And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.Luke
This year has brought unprecedented challenges to our lives, particularly the terrifying experience of a global pandemic. For months we have feared for our wellbeing and for the health of our family and friends. Finances were hit hard, kids had to be homeschooled, and facemasks became part of everyday fashion. So, after all of the ups and downs of 2020, it’s probably not surprising that many of us are hoping and searching for more stability during the upcoming Christmas season.
Unfortunately, Christmastime rarely seems to be all that stable. No matter how much effort we put into preparing for our holiday celebrations, problems invariably arise. For instance, someone gets sick. Grandpa is cranky. The cat goes missing. That special gift you ordered never arrives. The gravy is lumpy. A pipe upstairs breaks, sending water into the kitchen. The list of challenges could go on and on.
Far too often our plans for a holiday filled with peace and calm have fallen short of our expectations. Many of us also have sad experiences that occurred at Christmastime—like in 1992 when my dad died on December 22nd. That kind of loss and any other trauma hits us hard, especially when it happens during a celebratory season.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so astonished that the holidays aren’t the most stable of times since the first Christmas was rather chaotic too. The verses in Luke above remind us that Joseph and a very-pregnant Mary had to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. No doubt because other travelers impacted local lodging, the couple couldn’t find a single room available after their long trip. Instead, they were offered a stable—a place where animals were sheltered and fed. This messy, noisy, and fetid environment would become the delivery room for God’s Son, Jesus. A manger, or feeding trough, became Jesus’ crib after Mary had wrapped Him in some simple strips of cloth.
As if these unstable circumstances weren’t challenging enough, some unexpected guests decided to stop by. Angels had appeared nearby to tell a group of shepherds about Jesus’ birth. Then “when the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” They did just that: “They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger” (Luke 2:15-16). Whatever private moments the new parents had together were suddenly interrupted by visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the precious gift they’d just received. Although Scripture doesn’t record the details, it’s possible other people may have popped by too since “after seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child” (verses 17).
That first Christmas was far from a calm, peaceful experience—and it probably didn’t live up to either of the parents’ expectations. Whatever vision Mary might have had for labor and delivery, we can assume it didn’t include a dingy, dirty environment that would soon be invaded by total strangers. If Joseph had planned for a safe, secure setting to temporarily house his new family, that idea went right out the stable door. But this wasn’t about them, was it? God had a plan for His Son—one that would be real and raw and inclusive of people who needed His presence. To God, that chaotic scene was the perfect place to showcase Jesus. Actually, this “stable” Christmas served as the commencement of Jesus’ mission, as Philippians 2:6-7 aptly points out:
Though He was God, He did not
think of equality with God
something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine
took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being when He appeared in human form.
This is the message of Christmas: Jesus came to serve and sacrifice. There’s no clearer picture of that than His leaving the wonders of Heaven in order to take on human form. Perfection decided to live among imperfection, starting with that first night spent in a stable.
Like Jesus, we are called to serve and sacrifice too. This isn’t always easy, but as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering” (Romans 8:17). As members of God’s forever family, we have the privilege to live and work among the very people Jesus came to save. And there is no better time than Christmas to “tell others about Christ . . . (because) we want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
As you prepare for the upcoming holy days, would you consider what your version of a “stable” Christmas could look like in 2020? It might be quite different than what you initially envisioned, but this is a year of different, so why not go with that theme? Whatever your plans, make sure Jesus is in the midst of the mess and mayhem. That way you can stay focused on the Savior who provides stability during every season of life.
Everyone at Sonkist Ministries wishes you and your loved ones a wonderful
Christmas season—and many blessings in the New Year! If you’d like to connect
with us, please visit www.sonkist.com.
Thought for the Season
“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…” Luke 2:10-11
When the cashier finished sharing her story, I immediately recalled Dickens’ famous words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What had just transpired was literally the tale of two completely different pumpkins. Let me back up a bit and provide you with a full picture of this painfully human moment.
Last autumn, I entered a local Target with a short list of items my family needed. As is often the case, I found a few additional “treats” to take home. One of those treats was a large box of pumpkin-flavored cereal. Everyone in my family enjoys pumpkin, so I was elated to discover a new product for them. ‘They’ll be so excited to try this,’ I thought to myself as I cheerfully headed to the checkout area.
While loading groceries and other goodies I’d gathered onto the conveyor belt, the cashier asked how my day was going. I promptly replied, “Great! I’m really excited that I found this cereal. My family members love pumpkin, especially during the fall season. They like everything from pumpkin-spiced lattes to pumpkin pie. I can’t wait for them to taste this cereal!”
As the cashier continued to scan items, she replied matter-of-factly, “My family doesn’t eat pumpkin—ever. You see, my dad’s brother died when he was young because he ate a batch of tainted pumpkin-pie filling. No one in my family has eaten pumpkin since then.”
My jaw didn’t drop, but it might as well have. I stared at the woman, who had finished ringing up my items. “I’m so sorry,” were the only words I managed to blurt out. She smiled warmly and said, “Oh, you don’t have to be sorry. It’s just part of my family history.” I felt like I should say something more, but I wasn’t sure what else to add. As she handed me the receipt, I finally said, “I’m very sorry to hear about your uncle. Thank you for your help today.”
On my way out of the store, it seemed like the wind had been knocked out of me. Yet that “tale of two pumpkins” moment would change my perspective about people from that day forward. In fact, even as I walked to my car I watched a weary mother with three kids climbing on and off of her overflowing basket and thought about other concerns she might be carrying. Then I spotted an older man, cane in hand, crossing the parking lot. I wondered, ‘What’s life been like for him?’ Even once I had loaded the bags in my car, I sat and thought more about that store employee. What other difficulties might she be dealing with today? And while I considered these thoughts, I prayed for all of those people, particularly that the Lord would meet their needs in some special way.
This is exactly the type of perspective that Christians are called to have: empathizing with others the way the Lord does. In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” It’s not that being happy, even about pumpkin-flavored cereal, is wrong—quite the opposite. Believers should have lots of reasons to be joyful! But we are also encouraged to be sensitive to others and mindful of the sufferings of those around us.
As a fervent follower of Jesus, Peter transformed his perspective over time and began to focus his passion toward other people in his life. Look at some of the wisdom he shared with early Christians that applies to us in 2020:
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will grant you His blessing. (I Peter 3:8-9)
I like the way the Apostle Peter reminds us that good deeds like empathizing, being kindhearted, and loving others are important components of our calling as members of God’s forever family. These characteristics set His followers apart in a world where natural instincts trend toward self-focus and selfish behavior. Indeed, our world isn’t much different than the one Dickens described over 160 years ago:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
The season in which you and I find ourselves requires a renewed resolve if we really want to live up to God’s calling. People around us are carrying countless burdens. Many probably can’t even imagine that something better could happen to them in the here and now—let alone for all eternity. But we know the Truth and can share that wisdom. We should joyfully live out our faith while sensitively interacting with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. And we can certainly be light in a time of darkness, offering hope to replace despair.
My “tale of two pumpkins” moment helped me gain fresh insight about the needs of others, and I want to keep that perspective in the upcoming seasons of life. May the same be true for you. As autumn leaves change color and cool, crisp breezes great you in the days ahead, enjoy the blessings the Lord has bestowed on you while looking for opportunities to reach out to others who desperately need your compassion, kindness, and love.
Many blessings to you and your family this Fall from all of us at Sonkist Ministries.
Thought of the Season
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Watching the famous Rose Parade on New Year’s Day of 2020, I remember being inspired by its theme, The Power of Hope. After the ups and downs of 2019, it felt like all of us could use more hope in our lives.
Little did I know how true that thought would turn out to be.
In February and early March, news sources began featuring stories about an illness that was spreading at an alarming rate. Soon reports about the increasing number of deaths from this new disease not only escalated anxiety but also expanded health recommendations. Before long, rarely used terms became part of everyday vocabulary: social distancing, coronavirus, and pandemic.
Most of us remember those days in late winter, praying for others stranded on cruise ships and in countries far away. By the time spring arrived, we had added family members and friends to our prayer list. Time for such petitions became much more prevalent as we found ourselves at home under “shelter in place” mandates.
Over the past few months, I have had lots of time to ponder the theme of hope I’d been so excited about on January 1st. In fact, during this COVID-19 crisis, hope could have seemed nothing more than an elusive fantasy—but because of my faith, I knew hope had not gone anywhere. You see, hope doesn’t march down the boulevard on a bright sunny day, and it does not need throngs of people welcoming its presence. Hope doesn’t’ come and go. Hope is here and now, forever and for always. How do I know? Because hope begins and ends with the Creator of all things, just as the Apostle Paul so beautifully explained to Christians centuries ago: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8:13).
Notice that Paul’s prayer for believers confirms who God truly is—our source of hope. This verse also provides those of us living in 2020 with a simple formula for finding more and more of it, no matter what may be going on in our lives or in the world around us:
Trust in God + the Holy Spirit’s power = Joy, Peace, and Confident Hope
I don’t know about you, but I certainly could use more joy, peace, and confident hope in my life right now. But in order for any of us to receive these amazing blessings, we must analyze our level of trust God. This type of trust is really what faith is all about, as Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” In other words, our faith is intricately connected to what we hope for and experiencing a “confident hope” depends upon our complete trust in the Lord.
It is crucial to understand that faith requires action on our part, and faith must also be maintained over time. The Apostle Peter explained why this is important: “So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:17-18). Bad experiences and unscrupulous people are a reality of life on Earth, but our efforts to grow and develop our faith can counteract such negative forces. Indeed, it is during difficult times that I find it necessary to dig deeply into the Word and be encouraged by truths found in songs like this one:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
As you look over these few stanzas, you will note that once again we are called into action in order to develop our faith. We are asked to choose the source of our hope. We must decide if Jesus is the foundation of our faith—or not.
This faith-based, hopeful approach to life is of paramount importance in witnessing to others too. Here’s the way Peter explained it: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15-16, NASB). This “hope that is in you” refers to faith: our trust in God, His promise of eternal life because of what Jesus did on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
Maintaining this hopeful spirit isn’t easy, especially in the midst of a crisis like we’ve been experiencing. Yet it is in unsettling times that our faith can increase exponentially. Striving to expand our trust in God is essential work, and so is reaching out into our world to offer others a glimpse of the “Source of Hope.” Here are some ways people have put this kind of hopeful spirit into practice during the past few months:
- “Pass it on” movements in drive-thru restaurants: I’m not sure who starts these each day, but at a local Starbucks, the employees have shared how customers pay for others’ orders for almost two hours at a time. Similar acts of kindness have popped up everywhere as individuals strive to encourage people around them.
- Virtual visits: With social distancing, people have become increasingly creative in how they connect with others, especially the elderly. One inspiring story occurred outside a nursing home in Kentucky where handlers brought horses to “visit” residents at their windows just to brighten their day.
- Church on wheels: A body of believers in southern California decided to rally church members to collect non-perishable goods for a local food bank and do a “drive-by drop off” at various sites.This food drive ended up becoming the largest ever in the food bank’s history, and church members spread God’s love while remaining safely inside their vehicles.
- Adopt a child: Despite the increasing number of unemployed and underemployed, Compassion International experienced an amazing Mother’s Day weekend. Almost 1000 children from Ecuador were sponsored through one church alone. These kids will receive monthly support that includes materials to help encourage their walk with Jesus.
These examples of people reaching out to others are encouraging, spreading hope in a world that needs much more of it. They are also signs that the Source of Hope is alive and well, at work around us while we await eternity. And while we wait, let’s continue to place complete confidence in the Lord—He truly is our only hope.
All of us at Sonkist Ministries hope you and your family have a peaceful, joy-filled summer season.
Thought of the Summer
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
As parents, we struggled with the same dilemma most moms and dads do—dealing with the tears our little ones shed when we leave them. It’s heart-wrenching, even if you are dropping your children off to spend time with grandma and grandpa or with that great Sunday School teacher at church. Recently, I watched tears stream down our granddaughter’s face as she clutched her mom who uttered those oft-recited words, “I’ll come back.”
Babies and toddlers ultimately get over separation anxiety and soon learn that parents do indeed return for them. Harper experienced the fulfillment of her mother’s promise just a few hours later, and the smile that spread across her face when her mom came back was priceless. This leaving and returning process is a crucial life lesson because, eventually, those kids will grow up and have to offer similar reassurances to their children one day.
But imagine the uncertainty of that initial experience when no relational equity has been established in the “return policy.” This is a challenge faced at some point by all kids, and it has become a reality for each of God’s children. How so? Because long ago when the disciples were gathered for the last time, Jesus made a pledge to return for His followers. Just like a loving parent, He not only promised to return but also explained the reason for His departure:
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
(John 14:1-3, New Living Translation)
Like children, the disciples had lots of questions about this strange statement. Acting as the group spokesman, Thomas said: “No, we don’t know, Lord … we have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (verse 5).That’s when Jesus provided them with more details, including reminders about all the experiences the disciples had been part of during His ministry. Finally, as any caring parent does, Jesus reiterated His promise: “Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again . . . I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe” (verses 28a, 29).
Yet, it has been a long wait—and in these troubling times, believers seem more eager than ever to have this particular promise fulfilled. Christians in the early church felt a similar longing. In fact, the apostle Peter wrote this reminder about the lengthy delay:
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
(II Peter 3:3-5)
Christians in Peter’s day probably had people in their lives sneering and jeering at their hope in Christ’s return, not unlike the experiences many of us have today—and our kids will no doubt have in the future. So, why the prolonged wait? Why hasn’t Jesus come back yet? A few verses later, Peter explained the situation this way:
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
(II Peter 3:8-9, The Message Bible)
God’s patience regarding this promise is for those yet-to-be-saved individuals around the world and in all our lives. He’s giving everyone—loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—time to understand this amazing promise:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gaveHis one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”
While the wait for Jesus’ return may seem like an eternity, it’s because of the significance of eternal life that He patiently awaits. God doesn’t want anyone to lose the opportunity to join His forever family—and, with His help, believers can be part of that salvation process. That’s why we need to keep sharing—and keep caring. And may we cling to all His promises, trusting that “Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever” (I Thessalonians 5:10).
Many blessings to you this Spring from all of us at Sonkist Ministries.
Thought of the Season
No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live.
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
In the novel A Christmas Carol we find a cantankerous character named Ebenezer Scrooge. This miserable man loathed the very thought of Christmas, so much so that when a caroler outside his door cheerfully sang out “ ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
Charles Dickens wrote this story to confront the extremes in English society during the 1840s. The poor were now destitute; many were starving. The wealthy carried on with their posh living, callous to the needs of individuals around them. Those in government appeared to be unable or unwilling to change the deteriorating conditions. So, even though the holiday season was upon them, the spirit of Christmas seemed nonexistent.
Although he penned this book long ago, many today feel as dismayed as Dickens due to current trends in society. Impoverishment, insensitivity, and ineffectiveness still abound. Many people seem stymied with no north star to guide them. Others are struggling with loneliness and loss. And there are some who, like old Ebenezer, observe individuals celebrating this season and wonder: “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry?”
The explanation for why any individual can celebrate at Christmas is the same reason given to shepherds over two millennia ago:
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (Luke 2:9-11)
What right does anyone have to be merry? What reason could possibly exist to rejoice? Because Christ Jesus came to earth to save “all people.” For a world that desperately needs both comfort and joy, there’s no other message that could be more meaningful. Indeed, many of us sing a version of the song Dickens included in his “holy-day” tale which conveys this truth:
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
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!
Those tidings of comfort and joy were first sung by a host of angels just after Jesus’ birth. That heavenly army simply couldn’t hold back its praise: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” For Christians—those who have had the fog of despair lifted and the frost of sin driven from their hearts—refocusing on our real status should be transformative. Circumstances may be hard, but Christ is here to help. Life may not have given us all that we desired, but eternity awaits where we’ll experience more than we ever dreamed about.
As Dickens hoped, the Christmas season can also be a time when we focus on the needs of those around us. After all, there are many “Ebenezers” in our lives who need to hear about the One who loves them and can become their everlasting source of comfort and joy. Oh, may this ring true to every believer around the world. Let each of us sing out our own carol of Christmas, sharing the incredible news that Jesus saves!
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 other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!
All of us at Sonkist Ministries pray this season of celebration brings much comfort and joy to you and your loved ones!
Thought of the Season
Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song. I will thank you, Lord, among all the people. I will sing your praises among the nations.
Another prominent Christian fell away from faith recently, and believers around the world have been saddened by his rejection of God’s Truth. But as tragic as his fall from faith is, we shouldn’t be surprised. Why? Because Scripture reminds us that these situations will occur, especially in the times in which we live:
Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal Your return and the end of the world?” Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many … And many will turn away from Me and betray and hate each other.
(Matthew 24:3-5, 10)
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.
(I Timothy 4:1)
The term “fell away from faith” is often used when someone chooses to turn away from the Lord, but we don’t really hear that someone “fell into faith.” The reason for this is simple. Faith in Jesus is a choice, not something we jump into or just happen upon. Instead, belief in the Lord is a deliberate decision an individual makes at some point in his or her life. Romans 10:9 explains it clearly: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Jesus offers everyone the chance to know Him and accept Him as their Savior, but He will never force anyone into that decision. Actually, like a polite friend, He gently calls to each of us—the opening of our lives to Him is entirely up to us. The Lord Himself put it this way, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20).
A friend of ours made the choice to “declare Jesus as Lord” a few weeks ago. After years of searching, the message from John 3:16 finally rang true for him: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Our friend didn’t fall into faith—he made a conscious decision to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
This singular choice changes our eternal destiny, but our faith journeys don’t end there. Each day we are presented with choices, especially about how to know the Lord better and strive to live in a way that pleases Him. The following reminder from Scripture reveals some important steps we can choose to take in this faith journey, and it explains how these choices can help others stay faithful too:
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
The author of Hebrews urges every member of God’s family to be careful, watching out for anything that might cause us to fall away from God. And we also need to help our brothers and sisters in the Lord to avoid bad choices or misleading teaching. That’s why being faithful must be a step by step, one good choice after another, kind of process.
Assisting you in your faith journey is what Sonkist Ministries is all about. We’re strengthened by God’s Word as we write these messages, and we pray you’ll be encouraged as you read them. We know many of you send these Sonkist messages on to other believers, and even to friends and family who are yet-to-be-saved. We especially pray for those searching for the Truth. Like our friend, may they believe in Jesus soon!
While there’s no falling into faith, each one of us can grow deeper in our faith this Fall. Let’s keep reading God’s Word and fellowshipping with one another. And may we continually uplift and encourage everyone around us during this beautiful season of Harvest.
Thought of the Month
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
For the Lord has told me this: “I will watch quietly from my dwelling place— as quietly as the heat rises on a summer day, or as the morning dew forms during the harvest.”
It’s hard to believe another summer is upon us, yet sunny days and warmer nights beckon us to change things up, get outside, and enjoy life in new, exciting ways! It is also time to step out of our shoes and slip on a pair of sandals, open that great book that’s been on the shelf too long, and find a shady spot to stretch out in.
Is it possible to find time to rest and unwind in our busy schedules? Perhaps the more challenging question is this: Is it okay for us to relax and enjoy when so much needs to be accomplished?
The answer to both questions should be yes—most definitely yes! Not only is it alright to take care of ourselves in this way, but we also have the Lord beckoning us to do so. To help you consider this unique perspective, here are three recommended areas to contemplate adding to your calendar this summer:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30, NLT
Jesus took time to rest and get away from the busyness of His life, and He also calls out to us to rest in Him. When we take time to relax, we will actually be more effective in our relationships and in our work.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
Summer is a perfect season to reflect on all that the Lord has done for you. When the sun rises each morning, thank Him for the miracles He has done for you throughout the years. As you move through your day, consider the blessings in your personal and professional life. And as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon, praise God for the things He helped you accomplish and the new life that awaits you tomorrow—whether you wake up here or in eternity!
But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one…as for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.
II Thessalonians 3:3, 13
With all of the craziness in our world, it’s easy to get down and discouraged. Yet as we rest in the Lord, taking time to reflect on the truths in His Word, He will strengthen us for the journey that lies ahead. We need to do our part too, which includes not letting people or circumstances distract us from our real mission: to glorify the Lord in all that we do!
These are some of the thoughts I wrote in Summer under the Son: Daily Devotions to Bring Light into Your Life. My prayer is that you will make time to rest, reflect, and get re-energized this summer—enjoying all of the blessings the Lord provides each and every day!
Thought for this Summer
Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
Proverbs 22:6 NLT
Have you ever heard of the Old Deluder Satan Law? If not, you aren’t alone. This 1647 piece of legislation from the Massachusetts Bay Colony is one of three original public education laws put into place in the early days of what would eventually become the United States.
Why would our founding fathers and mothers discuss Satan when establishing a system for public schooling? In brief, they wanted to ensure children would be able to read and understand spiritual truths to counteract the negative forces at work in the world in which they lived. As soon as a town had fifty or more families, they were required to hire a teacher to assist them with this process. Once 100 or more families comprised the town, an official grammar school was to be established based on the foundational principle of creating an intellectual, spiritually-aware populace. The hope was that some of these well-educated children would also be prepared to enter Harvard College, whose mission after being founded in 1636 was to prepare individuals for the ministry.
While our history books are often missing these amazing details about American public education, we shouldn’t miss out on the transcendent message behind this legislation from ages past. First, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to the foundation of faith established centuries ago. Our forbearers infused timeless truths into the very fabric of their community, culture, and country. Shouldn’t we, in modern times, be willing to do the same? Second, parents were considered the primary educators of their children. They were responsible for hiring qualified teachers. They were to ensure schools were established—and that those same schools fulfilled their obligation of providing superior education to the young citizens of their day.
Those original settlers were aligned and attuned with what Solomon penned in Proverbs 22:6: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” For those of us helping to guide the future leaders of our homes, communities, and country, that instruction is ours to follow and carry out too.
Whether we are parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, we can inspire children and young people to understand the spiritual principles God has provided for all human kind. His guidelines for great living haven’t altered with changing seasons or shifts in laws and culture. And those of us closely involved with local schools should stay connected! Whether public, public charter, parochial or private, educational institutions need our involvement and input. After all, this is one of our earliest callings as citizens of the great nation we’ve inherited.In spring, schools across America begin planning for the upcoming academic year. As they do so, let’s be in prayer for those engaged in this process. In addition, let’s carefully consider how we can assist children discover the incredible path that leads to success as well as eternal security!
We at Sonkist Ministries hope you all have a blessed start to your Spring!
Thought of the Spring
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
Psalm 78: 2b-4
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
From the song Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Johann Sebastian Bach, lyrics by Robert Bridges
One of the joys of the Christmas season is the beautiful music that is played everywhere. Recently I heard the faint strains of Hark the Herald Angels Sing as I cruised up and down the grocery store aisles. Bing Crosby’s version of O Little Town of Bethlehem greeted me when I stepped into an elevator at a local mall. And when I tuned into satellite radio’s holiday station, I got to enjoy a melodious rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
The lyrics of the song above might not be as familiar to some, but this last movement of a Bach cantata has been played at many Christian festivities since it was written in the early 1700s. In addition to Christmas, you may have heard it at Easter and at weddings. The lyrics that were later added by Bridges are also striking. They call for us to look to Jesus, the joy of man’s desiring. His wisdom and love speak to us, drawing us into an amazing relationship that allows our souls to soar!
Friends, this is what I love most about Christmas. In the days ahead, we can’t help but focus on Jesus. The decorations, wrappings, food, and festivities don’t have to be distractions—instead, they can be constant reminders of what this holy season is all about! And that’s what I long for: I want to really know Jesus more and more this Christmas. I think Paul said it best this way:
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.
Like the apostle, my heart’s desire is to know my Lord and Savior. I want to understand why He left the joys of Heaven in order to save us. I long to love the way He does, reaching out to both the saved and yet-to-be-saved—sharing with them about the joy that He has given me.
Much of the music of this blessed season reminds me of His truths. Let’s look at the final stanzas of Bach’s famous tune:
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.
Hope is indeed guiding us in this journey of life. Christmas and all its festivities merely point us back to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. So, enjoy the music! Drink in the sights and sounds of the season, and celebrate with family and friends. Most of all, get to know Jesus more through every joyful moment of the days and weeks ahead.
Merry Christmas from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!
Thought of the Winter
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord EmmanuelFrom O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner
As I change my calendar to the month of October, I’m looking forward to the routines that lie ahead. There’s something comforting about packing away summer essentials and getting ready for the fall season. Sandals and shorts are exchanged for sneakers and sweaters, and soon shorter days will bring cooler breezes and colorful leaves.
In our home, we also look forward to exchanging summer décor for autumn decorations. This usually involves at least one trip to a local farm to find pumpkins as well as apples and cider to be sampled. These routines have become part of our family’s fall regimen, which offers a reassuring rhythm to our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about routines and habits lately—and not simply because of the shifting seasons. I recently read a book by a famous dancer and choreographer who penned these words: “Even in the worst of times …. habits sustain, protect, and, in the most unlikely way, lift us up” (Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, p. 243). This particular reflection happened to be about how she, as a New Yorker, coped with the tragedy of September 11, 2001—but Ms. Tharp has also found that fostering certain habits has been beneficial to many aspects of her life.
I believe the same principle is true for our walk of faith. By building spiritual routines into our experiences, we create patterns that help us in the good, bad, and in-between times of living. Actually, from the beginning of His ministry, Jesus made it clear that the Christian walk must be one of routine: “Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me’” (Luke 9:23-24, New Living Translation).
What are some of these daily habits—or “take up your cross” activities— that you and I can be developing as we strive to follow Jesus? Here are a few routines to consider:
- Read God’s Word each day. This involves setting aside specific time to get into Scripture so we can find out more about the Lord and how He’d like us to live. As II Timothy 2:15 encourages us: “Work hard so God can say to you, ‘Well done.’ Be a good workman, one who does not need to be ashamed when God examines your work. Know what his Word says and means” (The Living Bible).
- Pray daily for the Lord’s provision, protection, and wisdom. Read how the psalmist David started his day: “Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:2-3, NLT).
- Attend church and fellowship with other Christians.We have the example of early believers to follow on this one: “They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness, praising God” (Acts 2:46, TLB).
The investment we make in our relationship with the Lord will always pay off, especially as we create routines that will help us know Him on a deeper, more personal level. And I definitely believe that these spiritual habits will indeed “sustain, protect, and, in the most unlikely way, lift us up!”
May the days ahead will be filled with family, fun, and a harvest of blessings as well as lots of great habits that will help you through all seasons of life.
Happy Fall from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!
Thought of the Month
“See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.”
I Thessalonians 5:15-22 (NLT)