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Christmas: From the Temple to the Manger

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What's the big deal about Christmas?  Is it the billions of dollars we spend on gifts?  Or tradition, with the classic movies and songs and eggnog?  Could it be the trees and lights and Santa and stockings?  We know better than that.  Christmas about King Jesus, born in a humble manger.  

Sure, but do you honestly know why that's such a big deal?  What are your really celebrating this Christmas?    

I'd like to suggest that this story starts in Genesis 1:1.  God did the remarkable work of creation.  In Genesis 2 we read about God creating Adam.  God was with Adam and Adam was with God.  And in Genesis 3:8 we read, "And they [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." How wonderful--God and man together in the garden!  But the rest of that verse says, "and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." 

Adam and Eve hid from God.  Why?  Because just before this verse, the Bible tells us that they sinned against God.  And then the verses after say that God brought a great curse upon mankind, the earth, and Satan.  The curse was death and separation from God, forever.  

But there's good news!  Right there in Genesis, we see the first mention of the hope of the gospel.  Genesis 3:15 records God's master plan to redeem his creation.  It says, "I will put enmity between you and the women, and between your offspring and her offspring; he [meaning Jesus] will bruise your head, and you [Satan] will bruise his heel." But because of the curse of sin, God had to send Adam and Eve out of the garden (Genesis 3:22-24). 

But God had a beautiful rescue plan so God and mankind could walk together again.  He would start by calling a people for himself.  Then he would make a way so he could be with them. At first, this meant he would need some kind of sanctuary.  The sanctuary would provide a barrier between a Holy God and sinful humanity.  It was like a hazardous material suit for God. And the people had to do ritual cleansing and make animal sacrifices to get near God.  The sanctuary started as a portable tent called a tabernacle but it eventually became permanent in Jerusalem and was called a temple. That would be the fixed point on earth where humanity could come close to God, and one selected person could enter the Holy of Holies once per year.  God was with his people, sort of. 

But then, as God's envoys prophesied before his arrival, God entered humanity without the barrier.  God was with us, and his name is Jesus!  Jesus was born to humble circumstances. Vulnerable.   Lowly.  So lowly in fact, that he was laid in a food trough for animals as a crib on his first night.  A King too holy for this fallen world, entered broken humanity to be with us, his people who did not deserve such a rescue. That is what we celebrate on Christmas.  That's the big deal.   

We are starting a 4-part series called, "God With Us: From the Temple to the Manger" to dig into what God's Word has to say about this remarkable story.  I hope you will join us for this Christmas journey and celebration. 

This Sunday, December 10th at 11 am, I will share a message from Exodus 25:1-9.  We'll see more regarding God's Old Covenant dwelling place among the people.  On December 17th, Pastor Brett Ricley will open God's Word to Exodus 26:31-35 to look at the veil, the barrier between God and mankind.  Spoiler alert: He'll also explore how Jesus split that barrier from top to bottom ushering in the New Covenant, making the temple obsolete (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, & John 19:23).  Then on December 23rd at 7 pm (we're calling this time our Eve of Eve service), we'll enjoy an evening of worship and celebration, and I'll point us to the story of the Magi seeking the humble King in Matthew 2:1-12.  They didn't look for Jesus in the temple but were led to find him in humble humanity.  And on December 24th--Christmas Eve morning at 11 am-- we'll open John 1:1-18 and see the magnitude of God with us! 

I hope you'll join us. 

Merry Christmas, 
Pastor Bryan Catherman  

Malachi

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God's people were unfaithful, turning to counterfeit gods, themselves, any anything but God, so God sent them into an exile.  The exile, just as it was for the people in the book of Exodus, was a time to wander in the wilderness and contemplate the who God is and who they are.  But when the people of Israel returned from their 'time out' in Babylon, they still harbored attitudes toward God that were sickly, dying, and were grossly under reaching the beauty God intended for them.  

God's people grow careless in their attitude toward God.  If the starting place is a bad attitude, things are only going to get worse. 

The book of Malachi contains a series of six disputations outlining God's truth followed by man's rebuttal.  These are six questions they asks that expose the condition of their sinful hearts.  And within these six discussions, more questions and statements prove man is far from God.  

We will find that apart from Jesus changing the heart of man, this will remain true of humanity.  It was true then, and it's true now.  

I hope that opening Malachi this Sunday will serve to expose our true nature.  We drift away from our relationship with Jesus if we harbor an apathetic attitude toward our relationship with Jesus.  But in his wonderful love, Jesus comes after us, drawing us back.  

Malachi 3:7 records God's call to his people.  It reads, "Return to me, and I will return to you says the Lord of Hosts."  But if nothing else, the six disputations demonstrate the reality of humanity returning to God apart from God's intervention.  Therefore, the people should have celebrated the words of Malachi 3:1: "Behold, I send my messenger, and will he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts."   This is good news for them and it's good news for us. 

The people were charged to look for this messenger.  The messenger was coming to prepare the way for who?  Look at what it says.  The messenger is preparing the way for "me."  God himself was coming because it is God alone who can change a wicked person's heart.  And with a changed heart, we can indeed return to the Lord! 

Spoiler alert:  John the Baptist was that messenger, and he pointed  his finger right at Jesus and proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).  God came, and his name is Jesus.  

I hope you will read the four chapters of Malachi and join us on Sunday as we discuss the wonder and revelation of the minor prophet.  We gather at 11 for corporate worship.  See you there. 

For the Kingdom! 
Pastor Bryan Catherman  

P.S>  Here's an introduction to the book in video form.

Zechariah

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Church,

This Sunday we will be digging into the book of Zechariah; a fascinating book that is full of eschatological imagery and allusions.

I’d encourage you to dig into it as much as you can before Sunday, or even next week because I believe there are some amazing truths on display for us in this book.

Zechariah was a prophet and priest speaking on behalf of God. He and Haggai were both a part of the group of exiles who returned to Jerusalem around 520 B.C. Haggai preached a few sermons to motivate God’s people to keep their priorities in check and begin focusing more time and effort on building the temple so God’s presence could dwell among them. Zechariah shows up on the scene approximately two months later with a similar message. In addition to encouraging them to stay focused on the temple, Zechariah also lays out some timeless perspective for God’s people.

His letter begins with eight strange visions that are tied together (1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5) and communicates three primary things:

1) turn away from your sinful past (Zechariah 1:1-6, 13-17)

2) remain faithful in the present (Zechariah 4:1-10)

3) eagerly anticipate the future coming of God’s Kingdom rule and reign (Zechariah 3:8-10, 6:12-13, 9:9-17).

As we’ll see on Sunday, there’s a lot going on here. God is always calling His people to turn away from their sin (repentance) and strive to live holy lives (2 Peter 3:11-18). God also reminds His people that in the midst of the day to day there must be faithfulness and resolve that is motivated by the gospel and the understanding of God's character and holiness. Finally, God exhorts His people to lift their eyes and gain a broader perspective of this life and any trials we may face. Ultimately, we can have a real hopeful expectation of the coming of the Lord one day when He sets all things right with His perfect wrath and justice.

By the grace of God, we look to Jesus both now and in the future to be the fulfillment of all the Scriptures and to rule and reign as the long-awaited “Branch” we see depicted in Zechariah (3:8, 6:12-13).

Looking forward to worshiping King Jesus with you all on Sunday!

For the Kingdom,
Pastor Brett

Haggai

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As we continue to journey our way through the minor prophets, we now have Haggai.  No longer are we dealing with the coming threat of the Army of Babylon.  The exile has happened, the Persians conquered Babylon, and the Jewish people have returned to rebuild Jerusalem.  However, for nearly 15 years, the temple sat in ruin with no attention.  God had a problem with this and spoke through Haggai.  

As we look in the short book of Haggai, just two chapters, we find that the people had neglected their end of the covenant that God made with them generations before.  They would be God's people, and he would be their God, dwelling among them.  However, the temple was his dwelling place, and all they cared about was their own dwellings.  Even worse, the people were apathetic, filled with character issues, and half-hearted.  To use modern vernacular, they were living for God on Sunday and living for themselves the other six days.  God said this attitude would only end up corrupting Sunday too.  

This Sunday, I'll be opening up the book of Haggai to discuss this in more detail.  Like I have with all of the minor prophets, I'll offer some background about Haggai and the people, and then we'll look at how God's message in Haggai speaks to us today.  I'll also go into more details and field your questions on Tuesday night during Redeeming Life: LIVE

In the meantime, here's an excellent overview of the book of Haggai. 

Our service starts at 11 am.  We also have a time of prayer and communion if at 10 am if you'd like to join us, and we have groups that meet throughout the week.  Get in touch with us for more info.  See you Sunday. 

For the Kingdom! 
Pastor Bryan Catherman

Obadiah

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Tomorrow we're opening up the book of Obadiah.  In this, the shortest book of the Old Testament, the minor prophet speaks to Edom.  The background is eye-opening.  

The Edomites were most likely relatives of the Israelites through family lines.  There was probably a great deal of cross-cultural blending in the area, but theories suggest that the Edomites were from the line of Esau, Jacob's twin brother.  At birth, Esau first came out red, and that had to do with his name and nickname. ('Edom' sounds like Hebrew word for red.)  It was said of these brothers, that they would be two peoples from the same womb but each be a nation and be divided (Genesis 25:23).  

If that were not enough, there are some theories that Edom--from the line of Esau--might have cross-bred with the children of Ishmael, or the Ishmaelites.  Genesis 17:20 says Ishmael would give birth to 12 princes and become a great nation.  Geneses 25:12-18 records the fulfillment of this prophecy and that they settled in the direction of Assyria. (Also, Genesis 25:1-6 recorded that Abraham had another wife named Keturah and she had a bunch of kids that Abraham settled in the east country.) Ishmael was the uncle of Jacob and Esau and the half-brother of Isaac, the twin's father.  All of them have Abraham in their lineage.  Also, many Arab cultures hold that they hail from Ishmael, (the son of the Egyptian woman named Hagar and Abraham from Ur).       

With that family tree, it makes the relationship between Isreal and Edom even more complicated than an unclear shared border.  These guys have tension between them.  In fact, Edom blocked the Israelites from traveling through the territory when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness.  And when Babylon assaulted Jeresulem, Edom helped burn the city.  They sided against their relatives! 

Obediah is God's Word against Edom.  Because they opposed God and God's people, they will experience God's retributive judgment.    Obadiah 1:15 says, "As you have done, it shall be done to you, your deeds shall return on your own head."  

Why does this matter for us today? 

I'll be talking about this on Sunday.  I hope you'll join us.  And as you're thinking about the 21 verses of Obadiah, I hope you see that God is concerned with all nations and God desires that we live well with others.  Also, I've embedded an overview video from the Bible Project. 

See you Sunday! 
Pastor Bryan Catherman

FBC Sutherlands Springs and the Gospel

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During our Redeeming Life: LIVE last night, a participant asked me what I would do if I were the pastor of Sutherlands Springs in Texas.  A man walked into First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and killed 26 people and injured 20 others.  It was a tough question.  

All I could think about was my friend, Pastor Mike Clements.  He's the pastor of First Baptist Church in Floresville, just 15 minutes from Sutherlands Springs.  He lost 14 friends.  The two churches work together each year.  I had been praying for my friend since Sunday. 

Mike and I were in the same DMin cohort at Gateway Seminary, and we defended our projects on the same morning.  We had dinner together, coffee the next morning, and lunch after we defended.  Mike's heart is for Jesus, and it's inspiring.  The love of Jesus flows out of him so much so that he can't help but tell others about Jesus, all the time.  Any place, any time, any person.    

At lunch, I asked him, "So, Dr. Mike, what's next for you now that you've finished the DMin?"  

In his big Texas drawl and soft style he said, "Well Dr. Bryan (we both chuckled), I plan to give my entire life over to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to any and everybody who will listen.  It's important that people know Jesus.  In fact, it's the most important."  

Three weeks later, a man walks into a church and does the unthinkable.  

Mike Clements, approached by the media and filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly points people to the hope and love of Jesus, the light of the world, even in the darkest times.  If we had the modern day 'Book of Acts' for work and God and his Church today, I believe Mike's name would be found in it.   

Church, are you speaking light into the darkness around you?  

Are you preaching the gospel into your soul daily?  If not, why not?  Are you talking about the gospel and preaching it among the faith-family?  It's one of the reasons God gathers his people into a local church.  And when people come to you in the darkness, are you pointing them to the light of Jesus Christ?  

Redeeming Life, I'm calling on you to pray for First Baptist Church in Sutherlands Springs and First Baptist Church in Floresville.  Pray for the pastor of both these churches.  Pray for the families and the communities and these little churches.  And pray for Pastor Mike.  

Finally, let's take a lesson from Mike's example.  Let's give our lives over to something so much more eternal and more significant than the silly things we usually give our lives too.  Let's boldly share Jesus everywhere we go.  Any place, any time, any person. 

For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan Catherman 

P.S.>
Watch how Mike points people to Jesus on national news, and hear the story from someone much closer to the situation than you or me.  

Here's n national news interview with Mike on the street near the church: http://www.snappytv.com/tc/6260840

If you have a Facebook account, you can watch Mike tell Shepherd Smith about Jesus and then call the nation to both turn to Jesus and pray.  
https://www.facebook.com/nataliegracenichols/videos/1694220390590143/ 

Habakkuk

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This Sunday, I'm going to open Habakkuk, a book that teaches us to trust God even when God seems unresponsive or unfair.  Habakkuk was a guy who looked around and saw problems.  Like Job, he cried out to God with something of a complaint.  Also like Job, he learned a great deal when God responded.  

Most of us can relate to Habakkuk.  He saw a world full of violence and injustice.  It didn't seem right, and he asked God how it could be so.  I've asked God the same question.  Have you?  Habakkuk learned, as we'll see, that regardless of our assessment of the situation God is still in control.   Whether we feel it or now, it's true.  And whether we would do it differently than God does, we must come to see that God is working out his purposes in all of this crazy mess.  

There are two verses in Habakkuk that undoubtedly worth memorizing.  Habakkuk 2:4 tells us that the righteous shall live by his faith.  This statement is quoted a few times in the New Testament.  The other notable statement is found in Habakkuk 3:18.  It reads, "I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation." 

As you prepare to hear from God's Word in Habakkuk, here's a great overview video: 

Church, I want to remind you that it is okay to look around and be confused or frustrated by what we see around us.  Habakkuk did.  He even challenged God.  However, we must also be ready to see what God would have us see.  I also want to encourage you to take your joy in the one who saves you, adopts you as his own, and loves you--the Lord our God.  We might not understand, but that doesn't mean we can't trust God.  

I hope to see you Sunday, if not before.  I'm praying for you as you serve our Great King.  You are a reflection of Jesus' light in dark places.  Your co-workers probably struggle to see how God is good when there is so much violence and injustice all around them.  Let them know that Habakkuk had the same issue and it's okay.  Let them know that God is happy to take that issue up with them if they bring it before him.  And by all means, don't hesitate to invite them to explore this book with us on Sunday.  See you then! 

For the Kingdom! 
Pastor Bryan 

Zephaniah

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It's difficult to understand the craziness in the world around us these days. For some, it's cause for panic. Others act as if the world has never been further from God, but this is not true, and it's not a reason to freak out. It was much worse in Zephaniah's day, and yet all of it was in God's hands. All that you see today is in God's hands too.

As we've been journeying through the Minor Prophets, a theme has come to the surface. The people turned from God in rebellion. They were off their mission to be a blessing to the nations, and they worshiped other gods. People no longer loved one another. As they cherished themselves, they took advantage of those around them, especially the poor and outcast. All the while arrogance and pride grew among the people. It might sound a little like our day, right?

The prophet Ezekiel wrote about God removing his presence from the people. Where he once dwelt among them in the temple, he packed up and left town. It was symbolic of the removal of his favor and protection, but it was only for a season. Zephaniah wrote of a coming destruction that would refine the faithful. And at the conclusion, God would once again dwell among his people and gather the lame and outcasts to himself. There will be grand celebration and praise. God's glory will once more be seen in what he has done in and for his faithful people.

I remember how people were freaking out when flames ripped through Yellowstone National Park in 1988. But then I learned something remarkable. Pinecones, those hard seedpods on evergreen trees, are a resilient restoration. They open and close. Some cones only open and drop their seeds after extend hot, dry days. By God's design, the seeds start in drought, knowing that the terrible season weakens older trees and new growth will be necessary to keep the forest healthy.

The Lodgepole Pine has especially fascinating cones. A unique resin holds them tightly closed. They can remain on the tree, closed, for as long as 30 years. Why? Because they only open when the extreme heat of a forest fire comes through. The old lodgepole pines burn quickly, but the seeds fall into the ash. The fire typically only scorches the top inch of soil, and the ash makes for more nutrients in the earth. The seeds take with ease, and new, healthy trees begin to grow right away. But only if the forest has been refined by fire.

If God designed forests to grow by fire, how much more might he use the metaphorical fires to refine his people?

This Sunday, we will see how God allowed destruction to come to his holy city and exile to befall his beloved people so that healthy restoration would refine the faithful. Zephaniah is only three chapters, but in this packed little book, we see an intense refining that should shock us, but we also see God's restoration, and that should bring us to tears of joy.

Here's a short video that provides a good overview of the book of Zephaniah.

I pray you'll read Zephaniah this week and you'll join God's people for corporate worship, fellowship, and an opportunity that God might speak to you through his Word.  We meet at 10am to pray together and take the Lord's Supper.  At 11am we worship in song and hear a message from the book of Zephaniah.  

For the Kingdom! 
Pastor Bryan Catherman  

Nahum

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We live in a very broken world. Almost every day we hear new stories about a mass shooting, government corruption, global health epidemics, violence and crime in neighborhoods, and global tension between nations ravaged by war and terrorism. The sheer amount of brokenness in our world is enough to make a person wonder if things will ever get better. Do you feel the weight of the world we live in?

As disciples of Jesus, it’s all too easy to try and pretend like these things aren’t our problem or that these issues don’t have any relevance for us today where we live. But I believe the the Bible has given us timeless wisdom and instruction on topics such as this and one of the books that speaks to this issue in profound ways is the book of Nahum.

While Nahum is a short book of only three chapters comprised of 47 verses, we would be wise to pay attention to the message of Nahum.

Nahum was a prophet of God and his message comes in the form of a prophetic vision. This prophetic vision is addressed to the city of Nineveh, which happens to be the central hub for the evil and cruel Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were brutal enemies of God’s nation, Israel, and practiced some of the most evil and violent methods of war known to mankind. The message of Nahum to the Assyrians is deeply haunting yet simple and goes something like this: God will utterly destroy, devastate, and humiliate you and your people for your blatant evil, bloodshed, and injustice upon the innocent. In three short chapters we see that God will bring destruction to Assyria in such a way that has never been seen before. The sad irony is that Assyria will reap the very consequences of violence and destruction they had been sowing for years (Nahum 2:10-13).

Ready for a plot twist?

As you read Nahum, you may be wondering how Nineveh will be destroyed when Jonah (another prophet of God) physically went to Nineveh, preached to them, and the whole city repented and God relented from destroying them (Jonah 3:6-10). So how does this compare to the book of Nahum? Well, the story of Jonah going to Nineveh happened 100 years before the message of Nahum was written. Therefore, the city of Nineveh did actually repent and turn from their evil ways and God spared them. Unfortunately, after a few years the Assyrians went back to their old ways and not only did they return to their wicked ways but, as history shows us, their evil became worse than ever (Nahum 3:1)! This blatant refusal to maintain God’s ways was the final straw and thus Nahum was given a prophetic vision to deliver as God's final message to the Assyrians.

What does this mean for us?

Let’s be honest: it’s pretty ridiculous to see Assyria given so much grace through God sending the prophet Jonah to warn them, right? Not only does God spare them but they remain in God’s favor for almost another hundred years. Yet we see them turn right back around to embrace their sinful and destructive past once again and we scratch our heads. However, before we get too self-righteous, we would be wise to consider how many times you and I have done the exact same thing. In fact, how many times have you and I done the exact same thing this week?

While we may not have led an army to burn cities or slaughter innocent women and children, you and I still have the disease known as sin living inside of us. This rebellious cancer seeps into our heart, mind, and soul and causes us to one day embrace God’s forgiveness and the next day get right back to the sin we were so disgusted by the previous day. This is the human condition.

The book of Nahum serves as an example, both then and now, to encourage us that God does not take evil and injustice lightly. Nahum, and many of the other minor prophetic books, is a bold indictment upon evil and injustice and gives us a glimpse of how God will one day bring His sovereign justice to these horrible injustices in our world today. While we mourn and feel the weight of living in our broken world we must take encouragement and hope that God will not remain silent. In His perfect timing, there will be swift and unfathomable judgment to His enemies. At the same time, as in every story in Scripture, there is good news that points to God’s steadfast love and mercy. For those that trust in God and submit to His ways there will be refuge and comfort until His day of judgment occurs (Nahum 1:7). 

Also, for a quick overview of the book of Nahum, I'd highly recommend the video below. 

For the Kingdom,
Pastor Brett Ricley

We Appreciate our Staff

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This past Sunday, Pastor Brett and I lead our faith-family in thanking and appreciating our staff.  Do you realize how fortunate we are to have a staff?  We are a church-plant with a staff.  We are blessed!  

Through faithful supporters and partnerships, we have two full-time pastors leading a bi-vocational Minister of Students (Josiah), a bi-vocational Minister of Worship (Ming), a bi-vocational Pastor in Residence (Derek), and a bi-vocational Women's Ministry Intern (Arin).   

Our staff team did a great job this year.  I hope you'll thank each of them the next time you see them or consider sending a text or email sharing your appreciation of the work they've done.  

As internships and residencies end, there may be some adjustments to roles and responsibilities.  We will likely have more interns and residents.  It's my hope and prayer that our church will support and care for them like they have our present intern and resident, as well as our other bi-vocational staffers. I pray our staff will continue to faithfully serve the Lord as we grow and serve in this area even as it changes and continues to develop.  And above all, I hope you'll continue to keep your staff leaders and pastors in your prayers.   

For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan