Greetings from Pastor Bob and The Encouraging Word. Itís beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Although I have to admit it has been hard to get into the spirit of Christmas with the temperature hanging around 82 degrees every day. It is suppose to start to cool down, that will help. It might even get as low as 40 degrees, burrrr. I just had to throw that in for every one freezing up north. . I actually had a job of playing Santa Clause Saturday Night. It was for a corporate Christmas party. Everyone was great, we all had a good time. The big question was what list they were on, naughty or nice? Where do you think your name would be?
                                            
I want to remind everyone once again about our live webcasts of the service. Simply go to the website:
 
www.interbaycommunitychurch.com
 
and click on the link for the live webcast and enjoy or service Sunday at 11:00 Am and 6:00 PM and Wednesday night at 7:00 PM. There are more exciting things coming to the web site in the very near future. Thank you for helping us make that possible.
 
I do want to thank everyone for your continued prayers for Amyí boyfriend, Steven who is still in I.C.U. here at Tampa General. I also would like us all to pray for the families of the those who have lost loved ones so close to Christmas. You most likely know someone yourself, and that someone might just be you. If so, know that we are praying for you. Your loved one would not want you to be sorrowful this time of the year.  Let their memories bring you smiles of who they were and the wonderful blessing that is was to have been able to spend time with them here on this earth. In fact that is the very reason for Christmas so that it would be possible for even those of us on the naughty list to spend all eternity with God and all our loved ones in heaven. So let us all continue to pray for one another that the joy of the LORD would fill each of us to the overflowing. AMEN? AMEN!
 
Now, my friends, letís get into the WORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
 
(Matthew 3:1 - 3 KJV)  In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
 
This is the perfect verse for this Advent season. John the Baptist is sometimes far too often overlooked in his importance and what exactly he has to say to us. He is our first real demonstration of the difference between the Old Testament and the new. His main message was one of personal repentance. And he sets each of us an example of how we all should be pointing the way, to the world, to eternal, abundant life in Christ. He basically was saying, Jesus is coming. He said, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And guess what. It is once again.
 
Letís go ahead and start back at the reference of who they said that he was. Verse three tells us that he is the one spoken of by the prophet Esaias. Most every other translation of the Bible will simple come right out and tell us that it is Isaiah that was being spoken about. Looking the name up in the original language it just leads you back to Isaiah. So there can be no doubt that it is the prophet Isaiah that is being spoken about here. In fact the exact passage that is being quoted here in Matthew is found in Isaiah 40.
 
(Isaiah 40:3-5 KJV) 
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
 
Here is the big mistake that I believe that we make. The first thing we think about when we read or hear these words come to our mind is some wild man in camel skin clothes, eating locust and honey screaming at people to repent.  Although that picture is not too far from the truth I want us all to look at the first couple of verses of this 40th chapter of Isaiah and examine the mood that is being set.
 
 (Isaiah 40:1 & 2 KJVA)  Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.
 
What a difference from the hollering and yelling and screaming and condemnation that we first had in mind. These are gentle words of encouragement and comfort. We all need to rethink the message and the messenger of John the Baptist. Letís go back and look quickly at the man and his message together.
 
He was born from a miracle. Both his mother and father, much like Abraham many years before, had given up on the hope of having any children. Then God speaks to Zacharias in a vision as he was serving the LORD in the temple. Letís read the account together in the first chapter of Luke.
 
  (Luke 1:5-20 KJVA)  There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,  According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.  And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
 
(Luke 1:17 KJVA)  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
 
(Luke 1:18-20 KJVA)  And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.  And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
 
The reason that I separated the 17th verse out is to show something to us that makes a huge difference in our lives and the lives of our children and our grandchildren. You see how even before the birth of John he had a purpose. You need to know that God has an equally important purpose for you. One other thing I want us to see. Is how Johnís parents knew that their son had this special purpose and I am sure that they would bless him throughout his life letting him know of his special calling. That is called the family blessing. To often we pass down generational curses rather then giving family blessings. And those blessings and curses all come from the words we speak to our children.
 
What are you telling your children that they are? Are you reminding them that they are children of the King, or are you telling them that they will not amount to anything? Because what ever you are telling them, they will believe you. That is really one of the sad things I find in our society today. Mothers and fathers putting each other and their children down. Calling each other terrible names and speaking curses without even knowing or caring. We really need to make sure that we are telling the next generation that they are the greatest generation ever.
 
Johnís mission was clear from before his birth. Now as we look at him as a grown man in his ministry in the wilderness I want to clear up some more misconceptions. First of all the whole locust and honey thing.
 
I know we all get this gross picture of John eating those ugly grass hoppers and getting the legs stuck between his teeth. Yumm- yumm. I hate to break your misconception but from all the research that I have done the locust that John was actually eating was a biscuit or wild unleavened bread made from the plants in the desert. Now, biscuits and honey sounds a little more appetizing to me. But then I guess it does take away some of the drama.
And that is really exactly what John was doing. He was creating drama to get the interest and attention of the people. He lived in the wilderness and dressed like the prophets of old and quickly got a reputation of being that voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the messiah. There was another prophet that we too often forget that told us of Johnís position as the one crying in the wilderness. Look in Malachi with me in the last chapter.    
 
(Malachi 4:5 & 5  KJV)  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
 
Look at how Mark combines the passage of Isaiah with this passage in Malachi to describe who John the Baptist is.
 
(Mark 1:1 Ė 3  KJV)  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
 
One quick thing I want to remark upon is how intellectually deep the Bible is. It can be either too easily dismissed as a simple book of  religious writings on one hand and seen as a complicated religious puzzle on the other. The word that makes both miss the mark is religious. The Bible is both full of unlimited depth that one could study it alone all the days of their lives and it is simple enough that a child can understand. The problem is we just simply donít read it enough.
 
Now I really want to get into Johnís message. The first thing that I want to point out is the difference that he make from his message and the message of the prophets of old. If you look back at the prophets in the Old Testament, you will see them preaching the repentance of the nation to either avoid the wrath of God or to receive the national bless of God.
 
John is for the first time not preaching a message of national repentance. He is preaching a message of personal repentance. And He is not preaching repentance to avoid the wrath or to receive the blessings of God. he is preaching repentance for each of us to be ready to receive the Kingdom of Heaven. He tells us to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
 
That expression ďat handĒ is one that declares that something is closer then you think.
 
eng-id'-zo
From G1451; to make near, that is, (reflexively) approach: - approach, be at hand, come (draw) near, be (come, draw) nigh.
 
It comes from the verb to squeeze, like something that is ready to be shoot out of a pressed wine skin. Or like when you have a tube of glue or something that the nozzle is glogged so you squeeze it and squeeze it then suddenly  BAM it explodes out of the tube. That is the type of "at hand" he is talking about. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is ready to explode upon you at any time. Get ready. GET READY!!!!
 
And how is it we are to get ready? Ah, there it is that word we have learned so much to avoid. ďREPENT!Ē
 
It really is a shame that we have been conditioned to somehow cringe when we hear the word repent. It is honestly meant to be a word of comfort and encouragement. Going back to that passage we read in Isaiah 40   
 
(Isaiah 40:1 & 2 KJVA)  Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned:
 
The whole idea of repentance is the realization that there is a better way. It is the idea of coming to the knowledge of there being real hope for a better tomorrow. We have talked about how the original word for repent is ďmetanoia.Ē  It literally means to change your mind. Look at another meta word that you might be familiar with; metamorphous. Metamorphous means to change form. Meta = change and morphous = form; change form. It is the thing that happens to a caterpillar when it turns into a butterfly.  So metanoia is; meta Ė change and noia (where we get the word knowledge) equals mind. Change your mind.
 
I have often said that if you would only change your mind you would change your ways. What is it that you need to change your mind about? And you know, that is a lot harder then is sounds. To often when we even know that something we are doing is wrong, we justify it in our minds that it is not that bad. Or we think we are getting away with something. That might be all well and good until it catches up to you. And you can be sure that your sin will find you out. But even worse then that is when we are doing things or believing things that are wrong and we canít see it.
 
The Bible gave us the Ten Commandments. As we look over some of them, most of us can say that we have been pretty good, we havenít killed any one, we havenít worshiped any graven imagesÖ.. Well, come on there are eight more. How about the honoring the Sabbath. You all know that I am guilty of that. Then there is the not coveting your neighbor's stuffÖ. I thought that that was what America was built upon, keeping up with the Jones. And if you say that you have obeyed these simple ten commandments then you just broke the one about not giving a false testament. We know that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
 
But the hope, the comfort the thing that we can change our mind about is that we can overcome these things and even better then that the price of all of your sins have already been paid for. You can stop walking around defeated by your sin. You can stop kicking yourself for not living up to even your own expectations. You can start right now by accepting the truth of Godís love for you. It is all about changing your mind about God. He is not some giant tyrant waitng in the sky for you to mess up so he can squish you like a bug. He is a loving God who gives you the free will to love Him back or not. He gives you the free will to accept Him or not. He is not like some abusive husband that makes their wives stay with them out of fear. He is like the loving husband that bonds with his wife in a loving relationship.
 
And that is what God desires to have with you. He desires a loving, everlasting relationship. I do not know what might be holding you back from plunging into Godís love. Because that is really what baptisim symbolizes. It symbolized you taking the plunge. Completely trusting in God. Today. You can change your mind about who God is and let His kingdom give birth with your heart.
 
And I am not just talking to pre-Christians. I am talking to you Christian. You who have said the prayer, and believe but are still not experiencing the full blessing of God. You need to change your mind. You need to realize how much God loves you. He has a plan and a purpose for your life. The enemy has been lying to you for too long, telling you that you are something that you are not. You are a Child of the Most High King. You have a mission to be that one shouting in the wilderness. You have been called to be an overcomer. You have been called to wake up the nations.
 
It is time for not only personal repentance, but it is time for national and international revival. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The heavens are being squeezed and ready to burst upon us. It is time for all of us to repent and get ready for the King of Kings and the LORD of Lords Jesus is coming. He is Coming He is Coming. 
 
If you are ready; pray this simple prayer with me and receive the truth of your eternal life.
 
Heavenly Father; forgive me of my sins. LORD, I except you into my heart of hearts and ask you to wash me clean. I repent of my sins, I confess and I know that the things that I have been doing are displeasing to you. The way that I have been believing has been wrong and now I know who I am in you. Jesus, I know that you are the LORD and my personal savior. I give you my heart and my life. Use me to let others know of your never-ending, supernatural, life changing love. I am yours, I am your. I am Yours!!!! Thank you Father for filling me, for baptizing me with your Holy Spirit in Jesus Name AMEN!!!!!!!!!!   
 
 
If you have any questions or if there is anything we can pray for you about please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. You can go to the website at:
 
www.interbaycommunitychurch.com
 
from there you can get our E-Mail address, or phone numbers, there is also a map of where you can find us. I want to personally invite you com come and enjoy Christmas Eve service with us this year. We will be having a special service at the church starting at 5:00 so you can get home to be with your family for the rest of the evening. God Bless you all and merry Christmas.
 
 
We are reaching around the world with the good news of Godís plan of salvation. And we do need your help with that so if you can send us any amount at all to help cover the expense of the internet and all the technical equipment that is needed it would be greatly appreciated.
Write us at:
 
Interbay Community Church
4308 Euclid Ave.
Tampa, FL. 33755
 

 
Your Friend;
Pastor Bob