Two Partings

I have been studying the life of Moses and came to that very familiar story of The Parting of the Red Sea.

“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground,with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” Exodus 14:21-22 (NIV)

Maybe you are like me, hearing this story since your childhood. And maybe like me you have always been impressed with how God set this up and then provided so miraculously. But thanks to a devotional thought from Louie Giglio, I was able to put an even greater “parting” with this one.

Matthew 27:50-51 reads: “Then Jesus shouted out again, dismissed his spirit, and died. Look! The curtain secluding the Holiest Place in the Temple was parted, split from top to bottom…” (SEV)

It’s important to understand that the veil was not a small curtain. It was was 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and was about one inch thick.  The veil was so massive and heavy that it took 300 priests to manipulate it.  The fact that the veil was torn from the top down, some 60 feet from the floor (where humans could not reach it), shows that God was the One that caused the parting of the veil – torn from top to bottom. Why? So that we could have safe access to Him.

I began thinking about some of the similarities between these two events.
  1. Moses stretched forth his arms over the sea to begin the act of salvation for the Israelites – Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross to start the act of our salvation.
  2. A path was opened by God for the Israelites – A path was provided for us through the curtain.
  3. The Israelites crossed on dry land to safety because of the Sea parting – We get to cross into the safety of the Holy of Holies because of the curtain parting.
  4. The enemy of Israel was defeated once and for all by the Sea – Our enemy Satan was defeated once and for all by allowing us access to God.
  5. The waters were walled up on either side keeping them from destroying the Israelites – The curtain was torn to wall up our sin keeping it from destroying us.


As Louie Giglio wrote:

“The truth is this: when Christ gave His life in death on the cross He parted something far more significant than the Red Sea as God did for Israel in Exodus. When Jesus cried “It Is Finished,” the curse over your life was shattered into oblivion and the veil of the temple in Jerusalem, that majestic curtain separating the people from God’s very presence, was ripped in two.”

Louie Giglio:The Bright Light of Glory

I want to give my passion and my life to this One who parted the sea and parted the curtain so I would never be parted from Him.
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The Real Problem – the “S” word

We_Have_Met_The_EnemyHow many times have you heard a statement like this recently? “Our culture’s values are on a downward slide like never before.” “Our country has lost all it’s moral bearings.” “Political correctness has replaced right and wrong.” I’ve heard those and more especially in light of the ramifications of Roe v Wade (abortion rights) and now Obergefell v. Hodges (same sex marriage). I’ve heard people rant and rave against the supreme court judges, politicians, liberals and the LGBT. Because I am a Pastor most of the complaints I hear are coming from fellow believers. But do we really believe that our current culture’s issues are anything new? In fact, I would dare to say that abortion, same sex marriage, liberal agendas, gun control, racism, or any other cultural malady is not the problem. What is?

An “S” word. It’s small but from one bad seed and subsequent plantings this word is responsible for the downward spiral from all that is perfect. It’s spelled: S-I-N and it has serious ramifications. Our adamant rebellion against God and His ways has tormented us since the beginning of time. I believe that Satan is the Enemy, but his tool that has us hook, line and sinker is sin. We like to cast blame on social ills, and believe me I too shake my head in disbelief at where we’ve come to in this present day. But, but let’s not kid ourselves. There is a root problem to all these things: sin. And, (this is hard to write or maybe read) because we are sinners, we are a huge part of the problem! You see sin is not one act, one court decision or one cultural ill. It’s an insidious, malevolent, sinister virus that we have taken in and allowed to run rampant. It is incurable by any human means or medicine. Sin has had it’s way with us and the consequences are unbelievably harsh. Think what sin does to us.

Sin BLINDS. We think we have control over it. How we have been tricked into seeing sin in the short term without perceiving it’s damage in the long run. That’s why Hebrews tells us that “there is pleasure in sin… but it is fleeting” (Heb. 11:25). We tend to ignore the “fleeting” part. It’s why we are told in Galatians 6:1 to “restore” or “warn” someone “caught in sin,” albeit gently, because if we don’t they will find the “pleasure” has turned into sorrow. Our sin, much like any addiction, take control much faster than we think. Kind of like the 9 year old boy taking his 200 pound St. Bernard for a walk. The dog was pulling him where he didn’t want to go and so he yelled, “Hey, stop! You’re my dog, I’m not your boy!” Yet, when it comes to sin we often blinded by the fact that we only think we have control when the truth is we are its “boy.” Sin blinds and…

Sin BINDS. Because we are blinded we can become dominated by sin. Scripture refers to being “a slave to sin.” From Genesis 3 onward we have been contaminated by sin. Have you ever thought of this? think of the how our world was corrupted when Adam and Eve committed their first sin. From child bearing, to work, to even the ground, all was cursed due to this one sin. Before sin there were no arguments, no abuse, no hurricanes, no sickness… but after, all that began. If they suffered that much due to one sin how corrupt and contaminated is our world after thousands upon thousands of years of sin? When someone asks, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” the answer is S-I-N. When someone asks, “Why Me?” in regards to storms, mistreatment or immoral decisions the answer is S-I-N. We have stained the perfect and as long as we are in this sinful world we will be bound by sins consequences. No wonder, in Romans 8, even Creation is described as in “the bondage of decay” and groans for redemption. (Romans 8:21-23) Sin binds us but most horribly…

Sin bankrupts us. Sin is what separates us from God. God didn’t do this to us, we did. God didn’t want this for us, we did. Our sinful desires war against our souls. We were not made to be separated from God but we chose to be. Sin is that which God cannot stand. Sin is that which God’s pure eyes cannot look upon. (Habakkuk 1:13) And it doesn’t take a genius to come to the frightening conclusion that since God can’t look upon or stand sin and since we are sinners… that’s right, God can’t stand us! Not when we are contaminated by sin.

Which is exactly why God sent JESUS. He is our only cure, the only way to eradicate this disease. As one who described himself as the chief of sinners once wrote: “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness (reconciled) of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Don’t misunderstand. Jesus, while on the cross, did not become a sinner, but rather He willingly became culpable for our sin. If there had been any other way to rid us of this poison God wouldn’t have had to send His Son. As Billy Graham once said, “The very fact that God sent his one and only Son to the cross to pay for our sins shows how dark and black sin is in the sight of God.” I will forever be grateful but always in awe of the fact that sin, instead of cancelling God’s love for us, motivated him to take extraordinary measures to reconcile us back to what he wanted from the beginning – a perfect relationship. And that perfect relationship can only come through Jesus.

This is why we warn against bad choices, sad decisions and poor rulings. This is why we MUST SHARE JESUS! I don’t believe He’s wagging his finger at the Supreme Court Justices or shaking his head at the LGBT or even shedding tears over aborted babies (after all the babies are with Him). But I think He may be saying to us as believers, maybe even shouting to us: “Beloved, railing against the evil in the world is not what I meant when I gave you my final commission. You talk sports but don’t tell anyone I am the cure for what ails them, even though some don’t even know they are ailing. You share so much on Facebook but don’t share to your sin duped friends that I am the solution to THE Problem. You Tweet 140 characters but don’t spend that many seconds praying for those who are blinded, bound and bankrupt by sin. Please, make a priority of sharing that I am The Way, The Truth, The Life.”

After all, maybe the real problem is our failure to live out the “S” word… SHARE Jesus.


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Castaway on Mars (With a heaping helping of MacGyver)

The Martian
Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. He was left by accident because of an accident that made everyone think he was dead. Left to his own devices he must somehow stay alive because that’s what our survival instincts tell us to do and we, no matter how unimaginable, hope for rescue. “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.” This is Andy Weir’s first novel plot in a nutshell.

I have to admit that sometimes my eyes glazed over with the meticulous scientific explanations of Watney’s survival techniques, but overall it was worth it. If you are the type of person who likes science and problem solving, you will love this book. However, if you are the type of person who is looking for a great deal of relationship bonding or deep personal interaction than this book is probably not for you.

Bottom line, I enjoyed the book. It had the right amount of science fiction, humor and suspense without any aliens or zombies (thank goodness!). It also buoyed up my belief that when given a choice in a crisis, people will tend to help one another out.

Two small quibbles: Strong language (was it necessary?) is used at times and the technical jargon was a little steep. Overall it was a good read. I understand the book has been purchased for the movie rights. I’ll pay to see it. Mark Wahlberg as Mark Watney? (Actually no, Matt Damon) The movie is scheduled for release November 25, 2015.

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In due time…

On June 29 I preached a message entitled, “Expressing Conviction in a Tolerant World.” We used the story of Daniel and the 3 amigo’s (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) to talk about several things. Several of those brought comments to my email and Facebook accounts from those who heard the message but this one brought the most:

One of my favorite and yet most frustrating bible verses is 1 Peter 5:6. It says this: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”(NIV)
It’s one of my favorites because of the fact that God is mighty and will lift me up.
It’s one of my most frustrating because of those last three words: in due time.
Because it’s not speaking of my due time, but His. Not when I want it but He’ll lift me up when He knows its right.

I believe that paragraph resonated with people because we are so impatient. We often cry out to God and say we trust Him to care for us but in reality we are saying, “God, deal with this the way I think is right and do it now!” I’ve even heard people quote Romans 8:28 that God works all things together for good, to justify that He’ll make our circumstances work out right. When in fact Romans 8:28 is steeped deeply within a salvation context. That is, He will ULTIMATELY work all things together for good not necessarily when we want them.

So, I ask you. Are there plans you’ve had and been waiting for God to fulfill? Are they promises from God, or are they your own plans? Is it your timetable, or is it God’s? Are answers flowing from God or being forced by you?

Life with God isn’t always easy or fun, but God is good. Even in your waiting, God is at work—maybe in the circumstances, maybe in other people, or maybe in you—even if you can’t see it. Ask God to give you eyes of faith to see what he’s up to and where he’s at work. Ask him to give you patience as he works in HIS DUE TIME.

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REBLOG: Bob Russell – A Spiritual Myth – Divorce Rates

I subscribe to Bob Russell’s blog and he had one that I thought needed shared with anyone who might read mine.

A Spiritual Myth – “Divorce Is Just as Common in the Church as in the World.”
Written on May 18, 2014 by Bob Russell

Have you ever heard these statistics? “Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce and the divorce rate in the church is just as bad as the divorce rate in the world.”

I’ve always had serious doubts about those stats. They didn’t seem consistent with what I was witnessing every day. But they are often cited by the world to undermine the credibility of those of us who stand for Biblical marriage. “What right does the church have to say anything about the traditional family when Christian marriages are a total failure?”

However, a recent book by Shaunti Feldhahn titled, “The Good News About Marriage” is shattering some of the spiritual myths about the widely accepted divorce statistics. The author has recently completed an eight- year study that points out that the statistics that have been reported repeatedly by the media are nowhere close to being true.

Half of all marriages are not ending in divorce.According to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t, includes those whose spouses have died. Feldhahn writes, “No-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20-25%. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31-35% range, depending on the study.”

Feldhahn suggests another myth that needs to be countered is the notion that “A George Barna study found that the rate of divorce is the same in the church.” She writes, “Actually the Barna Group found no such thing and George Barna himself told me he would love to correct this misunderstanding…because he wasn’t studying people “in the church.”

The Barna Group studies were focusing specifically on the divorce rates of those with Christian and non-Christian belief systems and didn’t take worship attendance into account. The vast majority of Americans profess to have Christian beliefs but less than a third actually attend church regularly and take their commitment to Christ seriously.

Feldhahn wrote, “So I partnered with the Barna Group and we re-ran the numbers: and if the person was in church last week, their divorce rate dropped by 27%. And that is one of thesmallest drops found in recent studies: overall, regular church attendance lowers the divorce rate anywhere from 25-50%, depending on the study you look at.

If I am interpreting her statistics correctly, that means that 80-90% of marriages where the couple attend church regularly remain INTACT. That’s still too many divorces, and since, “God hates divorce,”we need to do what we can to enhance relationships and deepen commitments. But it debunks the lie that Christian people who go to church are just as quick to get a divorce as those who don’t.

There’s an old saying that any lie, no matter how absurd, if repeated often enough will eventually come to be believed. Let’s not believe this myth anymore. While the church has flaws that need correcting, let’s quit bashing the church for sins it hasn’t committed. Let’s honor those who have remained faithful. Let’s encourage our youth to respect Biblical marriage and get involved in a local church. Let’s not buy into the falsehood that we have no right to espouse traditional marriage because it has been a complete failure.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

*Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained social researcher, popular speaker and best-selling author of “For Women Only”, “For Men Only” and “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages”, which have sold more than 2 million copies in 22 languages worldwide. Her research is regularly featured in media as diverse as The New York Times and Focus on the Family, Cosmopolitan Magazine and The Today Show. With “The Good News About Marriage” Shaunti is eager to support leaders in moving marriages from discouragement to hope. Get updates at

Bob Russell Ministries:

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Leaders or Mascots?

What is a mascot? According to a mascot is defined as: “a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck.”
What is a leader? Same source but it says: “a person who guides, directs, manages and inspires others to follow.”

It got me to thinking… as a church leader of God’s people and one who is responsible for helping others to become His, am I a mascot or a leader? That is, in the church am I simply a symbolic figure that has been adopted by a group of people hoping that I will help them find happiness, make them comfortable, ease their troubles and bring them good luck in life? Or am I someone who guides, directs, manages and inspires people to follow the One I am following? In the church, it seems to me to be a difference between a job and a calling. A mascot has a job, a leader has a calling. A mascot is a representative of the people. Therefore he or she tries to please them and make them comfortable and happy. A Christian leader however is representing Christ and see his or her calling as pleasing Christ whether that makes the people happy or not.

Maybe, for me, A.W. Tozer said it best: “In order for the Church to be on mission we must have Christ honoring prophets in our pulpits again instead of just mascots. These leaders will make no decisions out of fear, take no course out of a desire to please, accept no service for financial considerations, perform no religious act out of mere custom; nor will they allow themselves to be influenced by the love of publicity or the desire for reputation.” Of God and Men, 11-13.

It makes sense doesn’t it? Why would we devote our lives to representing people that will never be completely pleased when we can lead them to see the ONE who knows all, sees all, loves all and will eventually give them perfection?

I for one don’t want to settle for being a mascot.

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Working Worship

The following was put together by combining Colossians 3:22-24 and a couple of Puritan Prayers from the book, The Valley of Vision. I used it as a Responsive Reading at a service recently and was asked by several people to share it so I thought I’d also place it here. I changed some of the Puritan words since we no longer speak with 1600 verbiage, but I hope it helps view our jobs from His perspective. I for one will refer to it often as my vocational prayer. Use it as you see fit.

A Worker’s Worship

LEADER: O My Lord, let not my vocation be approved only by men…
ALL: nor merely to win the esteem and affections of people.

LEADER: But may my vocation be worthy of your approval…
ALL: as I work not only for wage or human recognition but to bring You glory.

LEADER: Grant me the wisdom to obey my employer…
ALL: while I work with all my heart to honor You.

LEADER: Place people in my path…
ALL: and grant me the privilege to use my vocation to share Your Name.

LEADER: May I live high above a love of things temporary…
ALL: while being seen as true, faithful, loving, pure, and devoted to You.

LEADER: Look upon me as Your worker…
ALL: and keep me from self-importance.

LEADER: Let me walk and work…
ALL: humbly in dependence upon You,
in Jesus Name. Amen

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The “Spiritual Answer Man”

I attended the Drive conference a few weeks ago at Northpoint Church in North Atlanta and at a break-out (workshop for those of you over 50!) I heard something that has had my brain rattling ever since. This nugget of truth has not only had me thinking but seriously re-evaluating the way I teach, lead a small group and even talk things over with my family. This altering and possibly transforming truth came in  the form of three questions:

1. How many questions was Jesus asked in the New Testament?
2. How many questions did Jesus answer in the New Testament?
3. How many questions did Jesus ask in the New Testament?

We were given a few minutes to ponder that question. Our breakout leader asked us to use specific numbers, not just general concepts. That was a bummer because I had already figured that the answer to #1 was more than #2 and that probably the answer to question #3 was more than both #’s 1 & 2.   But that wasn’t what the leader asked for so I started thinking in terms of specifics. Now I possess a Bachelor’s degree in ministry and a Master’s degree in Theology and so I found myself confidently saying to myself, “I have no idea!” The brutally honest truth was that no matter what numbers I used I was just guessing. But here’s what I said: Answer to #1: 125; Answer to #2: 50 (I figured saying less than half was a good bet!) and Answer to #3: 200. What numbers are you putting there? I’ll wait for you to complete the exercise…  go ahead.

Ready for the answer?
1. How many questions was Jesus asked in the New Testament? 183 questions either asked directly or indirectly.
2. How many questions did Jesus answer in the New Testament? 3 questions were answered directly. (How should we pray? Luke 11; What is the greatest commandment? Luke 18 and  Are you a king? Luke 23)
3. How many questions did Jesus ask in the New Testament? 307!*

I was stunned. Have you ever heard a statement or had a time when something said or something you read just made you stop and go, “Whoa, that means….” This was one of those times for me.

The first question that popped into my head was, “If that is true (and I’ve since confirmed it is) why do I think I have to have all the answers?” That led me to another question: “Why are we as teachers/preachers and why does the church seem to think we are to be the ‘spiritual answer man’?” After meditating on this some I have come to the conclusion that we as a church have for decades spoon-fed people to the point where we have enabled spiritual lethargy! C.S. Lewis said it much better than I ever could in his book, God at the Dock, when he wrote: “We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for a half an hour or so, but the moment they are gone from our lecture, they are plunged into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.” In other words our easy answers have not prepared them for the spiritual battle that they face.

What we should have been and should now be doing is helping people look inside and discovering answers for themselves! Don’t we all learn better when through struggle, study and introspection we come up with the solution to the problem or question ourselves? Here’s where I’ve landed: While I am to give people the tools to come up with the answers I am no longer going to just glibly give them all the solutions! In many cases our churches are filled with weak, anemic Christians and it’s our fault!

I think it’s time (I know it is for me) to stop playing “spiritual answer man” and start asking realigning and transformational questions. As Richard Rohm wrote in the forward to John Dear’s book, The Questions of Jesus, “We made of Jesus a systematic theologian, who walked around teaching dogmas, instead of being an engaging transformer of the soul (by his questions).” Here’s the truth: “Easy answers instead of hard questions allow us to try and change others instead of allowing God to change us.”

So, all that has led me to ask myself two things:
1. Am I actively listening to someone when they are talking so that I might hear their questions?
(Or while they’re talking am I either trying to figure out the answer or just waiting for them to take a breath so I can give them the answer?)
2. Am I willing to ask question(s) in response to their question and in so doing allow them to wrestle with the spiritual truth that they really need?
(Or as I now admit, sometimes it’s easier, cleaner and makes me look better when I just answer the question?)

So, I’ll leave you with two questions:
1. What does this teaching technique of Jesus say to you?
2. How does it apply to how you are teaching or even talking with others?

I’m certainly not going to answer those for you!

*The Questions of Jesus, John Dear, 2004, Doubleday. (Forward by Richard Rohm)

I Once Was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp,, 2008, InterVarsity Press.

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Outlive your Life (Noah did!)

“Outlive your life.” That is surely what Noah Mikel Smith did on February 10, 2013.

Noah never took a breath in this world but woke up in celestial paradise. Noah never felt our arms around him yet his first hug was from the Father of all. Noah never said a word yet his influence is being seen as if he was one of the greatest preachers of our time. How? Through those who love him and trust in the One who provided Noah’s first real home.

Certainly, Noah outlived his life. Yes, he lived… oh, not in this world per se, but he lived in his Mom and it is through the courage and faith of his Mom and Dad that his legacy  lives on. I have been so impressed with Zach and Amber’s outspoken faithfulness during this painful time. Instead of hiding behind their pain they have communicated their trust in God and therefore speak volumes for their son and my grandson.

It’s always been amazing to me that Jesus doesn’t call the qualified but always qualifies the called. He does that when they are willing and sometimes even when they can’t even speak for themselves. You see Noah is qualified to communicate through those who love him and I believe he is loudly saying to all: “My parents, my family and those who believe speak for me about the ONE who provides at this very moment my eternal home that all who love Him will experience. They are able to get through this pain with faith rather than fatalism, with trust rather than anger. You can too if you will build a relationship with HIM who brings hope to the hurting, light to the darkness and whose promises last forever!”

Thanks Noah. We miss you but the encouragement and reminder that you’ve brought us through your parents and those that love them has been amazing.  I can’t wait to see you and tell you that in person! My hope and prayer, when I do go Home to meet Jesus and you, is that people can say as I do of you right now… he outlived his life.

(Our grandson, Noah Mikel Smith, was still born to our son and daughter-in-law, Zach and Amber on February 10, 2013.)
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God… what were you thinking? A question of timing.

Each year as Christmas comes I find myself shaking my head at what God has done. I cannot fathom, in my earthly thinking, how God’s one and only Son could give up the perfection of heaven to come and live as one of His created beings. How he could experience this lowly life in order to give his life for me! While I cannot fathom it I truly rejoice in His decision. No greater love has ever been expressed!

And yet, not only do I find myself in wonder about the fact He came, I also find myself stunned by the manner in which God sent His Son. I’m especially bewildered by the timing. Why send Jesus during the Roman empire times? Why not do it now when He could have announced it on the internet? Can you imagine God’s Facebook page? “Something big is about to happen… my Son is coming to visit… not me, but you!” What a tweet that could have been. And yet when I look at it a little deeper I realize the timing  does make sense. Consider the following:

  • Alexander the Great had conquered the world and Alexander had established Greek as kind of a universal language. Thus, when Jesus was born, it was one of the rare times that almost all the people of the world could communicate with each other.
  • After Alexander the Great, Rome conquered the world. Now, it was no picnic for the Jews to be under Roman oppression but Rome made it possible for worldwide travel. Good roads were built, visa’s from one country to another were unnecessary. This was the time of “Pax Romana,” peace established through Rome’s military strength. So it was a rare time of peace when missionary travel, like for the apostle Paul, was very easy. Also, during this time the Jews were spread around the globe. When Jesus was born, because of persecution and because of the poor economy in Palestine, the Jews had settled in almost every land. So, in nearly every village there was a little pocket of people who believed in one God and that He was going to send a Savior. And so the soil had been cultivated in almost every region of the world for the reception of the gospel.

That’s why Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his son…”  It wasn’t when I would have done it but but it was no accident that God picked out that one day in history. His timing was exactly right. When Jesus was crucified, over His head was a sign that read, “King of the Jews.” And that sign was written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew; a reminder that Christ was dying for all the peoples of the world, at exactly the right time.

But there was one last minute detail that needed to be worked out. The prophet Micah, in Micah 5:2 had predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth. Nazareth was 80 miles away from Bethlehem. Charles Swindoll wrote: “Augustus thought he was hot stuff, prancing about the palace, demanding that census. In reality, he was little more than a wisp of lint on the prophetic page. A pawn in the hands of the commander of `operation arrival.’” Mary and Joseph, at just exactly the right time, had to take a trip to Bethlehem. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to born, exactly as God planned.

I don’t know about you but just the timing of Jesus’ birth blows me away. Because it makes me realize how amazing God is. His choosing of that day in history demonstrates His perfect knowledge of the human condition, of my condition. God knew exactly what I needed. I’m not a mistake maker needing counseling or encouragement. I’m a sinner needing a Savior. And that is what God has provided… at exactly at the right time.

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