Preparing for Christmas by Focusing on the Holy Spirit

April 26, 2019

Preparing for Christmas by Focusing on the Holy Spirit

The three persons of the Trinity have always existed together. The Old Testament revealed God the Father to mankind and the New Testament revealed Jesus to the world. After Jesus returned to heaven, Jesus and the Father fully revealed the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. They sent the Holy Spirit to finish what they had started.

As we wait for Jesus’ return, the job of the Holy Spirit is to prepare a glorious, global Bride for Jesus, who will rule and reign with Him, sharing for eternity the inheritance Jesus received from the Father. The Holy Spirit had been prompting dozens of men to write about the coming of the Messiah for 1200 years. Now the time has come!

Finally, the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent as the Spirit had Moses write in Genesis. The virgin would conceive and birth a son called Emmanuel as the Spirit had Isaiah write. The Son would be born to us called Eternal Father, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor! Now, the mighty One was to be born in Bethlehem as the Spirit had Micah write.

Since God is One God in three Persons, all three members of the Godhead do everything together, but they assign one Member of the Trinity for certain purposes and times of history. God is the Initiator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Spirit is the Facilitator.

The Holy Spirit is God, He is Lord, and He lives inside every true follower of Jesus. But He is so humble, so meek that He always points us to Jesus and the Father. He is a complete Person, just as Jesus and the Father are but His personality is to only to do what the Father commands and what the Son provides by His grace won on Calvary. The better we know the Holy Spirit, the more we fellowship with Him, the more we will do the will of God and glorify Jesus.

Today, let’s investigate the role of the Holy Spirit in creating the wonderful event we call Christmas, the Birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God into human flesh. The Holy Spirit played a key role in the events of leading up the Christ’s birth.

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. Zechariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb."

- Luke 1:5-15

Note that the Holy Spirit was filling the body of John even in the womb. Let no one ever say that an unborn baby is not a full-person deserving all the protections of any person. God saw fetus John as a person who needed to be filled with His Presence.

"And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

- Luke 1:16-17

John had a high calling. No one else had it. He was to prepare Israel for the three year public ministry of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was sent into the womb of Elizabeth by the Father and Jesus to make sure John was spiritually ready to fulfill His calling.

Jesus’ Birth Foretold

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

- Luke 1:26-35

Now John 3:16 says God the Father sent Jesus to save us, but it is the Holy Spirit Who makes Mary pregnant with Jesus—not the Father. Just in in creation of the world that Gen. 1:1-2 records: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters…"

God the Father commanded a world to be born and the Holy Spirit was hovering over the water world of earth like a hen over an egg that needs to hatch— seemingly to birth the lands of the world and the creatures of the world. Here in Luke’s Gospel, God the Father commands that Jesus be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit empowers the birth by “overshadowing” Mary and making her pregnant with the DNA of the Father.

The Holy Spirit & John’s Family

Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy (filled with Spirit?).

- Luke 1:39-44

Look how the Holy Spirit used Elizabeth to encourage this teenage girl carrying a child that most people would think was conceived out of wedlock. She was probably dreading what her family and neighbors would say as they noticed her belly getting bigger with child. So, the Holy Spirit lifts her spirits by this amazing prophetic word from Elizabeth. No wonder Mary stayed there three months while Elizabeth finished her pregnancy. Three months with this Spirit-filled woman and her Spirit-filled unborn baby strengthened Mary as she returned to her town of Nazareth.

At 3-4 months of pregnancy, she would be showing. Now the gossip would really start. But Mary was ready now to face it after the ministry of the Spirit through Elizabeth. After John was born, his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67) and prophesied, saying: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways…" (Luke 1:76).

That is only part of one of most beautiful Messianic prophecies in the Bible—from the mouth of someone whom God struck dumb due to his sin of unbelief nine months earlier. This story about Zechariah reminds us that the Holy Spirit refines and corrects us, and ultimately uses us in spite of our failures and weaknesses. We must never grow weary of God’s discipline—because in the end, we will emerge with a message from Him.

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

- Luke: 1:80

Why Were John & His Parent Filled with the Holy Spirit?

Can you imagine the bittersweet joy of old parents raising an active child? By filling them with Himself, the Holy Spirit comforted and strengthened John and his parents for the unusual and difficult life ahead for all of them. The Spirit also began to disciple John even in the womb for the gigantic role he was to play in revealing the Messiah Jesus to the world. God wanted every Jew to be ready to receive Jesus the Messiah so He commissioned John to get them ready by his prophetic preaching. The Holy Spirit did that for baby Jesus. What ramifications does this have for us as parents and the work of the Spirit in the lives of our children?

Conclusion & Applications

At Christmas each year, all Christians celebrate the time when God the Holy Spirit and an illiterate teenage girl formed a partnership that produced the Savior of the world, Jesus the Messiah. That partnership has not only allowed us to become children of God but it has become a model for all of us now who follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant with Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to make us “pregnant” with the life, character and power of Jesus in our daily lives to others can know Jesus, too. So what is the Holy Spirit wanting to partner with you in this Christmas season and beyond?

By: Pastor Bob Fox, Abundant Life Fellowship 

Learn about the power of the Holy Spirit in spiritual preparation for Christmas with: The Spirit-Filled Life small group Bible study.  Discover how the Facilitator is Emmanuel--God With Us and has already empowered you to bear Christ into the world.




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Online Bible Studies to Bring Resurrection Hope to Your Congregation
Online Bible Studies to Bring Resurrection Hope to Your Congregation

April 02, 2020

In this season of fear of illness, quarantine, and shelter-in-place orders, we find ourselves facing a long period of isolation. We are anticipating weeks, or even months, of being unable to go to church or meeting with our regular study groups. Yet our hearts and souls need inspiration and encouragement now more than ever! As a pastor or group leader, you need new tools to help lead your people during this uncertain time.

Our team at Bible Study Media has been working over the last two weeks to convert our studies into an online format to meet the new requirements of today’s circumstances. We have created an online community forum, which will serve as our online home for community and courses. We want to offer this online forum to your ministries and congregations as an Easter resource for virtual small groups. We have two courses to offer for Easter: The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New (Fr. Charlie Holt, author) and our brand-new forthcoming study, A Living Hope: A Study of 1 Peter (Sarah Viggiano Wright, author). Many more online courses will be available soon.

Our Platform Offers:

  • A Dedicated and Unique Group and Course for only your ministry or congregation. You can invite your members and their friends and family into a private online forum customized with your name and brand. As the host, you are in control of your group and course.
  • Customization: You can use the platform to organize virtual small groups, Sunday School classes, Wednesday night classes, etc. As the host, you have the ability to customize the site for your specific group. You can add your own articles and posts, set up your own live teaching, or host discussion events. You can make it as personal as you want for your congregation.
  • Events: Through the events feature, you can organize the events that are unique to your ministry group and course. If you have a group of virtual small group hosts organized, you can schedule out their meeting times for others to join.
  • Articles and Posts: Because this is a dedicated and unique group, you can use the platform to create your own devotional reflections, post announcements, provide encouragements, and ask questions that are private to your group.
  • Low Maintenance: You do not have to distribute books or handle payments (the platform and Bible Study Media team takes care of all of that). That way, you can focus on your members and building community.

Each study has:

  • Daily Devotions with Scripture reading assignments and reflection questions.
  • Weekly teaching videos with deeper study questions for engagement of the lesson and personal application.
  • A Study Guide to accompany the weekly videos and help guide group discussion.
  • Physical copies of the books are available but optional for each week. There is a link provided if people want to order copies of the physical books. Amazon will handle distribution.

Here is how it works:

Step One: You will be invited into a clergy host group. From there, we will organize and set up your private congregation group. The fee to join is $79.99; this fee covers the cost of setting up your private branded group and course. NOTE: It takes one full week to process a new group and course.

Step Two: Each congregation will be given a unique invitation to a private group and a private version of the course so that you can uniquely minister to your flock. Within your private group, you can customize your site, set up your events, and schedule church-wide notices of your teachings related to the course.

Step Three: You will use your private link to invite the members of your congregation into the study. They will be prompted to set up their profile and log in. They will be then automatically placed in your private group and course. Anyone that you invite can join. You can share it on your website, email, and social media. Each individual will be charged $9.99 upon registration for the cost of the course.

 

Our team is available every step of the way as you are getting familiar with this new tool for ministry. We also have the Clergy Host Group where we can all share ideas and figure out this new way of doing life together online—the Body of Christ helping the Body of Christ.

We would love to have the opportunity to serve your ministry. The first step is to join the Clergy Host Group. Let our team begin setting up your unique and dedicated ministry group and course so you can start inviting your members into a meaningful Easter Season.


To help you better understand our offering, we will host six Zoom Webinars over the next week. Please plan to join us at one of these times. Click the link to register:

Friday, 4/3 at 2:00 pm CST

Monday 4/6 at 1:00 pm CST

Tuesday 4/7 at 3:00 pm CST

Wednesday, 4/8 at 9:00 am CST

Thursday 4/9 at 2:00 pm CST

Friday 4/10 at 10:00 am CST    

We hope to see you there!

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Do Not Harden Your Heart: Reflections on COVID-19
Do Not Harden Your Heart: Reflections on COVID-19

March 24, 2020 1 Comment

By Brooke Holt, Adult Curriculum Specialist

Many people have been asking me what I make of the Coronavirus, what I think the purpose of it is, and what God will do through it. My humble answer is that I have absolutely no idea! There is a reason that God is God and I am not!  

While I do not have any answers, I do believe that we can be asking ourselves how God wants us to live through these days.  I think there is a faithful way to live, one that puts our trust and hope in the Lord, and I think there is a fear-based way to live, one that looks around us and sees panic, doom, and gloom. No matter what your response is, God still sits on his throne. He is sovereign over this virusDespite the painsuffering, and loss, I know that God is good. I believe that he will work for his glory and our good through this.  

As a Lenten discipline, I am meditating on a Psalm each week. This week, I am focusing on Psalm 95. There is a phrase that keeps calling me, speaking to me, and challenging me: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (verses 7-9). I keep wondering how my reaction to this Coronavirus will either harden my heart or soften my heart to the Lord.  

In Psalm 95:7-9, the Lord speaks of when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He worked powerfully on behalf of his people and accomplished many miracles so that the people could not only escape Egypt but leave with plunder. The Israelites saw the mighty hand of God as he parted the Red Sea for them to walk through. That sea then crashed upon the Egyptian army that pursued them. God changed bitter water to sweet water in the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:25); the Lord provided manna for food in the morning and quail for food at night.  

As the Israelites moved on to camp at Rephidim, they couldn’t find water and became indignant. They grumbled against God and against Moses“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17:3) Pause here a moment to think about all the miracles the Israelites had witnessed with their very own eyes, to remember how God had provided everything they needed just when they needed it. Instead of asking God to once again provide water, they whineand complained. Can you imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses, for God? In his mercy, the Lord does provide water. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came out to quench their thirst.  

The Israelites were slow to understand and slow to believe. They say it took 40 days to get the Israelites out of Egypt but 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. All those years of bondage certainly took their toll. Likely, the Israelites felt forgotten by the Lord. God never forgets his covenants! God never forgets his people. During the years of slavery, the Lord had a plan for their escape. He knew their course through the wilderness, and he knew the glories of the promised land.  

In Numbers 13, Moses sends the men to spy out the promised land. They go into the land and find it is even more glorious than they could have imagined. The only problem was the people in the land. The report from 10 of the spies was that the people were like giants and there was no way to overcome them. Only Caleb and Joshua brought back the report that the land was glorious, and although the land was occupied, they knew that God would give them the land. Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s faithfulness through their Egyptian escape and their journeys. They believed that the same God who provided water, food, protection, and guidance would allow them to supernaturally defeat the giants.  

Sadly, the Israelites succumbed to the dour report of the 10 spies instead of choosing the faith and hope of Caleb and Joshua. They cried and groaned all night and once again asked why they couldn’t have just died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness. After all God’s faithfulness, they still did not believe. Their hearts were hard to the Lord.  

The Israelites serve as a warning to us. Though we are quick to criticize them, they represent us. In Psalm 95, we are warned not to harden our hearts. How do hearts become hard to the Lord? The Psalmist says that hearts harden when we hear the voice of God and choose unbelief instead of belief, when we put God to the test, and when we go astray in our hearts. The Lord was certainly worthy of the Israelites full-hearted faith. Nevertheless, they chose fear over faith; they chose to complain instead of pray; they chose despair over hope.  

As Christians living in the year 2020, have we seen God’s faithfulness? Have we experienced his gracious provision, his mercy, and his love? If so, how do these experiences shape our response to the Coronavirus? As we see the people of the world around us panicking, retreating, and lamenting, do we join them or do we take a posture of trust in the sovereign Lord? Do we move into complete dependence on him and into continual prayer? I am not saying we won’t have a range of emotions. We are human, and those emotions are normal and even healthy. It is what we do with those emotions that makes all the difference. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We can choose to dwell in the perfect love of the Father or we can choose to camp out in fear. Love will keep our hearts tender, soft, and dependent on the Lord, while fear will harden our hearts and cause us to seek comfort in idols and the things of this world.  

So, what does faith look like? Solitude, contemplative prayer and meditative Scripture reading are Christian disciplines that have been lost in our day and age. We are constantly busy with our agendas. If it is not work, school, family, or friends then we find ourselves lost in social media. What if we used this extra time in our schedules to get truly still and quiet before the Lord? What if we turned off all our technology for certain hours of the day so that we did not have the constant distractions? What if we read a passage of Scripture, then re-read that passage asking the Lord how he wants to speak to our hearts and lives through his words? What if we sat before the Lord without a major list or agenda and just invited him to speak? What if we spent some time journaling, allowing our thoughts and feelings to be released, knowing that God sees, knows, and cares about each and every one of those thoughts and feelings? 

What does fear look like during this time? Fear can take many shapes and forms. It can look like the person obsessed with the next announcement by the CDC, absorbed by the media, and consumed with all the unknown. It can look like choosing to put our trust in busyness to keep our minds occupied and to keep our hearts hard and unknown, even to us; it is looking to our ways of comforting ourselves – food, alcohol, internet, online shopping, exercise, etc. You know your go-to. We all have them.  

What if God wants to take this time to expose our idols so that we can turn aside from these lesser things, these things that never truly bring comfort and healing, so we can fix our eyes firmly upon him? What if God wants to use this time to search us and know us, to reveal the things in our lives that rob us of true intimacy with him, of living his abundant life so that we can choose life, so that we can choose faith, so that we can choose him? 

Today, let’s make the choice to not harden our hearts. Let’s ask God to soften our hearts. Let’s allow him to work through the trials of this Coronavirus to draw us to the only true hope in himLet’s trust him to provide what we need, to comfort us in our sorrow and fear, and to lead us through these uncertain times knowing that he is good, that he sees all of it, knows all of it, and will love us in the midst of it.  

“Oh come, let us sing the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:1-3). 

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Who Is In Your Formation? Growing Better Because We Are Together
Who Is In Your Formation? Growing Better Because We Are Together

March 04, 2020

By Christine O'Brien, Hearts Alive General Manager

One particular morning, several weeks ago, I saw Jesus in the sky. Stick with me here-I’m not entirely crazy!

As we were driving to school, we saw birds in the sky. The kids said, “Are those bats?” Another one said, “No, those are ducks!” To which I responded, “Look at the geese! They’re flying in a V-shape.” I said the V-shape is what shows that they are geese. From there, a conversation started about why geese fly in a V formation. Nobody quite knew the answer, so the only solution on this particular Wednesday morning was to ask Siri.

“Siri, why do geese fly in V formations?”

She answered us by sharing that there are two reasons why geese take on these formations while migrating. My thirteen year old was quick to point out his brilliance, as he had stated migration was why they fly in this shape prior to us involving Siri!

Siri said that the first reason was for aerodynamics. It’s much easier for geese to fly in a V-shape, as each goose helps direct the air flow around the geese behind it. This takes the pressure off and allows them to fly easier, more gently, and faster.

The second reason was for protection. It is much safer to be with the group than it is to be flying solo, because predators can’t take on an entire flock.

It was in that moment when God spoke to my heart and said, “I’m not done with you yet. This is for you. I’m getting your attention through a flock of geese!”

It began to resonate deep within my spirit that we each need to be like a goose in that pattern. We need to be in formation with others. We need to be in formation with others so that when we are tired and weary and don’t feel like we can go on anymore, you and I will have others beside us. Others who are Aarons in our lives, ready and willing to assist and carry one another’s burdens. To make the flight feel shorter. Less heavy. Less burdensome. To take that weight and share it with others. It might not change the flight, but it sure would make it easier to feel like we’re not so alone.

The second way we are like that goose is because We need protection. It matters who we are giving a seat to at our table. If I am alone, not protected and flying solo, I might as well have a giant bullseye on my back. If we have people that are surrounding us, that are protecting us, that are building us up, we are much less likely to allow an open spot for the enemy, with his lies and schemes, to attack. I don’t know about you, but I know that if there are open seats all around my table, it’s really easy for the enemy to creep in and start to devour my thought process, my emotions, my senses -- what I see, feel, hear, believe. All of those are areas where, if I’m sitting at a table alone and the enemy takes a seat -- beside, before, below, beneath me -- he could devour me.

How much more difficult is it for somebody to find a seat at a crowded table?

If there are people around our table who are surrounding us with Christ-like relationships, what a different outcome it would be.

There is strength in those numbers. When those geese were in the sky that morning, it took them a little while to get into formation. At first my kids thought that they were bats because they were scattered all around. They were flapping their wings every which way. They looked to be on top of each other. They simply looked to be chaotic.

As those geese got into their formation, their plan of action seemed so much more clear. It was evident that they were organized, they were unified, they were working together. They had a similar shared vision that they were trying to accomplish. Those geese will migrate somewhere together, and they had an end goal in sight.

If our end goal on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, pointing others to him, we need to be surrounded. We need to be rooted and grounded in Jesus, in the Word, with his Holy Spirit inside of us, sensitive to his nudgings and his leading. You and I also need to be surrounded by other geese who will get in formation with us. Who will occupy space around us, and who will remind each one of us of who we are in Christ and what we are doing, especially when we are prone to wander?

Who are the “geese” around you? Are you flying with the right crew? Is your vision aligned or might it be time to either refocus or reposition yourself? 

If you don’t have them around you, if it feels lonely, if it feels wavy, if it feels hard, try to identify some people who could come alongside you.

As leaders, let’s humble ourselves to say, “You know what, I need you… We’re better together… Let’s do this life together… We can accomplish more together than we ever could apart.”

Will you join me in this spring of a brand-new decade, in either finding “geese,” tightening up your formation, and/or being a “goose” for someone else? We have so much to glean from one another as we stay yielded to Jesus, and consistently remind others to do the same.

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