Branch News

December 2016

24
Dec

Joy… to the World!

It’s Christmas Eve and I am singing the songs of Christmas. They are wonderful reminders of the powerful truth of the Incarnation of Jesus. God became a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Praise His name! Immanuel – God with us!

Yet even as I hear the singers sing that it’s the most wonderful time of the year and joy to the world I remember that this message is delivered into the middle of chaos and suffering and evil. It is delivered to hearts that are hurting – grieving the loss of loved ones that they will never again get to hug at Christmas time.

The headlines from the news only reinforce this darkness. Bank robberies, hijackings, shootings, political division, terrorism – it all reminds us of the incredible pain and suffering and wrong that is present in our world. A three year old senselessly shot in Little Rock, Carrie Fisher’s heart attack, a three year old kept locked in a box – these are the headlines this week from my world. How can it be the most wonderful time of the year?

The songwriters wrote with that thought in the background:  “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” And then there is this, “Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long… two thousand years of wrong And man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring: O hush the noise, ye men of strife to hear the angels sing.” Yes, the songwriters lived in the middle of this mess just as we do.

Yet the secular message of Christmas without Christ has no antidote to offer for the anger and pain and hatred and bitterness and envy and greed and corruption. There are those who would say, “Just be good for goodness sake!” But that message falls flat when people simply cannot do it. And we can’t. As much as we may want to do it we don’t have the power to be the person that we want to be. That’s why Jesus came.

That’s why Charles Wesley included the line “God and sinners reconciled” in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The whole point of Christmas is that God has made a way for us to be at peace with God. “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people! For unto you is born this day in the city of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” Christmas is a wonderful time of year because it is the time that God shows us how very much He loves each and every one of us.

The birth of Jesus prepares and leads us through His life right up to the climactic moments of His death, burial and resurrection. He is the ultimate expression of God’s love and concern for a lost and rebellious race of people. His death is the proof of God’s love. He loves you.

Jesus – “The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:9–12, HCSB)

Jesus has come “as far as the curse is found.” Joy to the world!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is born…” Christmas is not about those who have it all or are immeasurably happy. It is about “us” – all of us. Jesus came for every one of us. I hope you will receive Him today.

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Tim Hobbs

06
Dec

We’re Nuts!

I’m not calling you a nut. Really! Just keep that in mind as you read. Ok, well, maybe I am just a little. Yeah, you’re right, I called you a nut. Sorry, but anyway…

I shelled some pecans this morning – picking out those delectable, delicious bits of goodness. The thought struck me that this is so much like our hearts. I don’t know if you’ve ever shelled pecans or if you have ever taken time to examine the shell and inner parts of the pecan.

The hard, wooden shell around the outside we know about. It has to be broken in order to access the good part of the pecan. But even within the pecan there is inside the two halves a division. That division is made up of some of the bitterest stuff known to man. If you’ve ever bit into a bite of pecan pie and suddenly experienced a strong, bitter taste then you know that someone failed to pick out all the bad parts. The interesting thing is that those bitter portions grow with the nut and they are shaped and wedged into the fruit of the nut very tightly. This makes it hard to remove it all.

How is our heart like that pecan? Well, we have built up a hard shell around our heart. We resist the working of the Lord in our lives many times. We don’t want Him poking and prodding and removing all the barriers and walls we have erected. But it needs to happen if we are ever going to reach our God-given potential.

So, yes, the Lord cracks open the hard shell. He removes the bitterness from our hearts so that all we meet will encounter the incredible difference that Christ makes when He makes a man’s heart His home.

The problem lies in the fact that we deceive our own selves and lie to ourselves and pretend that all is well. We excuse and rationalize and justify our sorry behavior. Ultimately, though, God’s Word is the hammer that can crack open even the hardest heart. I’m thankful the Lord specializes in hard cases like you and me.

I’m also thankful that Jesus Christ left heaven and became a man. He fully identified with you and me in His life and especially in His death. He died on a cross to save me from my sin. When He broke through the wall of unbelief and resistance I had built up around my heart I was changed forever. I’m still not perfect. He’s digging out those bitter portions from my heart.

You have a choice. You can keep your nuttiness, your hard shell and those bitter divisions that make your heart so hard. Or you can turn to Christ and ask Him to crack you open and dig out all the bad stuff. You can give up your life to Jesus or you can keep it for yourself. Except, ultimately, you can’t keep it.

We have to die to who we have been so that we can have life forever.

I pray that this new year will be a time that God will do a mighty work in our hearts. There are worse things than having a hard head. But a hard heart is one that’s tough to overcome. May God richly bless you and your family in 2017!

Your Pastor,

Bro. Tim Hobbs

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” (John 12:24–25, NLT)

 

06
Dec

The Gifts of Christmas

The music of Christmas has always been a blessing to me. The carols, the fun songs, Rudolph – all of it. I love Christmas music. I was listening to some this morning and thinking about the gifts that we give at Christmas. I think we most often go back in the Bible to the coming of the Wise Men and the gifts they gave to Jesus. But I think there is much more there that we haven’t explored.

Mary’s gift. I’ve thought about Mary a lot and tried to imagine the place she found herself. It’s hard to fathom what a young woman (probably a teenager) felt when she heard the news from the angel Gabriel that she was to have God’s Son. So what was it that Mary gave to the Lord Jesus? She gave herself. Oh, yes, she gave her womb to hold Him and nurture Him and allow Him to grow inside of her. But she gave far more than that. She gave everything she was. If you’re a mother you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mothers don’t just carry a baby like you would put eggs in an incubator. They carry that child and they love that child so powerfully and they endure the sickness and pain of pregnancy, the discomfort and then the agony of childbirth for the love of that little baby. Mary gave everything that she was to this baby. She gave up her plans, her ideas, and her expectations. In return she was privileged to birth our Savior into this world (her Savior too!). Could you give a greater gift than she gave? I don’t know how.

Joseph’s gift – I’m not sure we know what to do with Joseph. He was a carpenter. He was probably an older man who had been betrothed to Mary when he found that she was pregnant. His first thought was to divorce her privately. But the angel came and told him that Mary had done nothing wrong. She had not been unfaithful. Instead she had been blessed with a child that was God’s own Son and the Savior of His people. Joseph’s gift was to lay aside his reputation and his pride. Joseph’s gift was to take Mary as his wife in spite of what people might say. And I’m sure they said plenty. He gave up himself to God’s plan. That is a gift befitting a king.

There were other gifts. Elizabeth gave wise counsel and love to a tender young woman who had the most improbable and impossible pregnancy. An unknowing innkeeper gave Jesus the poorest and most unlikely of birth places when he turned them away from his already full inn. The shepherds came and brought the wildest story imaginable – angels appearing to announce the coming of Messiah! The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrhh. Simon and Anna brought praise to God and affirmation of who Jesus was. Herod – Herod’s gift was an extension of who he was. He killed innocent babies who happened to have been born around the same time as Jesus in the area of Bethlehem. It was a gift from hell.

But all of these gifts placed the birth and the life and the death of Jesus into its proper setting. He didn’t come to live a privileged life of power and wealth and ease. He was born to poor, working class people. He grew up with the knowledge of hard work but also with the love of family and the faith of His people. He grew up with God’s blessing and approval.

One thing led to another and Jesus preached and taught, corrected and chided, healed and delivered as only the Son of God could. He identified with each of us and He loved every single mother’s son and daughter among us. He died for us. His gift was pain, suffering, sorrow, guilt, and despair. He gave His life’s blood to pay your sin debt and mine. “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable Gift!”

So the gifts of Christmas are real. The Father sent His only Son and our entire world has been turned upside down. Thank God! Where would we be without Christmas?

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” (Galatians 4:4–7, NLT)