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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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George Whitefield: The Care Of The Soul

In the words of George Whitefield (1714 – 1770):

It was the amiable character of our blessed Redeemer, that “he went about doing good,” this great motive, which animated all his actions, brought him to the house of his friend Lazarus, at Bethany, and directed his behavior there. Though it was a season of recess from public labor, our Lord brought the sentiments and the pious cares of a preacher of righteousness into the parlor of a friend; and there his doctrine dropped as the rain, and distilled as the dew, as the little happy circle that were then surrounding him. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, with great delight made one amongst them; she seated herself at the feet of Jesus, in the posture of an humble disciple; and we have a great deal of reason to believe, that Martha, his other sister, would gladly have been with her there; but domestic cares pressed hard upon her, and “she was cumbered with much serving,” being, perhaps, too solicitous to prepare a sumptuous entertainment for her heavenly master and the train that attended him. Happy are they, who in a crowd of business do not lose something of the spirituality of their minds, and of the composure and sweetness of their tempers. This good woman comes to our Lord with too impatient a complaint; insinuating some little reflection, not only on Mary, but on himself too. “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me.” Our Lord, willing to take all opportunities of suggesting useful thoughts, answers her in these words, of which the text is a part, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful; and Mary, has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Alas, Martha! The concerns of the soul are of so much greater importance than those of the body, that I cannot blame your sister on this occasion: I rather recommend her to your imitation, and caution you, and all my other friends, to be much on your guard, that in the midst of your worldly cares, you do not lose sight of what much better deserves your attention.

God Comes To Bethlehem

The first Christmas morning may be hard for us to imagine in our 21st century culture. It does deserve our attention, however, because it is a miraculous day. It is the day that God entered our world. Leonard J. Vander Zee approaches this event from the perspective of the Apostle John in the following excerpts from a Christmas sermon:

We don’t know what Mary did that morning in the cave-like stable at Bethlehem. Was she cold? Was she afraid? Did she weep with worries about what they were going to do, this homeless couple, so far from family? The bible tells us just one thing about Mary on that morning of that birth that changed the world. All that the Bible tells us is that “she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”. . . .

This morning we read John’s version of the Christmas story, if you can call it that. It’s not much of a story. At first glance it seems more like a heavy theological treatise. But if you read it well, it sings along with the Christmas angels. It begins; well it begins in the beginning; in the vast reaches of eternity, where God is all that exists. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

Already John confronts us with the mystery that stands at the heart of the church’s doctrine and worship, the plurality of God, the community of divine persons that is before all things, the Trinity. The splendid loving isolation of this divine community was not enough. God created a creation that was an extension of the love that is God’s very being. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5)

But then, a few verses later, John moves us from the splendid far reaches of eternity to the soil of this planet, the flesh and bones of our mortal bodies. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

At Bethlehem the Word, the logos, the origin and destiny of the whole creation came to us encased in our flesh. God comes to us as a baby. God comes into the world he created just the way we all come into the world. . . .

So we must truly say that God was born at Bethlehem. The Godhead crowned as Mary labored, and one of the divine persons was expelled into the cold night air of the stable. God was lifted lovingly by human hands, cleaned and wrapped in rags. God was laid at Mary’s breast to suck with hunger and contentment. God slept while angels sang to shepherds in the field. God joined the human race. . . .

This is the staggering uniqueness of the Christian faith. This is the good news. The word became flesh, God became human. . . .

As Mary pondered that morning, as she fondled her newborn baby, she could hardly imagine all this. But as we ponder the same event this Christmas morning so many centuries later, we begin to touch the fringes of the mystery. It’s the mystery of God’s love come down to us, the mystery of the Word made flesh. It all began on that cold night in a stable at Bethlehem. . . .

Living The Christmas Life

From the pen of Frederick Buechner:

[T]he birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.”

Unexpected Blessings?

Gabriel & Mary

Our personal prayers are often answered by God in unexpected ways. The expectations with which we begin the Christian walk may often be disappointed. God, however, has His own timing and plans for your life. Dr. M. Craig Barnes offers us his perspective below:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45 ESV)

Just as Jesus Christ was born of Mary 2,000 years ago, so by his Spirit does he continue to be born within each of us. Receiving this new life will be as wonderful and painful for you as it was for Mary.

Elizabeth and Mary were quite a pair. Elizabeth was not a young woman. After years and years of praying for a child, after becoming used to not having a child, and after getting to the age where giving birth to a child was not a good idea, she gets pregnant with a baby she and her husband will name John who will prepare the way for Christ. By contrast, Mary was a very young woman. She too hoped for a child someday, when it would be appropriate. But not now. Not before she was married. Not while she was still a virgin. So we meet two women who are pregnant. One of them is too old to be a mother and the other is too young. But both are in the hands of God.

As the Bible constantly illustrates, God’s timing usually takes us by surprise. Sometimes, as with Elizabeth, God moves too slowly. Sometimes, as with Mary, he moves too quickly. Like Elizabeth, some of you in church today have been praying for a long time for something to happen. You think now that it may never happen. Obviously you can’t make it happen, because if you could have, you would have. Clearly, you are not in control. Like Mary, others of you find that your lives are all disheveled this year. God has conceived something in your life that you didn’t ask for. It doesn’t make any sense. . . .

The new life God creates in you may give you a calling that scares you. It may give you gifts, passions, dreams you never expected to have. It may take loved ones away you would rather keep or give you new loved ones you would rather not have. Don’t be surprised if you don¹t understand it. You’re not the Creator. You’re not supposed to be. You’re supposed to simply receive it, and wait while it develops.

Waiting is one of the most important elements in receiving new life. . . . Maybe you are waiting today on a relationship that is slowly changing, or a new job offer, or for word about healing that just won’t come. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes. That is only because each day God has continued to move you closer to a new life. . . . Eventually, you get to a point of saying, “God, stop teaching me about patience. I can¹t handle any more lessons on that.” “God, stop teaching me how to love difficult people. It was easier being mean.” “God, stop teaching me to depend only on you. I’ve given you all there is to give.” “God, please stop breaking my heart with the needs of other people. I can’t keep caring so much!” When you say things like this, it is only because the new creation within you has almost matured to full term. You’re almost there. . . .

God has conceived something in all of our lives. Maybe it is something like an old hope that has come back to life. Or something that we didn’t really even want, but it is back in front of us again. Or maybe it is a new mission or restlessness about where you are. This time of year, when we hear about the arrival of Christ, the thing that God has conceived within us comes alive. It jumps for joy, reminding us that God is still at work within us. At Christmas it is hard to ignore the holy thing God is doing in our lives. . . .

We are a people who want to make sense of our lives, and to find cause and effect explanations for why life turns out the way it does. The hardest things to understand are not the tragedies, but the blessings that have come to us without reason. “Why me,” we ask. The explanations are not there. That is because to try to explain life is only another way of trying to control it. One of the central messages of Christmas is that you are not in control of the blessings. There is no logic to a blessing, only gratitude.

Why you? Why has God chosen to bring something creative and life changing to you? It is not a bad question, but it is not exactly the right one either. The only pressing question is will you receive this new life that is coming and give thanks? (“Why Me?”)

God Sent Forth His Son

Quoting Billy Bryant:

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, ‘To redeem them that were under the law.”(Galatians 4:4-5)

These words, written to the church of Galatia by the Apostle Paul, tell us that a promise of God had been fulfilled. Way back in the beginning of creation, when the fall of man had just taken place, God appeared on the scene and said that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent s head (see Gen. 3:15). That was the promise that Jesus Christ would one day come into the world and would defeat the old serpent – -the devil – – and win victory over sin and Satan for the human family.

1. GOD SENT FORTH HIS SON

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The words “only begotten” mean the only one of His kind. Jesus Christ had no earthly father. He was always the Son of God and God the Son, and His coming into the world was only His incarnation, or His taking on a body.

2. MADE OF A WOMAN

It was the seed of the woman that was to bruise the serpent’s head (see Gen. 3:15). When the angel, Gabriel, came to the virgin Mary and announced to her that she would be with child, he told her that the power of God would overshadow her, that she would conceive and bear a son, and that He would be called the “Son of the Highest” (see Luke 1:32). With the birth of Christ, God became man in order that man might be brought back to God.

3. TO REDEEM

The purpose of God sending forth His Son, begotten by the Holy Ghost and born of the blessed virgin Mary, was to redeem the world. Jesus became our kinsman-redeemer by becoming man and remaining God. Praise God, in the fullness of time, He came and accomplished our redemption. “In whom we have redemption through His blood” (Col. 1:14). In the fullness of time, He will also come again to take His redeemed to heaven. Are you ready?

To read more by this author – click here. . . .

Christmas Is A Time To Make Christ Known

I grew up loving Christmas; maybe not for all the right reasons, but Christmas was a big deal in our family. I remember the smells of mother’s cooking, the decorations, watching “Miracle on 34th Street”, the music and the excitement of Christmas morning. There are other things that I remember about Christmas and many that I have forgotten. Is there a certain Christmas you remember more than any other? I think of one Christmas in particular when Deb and I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. on Christmas morning putting together a kitchen set for our two little daughters. They loved it, but on that Christmas I decided that I needed to invest in some battery-powered tools.

It is so easy for Christmas to slip by before we know it, because of all the things we feel obligated to do to create a truly Merry Christmas for ourselves and family. Sometimes the true Spirit of Christmas is lost in our busyness. In this article, I want us to look at Luke 2:15-20 to find counsel for celebrating the miracle of Christmas.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16 ESV)

A stable is not often thought of as a likely place to begin a celebration, but this child was no ordinary child. This baby was the “Son of David” (Matthew 15:22), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), “Savior” (John 4:14), “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), “Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8), the “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5), the “Bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16), the “Word of God” (Revelation 19:13), the “Son of God” (Mark 1:1), and the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16)!

Celebrating Christmas is not about all the parties, presents, and Christmas Trees; it is about Jesus Christ and celebrating Him. Jesus is much more than what he appears to be as He lies in the manger on that first Christmas morning.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:17 ESV)

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to make Christ known. This is what the shepherds did. Glorifying God and Jesus Christ is the purpose for which we were made. This is where you will find true Christmas joy.

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:18 ESV)

We can see here that these basically uneducated men from a low social class made those who heard them wonder. What will be the testimony of your Christmas this year? Will men wonder about Christ because of the way you celebrate Christmas? Meditate on the true meaning and story of the first Christmas so that you may share it with others.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19 ESV)

Mary treasured the memories of Jesus’ birth. She thought on these things with a serious mind and heart. We too should remember Christmas is about God coming into our time and our world to redeem His people. Christmas is a time of grace that should be a part of our living our lives all year-long.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20 ESV)

What a wonderful statement! Only one visit with the newborn Christ; then sharing the “good news” with others, and returning to their flocks where they spent the rest of their watch praising God. I am reminded here of the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

How will your Christmas this year encourage you and others to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever? Christmas and every other day of the year, for that matter, should be a time of glorifying and praising God for the gift of His Son. Christmas is a wonderful time to praise God for His free gift of Grace. It is appropriate on every day and especially during the Christmas season that we share the message of His gift of grace with others.

I pray that you will have a God Glorifying Christmas this year!

Samuel

Renewing The Spirit

Quoting Seán Kearney:

How extraordinary to find the common bond of love expressed in a shared poverty. On this basis He could speak to us of shared values, of a vision and a mission we could make our own. From the manger this Child of the virgin Mary could speak to us of our destiny, our dignity, our ability, in His Name, to change not only ourselves but the world. Here we hear of our God-given rights and of our responsibilities as God’s adopted children. This Child will come to represent everything that is inspiring in terms of mercy, of compassion, of love, of justice and of peace. Christmas is a time to renew one’s spirit in the message and in the challenge of the Christ Child, a time to determine to become more credible witnesses to Him.

GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN

 

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2)

 

This is one of my favorite songs during the Christmas season.  It is a happy reminder that true comfort and joy come only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and King.

 

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

 

Refrain

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessèd Babe was born,

And laid within a manger upon this blessèd morn;

The which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.

Refrain

From God our heavenly Father a blessèd angel came;

And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;

How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.

Refrain

“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you afright

This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright,

To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.”

Refrain

The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,

And went to Bethl’em straightaway this blessèd Babe to find.

Refrain

But when to Bethlehem they came where our dear Savior lay,

They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay;

His mother Mary kneeling unto the Lord did pray.

Refrain

Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.

Refrain

God bless the ruler of this house, and send him long to reign,

And many a merry Christmas may live to see again;

Among your friends and kindred that live both far and near—

That God send you a happy new year, happy new year,

And God send you a happy new year.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Soundtrack)

The Son Is Given

Charles H. Spurgeon

From a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”—Isaiah 9:6.

Pon other occasions I have explained the main part of this verse—”the government shall be upon his shoulders, his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God.” If God shall spare me, on some future occasion I hope to take the other titles, “The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” But now this morning the portion which will engage our attention is this, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The sentence is a double one, but it has in it no tautology. The careful reader will soon discover a distinction; and it is not a distinction without a difference. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God’s Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father. The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remained among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then was he not divine. Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.” He was not born in this world as God’s Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

Is it true that unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given? It is a fact that a child is born. Upon that I use no argument. We receive it as a fact, more fully established than any other fact in history, that the Son of God became man, was born at Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. It is a fact, too, that a Son is given. About that we have no question. The infidel may dispute, but we, professing to be believers in Scripture, receive it as an undeniable truth, that God has given his only begotten Son to be the Savior of men. But the matter of question is this: Is this child born to us? Is he given to us? This is the matter of anxious enquiry. Have we a personal interest in the child that was born at Bethlehem? Do we know that he is our Savior?—that he has brought glad tidings to us?—that to us he belongs? And that we belong to him? (“A Christmas Question,” No. 291)

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