Our Christmas Story

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The second chapter of the Gospel of Luke is where we get the most detailed account of the first Christmas. The baby Jesus asleep in the manger as Mary and Joseph gaze down in adoration. The cows and sheep and donkeys resting peacefully in the shadows, the heat from their bodies warming the stable. And hovering nearby are the shepherds, their heads bowed in worship. It’s a word picture that’s expressed in the numerous holiday cards in our mailbox and the Nativity scene on our mantle.

But Jesus’ birth was so much more than just a story. It was a miracle.

It was a miracle because it was the fulfillment of centuries of prophecies foretold in the Old Testament. It was a miracle because it bridged the gap, once and for all, between man and God. It was a miracle because it was a virgin birth.

And it’s a miracle that lives in us now.

While reading about the promises of eternal life and our call to be holy in 1 Peter 1, verse 25 caught my attention. In the New Living Translation, it says, “And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.”

But in the Message, it says, “This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.”

That word “conceived” made me think of Luke 1:26-38, where Mary is visited by the angel, Gabriel, and told that she would bear the Son of God. How could this happen to a virgin? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” he tells her.

Yes, the same Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary also created our new life in her Son. And the same Holy Spirit that gave Mary the strength and wisdom to raise God’s Child and endure His crucifixion, is the same Holy Spirit that gets us through the ups and downs of life with a thankful and joyful heart.

That’s what makes the Christmas story our own. And as miraculous as the virgin birth was, so is the power of the Holy Spirit in all who believe.

Dear Father,

Help me focus on the meaning of Christmas and not get caught up in the hustle and bustle and stress. Help me depend on Your Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance. And help me to spread the joy of Your Gospel to all I meet, all year around.

Amen

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The valentine you never opened

ephesians-3_18-2

This time of year always reminds me of Charlie Brown and his mad crush on the little red-haired girl. When February 15 rolls around, he mopes by the mailbox, lamenting, that he’d give anything if she had sent him a valentine.

To love and be loved is one of our most basic needs. Without it, we may survive but we won’t thrive. Unfortunately, the hunt for affection often goes hand in hand with hurt and disappointment. Even our soul mate will fail us at one time or another. After all, they’re only human.

Yet perfect love does exist.

It’s God’s love and it’s forever. And as the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:18-19, it goes beyond anything we could ever imagine

God’s love accepts us just as we are and knows us better than we know ourselves – because He created us.

God’s love wants His very best for us and longs to grant us our heart’s deepest dreams and desires – because He instilled them in us.

God’s love sees only the good in us, forgiving all our sins and failures. In fact, He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, so that our slate could be wiped clean.

God’s love is free and comes with no strings attached. All we have to do is accept it.

Now imagine if Charlie Brown had looked in that mailbox, found a huge heart-shaped envelope with his name on it and the return address of his sweetheart… and never even broke the seal!

This is how it is for some people with God’s love.

They fail to see the many ways He’s reached out to them in the beauty of nature, the answers to unspoken prayers, the blessings they’ve never taken the time to count. They pass it by or shove it aside or are leery of it, thinking it’s some sort of trick. And so, with the weight of the world on their shoulders, they continue to struggle all alone when they don’t have to.

They leave His gift on the table and their lives unfulfilled.

And their eternity unsecured.

Like Charlie Brown, wishing the little red-haired girl would come sit with him, God is there, longing for us to let Him love and guide us.

He’s offering you a valentine that says, “Be mine.”

Open it!

Dear Father,

Please help people to realize that in this crazy, stressful world You’re only a breath away, ready to fill them with Your peace and make them feel loved like they’ve never felt before. Help me, too, to be a truthful representative of Your love to others, knowing that each and every one of them was uniquely created by You.

Amen

See: “Be Mine!”

 

Trusting the Creator’s design process

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New Year’s resolutions are nothing new. We’ve been making them (and breaking them) since ancient times.

Having imagined my own plans for the coming months, Psalm 105:19 jumped out at me during my quiet time this morning.

If you remember in Genesis 37, Joseph was the favored son of Jacob and was hated and tormented by his brothers. His visions that his family would one day bow down to him only made matters worse. I don’t know whether Joseph longed for revenge or yearned for greatness (or a little of both), but the Lord definitely had something important for him up His sleeve.

The fact is, He instills in all of us hopes and dreams that are rooted in His grand design for our lives. But a lot of the time we get frustrated when those aspirations don’t come about right away. Or when the road to them is strewn with obstacles and pitfalls. Or when it seems like the path we’re on is going in the complete opposite direction from where we want to be headed.

What we need to remember is that during these times God is building our character, making us better people to accomplish those goals and roles in the best way possible. And He’s preparing us to handle the ramifications of those fulfilled desires, because, let’s face it, even the best dream come true has its good days and bad days, its pros and cons.

Any creative person will tell you that life experiences have made them a better artist/writer/actor.

Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

If our dreams are in line with God’s purpose for our lives then nothing can keep Him from making them come true – and everything that happens along the way is for a reason.

Dear Father,

You are so wise! I know the hopes you’ve instilled in my heart are tied to Your wonderful plan for my life. Help me to trust You in the journey and to praise You along the way. And to never let go of You even when I reach my goals.

Amen

 

What a friend we have in Jesus

John 13:8

Only a few short weeks ago, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Since then I have had surgery and await the results of further testing to see if I’m in the clear.

Knowing that my family and friends are praying for me has been a huge comfort. And every day, the Lord continually reminds me through His word that He is with me each step of the way.

Which brings to mind a passage of scripture that God allowed me to see in a different light.

In John 13:8, at the Last Supper, Peter protests against Christ washing his feet. Many believe He is talking about cleansing Peter’s sins by His death on the cross.

To me, however, Jesus was saying, “If you won’t let me take care of you, you aren’t truly my disciple.”

For some of us, it can be a struggle to admit we’re in need of help and prayers. But if I had not shared what was going on in my life, my loved ones would have probably (rightfully) questioned the depth of our relationship. After all, the people who care about me want to be there for me, as I do for them.

Sadly, that independent streak can bleed over into our relationship with God. He wants us to come to Him in our time of need, however huge or minuscule that need is. He’s not a fair-weather Savior by any means. We’re never bothering Him when we seek Him.

Consequently, if we don’t open ourselves up and let Him restore us, we’re still carrying our burdens and trying to handle them on our own. He’s not truly the Father He wants to be in our lives.

We’re not intimate friends. We’re barely acquaintances.

Dear Father,

You are the God of the universe, yet You care about every aspect of my life. And You sent Your Son to die for my hurts and needs, as well as my sins. Help me to be quick to run to You and to trust that You have my best interests in mind. And show me how to pass Your love and care on to others who may be hurting.

Amen

 

Sweet!

The holidays are upon us. Psalm 119_103

A time for gathering with family and celebrating with lots of food and goodies.

And therein lies my downfall. Because I know by experience that too much of the sugary stuff results in a very unhappy tummy. And I love the sugary stuff.

In Revelation 10:8-10, John is told to eat a small scroll, the taste of which goes from sweet to bitter as he digests it. The scroll is the Word which is edifying to the believer, yet painful in its judgment of those who don’t belong to Him.

But as one who does belong to Him, I too can get lost in the tasty parts of scripture and conveniently fail to heed the seemingly unsavory precepts that are harder to swallow. As a consequence, my life may seem satisfying for a time, but eventually things will begin to sour. I need to follow God’s word in its entirety and quit sticking out my tongue and pushing away from the table when He calls me to something deeper and more nutritious.

Because just like an earthly father would never dream of withholding healthy food from his children, our heavenly Father knows that some things that may seem “yucky” to us are for our own good.

Dear Father,

  I know that snacking on the world’s empty philosophies leaves me unfulfilled and wanting. Help me to be faithful in my daily quiet time with You, for all of Your word is delightful and the more I partake, the closer I grow to You. And help me not just to hear, but to obey.      

Amen

A good neighbor

Leviticus 19_18Like me, I’m sure you’ve heard and read the story of the Good Samaritan so many times since your childhood Sunday school days that you know it by heart.

Today, however, I saw it with fresh eyes.

The religious lawyer in Luke 10:25-37 knows that God commands him to love his neighbor as himself. But, looking for a loophole, he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers him by way of the parable of a Jewish man who is attacked by robbers and left beaten on the side of the road, his plight ignored first by a priest and then a temple worker. Yet a Samaritan (who, by the social norms of that day would want nothing to do with a Jew – and vice versa), goes out of his way to make sure he is well taken care of.

Jesus ends with, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The answer is obvious, even to the lawyer.

What was not apparent to me before was this:

The man asked who is my neighbor. Yet Jesus showed him how to be a neighbor, putting the responsibility to love back on him. In essence, He’s saying, “Don’t be so concerned about who you’re supposed to love. Be concerned about how loving you are.”

And just as the Samaritan lived, Jesus calls us to, “Go and do the same.”

Dear Father,

Help me to be more loving and caring, seeing others through Your eyes regardless of the tags that society would put on them or the prejudices I might harbor. Help me to be sensitive to Your whisper and to obey, putting my faith into action.

Amen

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