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A Little Walk With God

A daily devotional through the Bible narrated as if walking through the garden east of Eden with God. Scriptures come from a daily reading plan that take you through the Bible in one year, generally coming from The Voice. Our website is http://alittlewalkwithgod.com or http://richardagee.com
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Thanks for listening.

Richard

Jan 21, 2019

Join us as we explore God's ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.

I hope you will join us every week and be sure to let us know how you enjoy the podcast and let others know about it, too. Thanks for listening.

As you probably know if you’ve been following these last few weeks, I’ve been using the common lectionary for the focus of my podcasts. Today will be no different. The scripture in the lectionary that jumped out at me today comes from 1 Corinthians 12. I think it struck me because we so often want to be someone other than ourselves in our culture today.

Take a look at everything the world throws at us and see if you agree. Marketing implies that if you just buy this product or use this device you will look like the person in the commercial. If you own this contraption or consume that food, you will suddenly be rid of those unwanted pounds. But if we stop and think for just a few milliseconds, we know it’s not true. But we want so badly to be something we are not.

We want to be slimmer, taller, shorter, smarter, richer, wiser, faster, … In the next advertisement you hear, listen for those adjectives and see if you can relate to the visual and audible cues. “I want to be like that.” And the marketer assures you it can happen just by buying their product. Of course, in the tiny print, if you can read that fast and get close enough to read it in the first place, you find the disclosure statement.

“Results may vary and those depicted are may not be expected when used by the average consumer.” Did you catch that disclaimer? Does that mean when I get on that stair-stepper or mega-muscle rejuvenator that I won’t be all buff and beautiful after six weeks with just a ten minute workout every other day? Does that mean that if I take that little pill once a day that I can’t eat a dozen doughnuts for breakfast and still lose fifty pounds in two weeks? Does that mean that if I put that special cream on my head that I won’t have a gorgeous mane of curls in seven days instead of the bald spots I try to cover with my obvious combover?

We are obsessed with being someone we are not in our culture. That’s why advertisers are so successful here. A picture here, a few words there, and we extend our gullibility to the max and think the latest products will make us perfect. It won’t. Never has. Never will. Why? Read 1 Corinthians 12. God made all of us different. We all have unique characteristics, talents, skills. God gave us different abilities because he wants us to need each other. He wants us to be interdependent.

Notice I didn’t say God wants us to be independent. God didn’t create us to rely solely on our own efforts. He didn’t give any of us enough to exist as hermits. He wants us to live in community. He wants us to understand this amazing principle. We need each other. I think it’s why we see both a vertical and horizontal beam on the cross that depicts the means by which Jesus died. That wasn’t the only form the cross took in the days of Roman crucifixion. The execution style just meant that a victim’s arms were raised in such a way that the weight of his body eventually made it impossible for him to exhale. So the victim suffocated when his muscles finally gave out, his chest expand with air, and the carbon dioxide trapped in his lungs could not be released. It was like drowning in dry air.

So the Romans used crosses like we see depicted in all the paintings we see with a horizontal and vertical beam. They used some shaped like an X. They sometimes just pulled a victim’s bound arms straight up and tied to a tall branch to his toes barely touched the ground. All those means created the same effect. The victim couldn’t breathe after a few hours or days and they suffocated.

But we always see Jesus cross as a T. I think because our relationship to each other is just as important to God as our relationship to him. He wants us to live in community with each other and be interdependent. So he gives each of us different talents. I need someone else to fix my car, for instance. My wife forbids me to work on our cars because it always costs us a lot of money when I try to fix them. I always break more than I fix. I’ll admit it. I’m a horrible mechanic. So I don’t fix my cars.

But I’m pretty good at some other things. I’m able to see connections between different things that others can’t see. How they fit together to make processes more efficient or effective. I’m able to see through the fluff and unnecessary actions being done in a long series of steps and point those out as ways to get more done in less time. I don’t know why everyone can’t see those things. But my mechanic doesn’t know why I can’t change my oil without breaking my car. The answer is, God gave each of us different talents.

Paul expresses that well. He talks about it in terms of spiritual gifts, but the more I study God’s word and the expression of his love and grace to us, the more I see it isn’t just churchy kinds of things God has given us. I need someone to do certain things for me because I just can’t. Is that a gift from God when we can search out those people and have a meaningful relationship with each other? I think so. Doesn’t that make it a spiritual gift? Again, I think so.

The issue for me is not so much can a person preach or teach or provide hospitality or one of the other actions Paul mentions in his letters. The issue for me is determining what talents God has given you and how do you use those talents for him and for your neighbors? Remember, God wants us to be interdependent. He wants us to rely on each other. He never intended for us to be alone or to know how to do everything ourselves. He wants us sharing the things we do best with others so his grace can be seen and felt in the world.

God doesn’t want you to be someone else. He created you to be you. He created me to be me. I don’t think he would be real happy with the approach many of our advertisers take in trying to convince us to be someone we’re not. He wants us to take ownership of the talents and skills and gifts he has given each individual and use them together in community so his kingdom can grow.

It doesn’t take much to see how important those “unseemly” jobs can be. Ask New Yorkers when the garbage companies went on strike. I like to visit New York City, but one thing I don’t like about New York City is the smell about midnight. All those apartment dwellers have a tendency to put there trash out on the street the night before the trash truck comes. And between midnight and three or four o’clock in the morning, the city smells like rotting garbage. I can’t imagine what it was like when the trash trucks launched their strike.

God created us all. At creation, God looked at everything he made and said it was good. Nothing he made during those creation story events was identified as bad. He still creates and nothing he makes is bad. We corrupt and destroy and twist in our disobedience to God, but God makes all things good in his creative power. We too often try to be something he did not create us to be. We want to be something or someone else.

Maybe as we get through these first few weeks of this new year, we should just decide to be ourselves. How would the world be different if we all decided to just be who God made us to be? An interesting question, isn’t it? Go try it on for size.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Jan 14, 2019

Join us as we explore God's ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.

I hope you will join us every week and be sure to let us know how you enjoy the podcast and let others know about it, too. Thanks for listening.

Today I want to continue to use the common lectionary to focus our attention on God’s word. One of the passages in this week’s scripture lessons comes from Psalms 29 in which the psalmist speaks of the voice of God. In those few verses, he describes God’s voice in some unique ways. He says it thunders over the waters, is powerful, and full of majesty. God’s voice breaks cedars and flashes forth flames of fire. His voice shakes the wilderness and causes oaks to whirl, stripping forests bare. And in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai described God’s voice as the sound of fire and thunder. But Elijah heard God’s voice as a quiet whisper on the mountain. Samuel was awakened by God’s voice and thought it was his mentor, Eli, calling from another area of the tabernacle. Some at Jesus’ baptism heard a voice bellowing, “This is my son.” Others thought they heard thunder.

Whatever God’s voice might sound like, though, people have heard him. He speaks. He is alive. He was there before the world began because he spoke it into existence. He is alive now as many attest to his spirit active in molding lives and working toward the finality of his purposes for mankind and his creation. And he will be alive eternally. God is. Period. And his voice commands.

I like to read the creation story and think what it must have been like for the nothingness to first hear God speak. What would those words be like that could bring light into being and separate land and sea? What sounds would emanate from God that would change the chaos of a meaningless void into an ordered universe we cannot begin to explore or even begin to imagine its secrets as we peer into the depths of space.

Every once in a while stop and look up at the sky on a clear night just to reflect on the awesome power of a God who could speak that pantheon of planets and stars and galaxies into existence. For millennia, we were convinced the earth was the center of the universe. Our sun bent to our needs and traversed our sky. It moved, not us. Of course, the flat earth movement tries to tell us the same thing, but…

Galileo proved the flat earth theory wrong centuries ago and the Hubble telescope has shown us more than 32 billion galaxies spread across an expanding universe filled with stars and planets and moons and comets and all sorts of celestial bodies that are just mind boggling. And to think, God spoke and it came into being. His voice is all it took to change nothing into something. We sometimes think we are creative and can make stuff. And in truth, God did give us a creative capacity since we are created in his image. But there is one huge difference in our creativity and his. He didn’t have any raw materials. He created his own. That, we cannot do. We have learned the magic formula E=mc2, but that only converts material to energy and maybe someday energy to material. But it still starts with something. Something God created. God started with nothing.

So God’s voice, his powerful, majestic voice put into place all of the created universe. We are but an insignificant speck in the vastness of that universe. I read a few weeks ago that Voyager 2, one of long range space probes launched in 1977 made it into interstellar space, the area outside the magnetic shield of our sun. Voyager 1, also launched in 1977 passed through the heliosphere into interplanetary space in 2012. Traveling at nearly 35,000 miles per hour, it took these two probes 35 and 41 years, respectively, to reach beyond the influence of our sun’s protective gravity. That’s the size of our relatively small solar system in our medium sized galaxy. One of 32 billion galaxies that we know of in our universe.

We cannot begin to grasp the vastness of what God created when he spoke the stars into existence. How can we begin to understand the power and majesty of his voice? How can we not be in awe of his creative sovereignty? He is God and we are not. Just looking at the sky and recognizing his handiwork shows us who he is and should cause us to bow in adoration.

But too often, we look at the sky and listen to those who would try to explain away God with science. Don’t get me wrong. I like science. I was a chemistry major and biology minor. I’ve taught undergraduates biology. I love learning about new discoveries in the scientific world. I enjoy studying the solutions to problems that have plagued mankind for generations. I like science. But there is a limit to what science can teach and what they can wish away.

With all the knowledge and all the theory about creation and the beginnings of our universe and life on this planet, there is still one question science cannot answer without acknowledging God. Where did the raw material for the universe originate? God’s word gives the answer. God spoke and created the raw material out of nothing. Until science accepts that one premise, the rest cannot be explained. It’s like gravity. Until gravity is accepted as truth, the rest of the properties of physics cannot be explained. There are some facts that just are. We accept them. We believe them to be true even though there is no proof except circular arguments for them.

So what does the voice of God sound like today? I don’t know exactly. I can give you some personal thoughts from my own experiences when I think heard God’s voice. One was when I finally settled what I know was his call for me to preach. It was a late Sunday night in August while we were living in Marietta, GA. Carole and I had always been active in church, helping wherever we could. Part of the choir. Teaching classes. Helping in outreach activities. Just ‘doing’ as James tells us. But I had this nagging feeling that God wanted me to preach. I didn’t particularly want to because I’m a preacher’s kid. I thought I knew what it meant to pastor a church because I’d lived through that as part of the family for many years. My Army career was going well. I was working for the Army Surgeon General and could pick up the phone and call him if I had any trouble with the project I was on. He knew me on a first name basis other than “Lieutenant”, my real first name.

But I couldn’t get away from that feeling. Then came that Sunday night. The impression that came to me, and that was the voice. No words. No booming thunder. No angel on one shoulder and devil on the other competing with each other. Just this overwhelming impression that I could either obey the command God gave me to preach his word or I could go to hell. Obedience or disobedience. That was the choice I had to make that night. And I knew this was my last chance to make that choice. Could God forgive me if I had chosen not to pursue ministry? Yes. Would I have asked for forgiveness later? I don’t know. I don’t know what path I would have taken, but I know it would not have been the right path and life would have been very different and not as rewarding as it has been. So that first monumental moment for me was just that overwhelming knowledge that I had to make a choice.

A couple of years later, I struggled with the question of whether to stay in the Army or leave and accept the pastorate of a church in Georgia. The denominational leadership in the area offered me a church. Others recommended I stay in the Army until retirement so I didn’t have to worry about what costs as I grew older. Pastors just don’t make much for the most part. Few have great retirement plans. Many live in parsonages most of their career and so when they retire they have no nest egg to buy a home and lenders won’t lend a 70 year old with no income the money to buy a home. So there was wisdom in some of their argument. I was torn in my decision.

God’s voice came in the form of a friend. After much prayer, I had to visit a colleague as part of my Army duties. We were talking about recruiting some particular health professionals to fill some vacancies in a couple of our Army hospitals. Out of the blue, almost mid-sentence, he said, “Isn’t it great to be in the Army, move all over the world at government expense, and be able to minister to different congregations?” That was my answer. I was to stay in the Army. To this day, he didn’t remember saying those words. He didn’t remember the conversation. In fact, he didn’t even remember me coming that day because it was a surprise visit. I wasn’t on his appointment schedule. That day, God’s voice sounded an awful lot like my Christian friend’s.

Sometimes God’s voice looks, rather than sounds, like a scripture verse that just sticks in my head and I can’t get away from it. Sometimes God’s voice sounds like a friend. Sometimes God’s voice sounds like mine after I’ve studied and planned and done everything I can to decipher his will in a decision I need to make. Sometimes God’s voice sounds like my wife’s godly counsel. Sometimes God’s voice sounds like my pastor when he steps on my toes in a sermon. Sometimes God’s voice comes as a dream that solves a problem I haven’t been able to solve.

What does God’s voice sound like? I’m not sure we can pinpoint a sound. I am convinced, however, that God still speaks. His spirit is alive and resident in those who believe. His spirit touches our spirit and we can know his will. But the way we know it comes from also immersing ourselves in the words he inspired in his prophets centuries ago. God has not changed. Governments change. Economies change. Cultures change. But God does not change. He set everything in motion and called it good. Because he declared his creative acts good, he doesn’t need to change them. Nor does he need to change because he is the measuring stick against which all things are measured as good or bad.

So when we immerse ourselves in his word, when we follow his teachings, when we allow his spirit in us to direct our path and fill us with his goodness, we can know if we are pleasing him and making the right decisions. Sometimes he needs to hit us over the head to help us make that decision. It took me 10 years of questioning and debating and running away to finally get back to the truth that God desired me to preach. I could only answer yes if I was to please him.

Sometimes he needs to put boulders and mountains in our way to keep us from making the wrong choice. And sometimes we still push those boulders aside and pull out sticks of dynamite to blow away the mountains. He tries to keep us from destroying ourselves, but we just won’t listen and we pay the consequences. All those boulders fall back in place, sometimes on top of us.

But sometimes we face situations and God just lets us use that squiggly, gelatin like mass of neurons that make up our brain to make decisions. You see, I don’t think God cares if I eat yellow cake or chocolate cake. But I do think he cares if I steal one or the other. I don’t think he cares if I like my coffee black or with cream and sugar. But I do think he cares if I a race to Starbucks becomes more important than a race to my devotions.

God speaks. We just need to be ready to listen to his voice. Keep your ears open today. You just never know what he might say.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Jan 7, 2019

Join us as we explore God's ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.

I hope you will join us every week and be sure to let us know how you enjoy the podcast and let others know about it, too. Thanks for listening.

Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides three definitions of the word epiphany. 1capitalized: January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magias the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ

2: an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being

3a(1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essentialnature or meaning of something

(2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

(3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

b: a revealing scene or moment

So in the Christian calendar, the Epiphany is over. January 6th is past. The commemoration of the visit of the Magi to see Jesus and representing his ministry to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. So for millions in the Christian faith, we don’t mention the Epiphany again for another year. But why? Why can’t we live in a state of epiphany, the third definition? Why can’t we be like children in our Christian walk and through our daily activities and study, gain an intuitive grasp of reality through those activities? Why can’t we have the kinds of revealing moments children have in their discovery of life as we mature in our Christian walk?

I think our problem is we quit looking. We think as we physically mature into adulthood, we forget when we come to Christ, we come to him in a rebirth, infants. We soon think we know it all and lose the excitement of learning new things about him. It’s a phenomenon we see in most people in terms of their learning process in almost every aspect of life and applies to our Christian life as well if we are not careful.

As children, we are amazed at every discovery. Our brains are molded by all those new things we find in the world. They start with the discovery of our mom’s face, our hands and fingers, the small world that consists of the stuffed animals in our crib and the need for food and dry diapers. As we grow, our discoveries expand to the an every enlarging world around us, we explore on our knees as we learn to crawl, then our discoveries begin to get stifled by parents as we learn to walk and run and play because our parents need to confine our learning process to protect us in some ways.

Now why would I blame our parents for confining and limiting our epiphanies? Because I’m a parent. I’ve done it and if you’re a parent you’ve done it. It’s for our kids protection in a very evil world. I didn’t let my kids loose to do their own thing when they were five. They didn’t understand how the world works. They didn’t understand the harm that could come to them. They didn’t know the things I had learned through my thirty plus years of life when they were toddlers. The world for them would have been a scary place in which they could not have survived if I had just let them go out on their own with no supervision in their learning process at that young age.

When kids have been stopped from their inquisitive nature enough by parents or teachers or other adults, they stop learning. They give up. If they don’t learn as fast as others, peers can even make them stop because of embarrassment over their achievement or lack thereof. That’s what happens in our physical world. It’s what happens at school and at work.

If we are not careful, that same hindering of growth carries over into our spiritual world. Because we have lost the desire to learn in other areas, we can lose the desire to learn in our spiritual lives. We forget how to even have epiphanies. We let ourselves get buried in the same ruts that the rest of our society travels and refuse to learn. We just go along with the crowd.

So how can I say these things with any authority? A study done by the Pew Research Center in 2017 showed that the average American read only 17 minutes a day for pleasure and read no complete books during the year. Even those who identified themselves as avid readers reported reading an average of only four books a year for pleasure. But we are spending three hours a day in front of the television watching meaningless shows.

We are losing our epiphanies.

So how do we get them back? How do we get back the capacity as adults to have those moments of discovery that just blow us away? How do we capture ideas and thoughts and truths that cause us to pause in awe of the creator and help us know we have unearthed some revelation that will cause us to be more like the giver of life when we apply that truth in our everyday journey of life?

Let me share a few ideas to bring them back.

First, fall in love with God. Recognize what he has done for you and fall in love with him because of it.

Second, read about him every day. Spend some time in God’s word. Devotional books are okay, but they are not the same as reading the words he gave to us through his divine inspiration of those whose histories and prophecies and letters make up our Bible. His love and plans for us scream at us through the pages of his word, so spend time devouring it every day.

Third, pray. Ask God to teach you something about him often. Prayer doesn’t have to be long and wordy. It doesn’t have to follow a particular formula or pattern. Those can help as you learn to talk with him. But talk with God often. Short conversations with him throughout the day as you would talk with a friend keep you in tune and ready for an epiphany moment.

Fourth, journal. Write down your thoughts, your questions, your requests and answers as you hear them from God and other trusted Christian brothers and sisters. Explore them and record what God shares with you through his spirit. Make notes in your Bible, underline passages that speak to you. Put questions in the margins you want answered. Jot down things you will do because of what you read.

Fifth, take inventory of your thoughts and actions at least weekly. Pick a time one day a week, either at the beginning or end of the week when you have some routine time that will not be filled with the hustle and bustle of life. Make an appointment with God and put it on your calendar as an appointment. You might need an hour or so to look over the last week and highlight the things you’ve learned about your walk with God, your relationship with him and others, what you did well and what you need to do differently to be more like him. Then write down the one or two things you will do different this next week to be more like him. Look for those epiphanies for continued growth.

Epiphanies sometimes come in the most unusual and unexpected times and places. Thomas Edison talks about the epiphany that became the modern light bulb. However, it came after 1,000 failures in trying to create it. So, finally, don’t give up. Keep looking. Keep searching. Stay inquisitive. Fall in love with the Savior every day. Don’t let the season of Epiphany end because the calendar says so. Keep it alive in your heart throughout the year.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Dec 31, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com

Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.

When my firstborn was little, she never knew a stranger. She was cute as a button and would talk to anyone and everyone. My wife enjoyed shopping...except with her tagging along. It took her forever to run errands or get through a checkout line because people would stop and be polite telling her how cute she was. But then this little petite bundle would start and avalanche of questions and dialog that captivated whoever spoke to her. It would take her hours to get through the grocery store sometimes.

It’s important to understand that about my daughter to relate to the next part of the story. Because she would talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, we were sometimes a little worried about her. As she was growing up in the 80’s, the news reporters first began to talk about the sex slave trade and their kidnapping of young children to fill their requirements for their perverted clientele.

We worried our super friendly daughter would just get into a lively conversation with one of those recruiters and be gone without a trace. That was our nightmare. So my wife solved our fear, she put a child harness on her and attached a leash. Suddenly, much of the fear disappeared because we knew she was no more than that six foot leash away and it would be very difficult for anyone to bother her without us knowing. All the buckles and fasteners were in the back, so she couldn’t undo them herself and there were enough of them that if anyone tried to tamper with them, we would feel the tugs and pulls before the last one could be undone. Our precious little girl could not escape without our knowing.

As she got older, though, and we began to trust her with the mantra of “stranger danger”, we lost the leash. She still talked to everyone she met, but for the most part, she stayed in eye contact with one of us wherever we went. But once in a while, she would get interested in something on a shelf or in another part of the store and suddenly you would look to the spot you though she should be and she wasn’t there.

If you’re a parent, you have probably known that feeling at one time or another. You heart drops, your pulse races, you can’t think properly, you don’t know where to start looking, you are a bit frantic for a moment. Where did you last see her? Did she say anything? Did you see anyone around her? Was there something she had her eyes on earlier? Where could she have gone? Who can I go to for help? God, please let her be alright!

Your brain becomes a jumbled mess for the next few minutes. Finally, you see her out of the corner of your eye. She’s fine. Like usual, she is absorbed in some toy or book or something that caught her eye and has no idea the emotional trauma she caused. She looks up with that cute little grin like nothing happened.

You on the other hand, don’t know whether to pick her up and hug her as tight as you can or put her in time-out until she turns 36.

Now let’s go back a couple thousand years to the story at the end of Luke chapter 2. Jesus is twelve. In his culture at that time, he has just had or is about to have his bar mitzvah, another milestone toward manhood in the Jewish community. His family came from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Some will probably look at Mary and Joseph and think, “what horrible parents, not realizing Jesus was missing for a whole day.”

But we have to go back and look at the culture of the day, again. Mary and Joseph traveled with their whole extended family to Jerusalem. That meant parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, in-laws and their relatives, everyone in the community that were headed to Jerusalem. The larger the group, the less likely they would run into bandits or have trouble with the Roman patrols. Traveling in large numbers was good.

I also expect they had everything in preparation the day before their departure. The group may have even departed at night to avoid the heat of the sun. I mention that tidbit based on my experience in the middle east as I watched everyone stop working in the middle of the day. From about noon until about three o’clock, work stops. That’s nap time for the people who live there. The heat is so oppressive you just can’t handle it. It is hard to even breathe outside because of the temperatures. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the entourage headed home in the dark.

In that case, Mary and Joseph, with no flashlights or streetlights, just a few oil lamps among the crowd, may have seen a boy about the same size and build as Jesus among all the kids racing around together and assumed he was with them. Then as the continued to travel through the day, assumed he was playing with his brothers and sisters and cousins as kids are apt to do. If they left in the dark, it’s pretty easy to understand how it could be a whole day before they missed him.

Even in my young teenage years, my parents didn’t worry about the kinds of evil we worry about today. My instructions in the morning when I headed out to play with my friends and travel around on our bikes was to make sure I was home before the streetlights came on.

Can you understand the changes that have happened in our culture over the centuries? My kids have their eyes on their kids or have a well known friend’s eyes on their kids at all times because of the evil in our world today. Carole and I were a little fearful to have our kids out of sight for more than a few hours when we we had a pretty good idea where they were. My parents didn’t worry about us until it was almost time to go to bed.

A century ago, kids may have slept over or spent the night in the woods and parents didn’t worry because they knew someone in the community was watching over them and would take care of them. It’s easy to think that twenty centuries ago, Mary and Joseph were doing just what good parents were expected to do and were pretty confident Jesus was okay.

We also might wonder why it took them three days to find him. Well, the first day was the journey back to Jerusalem. The second day was revisiting all the places they had been with that gaggle of relatives during the Passover celebration. The third day they found him when they retraced their path to the temple where they purchased their sacrifice and discovered their eldest son was confounding the teachers of the law.

I expect Jesus did an awful lot of what my daughter did as she was growing up. She asked a million questions a day. I have a feeling Jesus did, too. I think he thirsted for knowledge and asked more questions than Mary and Joseph and his local rabbi and the temple priest and… and anyone could answer except his real father, the creator of all things.

Interesting stories today, perhaps, but you might be asking how does all this come together and what’s the point? There are a couple, of course.

First, like the young Jesus and my daughter, be inquisitive. Ask questions. Never tire of learning more. Especially, about the One who is worthy of our worship, Jesus.

Second, like the young Jesus and my daughter, be friendly. Don’t be afraid to talk to other people. That’s how those endless questions will finally find answers. The teachers in the temple had better answers than the rabbis in Nazareth. With more experience and wisdom, more answers to life’s big questions come to mind. So don’t be afraid to talk to others when you want answers to big questions.

Third, although inquisitive and willing to talk with others to find answers to those big questions, try not to bring untoward angst to those responsible for your welfare. We don’t know how Joseph died, but if Jesus did these kinds of things often, he may have had a heart attack from the stress. Just kidding. We really don’t know. It’s okay to reduce the stress on your caregivers, though.

Finally, if you are listening to this podcast on the day of it’s release, tomorrow starts a new year. 2018 will be gone in just a few hours and there is nothing you can do to change it. But you can do something about 2019. Plan today to learn more about our Savior and let him make you more like him this year. Read. Study. Journal. Make notes in your Bible. Take personal inventory of who you are and how far he has brought you.

Thank you for listening. I pray you will have a blessed year ahead as you follow in his footsteps.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Dec 24, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.

If you are listening to this on the day it’s released, it’s Christmas Eve. What an exciting time for all the kids! There is great anticipation of what tomorrow brings. What will be in those stockings hung by the fire? What will that jolly old elf pull out of his sack and put under the tree? For we adults, it’s about watching those kids and grandkids seeing those special gifts. It’s about the sparkle in their eyes and the joy they have in those special moments of surprise. Christmas morning brings with it some work for the family also as we prepare the feast for all of us to consume.

Christmas can also bring some anxiety. Family arrives that you don’t see very often and maybe some friends and family that you don’t want to see very often. You love them, but the pressure to be something or someone you’re not is pretty high. Unresolved conflict creates tension in the air and that atmosphere spoils some of the joy that should be the highlight of the celebration we should project throughout the day instead of some façade of happiness you just don’t feel.

We should remember, though, that Jesus came to bring peace. Micah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah says as much in chapter five. That’s the chapter that tells us the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, but just a three verses later, he says, ‘...and he shall be the one of peace.’

I don’t know about you, but I can use that kind of Messiah. The Israelites were not looking for one of peace at the time. They wanted a warrior who would free them from the oppressive rule of Rome. They wanted someone who would take charge and give them victory over all their enemies and they assumed that someone would be a powerful ruler with both political and military might.

God had different ideas, though. He spelled them out in many of the prophecies. Jesus would come as a suffering servant. He would bleed and die for us. He would sacrifice himself in our stead. The Israelites and their religious leaders did not want to accept those verses. They wanted to focus on the ones that talked about his kingship, his power, his strength, his sovereignty. They wanted someone who was able to judge and destroy all their enemies.

Micah’s words didn’t fit that bill. Born in Bethlehem? Some little backwoods hovel that held no importance except it was the birthplace of David and his brothers. And by the way, if you think hard about David’s family and read between the lines of scripture, they sound like a bunch of pretty bad dudes. Many of them are listed among his mighty men and leaders in his army. You only got into those position by your prowess as a warrior. They did things like kill a hundred enemy at a time...by themselves. David was no pipsqueak either. You can’t be that picture of a skinny little shepherd and kill a lion and a bear. I expect David looked a lot more like Atlas than the meek, mild shepherd boy pictures we see. Saul’s armor didn’t fit him when he faced Goliath, not because he was small, but because Saul stood head and shoulders taller than all the other Israelites.

So here was this prophecy about a peaceful Messiah born in a village that produced some of the fiercest warriors in Israel’s history. Jesus said the same of himself. When he talked with his disciples at that last Passover meal with them. He told them he was leaving his legacy of peace with them. He told them the world would hate them because of him, but despite the persecution they would face, they would face it with peace. They did not need to fear as much of humanity did and still does. They could face life with courage and determination and peace. He would assure them of it because of the hope he left behind for them.

He does the same for us. That legacy of peace extends to all who believe in him. John 3:16 sums up his purpose pretty well. “God loved the world (you and me) so much that he gave his one and only son so that whoever (that includes you and me, it doesn’t discriminate against anyone) whoever believes in him will not die but will have everlasting life. Now that’s a promise we can enjoy.

All that leads me to a sad celebration my family is experiencing at this time. As I’m preparing this, my brother-in-law is facing that final step into eternity. He is the first of my siblings or their spouses to face this milestone of life. This final step for he and his wife came so unexpectedly. At the first of December, he seemed fairly healthy, ready for their traditional early Christmas party with his children and grandchildren, and the excitement of the season. Then came December 11. He went from healthy to hospice and I expect as you are listening to this podcast, my sister is preparing his memorial service.

Through these couple of tragic weeks, though, my sister and brother-in-law have been pillars of strength. No fear. Sadness of course because we don’t understand why life should be cut short at 55. That’s way too early these days for disease to take over and decimate life so quickly. But their witness to their children, caregivers, family, and friends shows the legacy of peace that comes with knowing life doesn’t end with our last breath. He knows he will go to sleep very soon and will awake in another realm. He will step foot in paradise and be with his savior forever.

When we believe in the son of God, we can have that same assurance and like him, we face the worst life has to offer without fear. We can know the final outcome and understand that peace can be the predominant emotion even when the world would expect something far different. My brother-in-law has expressed no fear in this next step. Sadness? Some, especially for my sister and their children and grandchildren, knowing he leaves an emptiness that will be filled. Anxiety? Only in regard to making sure everything is in place to ensure my sister is taken care of at his passing.

Joy? Yes. Joy. Can it be true? Joy in dying? Yes. He knows his destiny. He knows his wife will not be alone for long, but will join him in just a short while. What’s a few years in terms of eternity? He knows her faith and she shares the same hope and peace and joy in seeing Jesus that he does. Even in this time the world expects deep sorrow, anger, denial, and a host of other emotions, they have that legacy of peace Jesus said he would leave with us. It is real. It is ours for the asking.

Would I ask for this situation? Absolutely not. Have we prayed for healing? Yes. Did it come? Yes, but not the way we wanted. He will soon have no pain, no tears, no disease. He will soon be perfected in every way. It’s not what we wanted, but God is answering prayer. And we accept that God knows what’s best in every situation. Are we sad? Yes. We will miss him.

We also celebrate with him, though. We will see him again. We will join him one day because as he knows his destination, so do many of us. We have peace and know that one day each of us will wake up on the other side of life. We will see all those who have gone before us and we will see Jesus.

Micah prophesied more than 2500 years ago the Messiah ‘...shall be the one of peace.’ I’ve watched it in the conduct, actions, and bearing of my sister and her husband. Their witness of his peace in their faith is remarkable. Their love for each other is overshadowed by their love of God and their realization that he is with them through every moment of this journey. His legacy of peace is real. We can have it, too.

Merry Christmas to all.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Dec 17, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.

Here we are, the third week of Advent already. Christmas is fast approaching. Just a few more days and it will be here. I’ve been sharing with you thoughts from the common lectionary during this Advent season. Today one of the Advent readings comes from a book of the Old Testament we often don’t pay much attention. Zephaniah is one of those tiny books of prophecy near the end of the Old Testament.  

You may not know or realize how the Old Testament is put together, but the prophets are not arranged chronologically, but by length, the longest being first in the canon and the shortest last. Zephaniah is ninth among the twelve minor prophets. And the minor prophets are called minor only because those scriptures are short, not because they are less important than the major prophets. So now you can wow your friends about how our Bible is put together.

The only things we know about Zephaniah are what come from the text of this small book. We know a little of his heritage, maybe springing from King Hezekiah, although the Hezekiah named in his genealogy isn’t called king, so we are not even sure of that. Scholars think the book was probably written about 620 years BCE, about the sixty to eighty years before the book of Isaiah was written. It also speaks of the same kinds of corruption Isaiah talks about in his prophecy, though, so some think Zephaniah may have been a student of Isaiah.

The verses from the lectionary I’d like us to think about today as we pass through this Advent are these:

Hurray! It’s time to sing, faithful daughter of Zion!

   It’s time to shout out loud, Israel!

Be happy and celebrate with all your being,

   faithful children of Jerusalem!

The Eternal has cancelled His judgments against you.

   He changed the course of your enemies.

The True King of Israel, the Eternal One, is standing right here among you;

   you have no reason to be afraid ever again.

The come from chapter three verses fourteen and fifteen.

The thought hit me today that we really need to hear these words and take them to heart. They don’t just apply to the Israelites, but they apply to all who call on Jesus’ name as Lord of life. The reason we need desperately to celebrate Christmas revolves around the state of the world. In my opinion, we are at a crisis moment around the world. Just think about a few facts that affect us globally.

  • The antidepressant market will reach nearly $13 Bn this year with the United States and Canada consuming more than a third of those prescription drugs.
  • Violent crimes occur to about 900 per 100,000 in the richer countries of the world
  • The tension between countries has never been greater because of their economies, environmental issues, religion, human rights, and a host of other issues
  • Our sensitivities to wanting what we want with no regard to what it might impose on someone else has never been worse
  • Our patience to acquire material things has shortened such that most American families owe nearly three times their annual salary
  • The national debt we now pass on to our children stands at $18 trillion. That’s about $157,000 per taxpayer. Note that a mortgage company will probably not loan you the money for a house if your debt to income ratio is more than 35-40%. Our governments ratio of debt to income now stands at 103%. Ouch.

So many things seem to go wrong these days. We live in a scary world. One could become paranoid about living in the conditions we face every day. The world, including this country, has gone insane. We think only about ourselves and we do that poorly. We think only about the moment without thought of the repercussions our behavior may have. We forget we live in a global society. In fact, sometimes it seems we forget we are part of a society or a community at all. We don’t turn out to vote and if we do we rely on the ridiculous television or radio ads candidates throw at us instead of researching their history and their character.

We don’t know our neighbors and shut ourselves inside our homes afraid to meet those next door because we’re afraid we might somehow offend them or they might offend us. We don’t want to mess up our relationship with them so we don’t have a relationship with them at all. We don’t even know our family, if the truth be told. Just look around the next time you go to a restaurant to eat. You’ll find families and “friends” at most tables if it’s a busy place, but notice what they are doing. Most won’t be talking to each other. They will have their face down and fingers flying, “connecting” on their smartphone. But there is a terrible problem with that picture. First, those phones are not smart at all.

Second, we do not connect through phones. We only project bad information and poor communication. You see, communication means seeing and understanding the body language that should accompany words spoken. Part of our problem with the rage and hate and flying around our society is the misinterpretation of written words recorded without inflection, tone, and body language to go along with them. The receiver thinks they know what was said, but often doesn’t.

So many of our words have been hijacked and meanings turned around that putting something on social media is a sure fire way to get people angry. For instance, gay used to mean happy, joyful. It still does in some circles, but the word was hijacked and now we can no longer use the word in that way because most of society will think we are talking about an alternative lifestyle, not about a state of emotional well being. The rainbow used to be understood as God’s promise not to destroy the world with a flood ever again. God’s iconic promise has been hijacked and the meaning of the symbol changed in our society.

We are in trouble and don’t know it. We need to hear God’s word. We need the promise that he still loves us and will return to take us home. We need to know that the true King of Israel is standing right among us and will not let our enemies defeat us. We need to know he is our salvation and he will not fail us. We need to hear his words and recognize his truth in a world that has gone insane.

In this Advent season, it is time to celebrate. It is time to rejoice. The King has already come and done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has redeemed us with his blood. He took upon himself the sins of the world. That includes my sins and yours. All we need do is believe in him and he will give us eternal life in exchange for our trust in him.

Because he is here with us, we have no reason to be afraid. He will keep us and protect us and nothing can defeat us. Will our lives be perfect when we walk with him. No. The Christian life is hard. It’s a difficult road. Jesus promised the world will hate us because of him. But he also showed us that life with him is worth the suffering. He showed us that even though we might suffer here for a little while, the rewards even now are far greater than the suffering we might go through. As we think about the legacy of peace he promises. Those of us who have followed him for a while, know of that peace. We can testify to it sustaining power when everything around us might be in turmoil and chaos. We can know an inner inexplicable joy that fills us even when sorrow knocks at the door and threatens to destroy us in its fury.

We need to celebrate Christmas this year as never before. We need to remember Jesus came and fulfilled all those prophecies. He is truly the Messiah. God’s son. Our savior. He came to live with us to show us God. He came to give himself so we might live eternally with him. Jesus came. But he is also coming again. Those prophecies he fulfilled have not ended yet. There are still some on the horizon. Some of those prophecies tell us he will return. And when he does, his bride, the church, will be swept up into the air to be with him forever. We can celebrate even the world is going mad. We can celebrate despite the fact we live in a day when more Christians face death at the hands of our enemies that ever before. We can celebrate.

Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always! And again I say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” This Advent, go for it. It’s time to celebrate.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Dec 10, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.

One of our favorite places to visit is Williamsburg, Virginia. I remember one of first times my wife and I visited my daughter was still an infant and we visited as an anniversary present to ourselves. That meant it was December in Williamsburg. It was a great time to be there with all the Christmas decorations and the smell of baked goods in the air. But it was also bitterly cold. I had our daughter bundled up and then stuff in my coat. Most of the shopkeepers were a little surprised when I would begin to unwrap all the scarves and gloves and layers of stuff and suddenly this squirmy little six-month old bundle of flesh poked its head out to look around the store.

We enjoyed the little village a lot. We liked the food. We liked the reenactment of life in the early days of the settlement. We eagerly watched the way things were done with no electricity, no running water, none of the conveniences we have today. It’s really fascinating to watch and sometimes participate in the making of things we just take for granted today. Things as simple as making a cup of tea. I walk to the sink fill up a cup, pop a tea bag in it and often just stick in the microwave for a minute and viola, I have a piping hot cup of tea. But in 1750 Williamsburg making a cup of tea was a process.

Chop firewood for the stove. Assuming of course you already chopped down a tree in the forest to have a cord or so of firewood to chop. Build a fire in your Franklin stove. Go to the well and pull up a bucket of water. Put the water on the stove and wait for the stove and the pot to get hot enough to heat the water to boiling. Find the tin of tea and put a few dried leaves in a strainer if you’re a little on the wealthy side or just put them in the cup if not. Pour the boiling water into the cup and let it steep for a few minutes. Then carefully drink the tea trying to avoid moving the cup too fast so you don’t also get a mouthful of tea leaves in the process.

I’m beginning to understand why they always had afternoon tea in those days. It’s probably because it took all morning to get everything ready to make those couple of cups of tea for that small social gathering.

One of the most fascinating things to me about that era, though, is the craftsmanship of the journeymen in the various trades. Many of those buildings are as sturdy today as they were then because of the skill of the masons who laid the brick and stone in those walls. They have stood undisturbed for three hundred years and it looks like they will stand that much longer without a problem. The furniture is equally well crafted. And they didn’t have the glues and epoxies and fasteners we have today. They just cut everything to exact measurements and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle so that they went together perfectly and would not come apart. It took incredible skill with only hand tools at their disposal to do the things they did.

Well, one of the most interesting shops we visit when we go to Williamsburg is that of the silversmith. Here you find some of the most intricate designs on candlesticks, silver sets, tableware, platters, door knockers, all sorts of things used around the house. Silver is not a plentiful ore, but is not impossible to find either. And the craftsmen that work with it can do some incredible things with it. In the silversmith shop, though, you can learn some important truths that help us understand scripture a little better.

Here we are in the second week of Advent. Yesterday’s lectionary readings included a passage from Malachi that said the Messiah would come as a refiner’s fire. I heard that term growing up and knew that refiners worked with the ore that held precious metals like gold and silver, but that was about the extent of my knowledge… Until I talked to a silversmith in Williamsburg. You see, a silversmith and a goldsmith use a refiner’s fire every day. They depend on it to purify the ore or the silver ingots they purchase from miners. They want the purest metals when they work because any impurities will cause flaws in the final product. Their trays or cups or mirrors or pitchers or whatever else they might be making will not shine or be as smooth or as perfect as they want.

So how do they make their material pure? I had to ask the question. And the answer is by putting the ore into the a crucible and subjecting it to the refiner’s fire. It super heats the metal until all the impurities burn away. What’s left in the crucible is the pure silver or pure gold. And how does the refiner know that all the impurities have burned away? He just peaks into the crucible and looks at his reflection in the metal. When his reflection is absolutely clear, no spots, no waves, no ripples, just a pure, clean reflection of his face, he knows all the impurities have burned out. The silver is pure.

Malachi says the Lord will come as a refiner’s fire. He will purify the tribe of Levi. But scripture also tells us we priests when we accept him as savior. Why? Because we are commanded to spread the good news that he came to forgive sins. He came to sacrifice himself for our atonement. He came to die that we might live. He came to show us who God is. He came and died and rose again and told us he would return to take his followers back to heaven with him.

He also came to cleanse us. To purify us. To make us new and remove the stains of our old life and recreate us in his image. He came to show us how to live in community with God and with each other. He came to give us a new covenant. A new Way to live. New directions. New joy. A legacy of internal peace in an external world of chaos. He came to be more than just a good teacher or a mysterious prophet. He came. God incarnate. Immanuel. God with us. A refiner’s fire.

Malachi also says he will come like fuller’s soap. There is another one of those terms that pops up in ancient times that we know little about in our modern society. So what is fuller’s soap? It’s not easy to discover. The first places I searched likened a fuller to a launderer, but in ancient times, there were no laundries like we think about them today. Families did their own laundry in the rivers, lakes, and streams around the cities where they lived. Or they had slaves do it for them. Sometimes for really stubborn dirt or stains, they would use a large kettle filled with water heated over a fire and a stick or paddle became the agitator in the kettle much like in our washing machines today.

The second line of thinking is that a fuller worked with the wool from sheep. When the wool is removed in shearing, it’s not very clean. Sheep graze in the fields, are subject to the weather and whatever environment they live in, so their wool get tangled and dirty as it grows. The only time it really gets any attention before shearing is when it rains and natures washes some of the crud out of it. So the sheared wool goes to the fuller, whose job is to scrub the wool with soap to clean and untangle it so it can be made into yarn for making cloth.

The soap was a mixture of a kind of clay called fuller’s clay and ashes. This alkaline mixture served to bleach cloth and other materials as much as to clean them, but because of the alkaline properties, it did kill most of the bacteria and so helped keep populations a little healthier when used for cleaning, bathing, washing clothing, and so forth. In our early American history, the fuller’s soap would be akin to our lye soap and used much the same way. It was a very harsh, but effective means of bleaching and therefore cleaning clothing.

So whether we are talking about the soap used by a family to clean their limited articles of clothing or a person who cleans and prepares the sheared wool for further use, the fuller’s soap in ancient Israel was the stuff Granny Clampett used to scrub the hide off Jethro when he needed his Saturday afternoon bath. A harsh, rough on your skin, bleach like soap used to scrub anything that needed a lot more than just hot water to get it clean.

The Lord comes like fuller’s soap ready to scrub the toughest pots and pans to get the crud out. He comes like fuller’s soap to make sure that stuff behind the ears is gone. He comes to make sure that smidge of dirt under the fingernails disappears. He comes to get rid of the pesky buildup in the corner of the closet that nothing seems to reach. He brings the fuller’s soap to scrub inside and out so there is nothing left but purity. It’s cleaning power is better than Pinesol or Ajax or Mr. Clean. The stuff he brings gets the job done right.

Well, Malachi prophesied about his coming. And Jesus came. The Messiah was born in a little town called Bethlehem. Enough historical facts have now been uncovered by the scientific world to show the man, Jesus lived and died. Many don’t want to believe the rest of the story. But Jesus fulfilled so many of the prophecies of the Old Testament that the odds that he is not the Messiah have been calculated. In fact, one scholar shows that Jesus fulfilled 456 prophecies. The odds of that happening is a number we cannot begin to fathom. A mathematics professor at Westmont College gave 600 students a probability problem to determine the odds of one person fulfilling just eight, and the odds were 10^17. That 10 with 17 zeros behind it.

So what is that number like? Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up the one silver dollar that has the special mark on it. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time. It would take more than 20 million years to reach that number counting as fast as you can.

But the professor didn’t stop there. He then went on to look at 48 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus during his lifetime. Remember, some have shown Jesus fulfilled 456, but the odds of one man fulfilling 48 four-hundred year old prophecies is 10^157. That’s 10 with 157 zeros behind it. We can’t think in those terms. Those odds are so far beyond our comprehension they are laughable. Is Jesus the Messiah? Don’t take my word. Look at the math. What are the odds he is not? Go find that marked silver dollar blindfolded and tell me what you think!

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Dec 3, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

It’s hard to believe it is already the first week of Advent, but here we are. Most of the Protestant churches I know don’t use the common lectionary in their services, but it is nice sometimes to understand what the common lectionary is and its value to the church as a whole. We got away from it partly because of the desire to break all ties to the Catholic Church, but in doing so, we sometimes throw the baby out with the bath. One of the good things about the common lectionary is its attempt to walk through the entire Bible over a three year period using scriptures from the different sections of the Old Testament, Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles each week.

This year is Year B in the common lectionary and the scriptures for December 2nd came from Isaiah, Psalms, Mark, and 1 Corinthians. They fit with the Advent season and I’d like us to look at a couple of them today as we think about Advent as we look at the past and future as it concerns Jesus, the Christ.

Isaiah 64 says, “64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

Seven hundred years before God came to live with us, Isaiah prayed that God would open the heavens and come down to us. His words remind me of the experience the Israelites had at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses had them gather there to meet God. God invited them, but they were too afraid to climb the mountain and meet with him. Instead, they petitioned Moses to meet God in their place. They were afraid God would kill them if they ascended into the smoke and fire that covered the mountain. The Israelites in their fear lost an opportunity to meet with God one-on-one, despite his personal invitation to them.

Now Isaiah prays to have that relationship again, “...tear open the heavens and come down...make your name known to your adversaries...no one has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him…” Isaiah recognizes the difference between the God we serve and the gods others worship. You see, the pantheon of gods others worship demand service for themselves. They demand payment. They demand everything with nothing in return. But our God gives. He pours out his grace and mercy and love. Isaiah rightly proclaims that God works for those who wait for him. When we enter into a personal covenant with him, he fulfills his part of the covenant, often when we fail to meet our part.

God came and did incredible things for the Israelites and Isaiah acknowledges his sovereignty. But Isaiah also expected God to come again. And he did. God gave up his divine attributes for a time and became one of us, but without sin. He was born of a virgin, without the inherited seed of Adam’s legacy of sin. He gave up heaven to live among us for a time and show us his love for us. He became one of us to become the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He lived with us to understand our life and to banish all thought that he did not understand our plight. He does because he suffered what we suffer. He experienced what we experience. He was fully and completely man while he was fully and completely God.

God came down to be with us.

Isaiah looked to the past at God’s incredible work for those who dared to wait for him. He looked to the future anticipating God’s coming again in the form of man, the Christ, the Messiah, the Liberator. Then we see God, the Man speaking in Mark 13. 13:24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

The one Isaiah spoke of speaks. He came. He demonstrated God’s love in the flesh. Jesus, the Messiah lived among us and did things only God could do. His acts of healing, feeding, calming the storms, raising the dead were not the most incredible miracles, though. When he pronounced, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they were, those were the most incredible miracles that took place by his hand. Only God can forgive. Only he can make hearts pure. But Jesus did it. Jesus forgave, and it stuck!

In these verses in Mark, Jesus tells of the signs of his return. He knows his time for walking with feet of flesh through the sands of this earth are limited. He knows he will soon be crucified, buried, risen, and return to heaven’s throne room.  He knows that at the Father’s call, judgment day will come and time will cease. Everyone will answer for their life and be call to account for their actions and beliefs. He knows, too, that he will return to take away those who believe in him for salvation will return to heaven with him one day.

When asked when all this will take place, Jesus gives the answer we read in Mark. He doesn’t know the exact day or time. But he knows the signs and the signs are all around us today. All we need to do is look at the headlines of the newspapers. All we need to do is read the latest tweet or facebook rant. All we need to do is watch CNN or Fox News. The signs are everywhere. Jesus is coming and it won’t be long. Can I predict how long? Now, but I believe it will be sooner than most people think and I believe many will be caught unprepared.

Paradise, California is a tragic story in the news today. Wildfires swept through and destroyed the town of 47,000 people. Hundreds lost their lives to the inferno that caught them. Understand that every loss of life is tragic. But I have supported enough humanitarian efforts across the globe to know that not all, but some of those who perished did so because they were not prepared to flee the raging fires. Some wanted to gather just a few more things. Some thought they could contain the blaze around their home or business. Some decided the fire would not be powerful enough to reach them. Some thought the construction of their home was such they were safe. They were unprepared for the inferno that took everything, including their lives.

The signs were all around them. The warnings blasted across every media imaginable. It took little intelligence to understand the danger they were in. But it’s the same with Jesus’ return. All the information is available. It doesn’t take much imagination or interpretation. You don’t need a PhD in theology to understand the signs of his coming. His words are really clear. He’s coming and he’s coming soon.

Advent. We look back at history and know a man named Jesus changed the world. The questions that determines my eternal destiny and yours are do you believe this man who changed the world is God incarnate? Is he the one who provides the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins? Do I believe in him for eternal life? Will I follow him and enjoy his legacy of peace and an eternity with him?

This Advent season, let those questions shape your Christmas. Make Jesus the reason you celebrate. Make relationships with him and others the focus of your efforts instead of the presents and decorations and feasts. Let Jesus guide your actions instead of the advertisements for the latest fads. Remember he is coming again and it is closer than you think.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Nov 26, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

Today my devotions took me to the book of Esther. A fascinating story that never mentions the name of God. You can certainly see the hand of God throughout the story, but his name is not mentioned. I’ve heard and preached many sermons on the sage pronouncement Mordecai gives to his niece, Queen to King Xerxes. He says to her, “Who knows but you were made queen for just such a time as this.”

Esther was the only person in a position to stop the massacre of the Jewish people after Haman, a prince in the nation, convinced the king to destroy every Jew across the land because of his personal hatred of the race.

But today I’d like to talk about something a little different than the usual sermon topic in the book of Esther. I’d like to exam the character of the king and Haman. We see people like them everywhere today. As a matter of fact, their character types plague us today when you begin to explore who they really are and their roles in the drama that played out in the first few chapters of the story.

First, let’s look at Haman. Here was a political figure who had it all. He climbed the ladder of success to become an advisor to the king. Few could just walk into the throne room without a personal invitation, but Haman could. He was special in the kingdom. The king could trust few people with his signet ring to make proclamations in his name, but Haman held that kind of trust.

People bowed to Haman just as they bowed to the king. People may not have respected Haman because of the way he gained his position, his power and influence. But people paid homage to him because of those things. He was rich. He was deemed intelligent. He was at the ear of the king in every decision made about the kingdom. And you can be sure every decision the king made was good for Haman before it was good for the kingdom.

Most of the people around the kingdom would like to be like Haman. Rich. Powerful. Prestigious. Standing at the right hand of the king. Almost a god in his own eyes. What a life! Most people longed for a life like Haman’s. Mordecai was not like most people, though. And so Haman hated him. Mordecai was a Jew and bowed to no one except God. He would not even consider bowing to one of God’s creations because God said not to have any gods before him. There was only one God and he was not Haman. So while everyone else bowed when Haman walked by, Mordecai just stood there. Haman despised the man.

But his hatred went a little deeper. He hated every Jew because Mordecai was a Jew. His prejudice showed through his behavior, his emotions, his every action. Haman hated a whole race of people because Mordecai would not bow to him when he went in and out of the gates of the royal palace.

So here’s the point I want to make about Haman. We get the rest of the story about how Haman was humiliated by having to praise Mordecai for a deed he had done several years earlier. We get the part about Queen Esther intervening on behalf of the Jews and saving her people by appealing to the king allowing them to defend themselves against those Haman demanded kill her race. But we’re focusing on Haman.

Did you get the point about Haman hating a whole race because of the actions of one man? Did you see how Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him led him to want to kill every man, woman, and child of Jewish ancestry? Did you see the character flaw in Haman that even if Mordecai harmed him in some way, let him become blind to the good in people and carried his hatred to a whole race instead of focusing his attention on the one who did him wrong?

Now look around the neighborhoods where you live. Do you know any Hamans? Or worse, yet? Do you spread your prejudice to a race of people because of the harm one or two people of one race or another might have done to you in the past? Do you harbor hatred and vengeance in your heart against a whole class of people because of what a few have done?

We see it every year in our election processes here. Democrats against Republicans. Doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on. If you can’t understand that both sides need salvation and both sides need to put God at the head of the party instead of their political leader, our nation is doomed. And guess what. God has disappeared from our political process. The Supreme Court says he must not be mentioned. Something about separation of church and state. Didn’t seem to be a problem for the gentlemen who founded the country, but it is today in our not so Christian nation.

So, do you have a tendency to be like Haman and pour out your negative thoughts and ideology against a race just because? Think about it. God made us all. Everyone who breathes the air around us were made in his image. In fact, Jesus didn’t look like the white guy in most of the paintings we see. Remember he was born in Bethlehem. A community of Jews who lived in Israel. He looked a lot more like the terrorists we see on television every once in a while than he looks like me. Dark haired. Olive skinned. Probably large nosed. Middle eastern. Israeli native. Jew. So what kind of prejudice do you need to overcome when you think about Haman’s hatred of the Jews because of Mordecai.

Well, let’s move on to King Xerxes. What a guy. No one could come into his throne room unless he invited them. If he doesn’t raise his scepter and you walk into the room, his guard immediately run you through with a spear. Great guy. He banished his first queen because she wouldn’t dance in front of a bunch of drunken guests. Yep, put him on the list of folks most likely to invite your next party. Oops, scratch that.

He picks his next wife by sleeping with the most beautiful women in the kingdom and that’s the best criteria he can come up with to find his next queen. He must have spent a lot of time coming up with a good list of things he wanted in his next queen before he started on this quest for the right virgin girl. Right.

Now take a look at his kingdom. He trusts this guy Haman with everything. He probably knows little about his character or he wouldn’t put him in charge. But because King Xerxes doesn’t seem to know anything about being a king, only a bored bully, he lets Haman do whatever he wants and in his boredom, gives him his signet ring and tells him to just go write whatever he wants to get rid of the race that seems to be pestering him. Great analysis went into his decision making, I’m sure.

Even the king’s decision to have Haman hung was pretty flighty when you really look at it. There was no defense. No question. No chance for Haman to tell the king he was pleading with Esther for her help in calming the king and helping him out of this situation. He had no chance to tell the king he didn’t have any untoward feelings for Esther and only touched her couch to beg her forgiveness.

The king flew off the handle. He didn’t stop to think. He didn’t seek any explanation. He assumed he knew what was going on when he really didn’t. He thought he was smart enough to know everything about everything because he was king. So Haman had an immediate trial with the king as judge and jury. Haman had no chance to appeal. He was immediately sentenced to die. King Xerxes needed some anger management classes in the worst way.

Know anyone like that? Know anyone that goes from zero to ten in a flash without thinking? Know anyone that decides the worst about something without really knowing what’s happening? Just flies into a rage because? King Xerxes may have been different in that he had the power of life and death at his fingertips as king, but we can just as easily destroy someone’s life with our words or actions when we act as this king did. We can destroy relationships in a flash when we decide we know everything about a situation when we really know nothing about what is going on and we completely misinterpret the circumstance surrounding us.

The book of Esther has some great lessons for us. All the players teach us monumental truths about how to live or how not to live. Haman and the king certainly give us the negative side. Pay attention to them, though. If we don’t pay attention to history and understand what happened and why, we are bound to repeat it. With the tension abounding in our political processes right now, we need to go back and take a look at our history books. 1860 to 1865 were not good years for us. We don’t need to repeat them, but we are getting really close if we don’t get on our knees and ask for God’s help.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

Nov 24, 2018

A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.

As I prepare this week’s podcast, I’m also in the throes of preparing for a special Veterans’ Day service at my church. USAF Col(Ret) Thomas “Jerry” Curtis graciously accepted our invitation to speak for us. If you haven’t heard his name before, Carole Engle Avriett wrote the account of his 7 ½ years of captivity as a POW during the Vietnam War. As I read the harrowing story of his capture, imprisonment, and unrelenting torture, I could not imagine the suffering Col Curtis and his fellow prisoners endured.

There is a similar group of individuals who demonstrate that selfless service. Men who stand in the face of danger and demonstrate incredible courage in the face of the enemy. I’ve been extremely fortunate, especially in my later assignments in the service, to meet some of these incredible people. At the Army Medical Department Center and School we often invited Medal of Honor recipients to address classes of young students as they began their new careers. I enjoyed the honor of meeting with most of them in my office for some conversation and a cup of coffee before they spoke to the class. What a privilege!

Invariably, when asked about the event that resulted in their earning of our nation’s highest award, these humble men remarked, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just did what anyone would do. My buddies were in trouble and I did what I had to do.” I always read their citations before I met them and I have to tell you, there are few men who would do what these heroes would do. This collection of 3521 men and one woman (Dr. Mary Walker) are truly outstanding examples of selfless service. Dr. Walker and five other civilians received the award after the Civil War. Not quite half of the Medals came from the Civil War era. Many of the awards were given to next of kin postumously. The service members recieving the awards dieing as a result of their actions to save others.

I was consistently mesmerized by these men’s stories. I was equally mesmerized by Col. Curtis’ story. The courage of the POWs remind me of the selfless sacrifice our veterans and their families make so we can enjoy the freedoms enumerated by our Constitution. It’s easy for us to forget those sacrifices today since less than 1% of our population has any connection to the military these days. They endure the separation from home and family, often living in abysmal conditions in far off lands, to keep war from our shores so that we can sleep peacefully at night.

They also remind me that Jesus and his disciple, Paul and those early Christians knew well the suffering veterans like Col. Curtis and his fellow prisoners endured. Paul was beaten, enslaved, moved from prison to prison. He never knew if he would live or die at the hands of his next jailers. He was cold, hungry, thirsty, lacked basic hygiene we take for granted. He had nothing to call his own. He was ridiculed for his beliefs and told he was nothing. Our POWs, some living in those conditions for almost eight years, endured those same atrocities.

Why do I bring these things up today? A couple of reasons. First, as we celebrate Veterans’ Day, it is a good time to thank a veteran for his or her service. We enjoy what we have today in large part because of their willingness to sacrifice for us. And thank their families because they too sacrifice. While veterans deploy to far off shores, families stay home and wonder what is happening. They worry about their safety. They wonder if they will even make it home again. Spouses act as single parent as often as not. Reunification when service men and women return is never easy either as that service member returns to take their place in the home...changed because of their experiences. Remember families.

Second, as we think about the atrocities that humans can inflict upon other humans, pray that peace can break out in places like the Middle East and the Pacific Rim and Africa. There are dangerous places around the world that put everyone at risk because of the interconnected nature of the world today. There is no such thing as isolationism today. There just isn’t.

Third, remember that as Christians we are soldiers of the cross. Jesus said to expect the world to hate us because of him. Knowing what our military enemies of the past have done to our service men and women and reading the accounts of men like Col. Curtis and the Apostle Paul, I think we can expect similar treatment at the hands of evil me as Jesus’ return gets closer. Pray that we, like those who have gone before us will have the courage to endure to the end. I fear that as we progress toward the final battles that John wrote in the Revelations he penned on the Isle of Patmos we will feel the pain and torture evil men can inflict on others.

Finally, you will find that blessing others is so much more rewarding that complaining about others. Whether talking about politics or work or family or neighbors or any other topic, blessings will go so much further than curses. Just bless those around you. When you read and understand Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, you find again and again his admonishment to treat others well regardless how they treat you. He tells us our behavior show mimick God’s sharing mercy when mercy is not deserved. He says to extend grace when grace is the last thing on our mind as we suffer because of him.

Remember what we mean by grace. We sometimes forget the difference between justice and mercy and grace. I think it important to remember the difference as we extend God’s grace to others. Justice is what we deserve, punishment for our wrong behavior, sin. Justice requires our eternal punishment for our disobedience to God. Mercy says we are forgiven. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can accept his sacrifice as our own, ask forgiveness, follow him, and we experience his mercy. Forgiveness we do not deserve. But grace. Grace is overwhelming. Grace stuns us. Grace makes us fall on our face in awe of God’s indescribable love. He gives more than we deserve, expect, imagine. God gives all he is to us. He sacrificed himself. He became like us to show us who he is.

I’ve shared this story before to describe his grace. You come into the parking lot and see a young thug with keys in his hand standing next to your brand new Lambergini. There are streaks all down the side and flakes of paint still falling to the ground beside it. The young man’s keys are stained with the same paint and his eyes grow big as you approach your car. He’s caught. Trapped. No where to go. He knows your know exactly what has happened.

Justice says you call the police. Justice says the young man pays to have your brand new car repainted. Justice says punishment is coming quickly for this young man caught in the act. But you extend mercy. The young man is afraid. You see it in his eyes as you walk up to him. But mercy says. Young man I forgive you for what you’ve done. You know it was wrong. I know it was wrong. I think you’ve learned your lesson, though. It’s not about being caught. You understand that, right? Now, go about your business, I won’t punish you. I won’t call the police. I won’t make you pay for the damage. You are forgiven. I only ask that you don’t do something like this again. That’s mercy.

But grace. Grace says this. You walk up to the young man who obviously has fear in his eyes. And here’s what happens. “Young man, I see you’ve scratched up my car. I forgive you. It’s only a car, but here are the keys. I want you to have it. I think you know it was wrong and you won’t do something like that again. Let me sign the title over to you. Oh, and let’s go to the body shop and get the scratches fixed. Don’t worry about the cost. I’ll pay for it. The car is yours and I want it to look perfect for you. One more thing. I want you to take this credit card and if you need gas or tires or any kind of maintenance, be sure to charge it to me, okay?” That is grace. Awesome. Unbelievable. Beyond what we can think or imagine. Stunning. That is the grace God give us.

What does Jesus want us to do? Forgive our enemies. Extend his mercy to them. Then love them the way he loves them. Extend his grace to them. Can we do that without knowing him? Not a chance. We cannot understand his grace until we experience it ourselves. And how do we experience it? Ask him into your life and obey him. You will know his grace. He gives it freely to all who let him in.

You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.

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