From the Cradle to the Cross

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

During the Christmas season, in front of the home of a friend, is a very simple decoration - usually the only one displayed - a cross in blue lights. This cross was made by the grandfather many years ago.  And in years past, down another a street we used to live on, you would see a lighted cross in someone's front yard. Does it seem strange to think of seeing crosses at Christmas time? I like the idea though because it truly points to the real reason that Jesus came.

Even when the angel announced the future birth of Jesus to Joseph, he said that Mary would have a son. They were to name Him Jesus "for he shall save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21. Jesus came with a save sinners. "For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45.

So you see, the cradle in that manger stall and the cross of Calvary go hand in hand. Why celebrate one without the other! The wonder of the virgin birth of Immanuel gave way to the cruelty of the substitutionary death on Good Friday and eventually to the triumphant resurrection of Christ on Easter. Christmas opens the story of redemption as told in the old carol, “Silent Night” which says “With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth” and the cross contains a new chapter. The book will soon be completed when Christ returns again to take us home to eternally be with Him.

This song beautifully ties together the cradle and the cross. I cannot sing it without tears.

A Communion Hymn for Christmas

Gathered round Your table on this holy eve,
Viewing Bethlehem's stable we rejoice and grieve:
Joy to see You lying in Your manger bed.
Weep to see You dying in our sinful stead.
Prince of Glory, gracing Heaven ere time began.
Now for us embracing death as Son of Man:
By Your birth so lowly, by Your love so true,
By Your cross most holy, Lord, we worship You!

Bethlehem's Incarnation, Calvary's bitter cross,
Wrought for us salvation by Your pain and loss;
Now we fall before You in this holy place,
Prostrate we adore You, for Your gift of grace.
With profoundest wonder we Your body take
Laid in manger yonder, broken for our sake:
Hushed in adoration we approach the cup
Bethlehem's pure oblation freely offered up.
Christmas Babe so tender, Lamb who bore our blame,
How shall sinners render praises due Your name?
Do Your own good pleasure in the lives we bring
In Your ransomed treasure reign forever King!
(words by Margaret Clarkson)

I believe that Mary gradually began to understand throughout Jesus' life the price for sin that He came to pay. The Bible tells us that she pondered these things in her heart. Knowing that Jesus would not always be "hers", she must have savored each moment and each day with this unusual child.

As you celebrate this joyous season with your family, my prayer is that you will take a few moments each day to lovingly gaze into the face of your sleeping baby, to snuggle your toddler, and to give your older child a big savor each day we are given with these dear children. Let's not forget the wonder of their birth just as Mary must have wondered. And in her life, her own son became her Savior. "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." Luke 1:4.  Is He your Savior and Lord? What better time to acknowledge His cross as you celebrate His cradle!

By Sandy Hall ~  All rights reserved. Please ask permission before copying this article. Thank you.


A Pastoral Christmas Prayer

Friday, December 19, 2014

*Today's post is by Harvest elder Bob Bashawaty*

Dear Gracious Heavenly Father,

We come before you to worship you and to praise your holy name. We come to declare your glory and proclaim your love and mercy and grace. We come to honor you and to exalt the name of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. From eternity past, you determined to redeem a lost and wretched humanity. From eternity past, Jesus chose to pay the price of that redemption. Throughout history the prophets spoke of your promise to send a Deliverer, a Savior, a King. Isaiah wrote these familiar and precious words, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and bring forth a son, and will call him Immanuel." Which being interpreted is, "God with us." So during this season and throughout the year we celebrate the miracle of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who left His throne of glory to take on the form of a man, to walk among us sinless proclaiming the gospel of salvation through faith in Him. Then, O Father, in an act of unspeakable love, Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, bearing the full weight of your wrath so that we might have eternal life. Then, in the glory of your power He rose from the grave defeating sin a death and ever lives as our high priest and intercessor.  Oh what a blessed reality, dear Father, to know that we are loved with an everlasting love, that you will never leave us or forsake us, that your grace is available and sufficient to strengthen us and comfort us and empower us.

Knowing this, Lord, we are deeply grieved when we fail to honor you with our obedience. We love you so much but so often we are drawn away by our own lusts, tempted by the world and the flesh to sin against you and who we are in Christ. It is in you that we live and move and have our being. Every breath we take is a gift from you. We are totally dependent upon your grace for life, and yet too often we choose our way over your way. Father, as a church, as individuals, we confess this sin of rebellion against you. We are so grateful that we can come into your presence anytime with a broken and contrite heart, acknowledge our sin to you and receive forgiveness and cleansing. We thank you that the guilt and the penalty for sin are paid for by Jesus; that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ. We thank you that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can repent of our sin and live a life that glorifies you and testifies Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray now for our church. As a body of believers I pray that our fellowship is pleasing in your sight. I pray that our commitment to teaching and preaching without compromise the word of God would define us in this community. I pray that we would be diligent to guard against the influences of the world trying to weaken our stand for the truth. Give our leadership wisdom and discernment to expose and defeat the attacks of the Devil as he attempts to destroy. Help us to maintain our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, welcoming all who name the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

And Father, I pray for each member and attender at Harvest that first and foremost they understand the gospel and know Jesus Christ as Savior. I pray that their relationship with You would grow more and more intimate as they exercise the disciplines of bible study and prayer. I pray that growing in their Christian walk would be an all-consuming passion, knowing that they are servants of the most high God, equipped by Him to be useful for the Kingdom of Heaven. I pray, Father, for each person here to be a minister for Christ; serving one another in love and humility.

I know, dear Lord, that there are those who are hurting and struggling. It may be health issues, or relationship issues, or personal habits that are stealing the joy of their salvation. For these folks I pray for an abundance of your grace and an overwhelming sense of your presence. I pray that they would find their comfort and peace in you, and I pray that those around them would be sensitive to their circumstances and be willing to minister to their needs.

And finally, Father, I pray that each of us would live in anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. Your promise is that the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We live in a world that is cursed, that denies God and delights in iniquity. We live in a world that is temporary and is headed towards judgment. Our one hope, our blessed hope, is the return of Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom; to put an end to sin, death and Satan, to rule in righteousness and ultimately create a new heaven and a new earth free of any stain or impurity. Each generation has hoped that your return would be soon, and we as well echo the words of the Apostle John: “Even so come, Lord Jesus.” 

In your precious name we pray. Amen.


The Promises of God

Friday, June 20, 2014

*Today's post is by guest writer Sandy Hall*

Almost 31 years ago Bud and I made promises to one another on our wedding day. And thankfully by God's grace, we kept those promises until the day Bud died. But....

Promises are made to be least that's way it seems in our culture. A parent bribes a child, "We will go to the zoo on Friday." But they never go. A mechanic guarantees, "I will have your car done by 2 o'clock today." But two days later you are still waiting! A promise seems to mean nothing. Maybe this is why it is hard for us to trust in the promises of God. Would you say that you believe and act upon God's promises? Or do you doubt His Word?

Most of us would say we do believe God's promises, but do we really trust what He says in His Word and what He promises to us?

Hebrews chapter 11 lists many who did believe in the promises of God. Among that list are the names of women who trusted. Sarah is one, the wife of Abraham, who had the choice to believe God or look at the impossible circumstances around her.

Hebrews 11:11, "Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised."

What exactly was God's promise to Abraham and Sarah? Genesis 12:1-3 records that God told Abram and Sarai (their names at this point in the story) to leave their kinsmen and country to go to a place where God would lead them. He promised to make of them a great nation, to bless them, to use them to bless all other nations of the earth, and to protect them as they went. Later in Genesis 15:2-6, God says their descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky. Actually these promises were spoken by God directly to Abraham but they certainly included Sarah as God said that she would bear a child as the means to God beginning to fulfill His promises.

Genesis 18 tells the account of the three men who visited Abraham and Sarah and told them of God's promise that Sarah would truly bear a son. Sarah's first reaction was to laugh - this was totally impossible because she was past the time of her life when she could have a child.

Aren't we like her in spirit? Maybe we don't actually laugh out loud, but deep, deep down in our heart we keep focused on all of the circumstances that we think prevent God from working and doing all that He has promised and is able to do.

* A doctor tells a woman that it is impossible for her to carry a pregnancy full term.
* Or a child is so far away from walking in harmony with his family and it seems like he will never come back no matter how hard you pray.
* Or a husband is unsaved or seems to be cold toward spiritual things....and things are getting worse and worse.
* Or you have been badly hurt by someone and healing is far, far away.

We face those "impossible circumstances" here in this twentieth century; maybe not the same exact details as Sarah faced, but certainly to the same magnitude of overwhelming odds against us.


Genesis 21:1-2 says, "And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him."

Romans 4:21 comes to mind, "and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform."

God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son, and He gave it. Now was there any reason to doubt that He would fulfill the rest of His promises to Abraham that He had given earlier? Our verse about Sarah in Hebrews 11 says that Sarah received strength to conceive. That strength was not actual physical strength, but the Greek word here means "a special, miraculous abundance of power." The conception of this child was not the norm; Isaac was conceived by the miraculous, mighty working of an all-powerful God Who was doing just what He said He would do.

Couldn't God have caused Sarah to conceive Isaac at an earlier time in her life when it was naturally possible for her to bear children? Sure! But by waiting until it was impossible, humanly speaking, He was able to show Himself "faithful who had promised" as Hebrews 11 tells.

God does what He says!

Do you believe that? Do you believe that He deals with us out of a heart of love? Or do you succumb to Satan's lies that God has forgotten you or turns a deaf ear to your prayers? What better choice do we have than to cling to God, His loving character, and His Word?

What are some of God's promises to Christians today as revealed in the Bible? The study of the promises of God is a wonderful lesson in His goodness. His Word is truth. You can be sure that whatever God promises us, Satan will quietly whisper and sometimes shout the exact opposite to us in our heart. He will twist the truth and amplify the "impossible circumstances" to get us to doubt what God has said.

1. Once we are saved, we are forever God's children. 

One promise that God give to Christians today is found in John 10:27-29 which says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."

Once you have been saved by sincerely accepting Christ's sacrificial death on the cross as payment for the penalty of your sins, you are forever saved. You belong to Him just as the sheep belong to the shepherd. And because of who God is - the eternal, all-powerful Father - we can know that we will always be saved. We now have eternal life, spiritual life and will live forever with Him.

Has Satan been whispering his lies to you that you are such a failure as a Christian or as a wife or mother, that surely you are no longer saved? If he can get you to believe that, you will not grow in your walk with God and you will wallow around in your sin for a long time, even years. There is no sin that can cause you to be "plucked out of his hand." This is not an excuse to sin or to stay in our sin as is discussed in Romans 6:1-2. We need to confess our sin and trust in His promise to forgive (I John 1:9). 

Please remember that your salvation was not earned by you, neither can it be maintained by you. The focus of these verses in John 10 teaches us that when we recognize how great and powerful God the Father is then we understand that no one is able to go against His great work of salvation in our lives.

Are you willing to build the assurance of your salvation upon His character and His promise? 

2. God will forgive a repentant heart.

Another promise given to Christians is in I John 1:9 which was briefly mentioned above.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Do you believe this verse? Do you believe it fully or are there some of your secret sins that you won't even admit to God, let alone believe that He can and will forgive them if you confess them?

Sometimes we carry around with us the sins of years past because we don't really believe that God is able to forgive them and cleanse us. Sometimes we do lay them at His feet, admitting our failure, but then at a later time Satan gets us to pick them back up again and we continue to lug around the guilt again. 

God did not intend for us to live that way. He saved to the uttermost, cleansed away all of the guilt of our sins, and gave us the power to live for Him.

If there is a sin in your heart to which you are holding and hiding, may I encourage you to confess it to God by admitting that what you did was wrong and then trust Him to be faithful to forgive and cleanse you as He has promised.

And if that sin was against another person, make it right by asking forgiveness of him, thus allowing God to make you totally free of the guilt. He has already paid for that sin through His death on the cross. He already knows about it because He is all-knowing; there is nowhere that we can hide from him (Psalm 139, "O Lord, thou has searched me, and known me...").

3. God is ever-present with us. 

And what of the promise that God is ever-present with us? Matthew 28:20 tells us that He is with us always. "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Do you believe that? Or does Satan ever get you to doubt that? Especially in the middle of trouble, we quietly begin to wonder if God has lost us in the billions of people living on the earth today or think that maybe He has forgotten about us for a day, a month, or even for years.

Where is your confidence and courage?

According to Joshua 1:8, if you are feeling that way, it's probably because you have not been meditating in the Word of God and doing what it says. "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success."

When we don't fill our minds and hearts with God's truth, we wander around in doubts and fears.

God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, but He also told him how to do it - by reading God's Word and thinking about it day and night and then by doing what it says to do.

Do you doubt His presence?

It is not because He has moved but because you have turned away. For whatever circumstances you face as a woman, as a wife and mother, God is there with you as He promised. What a comfort? And what hope for the future! I can face all of life with Him beside me, helping me, guiding us.

If we do not believe God promises, Satan leads us to doubt, despair, discouragement, depression and even defiance against God. Perhaps others have broken their promises to you, but God never will. Some of the women in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith chapter, never saw the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, but in heaven all promises will be kept and realized. 

My prayer:
I have anchored my soul in Your unchanging presence, Your all-knowing wisdom and Your deep abiding love. Because of these, I can trust Your promises.

(Just a few weeks before Bud died in 2012, I wrote this article but never got to proofread it and publish it on my blog.  I believe God was preparing my heart as I wrote this for the events He knew were coming. I do believe God's promises. I believe He is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows - Psalm 68. I believe He hears my prayers. And I will trust His promises. I will speak truth to my heart by God's grace.)

By Sandy Hall
All rights reserved. Please ask permission before copying this article. Thank you.


Dying to Self

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Corinthians 5:7 says "For even Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us."  The story of the Passover, which is when the Jews celebrate the story of their deliverance from the death angel sent to convince Pharoah to let them go from slavery in Egypt, and the story of the death of our Savior, Jesus Christ, are beautifully intertwined. This verse brings the two together. Jesus, the Lamb of God willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. John 1:29, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Just as a perfect lamb was killed for the Passover and its blood was put on the doorposts of the Jews' homes, Jesus' blood was shed to cleanse our hearts from sin and save us from sure destruction and judgment.

In the hours before Jesus' crucifixion, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He laid down His will to do the will of the Father. He would go to the cross to die in my place and yours. It was for our sins that He died, not for His, because He had no sin. He would do as His Father had said; the whole reason He had come to earth was to be the sacrificial lamb, to die once to pay the penalty of death for the sin of the world.

The apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Really Paul is saying that just as Christ laid down His will to do the Father's will, we have the privilege of following Jesus' example by laying down our own will to allow Christ to live through us. Our needs, our wishes, our hopes, our desires, and our dreams are all surrendered to do the will of Christ in our lives. This sounds so noble and most of us would say that we are willing to do this, but how does it work out in our day-to-day lives? How do we "die to self?" How do we put aside our pride and willful ambitions? How do we in actuality "take up our cross" and follow Jesus? The following poem tells us how. This was an eye opener for me to realize how much I still hang on to my will for my life and how far I have to go in learning how to die to self.

When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught and you do not sting and hurt at the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worth to suffer for Christ,

      that is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself but take it all in patient, loving silence,

      that is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus endured it,

      that is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God,

        that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or to record your own good works or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown,

      that is dying to self.

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising in your heart,

      that is dying to self.

"Dying to Self" - author unknown

My youngest child is now 18, but I remember well when he was born. He was our fifth child in ten years. As many of you know by your own experience, giving birth to a child is also a dying to self. Your own comfort, plans, and wishes are set aside in order to give life to another person. Then after the birth, you get up nights to feed this little one, change endless diapers, and basically take care of his every need no matter how you feel or what you were doing or trying to do. You die to self in order to care for the needs of another. But what a joy it is. Recently, my first grandchild was born. I watched as my son and his wife cared for him. Another generation carrying on this dying to self. Just as Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, so we as parents also endure the demands on us to have the joy of bearing a child and caring for him. 

Perhaps you don't have children or babies, but certainly somewhere throughout your day, there is a time to die to self. It is not easy. Our hearts rise up in resistance to it.  Perhaps you are falsely accused; perhaps someone criticizes some good that you have done. Or you are served a food you don't like. Or you are tempted to brag about one of your accomplishments. Or you are not chosen, or left out. By God's grace and with Christ's example, we also can die to self.  "And being found in human form, he [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:8

by Sandy Hall

All rights reserved. Please ask permission to use this elsewhere. Thank you.


Labors of Love

Friday, January 17, 2014

*Today's post is by guest writer Sandy Hall*

That time of year has arrived again when you spend twenty minutes bundling everyone up to go outside: the extra sweater, snow pants and coat, hat, mittens and scarf, two pairs of socks, and the boots! To top it off, when our children were young they liked to play hockey in our driveway (even in the snow), so add to the above list the helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, and skates instead of boots. Now if you multiply all those articles of clothing by the number of children you have, then divide it by the outside temperature and subtract the wind speed you will find out where you register on the frustration scale!  That tells you how many minutes they will stay out (which usually ends up exactly one-third the amount of time it took you to get them ready to go out!!!  Ahhh, for a few minutes of summer’s heat wave!
Seriously though, have you ever thought of all the little labors of love you do for your family throughout a single day? All day long (and even into the night) we as women meet the needs of others. Jesus said if we give even a cup of cold water in His name, we will receive a reward (Mark 9:41). In the same light, our labors of love can be viewed from a higher perspective. All that we do: washing dishes or dirty faces, changing diapers, baking bread, reading a story, teaching Bible verses, ironing a shirt, driving kids to soccer practice, preparing a favorite meal, listening, soothing a “boo-boo”, sewing on a button, and yes, even getting children dressed to go play in the snow….all of these are lofty, worthwhile actions when done as a service to our God. They don’t have to be considered menial or mundane; they are daily, continual, valuable gifts of love we give to our families and are ultimately sacrificial gifts to God!

Oh, Lord, make all that I do and say to be done “…in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2

How They Love One Another

Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.

Is it a beautific smile?
A holy light upon your brow?
Oh no! I felt His presence
When you laughed just now.

To me, ‘twas not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me still dim.
But when you came you brought
A sense of Him.

And from your eyes He beckons me
And from your heart His love is shed.
Till I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.

By Mary Wang, With God in Red China

By Sandy Hall
All rights reserved. Please ask permission before copying this article. Thank you.


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