Saturday, December 25, 2010

Three Ways to Live

There are 3 ways to live.

The gift of Christmas is the Gospel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 8

After the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, the shepherds promptly left their sheep in the field unattended so that they might see the baby Jesus. When the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph they told the story of their encounter with the angels and the message about Jesus that the angels delivered.

And at the story of the shepherds Luke 2:18 says that “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Who wondered? Who is “all”?

Certainly Mary and Joseph are included in the “all” and perhaps there were a few other people around that are not mentioned in the Bible.

But why would Mary and Joseph wonder? They had both separately had an encounter with an angel as they were “briefed” on what God was doing. Though Mary and Joseph were willing participants in the Christmas story, there was still much that was mysterious and significantly outside of their previous experience with God.

This same wonder continues in us (followers of Christ) when we see Jesus “birthed into the heart of a new believer”. Though we have some understanding of what is taking place and we’ve personally experienced Jesus similarly, there is still something marvelous, stirring, and awesome that takes place every time we see new birth and new life in Jesus come forth. It causes us to “wonder”.

To wonder is to reflect on how great God is; how unique; how glorious; how gracious; how loving; how matchless.

John Jacob Niles captures this splendor in his Christmas carol, “I Wonder as I Wander”—
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ‘twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it cause He was the King.

(If viewing through a reader click through to the blog site to view the video)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 7

Joe McKeever points out when God incarnates Himself as a human in this world, what types of people become “players” in His story?

There are the young and the old--
(Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus; Simeon and Anna in the temple, Luke 2)

There are the rich and the poor--
(Wise men and Joseph & Mary)

There are Jews and Gentiles--
(Wise men are non-Jews)

There are the highest (angels) and the lowest (shepherds)

John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” From the beginning “the world” and “whoever” are central to God’s redemptive activity.

Christianity has always been inclusive as all are invited to believe and receive Christ.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 6

There’s an old saying, “God is never early and He is never late.” In other words, God’s timing is perfect. However there are certainly those occasions when we are asking for God’s help and it seems like He is taking too long. There are other occasions when we’re not ready to do something He’s stirring us to do and it seems as if the opportunity is too soon.

Our timing is often different from God’s timing.

What’s happening in your life today? In what ways do you need God’s help? Wisdom? Financial provision? Healing? Direction?

In the Christmas story Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census. While in Bethlehem Mary delivers the baby Jesus. Some months later wise men from the East travel to Bethlehem, find the Christ child and worship Him. A part of their worship involved presenting gifts to Jesus. One of the gifts was a sum of gold.

Meanwhile, King Herod decides that he cannot allow a potential threat to his throne to grow up in Bethlehem so he sends his soldiers to the town and surrounding region with orders to kill all the male children that were two years of age and younger.

Before a soldier could be dispatched God approaches Joseph in a dream, warns him of Herod’s plot and directs Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

The holy family who are poor and certainly don’t have the means for international travel were provided gold at just the right time.

In your life circumstances, God will not be early, nor will He be late.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 5

I grew up poor. One of my most embarrassing memories was the day one of my teachers called me to her desk, informed me that I qualified for the free lunch program and asked if I would allow her to sign me up. There was no way I was going to pull out that bright yellow meal card to pay for my lunch when all my friends were paying with money. I would have rather starved than to be in the free lunch program.

Have you ever been poor? How do you feel about being poor?

There is nothing that you can conclude about Joseph and Mary but that they were poor. After Jesus is born they take him to the temple to dedicate him to God. As a part of the worship experience they were to offer a sacrifice. Most couples would offer a lamb. Joseph and Mary are obviously poor because they offer two pigeons (Luke 2:24).

There’s no place for prosperity theology in the Gospel story. Yet there is a sizable segment of the American church that preaches that one will have health and wealth if one follows Christ. How does prosperity theology have a leg to stand on when all the disciples suffered for following Christ, most died a martyr’s death and many had few if any possessions when they died?

I’m grateful that I have a house, car, clothes and plenty of food. I count them as blessings from God. But the absence of things is not an indicator that one is not blessed. The Apostle Paul testified that he had seasons where he had much and seasons where he had little and in both cases he was blessed, not because of stuff, but because he had Jesus in His life.

Are you blessed? Are you a blessing to others? Do you steward the things that God allows you to use so that others are helped and God is glorified? Do you experience contentment with what you do have?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 4

The word “unlikely” is the single best word to apply to the entire cast of the Christmas story. Mary, a teenage girl who is perhaps 13, is chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Joseph, an older, unmarried and easy to overlook man is chosen to be an earthly father to Jesus. And, a group of smelly shepherds living in the fields with their sheep who were notorious for dishonesty and a lack of integrity are chosen to be the first witnesses to the birth of the Savior.

How unlikely are we for God to use in profound, eternal ways?

Luke 2:8-12 tells us that the shepherds were watching over their flocks one night when an angel visited them and announced that the Savior had been born in Bethlehem. After the angel departs the shepherds basically dash to where Joseph and Mary are with the baby Jesus. Yet, the angel did not command them to go and worship. Their haste to draw near to God and the activity of God was not due to obedience but to awe and hunger.

The shepherds were awed by the announcement of Jesus’ birth and hungry to see and be near the manifest presence of God. All God had to do was give a hint that the Christ child would be found wrapped in swaddling clothes and the shepherds were off searching.

Are you awed by the messages in Scripture? Are you stirred to hunger and thirst after God while praying, while observing nature, or while experiencing music or art? Is there quickness to your movement toward God? When the shepherds told the story of their encounter with the angel, others were amazed and astonished about God (Luke 2:18). Do you have stories of interaction with God that cause others sit up and take note?

Who are these shepherds? What are their names? What happened to them after visiting the Christ child? All we know of the shepherds is that on one night of their lives God drew near and they were highly responsive. Meeting and responding to Jesus is the most important thing that will ever happen to you.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 3

We have hundreds of cable television stations, thousands of songs on our iPod, scores of friends to text, tweet or talk with on Facebook. Our calendar has no margin and we don’t have enough time to get from one experience to the next. During this season of shopping, partying, and traveling many of us will reach a tipping point where we’ll crash or implode.

The idea of slowly thinking about something or pondering is a foreign concept to us.

Yet a key observation and takeaway from the Christmas story is how Mary interacts with God and the activity of God. This inexperienced teenage girl whom God favors and ordains to be the mother of Jesus captures and fully engages it all by pondering.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced that she would become pregnant with the Son of God, Luke 1:29 said that Mary was perplexed at the announcement and pondered his words.

Are you ever perplexed by what the Bible says or by what you sense in your prayers?

When the shepherds visited Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus, they told of hearing an angelic announcement that the Savior had been born and that Jesus was that Savior. Again, in response, Luke 2:19 said that Mary both treasured and pondered these words that the shepherds spoke.

Do you ever see or experience God do something in you or around you?

Mary’s example models for us the act of pondering where we think about something over and over again. Mary did so in the moment and I believe that she did throughout the years of her life.

Fast forward to the end of Jesus’ life when He is brutally tortured and crucified. Mary witnesses these atrocities committed against her son whom she has seen live a blameless life. How does Mary not herself die of a crushed heart? How does she not become angry with God for not intervening and sparing Jesus?

I submit that the ponderings from her teenage years served to establish her heart to trust God and have insight into the work of God so that she was empowered to persevere through the greatest tragedy she had ever experienced.

Philippians 4:8 is an exhortation to you and me to ponder. Will you take time and ponder--

If you don’t know what these rich theological words mean consult a Bible dictionary and ponder away.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 2

Joe McKeever tells the story of a school Christmas play that was to feature shepherds, wise men, angels and the holy family. On the day of the play a mother called the school office to inform the teacher that her son was sick with a bad cold and would not be able to play Joseph in the Nativity. It was too late to replace him so the play went on without Joseph.

No one missed him.

The real life Joseph who was chosen by God to be the earthly father of the Lord Jesus was--
Holy (separated to God);
Obedient (did what God asked);
Faith-full (believed the miracle of a virgin birth);
Loving (committed to Mary though she appeared scandalous);
Courageous (traveled to Egypt in order to protect Jesus).

In history and popular culture Joseph is almost a forgotten part of the story of God’s incarnation.

In God’s evaluation Joseph is a rare and uniquely qualified man to be entrusted with the task of raising Jesus.

How concerned are we with how others view the importance of our lives? How much does God’s evaluation of us matter? In a celebrity culture can we know joy and contentment though our life is common and without fame?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 1

There is so much that is familiar about the Christmas story of God entering humanity in the birth of the baby Jesus. And, there are many things that have been misunderstood or overlooked.

For example, the so-called wise men from the east were not kings, nor do we know whether there were three of them. Further, when they arrived in Bethlehem it may have been as much as two years after the birth so they definitely didn’t find Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in a stable. In fact we don’t even know if the holy family ever stayed in a stable on the night of the birth. Because baby Jesus was placed in a manger or feeding trough (Luke 2:7) there was speculation that there was a stable.

When the magi (wise men) showed up in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2) looking for the one born king of the Jews, no one could tell them where the child had been born. How surprising it must have been to the travelers who had come so far following a star.

When King Herod heard about the foreigners looking for a baby king he called upon his religious leaders and asked where the Messiah was to be born. They concluded from the writings of the prophet Micah that the place was Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem but no one had cared enough to bother to go and see. There was an obvious disinterest in God and the eternal activity of God taking place around them.

How much does God matter to us? How aware are we of God’s activity around us? When questioned by others about God’s movement would we be able to answer?