Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Priorities 2: "It's All About that Love, 'Bout That Love, 'Bout that Love"

Good morning!

This morning, we continue yesterday's post about prioritizing for 2015.

To begin a recap of yesterday, let me present to you a word from Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22 - - -

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your being.  When we dissect that, it is easy to find daily prayer and bible study, elaborated on yesterday, contained in that command.

Now, the third priority for healthy Christian living should be to gather with others regularly to do those two things.  In other words, not only should they be daily practices, they should also be weekly practices.  God promised that, whenever His beloved gather together for prayer, praise, worship, study - - - He is right there in the middle of them.  (See Matthew 18:20.)  The writer of Hebrews recognized the synergy that comes from believers worshipping together, demonstrating the love they have for their Savior, when he admonished us in Hebrews 10:24-25...

24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

This 3rd priority combines both of the two greatest commandments Jesus mentioned (loving God, loving our Christian brothers), because we gather together to worship God and study His word.  BUT, we also gather together to "provoke one another to righteousness" and to encourage one another.

Some of you just exclaimed, "Check!", and mentally you checked off this priority, because you attend worship once a week.  I would say, "Bravo!  What a great beginning!"  However, and especially if you attend a large church, you also need the fellowship of a small group of believers, so that you can actively care for one another.  A large church cannot do that effectively.

When the Hubster and I moved to our present hometown, we began looking for a church home.  he had never been a part of a Sunday School class, although we had hosted a small group in our home while in our previous church.  (I'm going to focus on SS classes, but if your church uses the small group model, fine.)  Being terribly shy, he was not eager to visit classes or attach us to one.  But, we found the most marvelous, welcoming, happy class of people with whom to live out this Christian life!  And, we are still friends with them, even though circumstances pulled most of them in another direction.  There was genuine love in that class, and there still is, among those of us who continue to worship together each week.  We also care for each other when sick, pray for one another, rejoice with one another...This is being the Body of Christ.

On another front, though, we need to look at exercising this command of Christ in a different direction.  When Jesus used the term "neighbor", he was not only talking about the Body of Christ. He was talking about anyone in your "circle of influence" (to borrow from Stephen Covey).  This includes both Christian and non-Christian family members.  Beware the person who seems to love God but disdains or neglects his or her family.  Such a person is a fraud.  Look at 1 John 4:20.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

James similarly exhorts us:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

So, when we look at obeying Christ's command to care for others, we need to be sure we don't neglect our own families.  That is where our service should begin.

Then, are there other ways we can care for the poor, the lonely, the forgotten?
The fourth priority is to use our gifts in service.  Don't you dare say that you don't have spiritual gifts, Christian.  That is calling God a liar.  He gave you at least two spiritual gifts (eternal salvation, the Holy Spirit) the moment you invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord.  The Bible says you have others as well.  (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4) Find out what they are and get busy using those gifts in service to the Lord.

It has occurred to me that these two posts sound a lot like a burdensome "to-do" list.  Keep in mind, though, that here on the cusp of a new year, we think about "starting over".  Remember what the apostle Paul said to believers, in Philippians 3:13-15 - - -

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead14with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

What a great passage for a new year!   Paul is saying, "There is no perfection in this life! I've not attained it, and neither have you, even those of you who think you have."  I love that!  He exhorts us all to put the past behind us, because it IS the past.  We take the lessons we learned from the past with us into the future; but, otherwise, we do not allow the past to shackle us.

"The upward call" is Christ Jesus's desire for us to walk with Him, resplendent!  C.S. Lewis must have been thinking about this verse when he used the phrase in The Last Battle, "farther up and farther in".  Think about how that will continue on into eternity for us, Beloved!  After we leave this life, we will continue to move farther up and farther into our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Ordering our priorities is all about love - - - love for our Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and for others.  "His banner over me is love."  (Song of Solomon 2:4)  When we "put first things first", the other areas of our lives that seem out of place fall more beautifully into order.

Happy New Year!

Dear Father, I thank you that every new year is a fresh page.  In fact, the truth is that You stand ready to receive and/or to restore us at any and all times.  But, at the new year, we can examine our walk to see how resplendent it truly is, and I thank you for that opportunity.  Thank you for the blessings and the lessons of the past.  Thank you that we don't walk resplendent when we attempt to walk alone, but that we walk resplendent when we are following Your leading.  Thank you for your great, incomprehensible love, that covers us.  I pray that we will walk more deeply and authentically in Your love today and going forward into 2015.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Good morning!

Here we are, about to enter 2015.  As the new year approaches, many of us think about "the ghosts of new years past" - - that's right, all those broken new years' resolutions we made a year ago, or two years ago, or whenever.  When we make...and then break....resolutions, it tends to make us feel like a failure, doesn't it?

I think it is a better idea to think about priorities as we approach the new year.  One of the reasons resolutions aren't kept is because they represent badly ordered priorities.  We often make our resolutions, but they are not the things we should be resolved about.

I'm probably confusing you; so, let me give you some examples.  One of the most common resolutions is to lose weight, right?  But, when we focus on that and resolve to do that, we are not dealing with the underlying causes, those beliefs or behaviors or chemical imbalances that cause us to eat the wrong things.  Quitting smoking is another.  People usually smoke because they are addicted to nicotine, found in cigarettes.  Trying to quit without addressing the underlying addiction is very, very hard.

So, I'd like to submit to you that the secret to making good resolutions is to re-order our priorities and bring them into line with God's.  I'd like for you to think about this today and tomorrow, to do an honest assessment of your relationship with God, because, whether you are a believer in Christ or not, everything else flows from that point.

First, to unbelievers:  do an intellectually honest investigation of Jesus Christ, who He is.  Is He who He claimed to be?  Someone said to a friend of mine the other day, "_________ (her son) is in his seeking phase."  She replied, " 'Seeking' is such an active word!"  In other words, he is not seeking God or to find the truth about Jesus; he is actively running away from God, living in rebellion.  Most unbelievers have not conducted an intellectually honest investigation of the claims of Jesus Christ, as presented in the Bible.  They have no desire to, because they had rather be their own god.  If this is you I'm talking about, then I challenge you to do this.  Let me know you are accepting this challenge and then let me know what you find.

Second, to those who already have made a decision to accept Jesus as Savior and to follow Him:
examine your heart as to the place you have given Him in your life.  Here's the key indicator of how your priorities are ordered:  how do you spend your time?

How much time do you spend meditating on God's word each day?  There is a direct correlation between reading the Bible, embracing its precepts and not sinning.  Look at what the psalmist says:

How can a young person live a clean life?
    By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I’m single-minded in pursuit of you;
    don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart
    so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
Be blessed, God;
    train me in your ways of wise living.
I’ll transfer to my lips
    all the counsel that comes from your mouth;
I delight far more in what you tell me about living
    than in gathering a pile of riches.
I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you,
    I attentively watch how you’ve done it.
I relish everything you’ve told me of life,

    I won’t forget a word of it.
Psalm 119:9-16
The Message

Now, let me make a confession here, for those of you who are unaware.  I did not start doing this (daily devotional time), making this a priority, until about 6 months ago.  For shame!  I had been a Christian for over 45 years before I began to devote myself to the daily reading of the Bible.  Let me just say it plain:  I was selfish and disobedient.  I was in church a lot, from the time I could suck a pacifier; and, I figured that was plenty of Bible to live this life.  Such arrogance, pride and disobedience!  Don't follow my negative example.  The passage above is addressed to young people; did you catch that?  But, no matter your age, Christian reader, if you will make this a priority, you will be hard-pressed to "sin yourself bankrupt".

The next priority flows from the first, Christian.  Pray.  When you read God's word, He will speak to you and tell you what you need to pray.  God's word convicts us of sin in our lives; it cleanses us. Confession should be a key element of our prayers every day because, although we are eternally saved through faith in Jesus, we still have our old sinful nature that battles with the Holy Spirit for control of our hearts!  This is why our priorities often get out of whack.  Here are the key elements of daily, disciplined Christian prayer:
1.  Adoration and Praise
We should not adore Him only at Christmas!  Learn and think about the characteristics of God's nature - - His holiness, mercy, love, unchangeableness, faithfulness, etc. - - - and praise Him!  Read a psalm aloud or sing a hymn or worship song aloud to praise Him!
2.  Thankfulness
Thank Him for His many marvelous blessings to you.  Thank Him for His many promises to His children.  Listen!  When you are feeling "down", defeated, discouraged - - - praying with adoration and thankfulness will unclog your heart and head.
3.  Confession
We've already talked about that one.
4.  Supplication (and Intercession)
That's a fancy, church-y word for "asking God for help".  Of course, God wants us to bring our needs before Him in prayer!  This acknowledges our dependence on Him.  Our supplications should also include "intercession", another church-y word which means "praying for others".  When you pray for someone else, it is as if you take God's hand with one hand and then take the person's hand with your other hand; and, you lead him or her before God's throne, asking for His intervention and mercy in their time of critical need.

Tomorrow we will look at some other priorities for the new year.  But, before we leave Bible reading and prayer, Christian, let me emphasize a couple of things.
1.  There is no magic about when each day you do either of these.  Some want to say that you should always do your Bible meditation first thing in the morning.  While that is preferable, and while that is what I do NOW, I certainly didn't do that when I had to get up at 5:15 a.m. in order to be at work by 7:00 a.m.! Our God is a reasonable God! Also, pray throughout the day, as often as the Holy Spirit lays someone or something on your heart. But, I have also found it helpful to keep a list of prayer requests; otherwise, I will forget to pray for someone who needs a lot of long-term intercession.
2.  You may find it helpful to follow a daily devotional guide (online or in print) for your daily Bible reading.  There are many free ones available online, and they come right to your inbox if you sign-up for them.  I would suggest, however, that you don't limit yourself to that.  You will also benefit from more in-depth study of a book of the Bible.  Bible Gateway and Bible Hub are two online sources which help you to take a passage and study it.  They even offer accessible Bible commentaries that help to expound on the text.

Finally, as Nike says - - - just do it.  These must be your first priorities, Christian, whether at the start of 2015 or whenever you are reading this blog post.  If you neglect these, you are going into battle with only part of your battle gear buckled in place.

You can find some additional verses about the necessity and power of prayer here:
And, here you can find more encouraging verses about studying the Bible:

Dear Father, help us all to order our priorities, to bring them in line with Your will for each of us. Woo us!  Call us by Your Holy Spirit to be faithful in prayer and in studying Your word, so that we can shine as the stars of heaven, so that we may walk today and in 2015, resplendent!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Stars Above!

Good morning!

In this, my last Christmas-related post, I want to share with you a resource I've run across that you might find helpful in your resplendent walk.

Yesterday we were looking at the visit by the Parthian wise men, who followed the star to find Jesus. That reminded me of a documentary I saw last year, one which I ordered in DVD format.  I went to find it on my bookshelf and watched it again last night.  It is called, "The Star of Bethlehem".  I'd highly recommend your ordering and watching it, if learning more about this biblical phenomenon interests you as it does me.  It lasts about an hour and is available from Amazon for under $10.  Make sure you get the one by Frederick Larson.

Who is Frederick Larson anyway and why did he produce this documentary in 2012?  It is such an odd story!  He is a conservative Christian, a lawyer by profession, who wanted to teach the new members of his congregation about the birth of Christ.  Inevitably, the Star of Bethlehem figured into their discussion.  He began to dig around to find out more about this astronomical phenomenon.  This documentary is about what he found.

"He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name", the Bible says (Psalm 147:4).
And, similarly, Isaiah testifies in Isaiah 40:26 - -

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

There exists computer software today which can "go back in time" --- show the night sky hundreds of years ago, with extreme precision.  This is because the universe is very mathematically laid out. The astronomer, Kepler, discovered the mathematical formulas which govern the universe in the 1600s. He used those formulas to chart the movements of the heavenly bodies.

Until recently, the ability to study the star positions of the past with such precision has eluded modern man.  But now, we can plug Kepler's math into computer software, which can do the "figuring" for us.  Now, it is possible to go back and view the night sky of, for example, 2 B.C. and to see what the wise men, these learned astronomers, actually saw from their home in Parthia.

Did you not ever wonder how these men knew to "follow the star" 700 miles west to Judea?!

I need to make a distinction here.  You may think that I am talking about astrology, which is the belief that the stars determine our future.  Consulting a constellation or star chart or even the daily horoscope in the newspaper as a guide for your daily living is placing something else into God's rightful place in your life. Reading horoscopes and other astrological practices should be avoided because they are a form of "star worship". Studying astronomy is a different practice altogether.  Mr. Larson elaborates on this distinction in his documentary.

You may be wondering why God chose an attorney to receive this revelation, regarding the Star of Bethlehem.  Mr. Larson wonders the same thing.  However, many distinguished scientists and theologians have validated his work.  Their endorsements are listed on his website:

Mr. Larson went on to look at the arrangement of the heavenly bodies at the time of Jesus' crucifixion and compare what he saw to passages in the New Testament.  It is a truly astounding study.  After taking a look at his work, this passage has new meaning for me:

1The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork.
2Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.
3There is no actual speech or word,
nor is its voice literally heard.
4Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
its words carry to the distant horizon.
Psalm 19:1-4 (NET)

I won't give any more away about his findings, here in this blog.  But, if you are interested, check it out on his website, listed above.

Father, you reveal Yourself to us through Your Word, and through Your creation, both of which exist in perfect harmony.  Your Word brought the stars into being, and today they continue to testify of your greatness.  From the moment You spoke the universe into existence You knew that Your Son would have to be born, to live and to die for the fallen creation that You had not yet even created! You are truly an amazing God, One so far beyond our limited understanding!  Thank you for revealing Yourself to us so that we might know You more and love You to the limit of our ability to do so.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Parthians' Pilgrimage

Good morning!

Some of you have already packed up your Christmas decorations.  I'm not judging, but that seems to be somewhat premature.  To each his own - - - but I like to enjoy the decorations as long as is...reasonable.  For me, that means putting things away sometime after New Year's Day.  Some of my Christian brethren (and "sisteren") wait until January 6th, Epiphany.  This day commemorates for some churches the visit by the Magi to the infant Jesus.

When I was about 21 I made a ceramic nativity scene.  My maternal grandmother loved working with ceramics and had a studio in her basement.  I can still see it and smell the various scents of the materials.  She guided me in the making of the figures from scraping ugly edges off the "greenware", choosing the colors for each one, and through the final spraying of glossy fixative.  The finished set has graced my home for more than 30 years, and it a treasured possession.  Present are the holy family, shepherds, sheep, cows, a donkey and (yes, you purists) three wise men with their camels. Yes, I know that the wise men and the shepherds were not simultaneously present in the stable.  Both biblical accounts collide in my nativity, and I'm perfectly fine with enjoying the beauty of what they represent, regardless.

On Christmas Eve, I think it was, my pastor was speaking of the Three Wise Men, who visited Jesus as a young child.  Such a strange story!  It only appears in Matthew 2.  The other gospels do not record it.  Grab your bibles and re-read the entire chapter.

Matthew says that these kings had come from The East, which most interpret to mean the Parthian Empire, a rival empire that Rome had not at Christ's birth defeated.  This empire was just to the east of what we commonly call The Holy Land.  Parthia was the region represented by our modern-day countries of Iran, Iraq and Turkey.  The predominant religion of that area was Zoroastrianism, and the society was very caste-like as it is in India today.  The Greek New Testament uses the word "magi" to describe these men.  The Greek word comes from the Persian word "magus", from which we get our English word,  "magician".  These men were apparently of the kingly, religious caste into which the Persian ruler, Zoroaster, was born.

These astrologers - - - men who studied the stars for indicators of God's plans for us on the earth - - - saw an unusual "star".  That's what they called it, and perhaps that is what it was.  There has been much speculation on that point.  At any rate, they associated this heavenly manifestation with the birth of a king, whom they traveled some great distance to meet.

Herod, who was at that time ruler over Judea (which included Bethlehem), was approached by these men who logically sought him out to help them in their quest.  Perhaps the Parthians thought that the king they sought would be Herod's son.  At any rate, Herod was horrified by their inquiries, although not so much as to be stupid about it.  The crafty monarch set a trap for both the wise men and the baby King as well.

Apparently, Jesus, Mary (and Joseph, although he is not mentioned as being present during the visit from the Magi) still lived at this time in Bethlehem.  Herod sent the Parthians to that small town where, aided again by the star, they located Jesus' abode.  There, they worshipped Him by bowing down and by giving gifts worthy of a king.  Gentile kings, from the rival kingdom next door, falling down in worship before the One yet unrecognized by His own people!  "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...." (Isaiah 7)

When it became plain to Herod that the wise men were not going to "report back", he went on a murderous rampage.  Out of fear that a rival, infant king was lurking around, he commanded that all baby boys, age 2 and under, be slaughtered.  (This was not the last time Herod would murder to keep his seat as ruler over Judea.  In fact, he murdered his wife and 3 of his own sons for the same reason.) Having been warned that danger was near, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and moved to Egypt for a time.

Simeon's prophecy was already coming true.  The coming of Messiah caused Satan to unload his arsenal of evil against Him.  Jesus, by His very presence, was already changing the world.  As evil as the Jewish "king" Herod was, his was an act that rejected Jesus.

Such an odd juxtaposition..."He came unto His own, but His own received Him not.  But, to as many as received Him, those who believed on His name, to them He gave the power to become the children of God..." (John 1:12)

Don't you wonder if those "wise men from the East" (3 of them or not) kept tabs on Jesus - - - his childhood, young adulthood, earthly ministry?  Were they, Gentiles, some of His earliest converts?

Like Herod, many today fear Jesus.  They fear His kingship, His reign on the throne of their lives. Some, through their rejection of Him go so far as to commit murder;  others choose to murder their own souls, for all eternity.

Still, Jesus' invitation stands:  "Come to me, all who work so hard, are tired and weighed down by life's troubles, and I will give you rest...."  (Matthew 11:28-29)  This invitation is for all people, no matter the choices, the rejections of the past.  Only He can offer divine peace and rest.

Good morning, Lord.  Thank you for this rainy Sunday when we can gather together with friends and loved ones, to worship You.  I am glad for Matthew's account of the men from Parthia, and am so intrigued by how You spoke to them through the heavens, how you used a heavenly body to lead them to Your Son.  You are an amazing God, and I bow before You in worship.  Please bind my heart to Yours, not just today, but every day.  That is the resplendent walk!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Simeon's Eyes

Good morning!

I hope you will forgive my taking a couple of days off from blogging.  We were visiting relatives whose internet service is extremely poor.

This morning's text is Luke 2:22-32, the story of Simeon.

22 And (C)when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem (D)to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in (E)the Law of the Lord, (F)“Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in (G)the Law of the Lord, (H)“a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was (I)righteous and (J)devout, (K)waiting for (L)the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not (M)see death before he had seen (N)the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when (O)the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and(P)blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart (Q)in peace,

    (R)according to your word;
for (S)my eyes have seen your (T)salvation
    (U)that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
(V)a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and (W)for glory to (X)your people Israel.”

Here we see a man of great faith; the Holy Spirit of God was on him.  Until the Holy Spirit was given to all Christ-followers at Pentecost (about 2 months after Jesus' resurrection), God's Spirit visited people episodically, to fulfill the will of God at that time.  The Spirit would come, do God's work and then (in some cases) depart from that person.  This was the case with Simeon, a very devout Jew.  It had been revealed to him through the Holy Spirit that he would get to see the Messiah in the flesh before departing this earth.  That same Spirit revealed to him that baby Jesus was the Messiah.  God always keeps His word (vs. 29).

At this time, Jesus would have been about 40 days old.  Matthew chapter 2, which records the story of the wise men, indicates that the little family had not yet taken up residence in Nazareth.  For sure the wise men had not yet visited, as they did not arrive until Jesus was between 1 and 2 years old.  When they did visit Jesus, they seem to have done so in Bethlehem.  So, it seems that the family journeyed from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem, for Jesus' consecration and Mary's purification rituals.

The thing that stands out the most to me about this incident with Simeon was his declaration, "My eyes have seen your salvation."  

Did you see God's salvation this Christmas?  I hope you did.  Through eyes of faith, as Simeon walked by faith, I hope we all placed our eyes on Christ and worshipped Him.  Such is the very essence of Christmas.  "O come let us adore Him..."

At our Christmas celebrations, not everything went "right".  One whole celebration did not even occur, due to sickness in that branch of the family tree.  At the other side's celebration, one gift did not even make it there, and two others were given in error.  There was even one extra, unclaimed gift! All of these foibles highlight our imperfections and should not be the focus of our attention.

As we struggle to correct such errors and make things right, we can glory in the fact that God the Father, in orchestrating the birth of His Son, made no such errors.  He sent His beloved Son as the Light, who would reveal His Truth to the Gentiles; those people like me who walked in deepest darkness have seen that magnificent light (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16).  Did you see it?  Have you seen it?

One of my dear loved ones said to me on Christmas Day, "Haven't you noticed that I am unhappy most of the time?"  This admission was heartbreaking to me.  When we focus our love, attention, adoration on the Savior, He pours His joy into our souls.  And, apart from Him, there is no peace or joy.  Simeon prophecies that Jesus will be a stumbling block to many.  How people will respond to Jesus will determine their destiny.  (vs. 34-35).

I have to admit to being somewhat wistful (okay, jealous) of Simeon and others who receive such a powerful revelation from God, while at the same time knowing that God is sovereign.  He created me and gives me His very best in accordance with my gifts and talents.   Similarly, if you and I follow hard after Him, He will fulfill His purposes in us, whether they are as startling or astounding a revelation as His to Simeon or not.  In this truth and in His perfect love, we can rest secure.

"My eyes have seen Your salvation!"

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the greatest Gift of Christmas, the gift of Your Son, my Savior. Thank you for letting me "see" Your salvation.   I praise You for the marvelous work of Your Holy Spirit, both before Pentecost and after.  Thank you for revealing Yourself to us in such amazing ways. For my unhappy loved one and others who are walking far from You, please draw them by your Holy Spirit and open their eyes to Your great salvation!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent, Day 24: Peace on Earth

Good morning!

Today's text is Luke 2:8-20 (ESV).

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!
15 When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said.19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean.20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

The Gentile gospel writer, Luke, is the only New Testament writer who chronicles in such detail the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  We are told in the opening statements of his gospel that he was meticulous about interviewing witnesses and corroborating their stories, so that his friend, Theophilus, could be sure that what he had been told concerning Jesus was true.  I sometimes wonder... If it had not been for Luke, what stories would we tell at Christmastime?!

The whole Christmas narrative is just not the way we would have scripted it, is it?  What a strange way to introduce the world to Messiah!  God orchestrated this grand, glorious display of jubilation over the birth of His Son and presented it to some of the lowliest members of society, shepherds.   (Lepers were farther down on the societal ladder; but, they could not have gone to worship Jesus in the manger.)

The angels' message is one of the most misinterpreted of all the aspects of Christmas celebrations. Generally, Christmas cards proclaim, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."  For years, I totally misunderstood that message, because it was incomplete.  Take another look at the entire message, in verse 14 above.  The angels were glorifying God for His marvelous work, but also celebrating that peace would now be available to all people with whom God is pleased.

So, God sent Jesus to make peace available to all people, not just the Jews, to provide a way back to Him, to have peace with Him.  But, this peace is only available to people with whom God is "pleased".  Some versions say, "those whom God favors".  The Greek word (eudokias), which is translated in the KJV as "good will" only occurs one other time in the New Testament, and that is in Philippians 2:13, where it is translated as "His good pleasure".

How does one, then, obtain God's favor?  We are unable to do it through our own inherent goodness, because we do not have any, in and of ourselves.  The Bible makes clear that we are each conceived and born into the world with our sinful nature firmly in place.  It is impossible for us to meet God's standard of sinlessness.  This is the very reason Jesus had to come and live His sinless life on our behalf.

We obtain God's favor and peace with God through His Son, by accepting His sacrifice, His substitutionary death FOR us.  There is no other way.  Peace was and is made available to all who will embrace it.  It is not forced upon anyone.  Every person, however, must make a accept Jesus or not.

The day after Christmas, we are going to look at Simeon again.  He warned that Jesus's birth and life would be divisive to people.  Jesus, Himself, proclaimed that His message was divisive, that it would divide even close family members.  Consider His words, as recorded by Matthew:

“Never think I have come to bring peace upon the earth. No, I have not come to bring peace but a sword! For I have come to set a man against his own father, a daughter against her own mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those who live in his own house."
Matthew 10:34-36

We certainly do not see peace on earth among nations, do we?  That is most certainly not what the angels meant.  Just recently, the tiny country of North Korea has been threatening terrorism upon Sony Pictures and the United States because of a movie Sony made, derogatory to that country's leader.  When people heap insults upon the dead "prophet" Mohammed, adherents to that faith rise up and threaten to annihilate the scornful.  There are so many examples of strife, conflict, all-out war on this earth, it is obvious that peace does not reign here...
Except in one place: the hearts of the followers of Jesus Christ.

The apostle John records some of Jesus' final words to His followers,  speaking about peace in the heart of a person, peace between a person and God:

"The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught."
John 14:25-27  The Message

When He was born, the message was "peace with God".  When He was about to leave, the same message was given: He is the originator of peace.
I like this pithy little saying:  "Know Him; know peace.  No Him, no peace."

There are those of you who read this blog who do not know Him.  Don't you wonder sometimes if the message is true?  If HE is true?  Don't you long for peace that abides, deep within your soul?  There is only one solution, one remedy.  Take that leap of faith this Christmas.  Kneel at the manger of the God-child, Jesus.  Take Him into your heart as your own.

"The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the Lord lift up His face upon you, and give you peace."  
Numbers 6:25-26

Merry Christmas!

Psalm 8:9 - - "Oh Lord, my LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" You give strength to Your people (Ps. 29:11), because You blessed us with peace at the birth of Your One and Only Son, and You continue to extend Your hand of peace to all people today who will receive it.  Hallelujah!! May Your holy Name be praised forever and forever!  Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent, Day 23: The Awesome Advisor

Good morning!

Isn't the morning a precious time?  It is for me.  I am a "morning person".  When I get up, I am the first one up, almost always.  This time of quiet, as the light of dawn is creeping over my little corner of the earth...such a blessing!

Today's text is Isaiah 9:2-7, one of my very favorite Christmas prophecies.

(A)The people (B)who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of (C)deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
(D)You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with (E)joy at the harvest,
    as they (F)are glad (G)when they divide the spoil.
(H)For the yoke of his burden,
    (I)and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as (J)on the day of Midian.
(K)For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
(L)For to us a child is born,
    to us (M)a son is given;
(N)and the government shall be (O)upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful (P)Counselor, (Q)Mighty God,
    (R)Everlasting (S)Father, Prince of (T)Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    (U)there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
(V)with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
(W)The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

A couple of nights ago, my older son took the dog out to potty and reported excitedly that there were people walking around in the deep, steep woods behind our house.  He could hear them and see their flashlights. This was at around 10:00 p.m.  This news was unsettling to me, to say the least.  We don't live in a densely populated area, per se.  While there could have been neighbors from across the creek out for an evening stroll, it is unlikely.  Son #1 kept watch over them for a little while.  He said that they seemed to be walking in circles.

This comes to mind when I consider the first part of today's passage.  The people who walked in darkness....

There is so much spiritual darkness today, seemingly increasing by leaps and bounds.  Lost people are stumbling and falling at every turn.  At Advent, we light candles to symbolize the Light of the World condescending to us.  Without Him, regardless of our boastful pronouncements to the contrary, we are merely stumbling around in the woods, lost, walking in circles, getting nowhere.

Isaiah, given this prophecy in today's text approximately 600 years before Jesus was born, was told that "the zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this."  And, He did.

The first few verses speak of the battle between Satan and Yahweh God, the LORD of Hosts, the GOD of Angel Armies: the battle of darkness against Light.  To break the hold of darkness on this world, reeling from the sin that enslaves it, God Himself sent His Son, the Light who dispels all darkness.

"You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy.  They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest."
Isaiah 9:3

What does that mean?  What nation?  Isaiah prophesied later, in 60:3, that the nation of Israel would not be the only recipients of God's mercy. Even then, hope was given to the Gentiles ("goyim", in the Orthodox Jewish Bible).  Hallelujah!

"And nations (Gentiles) shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." 
Isaiah 60:3

Johann Sebastian Bach, a German, a Gentile and very devout Christian, wrote the majestic hymn "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light", nearly 375 years ago (1641).

"Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making."

Yes, He came to break the power of Satan and to enable us to have eternal peace with a holy, sinless God.  He came to gather us to Himself, to be "God With Us" not just for Jesus' earthly lifetime, but forever.  As earthly dawn "ushers in the morning", so Jesus ushers His Light into Our Lives.

In verse 6 of Isaiah 9, some titles are listed for this coming Messiah.  I don't think that it is any accident that the first title in the line-up is "Wonderful Counselor".  If you know the famous chorus from Handel's Messiah, you may have it in your head to make this title two separate words/titles: ("Wonderful"....."Counselor".....).  No, it is written as one title - - - a Counselor who is Wonderful!

He is our Glorious Savior, yes! But, in the Person of His Holy Spirit, He is our Awesome Advisor. You ask me how I know that Jesus is alive today?  He lives in me.  His light shines into my darkest places, exposing my sin and calling me to confession, purification, restoration.  He calls me deeper into relationship with Him, so that when I do see Him at last, He won't be a stranger.  I will recognize Him as, not only the Light of the World, but as my dearest Friend.

Oh Father, I confess that You, God of Angel Armies, and my Savior, the Everlasting Father, and the Holy Spirit, are One.  You are GOD, and there is no other.  You are Light, and in You is no darkness at all.  Thank you for taking pity on us, the sons of men, and banishing our darkness when we call on You to save us, Awesome Advisor.  You offer to us the wisdom of our Father; none teaches like You.  In Jesus' name, amen.