Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

From Jerry and Dotse Stratton

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Baby is Named

Chuckle: "A despondent man came to his pastor's study. He was a traveling man and had been away for six months. He had sent a telegram every week to the girl he was going to marry. Last week she married the Western Union boy!"
Quote: "What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life." --Alfred, Lord Tennyson
THE BABY IS NAMED Jesus!
    "Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived. Then it was time for the purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, 'If a woman's first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord,' So they offered a sacrifice according to what was required in the law of the Lord -- 'either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.' " (Luke 2:21-24 NLT).
This passage is often called the "Presentation." Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth as required by Jewish law (Lev. 12:3). Each baby boy was circumcised and named during the ceremony. The circumcision symbolized the Jews' separation from the gentiles and their unique relationship to God. Even though Jesus was God's Son, his parents carried out all the ceremonial requirements for every other newborn son according to God's law. It's important to note that Jesus was not above the law; instead, he fulfilled every aspect of the law perfectly. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would declare this truth. "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17 NLT).
The firstborn son in a family was dedicated to God ceremonially. The ceremony also included "buying back" the son from God. This was done through a sacrificial offering. By this offering, the parents acknowledged that the baby belonged to God, who alone has the power to give and take life. The pair of doves represented the gift to the Lord by poor families. What a beautiful picture of love and obedience is painted for us in the words of Luke.
"Jesus" was no ordinary name. It is equivalent to the Old Testament name, "Joshua," which means "the Lord saves." Just as Joshua had led God's people into the Promised Land, so Jesus would lead his people into the promised eternal life. Later in Jesus' ministry, his name became a powerful force, and people were healed, demons were defeated, and sins were forgiven in his name. Paul emphasizes the power of Jesus' name in Philippians 2:9-10 NLT. "Because of this (Jesus dying for us), God raised him to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Shepherds Worship and Witness

Chuckle: On a cold day down in Tennessee, they were having a baptism in the river. The Preacher asked one man, 'Is the water cold?' 'Naw!' he replied. One of the deacons shouted, "Dip him agin Preacher, he's still lyin!"
Quote: “God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.” –Billy Graham
                               Religious Christmas Clip Art
“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this wonderful thing that has happened. which the Lord has told us about.’ They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in a manger. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said" (Luke 1:15-20 NLT).
Just imagine what went through the minds and hearts of these humble shepherds after their encounter with angels and then finding the baby Jesus there in a manger? Their joy and excitement is evident by their reactions following their seeing the baby Jesus. Experiencing a face-to-face with the Savior of the world should likewise fill our hearts with that same joy, excitement, and gratitude that filled the hearts of those shepherds.
This Christmas season, what is your level of joy? Perhaps your joy is being pushed aside and instead you feel stressed, rushed, tired, frustrated because of all the activities you have allowed to fill your life. We all need to put aside the hustle and bustle long enough to experience the joy and peace of Christmas.
Not only were the shepherds filled with joy, they could not wait to share the good news with others. It should be the same with us today. We have been entrusted with the best news ever and it is terribly selfish of us if we fail to share the good news of Jesus Christ at every opportunity. I am reminded of what Peter and John said when they were commanded by religious leaders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They said, "For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20 NLT). Wouldn't it be wonderful if each of us was motivated as were the shepherds, and Peter and John, to share the good news with others.
The shepherds understood that the coming of the promised Messiah is the central and paramount reason to praise God. It serves to remind us that God is worthy of our worship and praise. If you have experienced the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ, you have every reason to worship and praise God as did the shepherds. It is my prayer that this Christmas will be a worshipful and praise-filled time for you and your family.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Angels and Shepherds

Chuckle: "Little Tommy was tired of the long Sunday sermon. After much squirming around, he finally whispered, 'Ma, If we give him the money now, will he let us out?' "
Quote: "Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from (within) it. He did not evolve out of history; He came into history from the outside." --Oswald Chambers
                                                 Glad Tidings - Glad Tidings for the Shepherds
"That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened. But the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior -- yes, the Messiah, the Lord -- has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!' Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others -- the armies of heaven -- praising God: 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors' " (Luke 2:8-14 NLT).
It's interesting that God would first reveal the birth of his Son to those one would least expect. The shepherds are not identified specifically, but they could have been those that provided lambs for Temple sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. Speaking of lambs, John the Baptist later would identify Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the whole world forever (John 1:36).
At the announcement of Jesus' birth, the shepherds were scared out of their wits, but their fear soon turned to joy as the angels announced the Messiah's birth. The greatest event in history had just happened! For ages the Jews had waited for this, and when it finally happened, the announcement came to humble shepherds. This reminds me that before Jesus can come into our lives as Savior, we must first humble ourselves before him and see ourselves as spiritually destitute. You don't need any special qualifications -- He accepts you as you are if you turn to him by faith.
The word, "Savior," used by the angels to describe Jesus is an extension of the Old Testament idea of God saving and delivering His people. Salvation through Jesus Christ is applicable to all areas of life -- physical and spiritual. To call Jesus Savior is to relate to him as God because only God can "save."
The angels welcomed the birth of Jesus with praise to God and a blessing calling for peace to all those who accept the gift of salvation through God's grace. True and lasting peace can never be found other than in the person of Jesus Christ as a gift of God. It can never be the result of human intentions and actions. God ushered in true peace by sending Jesus to be born of Mary there in Bethlehem. We can be instruments of his peace this Christmas by sharing his love with others.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Birth of Jesus

Chuckle: Printed on the back of a leather jacket worn by a motorcyclist: "If you can read this, my girlfriend fell off!"
Quote: “Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”  --Oswald Chambers
THE BIRTH OF JESUS!        mary w Jesus           
    "And while they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn" (Luke 2:6-7 NLT).
What a beautifully worded but simple account of the most miraculous and world-changing birth in all of human history. It doesn't matter that I've heard and read this story hundreds of times, it never fails to touch my heart in a fresh and unique way. Although our first picture of Jesus is as a baby in a manger, it should never be our last. The Christ child lying in a manger (animal feed trough) has become the subject of a beautiful and lasting Christmas scene. But we cannot let the picture end there.
This tiny and helpless Jewish baby lived an amazing life without sin, died for your sins and mine, rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven, and will come back to this earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will rule the world and will sit in judgment of all people according to their decisions about Him. Please don't let your mental picture of Jesus end with the nativity, but let Him grow up in your life to be not only your personal Savior but also the Lord of your life.
Notice how Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in strips of cloth (swaddling clothes). This wrapping of newborns was a common practice in Jesus' day and is still practiced in many Middle-eastern cultures. Obviously, such cloths were for warmth, but they also were used to give the infant a sense of security and safety. The cloths were also thought to protect the infant's internal organs.
Since He was laid in a manger, it's safe to assume Jesus was born in a dark and dirty animal stable -- not the atmosphere the Jews expected as the birthplace of the Messiah King. Stables were often caves with feeding troughs carved into rock walls. In my mind, it is only fitting that Jesus, as an humble servant, would enter this world in the most humble and unexpected way. Later in His life, Jesus said He "came here not to be served, but to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
I’m praying that the love of Jesus Christ will touch you and your family this Christmas. May you find new life in Him. A Christmas prayer: "Dear Lord, please restore the joy of Your salvation to us; let us experience the joy of Your presence in a refreshing new way this Christmas!"
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dealing With Anxiety

Chuckle: Driving along I-90, just west of Chicago, I passed a sign posted by the police department: "Report drivers using a cell phone. Please call *99." --Lane Martin
Quote: "Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake!" --Victor Hugo
"Do not worry (be anxious) about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
"A doctor had to give a painful shot to a four-year-old girl. When she learned what the doctor was about to do, her face showed her anxiety and her body tensed. As the doctor picked up what looked to the little girl to be a needle large enough to kill an elephant, she turned her eyes to her father, who then took her hand and fixed his eyes on hers. An expression of confidence and calmness came on her face. She knew she was not alone and found comfort, not in her father's spoken answer, but in his presence with her in her time of trial."
Just imagine never worrying or being anxious about anything ever again! We are tempted to say this is an impossibility; all of us have worries and anxieties in our professional life, our homes, at school, etc. God understands our tendencies to worry and fret, but Paul tells us to turn our worries into prayers. If you want to worry less, then pray more. I believe God intends for worry and prayer to be mutually exclusive. Maybe you are anxious about a financial matter, the health of your child, a rebellious child, your own health, etc. Any situation in life which we see as threatening to our peace and contentment can bring on anxiety. Some people even suffer from panic attacks brought on by extreme anxiety, worry, fear, etc.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to us, "So don't worry about everyday life -- whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing? . . . Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not" (Matthew 6:25, 27 NLT). Here, Jesus is telling us he is aware of everything we need and promises to meet our needs. To worry is to deny the power of God in our lives, according to Dr. Edward Poldosky. God's Word gives us assurance that he will care for us and meet our every need. When we fail to live by this promise, worry and anxiety creep into our lives and destroy our peace of mind.
God's peace is much different from the worlds peace. Jesus said, "I am leaving you with a gift -- peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27 NLT). True God-given peace is not found in positive thinking, the absence of conflict, or in good feelings. This peace comes from the assurance that God is in complete control and that our citizenship in his kingdom is sealed and sure. God wants you to let him guard your heart and mind against anxiety every day of your life. Just stop worrying, spend more time praying, and experience God's supernatural peace.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Friday, December 4, 2015

Focus On The Future

Chuckle: Whose bright idea was it to put an "s" in the word 'lisp?
Quote: "The people of the world focus on what they are overcoming. Christians focus on what they are becoming." --Henry Blackaby
"No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13 NLT).
Today, a prevalent thought is that the dominating influence in our lives is what happened in our past. If you grew up in an abusive home devoid of love and wholesome influences, those experiences will determine the course of your life. There is no doubt that devastating experiences in our past can create severe emotional problems which must be dealt with, sometimes requiring professional help. However, it seems the world is preoccupied with the past -- perhaps because the world faces such an uncertain future. As Christians, we should focus on the glorious future God has promised to us.
Paul had every reason to want to forget his past. He was a chief persecutor of the early Christians and had even held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. We all have things in our past which we would rather forget and we live in a state of tension between what we have been and what we want to be. But, as Christians, we must realize that Christ has overcome our past and has given us the freedom to become the persons he wants us to be.
"What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). God has forgiven your sins of the past and chooses not to remember them anymore. Because of this truth, we should not forget our past; but we should never let our past be a controlling force in our lives. Things are new and different now.
Instead of dwelling on the past, press on toward the future by growing in your knowledge of God by concentrating on your relationship with Jesus Christ right now. Realize that you have been forgiven, and then press on to a life of faith and obedience. Focus on the future and a more meaningful and fulfilling life because of your hope in Jesus Christ. Like Paul, our desire to be more like Christ should cause us to use all our energies toward that end.
If you can't shake your preoccupation with your past, ask our Heavenly Father to reveal anew the beautiful and amazing future that awaits you, and in faith keep pressing on toward that reality. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Consideration for Others

Chuckle: The sign on a church nursery door read: "We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed." (See 1 Corinthians 15:51)
Quote: "Blessed are they who have nothing to say and who cannot be persuaded to say it." --James Russell Lowell
CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS
You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything" -- but not everything is beneficial. Don't think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them" (I Corinthians 10:23-24 NLT).
A great and underlying principle that runs throughout the entire Bible is that of loving and doing good for one's neighbors (other people). Along with this principle comes the realization that when we focus on bringing good to others, we are bringing good to ourselves.
Within this passage is one of the most difficult lessons we need to learn as believers. And how well we learn it depends upon our own level of spiritual maturity. As we mature, the Holy Spirit will teach us that a word or an action that isn't necessarily wrong (a sin) can still cause a weaker believer to become confused, disillusioned, and hurt. For example; telling a truth about someone in an inconsiderate and unkind way can do terrible damage to the spiritual and emotional well-being of that person.
Here, Paul gives us a simple rule of thumb to help us make decisions about our actions. We should always be sensitive and gracious to others. While we have great freedom in Christ, as opposed to the Old Testament law, we should never use that freedom if doing so harms a Christian brother or sister. The welfare of others should be more important to us than our own.
We live in a "what's in it for me" society where the focus is selfishly placed on me, myself, and I. Society encourages people to seek everything for their own benefit, and when they do, they are praised and admired for it. Obviously, this lesson does not mean we should not look out for our own best interests, but it is teaching us to place priority of our actions on bringing good to others. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 8:13 NLT, that he would never do anything that would cause another weaker Christian to stumble.
When I was a child growing up in a small rural community, I loved to go to the movies on Saturday afternoons. But in the community, some Christians viewed the movie theater as a "den of iniquity." One Saturday, I asked my pastor father to go with me to see a movie. I think it was "Black Beauty," or something like that. I'll never forget my father's answer. He said, "son, it would not be wrong for me to go and I would like to go. But if I did, it would offend those who believe otherwise. It would diminish my influence and reputation as a pastor in their eyes and perhaps cause them to stumble in their faith. Therefore, I cannot go." His sensitivity to the feelings of others dictated his actions, not what he could do or wanted to do.
Love, Jerry & Dotse