The Christmas Story in Order

In last week’s sermon notes I (Rick Leineweber at Virginia Beach Missional Church) included a list of Scripture passages that put the events of the Christmas story in consecutive order. One of the traditions that we have established as a family is to read the Christmas story in chronological order every year. It’s lots of fun and it has helped us stay focused on the reason for the season. When our children were younger they would take the nativity figures and move them around to act out the wonderful story of Christ’s birth as we read. You can read it together as a family in one sitting or read a couple of sections each day in preparation for Christmas. If you own a Harmony of the Gospels the section numbers will be helpful but if you don’t you can just turn to the Bible passages. Enjoy!

  • Section 2: John’s prologue: from pre-incarnation to crucifixion (John 1:1-18)
  • Section 3: Jesus’s legal lineage through Joseph and natural lineage through Mary (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23b-38)
  • Section 4: John’s birth foretold to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-25)
  • Section 5: Jesus’s birth foretold to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Section 6: Mary visits to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)
  • Section 7: Mary’s song of joy (Luke 1:46-56)
  • Section 8: John’s Birth (Luke 1:57-66)
  • Section 9: Zacharias Prophetic Song (Luke 1:67-79)
  • Section 10: John’s Growth and Early Life (Luke 1:80)
  • Section 11: Circumstances of Jesus’s birth explained to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25)
  • Section 12: Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)
  • Section 13: Witness of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
  • Section 14: Circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21)
  • Section 15: Jesus presented at the temple (Luke 2:22-38)
  • Section 16: Return to Nazareth (Luke 2:39)
  • Section 17: Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)
  • Section 18: Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)
  • Section 19: New Home in Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23)
  • Section 20: Growth and early life of Jesus (Luke 2:40)
  • Section 21: Jesus’s first Passover in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-50)
  • Section 22: Jesus is adolescence and early manhood (Luke 2:51-52)

Source: A Harmony of the Gospel by: Robert L. Thomas & Stanley N. Gundry, Harper Collins Publisher, 1978

[print_link] [email_link] [Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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Being a Spiritual Leader

Men, we often don’t lead our families as we should. I sense that most wives are aching for their husbands to be the spiritual driver in the home. Most of the time we drift and outsource that leadership somewhere else.

The Courageous movie will challenge each husband and father to make a resolution… to be resolved… that they will be an active force for God on this earth and in their family.

I once heard Kenny Luck, men’s ministry leader at Saddleback, as he  encourages you on how to be the spiritual leader of your home.

Kenny tells us to:

  1. Own it – own our spiritual lives, don’t outsource that to anyone else.
  2. Show it – demonstrate outwardly what God is doing on the inside.
  3. Lead her and the marriage – not lording over her, but providing leadership.
  4. Lead by serving them – leadership is service, not position.
  5. Love them – love is an active word, not a feeling.

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God is Near, Don’t Miss Him

It’s been a busy month, so that is why the lack of posts in July. First I was on a mission trip to Kansas City, MO to help contract the new chapel at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lots of framing, stage building, window trim, wood staining; take a look at the video presentation we did at church on July 24. It is a great week to spend with fellow believers doing something for someone else. Trips such as these can be life changing.

Then my mother-in-law, Polly Jo Wingo, passed on after a long health battle. Kim was down in Alabama for several weeks trying to care for her and her father. The hospice people were very helpful is getting things set up for Jo’s final two weeks. She died on Tuesday July 26. The experience reminded me how life is a gift and time is short, even when someone had 73 years on this planet.

As I was thinking about the brevity of life, I was reminded about his passage of Scripture from Isaiah 55:1-7.

Seek the Lord while you can find Him; Call on Him now while He is near (Isaiah 55:6)

It reminds me of missed opportunity, but also joy, because Isaiah is telling us that it is not too late.

October 2010, the world looked on as 33 Chilean miners were plucked one by one from their deep, cavernous prison. For more than 2 months, these men hung on to hope and life a half-mile below ground. The rescue teams preparing for the evacuation had many concerns:

  1. Would the escape pod function properly?
  2. Would the men experience hypertension as they rose to the surface?
  3. Would they develop blood clots?
  4. The primary concern, however, was panic attacks. “This is the first time in many weeks that the miners are going to be completely alone,” said Chile’s health minister.

We know what it feels like to be alone. Perhaps you’ve been abandoned by a parent or friend. You have experience the death of a close family member. Perhaps you have been overseas and culture shock is about to overcome you. You may feel lost. Even in a crowd, you feel isolated. In a city of a million people, you feel alone. God, however, invites us into relationship, into friendship. “Come to me,” God says (Isaiah 55:3). He invites us to come out of isolation and embrace relationship with Him.

When we come to God, we’re always welcomed with open arms. Unlike other relationships we’ve known, God’s love isn’t based upon us meeting some expectation or providing something for Him. He simply loves—completely, entirely, without hesitation. God loves us anyway, not for what we have done or what we’ll become. God makes a promise to His people, an “everlasting covenant [of] unfailing love” (Isaiah 55:3).

This everlasting covenant finds its ultimate expression in Jesus, who came to us and brought God to us, along with His life and forgiveness. We didn’t reach up to Him. In Jesus, God reached down to us. We didn’t come near to Him. In Jesus, God came near to us. Since God is near, don’t miss him!

“Seek the Lord while you can find Him,” Isaiah says. “Call on [God] now while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). The good news is that, in Jesus, “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). You need to know more? Write to me, a comment here or use my online form, let’s talk.

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Set Apart From Birth

This is the first part in a series on the life of the apostle Paul. First off, using the term, “the apostle Paul” may conjure up images of some holy man, spiritual mystic, saintly statue or iconoclastic portrait, but in the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the term apostle really means “one who is sent out.” That is exactly what happened to Paul in the New Testament, he was called by God and sent out with a message. That is what we read about in the book of Acts; Paul and his missionary journeys take up most of the book’s content.

The passage today is from Galatians 1:15-16, where Paul tells us that he was set apart from birth and called by God; that the Father revealed the Son to him so that he might preach to the nations. The question comes, what may have been the upbringing of Paul? In what sort of home was he raised? Taken from Scripture and the Code of Jewish Law (which for centuries has been the foundation of Jewish life), Paul’s life was surrounded by Jewish custom and tradition, and guided his Jewish moral, social and religious behavior.

In Galatians 1:15-16, since Paul mentions being set apart from birth, he describes the rite of circumcision, which is the sign of the covenant (going all the way back to Abraham, Genesis 17:2, 7, 9, 10, 14). Paul includes in his testimony that he was the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a topic on which I will follow up next time.

The Jewish household was surrounded by Scripture, even from the very front door of the home. A mezuzah (the little container attached to the doorpost) contained a portion of sacred Scripture from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. These are the bedrock of the Jewish faith.

There were three priorities for the devout Jew: study of the Torah (the Law of Moses), marriage, and doing good deeds. I’ll save the look into Paul’s boyhood home for next time.

So, what does this all have to do with us today? When was the last time you looked at your spiritual past? From where did you come? How far has the Lord brought you? You know more than anyone where you have been, and out of what God has saved you. Do you understand that what he has done in your life is no accident? We can also have the same response as Paul, that we have been called from birth. Circumcision is not the issue, but once we have come into a relationship with Christ, we can begin to see that He has guided us down a path that includes providential care and provision. We might not see it during the early or dark days, but hindsight is always 20/20, we can see how God has led us to where we are today. Take time this day to rejoice in what God has done in your life.

Secondly, how committed are you to the Word of God? Does your soul hunger and thirst for the things of God? Do you long to hear from Him? Do the Scriptures comfort your soul and fill your spirit? How do you handle the Word of God? Do your kids know how much the Bible means to you and your spiritual life? Do they see you reading from it and do you teach its principles each day?

One last question: do you sense the need and urgency to make necessary changes to become all that God desires for you to be? Not just for your own sake, but for your family’s sake.

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How Do You Spell Love?

How’s your summer going? Bethany is on the MFuge trip to Phillly this week and I stopped to think about how fast the summer is passing by. There are only a few weeks left until she heads back to school.

That got me thinking…

Now would be a good time for the Men of Steel to consider how much time we’ve spent with our kids this summer, and how important it is to them that we do. I’m talking about personal, individual time.

Has it been minimal, or have you intentionally put your work and personal interests on hold so that you can invade your child’s world?

Have you spent time reading together? Talking together? Gone on walks, hikes, bike rides? Taken a family vacation together? Gone swimming together? Taken your daughter out on dates? Gone fishing, canoeing, or a ton of other fun outdoor activities with your son?

I read a great quote this week: “The thing our children need most is often in the shortest supply — our time.”

They don’t care or need the “stuff” that a good paying job with long hours can provide. Children of all ages spell love T-I-M-E.

So, before you begin this mental review of your summer schedule, watch this brief video. Hold on to the very end, it’s powerful.

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Be Imitators of Me?

Did you know that in the original language of the Bible, there is no punctuation? No capitalization, no periods, no paragraphs… not even any chapter and verse numbers. My Bible passage today reflects how those items were later arranged, and sometimes not very well. But the statement is as true today as it was for the original readers in the first century.

To put this into context. I want you to think about your family and raising your kids. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – (1 Corinthians 11:1)

In his final word on the whole issue of eating meat offered to idols, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Notice how 1 Corinthians 11:1 really goes at the end of 1 Corinthians 10:33. Historically, this statement reflects a classic view of education and discipleship. The teacher instructs, not just through words, but also through his actions. Jesus, for example, chose his closest disciples to be with him (Mark 3:13-14) so that they might hear his teaching and so that they might observe his behavior in order to imitate it.

But Paul tells these Corinthians, not just to model themselves after Jesus, but he challenges them to also imitate him (as he imitates Christ). When I first read this, I felt it might seem a little arrogant. Why not just say “Be imitators of Christ”? Who does Paul think he is?

Well, he thinks he is one who has been sent by God to bring the Gentiles into relationship with Jesus Christ and to help them to grow in that relationship with Christ. In this role, Paul is not just the deliverer of the message, but also the living example of the message. We see this clearly in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6)

How would you respond if Skip or I stood up on Sunday and said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ?” Would that seem arrogant? Out of place? Or would that be exactly the kind of pastoral leader you need, and that God will bless?

How about in your family? Can you stand before your wife and children and say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ?” It’s not to say that you are perfect, but that you are a man seeking God and following Christ, learning of Christ and actively embracing the “with Him” principle (Mark 3:13-14).

The fact that we fail at times (to be the example of Christ) does not invalidate the effort. Those who lead do so, not only through words, but also through actions.

So ask yourself:

  1. How would you respond if one of your leaders actually said, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ?”
  2. Why would you respond this way?
  3. Have you ever said anything like this? Why or why not?
  4. Where in life has God called you to be an example of the truth, someone who imitates Christ so that others might be more Christ-like by imitating you?

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As Christ Loves the Church

I’ve been leading a study through the book of First Peter, and we recently took a look at 1 Peter 3:1-7, some pretty interesting words for wives and husbands. Paul sums up pretty well in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus:

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. — Ephesians 5:25

Men, it looks like we have it easy. After all, our wives have to “submit” (Ephesians 5:22), whatever that means, but we just have to “love” them. What could be simpler? Flowers from time to time. Chocolates on special occasions. Perhaps even a power tool or two she can claim as her own even though we store it on our work bench. We might even manage to mumble “I love you” just to make it clear. Submission sounds hard. It involves yielding to someone else. That someone would be the husband. Does that mean what it seems like it means? We’re in charge? We call all the shots? We give the orders? Let me know how that goes for you.

The movie, My Big fat Greek Wedding, had an interesting analogy about who’s the head in the marriage or family. The bride’s mother says that the husband is the head, but the wife is the neck who is able to turn the head in any direction she chooses. I thought that was too funny.

Let’s go back to Ephesians 5:21. Wait a minute, there’s something here about “submit to one another.” Seems like that could be a problem. Ephesians 5:22 tells her to submit, and Ephesians 5:25 tells me to love.

Take a look at that little phrase “just as Christ loved the church.” It tells us that my examples of loving (in my paragraph above) don’t really apply. Jesus never sent flowers to the church. He never picked up a box of chocolates on the way home from the carpentry shop as a peace offering. He never mumbled “I love you” through a mouthful of hamburger. Jesus loved by dying. He loved by suffering, hurting, and sacrificing. His kind of love sounds hard–almost as hard as submitting. Maybe even harder.

Loving that way might just take everything we’ve got, but here’s the deal. I believe that one of the primary reasons our wives struggle with submission is that they often have little real confidence in our love. Genuine love paves the way for submission (not the other way around). Jesus died for the church before the church was around to submit.

Real dying love doesn’t come naturally for men, face it, we’re selfish. If you figure out how to love your wife, you probably won’t have to bring up the issue of submission.

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When You Lose Your Way

Life can be hard, no denying that fact. We work all day, try to be a faithful and loving husband and good and nurturing father, a good employee or boss, a good neighbor and friend, a man of integrity… you try to catch a break every once in a while but then life still falls apart. We eventually ask a similar question as the disciples regarding the blind man, “Who sinned, him or his parents, that caused him to be born blind?” (John 9:2). What did I do to deserve this?

At times we feel as if God is out to get us. Why is that? Why do we not recognize that God is actually the one holding our lives together and the outright assault on our lives is really from our adversary and enemy (who is like a roaring lion ready to devour – 1 Peter 5:8)?

I listen to K-Love radio (when Bethany is in the car, 90.7 fm in Va Beach) and Toby Mac has a recent song with great lyrics (as usual):

You turned away when I looked you in the eye,
And hesitated when I asked if you were alright,
Seems like you’re fighting for your life, but why? Oh why?

Have we been there? Don’t turn away when someone reaches out to you. Remember that no man is an island. How often do we get asked the question, “How are you?” and we casually reply, “Fine” or “Good” or some other meaningless phrase that intends to dodge our hurting or the burning issues in our lives? The church is a community of believers who gather together not because we have it all together, but because we don’t. We gather to bleed together, and share each other’s burdens and pain (Galatians 6:2).

Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare,
You saw it comin’ but it hit you outta no where,
And there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

I love that phrase, there are “always scars when you fall that far.” Each of us has a past we are not proud of, and what I get from this song is just when you think you’re ready to stand, life comes out of nowhere to dash your hopes, dreams and plans. When it happens often enough, scars form, but scars are not always bad. They can remind us of where we have been, keep us from going there again, and help us to be thankful for the intervention that Jesus did in our lives (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).

We lose our way, we get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again,
One day you gonna shine again,
You may be knocked down, but not out forever.

We all can get sidetracked and lose our way. We start each day with the greatest of intentions, like living pure lives, showing kindness to our wife, demonstrating more joy as we spend time with our kids, but then (as the Nationwide commercial tells us) life comes at you fast. Remember it is never too late to get back up and do the right and godly thing (1 Corinthians 10:12, Ephesians 6:11, Colossians 1:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, James 4:6). The call of Christ is to stand firm!

You rolled out at the dawning of the day.
Heart racin’ as you made your little get away,
It feels like you been runnin’ all your life but, why? Oh why?

You pulled away from the love that would’ve been there,
You start believin’ that your situation’s unfair
But there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

To love is to risk (John 3:16, 15:13, 1 John 3:16, Romans 5:8). We become vulnerable whenever we open up to another person or even to our wife. Perhaps we choose not to hurt today and we close up to those around us. We “pull away from the love that would have been there.” But if we never risk, we will never feel the joy of solid friendships and a rewarding marriage. Don’t pull away or feel that life is unfair or regret past decisions. Risk, open up, and become vulnerable, because it really is worth it.

Sometimes we lose our way due to a conscious decision. James tells us that we will give in to sin due to being tempted by our own lust, which gives birth to sin, which then brings death (James 1:14, 15). We know the darkness that dwells deep within. Don’t be tempted. Flee immorality. Seek to live a life of integrity at all times.

Sometimes we do all the right things and life still may get the best of us, but continue to stand firm. Remain strong, and steadfast, under submission to God, allow the Spirit to guide you in the way you should go (Proverbs 3:5-6). As always, when you lose your way… get back up again.

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Being a Better Man

Gentlemen, perhaps you have seen the movie, As Good As It Gets, which has a scene where Jack Nicholson gives Helen Hunt “a compliment.” He fumbles around telling a disjointed story about how his “shrink” tells him about some pills, that if he is willing to take (which he HATES!) will improve his demeanor and personality for her. As he struggles to explain himself to her and her annoyance with him grows (because she does not understand how his story is a compliment for her), he finally says to her, “You make me want to be a better man.” (Check the video of the week).

So guys, I wonder, what is it that makes you want to be a better man? Is it…

  1. Your children
  2. Your wife
  3. Your frustration with work
  4. The addiction or habit that is kicking your tail
  5. Your appreciation for God’s mercy, protection, or provision on your life
  6. Your identification with Paul’s statement, “I am chief among sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

We may have different motivations to want to be a better man, and the world may sell you all sorts of solutions for “better manhood,” but, the only true way to become a “better man” is to be on a journey with Jesus Christ. This journey with Christ isn’t easy. There are many distractions. It’s difficult to stay focused on that journey without the help of other men. That’s why Solomon told his sons, “As Iron Sharpens Iron so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17).

That’s why the Men of Steel exists. That’s why I write an encouraging word each week. That’s why on April 24th we are going to the Iron Sharpens Iron Conference in Richmond. Hundreds of men will be blessed and will begin or continue living as “better men” because they’ve chosen to walk with Christ and/or made connections with men and resources that can help them on their journey.

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