Once again, December has arrived and almost automatically our thoughts turn to Christmas. Perhaps you have already been thinking about it. We wrapped presents at the beginning of November, so our minds have been on Christmas for some time. For the record, I don’t claim to have contributed much to this level of organisation!
Aside from our traditional desire to give gifts, spend time with friends and family and enjoy a break, Christmas is a time to think about the Bible message that the season represents. It is summed up in the verse: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’, 1 Timothy 1. 15. Thinking recently about the fact that the Lord Jesus came into the world reminded me that:
- His birth at Bethlehem was not His beginning, because He was ‘in the beginning… with God’, John 1. 1. He is ‘from everlasting’, Micah 5. 2, meaning that there was no point when He did not exist! The Lord Jesus is eternal.
- His birth marked the time when the Son of God ‘was made flesh’, John 1. 14. A better translation is ‘became flesh’; it was a voluntary act. It involved uniting Godhead and Manhood in one Person.
- His birth revealed God to mankind: ‘God was manifest in the flesh’, 1 Tim. 3. 16. ‘Manifest’ means ‘to make visible’ or ‘known.’ Through the Lord Jesus, we learn of the wisdom, power, and love of God.
- His birth was an act of humility. He ‘was made a little lower than the angels’, Heb. 2. 9. Paul wrote to the Philippians: ‘He made Himself of no reputation… and was made in the likeness of men’ and ‘He humbled Himself,’ Phil. 2. 7, 9.
These facts help us appreciate just who the Lord Jesus is. But it is also wonderful to consider why he came. He came with a purpose, ‘to save sinners’, 1 Timothy 1. 15. He came to die on the cross, to take the punishment for sin. He came so that we could be released from the power of sin and saved from the punishment for sin. He came so that we might receive eternal life. He came to save.
As your thoughts turn to Christmas, what do you think of the One who came into the world so that you might be saved? Call upon Him, who is now alive in heaven. Turn from your sin and ask Him to save you. That would make 2020 an unforgettable Christmas for you, and the effects will last for eternity!
‘Stretch out your hand’
This is now an unfamiliar thing – the common courtesy of a handshake as that universal greeting. It takes many forms: from the classic ‘formal grasp’ position to the ‘matey clench’ technique, and secret coded versions invented and perfected on the playground. At its heart, the handshake (or the Covid-proofed fist pumps and elbow bumps) is a symbol of connection: two parties formerly separated have come together in a mutually visual and tangible expression of acceptance of one with the other.
It is (or was) so normal that when we read about examples of this in the Bible, they might at first be overlooked. Glossed on by as the reader anticipates some miracle or sign as the main event of a chapter. But pause for a moment, and see who Jesus stretched out his hands to in Mark 1 v 41 ‘moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said “I will; be clean”’. I wonder when was the last time this leper had someone stretch out their hand to him? It’s no speculation to think it might well have been many years, such was the stigma associated with that disease.
As we read the gospels, we could be forgiven for getting used to the Lord reaching out to others, many and varied as they were. These events become frequent as the writers evidence His claims to deity with accounts of divine power and intervention in people’s lives, such was His compassion towards those in need.
The purpose of the gospel writers is not only to tell us who Jesus was (and is), but also to invite a response from their readers (which includes you, by the way). One man Mark tells us of in chapter 3 vs 1-6. He is a man with a withered hand, and Jesus invites him to “stretch out your hand” in verse 5. He promptly does so, ‘and his hand was restored’. The miracle is something in itself, but don’t miss that there is a purpose in the selection of this (as with many others) particular miracle – Mark is telling us that this man grasped physically something that those around him could not grasp spiritually – that Jesus Christ was both Son of God and Son of Man (something that Mark makes clear within only the first two chapters).
The moment of mutual connection between two people who shake hands is a meeting of minds and hearts, and the gospel is no different. God in Christ, as it were, stretches and holds out his hand to us, waiting for us to respond and stretch out our own hand to meet with His. What did it take for that man to stretch out his hand? It took faith. A step of faith that Jesus had the power to heal him. It takes faith on our part to believe (with good reason) that Jesus was (and is) who the Bible tells us he was (and is). He is the Man who died that we might live, if we too will ‘stretch out our hand’ to His.
Jon Bustard, Young Christians’ Camp Leader
Changes and God’s constancy
I’m sure that life has changed for you as much as it has for us. If someone had talked about social distancing 6 months ago, we would have given them a funny look. And yet ever so quickly schools, offices, shops and even churches were required to close. And this not just here, but world wide. Every country in the world has been affected in some way. Ways of life have had to change.
But throughout all this, there has been something that has not changed. God and his love for us. In Hebrews 13:5-8 we are reminded of what God said to Joshua before he led the Israelites into the promised land. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.
That we can be confident that the Lord is my helper. But the best thing is that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, forever. Jesus who with lots of people trying to get his attention, didn’t shoo the children away, but encouraged them to come to him. Who in the middle of a storm went and found his disciples whose boat was almost sinking. He had time for the outcasts of society, no matter who they were, where they came from, or the risks to himself. And he is still the same today. He still cares and wants to help. Just like Peter, as he sank into the stormy lake, we just need to ask him to help, to save us.
We can see God’s care for the world when we look at things around us. In Luke 12:22-28, Jesus speaks of the Ravens. They don’t have stores, shops, barns or anything like that. Yet they have food to eat. And if you look in the garden, you might have some flowers growing. Jesus mentions how the lilies grow. God has made sure that they are clothed in something more beautiful, better than anything that King Solomon with his wisdom and wealth ever had. Yet flowers only last a short time. God cares about them enough to do that. How much more then, do you think he cares and is interested in your well-being?
A fitting conclusion for this month’s thought is the following verse and chorus;
I do not know what lies ahead,
the way I cannot see;
yet One stands near to be my guide,
He’ll show the way to me:
I know who holds the future,
and He’ll guide me with His hand;
with God things don’t just happen,
everything by Him is planned.
So as I face tomorrow,
with its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles,
give to Him my all.
I do not know how many days
of life are mine to spend;
but One who knows and cares for me
will keep me to the end:
Andy & Hannah Rogers, Young Christians’ Camp
It’s easy to look back and ponder on how good things used to be. It reminds me of Lot’s wife, she was instructed when leaving Sodom:
“Escape for thy life, look not behind thee…” Genesis 19 v 17
Perhaps she was saddened by what she was leaving behind or perhaps she had little appreciation of what was ahead. Either way she didn’t heed the warning.
For those of you who know the Lord as your own personal Saviour you have something far superior than anything in your past, far greater than anything in the present; you have the assurance of a home in heaven as your future.
The Lord Jesus said to his disciples:
“…I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14 v 2
As believers we have that same promise. Our future will be in the presence of the Almighty God for eternity!
James teaches us:
“…For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, then vanisheth away.” James 4 v 14
Our life here is brief, just like the vapour that disappears, it will be over before we know it. None of us know when our time on Earth will be over. However, if we leave this Earth and are still not right with God, not accepting His gift of salvation, He will say:
“I never knew you: depart from me.” Matthew 7 v 23
Eternity…remember that’s for forever and always! It will be spent separated from God in an awful place called hell.
We have the time now to get right with God:
“…Behold now is the accepted time: behold now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6 v 2
I believe people have 3 responses to God’s gift of salvation:
- Reject God’s gift – they decline the forgiveness of their sins and a relationship with God.
- Waiting to accept God’s gift – they know they have a need of a Saviour and they know they are sinners. But they say
“Today isn’t a good day for getting right with God, I’ll think about it another time.” BUT the Bible teaches us:
“Boast not thyself of tomorrow: for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Proverbs 27 v 1
- Accept God’s gift – they acknowledge they’re a sinner, they repent of their sins by asking the Lord Jesus to forgive them. They put Jesus Christ in His rightful place as Lord of their life.
Are you are still waiting to accept God’s gift, don’t delay!
If you make no choice, then think on…your choice has been made. You have made the choice not to be right with God, not to have the hope of a wonderful future and when you enter in to eternity you will be separated from God forever.
If you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour, you have the hope of a wonderful future. Although times may be difficult in life, we can smile and know the best is yet to come.
Jacqui Barlow, Senior Camp
Come to me
Lockdown. Social distancing. 2m apart. Self-isolation. Pandemic. Stay at home. And above all, Coronavirus. These are the words and phrases that seem to dominate our lives now, and there is literally nothing else on the news at all! In the space of only a few months, what started as an outbreak in a distant land (China), in a city most of us had never heard of (Wuhan), has spread rapidly throughout much of the world’s population, taking thousands of lives in the process.
Although it is sad for those who have lost loved ones to the virus, what has affected all of us is the dramatic changes to our daily lives, whether we are working; in education; or retirement. ‘Stay at home’ is the new mantra and for good reason, but even if we are virus free, we are all surely affected by the need to keep our distance from each other. Even if we do venture out for our daily dose of fresh air; exercise; or shopping, we can’t get close; or share the same air; and must abide by one-way systems in the supermarkets (Ikea had it right all along!).
We surely feel it – our intrinsic need for human contact – and that which we’ve taken for granted is missed by all of us to some degree. These social restrictions have reached the YPBC Camp Family too, and sadly we had to cancel the Camp rally a few weeks ago. We miss each other, but many are finding innovative ways of keeping in touch, and a wave of appreciation (whether for the NHS, key workers, the natural environment etc.) is spreading almost as quickly as the virus itself.
The Christian can draw some comfort from the fact that their life is not limited to human contact (as important as that is), but has responded to their intrinsic need for spiritual contact – contact with God. Thankfully we don’t have to stay 2m away from God, and we don’t have to limit our time with Him to only once a day! His gracious invitation to all of us surely resonates powerfully in our current times: ‘come to me that you may have life’ John 5v40; ‘whoever comes to me shall never hunger / thirst’ John 6v35; ‘come to me… I will never cast out John 6v37; ‘come to me and drink’ John 7v37.
Whatever the circumstances we are faced with individually or collectively, and they are challenging, let the Christian draw encouragement from their closeness with the Lord, and if this is new to you then why not respond to the divine invitation – perhaps for the first time – and come to Him. We don’t need to invent a vaccine for the sin that separates us from God – the remedy is already there! ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God’ 1 Peter 3v18
Draw me close to the cross
To the place of Your love,
To the place where You poured out Your mercy;
Where the river of life
That flows from Your wounded side
Brings refreshing to those who draw near.
Draw me close to Your throne
Where Your majesty is shown,
Where the crown of my life I lay down.
Draw me close to Your side,
Where my heart is satisfied,
Draw me close to You, Lord,
Draw me close.
Young Christians’ Camp Leader
There is a country weather saying, “A peck of March dust is worth a king’s ransom”. This saying, variants of which have been recorded as far back as the 1500s, recognises that dry weather in March, often a wet and windy month, allows the ground to be cultivated to produce a good seedbed, which will result in a better crop and greater yields.
The word “ransom” occurs 13 times in the Authorised Version of the Bible. In the Old Testament it is often used in relation to the slave and the sum of money required to set that slave at liberty. The Lord Jesus said “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” (John 8:34). The Greek word he uses for servant means bond servant or slave.
The Lord Jesus said, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mat 20:28) This was the reason he came into our world, to deliver us from the penalty and power of sin.
He came as a perfect, sinless man in order that He could offer Himself to God as a sacrifice for sin. The Bible teaches me that He has paid the penalty of sin through His death upon the cross and the shedding of His blood.
Peter tells us “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19). This is a sum far exceeding any “King’s ransom”.
A ransom can be offered but it only becomes effective if it is accepted. God requires each one of us to believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to receive forgiveness and deliverance from the power and judgment of our sin.
David & Mary Honeyball
How far have I come?
We’re at the beginning of a year, and camp is once again in sight. It is a good time to think about the promises we made to ourselves and to the Lord, about growing closer to Him, reading His word more, or speaking to Him every day. Maybe we said we would make an effort to go to church, to meet with other Christians so that we would not grow cold towards God. So, how far have we come? It’s time to evaluate our progress!
There was a man who set out on a journey – people call him the ‘Prodigal (wasteful) Son’ (Luke 15:11-32). He left his family home and his loving father, and went in search of the life he thought he wanted. He took with him the riches his father gave him. But, away from home, his riches did not last long. The new friends he made didn’t have his best interests at heart. When he ran out of money, his friends ran out on him, and he was left alone. Maybe you feel like that. After leaving the warmth, teaching and friendship of camp, you set out back to your old life. You were full of good intentions, you were ready to follow Christ and make a stand for Him. Then the pull of old friends and the busy-ness of everyday life meant that the spiritual wealth you had, and that feeling of closeness with God, was soon gone and you were left feeling cold and alone.
It is at this point that you have a choice, and you don’t need to wait for next camp to make it! The man in the story realised he was better off in his father’s house and he made the choice to return home and to beg his father to forgive him. Of course, his father, who is a picture of God, ran out to meet him and gave him a huge hug, welcoming him back with open arms. So, what will you do? If you feel distant from God, will you turn back to Him? Will you say what you have done and ask for forgiveness? Will you commit again to growing closer to Him? It takes work, it’s not easy, but it is so worth it! Make sure, by the time camp comes around again, that you are closer to God than you were last year, and that you’re growing as a Christian.
Sharon Durrant, Senior Camp
Coughs, Sneezes and Diseases
At this time of year, there are many illnesses going around. People often try and cure themselves with different sorts of medication, although they may end up with a trip to the doctors. Doctors are usually able to give prescriptions to help relieve the symptoms or cure the illness. As humans, we are all born with sin (For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God – Romans 3v23). This is a more serious problem to us than bodily ailments and it is human nature for us to do things wrong no matter how big or small. Sin separates us from God (Your iniquities have separated between you and your God – Isaiah 59v2) and ultimately keeps us out of Heaven as we do not meet God’s perfect standard.
There is no medicine which can cure sin. As wonderful as many of our doctors are, there is only one way in which we can get to Heaven and that is by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, believing that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and that He rose again. By turning from your sin, and putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can have forgiveness, for all the wrong you have done. This leads to a relationship with the living God, and means that you receive the gift of God which is eternal life.
At this time of year, we notice the leaves on trees change colour from their usual green to a whole variety of yellows, browns, oranges and reds.
The trees are getting ready to drop them all. But what a beautiful sight it is!
Do you like change?
Not many of us do, as we like to be settled, comfortable and in control.
But God desires that we all change, and He will help us.
1. We need to be Born again, Repent and Be saved from our sin.
Acts 17v30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.”
The leaves are dropping and going to wither and die, and we will too one day! Have you been born again, repented/changed/turned round your mind and view of God to see He gave his son to die for you?
2. We need to be a good disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ
So, we may need to make some changes (large and/or small) to allow God to change and shape us how He desires!
The leaves have all served their purpose in life and given their all, have you?
Romans 12v2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
3. We all at times suffer trials/difficulties that can make us worry
Leaves change colour and how they look and we at times may change like that, but do we ever doubt God? Is He there or has He changed?
The Bible is very clear on this and we read that God does care, God does love us, God knows all about us and God will never change.
Micah 3v6 “For I the LORD do not change.”
Hebrews 13v8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.”
So, when you see the leaves all changing colour and beginning to drop remember we all need CHANGE = Be Saved, Live for Jesus, God never changes!!!
David Brown, Young Christians’ Camp
No doubt many of us are thinking about new beginnings this September with a new school year. Perhaps we have plans, hopes and ambitions for how this year will be different and better than in the past. The Bible talks about a number of new beginnings.
The very start of the Bible states, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ Despite what others in the world try to tell us, God was in control from the beginning and still holds the universe, and everything that happens within it, in his hands.
In John 1:1 we read, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ The Word is the Lord Jesus who was there at the start and who is ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever.’ Heb 13:8. Whatever may befall us in the year ahead, He will never change and will never leave us or forsake us if we have put our trust in Him.
But the perfect world that God created was spoilt in the Garden of Eden, and has been ever since, so we need a new beginning – cleansing and forgiveness from the only one who is able to give this to us, the Lord Jesus through his death on the cross. ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Cor 5:17. Whatever we may hope to achieve in the next academic year, it is only through the change that Jesus gives that we can make any real difference. Do you need a new beginning this year, with Jesus at the centre?