The Sounds of Christmas

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Christmas has always been associated with music and singing. There are community sing-a-longs, Christmas Revels, and local renditions of Handel’s Messiah. With all of this seasonal music happening shouldn’t people understand why, and who, they are singing about. But for many, the Christmas hymns are sung and delighted in for sentimental and social reasons and the music’s theological content goes largely unnoticed. Unfortunately, without a clear knowledge of the One we are singing about, and to, the music of Christmas becomes meaningless.

A popular line from Handel’s Messiah repeatedly asks, “Who is the King of glory?” The thunderous reply “He is the King of glory” comes directly from Psalm 24:10 which reads, “Who is He, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty, He is the King of glory.” This psalm of King David’s celebrates the presence of God coming to dwell among His people when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the people Israel. What David and the people of Israel experienced in part, we now proclaim as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is our Immanuel, God with us!

Christmas hymns and oratories like Messiah were originally written to lift our eyes toward heaven and worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only then are we able to reflect the glory of Christ to those around us who have no reason to sing, because no one has told them about the King of glory!

Merry Christmas to all!

The Perfect Gift

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Just like us, Queen Elizabeth enjoys giving gifts at Christmas. Every December she gathers her palace staff of over five hundred people and presents them with a token of her appreciation. Each person receives a gift or book voucher that reflects their years of service to her Majesty and a Christmas pudding for their entire family.

In 2 Corinthians 9:15, the Apostle Paul concludes his instructions on being generous in the church with the exclamation, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift”! Two verses earlier, he provides the key to identifying what the indescribable gift is by mentioning the gospel of Christ. Words cannot adequately express what Jesus did for us when He humbled himself and came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins. In the letter of Romans, Paul views Jesus as the second Adam who passed the test that the first Adam failed. Identifying and acting in our place, the result of Christ’s death and resurrection is described as a free gift that brings life.

As you rush to complete your Christmas shopping, pause to consider that the perfect gift has already been purchased for you. It truly is indescribable and it is yours when you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior and live in obedience to His Word.

And the Winner Is…

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Every December, a “Word of the Year” is announced by various organizations and literary groups. Contenders for 2018’s word included “fake news, alternative facts, normalize, and taking a knee.” Dictionary.com has announced its winner is “complicit” which means “to be involved in an illegal or questionable act.” Interest in the word complicit is reported to have skyrocketed following a satirical skit on Saturday Night Live that featured a perfume by the same name.

If a particular word can suddenly become trendy and be on every one’s lips, what about a “Word of the Year” for Christians? Is there one word that every follower of Christ should know and be quick to use? My nominee would be the word “holy,” which appears over six hundred times in the Bible. The root meaning of the Hebrew word rendered holy in the Old Testament is to cut or separate. This carries over into the New Testament where the term holy can be defined as being set apart or dedicated to God. In 1 Peter 1:15 we read, “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written; Be holy, because I am holy.”

In a world fascinated with words and their meaning, you and I need to bring back the word holy. By God’s grace, we must show others what the holiness of God is by living a life sold out to Jesus Christ! It is never too late for the word “holy” to start trending and become the believer’s “Word of the Year.”

How Many Shopping Days Are Left?

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

The count down to Christmas has begun and retailers are using every opportunity to remind anxious consumers how many shopping days remain until December 25th. But, isn’t there more to getting ready for Christmas than finding that perfect gift and making sure it arrives on time?

The word advent means “coming” and the tradition of observing advent in the church originated during the 15th century. Historically, an advent wreath is used to encourage and assist the community of faith to spiritually prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s coming. Four colored candles are placed in a circle and one white candle, which is called the Christ Candle, is placed in the center. To symbolize the excitement leading up to Christ’s first coming, and the fulfillment of the words of the Old Testament prophets, an outer candle is lit each week on the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas. Then, on Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle is lit to indicate that the long-awaited Messiah has arrived. In Galatians 4:4-5 we are told that “…when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (and daughters).” God’s perfect plan of salvation was fulfilled in history according to His perfect timing!

Celebrating advent is just one of the exciting ways for Christians to reflect on Christ’s first coming and to anticipate His second coming. It is my prayer, that when Christmas arrives this year, you will be completely prepared to celebrate it, but for all of the right reasons. So, let the count down begin!

The Day After Thanksgiving

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

There was a time when Black Friday sales actually happened on Friday. But retailers, seeking to get a jump on their competitors, are now starting their sales even before the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put away. All consumers want the biggest bang for their buck. However, it is ironic that within a span of only a few hours our thoughts go from being thankful for all we have to, “I’ve got to buy that.” So, where do we find contentment?

While writing from a prison cell, the apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Contentment is an attitude or state of mind that Christians must learn because it is contrary to our sinful nature. It is a work of God performed within the believer as we place our confidence in God’s power to provide for our needs in good times and in bad. Paul will complete this thought two verses later when he states unequivocally that he can, “do all things through Jesus Christ.”

There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of Black Friday sales. But, let’s remember that true contentment cannot be purchased. It is only available through Jesus Christ and it can be yours when you become His follower. Now that’s an amazing deal which even Amazon can’t match!

What is Sin?

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

On Wednesday, three UCLA basketball players held a news conference to admit that they had been caught shoplifting in China. Safely back in the U.S., the players apologized for their actions and their “..inexcusable lapse of judgment.” The incident raises two important questions that extend far beyond the world of politics and sports.

The first is, in a world where truth is often marginalized and personalized, why were their actions wrong? The answer is because there is an absolute standard set forth in God’s Word and anything which goes against that standard is, not merely a lapse in judgment, but a sin. The actions of these athletes is a subtle reminder that all of us are prone to committing sin if we are not walking with God. The second question, which naturally follows, is what should I do when I have sinned? The Bible not only diagnoses the problem but also provides the solution and cure. In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The word confess means to agree with and refers to measuring all of our actions against the character of God and His Word. So the first step is to own what we have done, not just before others but most importantly, before God. It is only when we do this that we will experience His forgiveness and be given the power to change.

No matter who you are or where you are the definition of sin and the cure for sin remain the same. That’s a message we all need to hear because it’s a battle we all face every day!

Peace in a Broken World

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Once more a mass shooting has been the major news story of the week. The scene may have changed and the names of the victims are different, but the end result is the same. No one in Sutherland Springs was thinking on Sunday morning that twenty-six people would be killed at First Baptist Church or that their small town would become a household word. Yet, in the midst of this tragedy, we must remember something Jesus said to His disciples on the eve of His Crucifixion. Mindful of the grief that would soon overtake them, he said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Three key words in this verse are peace, trouble, and overcome. Peace includes the concept of shalom (wholeness & harmony) and the deliverance of the entire person through Christ. Trouble speaks of being in distress, affliction, or feeling trapped. And, overcome emphasizes the victory that has already been won for us in Christ.

Let’s continue to pray for those devastated by Sunday’s shooting and for the Lord to bring healing to First Baptist Church. At the same time let’s remember that, in a world shattered by sin, there is a peace that surpasses all understanding and it can be yours. But, only if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior!

“Not Guilty”

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Two major news stories this week revealed several indictments and an unexpected guilty plea. On Monday, special counsel Robert Mueller announced charges against two individuals, and the guilty plea of a third, regarding Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. And, on Wednesday, terrorism charges were brought against the man who killed eight people and injured twelve with a truck in New York City. Indictments and guilty pleas are headlining news. But, when was the last time a person’s innocence made the front page?

The greatest “not guilty” announcement ever issued is found in Romans chapter 8. Addressing the Christian life, and the change in our nature and standing before God that comes with conversion, Paul declares, “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” In other words, when we receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord, our identity as believers is now found in Him and we receive the opposite of what we deserve — God’s grace and forgiveness of our sins!

Take a few minutes today to thank God for sending Jesus Christ to take the punishment for your sins, so you would receive the verdict, “Not Guilty!”

Making the Best Choice

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Various surveys and statistics show that a college graduate will earn an average $800,000 more in their lifetime than a high school graduate. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the pressure to make the right choice for college can be reduced by evaluating an institution’s graduate rate, average student debt, and post graduate earnings. The Dept. of Education is just one group among many today seeking to capitalize on the value of a good education by helping young people know how to choose the right college.

Although college is a big decision, it is not the most important decision you will ever make. In Matthew 16:26 Jesus says to His disciples, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Sometimes it may seem that following God’s will is not the most profitable or expedient path to take. However, it is only one that will bring you lasting joy and purpose in this life, and the one to come.

Life is all about making good decisions. As followers of Jesus Christ, the best choice you can make is to invest in your future by pursuing a dual major, one that is both academic and spiritual. As the late Jim Elliot (a martyred missionary) wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Think About This!

A devotional by Reverend Dr. Kevin Schwamb

Do you ever feel distracted or overwhelmed by thoughts racing through your mind? In addition to family or relationship issues, there could be career concerns, financial needs, or health problems. The more you tell yourself to stop thinking about these things, the worse it seems to get. So, how do we stop this disruptive pattern?

The Bible offers us an excellent strategy to counter anxious and runaway thoughts. Writing from prison, the Apostle Paul tells believers in Philippians 4:8 to think about “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praise worthy think about such things.” The word think means to intentionally calculate and hold to a particular view. In other words, the most effective way to address an anxious and distracted mind is to replace destructive thoughts with ones that reflect the character of God as He is revealed to us in the Bible.

By reading and saturating your mind with Scripture, you will be able to keep a tighter rein on your thoughts and experience peace even when life is stressful. There is nothing wrong with having a lot on your mind, as long as your mind is focused on what delights and honors God!