all your heart.  On that last day of Jesus’ physical life, the first day began to make sense.  On that last day, the Father that had looked down with love on his Son, turned his back on him and the Son’s heart literally broke with blood and water mingling.  Why would the Father do that?

Until that moment, as God in the flesh, Jesus was perfect and without even one action of selfishness.  But, in that moment, His destiny was realized – to take all the sins of the world and their punishment onto Himself.  God then turned his back and poured out His wrath and death into the body and heart of Jesus. Jesus paid for you.  Every action that is not pure, was put on Jesus.  It wasn’t a symbol or a legend.  He died. And he didn’t deserve to.  We deserve it.  And we will face a physical death, but after that . . .

God wants once again to be with us.  Emmanuel.  His life. His gift.

waiting (a story of a boy and Christmas)

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A real-life story of a boy and Christmas from Ben Houchen, a shepherd and my best bud since middle school.

Waiting.

Nikki took Cynnan to the Surgeon today and had the pre-op consultation. Everything went well with that and the Doc said he would have time to do the surgery tomorrow. This got us excited, but as the day wore on and we got no confirmation of a Tuesday surgery we started to have doubts about our excitement. Sure enough, at around 5pm tonight we got the call to confirm the surgery time. Thi
s Thursday at 5pm.

AAAHHHHHHH, I hate all this waiting. I just hate it. And yet, the reality is, this is the season of waiting.

Advent is a season filled with waiting, with anticipation. And because we so closely associate the Advent season with the Birth of Christ and that picture of a baby in a manger, it is tempting for us to think that the spirit of Advent is a purely joyous one. But think for a moment about the people of Israel, at the time of the Birth of Christ.

Times for these people were not good. Israel was held under Roman occupation, and while this was better than the many exiles Israel had experienced prior to this point, it was by no means a good experience. The Romans knew how to subdue a people, and while they allowed Israel to worship her God, they also demanded taxes (an ancient form of worship) be paid to Creaser, and they subjected the people to many humiliating and dehumanizing practices. The people were waiting, but they had no certain hope of what they waited for, or how long they would have to wait to get it. We see evidence of how hopeless and unresponsive the people of Israel had become in the Gospel of Matthew. Just look at who all notices the birth of the messiah, The Maji and King Herod are the first people of any notoriety to even care that this child had been born. No one in the Jewish Community takes any notice of this boy until he is old enough to amaze them during a visit to the Temple. People were losing, or had lost hope. The waiting, it seems, was just too much for many of them to bear.

Advent is a joyous time for us because we are looking backward on a time of anticipation. We know the ending, we see the story, not as it is unfolding, but as it did. The concept, the spirit of advent then, is not one of purely joyous expectation. Advent includes a spirit of anticipation that is laced with negative emotions as well; fear, worry, even hopelessness, these are all part of the spirit of the Advent season. And it is important to realize that, because our understanding of those portions of the Advent season gives us the grace and peace to handle the Advent’s of our own present lives. I once read that Advent is essentially about learning to wait. It is about not needing to know the precise details of what is coming, only that, whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifting, signifies the work of God alive in us. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present, well lived, can possibly lead us to the fullness of life. You see, as humans, we are not complete, we do not arrive, no, we are becoming as we go. Our lives are not meant to be escaped, or avoided. Life is meant to be perused, to be excavated, We are meant to taste and to touch and feel all that there is in life, the good alongside the bad. All of these things are then meant to culminate in our lives in a way that we come to know that the God who created us is with us still. Unto us a child is born, unto us a hope is given, not a hope of ease and indulgence, but of life, life to the fullest!

Would you like to enter into that full life with me? Then please, pull up a chair, wait with me a while.

We will become as we go.

You can read more about Cynnan’s story and how God is using a son to draw his parents nearer to Him.

let there be light

christmas-star

This message is used by permission from my good friend Brian. Brian is a former physicians assistant and shepherd. Now Brian is serving the gospel to the least reached. He is living the Words he wants you to hear. Be a light in darkness this Christmas…

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in my life I made the connection between this passage and the creation account in Genesis 1.  The opening verses of Genesis are some of the most well known verses in all of scripture, right up there with John 3:16.  And we’ve probably heard or read these words at least 100 times before. But now I was beginning to make the connection between God’s strategy for saving the world and that which He was breathing into a visible and tangible form at creation.

Genesis 1:1-5 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Every time I’ve read this or heard it, I always thought, Wow, God is a powerful God.  He is amazing.  He is a creative and awesome God.  For by the breath of His mouth, the universe and all of creation was called into existence.

But there is something even more amazing being spoken of in this passage.  Something  that I had never seen before.  Something that pulses deeper than even the glory and majesty of creation.  And its something that existed long before Genesis 1 ever did.

And that was God’s plan for redeeming the rebellion of humanity and winning His bride back to Himself.  I want you to see that when God called forth light out of the darkness, it was pointing to Jesus.  But not only was it poetically prophesying the coming of Christ, it was manifesting God’s design and call upon all those who would follow Him.

So I think there are 2 vitally important things we need to learn from this passage that relate directly to our lives as we pursue after God and seek to be imitators of Christ.

Light Shines in the Darkness

The first is that light was created to shine in the darkness.  Genesis 1 paints such a clear picture of this.  It starts out by saying that darkness covered the face the deep.  In other words, it was crazy dark.  You know, the kind where you can’t see your hand when it is right in front of your face.  And it was into this that God says: “Let there be light.”

Now I want to be clear about this because the practical applications of this are costly.  Its fun to talk about and intellectualize, but to change our lives to bring them in alignment with the truth of what this teaches is a whole other story.  So I want to make sure we are all on the same page here.

God did not call forth light to shine in the light.  It wasn’t because “light” covered the face of the deep that God says “Let there be light.”  It was because there was darkness.  God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” Light has a created purpose and was designed to exist and shine in the darkness.

So now we have to begin to deal with the implications of this for our lives.  Because we are that light.  We are the light that was redeemed to shine in the darkness.

Matthew 5:14-16 says “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Now I just want to make one clarification.  We are not the Light capital “L.”  When this passage says that “you (and I) are the light of the world,” it means we are the light of the world like the moon is the light of the night.  The moon is just a big round pile of dirt.  It has zero ability of producing light.  But when you go outside on a dark night and look up into the sky, the moon’s brightness can light up the night.

And we say, look at the moon. Look how bright the moon is shinning.  And in doing so, we ascribe or we attribute the ability to produce light to the moon, when in reality, it is only reflecting the light of the sun.  It can’t make one tiny shred of light itself.  And so it is no different for us.

In this passage and anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, when you see it referring to us as the light, just know that it is not us that is the light.  We only shine when we are reflecting the Son, “S-O-N.”  And just as the moon was created to shine in the darkness by reflecting the sun’s light, so we were made to do the same.

So the first issue we have to deal with is where are we shinning? I have to tell you.  I was so convicted by this, that as a youth leader I had the audacity to be so excited about taking our students on summer mission trips.  And I would get so excited about being this great beacon of light in those dark areas for one glorious week every year, but I did little to nothing to shine in the darkness the rest of the time.

And now Becky and I find ourselves living in the very neighborhoods that we served on our mission trips to those places and all I could think about is moving somewhere else.  It was good enough to do for a week on a mission trip, but to actually live there and start to raise our family in such a place was hard to come to grips with.

God is not calling us to have an experience every now and then when we shine in the darkness.  Its not about having this special little time in our lives once a week every year where we turn the light on for a little while and pretend this is how we live all the time or this is how we would live all the time if we only had the opportunity.  Because we do have the opportunity.  It just takes sacrifices that if we admit it, are probably not willing to make.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things.  Engaging in short term missions is absolutely necessary.  I’ll be the first one in line when given the chance and I’ll be the biggest cheerleader encouraging anyone and everyone to go.  All I’m saying is that what happens in the that week should simply be a reflection of what happens in our lives every single day.

You see, I have come to the humbling place in my life where I began to realize I was doing all this “stuff” for the Kingdom, but it was all being done in the light.  I was involved in this and I was involved in that, and it was all good and worthy stuff, but it wasn’t about shining in the darkness.  I found I was just fooling myself behind this disguise of advancing God’s Kingdom without actually setting foot in the darkness.

His Kingdom is a Kingdom of Light.  No matter how hard we work or what great things we accomplish in the light, His Kingdom is already present there.  And if we are going to be a people who are about advancing His Kingdom, it can only be done in the darkness.

We were called into His marvelous light in order that we might shine in the darkness.   This means that our lives must be lived out in the those places.  Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to move to the inner city, but some of you might.  Some of you may need to go home and start packing boxes.  And don’t be looking round at your neighbor right now, cause I’m talking to you.  And maybe its not about where your home is, but where you work or where you go to school.

What I am saying is that we need to take a good hard look at where we are shining.    And we need to stop making excuses for keeping our distance from the darkness.  Its not comfortable.  Its too hot.  Its not safe.  The school district isn’t good enough.  Its too far.  Its too hard.  Its too costly.  It takes too much time.  It doesn’t align with our goals, or our family or our future.

To be a light in the darkness is costly.  It is not safe.  It is not always comfortable.  It is certainly not the easy way to live.  But why would be dare be content with anything else?  Don’t settle to be a light among lights.  Don’t compromise for the sake of safety or comfort.  We have but one candle to burn, and I’d rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a place that is flooded with lights.

God Separated the Light from the Darkness

The second thing I want us to see is that God separated the light from the darkness.  That is, God set apart the light to be different.  While the light was created to exist and shine in the darkness, it was made to be fundamentally different from it.  When God created the light, there was no question as to which one was which.

God didn’t make a light that most days of the week looks like darkness except on Sundays.  Or one that maybe shines all week except for Friday and Saturday night.  And He didn’t make a light with a motion detector so that when left alone it was identical to the darkness, but as soon as somebody came around, it would turn on as if it had always been on.

Light doesn’t look anything like the darkness.  And there are some pretty hefty ramifications for our lives because of that.  It doesn’t walk the same.  It doesn’t talk to the same.  It doesn’t act the same.  It doesn’t spend its money the same.  It doesn’t have the same goals or values.  It is different from the darkness in every way, but yet was created uniquely to exist in beautiful harmony with it.

And this separation in essence is why we exist.  Because this is what distinguishes light from the darkness.  This is what separates believers from everybody else on the face of the planet.  Because the goal of the darkness is to make much of itself, but the purpose of the light is make much of Christ.

How is it then that the lives of sinful humans can display the glory of our Almighty God to the world?  How is it that we who are so little can make much of One who is so great?  I believe the answer is to echo the cry of John the Baptist found when he said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John Piper said this: “This is why we exist – to display the glory of God… It is our created nature to make much of God.  Not to fulfill this purpose… is to be a mere shadow of the substance we were created to have. Not to display God’s worth by enjoying Him above all things is to be a mere echo of the music we were created to make. It is to be a mere residue of the impact we were created to have.”

The overriding thing that separates the light from the darkness is an unbalanced passion for the glory of God and the Kingdom of heaven.  And I realize that for some of you that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Because a lot of times in our culture we associate unbalanced to mean unhealthy.

We talk about the need for balance in our lives all the time, right?  Balance, balance, balance.  We have to have balance.  We don’t want to be too far one way or too far the other.  And at times this is true, but I think sometimes we have watered down Jesus for the sake of balance.

There was a man by the name of Nee To-sheng, otherwise known as Watchman Nee.  He was born in communist China in 1903.  He came to know Christ at the age of 17 and spent the next 30 years traveling throughout China planting churches and shinning the Light of Christ in some of the darkness places on earth.  But in 1952 he was arrested for his faith in Christ and leadership among many of the local churches in China.  He sentenced to 15 years in prison,  although he was never let go and died in his cell 20 years later. Some of his teachings have been complied together into a profoundly powerful book called “The Normal Christian Life.”

Average and normal are not the same.  You see, average just means we look like everyone else.  Normal means we look the way Jesus expected us to look.  It means we shine the way Jesus expected us to shine.

Did Jesus really mean to love Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength?  Did Jesus really mean to love our neighbor as ourself?  Did Jesus really compare the Kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure in a field and selling everything for that field?  Because that doesn’t sound very balanced.

There is a word for someone who becomes that fixated on someone or something, but it isn’t balanced.  Its obsessed.  It is being driven by an all consuming passion to the point that none of what Jesus taught even sounds remotely crazy.  Quite frankly, it makes perfect sense.

If there is anything in life we need to be obsessed with.  If there is anything in life we need to be consumed by.  If there is anything in our lives that we need to be unbalanced about, it is the Jesus Christ.  It is the glory of God.  It is the Kingdom of heaven.

The more our lives display Christ’s worth above all things, the brighter He will shine in us.  This is why it is so fundamentally important for the light to be separated from the darkness.

Because when we look like we care about the same things they do.  When we look like we hope in the same stuff they do.  When we look like our values are the same as theirs, Christ will never look great in our lives.  Our lives must show that Christ is more precious than life.

To do this, we must make sacrificial life choices knowing that magnifying Christ is more valuable and more satisfying than protecting and preserving our own personal comfort or agenda.  So we may need to start asking ourselves some tough questions.  Questions that we may very well not want to know the answers to.  Because I think all to often we are far more content desiring to justify our actions instead of seeking to magnify Christ with them.

Now this is the part of the message where I would normally tell you some inspiring story about a missionary in Africa or Asia or something who is living this out.  The problem is, most of us really can’t relate very much to that.  So let me give another example that may hit a little closer to home.  Its a story about a guy who asked the right questions.

There is a pastor by the name of Francis Chan, maybe some of you have heard of him.  He has a love and devotion for God that you will rarely find anywhere.  He also happens to be an incredible speaker and when you put those 2 qualities together, it makes for a very dynamic pastor.  Thus the church he started in California grew like mad quickly topping 3000+ people.

They were making plans for building a 50 to 60 million dollar facility when he took a little trip to Uganda that changed his life forever.  He saw poverty first hand like he had never imagined.  And it got real personal for him when he saw little girls the age of his young daughters rummaging through garbage for food.

And all of a sudden it hit him, what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?  Cause you know, Jesus said that.  In fact, He said it was so important, it was only second to loving God first.  So one of the first things he did upon returning to the states was to move his family of four out of their 2,000-square-foot house into one half that size so they could give more to missions and to the poor. He said: “I couldn’t reconcile how I could live in such a nice house while others were starving.”

The very next church board meeting Chan showed up with a one track mind.  When their church, (Cornerstone) first started and for many years there after, they gave away 4% of their budget.  Chan now walks in in the door and asked them to give 50% away.  His salary was slashed along with all other staff taking pay cuts and serious sacrifices in their programs were made.  But in less than 1/2 hour their budget was flipped on its head.

Instead of building a massive multimillion dollar building, they built an outdoor amphitheater saving countless of millions of dollars.  They have worship outside every Sunday, rain or shine.  And if it happens to rain on a Sunday morning, they get wet, but they know it is for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

Now here is a guy, living in the United States with the exact same pressures, the exact same influences, and exact same struggles that we face, but yet consciously and intentionally positioned his life to be separated from the darkness.  While the rest of America chases after it’s illusive dream, he has refused to be seduced by it.  Instead, his heart, mind, his soul and wallet are fixed on heaven.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

My prayer is that Christ would be so prized in your lives that you would blaze so brightly it would fry the retinas right out of the eyeballs of those who look upon you.  That your  hearts be so fixed on Christ that everything else would pale in comparison.

My goal isn’t that you be moved by the stories of those people who are living radical lives for Christ, yet do nothing to act yourself.  But instead, that you would earnestly seek the face of God for where and how He would have you to shine.

I don’t claim by any stretch of the imagination to be living this perfectly.  That’s precisely why I had to preach it.  Because this message is for me as much as it is for any of you.  It is time we be the light we were created to be.  Its time we let our light shine in the darkness.  And its time that the only thing people see when they look at us is a life obsessed with Jesus Christ.

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The Story of the Innkeeper:

IMMANUEL: Jesus be incarnate in me

This week I swept my wife away for a romantic getaway in the woods of Milton, Ontario. We left our daughter in the delightful care of her grandparents. We ate dinner at a beautiful bistro, talked until twilight, and slept in a cozy B&B. My most favorite memory of out time together was snuggling close and enjoying one another’s presence. There is safety, comfort and love in the presence of the one you love.

So it is with God—our Heavenly Maker. There is comfort and security in His presence. Throughout Scripture the theme of God’s presence with His people is a thread that weaves through the pages of Scripture [138 X’s, through people and promises].

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:22–23 [Read Matthew 1:18-25]

Does anything fill you with awe or wonder in those verses? The Incarnation is the noblest idea of any world religion. God did not watch human despair from the safety of heaven. He clothed Himself in humanity. He ceased watching the human war and became a soldier. Oh, the things that God experienced in becoming a man:

  • the blistering summer sun,
  • the shivering rains of winter,
  • the hunger and thirst when He fasted after His baptism,
  • the rejection of those who walked away in unbelief,
  • the sorrow when His earthly father died,
  • the pain of Peter denials,
  • the betrayal by His friend Judas,
  • the disappearance of all friends at His arrest in Gethsemane,
  • the horror of naked judgment with no one to speak on His behalf,
  • the empathy of a mother’s tears when she stood at the cross,
  • the torture of crucifixion although innocent and guiltless,
  • the agony of death,
  • the loneliness of being forsaken by everyone.

All these things—when compiled together-spell Immanuel. These things are what the God of all mercy took upon Himself.

But why did He do it? It’s because these sorts of things form the fabric of all of our living. We cannot live without scrapes and pains, without heartache and sadness, without mosquito bites and cancer. Immanuel was God saying, “You shall not bear such pain alone.” God became flesh to redeem. Jesus stepped onto His created soil stained with sin and became the living sacrifice taking upon Himself the scorching wrath of God to save you and me.

Let Jesus be incarnate in your life, and then maybe when you have stooped to serve the desperate and dying, you will hear them say the word Immanuel. When Christ becomes incarnate in your life, you will hear those you serve saying to you, “I cannot help but believe in Christ. I have seen Him in your life.”

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [1 Corinthians 2:1—5]

How does Immanuel give comfort/security when you receive bad news? Have a hard workweek? Deal with daily stress? In what ways can you counsel friends or family around you with the promise of Immanuel?

Lord, be incarnate in me. Make me an instrument of Your incarnation. Live in me until my life is so submerged in Yours that I am invisible. Wherever I go, whatever I do, may I hear those around me breathe the word Immanuel, suggesting that I am nothing and You are everything.

thumb licks [christmas edition]

Does X-mas really take Christ out of Christmas?

Jesus ripped up Santa’s list. Naughty or nice He can rip up yours too.

Christmas in a Nutshell.

10 Ways to bring the gospel home this Christmas.

Having trouble finding parking while Christmas Shopping? The science of parking.

The first Christmas: myths and realities.

Who were the magi? Maybe not what you think.

Will the real Saint Nick please stand up.

The Story. What the real Christmas is all about.

The Advent: resurrection, restoration & creation

The Incarnation [Odd Thomas]

Ditto. A classic Christmas lights photo that I’ve often thought about duplicating.

Christmas: It’s “Supernatural!”

There’s no way I can think of Christmas and not also think of the term “supernatural.”  Its definition certainly lends weight to this conclusion. “Relating to or attributed to phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws,” (The Encarta Dictionary).

So what events in the original Christmas story were supernatural by nature?  First, there was the supernatural appearance of the angel to Joseph, as is recorded in Matthew chapter two.  The angel communicated to Joseph some troubling news concerning Mary.  He most certainly would have found out she was pregnant with the passing of time.

The question that begs an answer is: would he have carried through with staying with Mary without this supernatural experience?  Probably not!  If he would have broken their relationship, then they would not have made the journey to Bethlehem and Christ would not have been born in that town according to Micah 5:2.  Thus, the necessity of supernatural intervention!

A second example would be the supernatural appearance of the angel to Mary in Luke 1, announcing to her how she would supernaturally conceive a child.  This, of course, was unbelievable to her ears.  How could such a thing be?

However, without this supernatural intervention and Jesus’ virgin birth, He would have been just any other ordinary man and therefore, could not have died on Calvary as the sinless God-man for our sins.  A supernatural angelic visit proclaiming a supernatural miracle!  Both inherent realities within the Christmas story!

Next, we turn our attention to the supernatural appearance of the angelic host to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth.  They announced a Saviour was born in the city of David.  However, take note!  What they proclaimed would never have occurred except for supernatural intervention.  Think of it!  There were so many things that could have easily gone wrong.

Mary could have had a miscarriage but she did not.  Mary survived the long, arduous journey to Bethlehem at the height of pregnancy.  Mary could have given birth to a still-born child but she did not.

The fact that the Christ-child was born of a virgin, born alive, born healthy, and born in Bethlehem itself were all amazing realities that were worthy of a supernatural proclamation.   This is why the angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10)

Yes, the answer to humanity’s greatest need was born!  This little baby would be the one Who would ultimately open heaven’s gates to repentant sinners.

What is the application to you and me?  We need to experience the supernatural in our lives.  How, you may ask?  We must be born again.  Each of us must become spiritually alive and that can only occur as God Himself enters into our lives.  John 3:16 tells us how.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

We must believe Christ went to the cross and He died for our sins.  We must repent of our sinfulness and commit ourselves to living entirely for Him.  We must believe that He rose again from the grave and is a living Saviour.

Have you experienced the supernatural saving power of God in your life?  It’s what Christmas time is all about.

Devotional shared by Pastor Kelvin Kennedy at Meadowvale Bible Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario

Mary & me

Who are the top-5 most popular teenagers in the world? According Google search engine the top-5 are: Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Emma Watson. Are you a Bieliber? Biebergasted? Have the Bieber fever? Or OJBD? [Obsessive Justin Bieber Disorder] Are you a cult follower of Bieberism? [i.e. screaming crowd of 10-year olds]

Fame and fortune are fleeting. We have seen how the fame and fortune have gone to the heads of many teens, such as Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, and countless others. Next year there will be a new set of teens that will top the billboard charts and gets their moment to shine in the spotlight.

Who are some teenagers God highlights for their relentless passion for Him?

  • Joshua was a young servant of Moses who became a godly leader that took the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land [Numbers 11:28].
  • God called Samuel at a young age and he obeyed the voice of God [1 Samuel 3:1-21].
  • David loved to sing to God on the sheep farm, but as a young man he also stood up for his God before the giant Goliath with a few stones and a sling [1 Samuel 16-17].
  • Daniel as a young man is faithful to his God and is willing to stand up and be thrown into the fiery furnace than bow down to any other God than his own.
  • Josiah ruled the kingdom of Judah at the age of 8-years. At the age of 16, he sought God and began to reform the nation back to Him [2 Chronicles 34:3-7].
  • God called Jeremiah a prophet at a very young age. God also encouraged Jeremiah not to be afraid, because He was with him [Jeremiah 1:4-8].
  • Timothy was a timid young man, but Paul, his father in the faith, encouraged him say, saying, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” [1 Timothy 4:12]
  • And Jesus who was still living with his parents was in the temple rubbing shoulders with the rabbis from an early age [Luke 2:41-52].

God uses teenagers throughout the Bible and history. God loves young hearts that and not polluted by the world and are willing to relentlessly and tenaciously give themselves to God. Are you willing to be used by God? Are you available to obey Him no matter the task or cost?

God is using young people to be characters in His story [Luke 1:26-34]

You know Mary. She is the one you see knelt next to the dirty manger with the Son of God swaddled inside with animals huddled together for warmth. A star is shining brightly above.  It is a beautiful scene in Bethlehem. But let’s go back 9-months before the baby is born. Let’s look at Mary. Why did God choose Mary? What’s so special about her that God gives her the task of bearing in her womb the second person of the Trinity? You might be in for a surprise.

On an unordinary day, an angel appears to Mary with a message from God Himself. Days like this did not happen everyday with people in Bible times. She is somewhat scared yet curious about what she’s seeing and hearing She probably heard stories from her Sunday School teacher about how God came to people through messengers in the past. Little did she realize she’d become one of the characters you and I would read about centuries later.

Why does God choose to work through people, including you? It is not because you are worthy, popular, rich, good looking, smart, or have some special skills that make you are more favorable than another. It is just the opposite. God is worthy, good, rich in mercy, generous, and wise. He enjoys using ordinary people to carry out His extraordinary redemptive plan.

God has shown favor to Mary by His grace. Mary is young. She is only a teenager. She was probably no more than 13-15 years old. She is pregnant and not married. This would have been socially scandalous. She could have been label loose or a whore. Imagine the conversations among the girls in the hallway at Mary’s school. “Did you hear? Mary’s pregnant! I didn’t think she was that kind of girl. Who’s the baby’s daddy? Could it be her boyfriend Joseph?”

Mary is the student at your school who isn’t well known. She isn’t great athlete, not a scholar, not the coolest kid on the block, she isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, she isn’t a gossip girl; she isn’t obsessed with fashion or boys. She’s a simple girl. She’s from a rural hick town. She’s from an average family that’s has an average salary. She’s got a modest amount of Facebook friends. She’s the kind of girl you probably would not notice walking through the hall. But God noticed her. He has a plan to use her. Overnight Mary becomes a key character in His story.

God is seeking young people who respond with humility and availability [Luke 1:35-56]

If you were Mary what would you be thinking if God asked you to do something really important? “This is crazy! This cannot be happening to me! What about Jennifer or Kevin, they much better looking and smarter than me? God, you want me to have a baby?” It might be hard to believe—if not miraculous—that a virgin can conceive a baby. That is exactly what God’s going to do. He gives Mary a sign by raising to life the dead womb of Elizabeth, her elder cousin.

Wow, what an incredibly wonderful day this is for these two ordinary women. Mary cannot contain herself any more. She bursts out in a song of praise [Luke 1:46-56; cf.1 Samuel 2, Hannah]. Look at how she worships. She lets begins by listing over 17 attributes about God. She is humble and available to trust God [1:48]. She is both innocent and obedient. She believes “what is impossible with man is possible with God.” [1:37; cf.18:27]. She has all she needs to know it is God who was at work in her. She does not care what others thought about her situation. She doesn’t fear man. She fears God. She desires to bring Him—and Him alone—joy. And this is what you were made to do—worship God, which brings Him joy.

It is clear from Mary’s words (and from the whole Bible) that God is not biased to the rich, the powerful, or the proud. How could God be partial to the things, which in our world are—more often than not—substitutes for God rather than pointers to God? Vast numbers of people have perished because they were enamored by pride, power, and wealth.

Today’s Teen Magazines and websites are filled with messages about finding favor with others:  “Get a smaller waist in 2-weeks,” “Hot summer looks,” “5 ways to get her to notice you,” ”Pick up lines she likes to hear.” What are people trying to figure out when you read this? Do any of them deliver the promises you were seeking? Sure. Why do we want others to notice or be impressed with us? It makes me feel important and secure. If the Bible were a magazine article or web advertisement what would it say? Find out how Jesus can satisfy your needs forever.

Notice how others around the incarnation of Christ responded to His coming: Elizabeth gives glory to God [Luke 1:39-56], prophets eagerly anticipate the Messiah [1:67ff], shepherds lift up praises [2:8-21], angels worship [2:14-15], even magi’s seek Him [Matthew 2:1-12]. How would you respond? How do you respond to God’s presence in your life? How have you been blessed by Jesus? How have you been overwhelmed to praise by the presence of Jesus?

God sent His Son into the world. God took on skin and a human body. He humbled Himself by become a human for humans. This little baby boy born in a barn and feed trough would grow into the most important man in human history. As Gabriel said, “He will be great…He will reign…He will be called holy—the Son of God.” [1:32-33, 35] The next 33 years would forever change the course of history. This child’s purpose was to live to die, to die for the sins of humanity, to take upon Himself the wrath of God in place of sinful man, to become the perfect sacrifice for your sin. The feeble infant would conquer sin, death, and Satan.

Mary had within her womb the Messiah, and if you know Christ, you too, have the Holy Spirit within you—Immanuel—“God with us,” is also with you. Wherever you go He is with you. Mary carried inside her the Savior of the world. You also carry the message of the Savior. A message that will resurrect dead souls to new life.

God used young Mary to accomplish His redemptive plan. And He still uses young and old who are humble and available to be characters in His great redemptive story.

Let me tell you about a teen named, Hannah. You probably don’t know her. She’s not on any teen top-5 lists. Hannah goes to church, she’s from an average family, loves soccer and Spanish. As a teen, she signed up for a few short-term mission trips with our church to Spanish speaking countries like Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Costa Rica. She was able to share the love of Christ with people in a language she learned at school. Now Hannah desires to translate the Scripture in unique languages so more people can hear about her Savior. Whether God uses her that way or not in the future is up to Him. But Hannah is humble and available and God loves using characters like that in His story.

Questions to consider whether you are young and old from the life of Mary and the birth of Christ

Are you available to do whatever God wants you to do? How do you know if it is from God? It won’t contradict the Bible or what God has done historically. Do you fear God more than man?

Are you humble enough to be a character in God’s story rather than having Him be a character in your story?

Will you write a poem or song that expresses your heart toward Jesus?

IMMANUEL: a God who is with people

This morning I was taking care of my baby girl while her mother was washing some dishes. She played with her stuff animal doggy for a few minutes, but she quickly gravitated over to where I was sitting in a chair reading. For the next 15 minutes she was content doing nothing but being near to me. That’s so childlike. As children we love to be near our parents. There is safety, comfort and love in the presence of your maker.

So it is with God. We long to be near to God. We crave his affection and presence. There is a desire innate within all people to want to be with God and for God to be with them. Such a promise like this from God is meant to stir within all a sense of security, comfort and love from God above. Throughout Scripture the theme of God’s presence with His people is a thread that weaves through the pages of Scripture:

God is with you

  • Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14; 8:10; Matt. 1:23)
  • Its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel (Isa. 8:8)
  • God is with us (2 Chr. 13:12)
  • The Lord is with us (Num. 14:9; 2 Chr. 32:8; Ps. 46:7, 11)
  • God is with you (Gen. 21:22; Isa. 45:14)
  • The Lord is with you (2 Chr. 20:17)
  • The Lord is with you when you are with him (2 Chr. 15:2)
  • The Lord is with Israel (Num. 23:21; Deut. 20:1, 4)
  • I am with you (Gen. 26:24; Hag. 1:13; 2:4)
  • Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isa. 41:10; Isa. 43:5; Jer. 42:11; 46:28)
  • Those with us are more than those with them (2 Kgs. 6:16)
  • He is at my right hand (Ps. 16:8)
  • He who is with us is greater than the one with him (2 Chr. 32:7)
  • Men will hear that God is with a Jew (Zech. 8:23)
  • The Lord is with them (Zech. 10:5)
  • They will know that I am with them (Ezek. 34:30)
  • Is the Lord in our midst or not? (Exod. 17:7)
  • Is not the Lord with you? (1 Chr. 22:18)
  • You are with me (Ps. 23:4)
  • You know the Spirit, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:17).

God always with you

  • You set me in your presence forever (Ps. 41:12)
  • I set the Lord continually before me (Ps. 16:8)
  • When I awake I am still with you (Ps. 139:18)
  • I am always with God (Ps. 73:23).

God with you to help

  • God stands at the right hand of the needy (Ps. 109:31)
  • With us is the Lord to help us (2 Chr. 32:8)
  • I am with you to deliver you (Jer. 1:8, 19)
  • When we pass through the waters he will be with us (Isa. 43:2).

God has been with you

  • God who has been with me wherever I have gone (Gen. 35:3)
  • I have been with you wherever you have gone (1 Chr. 17:8)
  • These 40 years the Lord has been with you (Deut. 2:7)
  • The Lord was with Judah (Judg. 1:19)
  • The Lord stood with me (2 Tim. 4:17)
  • I [Wisdom] was beside him (Prov. 8:30).

God be with you

  • May the Lord be with you (Ruth 2:4; 1 Sam. 17:37; 2 Sam. 14:17; 1 Chr. 22:11, 16; Amos 5:14)
  • The Lord be with you all (2 Thess. 3:16)
  • May the Lord be with you as he was with Moses (Josh. 1:17)
  • May the Lord be with you as he was with my father (1 Sam. 20:13)
  • May his God be with him (2 Chr. 36:23; Ezra 1:3)
  • The Lord be with your spirit (2 Tim. 4:22)
  • May the Lord be with us (1 Kgs. 8:57)
  • So may the Lord be with you if I allow this! (Exod. 10:10).

God will be with you

  • If God will be with me (Gen. 28:20)
  • Perhaps the Lord will be with me (Josh. 14:12)
  • I will go down with you to Egypt (Gen. 46:4)
  • I will be with you (Gen. 26:3; 31:3)
  • if you obey, I will be with you (1 Kgs. 11:38)
  • God will be with you (Gen. 48:21)
  • I will be with you (Exod. 3:12)
  • The God of love and peace will be with you (2 Cor. 13:11)
  • I will be with him in trouble (Ps. 91:15)
  • I will be with your mouth (Exod. 4:12)
  • I will be with your mouth and with his mouth (Exod. 4:15)
  • God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thess. 4:14)
  • The God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:9).

God with specific people

  • Abraham (Gen. 21:22)
  • Asa (2 Chr. 15:9)
  • David (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:12, 14, 28; 20:13; 2 Sam. 5:10; 7:3; 9; 1 Chr. 11:9, 17:2)
  • Gideon (Judg. 6:12–13, 16)
  • Hezekiah (2 Kgs. 18:7)
  • Isaac (Gen. 26:28)
  • Ishmael (Gen. 21:20)
  • Israel (Jer. 30:11)
  • Jacob (Gen. 28:15, 20; 31:5; 35:3)
  • Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 17:3)
  • Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8, 19; 15:20; 20:11)
  • Job (Job 29:5)
  • Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 3, 21, 23; Acts 7:9)
  • The house of Joseph (Judg. 1:22)
  • Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:9; 6:27)
  • Joshua as with Moses (Josh. 1:5; 3:7)
  • Each judge (Judg. 2:18; 2 Chr. 19:6)
  • Mary (Luke 1:28)
  • Paul (Acts 18:10)
  • Samuel (1 Sam. 3:19)
  • Saul (1 Sam. 10:7; 20:13)
  • Solomon (1 Chr. 28:20; 2 Chr. 1:1, as with David 1 Kgs. 1:37).

God is among you

  • God in the midst of his people (Num. 14:14; 16:3; 35:34; Deut. 7:21; 23:14; Josh. 3:10; 22:31)
  • God is in the midst of her (Ps. 46:5)
  • The Lord your God in the midst of you (Deut. 6:15; Zeph. 3:15, 17)
  • I am in the midst of Israel (Joel 2:27)
  • Is not the Lord in our midst? (Mic. 3:11)
  • The kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21)
  • The Lord who is among you (Num. 11:20)
  • God is with the generation of the righteous (Ps. 14:5)
  • My Spirit is among you (Hag. 2:5)
  • God will dwell among them (Rev. 21:3)
  • He will declare that God is among you (1 Cor. 14:25).

God goes with you

  • My presence will go with you (Exod. 33:14)
  • The Lord goes with you (Deut. 31:6, 8 )
  • If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up hence (Exod. 33:15)
  • How can we know we please you if you do not go with us? (Exod. 33:16)
  • Go in our midst (Exod. 34:9).

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us

The greatest expression of God being with us is when He came in the skin of mankind through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us. He was with us for only 33-years. But those 3-decades of life impacted the world and the people of the world forever.

Indeed, the title Immanuel is appropriate for Jesus—He is “God with us.” Immanuel appears twice in the Old Testament (Isa. 7:14, 8:8) and once in the New Testament (Matt. 1:23). In the Old Testament, the name is given to a child born in the time of Ahaz as a sign to the king that Judah would receive relief from Syrian attacks. The name symbolized the fact that God would demonstrate His presence with His people by delivering them. But, this prophecy also foretold the birth of the incarnate God, Jesus the Messiah, as illustrated in the Gospel of Matthew (1:23).

More than seven hundred years passed after Isaiah’s prophecy until Jesus was born. Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14 as being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:23). Later in Matthew, Jesus told His disciples that where two or three gathered in His name He would be present with them (Matt. 18:20). At the very end of the Gospel, just before His ascension, Jesus assured them that He would be with them until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

Also after His death and resurrection Jesus did not leave us alone. He promised to send the Helper—the Holy Spirit—to indwell His children. Forever His Spirit with us always. The book of Revelation concludes with an affirmation that the One called “God with us” will be with us forever: “The tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them” (Rev. 21:3). What an amazing promise of security, comfort and love. God is with you! Let’s be like little children clinging to His cloak, waiting for His words, and resting in His presence.

thumb licks [12.3.11]

Beholding the beauty of Christ in Wal-Mart

What Tim Tebow can’t do? Some want to make him super man, but he’s not.

The Devil’s playbook. And how he aims to defeat you.

Lessons for the church from Joe Paterno. Listen up young and old.

How to be better prepared for your next major presentation.

Are you mature? Mature believers possess these 5 indicators.

Man enough to love a real woman. Great post for daters or want-to-be daters.

God with us. Such a great promise from God.