Friday, December 23, 2016

Church Membership

by David Feddes

Is it possible to steer clear of church and still be a good Christian? Many people would say yes to that question, and perhaps you agree. You believe in God; you pray once in a while; you consider yourself a Christian; but you feel you can get along just fine without church. The important thing is how you relate to God, not how you relate to church. Right?


Is it possible to steer clear of church and still be a good Christian? Not if God knows what he's talking about. God's Book, the Bible, shows again and again that when people belong to Jesus, they also belong to his church. They attend public worship faithfully and are deeply involved in the life of the church. So if you think you can be a good Christian without the church, you're saying that you know better than God. And that's not a very bright thing to do.

Why Stay Away?

I've come across a lot of different reasons that people have for staying away from church. Some of you feel you have no other choice. You feel you have to work Sundays. If you don't, you fear that you could lose your job. Going to church and praising God may be fine, but going to work and pleasing your boss is what pays the bills. God will understand, won't he?

Others of you don't spend Sunday on the job, but you want to get some extra sleep on Sunday mornings. Or you want to cut the grass and wash the car. Or you want to go shopping. Or you plan your whole weekend around a trip to the beach or a round of golf or a sports event. Taking time out to go to church could mess up your weekend plans.

Still others of you stay away from church because a member of the church or one of its leaders did something that really turned you off. You figure, "If that's what the church is like, who needs it?" You want nothing to do with your old church, and you're not eager to find another one, either. Why hang around with a bunch of hypocrites, when you can follow God on your own?

Maybe you stay away from church because you feel just plain uncomfortable there. If you try going to church some Sunday, you feel out of place. Everybody but you seems to know when to stand up and when to sit down. Everybody there seems to know each other, but you don't know a soul, and hardly anyone talks with you or makes you feel welcome. Why go back to a situation that makes you feel so awkward?

Or maybe you have a very different reason for feeling awkward and staying away from church. You've belonged to a church for years. You know most of the people, and they know you. Then you go through marriage problems and divorce, or you go through something else that makes you feel guilty and embarrassed, and you can't bear to face all those people. You'd rather steer clear of the church.

Those are a few reasons why people say they stay away from church. But in a way, these are beside the point. No matter what your reason for staying away, the first question to deal with is: Are there any good reasons for going? Many people stay home from church, not because they have any particular reason for staying away, but because they lack a reason for going. If nothing important happens in church, then almost any activity is better than wasting your time there. On the other hand, if the reasons in favor of church are strong enough, then you really have no choice but to get involved, no matter what your reasons have been for staying away.

God Says So

If you think faith is purely private, a "me and Jesus" thing, you're fooling yourself. You might ask, "Who says you need church to be a good Christian? Who says so?" Well, God says so. Just look at some of the ways that God describes the church in the Bible.

The Bible calls the church God's household, God's family. The church is home for all who belong to God. So if you stay away from the church, you're either running away from home or you're not part of God's family at all.

The Bible speaks of the church as the bride of Christ. The Lord sees in her a beauty that becomes more and more radiant. He shares with her a deep love and intimacy. The church is more precious to Christ than a bride to her husband. If you despise the church and want nothing to do with it, your attitude is at odds with Jesus.

The Bible also calls the church the body of Christ. Each Christian is a part of that body. Obviously, for any body part to be alive and active, it must be connected to the body, and so each Christian must be connected to the church. As the body of Christ, the church is alive with the Spirit of Christ and carries on the work of Jesus in the world.

God himself calls us to be part of his church, to not only to see the beauty of Jesus, who embodies God in human flesh, but also to see and take part in the beauty of the church, where flesh and blood people live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Why church? Because it's the family of God, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. Even at its ugliest, even when it is least attractive, any genuine church has in it a beauty and a power you can't find apart from the church. Why church? Because God says so. Why church? Because you and I need it.

The Bible makes it clear that when people put their faith in Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit, they don't just go their separate ways to do their own thing. No, they become part of the church through baptism. Baptism is the sign and seal of being washed in Jesus' blood and being raised again to new life. Baptism also marks people as new members of the church. Through baptism, they are added to the community of believers.

The Bible says that in the time shortly after Jesus' resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, newly baptized people "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). In just one sentence, we have a four-fold answer to the question, “Why church?” First, for teaching. Second, for fellowship. Third, for breaking bread. Fourth, for prayer.

The Apostle's Teaching

Why church? First, because church is where we can devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching. In the time of the New Testament church, the apostles were present in person to teach the new believers. Today, the apostles have died and gone to heaven, but they still teach us through their God-inspired writings recorded in the Bible.

The apostles teach us about Jesus--who he is, what he did, and what he taught. They teach us the great plans and purposes of God as they have unfolded in the history of salvation. They teach us what it means to follow Christ in our own life and situation. Every church that is truly Christian rings with the teaching of the apostles. Every church that is truly Christian stands on the Bible. A church cannot stand on a few pleasant ideas or scholarly suggestions. The church's foundation is the apostles' teaching, which comes from Christ and reveals Christ.

The Bible says we are "members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20). To build our lives on truth, we need "God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

You may be thinking, "Okay, so maybe I do need the apostles' teaching. But why church? Why not just read the Bible on my own, or listen to Bible-based programs on radio and TV?" Well, I'm certainly in favor of Bible reading, and for sixteen years I was an international gospel broadcaster, so I’m not against media ministry. But to get the full benefit of the apostles' teaching, don't just listen to broadcasts. Be involved in a congregation in your community. There is something about just being together with God's people in a place of worship that brings a special sense of God's presence. The people praise God together, and together they confess their need for God to forgive their sins. The preacher speaks with special authority and the people listen with special openness. In a local church, the minister applies the Bible's teaching to the needs of a particular community and congregation in a way that a media ministry can't.

What's more, when you have questions about God's Word, or personal problems that you're wrestling with, your pastor or another fellow Christian can talk with you face-to-face about those needs. You have opportunities in a local congregation for Bible discussion groups and for personal conversations about how the apostles' teaching should affect your life. You can't get this just studying on your own or listening to media preachers. You need to be an active part of your local church.


Now let's consider the second vital aspect of the church: the fellowship. Church is the special community where we share in the fellowship of believers.

I remember talking with a man who stopped going to church because he was upset with his local congregation. He stayed home Sundays and watched a preacher on TV. When I urged him not to cut himself off from his church, he said, "I get what I need by watching the TV minister."

Later, we spoke together again. His son had been killed in a tragic accident. The grieving father found that there are some things you don't get by watching TV. The TV preacher wasn't there in his home to embrace him and pray with him and speak words of hope and comfort. The TV screen doesn't weep with those who weep. The only ones who could give this man the support he needed were the pastor and people of his church.

During my years as a gospel broadcaster, I heard from a lot of people facing difficulties. Many of them had no church. My staff and I tried to help them as we communicated at a distance. But there were limits to what we could do. We couldn’t replace the fellowship of a local church. So we constantly encouraged people to get into a church. When you're facing a serious illness, or the loss of a loved one, or financial problems, or a family crisis, you don't just need good advice over the airwaves. You need people who are right there, Christian brothers and sisters who can support you in tough times.

I know that the church has its faults, that the fellowship is often far from perfect. After all, the church is a fellowship of sinners who still have plenty of changing to do. The people don't always get along very well. But I also know that when the going gets tough, the people pull together to support the one who is hurting. Time and again I've heard people facing a crisis tell me, "Now I really know what the communion of the saints is. I don't know how I would have made it without the prayers and support of the people in my church."

The church's fellowship does more than just get us through times of crisis. Christians devote themselves to fellowship because in the church the whole is greater than the parts. Like a body, the church has many parts, each with its own unique function.

You might think that the things you're gifted at aren't as important to the church as the things other people are good at. But according to the Bible, that's no way to look at it. Wouldn't it be crazy if a foot said, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body" or if the ear said, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body?” What if the body were one big eyeball? It would be grotesque--and how would it hear? What if it were one big ear? How would it smell? It's a good thing God gave the body many different parts and arranged them the way he wanted.

The same applies to the church. God brings together many unique individuals, who are gifted in many different ways. If you're a Christian but you think the church can do just fine without you, think again. Every part is important.

The church needs you, and you need the church. As the Bible puts it, "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' So it would be totally insane for one part to say to the entire body, "I don't need you." What happens when a part is amputated from the body? It soon dies and decays. If you say to the body of Christ, "I don't need you. I can do just fine on my own," your soul will decay. To live and grow, you need to be part of the body.

You need the church, and the church needs you. Every part needs the others. If one part suffers, they all suffer. If one part flourishes, the others benefit. That's how God designed our physical bodies, and that's how he designed the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12). It's not just "me and Jesus." It's "we and Jesus." When Christians devote themselves to the fellowship, they all benefit from each other's God-given abilities, and they accomplish many things as a group what they couldn't do as individuals.

We also need the fellowship so we can be accountable to each other. Call it positive peer pressure, if you will. The world is full of negative peer pressure, but the church can provide positive peer pressure. As the Bible says, "let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Hebrews 10:24-25). When we get tired and discouraged in trying to follow Christ, we need a boost from others. When we fall into sin and bad habits, we need to be confronted by others. This involves more than just showing up for Sunday services, of course. It means really getting to know one another, often in the setting of small groups or close friendships. It means placing ourselves under the authority of the church, rather than simply doing our own thing.

The church is a setting for loving fellowship, where we can stop thinking only about ourselves and start loving others as Christ has loved us. Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).

Breaking Bread

Why church? So far we've talked about hearing the apostles' teaching, and experiencing the loving fellowship of God's people. Now let's look at a third reason: the breaking of bread. In church God's people gather around the table of the Lord for the Holy Supper. As we eat bread broken from a loaf, we participate in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, broken for our salvation. As we drink wine, we drink in the blood of Christ, poured out to give us life.

A living faith isn't just a matter of thinking about Jesus. A living faith feasts on Jesus, again and again and again. Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (John 6:54-56). The Lord's Supper isn't just a visual aid or a meaningless ritual. It's a spiritual feast, and we can't afford to miss it.

Why church? Because it is in church, gathered around the Lord’s table, that we find Jesus coming to us and giving us his body and blood to nourish our souls for eternal life. He doesn't come physically, but he does come really, by his Holy Spirit. As our mouths take in bread and wine, our souls take in the living Christ and the benefits of his body and blood given for us.


The fourth and final activity mentioned in Acts 2:42 is prayer. The Christians in the New Testament church got together to pray. You might wonder, "Why go to church to pray? I can pray by myself just fine." Well, it's true that personal prayer is important and that you can pray any time, anywhere. But praying together with others is also important. When God's people come together, whether as a large congregation or in a small prayer meeting, their prayers take on added power. Jesus said, "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:19-20). Why church? Because there God's people pray together with one heart, and praise God together with one voice.

Listen again to Acts 2:42. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). That's what the earlier Christians did together as a church, and that's a good summary of why you and I need to involve ourselves in the church still today.

Acts 2 goes on to tell about the dynamism in that church. There were great miracles taking place. Christians were selling their goods to share with fellow believers who didn't have enough. Every day they were praising God in the temple, and enjoying each other's company in their homes. And the Lord kept adding to their number those who were being saved.

And still today, whatever its faults may be, a truly Christian congregation is a setting where God's power is at work in amazing ways, where God's people give of themselves to help others, and where they bring joy to each other's hearts and to God. Why church? Because it's dynamic. It's where prayers are answered, where supernatural and splendid things happen.

The Perfect Church?

Are you looking for a perfect church? I'm not. If I could somehow find a perfect church, I couldn't join it, or it wouldn't be perfect anymore. I need a church that has room for a sinner like me. And you need a church that has room for a sinner like you.

Besides, there is no perfect church this side of heaven. If you think you've discovered one, you don't know the people well enough. No matter how great a church might be, it is made up of people who struggle with sin. No matter what church you go to, there will almost certainly be some hypocrites who aren't Christians at all, and even those churchgoers who are genuine Christians will still be a long way from perfect.

Unfortunately, some people can't handle being part of an imperfect church. The moment they find an imperfection, they either boycott church altogether or resort to church hopping.

If you're a boycotter, you use the church's flaws as an excuse to stay away. Your boycott may take the form of ignoring religion completely, or it may take the form of trying to get your spiritual nourishment on your own without being part of any group. You depend on books or broadcasts to help you enjoy a "me and Jesus" relationship, but you stay away from church so that you can avoid the frustrations of dealing with real, flesh-and-blood people with all their weaknesses and failings.

If you're a church hopper, on the other hand, you don't feel right not going to church at all. You go to church, but you're never in the same place for long. The moment you find something you don't like, you're off to look for a better church. You hop from one church to another to another, always hoping to find a congregation that suits you perfectly. But you never do.

If you're a church hopper or a boycotter, it's time you realized that you won't find a perfect church. You need to find a church, commit yourself to it, and then stick with it.

When you read about the New Testament church, you might be tempted to say, "Oh, I'd love to go to a church like that, but churches today—well, they just don't have what it takes." But don't kid yourself. If you read the Bible, you find that the church back then struggled with its own problems and scandals, and if you look honestly at the church today, you'll find it's not as bad as you'd like to think when you're looking for excuses not to be involved. There are some churches so corrupt and so unbiblical that you're better off staying away, but that doesn't mean you can't find an authentic church. Be glad the church isn't too good for you, and don't act like you're too good to join the saved sinners who are in the church.

Don't pretend you've got better things to do. There's nothing more important than devoting yourself to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Try it. Find a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church, and stick with it. You'll be amazed what happens.

Originally prepared by David Feddes for Back to God Ministries International. Used with permission.

The Daily Readings for FRIDAY, December 23

First Reading
Isaiah 33:17-22
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches far away. Your mind will muse on the terror: "Where is the one who counted? Where is the one who weighed the tribute? Where is the one who counted the towers?" No longer will you see the insolent people, the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend, stammering in a language that you cannot understand. Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be pulled up, and none of whose ropes will be broken. But there the LORD in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams, where no galley with oars can go, nor stately ship can pass. For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our ruler, the LORD is our king; he will save us.

Second Reading
Revelation 22:6-11, 22:18-20
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place." "See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" And he said to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy." I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The Holy Gospel
Luke 1:57-66
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Morning Psalms
Psalm 93 Dominus regnavit
1   The LORD is King; he has put on splendid apparel; the LORD has put on his apparel and girded himself with strength.
2   He has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved;
3   Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; you are from everlasting.
4   The waters have lifted up, O LORD, the waters have lifted up their voice; the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
5   Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.
6   Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O LORD, for ever and for evermore.

Psalm 96 Cantate Domino
1   Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.
2   Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3   Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
4   For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods.
5   As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but it is the LORD who made the heavens.
6   Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7   Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; ascribe to the LORD honor and power.
8   Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; bring offerings and come into his courts.
9   Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him.
10   Tell it out among the nations: "The LORD is King! he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity."
11   Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12   Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the LORD when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth.
13   He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth.

Evening Psalms
Psalm 148 Laudate Dominum
1   Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights.
2   Praise him, all you angels of his; praise him, all his host.
3   Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.
4   Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens.
5   Let them praise the Name of the LORD; for he commanded, and they were created.
6   He made them stand fast for ever and ever; he gave them a law which shall not pass away.
7   Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps;
8   Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will;
9   Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;
10   Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and wingèd birds;
11   Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world;
12   Young men and maidens, old and young together.
13   Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for his Name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven.
14   He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him. Hallelujah!

Psalm 150 Laudate Dominum
1   Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple; praise him in the firmament of his power.
2   Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him for his excellent greatness.
3   Praise him with the blast of the ram's-horn; Praise him with lyre and harp.
4   Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe.
5   Praise him with resounding cymbals; praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6   Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Verse of the Day - December 23, 2016

Luke 2:11-14 (NIV) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Lucas 2:11-14 (RVC) Hoy, en la ciudad de David, les ha nacido un Salvador, que es Cristo el Señor. Esto les servirá de señal: Hallarán al niño envuelto en pañales y acostado en un pesebre.» En ese momento apareció, junto con el ángel, una multitud de las huestes celestiales, que alababan a Dios y decían: «¡Gloria a Dios en las alturas! ¡Paz en la tierra a todos los que gozan de su favor!»

Read all of Luke 2

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

Morning Devotions with Cap'n Kenny - "Don't Miss Christmas"

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room. —Joy to the World

This Christmas, don't miss the point of celebrating Christmas. Don't be like the innkeeper, who missed Jesus because he was too busy (see Luke 2). Make time for the Lord. Don't be like King Herod, who was too afraid to let Christ rule his life (see Matthew 2). Turn your heart over to Christ. Finally, don't run your life like the Roman Empire, who missed Christmas because other gods took the place of Christ in their lives. Allow nothing else to take the place of worshipping Jesus Christ.

On Christmas morning we will unwrap our Christmas presents, but eventually the novelty of it all will wear off. The present that was once so precious to you will end up stuffed in the closet or handed off to someone else. A newer version of your latest gadget will arrive that has more megapixels, or is smaller, or faster, or has better battery life. In time, your Christmas gifts will mostly be forgotten. But God has given us the ultimate gift—the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.

Don't miss Christmas this year. As Watts and Handel once wrote, "Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room."

In Jesus,
Cap'n Kenny

Standing Strong Through the Storm - CHRISTMAS DEPORTATION MIRACLE

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know…” Acts 2:22

In late 1992, “Wally” Magdangal, a Filipino Christian who for years had pastored a clandestine house church in Saudi Arabia, was arrested. His secret house church was unexpectedly penetrated by the “mutawwa”, the Saudi Arabian religious police.

Wally remembers reading in an Open Doors magazine about a small group in China that gathered weekly in the back room of a small store to worship together. It was the era of the infamous Cultural Revolution. Since the believers could easily be overheard by anyone entering the store, they “sang” hymns together without words or music. Someone whispered the name of the song and they would silently move their lips and simply think of the words and music.

He said, “We are an underground Church like the believers behind the Bamboo Curtain, but the difference is that we can praise in full voice because our facilities are sound-proofed. Not even our closest neighbour can hear us.” But they were betrayed and now Wally was en route to prison.

For three-and-a-half hours he was physically and mentally tortured. They slapped, boxed and kicked him on the face. Then using a long stick, they lashed his back and the palms of his hands. Then the soles of his feet. He could not stand without wincing and he describes his bruised body as looking like an eggplant.

Upon returning to his cell, Wally prayed for five hours thanking God for allowing him to participate in the sufferings of Jesus. Here are his own words; “Suddenly there was light. The cell was filled with the Lord’s Shekinah glory. His presence was there. He knelt and started to touch my face. He told me, ‘My son, I have seen all of it. That’s why I’m here. I am assuring you that I will never leave you or forsake you.’”

Wally woke up two hours later feeling like a new man. He was amazed when he saw his body had been restored to perfect wholeness. No bruises, no cuts, no bleeding or blood stains. He adds, “God had completely restored me.” This was a significant source of strength as he later repeatedly witnessed to his interrogators who were dumbfounded by his healing. Once after sharing his faith, Wally noticed the guard’s countenance change. He was smiling. Wally said, “I could feel the Holy Spirit working already.”

Wally (and his fellow-pastor) was spared scheduled execution on Christmas Day. Miraculously, at the last moment, they were released and deported home to the Philippines. Today he shares God’s goodness and blessing around the world never forgetting that Christmas miracle.

RESPONSE: Today I will thank the Lord that He still works miracles today, here and around the world.

PRAYER: Pray for persecuted Christians who may be in prison today awaiting their miraculous release. Pray they will also be encouraged by the intimate presence of Jesus, Himself.

Men of the Bible - Paul

His name means: "Little"

His work: Paul was a Pharisee, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin, who was transformed by a visitation of Jesus on the road to Damascus to become a radical missionary for Christ.
His character: His intensity about life was matched by his faith and love for Jesus Christ.
His sorrow: The memory of his hatred of Christians and his sanctioning of their punishment, floggings, and murder.
His triumph: Paul spread the gospel to the Gentiles.
Key Scriptures: Acts 9; Paul's letters

A Look at the Man

Except for Jesus himself, no one in history had a greater impact on the formation of Christian doctrine and the setting up of the church than Saul of Tarsus—the apostle Paul.

But before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, the thought of carrying such a distinction could not have been more abhorrent to him. Saul was a zealous Jew. His singular mission in life was to preserve the integrity and traditions of his religion, and he was ready and willing to eliminate anything that threatened it—by any means. About this he was shamelessly passionate.

Born in Tarsus, Saul was the son of parents who wanted their son to be grounded in the laws, the orthodoxy, and the traditions of Judaism. Such training was not available in Tarsus, so they took him hundreds of miles to the south to study in Jerusalem. As a young man, Saul sat at the feet of the great teacher Gamaliel.

"Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse," Gamaliel read to his student from the fifth book of the Law of Moses. "You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance." Saul believed that the law was truth, and he had known the details of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. As far as he was concerned, Jesus was cursed. In addition to his beliefs about Jesus, Saul was also apprehensive about the growing number of Christians, especially among the Jews. This pollution had to be cleansed.

A short time before Saul's journey to Damascus, Peter and a handful of disciples had been brought before the Sanhedrin, of which Saul may have been a part. They were charged with healing the sick in the temple courts and teaching people about Jesus. Furious about the disciples' endeavor, the high council listened to their defense.

"Kill these traitors," one of the Pharisees shouted. "Yes, we must destroy these heretics," shouted another.

But Gamaliel, now an old man, stood and spoke. "Leave these men alone! Let them go!"

Saul was shocked. Hadn't this same wise man etched the law into his head as a youth? Now was he telling the Sanhedrin to ignore the law?

"We've seen these movements come and go," Gamaliel continued. "If its purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, even we will not be able to stop them; we'll be fighting against God, and we will fail."

Gamaliel's speech persuaded the Sanhedrin to forgo the execution of Peter and the other disciples; yet to assuage the anger of those who pressed charges, the Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged. They hated these followers of Jesus and despised the words they spoke. And the sound of the forty lashes slicing the backs of these conspirators from an adjoining room delighted each one of the great assembly.

"Do not speak in the name of Jesus again," the disciples were ordered as they reappeared, now bloodied and bruised, before the Sanhedrin. But from the looks on these offender's faces, not a single member of the council believed that they would obey.

Saul had never seen such resolve. This made him hate them all the more.

And in just a few days, the members of the Sanhedrin, with Saul in their midst, were able to vent their rage as they took Stephen outside the city and crushed his body under a volley of stones.

Now Saul was faced with the unthinkable. The disciples had been right. Stephen had been innocent—murdered in cold blood. Jesus was the very one spoken of by the prophets. What was he to do?

Saul—later on the island of Cyprus asking to be called "Paul"—spent the remainder of his life answering that question. In fact, he went straight to the synagogue and began to preach. "Come to Jesus," Paul preached to those who had gathered. "He is the Son of God…. Repent and be saved."

The priest in Damascus sent word to Caiaphas. "Good news: Saul has arrived in Damascus. Bad news: He's talking like a lunatic."

Before his martyrdom at the hands of Nero, Paul spread his "lunacy" throughout the known world. Through his love for Jesus, his compelling preaching, and his imprisonments, the fires of revival were ignited by this crazy man—once the gospel's great adversary, now its tireless champion.

Reflect On: Philippians 1:9–11
Praise God: For his persevering grace.
Offer Thanks: For the gift of his Son, the gift of faith to believe, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to fill us with himself.
Confess: Your shortsightedness and your unwillingness to thank him in every circumstance.
Ask God: To fill you with radical, life-changing love for him.

Un Dia a la Vez - Reciclamiento

No se contenten solo con escuchar la palabra, pues así se engañan ustedes mismos. Llévenla a la práctica. Santiago 1:22

Así como el reciclamiento es importante para tener un planeta más saludable y una vida más sana, también lo es para nuestra vida diaria. Esto lo vemos cuando en verdad tenemos ese anhelo de cambiar, de desechar lo que no sirve, separar lo que puede ser tóxico y utilizar, como es debido, los talentos y dones que hemos desaprovechado.

¡Qué bueno sería que en las proyecciones que ya estamos haciendo para el nuevo año pongamos el deseo ferviente de reciclar siempre en nuestra vida!

Es decir, separarnos de las cosas y personas que nos contaminan y entregar en manos de Dios las partes más nocivas de cada uno para que las purifique con su amor. De esa manera lograremos comenzar de verdad un año nuevo y una vida nueva.

No sigamos utilizando los mismos recipientes. Pidámosle al Señor que nos dé nuevas vestiduras y que esos cambios se puedan ver en nosotros. Entonces, de seguro, muchos se interesarán por nuestro cambio y desearán imitarnos.

Girlfriends in God - How Christmas Brings Healing

Today’s Truth

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through … Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

Friend to Friend

My son Hunter had been having pain in his left elbow. He mentioned it to my husband and I casually, but didn’t make a big deal about it initially. He’s a teenager, so we thought it might just be growing pains. Months later, when the pain continued to increase, he brought it up to us again.

Off to the doctor we went, not knowing what to think about the mysterious, lingering pain. After a brief physical evaluation, the doctor ordered that x-rays be taken. Soon after, he peeked his head back in the exam room and gave me the “come with me” finger-wag.

Eew. Okay.

I followed him out to the light board that illuminated Hunter’s new bone pictures. Dr. Joe started off with this simple statement. “Hunter has a bone problem.” He went on to explain that he had an OCD lesion, and that it needed to be dealt with in order for him to experience relief from the pain and healing in his arm.

Lots of follow up appointments followed.

We met with a surgeon who specializes in elbows and shoulders, and gathered all the information we needed. Hunter had X-rays, MRIs, and MRIs with dye. He was poked and prodded and pressed. The professional conclusions were this: if Hunter’s elbow wasn’t fixed now, later in life it would completely lock up, rendering his arm unbendable.

Our response? Elbow surgery it is!

The morning of surgery, the nurse got his IV started and prepped his arm by cleaning it up really good. Then they carted Hunter away and the surgeon began his work. During surgery the bad areas of Hunter’s bone were removed, and then the doctor micro-fractured the area to cause bleeding. The fracturing of his bone exposed blood to the place of pain, which ultimately led him to fresh growth and healing.

I just can’t think of Hunter’s elbow surgery without thinking of Jesus. Similarly, His body needed to be broken so that blood could flow and healing could happen.

This is the simple Gospel. The good news! The very reason we celebrate Christmas.

God’s love was poured out on humanity through the blood that was shed by Jesus. The Son of God left His place of perfection in heaven and came to earth to mend our hearts and hurts. He became broken for us on a Roman cross so that we could know forgiveness and healing.

This is the hope we sing of at Christmas. Our Bethlehem song!

When Hunter first came to us we didn’t know anything was really wrong - just that there was a pain that needed addressed. Do you know today that there is something wrong in your life? Perhaps you can’t quite put your finger on it, but sense there is more to faith than what you know. More to Jesus than what you’ve explored or accepted.

Are you struggling with pain, emptiness, insecurity, depression, fear, or anger?

Got any areas of brokenness and rebellion that keep are keeping you from fully developing spiritually?

In this season of wintery wonder, I invite you to consider how God’s perfect love can meet you in your pain and confusion. The Bible explains it this way. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The Word also promises this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Through the finished work of Jesus, God invites us to know complete healing and forgiveness. Are you ready to celebrate Christmas knowing the true gift of love and hope this year?

Let’s Pray

Dear Lord, I need healing today. I need You, Jesus. Please forgive my sins and restore my hope. Help me to grow in Your love and to experience the purity and full life you promise in Your Word.
In Jesus’ Name,

Now It’s Your Turn

Where does this message find you today? Spend some time in prayer.

More from the Girlfriends

Ready for soul-level healing? Read Gwen’s book Broken Into Beautiful. Every step of forgiveness begins with the heart of God. If you’d like to learn more about how your brokenness can be transformed into a picture of God’s beauty, get your copy today. To order the book go to Amazon or, for a signed copy, visit Gwen’s web store.

LHM Daily Devotion - "It's Impossible!"

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered (Luke 2:1, ESV).

Read Luke 2:1-5.

Every year I take my family across three states to spend Christmas with my brothers and their families in Ohio. It's a long trip, but we thoroughly enjoy it, reaching our destination the same day. My father once told me of a Christmas he spent traveling by train from California to Ohio on leave from the Navy.

As we remember the birth of God's Son, we recall another long and difficult Christmas journey. That journey was set in motion by a command from the Roman emperor. But standing behind the mightiest man in the world -- Caesar Augustus -- stood God, the ultimate Ruler, moving His Son's chosen mother to the exact place were long ago He had announced His Son would be born. In Micah 5:2 we read, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."

In another 30 years a Roman military governor will pass a judgment of his own, commanding this same Jesus to carry His cross on a journey to Mt. Calvary to be crucified. God stood behind that decision too, laying our guilt and sins on His own Son, who made that most difficult of journeys so that we could be forgiven and live with Him forever.

THE PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross and making that long journey to Mt. Calvary, where You set me free from sin, guilt, death and hell. Fill me with joy and patience no matter where I may travel this Christmastime. Amen.

Use these devotions in your newsletter and bulletin! Used by permission; all rights reserved by the Int'l LLL (LHM).

Devociones de Adviento - Las tinieblas se disipan

 Isaías 9:2-7

El pueblo que andaba en tinieblas vio una gran luz; sí, la luz resplandeció para los que vivían en un país de sombras de muerte. (Is 9:2, RVC)

Las tinieblas, además de ser una realidad negativa, son en sí mismas un símbolo de todo lo maligno que existe en el mundo. Si decimos, por ejemplo, que tal persona "anda en tinieblas", no hay manera de entender esa afirmación como algo positivo.

Desde una perspectiva espiritual, las tinieblas representan un mundo en el que nada bueno puede esperarse. Las profecías acerca del Mesías refieren a su venida como a la irrupción de una luz en medio de las sombras de la muerte. Israel, el pueblo de Dios, había pasado por momentos tristes y oscuros en su historia. Períodos de desobediencia y rebelión seguidos por invasiones, deportaciones y calamidades sin fin. Eran tiempos de sombra de muerte. El Mesías llega como un rey niño para revertir ese panorama sombrío. La tierra de Galilea, lugar del ministerio de Jesús, sería escenario de esa venida luminosa.

Jesús es el príncipe de paz que va a acabar con todos los símbolos de conflicto, guerra y enemistad entre nosotros. Sus nombres son propios de un rey extraordinario: "Consejero admirable", "Dios fuerte", "Padre eterno" y "Príncipe de paz". Él viene a nuestra Galilea arrasada a establecer un reino espiritual de paz, para gobernar nuestras mentes y corazones. Si nuestra existencia es atravesada por oscuridad, si los conflictos y las guerras han devastado nuestra vida, hay esperanzas inmensas en ese PRÍNCIPE DE PAZ.

Preparémonos para recibirle en arrepentimiento y fe. Con su amor y perdón, con su justicia y su paz, Él iluminará nuestros corazones. Su adviento puede ser nuestro advenimiento a una existencia nueva y luminosa.

Dulce Mesías, luz del mundo. Ven a mi vida para poner luz en mis zonas de confusión, culpas e ignorancia. Lléname de tu paz. Amén.

© Copyright 2016 Cristo Para Todas Las Naciones

Our Daily Bread - What Can I Give Him?

Read: Psalm 103:1–18 | Bible in a Year: Nahum 1–3; Revelation 14

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2

One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of “Christmas lists.” Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red or green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the One whose birth they were celebrating.

If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God’s service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal. 5:22–23).

The most important gift we can ever receive is God’s gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.

You overwhelm me with Your gifts, Lord. In return, I want to give You the very best present that I can. Please show me what You want most from me.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him—give Him my heart. Christina G. Rossetti

© 2016 Our Daily Bread Ministries

Nuestro Pan Diario - ¿Qué puedo darle?

Leer: Salmo 103:1-18 | La Biblia en un año: Apocalipsis 14

Bendice, alma mía, al Señor, y no olvides ninguno de sus beneficios (Salmo 103:2).

Un año, los responsables de decorar su iglesia para Navidad decidieron usar el lema «listas navideñas». En lugar de colocar los habituales adornos dorados y plateados, le dieron a cada persona una tarjeta roja o verde. De un lado, tenían que escribir qué regalo les gustaría recibir de Jesús; y en el otro, qué le regalarían a Aquel cuyo nacimiento se celebraba.

Si tuvieras que hacer eso, ¿qué pedirías y qué regalarías? La Biblia nos da muchísimas ideas. Dios promete suplir todas nuestras necesidades, así que podemos pedir trabajo, ayuda en problemas financieros, sanidad física para nosotros y para otros o restauración de una relación rota. Tal vez nos preguntemos qué don espiritual nos equipa para servir a Dios. Muchos están enumerados en Romanos 12 y 1 Corintios 12. O tal vez anhelemos mostrar más del fruto del Espíritu Santo: amor, gozo, paz, paciencia, benignidad, bondad, fe, mansedumbre, templanza (Gálatas 5:22-23).

El presente más importante que podemos recibir es el regalo de Dios: su Hijo, nuestro Salvador; y con Él, perdón, restauración y vida eterna. Además, el regalo más importante que podemos hacerle a Jesús es nuestro corazón.

Señor, tus regalos me asombran. A cambio, quiero darte el mejor presente que pueda. Muéstrame qué es lo que más quieres de mí.

«Si fuera un sabio, haría mi parte. Pero ¿qué puedo darle al Señor? Solo mi corazón». Christina G. Rossetti

© 2016 Ministerios Nuestro Pan Diario

Unser Täglich Brot - Was kann ich schenken?

Lesen: Psalm 103,1-18 | Die Bibel In Einem Jahr: Nahum 1–3; Offenbarung 14

Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, und vergiss nicht, was er dir Gutes getan hat. (Psalm 103,2)

In einem Jahr wählte das Team, das in unserer Gemeinde für die Weihnachtsdekoration zuständig ist, das Thema „Wunschzettel“. Anstatt überall den gewohnten silbernen und goldenen Schmuck aufzuhängen, gaben sie allen einen roten oder grünen Anhänger. Auf der einen Seite sollten sie aufschreiben, was sie sich von Jesus wünschten, und auf der anderen, was sie selbst dem Einen schenken wollten, dessen Geburt wir feierten.

Was hättest du dir an ihrer Stelle gewünscht und was hättest du geschenkt? Die Bibel gibt uns eine Menge Ideen. Gott hat versprochen, uns alles zu geben, was wir brauchen. Wir könnten also um einen neuen Job bitten, Hilfe bei finanziellen Problemen, Heilung von Krankheit für uns selbst oder andere, geheilte Beziehungen. Vielleicht fragen wir uns, welche Geistesgabe uns fähig macht, Gott zu dienen. Viele dieser Gaben werden in Römer 12 und 1.Korinther 12 aufgezählt. Oder wir wollen mehr von der Frucht des Heiligen Geistes zeigen, liebevoller, freudiger, friedlicher, geduldiger, freundlicher und gütiger, treuer, sanfter oder selbstbeherrschter sein (Gal. 5,22-23).

Das wichtigste Geschenk, das wir je erhalten können, ist Gottes Sohn, unser Erlöser, und mit ihm Vergebung, Heilung und das Versprechen auf ein geistliches Leben, das jetzt beginnt und nie aufhört. Und das größte Geschenk, das wir Jesus bringen können, ist unser Herz.

Herr, du überschüttest uns mit Geschenken. Ich möchte dir deshalb das Kostbarste bringen, was ich habe. Bitte zeige mir, was du dir am meisten von mir wünschst.

Nichts hab ich zu bringen. Alles, Herr, bist du.

© 2016 Unser Täglich Brot

Хлеб наш насущный - Что подарить?

Читать сейчас: Псалом 102:1-18 | Библия за год: Наум 1-3; Откровение 14

Благослови, душа моя, Господа и не забывай всех благодеяний Его. — Псалом 102:2

Однажды люди, ответственные за украшение церкви к Рождеству, решили пойти необычным путем. Вместо того чтобы, как обычно, развешивать блестящие гирлянды и орнаменты, они раздали людям красные и зеленые листочки. На одной стороне листочка те должны были написать, какой подарок им хотелось бы получить от Христа, а на другой – что они хотели бы подарить Тому, Чье рождение празднуют.

Если бы вы получили такое задание, какой подарок вы бы хотели для себя и что могли бы предложить? Библия содержит много идей на эту тему. Бог обещает позаботиться о наших нуждах, поэтому мы могли бы попросить новую работу, помощи в финансовых затруднениях, исцеления для себя или других, восстановления разрушенных отношений. Со своей стороны мы могли бы послужить Христу своими духовными дарами, многие из которых перечисляются в Римлянам 12 и 1  Коринфянам 12. Или, возможно, мы хотели бы принести больше плода духа: любви, радости, мира, долготерпения, благости, милосердия, веры, кротости и воздержания (Гал. 5:22-23).

Самый важный дар из всех – это наш Спаситель и дарованные Им спасение и духовная жизнь, которая начинается сейчас и длится вечно. А самый важный дар, который мы можем принести Христу, – это наше сердце.

Ты изумляешь меня Своими дарами, Господь. Я хочу отдать Тебе лучшее, что имею. Покажи, чего Ты ожидаешь от меня.

«Вот мой дар, Иисус Христос: сердце я Тебе принес». — Кристина Розетти

© 2016 Хлеб Наш Насущный

Notre Pain Quotidien - Que puis‑je lui donner ?

Lisez : Psaume 103.1‑18 | La Bible en un an : Nahum 1 – 3 et Apocalypse 14

Mon âme, bénis l’Éternel, et n’oublie aucun de ses bienfaits ! (Psaume 103.2)

Une année, les gens responsables de décorer leur église pour Noël ont décidé d’opter pour le thème « listes de Noël ». Au lieu de la décorer comme d’habitude avec des ornements scintillants, dorés et argentés, ils ont remis à chaque personne qui la fréquentait une étiquette rouge ou verte. D’un côté, chacune devait écrire le cadeau qu’elle souhaitait recevoir de Jésus et de l’autre, le cadeau qu’elle désirait offrir à celui dont on célébrait l’anniversaire de naissance.

Et vous, quel cadeau demanderiezvous et lequel offririez‑vous ? La Bible nous suggère de nombreuses idées de cadeaux. Comme Dieu nous promet de pourvoir à tous nos besoins, nous pourrions demander un nouvel emploi, une aide financière, une guérison physique pour nous‑mêmes ou d’autres personnes, ou encore la restauration d’une relation. Peut‑être cherchons‑nous à savoir quel don spirituel nous permettrait de servir Dieu. De nombreux dons sont mentionnés dans Romains 12 et 1 Corinthiens 12. Il se peut aussi que nous désirions ardemment produire plus de fruits spirituels : amour, joie, paix, patience, bonté, bienveillance, foi, douceur et maîtrise de soi (GA 5.22,23).

Le cadeau suprême à recevoir est le Fils de Dieu, notre Sauveur, et par lui le pardon, la restauration et la promesse de la vie spirituelle qui s’amorce dès maintenant et qui durera l’éternité. Le cadeau le plus précieux que nous puissions offrir à Jésus, c’est notre coeur.

Je lui donne ce que j’ai à donner : mon coeur. Christina G. Rossetti

© 2016 Ministères NPQ