Thursday, December 31, 2009

Evaluating Priorities

Many use the New Year holiday as a time to evaluate priorities. When we do, we have to ask ourselves what is important to us. Our family? Our friends? A job? The community? Or is God the most important reality?

Jesus did not minimize family or friends or daily life. Remember that He restored sick children to their parents, He provided food for hungry people, and He blessed a wedding with His presence and with supernatural provision.

Yet Jesus made it clear that family and friends—or jobs and communities—cannot be most important. God must be pre-eminent.

He told a young man to sell everything he owned and then he would have treasure in heaven. (Mt. 19:21b NKJV) He told the disciples that anyone who prefers family members is not worthy of Me. (10:37b)

It seems too harsh when not understood in the light of grace. But if we put God ahead of all else, if He is first in our lives, through His provision we have more love to give others. In fact, we have more than if we had not put God first.

When preparing for His death, Jesus said, For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (16:25)

Jesus should always be our example, and He never subverted His priorities. He abandoned everything to His Father's will and brought salvation to all who receive him.

Originally published December 31, 1992.
Picture: Antique ceramic angels. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fearing God

When making plans for a new year, it is good to recall the many Bible verses that remind us to fear the Lord. Not because we want to avoid trouble but so we can walk in confidence.

The concept of fearing God is difficult. Some interpret fearing God as having great reverence for Him—a sense of awe and wonder when confronted by this God who is beyond comprehension. Certainly, that is truth, but not the whole truth.

There are keys that take the concept a bit further. When we look at Bible stories, we see that those who truly fear God are set free from normal fears. The fear of God thrusts them forward. David slew Goliath and Gideon routed the Midianites. (I Sam. 17 & Judges 7) And we read of Moses, By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the King’s anger. (Heb. 11:27a NIV)

In the book of Acts we read that the church was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31)

We will not be flippant about our God if we fear Him. But we will be fearless in the face of oppositon. And we will be motivated.

Originally published December 30, 1982.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jesus Is Coming

Before Jesus came to earth, people looked for a Messiah who would come as a king. Jesus surprised them by coming as a suffering servant. Even so, many recognized Him and received Him as their Lord.

After Jesus completed His ministry on earth, and after He died and rose again, He ascended into heaven. From that day forward, the people who had received Him began to wait. They looked ahead to the time when He would come again as the long-awaited King. Because He said He would.

Various theories have been promoted concerning the day of Jesus Christ's return, but all believers and Biblical scholars agree on two points: one, He is coming again, and two, many will be surprised when it happens.

Paul wrote, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come. . . . (I Thess. 5:2,3a NIV)

Peter said the event would come, like a thief . . . elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (II Pet. 3:1b,2b)

Jesus changed the course of history—and those who received Him as Lord believe He will radically change the future as well. During His earthly ministry, He described His return when He told the people that they “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory . . . Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt. 24:30b,35)

Originally published October 14, 1983.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Celebrating Jesus

We need to remember that Christmas is a birthday celebration—and when we celebrate a birthday, we do not concentrate on the individual’s arrival as a baby. Rather, we commemorate their entire life. In a sense, we celebrate the person.

So Christmas is more than a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We want to focus on the enormity of His person, His life, and His work.

The Apostle John began his gospel by writing about the life of Jesus before His birth as a human. Then he says of Jesus, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory. . . . (Jn. 1:14a RSV) John presented a very big picture of the baby who slept in a manger.

How big is our vision of the Baby Jesus?

Originally published December 24, 1981.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

He Understood

Most of us spent much time and effort preparing for Christmas—including time purchasing gifts. Sometimes we hold our breath, not knowing if a gift will be received as an expression of love. When it is, we rejoice.

There was a man in Jerusalem who received a special gift during the first Christmas season. When Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple, God gave Simeon a revelation. He knew in his spirit that Jesus was God’s instrument of salvation, and he received the gift of revelation as an expression of God's love. Holding the baby, he said, For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. (Lk. 2:30-32 NKJV)

An exciting detail in this story is that Simeon said all peoples. He looked beyond his unique time and place in history. He looked ahead and saw God had prepared a gift for people outside his culture and his time.

Today God desires that we receive His special gift—through a revelation of His salvation. He wants us to recognize Jesus—know who He is--and He wants us to receive Him in our hearts.

Originally published December 24, 1992.
Picture: Christmas ornament. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Will We Seek Jesus?

Wise men from the East looked for Jesus. They had been searching the heavens where they saw an unusual star and they followed the star to Israel. Then they said, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? (Mt. 2:2a NKJV) They wanted to worship the King.

Shepherds responded after they saw an angelic visitation. They left their flock of sheep and went to Bethlehem because they wanted to see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. (Lk 2:15b)

We may not be able to literally see a star in the heavens or hear a message from an angelic host, but each of us can hear God’s message in our heart. If we listen, we will learn His call is soft, gentle, real. He waits for our response.

Will we seek Jesus—that we might worship Him? Will we investigate the truth He makes known in our lives?

As we celebrate Christmas once again, our goal can be seeking Jesus. Like the wise men and the shepherds, let us spiritually look for Him and upon Him. Let us worship Him.

Originally published December 18, 1987.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

They Gave Him Gifts

Worship includes giving. We see this in the Wise Men. When they finally found the baby Jesus after their long journey and after searching for Him throughout the land of Judea, they fell down and worshipped. . . ." (Mt. 2:11b NKJV) They also presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. (Mt. 2:11c NKJV)

We do not know how much the Wise Men understood about Jesus—if they knew He was God in the flesh—a perfect sacrifice sent from heaven to a sin-ridden world.

We do know they were aware of God’s unique stirring in their hearts as they searched for the child. And God supernaturally guided them on their search. After their encounter with Herod, the star which they had see in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. (2:9c)

The Wise Men acknowledged that the child born in lowly conditions was somehow worthy of more than simple admiration. They demonstrated reverence by falling down in front of Him. They worshipped the tiny baby. And they gave Him gifts of great value.

Originally published December 23, 1988.
Picture: Gift boxes. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pilgraimage

The Bible tells us that After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Mt. 2:1a,2 NIV)

What an enigma surrounds the Magi. We know they practiced astrology—not to be confused with astronomy. Astrology was a forbidden activity for the Hebrew people. (Deut. 18:11) Yet the the wisemen were God’s chosen vessels—sent to announce the arrival of King Jesus.

We might also be outside the acceptable codes or practices for God’s children—involved in forbidden activity. But we are not outside God’s grace. The story of the wisemen tells us salvation is for all people. God invites us, just as He invited the Magi, to make a pilgrimage—to seek a revelation of Jesus.

Originally published December 23, 1983.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

She Meditated and Marveled

The Christmas gospel tells us, Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Lk. 2:19 NKJV)

So many things had happened to Mary. There was an angelic visitation, a miraculous pregnancy, prophetic words from her cousin Elizabeth. Then Joseph believed her, accepted her into his home, and provided for their journey to Bethlehem. When Jesus was born, shepherds unexpectedly arrived and announced another angelic visitation.

Small wonder that Mary pondered. She thought deep thoughts about events related to the child sent by God. But her pondering was not merely excited mental gymnastics racing out of control. Nor was it doubt. Rather, Mary meditated upon—marveled over—the great love and power of her God. God was doing a mighty work on the earth, and she was privileged to be a part of it.

If God is truly alive in our hearts, we will ponder, too. He has done—and continues to do—mighty works on the earth. We cannot help but think deeply about His great love and power toward all who believe.

Originally published December 21, 1990.
Picture: Karen's garden, Winona, MN, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sheep or Shepherds?

Shepherds are appealing as we anticipate Christmas—because God chose to announce Jesus’ birth to a group of lowly shepherds.

Shepherds are also a familiar Biblical metaphor. Shepherds are used to portray God Himself in the Old Testament. Ezekiel said, As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I [God] look after my sheep. . . . (Ez. 34:12a NIV)

In the new Testament, Jesus identified with shepherds when he said, I am good shepherd. (Jn. 10:11a) So it is fitting that shepherds were among the first to receive news of Christ’s arrival.

And yet, when An angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds] . . . and they were terrified. (Lk. 2:9) Their response was understandable, but their reaction did not demonstrate an ability to care for others—or present a picture of God looking after His people.

So perhaps God had dual vision when He selected these particular shepherds. Perhaps He wanted to emphasize the shepherd image—and perhaps He selected specific shepherds who also represented sheep in need of salvation. When we look at the shepherds as sheep, we can identify with them—and identify with their quest for Jesus.

Originally published December 2, 1983.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prince of Peace

Peace seems to be the cry of almost every heart. If you doubt it, why do so many Christmas cards focus upon peace as a theme—with angelic choirs signing before lowly shepherds: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men. (Lk. 2:14 KJV)

But peace is an elusive quality. It has not been found by world governments—although they often bandy the word about. And social conditions indicate personal peace within individuals is also rare.

When Jesus approached the end of His ministry and His impending death on the cross, He wept because the people did not know peace. Overlooking the city of Jerusalem He said, if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Lk. 19:42 NIV)

Perhaps we do need the emphasis of peace during the Christmas season. But a genuine search for peace cannot focus on a concept but on the person of Jesus.

After hearing the angel’s message, the shepherds responded by immediately going on a search. But they did not search for peace. They searched for the baby. They knew He was not only the key to the angel’s message. He was the message. They said, Let us now go. . . . And when they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Lk. 2:16 KJV)

They found a Savior—and it is the Savior who brings Peace.

Originally published December 10, 1982.
Picture: Creche carved from olive wood. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Call His Name Jesus

Angels told both Mary and Joseph that Mary’s baby would be named Jesus. To Joseph, the angel added, He will save His people from their sins. (Mt. 1:21 NKJV)

Jesus means Savior. Today the name is immediately recognizable as the personal name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah or the Christ. It is the name of God’s son when He lived in a human body. But it wasn’t always so. When Jesus lived on earth, the name was common, a variation of the older Hebrew name Joshua.

Nevertheless, the name was important even then, because it identified Jesus’ primary ministry. For although Jesus did many wonderful things—He taught people, He performed miracles, and He demonstrated God’s love as He lived His daily life—His primary purpose was to redeem or to save people from sin. Other men of God had taught and performed miracles. Only Jesus had and has the power to save.

Originally published December 20, 1991.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joseph's Visitation

After the angel Gabriel visited Mary—and after the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary—Joseph must have been a confused man. We read that, not willing to make her [Mary] a public example, [he] was minded to put her away secretly. (Mt. 1:19b KJV)

Scripture also says, But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Mt. 1:20)

This was not a standard dream, but Joseph accepted the strange supernatural message about a strange supernatural event. He changed his plans and was obedient to God's Word. The Bible tells us, being raised from sleep [he] did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife. (1:24)

Joseph's troubles were just beginning. The road ahead included the trip to Bethlehem with Mary giving birth to the baby in a stable. Then, when Herod threatened to kill the Christ, the angel spoke again. This time Joseph took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. (2:14b) Because he did not know how long they would be gone, his plans could only be incomplete.

Throughout the infancy and childhood of Jesus, Joseph played a key role in a deadly struggle. God selected this complex man to fulfill a huge task. It was the hour of his visitation.

Originally published December 17, 1982 and December 16, 1988.
Picture: Viewed from the street, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recognizing His Messengers

We’ll see many angels this Christmas season. They will be perched on top of Christmas trees and floating on greeting cards. Some of us will also hear angels—singing in Sunday School programs, wearing white robes with gold or silver accents, sporting a tinsel halo.

Have you ever wondered what the Angel Gabriel looked like when he came to Mary in Galilee? Luke’s account does not suggest anything unusual about his appearance. It only records that Mary was troubled at his saying and considered what manner of greeting this was. (Lk. 1:29b NKJV)

Maybe everyone knew how angels looked during Bible times, but I doubt it. The important thing is that Mary accepted Gabriel as God’s messenger. She listened when he spoke and she received his Word for her. She responded in faith when she said, Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word. (v. 38)

God speaks to His people in many ways. Will we recognize His messengers to us this Christmas season? Will we hear Him when He speaks?

Originally published December 4, 1992.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doubt God's Word?

Even righteous people occasionally doubt God’s Word. Zecharias was such a man, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Lk. 1:6b NKJV)

Then one day, as he fulfilled priestly duties in the temple, an angel appeared to Zecharias, telling him, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (v. 13b)Furthermore, the child would be unusual, set apart by God for a special purpose.

But both Zecharias and Elizabeth were old—too old to have a baby—and Elizabeth had been barren their entire marriage. Zecharias questioned the message. That was when the angel pronounced a hard saying: you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe . . . . (v. 20a)

Perhaps it was all part of the master plan. People understood that something unusual had happened when Zecharias could not talk—that he might have seen a vision. When Zacharias received his voice again—and immediately prophesied about his son and about the coming Messiah—they knew God was at work.

Originally published December 15, 1989.
Picture: Wild flowers, Minnesota Lake Country, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Living in Anticipation

Anticipation can be almost as good as the actual event or item we wait for. That’s one reason why we love the Christmas season. The extended period of joyful expectation is half of the fun.

Strangely, even when anticipations are tempered by doubt or fear—or when prospects appear negative—we fare better than when we live with no expectations. The things we anticipate give shape and meaning to daily events. They provide direction and purpose.

The Israelites lived in anticipation—they waited centuries for their Messiah. And while they waited, God spoke to them through the prophets. The book of Isaiah tells us, He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. (Is. 40:11 NKJV)

Perhaps the Israelites failed to see the promises were with them all the time. When they walked in doubt or fear, God gave them hope. When they sinned and faced judgment, He directed their vision beyond their circumstances to the joy of receiving forgiveness. Walking in God’s promises requires trust. The Israelites needed to believe that He loved them and to anticipate that He would move in their lives.

Originally published December 11, 1992

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beauty for Ashes

The Christmas spirit is an elusive dream for many people. Perhaps they feel isolated from family and friends—or insecure because they do not know how to select presents. Perhaps they lack funds to pay for presents—or are overwhelmed by fatigue and bills. Whatever the cause, failure to experience the dream causes anxiety and stress.

Jesus didn’t come so we could strive after elusive dreams. He came to invade hearts—to penetrate our depths—to offer a revelation or vision of Him. And He brings peace and joy.

The prophet Isaiah had much to say about the Christ-child named Jesus who grew up to bring salvation to all people. According to Isaiah, He brings, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they [we] may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Is. 61:3 NKJV)

Receiving the promises recorded by Isaiah might require rethinking our Christmas plans. If we belong to Jesus, we can stop striving after the elusive dream—and let a true vision from the Spirit of Jesus touch our spirits—because the Spirit of Jesus is the true spirit of Christmas.

Of course, major changes require adjustments, but that would be a small price to pay if it means exchanging beauty for ashes!

Originally published December 12, 1986.
Picture: Commercial display, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Babe of Bethlehem

The Babe of Bethlehem had characteristics that could be—and can be—found in other babies. The Bible tells us that He grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Lk. 2:40 NKJV) He also increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Lk. 2:52) These characteristics are unusual, but history records a number of unusual children with hearts tender toward God.

There are some essential differences, however, between the baby named Jesus and other babies. When He became a man, Jesus died for the sin of all people. He could do this because, unknown to most people, He carried within Himself a divine seed that came from God. By sacrificing His divine life, He broke the power of Satan—and He specifically broke Satan’s hold upon the lives of people who call upon Him.

Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth as a man—to die for the sin of all men—so we can have eternal life. The Babe of Bethlehem died in my place.

Originally published December 24, 1987.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Embryo of Jesus

When the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary about the birth of Jesus, he said, And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son. . . . (Lk. 1:31a NKJV) Mary wondered about this and asked, How can this be, since I do not know a man? (v. 34b)

Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would move upon her: the power of the Highest will overshadow you. (v. 35b) And it happened as Gabriel said. Mary conceived the embryo of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The new life within her came from both God and a human.

Many doctrines rest upon the concept of the Virgin Birth. One of those doctrines is the redemptive value of Christ’s blood. Blood forms at conception. After conception there is an embryo with blood, but before conception there is only egg and seed. The baby’s blood can be quite different than that of either parent. And the blood of Jesus was quite different from that of His mother. It carried not only her characteristics, but also the characteristics of His Heavenly Father.

Impossible? Yes. But Gabriel reminded Mary that, with God nothing will be impossible. (v. 37) Mary replied, Let it be to me according to your word. (v. 38b)

Originally published December 13, 1991.
Picture: Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

He Came as a Baby

No one denies that Jesus lived. The Roman government recorded both His birth and His death. The historian Josephus wrote about him—and He became a significant figure in world history.

But if we fail to recognize Him as God-become-man, Jesus will never be important to us personally—and we’ll never appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. He came as a baby, but He was and is the Word which was with God and was God before the beginning of time. (Jn. 1:1,2) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14 KJV)

This God we call Jesus did not pretend to be a person by temporarily taking on human form. Instead, He relinquished His powers as God when He became one of us. It was as though He came incognito. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and his own received Him not.(Jn. 1:10,11)

On the other hand, as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. (vs. 12) And that is the wonder of Christmas.

Originally published December 20, 1985.