Bible Reading: John 1:9-13, 3:16-21

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One of the most popular Christian songs of 2018 has been “Reckless Love.” We sing and worship our God who came to save us because of the amazing love He had for us. It is an amazing song to focus us on how great God’s love is for His creation. However, one critique of the song has been that God’s love is many things, but it is not reckless. I do not say this to ruin the song! I truly enjoy it and the way it makes me reflect on God’s love. I also think we can all be encouraged this Christmas season that God’s love is faithful and certain.

We read in the opening chapters of John’s gospel that the true light, Jesus Christ, was coming into the world. Why is the Light coming? Because God so loved the world that He sent the Light, His only Son, to give eternal life to all who would believe in Him. Some people will not believe, and their sin and unbelief will condemn them. But to those who do believe by faith in Jesus, they have been given the right to become the children of God. God’s love is deep and lasting; it does not falter or fail. It is strong enough to save souls from the grips of sin and death. God’s love is healing for broken hearts, warmth for the lonely, and assurance for the fearful. This love is read throughout Scripture, but nowhere is it on better display then in life and words of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

Application: With Christmas drawing near, there is no better time to reflect on the amazing love of God. Jesus Christ left His heavenly home to come down to the world that He made. This world needed a Savior, and God’s love delivered His only Son to bring it. This is Christmas. I hope that we all take time to remember the God’s love being put on display. It did not come in the form of a conquering king, but in the form of an infant, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. May God’s love ring loud and true in our hearts and in the world this Christmas season.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing love. It is hard for us to comprehend the fullness of it, but we are eternally grateful. Help us to reflect, know and feel more of your great love every day, and may we be faithful to share your love with the world. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Luke 1:5-25

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It is so easy to rejoice with Elizabeth when you read Luke 1. Her story begins with a cloud hovering over her. We read in Luke 1:6-7, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Although she is doing everything she should be doing by living a life that is righteous and blameless, she is still burdened with barrenness. At that time, all she was expected to do was have a child, but her body could not do it. This must have hung over her and made her feel so ashamed and like a disappointment.

As we continue to read, God parts the dark cloud and shines His light through it. He has heard the cries of Elizabeth’s heart and numerous prayers, and He has answered in the most miraculous way. Even though Elizabeth has been barren her entire life, and she is also beyond the age that women are able to conceive a child, God blesses Elizabeth’s body and she becomes pregnant. The circumstances surrounding this entire pregnancy fill Elizabeth with joy and hope. Her son leaps within her womb in the presence of Mary, who is also pregnant with the Savior of the world. Elizabeth experiences great joy where there had once been darkness. The light of the world was coming into the world through Jesus Christ, but His light had already begun to shine on Elizabeth. Praise God for His miraculous blessings and immeasurable joy!

Application: Remember that Elizabeth was righteous and blameless, but still she was burdened by sadness and disappointment. Sometimes, doing what is right does not remove the sadness we may be feeling. Being righteous and blameless before God does not necessarily mean all our wrongs will be made right in this life. However, we can learn from this story that we can still find peace and joy in the blessings of God. Christ was born to redeem us and save us from sin and death. May His light shine through any darkness you may be feeling or experiencing. Let the story of His coming fill you with joy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus. His birth and salvation offers us joy in the midst of troubles and sadness. Teach us to rest in your blessings and live lives of abundant joy. We love you, Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 17:15-21; 18:9-15

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There is a reason why so many Christians love the story of Abraham, and that is because it calls of us back to hope. Abraham was an old man, well passed the time of bearing children. The love of his life, Sarah, was also very late in years and no longer able to bear children, although she was barren and had never been able to. Without Genesis 12 occurring, and God stepping in closer to call Abraham into an amazing journey filled with miracles and great promises, Abraham and Sarah would have likely died together at an old age. But as we read and remember their story, we see God offer an amazing promise to Abraham: God will give Abraham a son!

What follows, in Genesis 17 and 18, is the stunned disbelief of both Abraham and Sarah, and how God will prove to them that there is nothing impossible for Him. First, God promises Abraham a son through Sarah, but Abraham is far too old to believe that. He pleads with God to bless his son with Hagar, Sarah’s maid-servant, rather than filling him with false hope. God’s response makes my heart warm with hope! In Genesis 17:19, God says, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

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In Genesis 18, we read of Sarah’s response to the news. She overhears the Lord and His messengers talking with Abraham, and upon hearing that she will bear a son, Sarah can only laugh. She is far too old, and also, she has never been able to become pregnant. God confronts Sarah about her laughter, and in fear she denies it. God knows of her laughter and unbelief, but He will teach Sarah about His goodness and faithfulness. God is good and always keeps His promises! Within the next year, Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. They named the child Isaac, which means Son of Laughter.

Application: Most of us are too ashamed to confess our hopes because they may seem silly and unrealistic, like finally having a son at age 90. Isaac’s name has meant more to me since I was blessed to become a father to my daughter. Jessica and I prayed for a child, and at the right time, God sent her to us. Sometimes, I can get frustrated with my daughter, but God gives me little reminders that she is an answer to prayer. I can imagine Abraham and Sarah getting upset with their son and calling out his name, and then smiling as they remember how laughable it was Isaac, their son of laughter, was there with them. The hope we have as Christians is also laughable. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made a way. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to live a righteous life on our behalf, and died on the cross to take away our sins. We can now call God our Father. Thanks to Jesus we can have hope and we can laugh with joy. We are now the children of God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me and making me your very own. Life can get tiring and frustrating sometimes, and I lose sight of the hope and joy I have in you. Help me to always remember that I am yours, and may it always call me back to joy and laughter. I love you, my Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

I have said time and time again that I love the Bible. Reading and studying the Bible has grown my faith and love for God, and God continues to bless me through the amazing book He has given us. In light of this, I wanted to do a four-part blog series for Advent 2018 and look at four different stories of the Bible to help prepare our hearts and minds for celebrating the birth of Christ this year.

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Bible Reading: Genesis 1-3; Psalm 8

The Bible opens with God creating the earth and all things in it. God does not have to lift a finger, but speaks. By the Word of God, all that we see around us was made, including ourselves. When God made the first man, Adam, God made man unique. Of all the amazing things God created, only humanity was made in the image of God. There have been many explanations for what the image of God means, but many agree that it has to do with the free will God blessed mankind with, as well as the spirit/soul within each person.

We see quickly that the perfect world God had made takes a turn for the worst when Adam and Eve choose to disobey God. As a result of their disobedience, they are cursed with death, and this curse and sin pollute the entirety of humanity. All of us are doomed to die in this world, and without God’s help, there is no chance of escaping death. What can God do, if anything, to save us from being captured by death?

God, having such a great love for us as His image-bearers, sends Jesus, God’s Son, to become a man. Our Christmas celebrations center on the birth of Jesus in this world. Jesus left heaven to become fully human. He got cold, tired, hungry and dirty in this world in order to be like us. Jesus did this in order to save us. Through His perfectly sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His complete resurrection, all who believe in Jesus will be saved from sin and death!

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Application: We celebrate Advent to remember the first time Jesus came to earth and rescue and redeem humanity. We also celebrate Advent as we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming when He will take all the sons and daughters of God into His kingdom. We needed Jesus because without Him we would be forever trapped by sin and death. If Jesus is not born in order to save us, then we would die in our guilt and condemnation. Praise be to God for the great love He has for us! He loved us enough to send His Son to die upon the cross so that we can be redeemed and hope in life that will last for all eternity with Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing love. As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Jesus, teach and guide our hearts into a deeper sense of worship and awe. Without Jesus we would be doomed, but thanks to your love and mercy, we have hope of life. We praise you, O God, and we love you, our Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 19:1-29; Romans 3:26

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The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that many of us know, but many do not like to spend much time with. It is a sad story filled with wickedness, loss, and wrath. But when we spend time with this story, and if we consider what it has to teach us about God, then it can lead us to be more thankful for the salvation we have been given through Jesus.

In Genesis 18, God told Abraham about His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asks God to spare the city if God can find just ten righteous people. God agrees to spare the cities for the sake of ten people, but there are no righteous people found. We would be mistaken to say God spares Lot because Lot is righteous, because as we see in Genesis 19, he does not appear to be. Lot offers up his daughters to the angry mob outside his home in order to protect God’s servants. Since having a daughter and with another daughter on the way, this point in the story has come to bother me even more. How could a father offer up his daughters to a mob? We cannot stand against wickedness by promoting a different wicked act! But God’s servants still deliver Lot, his wife and his daughters from the coming destruction. We even read that Lot and his family linger too long in the city and the angels take hold of them and force them to leave! Lot seems to be pushing his luck, but God spares him. Why does God do this? Genesis 19:29 says, “So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow”.

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Application: This story teaches us that God is just when He pours out His wrath. These cities were clearly wicked, and God found no righteous people when He surveyed them. It is difficult to question a Judge who declares a guilty person guilty, and that is what God did when He judged and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But we also see God’s mercy on display when He spares Lot for the sake of Abraham. God did not want to harm Abraham, so God spares Abraham the heartbreak of mourning for his nephew. Lot’s life is saved because of Abraham. More often than we care to admit, we look more like Lot than Abraham. But thanks be to God that He remembers the life and death of Jesus! He never will forget the work of the Son when He looks on us, and we are saved from destruction because of God’s great mercy. Genesis 19 is a hard chapter to read, but we must learn from it. God is just to judge sin and declare guilty those who are guilty. But we also see that God is merciful to those who love Him. Praise God for His mercy and love He shows us every day because of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your great mercy. Our sin makes us worthy of your judgment, but you have shown us mercy by sending your Son to die for our sins on the cross. Thank you for this great mercy and love you have shown us. Help us to grow in our thoughtfulness and understanding of your mercy. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Haggai 1-2

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Haggai is a short, wonderful book in the Bible. Israel is just a small remnant of what it formerly was, and that only because God spared them from total destruction. God has raised up leaders for this remnant, particularly Joshua, the High Priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. With these two men and others, God calls for the remnant of Israel to begin rebuilding His temple. In all of the turmoil, warfare, lackluster harvest and discouraging circumstances, Israel had never returned to the Lord. God now calls them back and gives them the task of rebuilding.

The new temple project is begun, but it is nothing compared to the glory and prestige of the temple Solomon built. No matter how much time, effort and resources they pour into the work, this temple pales in comparison. But what God says to this people is amazing. He does not berate them for a pitiful excuse for a temple, but God promises to bless them and be with them. In 2:4-5, God tells them to be strong and to, “Work, for I am with you…My Spirit remains in your midst.” God also calls for Zerubbabel and Joshua specifically to be strong in their leadership roles.

You may be wondering, “Why does this matter today? What does Haggai say to God’s people in 2018?” to answer that, I want to point us to another verse, but from the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah 4:6 has God telling Zerubbabel, “Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’” Zerubbabel and all of Israel had to stay strong in faith when they looked at the work ahead of them. On their own it would be too much for them, but the work does not depend upon them. God will do the work, so stay strong in your faith in Him.

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Application: We are prone to trust in our own abilities. We focus so much on our own strengths, creativity, cleverness and planning, and we too often neglect to look to God’s Spirit to accomplish His work. As the children of God, we must have more faith in God’s Spirit than in ourselves. Our neighbors will not come to know and experience the love and salvation of God because of anything we say or do, but by God’s Spirit at work. So pray constantly and surrender yourself to God. Ask God to male you into a vessel for His Spirit to work through. Only then will New Hope be able to serve as God’s Church in our community in Birmingham.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please fill us with your Spirit. Forgive us for relying too much on ourselves and not depending fully upon you. Teach us and help us to have strong faith and to work in faith. We will build your kingdom here only by your Spirit. Help us. We love you, Lord. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin
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Every year, Halloween comes, and every year, Christians question what their thoughts on it should be.  Some sweep any concerns under the rug claiming, “Its harmless dress-up and candy, and our children love it,” whereas others see the witches, goblins and demons and refuse to support such a dark, wicked celebration.  What should our thoughts on Halloween be?  Like most things, I believe there is a middle ground to be had. 

A quick search of the origin of the name, “Halloween,” will tell you that it is short for “All Hallows Eve” which is the day before “All Saint’s Day” which was instituted by Pope Boniface IV to remember and celebrate the lives of saints and martyrs who have come before us.  The origins of the holiday itself, however, is hard to pin down.  There are many celebrations of the dead in numerous countries around the world, and most all of them have an element of darkness and sacrifices.  We cannot avoid the dark elements of the day, but does that mean we must avoid the day altogether? 

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I for one do not think we must avoid it, but must use caution with our celebrations.  During the Halloween season, there are numerous gatherings that celebrate with Fall Festivals, costumes and candy, and these are wonderful times of fellowship and fun.  Halloween can greatly encourage community and give us an excuse to have fun together and enjoy sweets like no other time of year.  I believe there is great danger in surrendering a day to darkness, and I think the Church should renew it with the joy of Christ.  He has come to save us from death and darkness, so, don’t give up the day to death and darkness.  Use this day as a chance to fellowship and strengthen relationships in your community and church, and also use it as a night to shine the light of Christ to others!

In summary, we do not need to fear Halloween, but we must be cautious of what types of celebrations we participate in.  Watch out for the darkness and wicked things that occur on October 31, because they are out there.  We may not be able to prevent them, but we can battle that darkness with light.  Trick-or-Treat with your families, attend the Fall Festivals with thankful hearts, and celebrate the salvation you have in Jesus by letting your light shine before others.  If your church is able, consider hosting a Fall Festival that focuses on light and thanksgiving.  Enjoy candy, costumes and community, all the while knowing that every day belongs to our Heavenly Father, including Halloween.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Mark 9:14-29

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When I read this story, I often wondered why Jesus seemed frustrated by the situation. Upon hearing the father’s request for healing and deliverance of his son, Jesus replies by saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Why does Jesus seem annoyed with this father’s request. We have to take the entire story into account. Jesus is not approached by a father seeking help, but Jesus comes down the mountain after the Transfiguration, and he sees the people are arguing with his disciples. The argument is over the disciples’ failure to do what the people wanted. They want signs, wonders and miracles, and they were not satisfied with failure.

All attention turns to Jesus when he walks up, and this father comes seeking help once again, and he is getting desperate. Jesus disciples had failed, and he is possibly doubting whether or not Jesus can save his son. Not to excuse the lack of faith in Jesus, but the man’s logic is likely something like: since the students failed, and they learned from this teacher, then this teacher will likely fail as well. Students reflect their teachers, so this father may think Jesus is not equipped to cast out a demon. And this is the core of Jesus frustration. He has come to make the Father known and to do the Father’s will, yet people desire the miracles more than the Miracle-Maker. In this moment we read an amazing exchange that should always lead us to reflect on our approach to prayer.

The Dad - But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.

Jesus - ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.

In a desperate cry for faith and help, Jesus delivers the man’s son from the demon. His mercy and grace know no bounds, even when met with discouraged, doubtful consent to faith. The disciples may have failed, but this dad learned that day that Jesus does not and cannot fail.

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Application: How many times have circumstances caused you to doubt God’s ability to answer prayers? What we learn from Jesus here is that our focus should not be on what we are asking for, but on the One whom we are asking. Situations can cause us to doubt or half-heartedly ask because we already feel defeated, but God is greater than our situations! If you have anything that needs prayer, do not look at the problem, but look to God, the problem solver! Nothing is impossible for God, so pray to God with bold, confident faith.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times I have doubted you because I looked at my circumstances instead of you. I know and believe you are greater, and that there is nothing you cannot do. Strengthen my faith within me, and help me to know and remember forever that you are God, and you can do anything. I love you, Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23-27

Most people, at some time or another, have issues with authority. It could be you did not approve of your parents’ authority over you when they forbid you from watching a movie or staying out past curfew with your friends. Maybe you did not agree with the authority of the police officer who clocked you for speeding five miles over the limit. Or perhaps, like the Pharisees in Matthew 21:23-27, you do not care for the authority Jesus uses when He speaks to your heart.

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The Pharisees demand to know why Jesus is challenging the spiritual-quo of the day. Jesus has broken many of the spiritual laws of the day. He has healed on the Sabbath, touched unclean people (lepers and the woman with bleeding issues), and has declared the forgiveness of sins for some people. Jesus speaks and acts with an authority uncommon to the Pharisees and spiritual leaders of the day. How dare Jesus try to overthrow and undo the work the Pharisees had been working so hard to accomplish! They demand to know where Jesus received this authority He acts in. Jesus says He will tell them, but only if they can answer His question first. The question: Where did the authority in John’s baptism ministry come from? From heaven, or from men? The Pharisees get nervous. The people loved John the Baptist, so they do not want to risk insulting or demeaning his ministry. But if they say the authority came from God in heaven, they will have no grounds to question Jesus’ authority. They are stuck, and they give no answer. Because they do not give an answer, neither does Jesus.

Application: There are times that God speaks to us directly concerning matters near and dear to us. He calls us out on an idol we have set up, or forgiveness we have withheld, or even over the secret sins of our hearts that nobody knows. When God does this, we tend to not appreciate His authority. We must remember that God’s authority is not meant to berate us and shame us, but God uses His authority in love to transform us. God does not abuse His authority, nor does He shy away from using it in our lives. God is working in us to perfect His spiritual work of salvation. His authority is used to guide us and help us, even when it seems uncomfortable and unpleasant. Trust in God’s authority. He is for you, and not against you. He loves you, and will not do you harm.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I know your authority is meant to help guide and teach me. You have always sought to do good by me, even when I did not want to follow you. Forgive me for the times I question and rebel against your authority, Teach me and help me to honor and respect you as my perfect and holy Father who is in heaven. I love you. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 15:1-19

I truly love the story of Naaman! I imagine a mighty warrior who is respected by his king, admired by his fellow soldiers, and loved by the people he fights for and protects. He is in an almost dream-like position among the people, and yet not many people would dare swap places with him. Why wouldn’t they swap places with the amazing Naaman? 2 Kings 15:1 ends by telling us, “[Naaman] was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.” Naaman had power and prestige, but he could do nothing with the disease that would eventually claim his life.

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Through a set of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, Naaman finds himself at the front door of Elisha’s house. What we see unfold from here is the battle between pride and humility. Elisha does not come and put on a healing show in front of Naaman. Elisha actually does not even come out to meet the mighty man of valor! Instead, Elisha’s servant acts as a messenger and tells Naaman to go dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman is furious. He expected a grand showing on his behalf, but he only received the words of a lowly messenger. Thanks to the wise counsel of one of his own servants, Naaman agrees to enter the Jordan River, and finds himself cleansed. Naaman has been healed physically, but his heart was also made clean that day.

Application: More often than not, we tend to get in our own way. Because Naaman desired a grand gesture on Elisha’s part, he almost missed a healing. Sometimes we expect God to make grand gestures on our behalf as well. We want to see God part the skies, cause the sun to shine down on us extra brightly, and have heavenly glitter rain on us and fix our problems. God is able to do that, but His desire is to grow our faith in the work He does. He teaches us humility, perseverance, and obedience. God can and does heal and answer prayers, but there is also more that He does we don’t always see. Be confident and courageous in your prayers, knowing that God will work in your life and in your heart.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for taking notice of me and for hearing my prayers. Thank you for going above and beyond all that I have ever asked you. Thank you for teaching me to be more like Christ in how I live in this world. I love you. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin