A Christmas Story

It was truly heartwarming to read this story in our papers some time back of two persons whom I know personally.

Andy, a father of two teenagers was suffering from late-stage liver failure. He was in total shock and despair when told that his liver was badly scarred and hardening as a result of hepatitis B.

The medical doctor said Andy would face complications such as recurrent fluid accumulation in the tummy. He added, “The overall prognosis and survival would have been poor” if he did not have a transplant.

Andy’s wife, siblings and 18-year-old son were all found to be unsuitable as donors. Only his daughter was a match. Although scared, she wanted to help. But at 16, she was too young as donors had to be at least 21.

The family lost all hope.

Then Ralph visited him in hospital. Andy was surprised to see his colleague whom he only knew casually.But even more surprising was when Ralph said, “If you need a donor, let me know.”

Ralph has four young children aged one to nine years old. He had just committed to a new executive condominium unit. Still that did not stop him from giving part of his liver. His wife was anxious but supportive when he told her he felt it a strong prompting from God.

The transplant was carried out.

The operation left Ralph with less than half of his liver. Andy responded very well and his other medical problems were resolved.

Today Andy is able to celebrate Christmas, perhaps with a deeper understanding and gratitude.

 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined“ (Isaiah 9:2).

A Christmas StoryChristmas is that ray of hope when God gave a part of Himself. He gave His only begotten Son to be born that we “who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death” might live.

Andy understands that perfectly. Someone gave so that he could live.

Just so God gave that we might live.

That’s joy to the world!

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A Christmas Gift

Gary told the story of a woman who gave a Christmas gift to her husband. 

Nothing very unusual about that except she spent an entire year working on her husband’s Christmas present.

What she did was writing a daily journal recording something she was thankful for about her husband everyday.

Those written entries were very specific, day-by-day accounts of what the husband did and why she was thankful to be married to him. For instance like putting up the Christmas lights outside when it was very cold or coming home and playing with the kids after a long business trip even though he was tired. And many more such grateful observations.

When she gave her husband the journal he immediately sat down and read it in one sitting. Later, when recounting this gift to a friend, he said, “Reading that journal makes me aspire to be the man she thinks I am.”

This wife thought she was giving a gift to her husband, but what she found was that by affirming him so specifically she was giving a gift to herself. She was motivating her husband to become what she appreciated.

Interestingly, Gary started to try it out himself. He got a blank journal and began filling in the day-to-day account.

Every morning he would pick up the journal, reflect on the previous day and write something nice about what his wife had said or done.

Occasionally, it would just be a reflection of who she is. He did not want that to be generic but specific – something that couldn’t be written about any other woman.

Just after one month into it, he noticed something. He hadn’t prayed once for God to change his wife.

When you begin thanking God each day through writing for who your wife is and what she has done, you no longer pray “But God, could you also shape her to do more of this? Or a little less of that?” You become less nick picky.

There’s even more. When you have to find something new to write about every day, you have to scan your wife throughout the day, trying to “catch” her doing something wonderful, or making sure you remembered something positive that she said.

And when you keep looking out for her noble qualities, even if you see something displeasing you couldn’t write about it. So you learn to forget it and keep looking for the good.

It changed the way Gary thought about, looked at, acted toward and spoke about his wife.

It was an early Christmas gift to his wife because it changed the way he treated her and appreciated her.

But it was a gift to Gary as well. It reminded and filled him with such gratitude to be married to a woman who gives him something new to thank God every day.

A Christmas giftWhen Gary eventually presented the Christmas gift to his wife, she was almost speechless. It was the best Christmas gift ever. She said, “You found 365 nice things to say about me even on my not-so-nice days.”

That may just be the reason why Gary Thomas authored the book, Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage. 

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Have you given it a try?

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Corinth (Part 2)

Luke gave an account of Paul’s stay in Corinth in Acts 18:1-18. His 18 months there was marked by twists and turns of the “bad” and the “good.”

Bad. Jews were forced to leave Rome because of a decree by Emperor Claudius, who ordered all Jews to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). It seemed that the Jews were deemed to be the cause of a great deal of trouble and unrest. Attempts were made to get these radical Jews under control but it had not worked. So Claudius finally ordered them all out of Rome in 49 A.D. It is reason why Aquila and his wife Pricilla came to Corinth.

Good. It was in Corinth that Paul “found” (Acts 18:2) this godly couple, Aquila and Priscilla who were also tentmakers. A long lasting relationship developed and the couple played a crucial role in Paul’s life and ministry. There can be no doubt that God “arranged” for these three to meet and come together.

Bad. While working at making tents for a living, Paul on every Sabbath would reason and persuade the Jews and Greeks in the synagogue (Acts 18:1-4).When Paul began preaching Jesus is the Christ, it stirred up such hatred among the Jews that they opposed him openly. Where forth Paul shook his garments in Jewish gesture of detachment saying, “Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).

Good. Interestingly when Paul left them, he did not go very far. He went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue along the Lechaion road. In fact the house of Justus and the synagogue may have shared a common wall. It wasn’t long Paul started in the Synagogue again, and that resulted in Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believing in the Lord, together with his entire household. Many of the Corinthians hearing Paul also believed and were baptized(Acts 18:5-8).

ErastusIn 1929 an inscription was found mentioning Erastus as the one who paid for the paving of the street in Corinth. This is likely the same Erastus mentioned by Paul in his greetings (Romans 16:23). If so, Paul’s influence had reached the wealthy and influential in Corinth.

Bad. Even though Paul had achieved great success in his ministry yet there many, particularly the Jews who rejected his message and were immensely hostile towards him. Paul might have the foreboding sense that it could be a matter of time when he would be driven out of the city by the authorities.

Good. Then the Lord appeared to Paul in a night vision and spoke these words:

“Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

That resulted in Paul staying in Corinth for a year and six months, teaching the word of God (Acts 18:11).

Bad. After some time, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13).

This tribunal has been excavated and if you visit Corinth you can see it. It is called the bema in Greek or the judgment seat.

Good. Before Paul could open his mouth to defend himself, Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, threw the case out. Gallio so ruled and said to the Jews:

“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things” (Acts 18:14-15)

Talk about the good in a bad situation. This meant that Paul was now free to preach the gospel without being charged with breaking the Roman law.

Bad. But the Jews were so upset by the outcome that they vented their anger and frustration on their leader, Sosthenes for not handling the case well and caused it to be thrown out of court.

They all seized Sosthenes, who took over from Crispus as the ruler of the synagogue and beat him in front of Gallio who was quite unconcerned (Acts 18:17).

Good. The beating of Sosthenes did him a lot of good. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentioned this: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes” (I Corinthians 1:1).

Evidently when the Jews turned against him, Sosthenes’ eyes were opened. His heart was changed towards the gospel and now Paul calls him, “our brother Sosthenes”

Paul experienced lots of trouble at Corinth.

But with every “bad” that turns up, God turns it for “good.”

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Corinth (Part 1)

Today I am very pleased to complete writing the last two devotions, which are part of the 2015 trip I took to Greece and Turkey.

Corinth was the last stop in Paul’s second missionary journey. It was also the last stop in our Turkey-Greece itinerary.

Corinth is in southern Greece, 80 km from Athens. It is located near the narrow isthmus that forms a land bridge between the Corinthian Gulf and Saronic Gulf. The isthmus is 6.4 km wide commanding the trade routes between Asia and Rome.

Corinth_CanalIn ancient times, small ships were dragged across the isthmus on a paved road. And larger ships would unload their cargo, which was then carried across the isthmus and reloaded onto other ships.

When Paul visited Corinth in 50 A.D., the city was the most beautiful modern city in Greece. It had an amphitheater that seat over 14,000. Its Agora (or marketplace) was larger than any in Rome. In the heart of the city,was the templeof Apollo with its 38huge columns carved from single blocks of stone.

However, there was one temple that gave Corinth itsenduring reputation. It stood atop the 575m rockoutcrop called Acrocorinth, whichloomed over the city. That temple was dedicated to Aphrodite the “goddess of love.”Corinth_Apollo

This particular temple of Aphroditewas infamous throughout the ancient Greco-roman world because it employed more than a thousand temple prostitutes.

Strabo wrote this around 20 AD:

“The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess. And because of them, the city used to be jam-packed and became wealthy. The ship captains would spend fortunes there, and so the proverb says: “The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man.”

Even though the Temple of Aphrodite had fallen into ruins by the apostle Paul’s time yet successors to its 1,000 cult prostitutes continued to ply their profession on the streets of Corinth. Many of them were no doubt housed in the lofts above the 33 wine shops uncovered in the modern excavations.

Corinth was a sin city pandering to sailors, traders and traveling businessmen. It earned an unsavory reputation that the name “Corinth” became a synonym for immorality. And the word “korinthiazomai,” which means, “to live like a Corinthian,” infers a life of drunken immoral debauchery. To call someone a “Corinthian girl” or “korinthia kore” is to deem her to be a prostitute

It is to such a city Paul came. It is a city known for its Aphrodite spirit.

That Aphrodite spirit is still very much alive today. It has more than a thousand websites serving millions of visitors who come day and night to worship at its altar.

The same message that Paul gave to the Corinthians is still needed today.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies” (I Corinthians 6:15-20).

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The Best of All

Story was told of a wise and beloved Shah who ruled the land of Persia. He loved his people. He cared greatly for them. He desired only what was best for them.

One day the Shah disguised himself as a poor man and went to visit the public baths. A furnace in the cellar heated the water for the baths. And the Shah made his way to the dark cellar to sit with the man who tended the fire. The Shah befriended him in his loneliness. The two men talked and shared the coarse food together.

Day after day the ruler went to visit the man. The worker became attached to this stranger because he “came where he was.”

One day the Shah revealed his true identity and he expected the man to ask him for a gift. Instead, he looked long into his king’s face and with love and wonder in his voice said, “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you may bestow rich gifts, but to me you have given yourself!”

That’s what happened at Christmas.

The King of the universe came to be with us. That entry into our world was foretold some 700 years before His birth.

The Best of All“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Christmas can be summed up in those words  – “God with us!”

The ruler of the universe laid aside His glory and majesty, wrapped Himself in humanity to be our Immanuel, the “God with us.”

And since then we are never the same. We are never alone because God is with us.

When we are anxious about the future and worry about what the New Year would bring, “God is with us.”

When we are getting on in years and feel we are no longer physically strong, God is with us.

When we are enveloped in despair, trapped in fear and immersed in discouragement, God is with us.

No wonder John Wesley on his deathbed said, The best of all is, God is with us!”

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Proof of God

Is God a figment of human imagination? Is He real? Does He exist? Have anyone seen Him?

These questions were answered two thousand years ago.

Proof of God3God came in the flesh at the first Christmas. Christ was born. God became Man. Mortals saw the Immortal.

Simeon said, My eyes have seen the One who will save men from the punishment of their sins”(Luke 2:30).

John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Simon Peter said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)

The Roman centurion said, “Surely he was the Son of God!”(Matthew 27:54).

The Samaritans said, “… we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).

His disciples said, Truly you are the Son of God”(Matthew 14:33).

These and many more could see, hear, feel and touch God. They know God is real. God is here. God is with us!

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means “God with us”(Matthew 1:23).

That is the wonder of Christmas!

That is proof of God.

That is why we can truly sing with joy, hope and confidence,

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel*

*Hark! the Herald Angels Sing UMH 240

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Break that Tradition

Came across this story.

A young rabbi encountered a serious problem in his new congregation.

During the Friday service half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition.

Break that traditionNothing the rabbi said or did moved toward solving the impasse.

Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue’s 90 year-old founder. He met the old rabbi in a nursing home and poured out his troubles.

“So tell me, was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during prayers?”

“No,” answered the old rabbi.

“Ah, then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers?”

“No,” answered the old rabbi.

“Well, what we have is complete chaos! Half the people stand and shout, and the other half sit and scream.”

“Ah,” said the old man, “that was the tradition.”

The story may be funny but sadly true and repeated down the ages in many congregations.

The conflicted situation may somewhat be different but the issues are often the same, involving stylistic ways of approaching worship, acceptable types of songs and instruments or requirements for membership and leadership and suitable service times.

Such squabbles have generated heated arguments and led to tears in the fabric of Christian fellowship. They leave indelible marks in the history of churches that the succeeding generation of leaders are often told to tread carefully in the light of those “tradition.”

We need to break that “tradition.”

For so the apostle Paul urges in Ephesians 4:1-6.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all andin all.” 

The call is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

The call is to uphold the oneness of God, the oneness of faith, the oneness of baptism and the oneness of the body.

The call is to be peacemakers and unity preservers.

Let’s break that tradition.

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