Advent is a time to clean house while we wait for something special to happen. In times past, Advent was a time of reflection, a time to prepare for the coming Messiah, a time to search within the depths of our hearts for things that do not reflect Christ in our lives; then choose God’s better path. In the Book of Romans Chapter 1 verses 28-32, the Holy Bible gives us a mirror which reflects our innermost being. It shows each one of us our need for the Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Romans 1:28-32 says,
“28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
But Who did God send to save us from our sins? God sent His Son, Jesus, to us. For 33 years, God in the form of the man Jesus of Nazareth ministered in person to the people of the time. As the Apostle Paul penned, almost two centuries ago, in Romans 5:8, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Only God could have such great love for so many undeserving people. Let us each prepare our hearts not with “tinsel and trappings” but, instead, let us each prepare our hearts with the love that only God’s Word can give us.
2022 December / 2023 January
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. 4 In Him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5
As we search for Jesus this Advent season, it is important to begin at the beginning. In the Gospels of the New Testament, we find Jesus on earth ministering to His creations, His people. It is in the Gospel of John, John the disciple’s writings, that we find Jesus. He is God at the beginning of all. Jesus is the Word of God. He spoke and the world came into being. It was through Jesus that the universe, every plant, every animal, and every human was made. It is in Jesus’ image that man was created, and it is His divine spark which is rekindled in those who choose to accept Him as their Savior in this depraved world.
“For to us a Child is born,
to us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon[a] His shoulder,
and His name shall be called[b]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
A gift can come in all sizes and shapes in bags or boxes wrapped in beautiful paper and tied with lovely ribbons. When God gave mankind His Son, there was no box or ribbon. When God gave mankind His Son, He came into a world with great expectations but little fanfare. Within this tiny Baby with His many powerful names came Light and Love. In the darkness of the fallen world, the Word became Flesh, John 1:1. Jesus is called by many Names, but the Names from Isaiah 9:6 were and are for all times and all people.
The people in Isaiah’s timeframe needed wise leadership, but their king was not a wise man. As a whole, Judah turned their collective back on God, and they faced His judgment. The people of Judah needed the “Wise Counselor” Who would guide them through the path they chose for themselves. Under the circumstances, Judah wanted God to be the “Mighty King” that they anticipated for Who but the long expected “Warrior God” could save them from the great power of the Assyrian Empire? For the Children of Israel, God was their “Everlasting Father.” Throughout their turbulent history, God, just like most fathers are ready and available to help their children in times of need, was always there when Judah repented to save them from their own folly. In the turbulent times that Isaiah lived, Judah looked for the safety and peace that only God could give them.
As we celebrate the season of Advent, let us remember that we too are living in turbulent times. We have wandered far from God and His great love for us. We need the Savior, Jesus the Christ. In Isaiah’s book, we find the Gospel’s message- a fallen world in need of saving, the Savior Who is loving and powerful, a forgiving Father Who is always available, and the hope of the inner peace that only comes from accepting the Savior. In Jesus, we find the embodiment of Isaiah’s prophetic names. As you go through your day today, ponder Jesus’ Names, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” for each one is just as important today as it was millennia ago.
4“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
Perhaps your definition of love includes the feelings of a parent for his child or a teacher for his student. You might have siblings; so your definition includes your feelings for your brother or your sister. Perhaps you think of “love,” as the feelings between a man and a woman. If so, then you are like many people whose feelings fall well within the definitions written in many dictionaries.
However, none of the above feelings come close to God’s definition of love. It is God’s definition, as stated in I Corinthians 13:4-7, that explains pure love- His pure love. God’s love is not self-serving. He does not have a scoreboard in Heaven marking our losses and our failures against us. God loves us unconditionally all day every day.
When we fail, God still loves us. When we are not patient, He understands. When others bully or make fun of us, He comforts us. When we turn away from Him, God remains close to us. Why? because God is Love and God never fails, love never fails.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:21-26
How many times do we doubt God’s love for us?If we are completely honest, the answer is almost daily.Yet, God is the only One Whose love we should never doubt.What makes us doubt Him?Why do we struggle to believe God and His promises?We doubt God’s love because here on earth we all experience love that fails.We experience love that is contingent upon our actions, our looks, our popularity, our beliefs, our schooling, our friends, our family, our monetary status, and the list goes on.When faced with a truly unfailing love, we do not know how to handle it, and we inevitably revert back to our defense mechanism: doubt.
In my life, I am beginning to learn that if I live in God’s love for me then I will see His mercies at work.I fail daily.My words, actions, attitudes, and thoughts could never live up to the standard of a just and righteous God, yet, in spite of my shortcomings, God’s love and mercy never fail- His compassions never fail.It has taken years for me to reach the point where I can say with absolute assurance, “God’s love never fails.His promises are always true.His mercy is always available to me.Great is His faithfulness.”
In reality, it is rather ironic that I have reached this point after most everything that I hold dear has been stripped away.Close relationships with some family members- gone. The dreams that I hold close- seemingly nonexistent.Close friends to support me- moved away.Monetary security- evaporated.People who believe in me…well, let us just say that the number of people who do not vastly outnumber those who do.What is left?God’s faithfulness is left.Each day, I must leave my whole life in His hands.God has given me amazing parents to bolster me up; a nephew and nieces who love me; students who are like my own children; friends who love from far and wide; His assurance that my needs will be met; His promise that my dreams will come to pass, regardless of what reality says, and ultimately His sacrificial love.Each day, God says, “Speak for Me.Say My words.I will provide.I am bringing all things to pass in My time.Hold on, and you will see the fulfillment of My plans for you.”
God is faithful, and His love never fails.His love for me drives each and every decision He makes for me.His love for you drives every decision He makes for you too, for God loves each of us too much to allow us to remain jaded.He wants us to live out our days in His love, His promise, His grace, and His mercy.
Lord, this Christmas and everyday help us to remain in Your love, Your mercy, and Your faithfulness.
“Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.”Proverbs 10:12
Have you noticed the vitriolic sentiment in America today?Turn on the computer, tap your favorite browser, and up pops your favorite homepage.As you scan that home page, you see several articles.Each one is enough to start your blood pressure rising, but lump the headlines together, and you begin to see stars.As you begin your drive to your place of business, several near fender-benders occur- one right after the other.Because you are distracted by the morning’s headlines, the near misses increase your anger exponentially.It does not matter who caused the near accidents.It just matters that your drive-time was affected.After all, you are a perfect driver, and you are never the cause of possible trouble.In fact, you are so angry that you choose to demonstrate that anger in a totally negative way.
Does this scenario sound familiar?It should.It happens thousands of time each day all across the country.Sometimes it seems as if the news media only wants to cause hatred.Hatred stirs up passion and conflict.The more the conflict is echoed throughout the land, the more the people listen to various news organizations.It means more revenue for that particular magazine, newspaper, radio show, or browser in the cut-throat world of the news.It does not matter if the story is totally true.It just matters that people pay attention.
God’s way is different than our way.It matters to Him how we treat our fellow citizens of earth, and getting attention is not His primary goal.God says, “I see what you did, but I still love you.”Yes, we still have the consequences for our actions to deal with, but God’s love for us is never in question.Each year at Christmas and Easter, we are reminded just how far God went and will go to show His love for each one of us.
When my children were young, I purchased a cassette about Psalty the Singing Songbook entitled Psalty’s Christmas Calamity.One of the songs included on the cassette was entitled “Christmas Is a Time to Love” written by Ernie Rettino & Debby Kerner Rettino.I think the words are very timely for our world today.This year, you be the one to take the extra step to love rather than to anger.
If you wish to listen, I have provided you with the Youtube link.https://youtu.be/DOG8uXqKgNI
“Christmas Is a Time to Love”
We often start to worry
And people get upset,
If things don’t all go right
On Christmas day.
What we should remember
In all the push and shove,
Is Christmas is a time to love.
Christmas is a time,
Christmas is a time,
Christmas is a time to love.
Christmas is a time,
Christmas is a time,
Christmas is a time to love.
Maybe things don’t sound right,
Or look the way they should,
And maybe they’re not perfectly in tune.
It really doesn’t matter,
Let’s keep our eyes above.
‘Cause Christmas is a time to love.
“In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’Yet You heard my cry for mercy when I called to You for help.
Love the LORD, all His saints!” Psalm 31:22-23a
“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”That single line is from the movie Forrest Gump.Although the quote may elicit a smile, it is a wry smile at best, for life can be more than difficult.Sometimes, life is filled with successes and happiness.A job promotion, a marriage, the birth of children, a birthday, graduation, a new home, etc., fill us with innumerable joys.During these blessed times, we share our happiness with the world, and we continue on our merry way.
We continue, that is, until we take “that left turn at Albuquerque.”Suddenly, life is filled with troubles: a car accident, illness, death, job loss, divorce, loss of dreams, arguments, temptations, financial reversals, and more.During these trials, we seem to spin out of control.It is as if our cars have died on the superhighway, and a double tractor trailer is barreling down on us.Other times, we feel as if we are drowning under a sea of woe.
If this sounds familiar, please know that you are not alone.God is just a prayer away; in spite of the turmoil churning around us, God has never left us.We may feel abandoned, but our Heavenly Father is right beside us saying, “Here I am; hold onto Me.”During the most difficult of situations, God is there.Because God loves us, He wraps us in His loving embrace and holds us, even when we only feel like sobbing out our pain.
When I was a senior in college, I went through what L.M. Montgomery described as “Jonah Days”.It was as if everything that could possibly go wrong happened simultaneously.I was left bereft of any self-esteem, alone, depressed, whipped around in a sea of sorrow, and unable to keep my head above water.At one point, I can remember stumbling through the door, tears streaming down my face, and my one-year-old nephew greeting me.He held out his little arms to me, and I collapsed on the floor.I felt him tightly hold my neck, and I sobbed out my pain.Never once did he pull away, and, for the rest of the day, my nephew stayed close.He sat in my lap, played with me, read books, and snuggled.God gave me a great gift that day, for He knew that I needed to feel loved, valued, and held.Over the next few months, as I questioned God, His sovereignty, His plan, and His love, my loving Savior reminded me of my little guy and his love.Yet, God also reminded me of a song called “Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Scott Krippayne.The words below are the song’s chorus; these words wound their way through my thoughts so many times during that period.They reminded me that God is always there in the midst of the pain, the sorrow, the trials, for He loves me.
“Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still.
He can settle any sea,
But it doesn't mean He will.
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild.
Sometimes He calms the storm,
And other times He calms His child.”
As you go through the trials and triumphs of life, remember God’s love for you and me is unchanging and everlasting.This may be a piece of chocolate that you wished you did not have to swallow, but know that God is with you every step of the way.A new piece of chocolate lies ahead of you.This storm will pass, and the day will shine all the brighter.Your Heavenly Father is just waiting for you to ask Him to allow His love to surround you. Will you?
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” Luke 2:1-3
Joseph and Mary planned a marriage, but God had a different plan for their lives. In the midst of living their everyday lives, God planted His seed inside Mary’s womb, and the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, called for an empire wide census. Everything was to be counted, but for the Children of Israel the census posed a huge obstacle. For those Jews to be counted, each family had to go to their city of origin which meant a massive population shift. For Joseph and Mary, the census was very inconvenient, but inconvenient meant God was at work. God’s son Jesus was on His way into the world, and God’s plan called for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem not Nazareth. Since the title ‘emperor’ meant nothing to God, Caesar Augustus’s call for a census was just part of God’s divine plan.
Each day, I have a plan, and almost every day my plans change. A call from my children or husband may take me away from my job or chores. A friend may need my help, or an appliance may breakdown and need repair. Often, the calls on my plans are inconvenient, but each call is important to address. As I look back over this past year, I cannot believe how my plans have changed. From an unexpected cross country move to a life changing illness, this year can only be termed as an adventure. Knowing that God has a plan for my life permits me to be flexible though, I must admit, I do not always feel gracious about the new task. Because I know God’s promises are true, like Joseph and Mary, I choose to trust God with each day.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
5” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children.” Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NIV)
For my parents who thought that their family was complete at two children, I was a surprise. But God had other plans for our family, and I was born. Because I was a child of older parents, I was constantly going to funerals. My only living grandma died not long after my fifth birthday. Not long after I learned to ride a two wheeler, my father’s brother died. In between, my many great uncles, great aunts, and various cousins also died. By the time I was ten, I learned several things. First, I learned to value older family members. Second, I learned that life can end unexpectedly which, as a young child, I found extremely frightening. Finally, I developed a massive dislike for gladiolas which were displayed in abundance at the funerals I attended. ;)
As I have grown older, the lessons I learned so long ago have stuck with me through the years. I still value the older generations of society, and I still dislike gladiolas. However, since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, I no longer find death frightening. I know that God’s love is written on my heart. I know that God surrounds me with His care. It is the certainty of His love that propels my desire to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength; with joy and gladness, I in turn try to share God’s love with those around me.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:11-12
Do you associate discipline with love? Often, we associate discipline as necessary but not as an aspect of love. However, love requires boundaries. When I taught Preschool, I was often told that I ran a rather tight ship. In other words, I was strict; however, this was not the whole story. I also had the happiest classroom. The children played, sang, laughed, read, and learned in a space where they each felt safe and secure. Why does love require boundaries and discipline? It is very simple- because knowing what is required and expected takes away the fear. The children knew that they needed to treat each other with kindness; failure to do so resulted first in warnings and modeling correct behavior, then in consequences, forgiveness, and a heart to heart talk.
God does the same for us. We need to feel safe and secure, for we need to know what is expected of us. The Bible is God’s Word; it is His instruction manual. In it, we find encouragement, expectations, stories, prophecies, directions, grace, love, mercy, and faithfulness filling each page. God is the ultimate teacher; He encourages, supports, loves, forgives, and, yes, disciplines. Sometimes, He just warns us to change our behavior; sometimes, He corrects gently. Other times, God disciplines. We might not like it, but God knows just what we need to be the best version of ourselves.
The Great Teacher corrects here, prunes there, encourages the good behavior to produce fruit, snips the rotten behavior in the bud, and, every step of the way, He reminds us that He is not just our Teacher- He is our Heavenly Father. As our Father, He only wants the best for us, and He will stop at nothing until we are the best versions of ourselves: a reflection of Christ. This Christmas remember that discipline might hurt for a little while, but, as we correct our behavior, our Father in Heaven will soon look at us with a smile and say, “My, look at how much you have grown!”
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
Love is a verb. Were you aware that love is a verb? A verb can be a state of being, link a word from the predicate to the subject, or it can show action. Ironically, very few verbs in the English language are actually state of being or linking. Most verbs require action. Here in America, we use the word Love all the time. “I love ice cream.” “We love that movie.” “She loves animals.” “He loves sports.” We refer to things that we enjoy immensely with the same intensity as the love we use for people. No wonder people are confused by love! Based upon its common use in America, love is just a word. It requires no action.
However, the love of God is completely different. We are called to be Christ’s love to the world. We are called to love one another. How do we do that? How do we put love into action? In other words, how do we exhibit love as a verb? The coworker who constantly annoys you with her incessant chatter desperately needs you to be her friend. The man who seems a little bit slow needs understanding and patience. The child who never seems to listen needs a helping hand. Those with less food need to be fed; those without homes need a place to sleep. Others do not have clothes and wonder from where the money will come to provide their basic necessities.
Many of you may think that the government will provide for those needs. Is it the government’s job to provide for the needy? I do not think so. Based upon the Bible, it is our job as Christians. We are called to help those in need, to comfort the mourning, to help the hurting, to encourage the discouraged, to be Christ to a dying world, to be His love. Love is a verb; it requires action from us. God is love; to show God’s love to the world, we need to exhibit love. Love the unlovable; give to the helpless; encourage the hopeless.
We give at Christmastide, for ‘tis the season for giving. However, our call to love does not end on January 6; our call to love continues. It is our mandate, and it is up to us to be love. The following excerpt is taken from a wonderful movie called The Bishop’s Wife. It stars Cary Grant, David Niven, Lorretta Young, and Monty Woolley; Robert E. Sherwood and Leonardo Bercovici wrote the screenplay. Cary Grant played an angel who comes to earth to give wisdom and guidance to a young bishop played by David Niven. Throughout the movie, Niven’s character fights the wisdom that the angel extends to him. Finally, the bishop realizes that love is missing. Christianity is not about magnificent edifices, but about love. On Christmas Eve, the bishop reads a sermon, written by the angel. This sermon sums up how we are to love one another. The sermon reads as follows:
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the Child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.”
Let us also love as Christ loves us. He gave us His all, can we do no less?
17 “A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)
Recently, I was reading a book by Derek Prince called The Key to the Middle East. As I read through the pages, I once again realized that the people of Israel are the key to history. That might be a bold statement to make, but I stand behind it. God’s purpose for His people is clearly shown throughout the ages. In the twentieth century, it seems that God’s purpose for His chosen people is challenging us at every turn to recognize that Israel is our friend and our brother born of adversity. Yet, we Christians have treated our friends very badly. Blamed as the sole people behind Christ’s death, Christians often forget that Christ was a Jew.
During World War II, Archbishop Roncalli served the Roman Catholic church in Istanbul. While the Archbishop continued his work for the church, Roncalli worked to help many Jews flee from the Nazi juggernaut. Later, as Pope John XXIII, Roncalli composed a prayer of confession and repentance for Catholics asking God’s forgiveness for our treatment of God’s chosen family, the Jews.
“Let us pray: O God, we are conscious that many centuries of blindness have blinded our eyes so that we no longer see the beauty of your Chosen People. Across the centuries our Jewish brothers and sisters have lain in the blood which we drew or caused to be shed by forgetting your love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying you a second time in their flesh. For we knew not what we did. Amen.”
For Archbishop Roncalli, the time of adversity was World War II. Out of the terror and destruction of that time period, Roncalli discovered that Jesus’ brothers were indeed his brothers too. Let us follow Archbishop Roncalli’s example and break the bonds of hatred that bound us together to embrace anti-Semitism. Instead, look past the differences which we permit to separate us and extend the hand of friendship to someone in need of a friend. Who is your brother born of adversity?
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
We all know that we are to love one another, but do we truly understand what that means? Do you love the person who cut you off? Do you love the person who has wronged you? Do I love the person who has hurt me? Do I love those I have never met? You see, there is no you or me when we are dealing with God’s love; we all could do a better job of loving others. However, the ultimate expression of love is one we hope that we never have to express: laying down your life for another. We often see these expressions of love during a disaster, a war, a tragedy; yet, we do not always hear about the one who has given their all for others, unless the one saved speaks up.
Such was the case of Raoul Wallenberg. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish businessman and architect who served as a diplomat in Budapest, Hungary, during WWII. Wallenberg and his coworkers rescued person after person from the Nazi hands; he was persuasive, aggressive- bribing or threatening the Nazi Germans depending on the situation, a consummate actor, negotiator, organizer, and humanitarian. His life meant nothing to him as he went about his work to rescue the Jews from under the Nazi regime. Through Wallenberg’s efforts, he transformed former ghettos into Swedish diplomatic blocks; Raoul stopped trains transporting Jews claiming they were Swedish citizens- and he had the papers to back up his claims. The Secretary at the Swedish Legation, Per Anger, was one of the last people to see Wallenberg alive. Raoul’s life was in danger at every turn, and Anger told Raoul that he should not be out and about. Wallenberg said, “To me there’s no other choice. I’ve accepted this assignment, and I could never return to Stockholm without the knowledge that I’d done everything in human power to save as many Jews as possible.” You may ask, “How many people did he save?” Over one hundred thousand Jews were rescued by Wallenberg’s efforts.
Raoul arrived in Budapest in July of 1944; he was thirty-two years old at the time. Within six months, Raoul and his Swedish Legation rescued over one hundred thousand Jews. What happened to this hero of the Holocaust? He was arrested, not by the Nazis, but by another group of oppressors: the Soviets. It is unknown how Wallenberg died, but it is known that the Soviets arrested him when they entered Budapest on January 17, 1945. When the Soviets arrested Wallenberg, he was never heard from again; here was a man who gave his life for others- tens of thousands of people who never knew Raoul Wallenberg but needed his help, for their lives depended on it.
In Jerusalem, there is a memorial dedicated to those who died during the Holocaust called Yad Vashem. Within Yad Vashem is The Avenue of the Righteous. This avenue is lined with trees; each tree is planted to honor a non-Jew who risked his life to save the Jews. One of those trees is named for Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who laid down his life for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” May this be true of us all.
15 “Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.” Amos 5:15 (NIV)
Have you ever wondered what has happened to right and wrong? When we listen to the news on the radio, watch the news on television, or scroll through social media, we hear and see stories about senseless violence each day. The bigger problem is the cultural reaction to that violence. It seems that many people today embrace the violence. In America, a person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. However, recently, the guilty are proclaimed heroes, and heroes are condemned as villains.
Amazingly, things have not changed too much from Biblical times. As we scan through the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible, you meet such heroes as David, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus, our Savior. David was God’s chosen king of Israel and loyal subject of his liege, King Saul. Yet, Saul and his army pursued David throughout the kingdom to kill him. Daniel followed his heart and his God. When jealous men rightly accused Daniel of breaking King Xerxes’s law, he was thrown into a lion’s den to be eaten alive. Paul, a Roman citizen, was accused, placed under house arrest, sentenced to death, and eventually killed. Jesus, the Son of God, withstood false accusations, illegal trails, and death on a cross which was meant for a murderer. Too often in our sinful world, good is hated while evil is venerated. Is it any wonder that God cherishes what is good?
How do we maintain justice in the courts? There are several ways. First, follow “the Golden
Rule”-12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 Second, 30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 Third, 8” Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 If we would follow these three simple rules, justice would be maintained, and love, patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control would be the rule not the exception.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13
As Christians, we are called to live our lives in an outpouring of God’s love. On a good day, we struggle to sincerely love others, even those to whom we are close. To be certain, we know that we should be respectful of the police officer who pulled us over; we know we should give our time to those in need. We try to model the best behavior, yet sometimes our love wears a little thin; sometimes, the love is more insincere rather than sincere. However, on a bad day, week, month, or year, sincerely loving others seems downright impossible.
Over the past few years, I have been through some rather trying circumstances; to say that the situations I have found myself in are frustrating is an understatement. Sometimes, I feel as if I am drowning under a sea of discouragement. This past Sunday was one such day. I needed to teach a Sunday School lesson, talk with the pastor, be a good aunt, organize things for the Christmas program, prepare my lessons for school, correct papers, complete devotionals, practice a song for the Christmas Eve service, finish my homework, clean, and a host of other things; in the midst of this chaos, I was overly tired, weary in my spirit, and beyond discouraged. The last thing I wanted to do was to put on a brave front and pretend that all was okay when on the inside I was filled with turmoil. In spite of this, I went downstairs to teach my lesson and sing songs with my Sunday school children.
In spite of my own turmoil, I found that as I poured out myself into the children and sang songs of praise, my own spirit lifted. Loving on others helps us focus on God’s love; it allows His Spirit to fill us. If we are “joyful in our hope, patient in the afflictions, and faithful in prayer,” we find that God’s love not only reaches out through us to a hurting world, but it also ministers to us exactly where we need it. As Christmas draws near, let us pour out God’s love to the world, and, in turn, be filled with His love.
44 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)
We are quick to point out the people who are our enemies. We even have a mental list that we check when we greet new people. Sometimes, we judge others by their speech or because of their clothing choices; for some people, the skin color creates a mental enemy. For others, their enemies have a different political view. We make enemies of people we have never met by listening to stories we hear through gossip or reading on social media or in the news. It is easy to hate as Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in the musical South Pacific back in the 1940’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAls_gUhlQw
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
But is that what Jesus would want for us? Is it His desire for us to hate each other? The Bible teaches us that God wants us to love each other. Why, because He loves each one of us. He does not look at our outward appearance, at our political affiliation, or at what our side of the fence looks like. God looks at the inside. He looks at our hearts. When God wanted to show us how to love, He gave us a perfect example of love- He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus taught us to love each other through His example. Though Jesus rebuked the Pharisee who only saw Mary Magdalene’s sins, Jesus showed His love for both the “righteous” Pharisee and “unrighteous “Mary Magdalene. Jesus went out of His way to meet the outcast the Samaritan woman. Zaccheus, the hated tax collector, heard words of love from His Savior. “Zaccheus, you come down for I’m going to your house today.” The hated Roman centurion met Jesus and immediately asked a favor. Jesus not only healed the Centurion’s slave but also offered to visit the Roman soldier’s home. Jesus wished to show us that we are not so different from each other. How can we ignore His example? Instead, let us embrace Christ’s example to love one another.
37 “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Are you committed? Many of us are committed to causes. Some people dedicate themselves to animal rescue. Others are committed to saving the trees. Still others are committed to saving people. For example, Amy Carmichael, Florence Nightengale, Mother Teresa, Eric Liddell, George Müller, William Booth, but the list of people helping other people goes on and on. Before committing their lives to the serving others, these people made a commitment to God. God is asking you for a commitment. The following is an excerpt from Amy Carmichael’s life:
“Seventeen-year-old Amy Carmichael was on her way home from church in Belfast, when she came to a poor old woman carrying a heavy bundle- something she was not accustomed to seeing in Presbyterian Belfast. Amy, along with her two brothers, took the bundle from the woman and helped her along by the arms.
Surrounded by the “repeatable people” of the community, Amy could not help but notice her actions were being questioned. She was embarrassed. In her own words Amy described it as “a horrid moment. We were only two boys and a girl, and not at all exalted Christians. We hated doing it.” They plodded on in spite of the blushing and sense of shame for associating publicly with such a woman. The wind and rain blew in their faces. The rags of the old woman pressed against them.
Just as they passed by an ornate Victorian fountain in the street, “this mighty phrase flashed as it were through the gray drizzle: ‘Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble — every man’s work will be made manifest; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide…”
The words were so real, Amy turned to see who had spoken them. She saw nothing but a muddy street, people with surprised looks on their faces, and the fountain. But Amy knew this was the voice of God.
That afternoon, Amy shut the door to her room and closed herself in with God. What happened that day would change the course of her life and profoundly impact her priorities. Amy Carmichael began to understand what it means to die to self.
How did this affect her? She purposed in her heart to follow Him who had no home, no earthly possessions beyond the bare minimum. She would be “dead to the world and its applause, to all its customs, fashions, laws.” Amy had an eye for beauty, and it was no small sacrifice to embrace this journey of true discipleship.
Amy began to reach out to the “shawlies” girls who worked in the mills and were too poor to by hats. They used their shawls to cover their heads, which was offensive to the proper church members. Which was worse, Amy bringing these crude “commoners” to the church, or Mrs. Carmichael allowing her to go into the slums to fetch them? They couldn’t decide. Amy didn’t care about her reputation. She was dead. Christ was alive in her, loving the shawlies through her. It was a relief to the church folk when the shawlies were coming in such large numbers that Amy needed a separate building for them. This was no small challenge for a now 22 year-old girl. But Amy believed God for both the Land and the building. The invitations were sent out, and the grand opening set for January 2, 1889. She invited her minister to dedicate “The Mill and Factory Girls’ Branch of the YMCA.” A banner was hung in the front with words, “That in all things HE might have the preeminence.”
Later when God called Amy to missions, she did not question, though it saddened her to leave her loved ones. On the mission field, God again used Amy’s “mother’s heart” to minister to children. She spent fifty-three years in India setting up orphanages to rescue children from prostitution in Hindu temples and ministering to the people she met. Amy affected the lives of countless Indians, giving them a hope for a future on earth and in heaven.”
Before Amy Carmichael committed herself to helping the young girls, she committed her life to Christ. Christ took the first steps to show His great love for each of us when He left heaven to become our Savior over two thousand years ago. When He asked Amy for her commitment, He saw Amy ministering to the countless children who would benefit from the great well of love, God’s love, that she would share with them.
Is God asking for a commitment from you? Do you hear His call? Will you answer? Each of these questions only one person can answer- you. God might not call you to help those in a faraway land. He might ask you to help someone close to home, but first He is asking you to- “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.’” Then He will help you to follow through- 39 “’And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”” Will you answer Him?
"A" stands for Admit. A person must admit to God that she is a sinner. She must be sorry for her sin and turn away from sinning. Verses that support this step are Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Acts 3:19; and 1 John 1:9.
"B" stands for Believe. A person must believe that Jesus is God's Son and that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for sin. Verses about believing include John 3:16; John 14:6; and Romans 5:8.
"C" stands for Confess. A person must confess her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Read Romans 10:9-10, 13.
“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10
Love is a hard taskmaster. It forces us to step outside of our comfort zone. It forces us to reach out to people who may be different than we are. Different hair, different eyes, different skin color, different speech, different beliefs, different language, different country, we all have a ‘different’ in our sphere. What do you do when confronted with different? Do you turn your back to the person in need? Do brush them off with a virtual “I’m busy sign”? If you do anything other than offering love, kindness, and acceptance, you have missed the target. When He walked the earth, Jesus showed us how to love. People from all walks and stations of life met Jesus. To each and everyone He met, Jesus exhibited God’s love. Those who needed correction received correction. Those who needed spiritual or physical healing, Jesus offered healing. He was never too busy to listen. He was never too busy to help. Often, Jesus left what He was doing to tend to someone’s call. Ultimately, Jesus showed us the reality of love. He died on the cross. Jesus died for you, for me, for those who came before us, and for those who will follow us. Why? Because we, His creations, are all sinners who are saved by Christ’s ultimate act of love. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 Today is your new beginning. Today look for ways to help others and quietly show them love God’s love. Perhaps you know someone who cannot cut their grass, or someone who needs help shopping. The person in the checkout at the grocery store is putting food to the side because they do not have enough money. Pay the bill for them. You might be able to donate blood. The ways to show God’s love are endless. Expect nothing in return for you are not sharing God’s love for a reward, for you will gain more in the giving than anyone could ever repay.
“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16
Each day our military, police officers, and emergency personnel put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They know that at any moment they might be called to themselves in harm’s way so that others might live. However, you and I rarely have such an opportunity. If our lives are so protected, how can we “lay down our lives for the brothers.”? As opportunities present themselves, we can donate blood, help an elderly neighbor with odd jobs around their home, volunteer at a nursing home, or food bank. “Pay it forward” at the grocery store or gas station is a good way to help as well. Shop for or take a meal to someone who is homebound. Something as simple as listening is an act of caring and love. These are just a few suggestions, and I am sure that you are thinking of ways to share God’s love to others. If you ask, God can give you the inspiration you need to help others. Remember, the smallest action even a smile can save someone’s life.
Life by the Spirit13” You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13 (NIV)
This week, Christmas vacation begins, and we, students and teachers, are all very excited about the freedom no school will bring to us. I can almost hear the “We’re free!!!” shouts now. The question is what shall we do with our freedom? For me, freedom means that I may sleep in until 8:30; I can wear my comfortable clothes, and I can bake- I love to bake. But there are things that I must do too. I must wrap presents; I must clean the house, and I must go shopping. If I permit my freedom to control me, the people who rely on me will be disappointed, and I would not like that to happen. You see I love the people who depend on me, and I love to serve them whether they help me or not. “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Perter 4:8 My freedom does not depend on how others treat me or on what I want to do. My freedom is dependent upon doing what is right for me to do even when I do not feel like following through.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Luke 2:4-5
When I was growing up, my family traveled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to visit my Grandma for Thanksgiving, and, on the return trip, we stopped in Carlisle to visit my aunt and uncle at Dickinson for our annual visit to Hershey Park all decked out in Christmas decorations. Those travels were not the easiest ones to make with four young children. Often, the caravan was packed with toys, diapers, food, books, luggage, snacks, paper towels, and a host of other things. The car was filled with the sounds of Cookie Counters, hand-held games, “Are we there yet?”, and lest we forget the ever important, “I need to use the bathroom.” Sometimes, as we neared the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Carlisle on our way out to Johnstown, the first snowflakes began to fall; by the time we drove a mile or two on the Turnpike, those single snowflakes turned into a mass of flakes so thick you could not see through it. What was a six or seven hour drive rapidly turned into an eleven or twelve hour drive. As it was the Christmas season, we listened to Christmas music, classic radio shows, Sesame Street, and Christian Christmas music as we traveled. Inevitably, Perry Como’s “Home for the Holidays” played when the TimeLife Christmas cassette played. I loved that song, and I looked forward to it playing every year. That song reminded me of the importance of seeing family, and we traveled hundreds of miles to accomplish that goal.
Joseph and Mary undertook such a journey so many years ago. They traveled to Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s hometown. However, unlike my family’s annual journeys to western Pennsylvania, Joseph and Mary traveled, not to see family, but to be counted for a census. Caesar Augustus wanted to know exactly how many people were in his ever-growing empire. For the Jewish people, this meant traveling to the family line’s hometown. This seemingly innocuous situation served a greater purpose, for God wanted to ensure that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with Micah’s prophecy; because Jesus’ lineage needed to include the line of David, Mary and Joseph’s families fit the bill as they traveled to Bethlehem to be counted with everyone else. Mary was pregnant, and the journey was arduous. The donkey did not have the luxury of shock absorbers, and, though Bethlehem was not necessarily far from Nazareth, it may as well have been a thousand miles away. How they must have prayed that there would be room for them at the inn!
Our own lives are filled with journeys. Sometimes the journeys bring us closer to our families, our friends, our futures, or our destinies, and, other times, the journey is arduous, difficult, or trying. We would much rather not make this journey; after all, it is not convenient, nor is it helpful. However, through it all God is with us, just as He was with Mary and Joseph, just as He was with my family as we traveled. As we traverse this Advent journey, let us remember the One who watches over us each and every step of the way.
6” While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:6-7 (NIV)
If you are a parent, you know the thrill of greeting that special little person for the very first time.Most of us have not delivered our child out in the woods, on a city street, or in a stable.Whether we choose a home birth or a hospital birth, doctor or midwife, “natural” birth or with the use of anesthetics, you must admit that our version of rustic in no way compares to Mary’s labor and delivery.For the most part when our children were born, they were born in a warm and safe environment that, if not antiseptic, was cheery, clean, and warm.We welcome the baby, or child, with open hands and open hearts.
Now put yourself in Mary and Joseph’s position.Mary’s child was born in a far from perfect environment.By today’s standards, Mary and Joseph had no staff, no bright and cheery birthing room, and no help.There was no one to help them- they were alone.There was no space for them.For all intents and purposes, they were alone.If you look at it from a worldly perspective, that is true. But if we look from a heavenly perspective, we know that wherever they went, Mary and Joseph were accompanied by God who sent His angels as a body guard for their precious cargo, Jesus.Even though there was no room for two weary strangers, they were never alone- they had God with them.
Sometimes, we feel like we are all alone too.Sometimes, there is no room for us at the “cool table.”Sometimes we feel all alone in a crowd of people.But when we feel the most alone, that is when we need to remember that we are never alone.We need to remember that God is with each one of us.He loves us so much that He has each of us carved on the “palm of His hand.” Isaiah 49:6 “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”
Just like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, who found Himself an outsider throughout much of His life on earth, we too can find ourselves in situations where there is no room for us at the inn.And just like them, we need to trust that the one who loves us, God, is never far from our sides.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Luke 2:8-9
It was a typical night outside of Bethlehem; the sounds of sheep settling down for the night mixed with the low murmuring of the shepherds as they readied themselves for another uneventful night. Suddenly, the heavens opened, and an angel in its radiance appeared before them. These shepherds were terrified. Because of these single opening sentences, we often picture the shepherds as weak men, ready to run at a moment’s notice. You know the bit in television shows: a dead body appears and for comedic emphasis, the finder (usually a man), screaming like a girl turns tail and runs for his life. However, these were shepherds. They faced down ferocious wolves, bears, and thieves without batting an eye. They were the keepers of the sacrificial sheep, and they guarded their precious cargo with their lives. These were no slouches; they were not cowards, and they certainly were not about to run. However, even these men were unprepared to come face to face with an angel of the Lord.
Angels are God’s messengers, but they are also God’s army. Because angels are from God, the shepherds were temporarily blinded by the ethereal light that suddenly appeared out of the inky blackness. Secondly, angels are not the little cherubs we so often associate with them; they are battle-ready, delivering messages for their Commander. Thirdly, do you really think that Satan was not going to fight to stop that angel from delivering its message to the shepherds? I am fairly certain that a spiritual battle took place, and God’s army won. These shepherds looked upon an angel of God’s army, and they were afraid. If we are honest, we all would have had the same reaction.
Finally, why did the angel appear to these shepherds? The angel could have appeared to anyone- kings, potentates, powerful military commanders- but, no, the angel appeared to shepherds- these particular shepherds. These were Levitical shepherds; they took care of the sacrificial sheep. These were the sheep that were sacrificed to atone for the Israelites’ sin. Perhaps because Jesus became our ultimate sacrifice, it was only fitting for news of His birth to be announced to those who cared for the sacrificial lambs.
Like the Levitical shepherds, we might be afraid for a short time, but, ultimately, the Good News will break through as we share it with the entire world. This Christmas season, let us remember how Christ became our Sacrificial Lamb for all of time so that we might live with Him forever.
10” But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Luke 2:10-15 (NIV)
The darkness the angel entered was more than the darkness created by the setting sun. It was a spiritual darkness. The light the angels brought was God’s light, and with that light, they brought a power and wonderful message. It was more than “Fear not!”- It was “Love has come!”
The shepherds, as well as the rest of Israel, were waiting for a word from God who had been silent for around four hundred years. Where was the promised Messiah? As they waited for a message from God, the sun rose, and the sun set. People were born, and people died. Armies went, and other armies came to conquer the land. Day in and day out the darkness remained. When would God speak again? When would the Messiah come to save God’s chosen people? And then, out of the darkness came a brilliant light. It was the message that God had not forgotten them, the message that the Messiah was now alive and well on planet Earth. Suddenly, the suffocating darkness lifted, and the light of God’s love shone far and wide through the countryside.
Are you in a suffocating darkness? God’s Son did not come to earth only for the shepherds- He came for you and for me! He came to offer us salvation, and, with that salvation, He came to offer us the peace that only He could bring- God’s peace. Have you met God? He sent His only Son Jesus to show you the way to meet Him. God’s love is yours. It is freely given to one and all, and He is offering it to you this Christmas day and every day. Will you accept His gift of Love? The angel’s message is for you too. For the angel says to you, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:16-18
When last we visited our shepherd friends, they witnessed the heavens opening, angels bearing good news, and a heavenly choir singing praises. Then, there was nothing. The night was so still one could hear a pin drop; the bleating of sheep seemed to echo throughout the hillside. In the blackness, the shepherds looked at each other with awe. Can you see them? They stare at each other in mute silence before discussing the situation amongst themselves.
All at once, they jump to their feet and take off down the hill. Their charges, the sheep, were completely forgotten in the moment as the shepherds careen toward the sleepy village of Bethlehem. The angel’s words echoed in their brains, “You shall find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) Leaving the path, the shepherds headed for the caves. These were not ordinary caves; these caves were the barns which the shepherds used to protect the sheep in foul weather. They knew these caves well, for the shepherds spent many an hour asleep, conversing, and caring for the sheep in these caves- shallow cut-out in the sides of hills. Listening intently, the shepherds found their way to where Jesus lay; they stopped just outside the opening. Mary and Joseph quizzically looked at these men as they tiptoed to the manger, dropped to their knees, and worshipped God-incarnate. The Son of God came to earth as Man; this was the supreme moment in the shepherds’ lives. They came face-to-face with the God of the Universe.
Everything the angel said was true; truly, this was a miraculous event. Not wanting to overstay their welcome, the shepherds departed. One might think that their thoughts returned to their sheep on the hills, but, no, the shepherds had more important things on their minds. Into Bethlehem, they ran. People stared at them curiously, for why would the shepherds be in the village in the wee hours of the morning? Yet, nothing could contain the shepherds as they shared what they saw. I doubt that the shepherds paused and thought about what people might say, what kind of gossip might occur, or how people might perceive them. They were on a mission. Everyone needed to know that Jesus came to earth; the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb arrived. The Messiah was born, and the shepherds did their part to tell people the Good News.
Like the shepherds, we are charged with telling people the Good News. Will you? Will you allow what people think stop you? Will you permit your doubts to silence you? Or, like the shepherds, will you throw caution to the wind and tell everyone that Jesus is born? Will you tell each person with whom you come in contact that Jesus saves? What will you do with the Good News? I pray that we will be like the shepherds and share the Good News with everyone.
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned,
put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.
“and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
As a grown Man, Jesus began His ministry. What was the first thing He did? Did Jesus hobnob with celebrities? No. Did He wow the crowds with His magnificence? No. Did Jesus give superficial gifts to the world? No. Instead, Jesus followed God’s Word and was baptized by John the Baptist, His cousin. What happened? The heavens opened, and God spoke from heaven. God the Father told the world Who Jesus is, how much He loves Jesus, and how much Jesus pleased God the Father with Jesus’ actions and attitudes. What an amazing gift God the Father gave His Son! Now, close your eyes for a second. Imagine that the One you want to please the most has lauded praise upon you for a job well done. How would you feel? Loved? Ecstatic? Contented? Whole? I would venture to say that Jesus felt the same, for God the Father knew that God the Son needed to hear just how valued, loved, and please God the Father was…because Jesus was and is loved by His Father. Do you know what the best part is? God does the same for us. We are His, and we are loved, not because of what we have done, but because of Whose we are and who we are in Him. And because of His great love for us, God the Father sent us the greatest Christmas gift of all time: His beloved Son to die and rise again for us.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
What is the sincerest form of flattery? Imitation- imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Flattery implies falsely complimenting someone for personal gain. However, imitation is sincerely complimenting someone because one loves or admires said person. Paul tells us to be imitators of God not because we should, not because we want something from God, not because we make bargains with Him, but because we love Him. The more time we spend with God, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we want to be like Him because He draws us to Himself. This Christmas, let us give God the greatest gift we have: ourselves. As we give ourselves to Christ, we imitate Christ until we are more like Jesus each and every day.
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5
Have you ever done something for someone because you had to do it? Have you ever helped another person while having a poor attitude? Come on, raise your hand with me. We all have done so. Recently, a coworker asked me if I prayed daily for someone who has hurt a friend of mine, and I blew it off with a flippant, “Yes.” Sometimes we hide our poor attitudes from each other, but we cannot hide our hearts from God. He sees everything, including our less-than-lovely thoughts and attitudes. God saw my poor attitude, and He saw how angry I have been because of how this person treated my friend. Yes, I prayed for the one who hurt this friend, but I did so because it was the right thing to do, not because I wanted to do so or even that I loved said person with the love of Christ. I felt the conviction almost instantly, and I knew that I had to change my heart’s attitude and love this person with Christ’s love- the supernatural love which reaches beyond my human capacity into Christ’s overwhelming reservoirs of love. People are often unlovable by human standards, but no one is beyond Christ’s love. Let us love people with Christ’s love and share His love with the world. After all, Christ’s love for us is the true meaning of Christmas.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
How do we love each other? Do we see the person destitute and lend a helping hand? Do we donate our money, time, or energy to good causes? Do we treat others as Christ treats us? If any of these questions have given you pause, they have done the same for me. Too often, I ignore others’ needs because it is inconvenient, because I am tired, because I do not have the monetary funds, because I am in a bad mood…and the list continues. However, God calls me to love others, just as He calls you to love others. He calls me and you to love everyone, including those we consider unlovable, for Christ loved us when we too were unlovable. How can we possibly do any less?
“Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2
Have you ever seen an angel? I would venture to say that we all have, without ever realizing it. As God’s messengers, warriors, and helpers, angels are all around us- visible and invisible. Sometimes, angels come to help us in our time of need, and, at other times, we unconsciously minister to angels. Rarely are we aware of the angel’s visit.
Roughly five years ago, a fire broke out in the woods behind HOPE. It was just after three in the afternoon, and I was tutoring some students in the secondary building. A knock on the door interrupted my teaching; there stood a concerned woman. She informed me of the fire, and I nonchalantly responded that I would investigate. Since HOPE is located in the country, it is not uncommon for people to burn leaves or trash. I walked out the side entrance and yelped, “Holy Toledo!” A wall of fire met my eyes, and that wall was heading right toward the main school building. We all sprang into action; the students filled buckets with water; I called the fire department. The principal and president of the school board used hoses to fight the flames. Where was this woman during this time? She was carrying buckets of water with me. When the fire department arrived, the students and I watched as they put out the flames. We found that the fire went in a straight line. It never touched the school building, coming within three feet at its closest point. We all saw the bloodline of Jesus that protected the building. As the fire sputtered out, one of the students approached the firemen and asked where the lady went. No one knew, and no one else saw her. Could it be that we were visited by an angel? I think we were.
In this instance, HOPE was on the receiving end of the angel’s visitation. However, as Christians, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. (John 17:14-15) Are we living in this way? The Christian group Avalon recorded a song called, “In Not Of” which speaks to this truth. (Avalon “In Not Of” youtube address)
Will you entertain people with His love, or will you entertain angels? Live each day like you are entertaining both. Let us love with the love of Jesus now and always.
4 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4 (NIV)
As we ring out the old year and open the door to a new one, are you forgetting your first love? Have you put God on a shelf so you can have what you want in life? If you have, rethink your choices. There is not enough money, power, or prestige to ignore the one and only God who loves you. He loves you with an unconditional, everlasting love. God’s love is so great that when He saw the mess we made of our lives, He reached out of heaven just to save us from ourselves. His love for us was so great that God sent His only Son to die for you and for me even while we were in rebellion against Him. Though God does not always approve of the way we live our lives, He will never, ever leave us. When God seems farthest away from us, it is because we choose to exclude Him from our lives.
It is at this point that God calls your name. Do you hear Him calling you? He called mine, and I answered Him. I am not always perfect. I often make choices that are in opposition to what I know He would want me to make. But, I know that God is waiting to listen to me when my heart is breaking from shame. I know that He will never turn away from me when I bring Him my deepest, darkest secrets. I know that He will forgive me when I ask for His forgiveness. If I will listen to His promptings, I know that He will help me to make the right choices as I go through life. I know that He loves me no matter what happens. Since I accepted His great gift of love, I am eternally grateful that I can trust Him with my love in return.
The door is opening for you. Do you hear God calling your name?
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1-2
How far would you travel for the one you loved? Would you drop everything, hop on a plane, and hike to where he is? Would you wait patiently for her? Would you give all you possess so that they are healthy and safe? The wise men were faced with such a dilemma. These men were well-educated, highly respected men in their fields, wealthy beyond belief, and they dropped everything to search for Jesus. The Bible does not tell us where they came from; generally, it is accepted that these three men came from various countries. Matthew tells us what they did, but not why. What drove these men to search for a Child in a manger?
Love drove their quest. The Magi loved Jesus, in spite of the fact that they never laid eyes on Him. They wanted to honor and worship the King of Kings. Through Scripture prophecy, the wise men learned that a star heralded His arrival. When that star appeared, the men set out on a journey that would go down in history. Like most, they assumed Jesus would be born in the capital of Israel, but, no, that is not how God works. Rather than giving up, the Magi asked where Jesus could be found. They were proactive in their quest; they loved the King of the Jews. They followed God’s prompting, not hastily, nor foolishly, but wisely. They discerned truth from lies; after all, they could have given up when Jesus was not in Jerusalem as they supposed. Instead, they investigated to find exactly where Jesus was, all because of love.
4 “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[a]” Matthew 2:4-6 (NIV)
Do you have a dream- one that seems will never come true?Imagine the Wise Men.The trip was long and arduous, but it seemed like their travels came to naught.The Wise Men found a king, King Herod, in Jerusalem, but he was not the one that they were looking for.Disappointed, yes, indeed, but they never gave up their search.The Wise Men enlisted King Herod’s help in discerning the new King’s location.Herod’s advisers searched through the prophetic Scriptures and found the answer in Micah 5:2.It was written- their search would end in Bethlehem.
God gave the Wise Men a dream, and they followed that dream to the end.Do you have a dream?Have you buried your dream?Be like the Wise Men and keep your dreams alive.Open your heart and move forward.Today, in our world, we tend to bury dreams.Be practical.Dreams are for- dreamers, right?But I say, step past the practical and walk toward your dream.If God has put something in your heart, follow it because it will never let go of you.
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Matthew 2:7-9
I am in constant awe of how God uses evil for His own purposes. For example, take the above Scripture. Herod- the murdering, covetous, megalomaniacal king of Judea- gave the searching Magi all the information needed to find the Messiah. Herod wished to use the Magi for his own twisted, evil plot to kill the King of Kings; however, he chose to match wits with the Lord of Lords. Needless to say, Herod lost.
The Wise Men were likely just as powerful and wealthy as Herod, yet they were filled with love. They loved Jesus the King, and they were willing to go to the ends of the earth to find Him. On the other hand, Herod was filled with hate and an insatiable desire for power, wealth, and prestige. Both the Magi and Herod heard the prophecy from the Scriptures, but only the Magi chose to find Jesus and worship Him. Herod hid his diabolical plot from view as he contemplated the death of Jesus. It is a shame really; Herod was given the same opportunity to be transformed by the love of God. Instead, he chose hate. The Wise Men chose love, and they found Love in its purest form: God-Incarnate.
Which will you choose? Will you choose love, or will you choose to hold onto the hate, bitterness, sorrow, anger, and despair? Will you search for love like the Magi, or will you search to snuff out the hope before you like Herod? The choice is yours. As for me, I choose to follow Love, because He loved me first.
10 “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11 (NIV)
When love drives your dream the only thing that can stop the dream from fulfillment is you. The dream the Wise Men held in their hearts was a dream like no other. Their dream was to find the new king- a King like no other according to the many records that these wise men read. What drove these men? Was it intellectual curiosity? Of course. Was it a chance to make a new discovery? Naturally. But much deeper than these reasons was love. A deep and committed love stops at nothing. It will be fulfilled. Nothing stopped the Wise Men from their course. Days of travel and angry kings did not deter them.
If the kings were to meet a new King, then they would need presents for Him. The kings did not bring plain presents. They brought gifts with a meaning. No matter how many kings visited the young Child- Jesus the Christ- Scripture tells us that at least three presents were given to Him- gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Why was gold a gift for this precious King? Gold was given to Jesus because He is God the King. Why was costly frankincense given to Him? Frankincense was given to Jesus because He is our Priest, and myrrh was given to mark Christ’s death as an offering for our salvation. How did the Wise Men choose their gifts? Remember that they had a dream- a dream driven by God. When God is in charge of the dream nothing is left to chance. God was marking Jesus as His very own Son. Each and every gift was a gift with meaning- a gift of love.
Do you have a dream? Does God power your dream? If He does, then treasure each twist and turn of your journey toward that dream’s fulfillment. Walk carefully, pray diligently, and walk confidently in His care toward the goal that God gave you.
“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:12
God communicates through dreams. The Bible is filled with stories of those who had dreams: Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah, Daniel, Joseph (Mary’s husband), Peter, and the Wise Men. Why do we assume that God has ceased to use dreams to speak to us today? If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then He is entitled to continue to use His own methods for speaking to us. The difference is our response to the dreams God gives us. Sometimes, the dreams are for what we aspire to do; other times, the dreams are literal dreams. The Magi’s dreams fell into this latter category. They could have fluffed off the dreams as a coincidence or as absurd; instead, they took the message to heart. Because of this, the Wise Men were proactive in their response. They obeyed the dream.
God still speaks through dreams today. Yet, we do not always have the eyes to see it, and, if we do recognize it as a message from God, we are loathe to place stock in its coming true. God has shown me many things in dreams; some of those dreams involve the future of HOPE, and some involve my husband and future children. By all accounts, the dreams do not make sense with reality, but God does not deal in our reality. He deals in the impossible. I might not see how God will bring those dreams to pass, but He does. I just need to be like the Magi, take the dreams to heart, and be proactive in my response, even when that response is only prayer.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the Wise Men ignored the message in their dreams? However, their love of Jesus drove them to take heed, and they returned home secretly avoiding Jerusalem altogether. Herod seethed with anger when he realized that the Magi ignored his instruction, yet Herod was not in the driver’s seat. God was, and God is. As the Author of Dreams, God could be writing a whole new chapter of your life. Will you be like the Wise Men and have the eyes to see the message in the dreams God gives you?
The Escape to Egypt
13 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV)
When we retell the Christmas story each year, the anticipation grows and grows. We search for just the right presents for our friends and family. We watch just the right programs on the television. We attend seasonal parties. We run ourselves ragged throughout the holiday season. We forget no one- no one except the Child born in a manger so many years ago. But God forgot no one- not you, not me, and definitely not HIS Son, Jesus.
It did not matter that Herod wished to kill all the male children two years old and under because God had a plan. The plan was to give you and me eternal life through His one and only Son, Jesus. God chose to send messages to both the visiting Wise Men and Joseph. The messages were received and acted upon. The Wise Men departed for their various homelands by different routes, and Joseph took God’s Child and His mother away from Herod’s powerful influence. Why? --For you and for me- to save us from total, eternal separation from God. About thirty years after Christ’s birth, Jesus spoke to a searcher. His answer speaks to us today as well. God sent His Son to us because of love. Will you receive His Gift of Love as your Savior too?