Finding Christmas at Christmas; Part 2

December 12

Isaiah 11 1_3

Most really good stories have a good backstory – a way for us to see and understand the main character of the story before the events of the story unfold.

The Christmas story is no different. For centuries, God had been offering abundant clues into the Main Character of His story about the redemption of all humanity.

God revealed that He would be born in the city of David, also known as Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). God also told us something amazing… impossible… miraculous – this Ruler/Redeemer would be conceived and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). This same verse revealed that this Main Character would be known by an unimaginable quality – “they shall call His Name “Immanuel” (which means God, with us).” (from Matthew 1:23). The prophet Isaiah was inspired to tell us that God would send a son, to grow up and become the One who governs over His people, with justice and righteousness – “And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (from Is. 9:6) And: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.” (Is. 9:7)

kingjesus

It was revealed that the “Holy One” would be resurrected from the dead (Psalm 16:8-10). He would walk the ground in Galilee, and be a great light to the nations (Isaiah 9:1-2). He would be proceeded by a forerunner (Isaiah 40:3-5). He would have a ministry of healing (Isaiah 35:5-6). He would have a divine “anointing” to proclaim hope to the impoverished, and to heal, and to liberate those in captivity (Isaiah 61:1-2).

And most of all, He would be the suffering Servant, bearing our sin and guilt – afflicted for our afflictions, and punished for our misdeeds…

suffering-servant

We could go on (there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies proclaiming the attributes and characteristics of the Messiah).

The point is that God, throughout covenant history, had been telling His people about a Redeemer/Ruler who was going to come to earth and bring a new kind of government with Him. A government of peace and prosperity. Of justice and righteousness. A government governed by the rule (and goodness) of God Himself. A government that was based upon the ever-present reality of “God, with us.”

God with us

For centuries, God had been telling the backstory of the One Who would burst onto the stage on that first Christmas night. Bringing such new hope. Such a wonderful new way of living life – beneath the canopy of God’s limitless favor.

But would the world “make Him room?” Would His own people even recognize Him? Just how would we know for certain He had come?

At the heart of Christmas is faith… faith based on the promises of God. Faith based upon the goodness of a God Who longs for us to know His love intimately, openly, and permanently. Faith in the fact that God had no problem “laying aside His Godly privileges” to become one of us so that He could build an eternal connection with us.

God reaching out

He had given us centuries of clues… now the fullness of the mystery was about to be revealed…

Advertisements
Posted in Christmas, Daily devotional, Faith, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Finding Christmas… at Christmas

December 11

“This day… a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:11)

Nativity

For the next two weeks, I wanted to turn our attention to Christmas. Not that you needed the heads-up… we’ve been seeing “the push” for Christmas, in stores and advertisements, for weeks now.

Christmas is a big deal. But as you may have noticed, it is (mostly) a big deal in all the wrong ways. Retail stores hope to survive the year… until Christmas comes. Our monthly activity calendar gets so full of programs, shopping, and gatherings that we have zero time to just relax and enjoy… anything. Christmas puts us all on the fast track – and demands that we all get “in the race.” Full throttle. Pedal to the metal. Shoulder to shoulder – in all the stressful madness and mayhem.

shopping madness

It seems such a stark contrast to the original message about Christmas when a bunch of angels burst onto the scene to fill the night sky to declare “PEACE on earth.” (Luke 2:14)

And I’m sure you have noticed… (almost) everybody celebrates Christmas. Even people who have never been “religious” are right there… shoulder to shoulder with all the rest of us. Buying. Giving. Gathering. Celebrating. Christmas is just about as universal a celebration as you can get.

It’s about this time when those of us who are “religious” begin talking about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” and about “Jesus being the reason for the season.” But if we are really being honest, it’s hard to tell any difference between those who “keep Christ in Christmas” and those who don’t. We all do the same things. We all spend ourselves into oblivion. We all feel compelled to get together with, and give gifts to, people that we seldom see (or talk to) the rest of the year. (It seems our commitment to strange behavior is also universal!)

Keep-Christ-in-Christmas

I am not so idealistic to think that anything I can say will change any of that. But what I hope to do, in the days ahead, is to give you some seed thoughts that might, just maybe, help you to turn aside from all the madness (if only for a few brief moments) and ponder why Christmas really IS a big deal.

At some point, each of us has to come to the understanding that Christmas was God’s idea… and, somehow, we owe it to Him to give Him the proper place in our minds and in our hearts.

I hope to take us on a journey back into the events and the people of the first Christmas and discover the wonder and the amazement that came to us on that first Christmas night.

Through it all, this year, I hope that this Christmas we might all find Christmas at Christmas, once again.

Posted in Christmas, Daily devotional | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Delighting in God 3

December 10

Ps 37 4

We have been talking about how God delights in us… and offers us Himself to be the Source of what delights us. He even goes so far as to promise us that if we will delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts.

But we need to understand something very important… God grants us the desires of our hearts only when we delight ourselves in Him. God loves us unconditionally… but His promises often come with a condition – and that condition is always for our benefit… and protection.

Above all else, God is wise. His wisdom will not allow Him to give us things that will be destructive to us.

God is wise

I can remember so many times in my life when I was pleading with God for something that I just knew that I needed – and He was supposed to be the One taking care of my needs.

It was only after much time had elapsed that I was able to truly see God’s wisdom in saying “No” to my continual pleadings. He always had something better for me – and in His kindness, He delayed in granting me the desires of my heart… until my heart was aligned with His. The Heart of God is always intent upon our best!

That is our problem most of the time (even as Christians!). We can think that our desires are godly, that they are for our best, that they will bring what we “need” for our lives. But there is another thing we must remember…

Jeremiah records this nugget of truth: 

Jeremiah 17-9

The problem with “following our hearts” is that our hearts often have NO idea where they are taking us! They are unwitting masters of deception – they (unintentionally) mislead us is so many ways. They convince us to want things and need things, that will be “for our good” – without the disclaimer that should come attached to them… that our hearts are so often clueless as to what we really need.

That is why God’s solution is to put Him first. Let Him be the One we delight in – and let our delight in Him be what shapes the passions of our hearts.

Jesus put it another way:

matthew 6 33

When our delight is in the King and His Kingdom… that King eagerly desires to pour out His kindness into our lives.

The danger within every soul who ponders a relationship with God is that our human nature desires to use God to get what we want. But when we seek God only for the delight of knowing Him and loving Him – we find something unexpected in return. The God Who loves to give, delights in giving to those whose hearts are enamored with Him and His purposes!

Prayer Focus: God, stir my heart to seek You first — and to delight my heart in You… so that I might receive the desires of my heart.

Posted in Daily devotional, Delighting in God, God's Heart, God's kindness, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Delighting in God 2

December 9

take delight in the lord

Yesterday, we talked about the fact that God delights in us… and offers us Himself to be the Source of what delights us.

This can certainly lead us to a false premise… that God exists only for our pleasure – and that He is obligated to give us only good things. So anything “bad” that comes our way amounts to God, failing us.

We ought to know better. Scripture is pretty clear that trials and afflictions are a part of this life.

john 16 33

When afflictions come, it is not that God is failing us… He is simply providing us an opportunity to discover His faithfulness – to personally experience the fact that He is with us in the midst of our struggles.

We all like quoting Romans 8:28… “that God causes everything to work together for good” and seem to forget that the “everything” implies that “bad” things will find their way into our lives.

It is somewhat popular to see our relationship with God as a means of safety, comfort, and as nothing but smooth sailing. But God never promised us that we would live a life free of obstacles and troubles – quite the opposite.

The same guy who found God to be the Source of “joy and pleasures” (Psalm 16:11) also said many are the afflictions of the righteous…” (Psalm 34:19) But that bit of depressing news was followed by the triumphant: “…but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” We cannot know God as the Source of all things until we face struggles and trials… and experience His deliverance, personally! And knowing His deliverance in the midst of our dark times is wonderfully exhilarating. It is profoundly pleasurable (and brings abounding joy) to discover that God is in the midst of our dark times, working to flood the darkness with His light. And when that deliverance comes, we are filled with a new appreciation for God, and His goodness towards us!

abounding joy

There is a secret in all this. It is to get into God’s Presence… and stay there.

It is fascinating that when tough times come, human nature seems to want to cast God aside and fight the battle ourselves. We tend to get angry at God for “failing to keep us out of this mess” – and run from Him, rather than to Him. Even Christians do this… because it is all too easy to forget that our deliverance requires an affliction.

If we are going to learn to delight in God, we have to understand that our “many afflictions” are God’s way of showing us just how much He is concerned and active in our lives. We cannot escape times of affliction. They are going to come. But we never face them alone. The God Who is Almighty is right there with us – and if we will abide in His Presence, He will show us just how mighty He really is.

Prayer Focus: God, draw my heart to trust in You in the midst of difficult circumstances… and to discover the depth of Your love for me as I delight in You.

Posted in Daily devotional, Delighting in God, God's goodness, God's Presence with us, True Christianity, Trust | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Delighting in God

December 8

psalm-16-11

How do you view God? When you think about Him, what comes to mind?

Do you see Him as awesome (beyond words) but unapproachable? Do you see Him as so holy that you do not belong anywhere near Him? Do you see Him as the Grand Master of rules… and you had better obey Him, or else!? Do you see Him as cold and impersonal? So big that you are nothing in His sight? So demanding that you are turned off by any thought of Him?

AngryGod

There are so many ways of viewing God that it boggles the mind. In this struggle of the human soul, we seek to understand our Maker – and to truly know His view of us (IF He cares anything about us at all).

These are the issues with which so many of us have wrestled. David did also.

Our verse today is the summary of someone who sought God earnestly. He wanted to truly know His Maker. And the man “after God’s Own heart” (Acts 13:22) came to some startling conclusions…

David concluded that God WAS personal. That He was profoundly interested in the details of our lives. AND that a relationship with Him was filled with joy and pleasures!

I’ll wager that for most of us, our view of God has very little to do with joy and pleasure!

That is the summation of our biggest problem. We usually see God as “on the take.” As demanding and unrelenting. As eager to take away our fun and as quick to deny us pleasurable things (as those things are often seen as evil).

But this is NOT the case – and this is so surprising!

At the heart of it all, God is a giving God. He actually desires that our lives be filled with joy… and all good things. And when we begin to accept that as fact, we begin to unleash His Hands to bring delight and blessing into our lives. Above all else, God desires to be the Source of the good He desires to bring into our lives. So that He is the Source of our joy, our pleasures, and our delight.

God is a giver

The enemy of God fights so hard to fill our thoughts with a god that is cold and impersonal. That we are more of an annoyance to him than an object of his affection. That he is always angry at us for our (many) failures. That he tolerates us because he has to do so – out of some weird obligation to us (because he created us and made this mess). But none of these things are true.

After all of David’s heartfelt searching, he discovered that God is actually a delight – and that He actually delights in us. That it is His great pleasure to become the Source of all that we need… and the Source of everything that delights our hearts.

John Piper, the author of the book “Desiring God,” echoed David’s conclusion with one of his own…

God is most glorified

When we finally realize that God is for us (not against us) and begin to see Him as the Source of our joy and pleasures – we will run to Him for what satisfies us deep within. We will discover that God is eager to be the One Who delights our hearts – and that is a revelation that changes everything about our lives!

Prayer Focus: God, I need to see You as a God Who satisfies our lives… that You are the true Source of what brings joy and pleasure.

Posted in Daily devotional, God is a Giver, Joy, Seeing God, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Life, and…

December 7

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” (Jesus – John 10:10)

I have an internet friend who shared a wonderful story – what she called a miracle. I agree. When anything that is dead in our lives comes back to life (and God is in the middle of it) it’s a miracle.

I am reminded that, as Christians, our history becomes part of His story. He is telling the world (and us!) something about Himself – and He is using our lives to tell the tale. Even all our mistakes, our disasters, our failures, and our self-inflicted wounds (He can even use the terrible things done to us!). They all become part of the darkness before the dawn – when the full measure of His limitless grace rises to take us from tragedy to triumph, from death to life, from mourning to miracle.

dawn light

We should not be so surprised. Jesus told us this would happen.

In our verse above, we so often focus on the truth of the first part and miss the vital attachment at the end. Yes, the enemy of God comes like a thief to wreck and devastate our lives – and so often, all he has to do is plant a seed thought within us, and WE do most of the destructive work ourselves. Our past is often littered with things stolen, killed or destroyed – leaving us to suffer the consequences (and regrets) of our mistakes.

not-good-enough

That is the story of my friend. An eating disorder had ravaged her life… and brought her to death’s door. God’s grace intervened and spared her life… and slowly brought her out of the grasp of fear and death and led her back to life. She has a wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness to rescue her from such deep and dreadful darkness.

But as is so often the case, our actions have repercussions. Her disorder had robbed her of some of the functions of her organs – the lingering darkness of “the thief’s” pledge to “steal, kill, and destroy.”

Sometimes we forget Jesus‘ pledge to us. His promise is a life filled with “all its fullness.” This means that Jesus came to restore what the thief had stolen… to bring life back to what the thief had tried to kill… to bring wholeness back to what had been destroyed (by someone else’s actions, or even by our own doing).

Restoring-the-Broken

Bringing us back from the brink is not the end of the story… it is the beginning. God’s story is not just about resuscitation… it is also about restoration. Jesus did not just come to give us back our lives… He came to give us back the abundance of life. To take even the remnants of the darkness, and flood them with a grand display of His light.

My friend experienced this restoration… and called it a miracle. Things that were dead within her came back to life. The God of wholeness and healing brought restoration to what “the thief” had stolen.

Our God is a God of life. He is also a God of life in all its fullness. When we become the objects of His love, we become His opportunities to display His miracles – all to the glory and honor of His Name.

Prayer Focus: God I thank You that You are a God of miracles and that nothing is impossible with You!

Posted in Belonging to God, Daily devotional, God's power, Healing, Restoration, True Christianity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Fix is In

December 6

fixed

In yesterday’s post, we talked at length about the fact that Jesus’ work, on our behalf, has already provided all that is necessary to fix our unity problem. The cross broke down all “the dividing walls of hostility” (Eph. 2:14) between all of us. The solution to our problem with each other is not a new miracle of God – the solution is the old miracle… it is what Jesus did for us to make us new and bring us all into His Family. Unity is born within the work of Christ. Unity is preserved by the same work. We tend to forget that…

But Jesus’ work on our behalf is even greater still. He did not just provide our means of unity – He provided every work needed for every issue of our lives. Whatever needs to be fixed, Jesus has already provided what we need to bring His divine repair into our lives. Wherever we have a problem, a weakness, a struggle, a short-coming, an addiction, a character flaw – the solution to all these things is the completed work of Jesus.

finished-work

This is so important. I talk with so many believers who are constantly pleading with God to fix their lives – to fix their thinking, their weakness in temptation, their addictions, their failures. They have come to the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. They have received the love of God, through Christ, their Savior. But they cannot seem to see that Jesus died for every area that is broken in their lives.

We hear Jesus’ cry from the cross: “It is finished!” And only see His work as payment for our sins. While it certainly is payment for our sins… it is SO much more!

Jesus came to address every area of our lives. He came to touch our bodies, souls, and spirits with His infinite love. He came to heal and regenerate. He came to resuscitate us… AND to rejuvenate us. To make us whole – as well as holy. He came to embrace our broken lives and restore them completely.

Made-Whole

And all His work, all that we will ever need, was accomplished on the cross. All brokenness becomes whole in the shadow of the cross.

How is this possible?

Because a true understanding of Jesus’ work on the cross includes us! Romans 6 tells us that when Jesus went to that cross, all who would place their faith in Him, went with Him. Jesus not only carried our sins on that cross… He carried us. The Bible says that we “died with Christ,” “were buried with Christ,” and we were “raised with Him.” (see Rom. 6:3-6) But we were not raised to the same old life (just forgiven)… we were raised to a new kind of life. A life free from our past. A life free from our addictions. A life free of our habitual weaknesses and failures.

freedom-in-christ

It is a life we SHARE with Jesus. We have literally become united with Him through faith. We share in Who He is. We share in what He has. We share in His power and authority. We share in what He has accomplished… and in what He will accomplish.

The apostle sums it all up this way: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Jesus came to take the old broken “us” to the cross, put that person to death (through His Own death), then, to bury that old person in the grave, and to bring forth a new, whole person to live a new kind of life unencumbered by all the issues, failings, and brokenness of our past.

The truth of Scripture is plain… and glorious: God does not need to fix our lives – He already has! The work of Jesus is all-sufficient for every need of our lives. We just have to apply His completed work to our lives, by faith!

note to self freedom

 

Posted in Daily devotional, Freedom in Christ, God's provision, Jesus' death, Life in Jesus, Renewal, the Gift of Jesus, the new you, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment