“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
I know that in 1st Corinthians 13:13 it says, “…now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” but sometimes the thing I need most is hope. Nothing can bring this hope to me like the story of the birth of Christ. Yes, I love all the nativity details and the songs. I love the candles and the candy. Smiles, hugs, laughter, and tears all mean more than words can express. There is, however, something deeper and stronger for me in the narrative of Christ’s Advent. He came to alter my destiny and yours. He came to replace our despair with hope. Before and without Christ, we had no hope; we were condemned to perish. With Christ we have eternal life; we are saved. From this, and per the Bible, we see that we who place our faith in Him and His salvation purchased for us on the cross are part of a worldwide movement of salvation. We live in a world that needs nothing more than it needs Jesus Christ and this hope for salvation that He alone brings… because He alone was righteous and therefore able to offer Himself effectively as a sacrifice on our behalf. Our sin and all its filth is what He was born to become on that cross (2nd Corinthians 5:21).
Without the horrors of the cross, there is no “joy to the world.” Without Christ’s death, there is no life. Without His crucifixion, there would be no faithful to come to Him. The angels on high would be without a song to sing. The shepherds and wise men would have nothing to discover or rejoice in. Mary would have nothing to ponder or treasure. The silent night would be silent because death is silent; it wouldn’t be the living, wonderful silence of peace with God, but the dark, hellish silence of separation from God. You can’t have Christmas without Easter, without all the events of Holy or Passion Week. But… because we have Easter, nothing on earth, not the worst circumstances, can take away our Christmas. Even if Christmas this year is difficult for you, because of the hope Christmas brings, your difficulties are temporary. The joy borne of hope that is Jesus Christ incarnate is eternal. May this hope be yours today and tomorrow and every day. May God permanently bless you and those you love this Christmas with love, faith, and hope. Merry Christmas!
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I’m just noticing something in this cherished verse. It is that God knows His plans for us, but we don’t. We can know by faith that they are plans for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and hope. But we can’t know the plans themselves. And we do not know. Furthermore, by faith in Christ, we have a future no matter what happens to us on earth.
As I am, these last few days, part of an amazing team working very hard to facilitate the honoring of two American heroes who lost their lives putting service before self, I have been thinking a lot about plans. These men had plans. Their loved ones had plans for them. By losing them, they all lost all their plans. And this, all by itself, is no small thing to lose. Combined with the actual loss of a husband, son, father, friend… it can really add to the devastation. Perhaps this is why God encourages us by reminding us that His great plans for us can’t even be frustrated by our own deaths. This is, again, why we call the Gospel good news. This is small comfort for those in the throes of grief, perhaps, at least today, but in the days and years to come, perhaps not. It’s amazing how encouraging it is to know that HE knows HIS plans… and they are good ones.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
It’s interesting to me that even the devil knows his time is short, but many of us do not. In fact, we see him “doing his best” and coming down in great wrath because “this is it.” He doesn’t have any more chances. Well, the same is true for each and every one of us. This is it. Our time is short. We don’t have any more chances aside from this one and only life we’ve each been given. This ought to motivate us to do our best with all that God has given us. The tone of Advent involves an awareness of time and that the time is near. We’re getting closer…
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
Sometimes the pace at Christmas can rob us of an opportunity to wonder at and treasure what it all means. Built in to these two verses is a clue as to how to enter into wondering at and treasuring the birth of Christ. It says here that Mary, along with others, HEARD what the shepherds said. This HEARING was the thing that flipped the spiritual switch inside her. Keep in mind that she actually gave birth to Christ, yet she, like us, needed to HEAR. You need to HEAR today about Jesus. HEAR in worship at church. HEAR the sermons and the songs. HEAR the prayers and the people join you in saying “amen.” HEAR what God has done in sending His own Son. HEAR the Gospel today. Don’t just think about it or read it. HEAR it. I’m convinced that for those of us He gives the physical sense of hearing to, God intends that our ears be how we open the door to Him. It’s not our eyes, hands, or mouths at first. They all follow. But first we must HEAR. Even Mary had to HEAR. It was the things she HEARD the shepherds, of all people, say about Jesus that made all the difference for her. And remember, the whole thing started with her listening to what an angel had to say to her. These things she HEARD the shepherd say about Jesus Christ, you can HEAR too. And they can and will make all the difference in your life as well. Amen.
- “With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
- Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
- He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Verse 8 here is well known, and for good reason. It presents a simple way to live for God: 1) do justice, 2) love kindness, and 3) walk humbly. The context of this verse, however, is telling. The prophet was asking what he could do to please God, and in the midst of wondering aloud about this he even offered that he might give his own firstborn for “my transgression… for the sin of my soul.” Wow! It’s powerful to consider that even if we were to give our own children to die for our sins, it would not be enough. It would also be horribly, horribly wrong. Instead, God gave His Firstborn, His Son! Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly are responses only. They do not earn us favor with God; they are evidences of the favor and salvation of God. Thousands of rams (sacrificial animals) and rivers of oil likewise would never be enough. Only one sacrifice is enough and that is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the one He was sent and born to offer in obedience to His Father out of His Father’s love for… you!
In view of this, some of the effort and angst many of us put ourselves through every day seems inappropriate and maybe even sinful. Are you beating yourself up? Are you trying somehow to pay for your sin, to make up for your shortfall, and to “do more, try harder?” It will never be enough. Never. If you by faith have Jesus Christ, however, you already and always have enough to bring to God. He is pleased with His Son. Always. If and as we are in His Son, we experience the fullness of His pleasure now and forever. This leads us to live just, kind, humble lives that honor Him.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
One sure way to replenish one’s spiritual life is to get the order of faith and feelings right. Feelings follow faith. I think it was Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who said that faith was the engine (as in a train) and feelings were the caboose. Today, if you are living in your caboose, it’s time for a correction of perspective. Notice that I didn’t write “a change of perspective.” When I’m living in my caboose, I am there because I lack perspective. I don’t need an adjustment, I need repair.
Christ forgives our sins, yet He also gives us the strength and will to “lay aside every weight.” And some feelings can be heavy indeed. It’s time to lay them aside. Sometimes when I run, I overdress, especially during this winter that hasn’t arrived yet. Running with heavy, sweaty, overheating clothes really slows me down, and I’m pretty slow as it is. I experience this same failure when I’m letting my feelings run the show. I’m emotionally overdressed. I need to shed some feelings, just lay them aside. How about you? Advent and Christmas are times when the heavy feelings we’re lugging around sometimes seem to get even heavier. The message of Jesus is one of freedom from sin and its consequences in terms of how we live on the inside as well as on the outside. This message of Jesus is simple too. “Look to me,” He says. You can’t have your eyes on your broken heart or your broken emotional life while looking to Him. You look at one thing or the other. And where you look determines where you go.
May God bless you as you run with endurance the race marked out for you by putting faith in Christ before everything else, especially your feelings.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.
Alzheimer’s Disease may be prevented, said an article I read yesterday, if we all take more Vitamin D. Often diseases of the body correspond to a lack of some nutrient. The same goes for diseases of the spirit. As part of the consequences for people turning away from God in Amos, God sent a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. They were assigned to lack a spiritual nutrient, experiencing starvation at the core of their beings. It’s a dreadful curse, but, strangely, one that many believers today bring on themselves.
If you have neglected your soul so much that you have failed to hear the words of the Lord to the point of starvation, there is a simple solution. Read Scripture. Read it out loud. Have it read to you. Turn off everything else on your devises and put the rest of your flesh on hold. Just take a few seconds at first. Go to the Daily Bread (www.odb.org) and let the website read both a devotional and its Scripture verses to you. Just listen and receive. It takes 3-4 minutes. That’s it. Or you can go to the ESV website (www.esvbible.org) and have their program read Scripture to you from anywhere in the Bible. Another site that has many dozens of translations, many of which have an audio version, is Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com). Yes, of course, if you live nearby and don’t have a church you belong to, join us at Goodwill (www.goodwillchurch.org) in worship too, especially during this Advent and Christmas season, but start with the Word of God immediately. Get some in you right now. Let the next five or ten minutes be only about you hearing God’s Word and watch all the things that change inside of you. The Bible really is amazing. It is a Christmas gift you can open every day of the year.
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Frustration sometimes seems to be the goal of Satan in Christians’ lives, nothing more. Job was frustrated, but overcame it. Cain was frustrated and it overcame him. Frustration is important to understand. The dictionary on my laptop defines frustration as “the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.” That’s right. Frustration is only a feeling. The circumstances that inspire it may be real and difficult, but frustration is an option. Like all feelings, it’s a choice.
What I’ve discovered lately is that frustration is a choice born out of a belief. When I am thoroughly frustrated, I am also convinced of some kind of lie associated with God’s promises. “Pitching a fit” and “peace with God” are two states at opposite ends of my life experience. This is something I don’t want to hear when I’m frustrated, but it is what I need to understand. The Lord has shown me, time and time again, that prayer is the best way for me to listen to what I don’t want to hear. Prayer is where the power of God starts in life. I can get anywhere from prayer, but I can’t get anywhere without it. Stuck and prayer-less are synonyms in Christian life; their byproduct is often frustration.
1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Twelve people formed a straight line, holding boxes or clothes, each in a different way, and each leaving about two feet in front of them. Each one seemed to wear whatever facial gesture employed the least amount of effort; the only muscles in any of their bodies receiving any electrical signals were those required for standing, shuffling forward slowly, and casually bearing their items for purchase. Every set of eyes laid blank in their sockets and looked away from all other eyes. Breathing was slow, but still uneasy. A barely audible recording of the now deceased Andy Williams authoritatively proclaimed from the upper corners of the massive, square, cavernous building that all other times of the year were less wonderful than this. The shared goal for all in this line was a small counter crowded with various purchase-oriented machines. Behind this counter stood the judge – another human, but a judge nonetheless. Now the true cost would be announced. True payment would be rendered. Freedom would only come afterwards. Each person seemed liberated upon the completion of their transaction. Not one returned to the line.
Sometimes, even in the driest, most mundane, ordinary moments, the reason Christ came becomes clear. He was born to stand in line to pay a price. Our freedom was purchased. Christ was born to be the bodily payment for it, for us.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
In learning about writing, one will come across the term “denouement.” It means the finale, the conclusion, or as one online dictionary (Merriam-Webster) offers: “the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work… the outcome of a complex sequence of events.” You can’t expect readers to like your book if skimp on the denouement. You’ve got to land the plane. You’ve got to bring it home. You’ve got to get your characters out of the tree you put them in, that same tree you then set on fire as an author. An ending doesn’t need to be happy or fist-pumpingly inspiring, it just needs to satisfy. You need to settle the plot and get your characters out of that burning tree.
Paul is saying here that a life in Christ will have a satisfying ending and be filled with satisfying endings, even though they may not all be happy endings. It is a good work He begins in us… good as He defines it. He will bring it to completion. Nowhere does it say that everything is going to work out just fine or work out just the way you or I want it to. Life can be a “complex series of events” which often has no way of leaping up and forming a happy ending. And sometimes we are so beat up that we are not even looking for that happy ending, just a true ending. In life as in literature, some stories just need to end.
“This too shall pass.” It’s a saying I often heard growing up. It has Middle Eastern origins. No surprise. Many Christians there and everywhere else in the world can add faith to this adage. This too shall pass and, in Christ, I shall pass through it in such a way as to have my faith and its future blessings intact.
Paul told us he was sure of this. We can be too.