Thoughts from the Desk of Gene Mims

The People’s Joy-Luke 2:10

“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people….”

The angel who delivered the good news to the shepherd the night Jesus was born announced something that went far beyond the starlit fields near Bethlehem. The birth of this Child began a string of joyful worship that will never cease.  The shepherds rejoiced, the Maji rejoiced, Simeon rejoiced, Anna the prophetess rejoiced.  lepers rejoiced, sinful men and women rejoiced, Centurions and disciples rejoiced.  Jesus brings the joy of salvation to thirsty souls and forgiveness to sinful persons.  His presence releases the power of the Father to seek and save those who would trust Him and obey His word.

The birth of Christ was not just for His family, His race or His friends.  His birth was the beginning of good news for all persons everywhere.  In most instances what may be good for all is never available to all.  We live in a world of poverty with enough wealth to eliminate it.  But those with the most have never completely shared with those with the least.  We have enough information, technology, and knowledge to change the lives of every person on the planet but all those things have become the things that build wealth so not everyone has access to them.  Education is a key factor in acquiring knowledge which helps persons to be successful but education is still denied to many persons in the world.

Jesus came into the world to bring the Father’s good news to everyone.  From the smartest to the most ignorant, from the wealthiest to the poorest, for men and women and for Jew and Gentile alike.  This is the Father’s world, we are His creations, and Jesus is His Son who came for everyone.  The pleasure of God is to save us from our sins, restore our humanity, bring us into an eternal relationship with Him, connect us to others in our world and to bless us with truth and wisdom.

As you light the Joy Candle tonight thank the Lord that He came for you, us and everyone else.

The Virgin’s Joy-Luke 1:47

“My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (Lk. 1:47)

The news Mary received from the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear a son was not only a surprise it was a miracle about to happen.  She was engaged to Joseph but had not lived with him or been with any other man.  The conception of a child would be a one-of-a-kind event which had not nor would ever happen again.  It was a shock to her as she asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (v.34)  Her question is not over Gabriel’s message but the method by which it would take place.

Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, overshadow her in His power and she would conceive in her womb.  Her child would be a son to her and the “Son of the Most High” whose name would be Jesus.  In spite of the mystery surrounding this announcement she accepts the news with faith responds by saying “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” (v. 38)

It is during her visit to her relative Elizabeth that Mary seems to understand what is happening.  She is the chosen servant of God to bear the Messiah into the world.  The great expectation of the coming Deliverer is now realized and He was her child.  She would be blessed and the world would be redeemed.  The mighty on earth would be humbled, great kingdoms would fall, the humble exalted and the hungry fed.  She “gets it” as she realized that her Son would change the world by redeeming it.  He would be the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham that the nation of Israel would be great.

Mary rejoiced at her part in the great Redemption Story.  She rejoiced to know that her Son was God’s answer to a world filled with suffering and injustice.  She rejoiced knowing that God keeps His promises.

We live in a sin-stricken world given to violence, injustice and corruption.  When innocent people suffer, children are murdered, and individuals go hungry we often ask where God is or how can He allow this to happen.  We love our freedom and independence until it turns out evil.  We love to pursue our pleasures until we are addicted and out of control.  Then we want to question God’s love, justice and mercy.

But God has done something.  He sent Jesus Christ His Son to transform us and our world so that nothing evil ever happens again.  Mary understood this as she surrendered her life to God’s will no matter how mysterious or costly it was.  Light the Joy Candle tonight and rejoice in the Lord.

The Joy of Christmas-Luke 2:10

Yesterday we lit the candle of Joy representing the joy of the Lord which He sent to the world in His Son Jesus.  The events which surround the birth of Christ and the people mentioned in the birth narratives are filled with joy.  There is joy at the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.  There is the joy of Mary as she rejoices in her soul at the mystery of God over her life.  There is the joy of the Maji who traveled hundreds of miles to worship the child in Bethlehem.

Joy is something that is more than a feeling; it a condition which comes from outside our lives.  Joy is produced by good news, good fortune, or good relationships with others.  In Scripture Jesus claimed that His joy was not like the joy found in the world but was of a different quality.  Paul noted that joy is something produced within our lives by the Holy Spirit.  Scripture declares that the joy which comes from the Lord is actually our strength. (Neh. 8:10)  Our joy then comes from God and and rests in Him. (Ps. 43:4)

Joy then is a normal and important part of a believer’s life.  It is a constant no matter our circumstances and it is a gift from God reminding us that He is working in this world to accomplish His plans and purposes.  We have the joy of the Lord in our salvation from sin and death.  We have the joy of the Lord when our hearts are broken and our lives seems to be going nowhere.  We have joy that cannot be expressed in knowing Christ even though we have yet to see Him face to face.

In Isaiah 55:1-13, God offers us His mercy if we “seek Him while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near.” (v.6)  Finding God’s mercy assures us that we will “go out with joy, and be led forth with peace.”  Nothing is more important to us than joy and peace.  Joy that is beyond expression and peace that passes understanding are gifts from the God of grace, truth and mercy.

As you light the candle of Joy tonight rejoice in the Lord for His mercy and grace.

The Good Shepherd-John 10:1-18

At birth we are given names, usually because our parents (specifically our mothers) like how they sound.  Later on, however, many people choose what they prefer to be called.  Those with nicknames may drop them for their more mature sounding given names.  Individuals may find using their first name easier than their middle one.  We often introduce ourselves by saying something like, “Hello, I’m Gene.”

Jesus had significant names like Lord, Christ, and Teacher but often referred to Himself as the Son of Man.  In the gospel of John, however, He referred to Himself seven times with different names.  Each time He said, “I am….”

  • The Bread of Life (6:35)
  • The Light of the World (8:12)
  • The Door (10:9
  • The Good Shepherd (10:14)
  • The Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
  • The Way, Truth, and the Life (14:6)
  • The True Vine (15:1)

Each saying is a revelation of who He is and what He is for each of us.  The title of “Good Shepherd” speaks of His true mission and centers on His care, protection and relationship with us.  He says that as a good shepherd, “I know My own, and My own know Me.”  He declares that He saves His own and gives us eternal and abundant life.  He pledges to lay down His life for us as a good shepherd does..

There is nothing that Christ would not do for you and me as we follow Him in trust and obedience.  He loves us, saves us, and keeps us from harm.  Paul says that we live our lives, “as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (Romans :8:36)  Life is a challenge and is filled with many occasions that might overwhelm us.  But Jesus says that we are His sheep and nothing ever happens to us that takes Him by surprise.  He will never leave us, abandon us or allow is to be lost.

As we light the Advent candle tonight and prepare to worship tomorrow remember the many times the Lord has given you His presence and care in special ways.  Read each name of Christ in the list above and the scripture with it.  Thank Him and put you complete trust and confidence in Him for whatever you may face in the future.

The Restoring Shepherd-Isaiah 40:1-11

Whenever persons endure a conflict that threatens their relationship, there is an awkward moment that occurs just before reconciliation happens.  It usually requires apologies, requests for forgiveness, and promises to do better in the future.  All of life is about relationships and none is more important to us than our relationship with God.  Our lives are a mixture of faith and failures, strength and weakness, enduring and giving up, along with many other ups and downs.  In the times when we don’t do as well as others our relationship with God suffers.  We may have endured a season of sin and rebellion or we may have been under the strong hand of God’s discipline.  Neither condition is good and both threaten our relationship with the Lord.

In the 40th chapter of Isaiah the prophet begins an entirely new section of his prophecy.  In the previous chapters he has declared the judgment of God upon Israel for its sins of rebellion and idolatry.  The nation has been conquered, the people taken captive and the temple destroyed.  There was little hope for God’s people at that time.  But in chapter 40 Isaiah begins to call the people to hope again.  He brings God’s restoring word to them  saying the past is over.  God wanted the people to know that the days of judgment and punishment were over and a new day was coming.

God tells the prophet to comfort His people and to prepare the way for His return to them.  God declares through the prophet that His glory will be revealed as He comes in power and majesty.  God is returning to the nation to revive His people.  Although He comes in power and majesty the prophet says the Lord, like a shepherd, ” will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” (v.11)  Israel had endured the judging hand of the Lord. Now it would experience His tender, restoring hand.

One of the great messages of Christmas is that the Lord God whom many fear is the one who comes gently as a baby and grows up to serve as an humble man.  His tenderness is real because He is like us.  He understands us and cares for us.  He knows what we face in living so He can minister to our needs effectively.  Best of all, He is the restorer.  Forgiving our sins, giving us His eternal life, and sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus has tenderly cared for us and restored us to live again without fear or condemnation.

As we light the Advent candle tonight think about how the Messiah has restored you and thank Him for coming gently and humbly to meet your needs.

The Saving Shepherd-Psalm 80

What do you belong to?  Human beings typically belong to families, groups, clubs, churches, societies, unions, and organizations.  We belong because of birth, achievements, common interests, professional standards or interests in community service.  Belonging often brings a sense of comfort and can be enjoyable.  When Asaph (the writer) wrote this Psalm, Israel was in a bad way.  Jerusalem had been destroyed, the nation ruined and the people had no hope. They were not where they belonged.   He calls upon God to “give ear, Shepherd of Israel” to the plight of His people before it is to late.

David confessed that Jehovah was his Shepherd (Ps. 23:1) and Asaph does the same.  To Asaph, however, God was the “the Lord God of hosts” enthroned, powerful and able to save Israel from her enemies.  He asks the Lord to save, restore and revive the nation so that it may once again call upon His name. Asaph writes as one who belongs to God from a people who belong to God but have lost their way.  In this song he call for the Shepherd of Israel to come in power to return the people to where they belong.

Belonging is a fundamental desire in most humans.  God created us to enjoy Him forever and to belong to one another.  Our fellowship with Him is broken by our sins which make us vulnerable to outside forces which seek to destroy us.  We often think of “getting back” to God or “going back to where we began” but the Psalmist sees it differently.  He calls for God to come to where Israel was.  The nation was helpless to do anything to overcome its condition.  They could not get to the Lord so the Psalmist asks God to come to them.

This is Christmas.  God coming to where we are when we could not get to Him.  God saving us, restoring us, and giving us new lives because He loves us and cares for us.  No matter where you are, have been or may be going God can help.  No matter where anyone you know or love is currently, God can help.  If you feel like you are helpless to change your life then ask Him to come and save you. Jesus declared that he came to give us abundant life.  He will come to anyone who asks.

As we light the candle of Peace tonight thank the Lord for saving you.  As you pray for others as Him to come to them and save, restore and revive them.