December 2014


WISDOM

December 30th
Wisdom

”Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-12

History tells us that after Jesus was born, wise men came to look for Him, probably from an area that is now in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. Although they are often called the ‘Three Kings’, the Bible does not directly say that they were kings or that there were three of them. Three men is only an educated guess because of the three gifts brought to Jesus.

We do know however, that they were unquestionably men of learning. The word Magi comes from the Greek word ‘magos’. Magos comes from the Persian word ‘Magupati,’ which was the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions. Today we’d call them astronomers.

With that said, the Magi would have followed the patterns of the stars meticulously. As mentioned in the Bible, the men saw an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a very special king. There are also indicators that they were probably wealthy and held in high esteem within their society (and by people all over the world). Pretty interesting!

Now that we’ve covered the three wise men, what does the Bible say about WISDOM and how do we become wise men and women?

In summary, the Bible tells us to…

1.) FEAR GOD: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

2.) ASK FOR IT: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

3.) HANG OUT WITH WISE PEOPLE: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Recommended Reading: Proverbs 4

Favored.

December 29th
The Favor of God

The first area of England we lived in was called Mill Lane Estate in Stockton-on-Tees. A friend of ours who also lived in the neighborhood felt God leading him to develop an outreach called “Mill Lane” Mission. Every Thursday night he hosted a neighborhood Q&A where anyone with questions about God, the Bible, Christianity, etc. was welcome.

On the first night, a seventeen-year-old girl raised her hand and asked, ‘Why did God choose Mary?’

After a short period of silence, another friend of ours said something brilliant: ‘I ask myself the same thing—why did God choose ME? …Why am I favored?’

These are such beautiful and profound questions. ‘Why do I hear from God and others do not?’

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:30 … “For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favor you will surround him as with a shield.” Psalm 5:12

‘Me? Favored by God? Me? Righteous?’ “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Before we could decide for or against God, before we could ask forgiveness for our first sin, before we could show him how “devout” we are, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), God favored us. God’s favor did not find us because he knew we would become great Christians someday or raise good children or give to charity… God favored us because He’s a good God. God’s favor was an act of grace to Mary and it is an act of grace to us.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

I think about this kind of grace within the context of my job as a youth worker. I did not live a perfect life. I’ve done bad things. I’ve failed miserably in so many ways and so many times…. yet, God still wanted to use me. He never gave up on me. He continued to pursue me. He showed me undeserved favor. Nothing qualifies me (or you… or anyone) except Jesus Christ.

I’m reminded of John the Baptist when he said, “the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Luke 1:30 I am unworthy, nevertheless God has anointed me to preach the good news… me… sometimes fearful, doubting, anxious, stubborn, insecure me.

What a good God we serve! He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. I may be in vocational ministry, but the Lord has commissioned every single one of us to make disciples. Don’t let your past mistakes or your feelings of inadequacy keep you from serving God with your whole being and from doing something of eternal significance.

“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Recommended Reading: 2 Peter 1:2-3, I Peter 2:9, John 15:16

Letters

December 27th

Christmas Cards

I love getting mail, don’t you? –Especially the good ‘ole fashion snail mail. There’s something special about receiving cards and letters through postage rather than through email, text, or Facebook inbox.

Our (first) Christmas cards were mailed out a little late this year because I wanted to include a ministry update letter at the end of the term. The update letters got me thinking about how letters were one of the only ways of communicating in the first century. In fact, a lot of the Bible’s New Testament is a compilation of letters.

Fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have been attributed to the apostle Paul, who often communicated through letters. He wrote about justification, sanctification, redemption, and the resurrection of Christ. Other letters focused on addressing immorality and idols, or marriage and purity. Paul also refuted legalism in some of his letters and examined God’s plan for us, the meaning of godliness, and the proper place of grace in the Christian’s life.

Paul penned about Jesus in creation, and instructed us on prayer and proper leadership in the church. Further, he taught about spiritual warfare and warned against false teachers. Paul even wrote letters from prison!

Christmas is over, but I urge you to write a letter to someone who has really been a blessing to you this year. (It doesn’t have to be long.) Find the perfect card and use your hand-written words to encourage your friend or family member, letting them know they’re loved and appreciated.

What kinds of communications do you most often use to express these kinds of thoughts to those in your life? Do you use your words to uplift and encourage?

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 327) If you think something good, say it or you could be withholding someone of a huge blessing.

The New Testament may be known for letters, but the entire Bible is a letter of God’s love toward us. What is the most meaningful part of His letter to you?

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Impossibilities

December 26th
Impossibilities

“‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR YOU.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

Jesus was an “impossible” baby. How could a virgin give birth to a son—the Son of God no less? Why do you think God takes pleasure in doing the impossible?

There’s a pattern throughout scripture of God calling His people to step out in extreme faith and obedience—to be a part of the impossible. —> ie: Sarah having a baby in her old age, Noah building an ark when it had never rained, Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, Moses parting the Red Sea, Gideon’s army of 300 conquering an army of 135,000 soldiers… (The list could go on and on because these “impossible” accounts FILL the pages of God’s Word.)

God is STILL in the business of doing the impossible. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20)

Is there anything that seems impossible in your life right now? Hope? Healing? Provision? …The salvation of a family member? …The Restoration of a marriage? Pray and ask God to do the impossible in your life today…

Our God specializes in miracles—not only to demonstrate his power and love, but also so that He may be glorified when the victory is won and the task is complete. After experiencing God do the impossible, our faith increases in knowing that we didn’t do it.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Without God, the possible is possible but with God, the impossible is possible.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26

So Loved.

December 25th
So Loved.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

“For God so LOVED the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

*There is no greater LOVE than this.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is GIVEN, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

*There is no greater GIFT than Jesus.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is LOVE, not that we have loved God but that he LOVED US and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4: 9,10)

*Praying your Christmas is built around this kind of love today.

“By this [love] we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has GIVEN us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the SAVIOR of the world.” (1 John 4:13,14)

*Today is a day to celebrate the gift of Christ as we gather with friends and family. While you’re giving and receiving gifts this Christmas, remember the Giver of all things and consider why we give in the first place.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

*May you love and be loved extravagantly today in Jesus name!!

The Power of Light

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December 24th
The Power of Light

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!

Growing up, one of my dream jobs was to work for National Geographic. The October 2001 edition of National Geographic had an article on the “Power of Light” with this quotation:

“Light reveals the world to us. Body and soul crave it. Light sets our biological clocks. It triggers in our brains the sensations of color. Light feeds us, supplying the energy of plants to grow. It inspires us with special effects like rainbows and sunsets. … Scientists don’t fully understand what light is or what it can do. They just know that it will illuminate our future.”

This quote has JESUS written all over it. The only thing that will illuminate our past, present and future is Jesus Christ. Light “triggers in our brains the sensations of color…” My mother-in-law once described encountering Jesus as everything in life changing from black and white to color! I love this explanation.

Tonight at church we had our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. It was spectacular. After the sea of radiant candles tonight, I couldn’t help but write about the light of Christ again. Did you know there are 76 references to light in the New Testament? The references are used in the following ways:

1.) GOD IS LIGHT. John tells us, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

2.) MANKIND BY NATURE ABHORS THE LIGHT. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

3.) JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness could not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5)

4.)WHEN WE’RE SAVED, WE COME INTO THE LIGHT. “For ye were sometimes [in the past] darkness, but now you are light in the Lord: walk as children of light…” (Ephesians 5:8)

5.) BELIEVERS ARE TO SHARE THE LIGHT WITH OTHERS SO THAT THEY TOO CAN BE LIGHT “[we are ministers whose responsibility it is] …To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance…” (Acts 26:18)

Mill Lane Mission Nativity

Yesterday was a fun filled day of cookie baking, movie watching, and gift-wrapping with the girls of SPC youth. Afterward, they kindly helped serve at the Mill Lane Nativity event—a Christmas neighborhood outreach associated with the overall Mill Lane Mission.

Mill Lane has a large demographic of young children, so this Christmas event was created for kids and their families. While reading the Christmas alphabet poem, the central Stockton team, paired with the Stockton Parish staff and SPC youth, served delicious hot chocolate, mince pies, and the array of spectacular baked treats prepared by Brittany and our girls. After the children dressed up and acted out the nativity scene, every little boy and girl was able to choose a wrapped Christmas gift.

In Mark 9 Jesus tells His disciples that, “whomever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

Children have such beautiful innocence. Jesus loved children, and so should we—He taught that entering heaven is not about great scholarly knowledge, admirable accomplishments, or social status. It requires simple faith in God. What do you think it says about Jesus and His ministry that children were nearby? How can we be like Jesus in this way?? Is your life characterized more by being served or serving?

(Special Thanks to…Duncan, Rachel, Deb and Brit for all of the hard work put into promoting and preparing… Demi and Chloe for helping dress the kiddos…. Naledi, Ziyanda, and Brittany for baking 10 dozen cookies…. and Michelle, Jennifer and Zinhle for being “Santa’s elf’s” and wrapping nearly 100 gifts!)

Light of the World

December 22nd
Light of the World

Christmas lights are everywhere during the holidays. They are by far one of my favorite parts about decorating. If it were up to me, I might keep the Christmas lights up year ‘round!

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world.” This is the second of seven “I AM” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s gospel. Just as a candle dispels darkness, so does the Light of Jesus Christ—His light illuminates what is truth and exposes what is not.

Jesus also refers to His followers as the light of the world. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

I have loved this passage ever since I was a little girl. The idea of shining on behalf of the Lord makes my heart come alive. I adore the fact that because of Jesus, people can look at us and see something different. I pray this is true for my life and I pray it’s true for yours.

The way we live should be an on-going witness to the reality of how Christ has changed us; a certainty of His presence in our lives. Remember that it’s not our job to necessarily “save” people—that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We are called to REFLECT Jesus Christ to the world. We are commissioned to serve, speak, live, love and do as Jesus did on earth. Did you know that the moon isn’t bright on it’s own, but that it is merely a reflection of the sun? Similarly, it is when we are reflecting the “Son” of God that we shine most brightly.

When we worship God with pure hearts and love others as ourselves, we radiate a supernatural light. Remember, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) Make a point to live as children of light during the Christmas season in all of your interactions and relationships. After Christmas, the lights come down, but our light should always continue to shine.

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Ministry Update

England Update: Dear friends, Brian and I have been serving in England for four months now and we consider ourselves acclimated to the many life changes here. By God’s grace, we truly feel “home.” We cannot express in words the amount of peace and joy in our hearts that has been birthed out of simple obedience to God’s call. We are exactly where He wants us to be. There is so much to catch you up on, but I suppose a good place to start is by sharing a little about our town, “Stockton-On-Tees.”

 Stockon-On-Tees: Stockton is not the most desirable place to live in the UK—In fact it is considered the “armpit” of England. We see broken families and a huge shortage of fathers on a daily basis. Stockton is home to a lot of poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, as well as physical and verbal abuse. From day one, we noticed an alarming amount of affliction on this town—Stockton has a large demographic of people with limps, canes and wheelchairs of all ages.

During the first three months of our move, we resided in community living with two other young women serving in England. Our neighborhood was considered government housing—most of the occupants were refugees, asylum seekers, middle-eastern immigrants, or poor/disabled British families. With this in mind, our team developed a ministry called, “Mill Lane” Mission where a neighborhood Q&A was hosted every Thursday night. Anyone with questions about God, the Bible, Christianity, etc. was welcome. This outreach has been going great and our team has seen a handful of people come to know Christ.

While I speak of all the devastation in Stockton-On-Tees, I am also extremely encouraged. On High Street, there is a campaign going on called, “Rediscover Stockton.” The town is literally rebuilding itself in the physical realm by putting in a new performing arts theater and a fountain in Town Square. While there is tangible construction going on in our town, I see a beautiful parallel of what God is doing in the spiritual realm—He is rebuilding Stockton spiritually. Brian and I fervently believe that God wants to restore Stockton in this generation. Our team is incredible and each so uniquely gifted and passionate about making a difference. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Lord is moving here in northeast England and we trust wholeheartedly that He has brought us here with great purpose.

Youth For Christ: Our schedules have been busy since we landed in the UK. As YFC workers we are in primary and secondary schools every day of the week. Within the primary schools, we have established reading programs, lunch clubs and after school kid’s clubs. Kids Clubs have proved quite successful. It’s been a lot of fun seeing them grow in their knowledge of God, in their creativity through crafts, and in character through sports. God has shown Youth For Christ amazing favor; He has been faithful to open many doors throughout the public school systems and across the Tees Valley. It is pretty astonishing that we have been given the ability to not only reflect Jesus to the next generation, but also openly teach about Him.

Some of the Kid’s Clubs can be extremely challenging due to the bad behavior of many of the children. Most of these kids have terrible home lives and simply do not know any better. They are often disrespectful, disobedient, vulgar, and cruel to one another. (We do however see progress and are encouraged by it.) In secondary schools, we work as teacher’s assistants in the nurture classes, which are comprised of the disruptive, unruly students or those with learning disabilities. We have also begun one-on-one mentoring programs, which have proved extremely effective. We are thrilled to continue this program next term.

Café Church: Morris Ministry was asked to head up a Café Church in central Stockton. Café Church is a casual worship experience with a gospel-centered message that meets in local coffee shops across The Tees Valley. This outreach program has been going good so far. Our first service was the largest Café Church YFC has ever hosted. It is our desire for these events to be effective in both Christian fellowship and community outreach. As youth workers, we desire for Cafe Church to be a helpful tool in bridging the gap between the church and schools. Typically kids are more likely to meet at a coffee shop than at church on a Sunday morning—the outreach provides a safe and comfortable environment to build relationships, as well as present the gospel.

Stockton Parish Church: When arriving in the England, we were immediately planted in the Stockton Parish Church, which is over 300 years old. Brian and I were officially commissioned as full-time staff members in mid-October. It was an unforgettable experience to be anointed with oil, prayed over, and deemed “worthy of the calling we have received.” (Eph. 4:1) The ceremony was made extra special because Mr. Kevin and Mrs. Susan Morris flew into England and witnessed our commissioning in person.

One of our favorite parts about our church family is the diversity. There are over 15 nationalities represented at our parish. Brian and I anticipated working with a bunch of teenage “Brits” when we arrived in northeast England, but to our surprise, we also get to work with 50 incredible Iranian families. Many of our new friends fled Iran for religious freedom and most of them are seeking asylum in Stockton. (Christianity is illegal in Iran, and the penalties are severe—anywhere from jail to the death sentence.) The language barrier can be difficult at times, but we share the same spirit and they’ve become like family.

SPC Youth: Our biggest priority has been leading the youth group at the Stockton Parish Church. We disciple throughout the week, and on Tuesday nights, Brian leads a boy’s Bible study and I lead a girl’s Bible study. In October, we organized our first youth retreat—the theme was on “Identity.” The weekend went brilliantly from team challenges in the forest, to fish and chips on the Scarborough shore. Brian taught an incredible message on the power of our thought life and one young person shared about encountering the Lord for the first time. The following morning I got to share my testimony.

Brian and I have been given many opportunities to speak at different churches, youth groups and youth events—both together and as individuals. We are exceedingly grateful for every chance God gives us to testify to His faithfulness, goodness and grace. In November, we hosted another successful event called “Youth Church.” It was a collaboration of three different youth groups from local churches in Stockton—the students all came together under the same roof to worship as one body. We have also been able to host a several fun youth socials, including a movie night, ice-skating, and a spectacular Christmas Party.

Highlights: In September, Elam Ministries provided the Persian community with an accurate, complete, easy to understand Bible translation for the first time. The New Millennium Bible took a team of over thirty translators nearly 20 years to complete and a few men lost their lives in the process. Considering the demographic in our church and the new Bible release, we felt God asking us to create awareness and raise financial support for Persian Bibles. Through generous people like you, we raised money for nearly 50 Persian Bibles! Every family in our church has now been provided with God’s Word in their native language.

On a personal note, one of the boys in our youth group moved from Iran only a few months ago.  He could never fully participate in the lessons because he was still learning English and did not have a Bible in Farsi.   One Sunday morning, we presented this twelve-year-old boy with his first Bible. I can’t describe in words how thankful he was nor could I describe the look of pure joy on his face as he strolled out of the youth room absolutely beaming and heading straight for his parents.  He was so excited to share His Bible with them. We will never forget this moment.

God’s Faithfulness: As most of you know, Brian and I are missionaries, so we will be working here for the next two years with no salary. With that said, it has been a beautiful opportunity for us to truly depend on God to provide for every need. We have had so much to thank Him for recently. First, God provided us with the resources to purchase a vehicle in England. (This was made possible by selling my car back home, while simultaneously receiving a generous online donation.) Having transportation has been an absolute blessing. For the first several months, we walked everywhere or took the bus. The flexibility that a car provides has been enormously beneficial for ministry.

Second, God has provided us with a house. Brian and I resided in community living our entire marriage (six months), until recently. While it certainly had its season and blessings, having a home to call our own has been the most remarkable gift. A family from another local church (talk about the capital “C” Church) provided us with a house, and didn’t even ask for us to pay rent. On top of that, the church we work for partnered with a charity that has committed to paying our house bills.   Needless to say, God has taken care of us! We are overwhelmed with His goodness and faithfulness.

Conclusion: Overall, this journey has been beautiful thus far. It’s certainly not easy doing full-time ministry, but God has unquestionably made our hearts come alive here. Brian and I have been challenged immensely and are growing exponentially in every way. We are so honored to be serving in England and we long to pour our whole hearts into our positions as youth pastors. Every day we are in awe of how God has entrusted us with this task and we humbly receive it. Thank you to everyone for your love, support, and continued prayers. We love this country, our town, our church family and you—our extended family! Your love and generosity is making an enormous, ETERNAL impact on this community!

MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Love, Brian and Morgan Morris

Prayer Requests: (1) Please pray for us as we implement a new discipleship program next term. (2) Please pray as we continue to pursue our seminary degrees online. (3) Pray that we raise the support to stay in England for another year. (3) Pray for God to continue making an impact on the lives of the young people here. (4) Pray for Kid’s Clubs and Mentorship Programs. (6) Pray for continued vision and discernment (7) And last but certainly not least, please pray for us as newlyweds and that we would continue to grow closer to God and closer to each other.

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Candy Cane

December 21st
Christmas Candy Cane

Have you ever heard the legend of the candy cane? Last night at our Christmas party, I witnessed one of the most intense games of charades that I have ever seen!! The final word in the basket was “Candy Cane.” Ironically, that was also the prize for the winning team! Before handing them out, I briefly shared this story...
Once upon a time, an Indiana candy-maker decided to create a new kind of candy... a candy that would hold more significance than just being a sweet treat. He wanted his latest creation to somehow witness to his Christian faith. So what did He do? The candy-maker began with a stick of pure, white, hard candy–white to symbolize Jesus’ virgin birth and sinless life. The hard candy is to symbolize the firmness of the promises of God, the Rock of our salvation.
"[you are] redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God." (I Pet. 1:19) "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Is. 1:18) "He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken." (Ps. 62:2)
The candy-maker formed his candy into the shape of a “J” to represent both the precious name of Jesus and the staff used by the Good Shepherd. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow..." (Phil. 2:9) "...I [Jesus] am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." (Jn. 10:11)
Thinking this candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker decorated it with red stripes. The original candy cane was made with three small stripes to symbolize the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe stood for Christ's shed blood on the cross, so that we could have eternal life.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5) "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 5:8)
What great hope we have received... this is the reason we celebrate! I pray after reading this beautiful story that you never look at a candy cane the same again. Merry Christmas!!

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