Christmas

Christmas Light

In this latest episode of “The Point,” we look at how Christmas marks the keeping of the promise by God to send us a Savior, to send us His Son, and to rescue us from the darkness we’re in.

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And His name shall be called…

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For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

-Isaiah 9:6

There was a hymn we used to sing at the church where I grew up, called, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.” You’ve probably heard it. It begins with, “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place….”

The song praised God for pouring His Spirit into our lives, and into our church. The song thanked God for what He was doing at that moment in the lives of each one present, then concluded with the following line of hope, “Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived, when we shall leave this place.”

Oddly enough, I used to hum that line to myself as I walked the halls of Jacksonville High School as a teenager. I looked forward to graduation, when I would leave school and home to try my hand in the real world. I had no doubt that I would be successful in life, that the blessings would pour in, and that I’d make my family and community proud. I couldn’t wait.

I could not wait to “be revived” on graduation day, when I “shall leave this place.” The promise of the graduation was what kept me going in school. (I had a good high school experience, but I’ve always seemed to look forward to the next stage in life).

You may think it silly to apply a hymn of praise and hope to high school graduation, and you’re probably right. Still, how many high school seniors today are anxiously awaiting May 31?

Scripture teaches that, just as high school students anticipate the coming commencement ceremony, we are to anticipate the coming of the Lord. For it is that day that the promises of God will come to full fruition. In fact, 2 Timothy 4:7-8 indicates that you can measure your faith by how much you look forward to the return of Christ.

Isaiah 9:6, often quoted around Christmas as it did foretell the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, was more a prophecy about the hope He would bring than the fact He would be born.

Unto us a child is born. Jesus was born of the Jewish nation of Israel, just as God promised repeatedly in the Old Testament.

Unto us, a Son is given. God promised to give His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world.

The rest of the verse, often glazed over, is where the true hope is found.

Isaiah 9:6 says His name shall be called “Wonderful.” That is a word that has lost its meaning over the past few centuries. The original English word used in 1611 literally meant, “full of wonder.” The Hebrew word that was translated “wonderful” meant “miraculous.”

Not only was the birth of Jesus miraculous, but His entire ministry on Earth was a continual working of miracles, from the turning of the water into wine, to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The miracles of Christ healed multitudes of people, fed thousands, restored hope for two sisters, and testified to the people that the promised Son of God was now among the people, and that Christ had come.

The people of the Old Testament looked forward to the One who would heal them. Likewise, we look forward to the One who will heal us. When the Lord returns and establishes His Kingdom on Earth, He will miraculously heal us all of our ailments, wash away our sin, put an end to the sin in the world, and usher in a perfect eternity of peace and prosperity. That will be a wonder, living in a Kingdom led by Christ, who is full of wonder. His name shall be called Wonderful.

His name shall be called “Counsellor.” This is an adviser, one who gives counsel, one who teaches, and one who plans. The teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth were so perfect, that even the religions that deny His divinity and Sonship admire His teaching. Those religions that reject Jesus as Messiah accept Him as a wise teacher.

In fact, my World History teacher in high school even noted that, “If you reject Christianity, you still have to admit that Jesus had some good ideas.”

The teachings of Christ were given both to the people of Bible times, and to us as well. His teachings shed light on the true meanings of the scriptures and God’s love toward mankind. If one wants to conform to God’s standard, or realize the love of God, one would do well to read, learn, and apply the teachings of Christ.

“His name shall be called… the mighty God, the everlasting Father.” Jesus Christ of Nazareth is God in the flesh. John 1:14 tells us that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:1-2 tells us that the Word was God, and the Word was with God. Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

Think about that for a moment. God has always wanted to dwell with His people. It’s why He ordered the building of the tabernacle in Exodus. So, in order to dwell among us, He became a man, and lived our experience. How much love did God demonstrate in doing that?

This is why Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us we can trust the Lord to hear our prayers. He lived our experience, and is therefore empathetic.

This also opened the way for God to redeem us, seeing how He paid the price for our sins on the cross, thus removing the debt and guilt of sin from us. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

This is the hope promised to us in Isaiah 9:6, that God would redeem us through Christ, who would live our experience then purchase our salvation.

The final name attributed to Christ is “the Prince of Peace.” The Lord bought peace between us and God, and will bring everlasting peace into the world when He establishes His Kingdom.

There is a lot we can learn from the names of Christ given in Isaiah 9:6, but let us not forget God’s end game… to redeem us from sin, and to one day rescue us from the troubles of this world, taking us into the perfect world He intended for us in the beginning.

Knowing that these promises were made, kept, and will be kept should restore our hope as we celebrate the fulfillment of the first two phrases of Isaiah 9:6, “unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Celebrate the Lord’s birth this Christmas, and look forward to the joy that will follow.

–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Sunday, He will bring a special Christmas message from Isaiah 9. Sunday School begins at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Life Point meets at the Early Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX. 

Hope

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For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

-Isaiah 9:6

I can remember the exact moment my oldest son was born. I did not get to see his birth, as there was a curtain between me and the doctors performing the c-section. However, I can remember the exact moment because he cried, and the moment we heard his cry, my wife’s condition went from discomfort to absolute joy and ecstasy. I can still remember her tears of joy as we welcomed him into the world.

My wife delivered all three of our biological children via c-section, and each situation was different, but there was one thing that tied them all together. Regardless of the difficulty of the delivery (two were emergency c-sections), or the level of discomfort, all of that was secondary to her joy in holding our baby for the first time.

When our oldest daughter was born, my wife refused orders from the nurses to rest, demanding to hold her. When my oldest son was born, the hospital staff was surprised that we never sent him to the nursery so we could rest. When my youngest was born, immediately he and my wife became best friends.

There is this indescribable feeling that comes with the birth of a child. It’s a moment when you realize that your life is forever changed for the better. There’s joy. There’s hope. There are dreams, and there’s excitement. There’s a sudden desire to do better, and there’s a sense of responsibility knowing that this child has been entrusted to you by God for his care.

Isaiah 9:6 says “Unto us, a child is born.”

In the darkest days described by Isaiah 9:2, a child would be born unto the nation of Israel which would restore their hope. At that moment, Israel would be changed forever. His birth would bring joy and hope, and the nation would bring forth the Christ, through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed.

Think about what that meant for Mary and Joseph. Those two were chosen by God to raise His only begotten Son, who was the Savior of the world. Joy, hope, excitement, but what an incredible responsibility!

Isaiah 9:6 goes on to say, “Unto us, a Son is given.” This phrase takes the promise a little further. The child is born unto Israel. He would be one of them, but the Son would be given to the entire world.

The Son would be sent from the presence of God to live among men, as a man, and would conquer sin and death and reign forever. While this verse does not directly address the suffering He would endure to accomplish that, we know from other Bible passages that His suffering was what accomplished His mission of salvation.

It’s the giving of the Son that Jesus spoke about when He told Nicodemus in John 3:16, “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.”

It is through His Son, given unto us, that hope, redemption and salvation came. It is that hope, redemption and salvation that gives us joy.

Jesus Christ is the child born unto us, the Son given to us, who brought salvation, joy and hope to us. He truly is the reason for the season.

Isaiah 9:6 as been fulfilled. God kept His promise. He is worthy to be praised and worshiped. Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, and I can think of no better response than to dedicate that day to the Lord by attending worship at one of his churches.

–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Sunday, He will bring a special Christmas message from Isaiah 9. Sunday School begins at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Life Point meets at the Early Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX. 

Walking in Darkness

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The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

-Isaiah 9:2

Are you afraid of the dark?

When I was a kid, I had to have a nightlight if I were to go to sleep. My favorite nightlight projected an image of Scooby Doo on the ceiling in my bedroom. I could lay in bed, look up at Scooby Doo, think about all the adventures he went on with Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma, and drift off into dreamland in a happy state of mind.

Without a nightlight, my mind would focus on the uncertainty of what all was in my room, invisible due to the total darkness. I imagined things, and even though I knew that ghosts and goblins weren’t real, I was still unsettled by the total darkness in my room.

Darkness can be a terrifying thing. It certainly robs the law-abiding man of security, provides cover for criminals, limits visibility and can be a factor in accidents and injuries.

Scientific studies have shown that overexposure to darkness can lead to depression, as suicide rates increase during the winter time, and overnight workers can suffer physiological effects if they don’t get to spend a day in the sun. For this reason, prisons are required to provide rec time, outdoors in most cases, for their inmates.

Just like physical darkness can lead to fears, emotional problems and physiological ramifications, spiritual darkness is a detriment to the soul.

Spiritual darkness is the condition experienced when a person lives outside of God’s presence. This occurs when a person takes up a lifestyle of sin, preoccupation with the occult, or denies the presence of God in the first place. While this does not always lead to a person living in pain and misery, it always degrades their spiritual health.

The resulting condition includes increased sinful activity, more severe sin, the consequences thereof, and a time of hopelessness.

Such was the case in Israel in Isaiah 9. The people had lived for generations in sin and idolatry. As time progressed, the nation lost territory to invading armies, saw their sovereignty diminished, their economy flounder, their society degrade, and national optimism evaporate. Israel was in a dark place.

I remember a time in my life when I lived in a dark place. It was back in college, and my life had become consumed by revelings, satanic rock music (I was into the weird stuff), dark movies, and to a certain degree, substance abuse. This not only messed up my thinking, but also led me to a dark and hopeless place, until the Lord reached me through the work of some really dedicated preachers, ministers, Christian workers, evangelists and just all-around good people.

Christ shined His Light into my life, and saved me. Likewise, He shined His Light into Israel to redeem them.

Just as the porch light can be a welcome sight for a man traveling home by night, or a Scooby Doo nightlight can be a comfort for a young child, the Lord gives us hope through His light.

Today, if you are in darkness, it’s time to turn on the light. Come out of that place of hopelessness and despair into the blessedness and hope of Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin, and trust the Lord to save you, for He gave Himself on the cross to save you.

And this Christmas, let’s remember the hope that He brought us, and be looking forward to the Kingdom, city and redemption that He promised us. May God bless you this Christmas holiday.

–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Sunday, He will bring a special Christmas message from Isaiah 9. Sunday School begins at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Life Point meets at the Early Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX. 

The Star

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I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

-Numbers 24:17

One of the most beautiful parts of the day is sunrise.

Traveling across the Painted Desert in Arizona during the early morning hours on a summer day in 2012, I was blessed to see the sun rise across a colorful horizon. That sight gave me a clear understanding of why they call it the Painted Desert. Each layer of colors, from the orange and red in the sky, to the red and brown along the ground, looked as if it had been hand-painted across the canvassed landscape that lay before me.

At one point, it became hard to tell where the sky ended, and the land began.

There’s a peaceful feeling at sunrise. All the world is quiet, yet a new day begins. A new day brings a new hope, and a new chance to get it right, to make things right, to achieve that victory and to take a new lease on life. The memories of yesterday set with the prior sun.

It is no coincidence that the scriptures that depict the birth of Christ, and the prophecies thereof, discuss a Star that rises, and a light that shines. That new Light rising gives hope, and is the dawn of a new day, a day of redemption, a day of restoration, and a day where we escape the darkness of a cold, cruel world.

The Hebrew word translated “star” in the King James Version of the Bible literally means a blazing light. This Star rising out of Jacob in Numbers 24:17 isn’t a small dot of light that we see in the night’s sky, it is a bright and blazing light rising to illuminate the day.

Christmas is about more than celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s about remembering the hope that He brings, and the deliverance He bought. It’s a time of joy, because it’s a time that we remember the new start He gave us.

May God bless you this Christmas season.

–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Sunday, He will bring a special Christmas message from Isaiah 9. Sunday School begins at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Life Point meets at the Early Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX. 

 

Promise in the Dark

The sky is always darkest before the dawn.

When there is no hope, when all is lost, when your personal destruction is imminent, God shows up, and saves the day.

Isaiah 7 was written during a very dark time in Israel’s history. Due to sin, immorality and idolatry, the kingdom had been split into two, and the southern king, Ahaz, had just learned that the northern kingdom had allied with Syria to come up against Jerusalem. King Ahaz felt that his forces would be unable to stop the assault from the north, and his days were numbered.

It was at that time that Isaiah gave the prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

To say that Israel’s destruction was self-inflicted would be an understatement. For generations, God gave them time to turn from their sin, and return to worshiping Him. Instead, they chose to continue in idolatry, worshiping gods that didn’t exist, as opposed to the true God that brought them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Their idolatry gave way to rampant immorality, and by the time foreign armies showed up at their borders, they were completely incapable of self-defense. Yet, in that pathetic state, God told them that He was not done with them. In Isaiah 7:14, He not only promised them the Christ, but He also promised to once again dwell with them. “Immanuel,” properly interpreted, means “God with us.” Despite their sin, and their self-destruction, God still loved them, would restore them, and would once again dwell with them and be their God.

All too often, we see destruction in our lives because of our own sin. Sin can destroy your health, your finances, you marriage, family, home and reputation. Sin has cost some everything they had in life. Yet, even in that situation, God hasn’t given up on you. The Bible teaches that if you turn from that sin, and turn toward the Lord, He will not only save you from your sin, but He will restore fellowship with you, and begin to rebuild your life for you.

Come visit with us Sunday morning at 11 a.m. as we study the implications Isaiah 7:14 has on our lives, and see the true hope of Christmas. Grace Pointe meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., morning worship at 11 a.m., at the Early Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial, Early, TX, 76802. We hope to see you there.

Keeping Promises: The Virgin Birth

Christmas 2014Luke 1:26-27 says, “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, (27) to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

The virgin birth, the fact that Jesus Christ was born to a woman who was a virgin, (meaning she never had relations with a man (Luke 1:34)), is a fundamental doctrine of true Christianity for a number of reasons. First, the Old Testament not only foretells the virgin birth, the New Testament proclaims it. Secondly, it is the fulfilled prophecy in scripture that is used to validate the Bible as the Word of God. Third, the virgin birth is fundamental to the sinless nature of Christ. (Had Jesus been born of the union of  a man and a woman, He would have been a sinner like the rest of us, and thus incapable of paying for our sins on the cross.)

There have been some that have tried to re-define the word “virgin” in scripture to mean, “a young maiden.” While the word was almost exclusively used to describe a young woman, it was limited in which young women it described. A young woman described as a virgin was one who had not been defiled, was not married, and was pure.

Furthermore, if the sign of the birth of Christ was to be a virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), and if “virgin” only meant “young woman,” then Christ’s birth wouldn’t have been anything special. However, Isaiah 7:14 said the birth would be a sign, therefore the virgin birth described in Isaiah 7:14 is special, and thus depicted a child being born to a woman who had not had relations with a man. Any denial of the virgin birth is a denial of the scriptures, and the power of God Himself… but I digress.

The virgin birth was about God keeping His promise to His people. In Isaiah 7:14, God promised His people the Messiah… and He told them what to look for in the fulfillment of this promise. “Therefore, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name, Immanuel.”

The name, Immanuel, means “God with us.” As mentioned in this post, God’s desire has always been to dwell with His people. The Son promised in Isaiah 7:14 would not only be the Son of God, but also God in flesh. God promised the coming of Jesus Christ in Isaiah 7:14, and the sign that He gave for people to look for was the fact He would be born of a virgin. It would be a unique situation that would mark the fulfillment of God’s promise.

That’s why the Gospels of Matthew and Luke pay special attention to the fact that Mary was a virgin when Christ was conceived, and thus born. They were documenting the fact that God kept His promise, sent the Messiah, who, being God in flesh, dwelt among us before dying for our sins on the cross.

God keeps His promises, and they are promises which should bring you rest. God promised a Savior, and He gave us Jesus. God promises to save all who believe in Jesus, and He does. God has promised that Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on Earth, and He will. Are you ready to receive that promise?

If You Asked God What He Wanted for Christmas, What Would He Say?

Christmas 2014“What do you want for Christmas?”

It’s a common question. Santa asks it of the kids as they sit on his lap at the mall. Office workers ask it of each other as they plan their secret Santa gifts for the company Christmas party. And, even though you’ve turned 31, your mom will probably ask it of you.

Christmas is a time of giving, and a time of receiving. Exchanging gifts around a Christmas tree is one of the simple joys of the holiday. Everyone can identify with having a Christmas wish… but what about God? Has anyone ever asked God what He wants for Christmas? I mean, after all, He invented the holiday, didn’t he?

(Okay, yeah, I realize that Christmas is a man-made tradition to bring heathen holidays in compliance with the Christian religion. Humor me, will ya?)

After all, it was God who sent Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son, to be born of the virgin, Mary. Jesus would go on to pay for the sins of the world on the cross so that we could be saved and live eternally with God in His Kingdom. Maybe that has something to do with God’s Christmas wish.

From the beginning, God’s desire has been to dwell with His people. If you look in Genesis 2, you see the picture of God walking along with Adam in the Garden of Eden, teaching and talking with him as Adam named the animals. When Adam sinned against God in Genesis 3, that close fellowship was broken. However, God immediately began taking the steps to restore that fellowship.

When God ordered the construction of the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus, His goal was to be able to dwell among His people. When His people rebelled, He had His Tabernacle moved out of their camp.

The construction of the Temple was, again, about giving God a place to dwell among His people. All of this was the foreshadowing of God’s overall plan to put an end to sin, and live with His people forever. It’s a dream that will be fully realized in Revelation 21:3, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Christ will come again, establish His Kingdom on Earth, and the Lord will dwell with us forever. At that time, all pain, suffering, illness and strife will be gone, and we will live in a perfect world forever.

What’s God’s Christmas wish? To live with us in a perfect world. However, God isn’t just sitting around hoping it shows up under the tree. He is busily working to bring that dream about.

And that is the significance of Matthew 1:23, “they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

Come visit with us Sunday, and see the blessings of “Emmanuel, God with us.” We meet for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m., inside the Early Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial, Early, TX, 76802.

God bless you this Christmas season,

Leland Acker, Pastor, Grace Pointe MBC.

Christmas Is About Hope

Christmas 2014Thanksgiving is behind us, and we survived the madness of Black Friday. At this time, we begin hanging our Christmas lights, and start a month-long celebration of Christmas. Every year, the retail industry celebrates their biggest sales months of the year, while Christians commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

A more scholarly preacher might be tempted to lament that Jesus wasn’t really born in December, and that this celebration arises out of man’s traditions. I, on the other hand, prefer not to be a killjoy. While we don’t really know when Christ was born (some do offer good theories), the fact of the matter is that He was born. His birth was so important to God that He inspired Matthew and Luke to write about it. If God celebrated it in two different books of the Bible, and foretold it in the Book of Isaiah, then it makes sense that we should celebrate the birth of Christ today. Further, it makes sense that the celebration should last an entire month. In fact, it doesn’t really bother me that we begin rolling out the Christmas stuff in September… all the more opportunity to bring attention to our Lord.

When you read about the birth of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1-2, and in Luke 1-2, you will notice the writers pay special attention to pointing out the Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled by the birth of Jesus Christ. From that fact, we learn that Christmas is about God keeping His promise, and that we can draw hope from the Lord, knowing that God keeps His promise.

In Isaiah 9:6, the Bible says “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” In that verse, God made a promise to the nation of Israel, and more specifically, the southern kingdom of Judah. His promise was, though the nation was in decline due to sin and idolatry, He would send Christ, who would bring salvation, and restore the Kingdom. The birth of Christ is the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise.

So, every time you see a Christmas decoration, a Nativity scene, a banner proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the season,” remember the promise God made, and kept.

Furthermore, Isaiah 9:6 is the key verse for our Christmas series this year, “And His Name Shall Be Called.” Join us as we learn of God’s promise and hope, by studying the names attributed to Christ around His birth. We hope to see you there.

Grace Pointe Missionary Baptist Church meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m., at the Early Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Incubator Facility, 104 E. Industrial, Early, Texas, 76802.

In Christ,

Pastor Leland Acker