The Christmas Story in 3 Minutes

Last week in Ottawa, I had the joying to telling the Christmas story at a Christian Embassy banquet for government leaders–MPs, Senators and ambassadors.  The challenge was the time limit:  three minutes.timer

Having a three minute time limit turned out to be a blessing.  It forced me to focus on essential aspects and get to the heart of the message.  I’ve also been able to give this short-version of the Christmas story in conversations with friends from our community.

Here’s the 3 minute version I gave at the banquet. Feel free to adapt it and use it to tell people around you the good news of Jesus this Christmas.

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If you really want to understand the Christmas story, you not only need to know WHAT happened at Christmas, you need to know WHY it happened.

Thankfully, there is a verse in the Bible that gives us both the WHAT and the WHY of Christmas. The verse I’m referring to is Matthew 1:21: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

These words were spoken by an angel to Joseph, who was engaged to be married to young woman named Mary. Joseph found out Mary was expecting a baby and knew the baby was not his child. He planned to break the engagement until an angel appeared to him in a dream.

The angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The baby she was carrying was a miracle baby, placed in her by the Holy Spirit.

So WHAT happened at Christmas? God miraculously sent Jesus to be born of Mary.

But WHY did all this happen? Matthew 1:21 gives the short answer to that question when it says, “you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.”

So the reason Jesus came was to carry out a rescue operation. God sent Jesus to save us from our sins.

Many of you here tonight serve in official capacities for your governments. You are well aware of the many troubles we face in our world: economic troubles, political turmoil, racial tensions. God knows about all these troubles, but He sees our biggest problem as our sin.

The Bible describes sin as what we do when we turn away from God and go our own way–in our words, attitudes, motives or actions. God calls us to love; we choose to hate. He calls us to be humble; we become proud. He tells us to speak the truth; we tell lies. He tells us to serve others; we serve ourselves.

God sees sin as a very big deal. He sees it as an act of rebellion. Sin is high treason—a coup against the reign of heaven.

What is surprising is how God responded to our sins against Him. Instead of choosing to destroy us, He sent Jesus to save us. Christmas was part of God’s rescue operation for the human race.

And the biggest surprise was how Jesus carried out this rescue operation. First, He took on our humanity and lived among us—feeding the hungry, healing the sick, caring for the outcasts. And then, most surprising of all, He died on the cross. He died to take our place, to be our substitute. He paid the penalty for our high treason against heaven.

And He surprised everyone again by rising from the dead three days later, giving us the hope that death can be defeated by resurrection.

So WHAT happened at Christmas? God’s son, Jesus, became Mary’s baby.

WHY did this happen at Christmas? It was part of God’s rescue operation for all of us.

When I was a young boy—about 7 years old—I came to understand the meaning of Christmas. I knew I had sinned and needed God to save me. I trusted in Jesus, asking Him to forgive me and give me new life. Now I have the joy of passing on the good news of God’s rescue story. It’s a story that has changed my life and the lives of many others; as you believe it and receive it, it will change yours as well.

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Prayer Update December 2, 2016

My heart is filled with thanksgiving to God as I write to thank you for praying for us last week.  We had a wonderful time in Ottawa, taking part in several gatherings for Heritage and attending the Christian Embassy dinner (where I had the joy of telling the Christmas story in three minutes—I’ll write more about that in a future post).

We arrived back in Cambridge on Wednesday afternoon–just in time for the Heritage Board meeting.  Yesterday a good group of Heritage students went caroling in the neighbourhoods around our campus.  This was part of our Love Hespeler initiative.

Through it all, we’ve sensed God’s enabling grace and strengthening presence.  Thanks for praying for us!

Here are several requests for the coming week:

  1. This weekend, students from our music program take part in the Benton Street Christmas Festival—a wonderful Christmas concert featuring Steve Green and a full choir and orchestra. The concert is directed by Dr. Doug Thomson, the director of Music and Worship Studies at Heritage.  Pray that our students would sing and play to the glory of God!
  1. christmas-musicThe Heritage Christmas newsletter is being mailed out today. It gives an update on the school with a special focus on scholarships for students.  Each year, Heritage gives out over $200,000 in student scholarships.  We are able to do this because of the generosity of individuals who give to our scholarship fund.  Pray that many would respond and invest in the training of future spiritual leaders by giving to the Heritage Scholarship Fund this Christmas. (If you’d like to receive our periodic newsletters, sign up at the bottom of the Heritage homepage.)
  1. This Sunday, I (Rick) preach at the English service of a Chinese Church in Mississauga. Please pray that I will present the glorious message of Christ in a way that points people to Christ.

Thank you for partnering with us in prayer!

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What is Expository Preaching

preacherOne of the distinctives of Heritage seminary is our emphasis on training expository preachers.  Admittedly, the word “expository” is used in different ways; so let me clarify how we understand the term.

When we talk about expository preaching, we are not simply talking about sermons that allude to or align with biblical truth.  A sermon can refer to a passage of Scripture and not be an expository sermon. A sermon be theologically correct and still not be an exposition of Scripture.

So what exactly do we mean by an expository sermon? Here’s our working definition:  An expository sermon communicates the timeless meaning of a passage to encourage a transformative meeting with Christ.

There are two major parts of this definition:  1) the timeless meaning of a passage and 2) a transformative meeting with Christ.

Communicating the timeless meaning of a passage requires preachers to dig deeply into a biblical text and its larger context.  Expository sermons are intentionally, integrally and indelibly biblical.  They don’t just glance at Scripture; they are grounded in a passage and grow out of that passage.  The message of the text becomes the message of the sermon.

Haddon Robinson asks a penetrating question that helps clarify whether we are truly expository preachers:  “Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question: ‘Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought’” (Biblical Preaching, p. 22).

The second part of our definition (encouraging a transformative meeting with Christ) reminds us that the aim of exposition is an encounter with the Living God through His written Word.  The goal of the sermon is not simply information or even inspiration, but Spirit-empowered transformation.

Expository preaching is faithful to the original meaning of the text but never forgets that the text was designed to lead people to Christ. The directives and correctives of Scriptures are presented in light of the ultimate objective of Scripture—to bring people into a transformative relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

To sum up:  Expository preaching communicates the timeless meaning of a passage to encourage a transformative meeting with Christ.  It goes through the text and to the heart.  It seeks to glorify God through seeing transformation in lives!

(Please pray for me as I work to train expository preachers at Heritage.  We have a good group of young preachers this year!)

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Prayer Update November 25

Thank you for being part of our personal and ministry prayer team. As you can see from one of my last posts (Strafed), we sense a great need for prayer at this time. God is working in some amazing ways and we are also facing formidable challenges.

Your prayers for Linda last week were answered. God strengthened her as she taught a course for women in ministry. A seasoned ministry leader who sat in on the course commented on the high caliber of the women in the course.

We also had 14 prospective students come to a Heritage Sampler this past Monday and Tuesday. Keep praying that God would send us eager students to train for Christ’s service.

Here are some prayer requests for this coming week: carol

  1. Our students will be out caroling in neighbourhoods around campus next Thursday (Dec 1). This is part of our Love Hespeler initiative where we seek to bring the love and light of Christ to our community. Pray we would build bridges to bring good news to the people around us.
  1. Linda and I head to Ottawa this weekend to hold a dessert for Friends of Heritage on Monday night. If you are in the Ottawa area and would be able to attend, please let us know (rreed@heritage-theo.edu). Pray that this gathering would help spread the good news about what God is doing through Heritage.
  1. On Tuesday evening, we will be attending a dinner for embassy personnel from around the world. I (Rick) have been invited to tell the Christmas story in three minutes. Pray that I can make the message of Christ’s coming clear and concise. Pray that God would use the entire evening to move in many hearts.
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What is the Christian’s view of guilt?

smoke-dGuilt is the warning sound made by the smoke detectors in our souls.  The Bible says God hardwired us with a conscience—a moral smoke alarm.  It signals us with feelings of guilt when we scorch someone with words, flare up in anger or let passions burn out of control.

King David heard the alarm when he tried to cover up his sins:  “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).  A guilty conscience, like a ringing smoke alarm, makes life miserable.

Most people understand that guilt is a feeling.  But guilt is more than a feeling; it’s also a fact.  The Bible uses the term to describe our spiritual condition.  We’re all guilty before God because we’ve all violated his laws.  As James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

guiltHow should we deal with guilt?  Here’s what not to do.  Don’t ignore your internal alarm.  You’ll wind up with a corrupted conscience (Titus 1:15).  And living with a damaged conscience leads to getting burned—now and forever.

The right way to deal with guilt is to let it motivate us to inspect our lives and ask for forgiveness.  That’s what King David eventually did:  “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity . . . and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Because Jesus died for our sins, God offers a clean heart and a clear conscience to all who trust in him (Hebrews 10:19-22).  Through faith in Jesus, we receive grace that’s stronger than guilt.

(This article is published in That’s A Good Question Too! by Rick Reed)

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Strafed

Last May, when Linda and I were at a cottage, our car was strafed.

The word strafe refers to being machine-gunned from a low-flying aircraft.  During WWII, allied troops regularly came under deadly machine gun and cannon fire from Luftwaffe planes like the  Junkers Ju-87.

Our car wasn’t hit by bullets from a machine gun; it was strafed by a flock of low-flying Canada geese.  They nailed the windshield and hood of our Taurus.  Even Luftwaffe pilots would have been impressed with their incredible precision.

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After the aerial onslaught, the car was a mess but there was no real damage. When I came out and saw it, I had to laugh.

But Christians experience another kind of strafing that is no laughing matter.  I’m referring to the spiritual bombardment we come under from Satan—“the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2).  The apostle Paul makes it clear we live on a spiritual battlefield and can expect to be fired on by the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  We will be bombarded with the “flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).

Satan attacks us with a variety of weapons; three of the most potent include temptation (the pull towards sinful disobedience), condemnation (accusations of our past failings) and intimidation (attempts to paralyze us through fear).

Linda and I have learned there are seasons of life and ministry when spiritual strafing seems to intensify.  Often these attacks increase at times of significant ministry engagement and fruitfulness.  Satan steps up his efforts when God’s kingdom is advancing.  We wind up feeling “hard pressed on every side” (2 Cor. 4:8).

What should we do when we are being spiritually strafed?  The Bible’s answer is twofold:  we are to stand firm and we are to pray hard!

We stand firm by putting on the spiritual armour God provides for our protection:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:14-16).

We pray hard by praying “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”  We pray for ourselves and “for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18-20).

Are you currently being strafed as a follower of Christ?  Don’t run; stand firm with God’s help.  Don’t panic; pray.

Linda and I sense we are in one of those times of intensified spiritual strafing.  We’d ask you to pray for us as we continue to stand firm and serve the Lord.

Last week in chapel I preached on Warfare Prayer from Ephesians 6:18.  You can listen to the message on Heritage’s website.  Click here.

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Prayer Update November 18

global-village-no-longVisiting our campus yesterday for the first time today were two visitors from the far north.  This native pastor said a “thirty hours drive” fulfilled his wish to visit Heritage College and Seminary.  Hugs in the hallways were given to this couple with huge hearts for needy children.  Near this  same hallway, we prayed off a young leader headed to Bermuda tonight; his wife, also a student, is grieving as her mother loses her battle with cancer.  On the keyboards in chapel, a young man from Aruba made melody, and over the “toonie” lunch for seminarians we discussed English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching possibilities in Japan with another student.

God is blessing us with training students who are touching the globe.  Praise be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Our lifelong dream has been to train leaders who will impact the church and the globe.  In just one day, and in little ways, we see glimpses into these realities.

Here are some prayer requests to bring to our great God and Father:

  1. Would you join us in praying for current Heritage students and interested students? We have a desire to make seminary education possible for those who otherwise could not afford it.  Would you help us train preachers for every tribe, tongue, and nation?  We’d love to equip men and women to change the working marketplace and world missions.
  1. Pray for Linda as she teaches a course Women in Ministry and Leadership today and tomorrow. Pray that this course will equip women of all generations to impact their churches, campuses, and communities in Ontario.
  1. Pray for Rick as he and the leadership team consider strategic initiatives that could expand the effectiveness and reach of the school. Ask the Lord to grant great wisdom and courage.

One last note:  Thailand is home to a few of our MK students (and staff), while Calcutta beckons an alumni couple (they leave this Saturday).  The cross calls for living sacrifices all around the globe. What sacrifices are you willing to make?  No longer does gripping the cross require planes or trains — for many of us, we simply need to cross the street to meet new.  The lyrics from Steve Green’s song, The Mission, challenges us all:

To love the Lord our God is the heartbeat of our mission
The spring from which our service overflows
Across the street or around the world the mission’s still the same:
Proclaim and live the Truth in Jesus’ name.

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