Florida to Canada, with no GPS

A Devotion by Joe G

“Florida to Canada, with no GPS.”

December 13, 2022

Matthew 2:1-12; Daniel 2:49

In 1996, I took my first big trip (Other than our church body’s tri-annual national youth gathering) with my youth group. I rented a 35-foot motor home, and with 11 high school students and 3 adults, we drove from South Florida to Saskatchewan, Canada. I could write a book about that two-week trip, but I’ll focus on one incident for this devotion.

My group had been traveling for over three days, staying at a different church each night. Finally, on the fourth day, we were all set to arrive in Canada. I was driving the motorhome at the time, and one of my students was keeping track of where we were on a map. (That’s right. There was no GPS, just a map book from triple-A.)

I don’t recall the exact route we took, but I do know we stopped at a McDonald’s in Minot, North Dakota, for lunch. Our destination for that night was Regina, Saskatchewan. Our best guess was that we’d arrive in Canada in a couple of hours, and then there would be another 2-3-hour drive to Regina.

Unfortunately, the Highway we were on was very rural. It was all farmland and very few signs (except for one we missed). After driving and driving, we came upon a sign that didn’t say what we thought it would. We were looking for a road to turn north toward the Canadian border no more than 30 miles away.

Instead, the sign we came upon said, “You are now entering Montana.” We found out later we had overshot our turn by over 30 miles. Then, to make things more complicated, there were no towns or roads to turn our 35-foot motor home around.

Finally, we came upon a farm with its gate open. The group could see no cars or trucks on the property. So, I turned into the farm, drove on a bumpy dirt path around a barn, and turned around. We then drove about 30 miles east when we saw a sign that was at least 30 feet long and 20 feet high, with flashing lights and an arrow that aimed north.

The sign said, “Turn here for the Canadian border.”
11 Students and 3 adults, and not one of us had seen the big lit-up sign giving us directions. Today, we have GPS on our cell phones, which would have made much of our trip easier 27 years ago. I could tell many more stories from that trip, but we’ll save those for another day.

*********************The Point***********************

As the illustration above states, the star the three Wisemen followed was the original GPS. It led them to where Jesus was.

The Wisemen were probably Greek astrologers. It is believed that they traveled from Babylon, which today is known as Baghdad, Iraq.

Interestingly, the star is only mentioned in the book of Matthew.

“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.” When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the King, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”

Matthew 2:1-12

Two questions always come up after reading the above passage. I’ll address the second first. When the Magi found Jesus, He was not in a stable. Instead, they found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a house. Also note it doesn’t denote Jesus as a baby, but rather as a child. As the Magi had traveled over 900 miles from Babylon, it is believed that Jesus was possibly as old as two years old. At this time, Mary and Joseph had established themselves in the city and lived there.

But now, here’s the most fascinating question. Why did those Magi travel over 900 miles to find Jesus?

One only needs to look back into the book of Daniel. After Daniel had interpreted a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in chapter two of the book of Daniel, this is what verse 49 says:

“Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” Daniel 2:49

The King made Daniel chief prefect (in charge of) the wise men of Babylon. Undoubtedly, Daniel, a follower of the one true God, shared the stories with his fellow wise men and how Christ would be born. These stories would have been handed down from generation to generation until the day-wise men saw the star and followed it to a small town. There they found the young child Jesus and His family. There they praised Him and presented gifts.

God used a star as a GPS to bring wise men from 900 miles away to praise the newborn King and take the story back with them to share. The Son of God, Jesus, had been born into the world. Amen.

Putting Others First

A Devotion by Joe G

Putting others first

Philippians 2:3

There’s a story I like to share (I’ve shared it in devotions before, as well as my book, “Adventures in Youth Ministry”) that epitomizes being a servant and putting others before yourself.

One Sunday evening during youth group, I handed out paper and pens to each student. First, I asked them to write down one or two ways we could serve others in our community. Then, after a few minutes, I asked each of them to share what they had written.

Several had difficulty coming up with an idea, or at least a new one. The group already delivered bags of groceries to needy families monthly. And during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, they provided between 70 and 80 bags of groceries.

The students also filled gallon-size plastic bags with food to hand out to needy people; our congregation met along the road of life (Street Eats). They also helped at congregational dinners. I could go on and on.

Let’s get back to Sunday and the aforementioned youth night. One student’s answer stood out. He raised his hand and said, “We could go to the mall and open the door for people as they enter the building.” As I’ve said, several other students dismissively laughed at the idea. As for me, my mouth dropped open, and then I said, “What an awesome idea.”

I stood up and said, “Let’s do it!” (I’m not sure if my students ever got used to my spontaneity in doing things without a plan). So, the group and I jumped into the church van and drove to our local mall, just 4 blocks from our church.

I parked the van, and the group went to the mall entrance where the movie theater is. The students stood at all the doors and opened them for people coming in and out of the mall.

That’s when something amazing happened. Whenever one of my students opened the door for someone, they would say, “Have a blessed day.” In almost every case, the person entering or leaving the mall replied, “Thank You, or Thank you, you too.”

For the next few years, this door-opening endeavor grew. Everywhere the group went, several students would open the door for the rest of the group and anyone else entering or leaving a building. For example, if we went to a restaurant, they held the door open for the group and other patrons. Literally, everywhere we went, without any encouragement from me, door opening for the group and others became a servant tradition, not a chore.

…………………………The Point…………………………

2 Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves.

This passage alone is quite powerful. This was a very new idea in the first century.

Actually, the whole concept of selflessness, humility, and putting others first seems to have lost its importance once again in this day and age, hasn’t it.

Allow me to add 2 Philippians 2:4 to the mix,

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”

Now, let’s put the thoughts of the above two passages together.

Don’t be selfish, but rather be humble, putting others first. Yes, it’s okay to take care of our own interests and needs, such as work, taking care of our family, entertainment, hobbies, etc. But it’s important we also take care of the interests and needs of others.

Think about the students at the mall opening doors and exchanging greetings with others. In the busyness of our lives, many, if not most of us, would walk into the mall or any other building and not think twice about holding the door open for someone else.

Now take a moment and envision holding the door open for one person every time you walk into a building. How do you think that makes the next person feel? And how does that make you feel when they say thank you to you? It makes me think that there is still hope for humanity. It shows me that sharing human kindness with another and putting them above your own busyness or needs for a moment can bring joy to someone’s day.

This devotion isn’t about helping others. It’s about being Christ-like. Jesus stopped in the middle of a crowded street and healed a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years. Jesus healed ten lepers and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Those mentioned above are just a few incidents where Christ put others first. He did it tirelessly 2000 years ago, and He still listens to our cries for help and makes us a priority.

Let’s all be more like Jesus. Put others’ needs before your own and show the love of Christ to everyone you meet.