Friday, December 25, 2015

He Is Born!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS.  It has been so warm here in Buffalo that we thought we were doing Christmas down south somewhere.  People were out in their yards in shorts the past few days.

So we express our love for the Lord with a beach scene in honor of that.

The good news for us today is reflected in the oft-sung, much beloved Christmas hymn:


May you experience the joy and peace of Christ, God's gift to all, today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Entering the Grotto, Church of the Nativity
   Looking at what seemed to me to be a fairly ancient map, I found it.  Located just a couple miles out the road from my home, I was very familiar with what the map was showing me.  The map was not so ancient (less than 100 years), but the memory of this place was stored in the minds of very few.  So why was I so interested in finding it?  Because my Grandmother was born there.  The spot?  Beautiful, PA.  That is a noun, not an adjective.  There is nothing but a couple houses, three churches, a farm and an orchard within 300 yards of the dot on the map today.  There may have been less than that present on August 25, 1900 when my Grandmother was born.  Though small, the place held significance because she was significant to me.

The Christmas story contains a town like Beautiful, PA.  On the night Jesus was born, it was a very small village.  But hundreds of years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah said this about Bethlehem:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”  Matthew 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2,4

Bethlehem was small.  There were far greater towns in the land of Judah.  The thing that made Bethlehem significant was the Someone who was born there. People still flock there today because of Him.  If it weren't for the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem would be just another small, West Bank, Arab town.  

The good news for us today is that it doesn't matter where we are, Jesus in us can make any place a place of significance.  It becomes important because He is important.  Its because Him in you is important.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, anywhere you go Jesus is there.  Just as He was born in Bethlehem, we join in the prayer of the Christmas hymn,

"Oh holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today."

And when He is born in us, that makes us significant.

So rejoice.  You may not seem significant on the map of life.  In fact, you may sometimes feel like a little forgotten or erased dot.  But not to Him.  And if you never have received Him, do so today, and though you are least among others, in you will be born the One who loves you, created you, redeemed you and enables you to live life to the full, Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Pam has a unique ability to give just the right gift for every person. Her insight into each person and her pursuit of finding the gift that matches them are astounding to me.  Her desire is to treat each one as special and the gifts reflect it.  Sometimes when I open a gift I think, "She knows me better than I know myself."  And her gifts always have a very practical application to them.

It seems our tradition of giving gifts traces back to the fact that the Magi brought gifts for Jesus.  It was custom back then when you presented yourself to a King that you offered gifts in homage to Him.  And so they did.  The gifts were out of their treasures it says in Matthew 2.  And they were very unique to Jesus.

Gold, in honor of a King.  It is meaningful to me that this was the first gift mentioned.  He was first and foremost a King.  And from a practical standpoint this was the means by which the family financed their trip to Egypt when they escaped Herod.

Incense was a gift for a priest.  It was used at times of intercession before God on behalf of the people.  Mary and Joseph may have used this in family worship to teach Jesus as a boy.

Myrrh was the spice used for burials.  It was a foreshadowing of the purpose for His life, to die on our behalf.  It took most poor people a lifetime of saving up little by little to have enough myrrh by the time they died.  This would have begun the collection for Jesus, like receiving a savings bond at birth that matures later.

As we close in on Christmas day, the question I have is not what gifts we are bringing to Him, but whether or not we are recognizing what the Magi did?  Do we humble ourselves before the King of Kings and honor Him as such?  Do we rejoice over and praise Him as the one mediator between God and man?  Do we remember that He sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us as a priest right now, today?  Do we, as admonished in Romans 12:1,2,  offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to the One who died in our place?  In doing so, we die with Him so we also may be raised with Him to life.

If there would have been a King on the throne of Israel in Jesus' day, He would have sat on that throne legally as the next one in line of the kingly dynasty.  And through His mother's blood line, He also had a tie to the priestly line.  He embodied all the symbolism of the gifts offered Him.  And He still embodies them today.  He is our King.  He is our Priest.  He is our Sacrifice.

That is good news.  So come let us worship and bow down before Him and offer ourselves before Him as is the suitable, appropriate response to Him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sacrifice of Christmas

Usually when we use the word sacrifice in regards to Christmas it has to do with Jesus.  He sacrificed His position in Heaven to come to earth.  He eventually sacrificed His life for us.  This is the great sacrifice of Christmas.  But there is another........

Hidden in the Christmas story is a little noticed account of sacrifice that sets a tone for all of us today.  It has to do with Joseph, the husband of Mary.  He was going to divorce her for infidelity before their wedding, and then the angel intercedes and confirms what she told him.  After the dream, here is what happened:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24,25

Notice verse 25.  For the sake of the birth of the Messiah, he did not push his marital rights during the whole time Mary was carrying Jesus.  He treated the whole process as holy.  For the sake of holiness and/or the potential of interfering with the pregnancy, Joseph sacrificed.  Obviously he had strong desires that he anticipated would be fulfilled.  Obviously he loved Mary deeply and wanted to share oneness with her.  But for the sake of Jesus, he sacrificed.

Someone has said that Jesus was God's gift to us and what we do for Him is our gift back to Jesus.  Joseph's actions raise the question for us, what are we sacrificing or willing to sacrifice for Jesus' sake?  We are told to follow Him, and the road He walks is absolute obedience in love for the Father.  It is a road of personal sacrifice.  He became "obedient to death, even death on a cross."  We often want our faith walk to be comfortable, painless, successful and positive.

The reality is that following Jesus will require us to sacrifice things we have strong desires for. But those things are nothing.  Here is what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:18:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

The good news is that God will give us grace and honor every sacrifice.  Joseph and Mary were very fruitful after Jesus was born.  Jesus had a number of step brothers and sisters.  And because of Joseph's sacrifice Christ was born undefiled so He could be the great sacrifice for us.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Impossible - NOT

Can you remember a time?  Or perhaps it didn't happen to you or for you directly, but a family member or friend experienced it. If so, does the sense of awe still grip you?  (By now, you are probably thinking, "Did he forget a sentence in here or something?")

What I'm talking about is the impossible.  Have you ever had the impossible happen for you?  Its impossible to answer the questions above without a context.  Now that you know, you feel empowered to answer.  Until then, you were powerless and confused.  Its a dark time.

That is how life can be.  We can feel powerless and confused, at a loss as to how to face the giant (like David) or the lack of resources (like the widow at Zarephath) or the death of our only son (like the widow at Nain).  These times feel like they will destroy us.  There is no possible way to make it through.  But God.......

When we read the Christmas story we are reminded that it felt impossible to Zechariah and Elizabeth that they would ever have a child, let alone a son.  But God made it possible.  It was impossible for a virgin to conceive and bear a child.  But the power of the Most High overshadowing Mary made it possible.  It is seemingly impossible that a couple in Nazareth (northern Israel) would find themselves in Bethlehem (70-80 miles to the south) at the time their baby was due, but God made it possible. And thus the prophecy of where the Messiah would be born was fulfilled.   There are other story lines we could follow.  And the story continues to be told down through history.  It is exactly as Jesus told the disciples later when they felt the sting of impossibility:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
                                                                                                (Matthew 19:26)

Are you facing something "impossible" this Christmas?  Or perhaps you anticipate something impossible before you as you peer into the pages of 2016.  The good news for us today is there are no impossibilities when you rest in the hand of the God of the impossible.  For Him, ALL things are possible.  And that includes what feels impossible for you.

Are you ready to feel it?  Do you believe you will?  Never forget that what we can't do, He can.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Bad Place Isn't Always Bad

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Egypt.  When I hear the name I think of pyramids, pharaohs, King Tut and slavery.  I think of 10 plagues, the Nile, the Islamic Brotherhood, and the Sinai Peninsula.  From the Biblical narrative it was a place not to go.  The freed slaves wanted to return to their leeks and melons.  A few Israeli kings wanted to go there to get horses or help in times of war.  But God said not to go there.  It was a bad place.

But then I remember that God sent Joseph ahead of his brothers into Egypt, taught him tremendous lessons about trust, and used him to spare the lives of his family.  Egypt was a place of isolation for him, but a place that God used for good. And today we read in the Christmas story that God used this foreboding place once again.  Here is the account in Matthew 2:

   When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  (Matthew 2:13-14)

The "they" were the Magi.  Baby Jesus needed a hide out, a place of escape.  So the bad place became a good place, for Herod would never look for Him there.  And the words of the prophet Hosea were applied not only to God calling His son, Israel, out of Egypt, but also His Son, Jesus, out of Egypt.

The good news for us today, especially for those of us in a bad place, is that bad places can be good places.  What makes a bad place a good place?  When God is there and His purposes are being fulfilled.  When we go to the bad places with our own goals and ideas in mind, they are BAD places for us.  But when we get to a bad place and cry out to the Lord or trust Him in it, He uses it for good.  Joseph learned that.  Both Joseph the son of Jacob, the one who became a Prime Minister and was used to spare his family; and Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, the Son of God, who watched the Heavenly Father protect His Son from harm.

So if you are in a bad place today, call to Him.  You may find yourself discovering its not so bad after all.  He makes all the difference.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

An Important Doctrine

What and Why We Believe Matters
Doctrine is a fancy word we use to describe what we believe or a set of beliefs.  There are some people who think doctrine is not so important.  They would say that the experience of faith is the key, not necessarily what one believes.  Now while I very willingly agree that what one says they believe must be proven by the accompanying actions (James 2:26), I must disagree with the idea that doctrine is not important.  So does God.  Let me explain.

Let's use the story of Christmas as an illustration.  Is it vital for us to believe that Jesus was born as a baby in Bethlehem?  Does it really matter?  God says it is one of the key doctrines of our faith.  In fact, John writing to Christians in his first letter is talking about "testing the spirits" to see if they are from God or from a false source.  Here is what he says is the litmus test:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Now there were some folks who were suggesting in John's day that Jesus was a spirit and never really became "flesh."  So there was a specific reason why this was a key doctrine in his day.  There are other key doctrines that are necessary to refute the spirit of Antichrist today.  That is why we stress over and over again that each believer should know both what and why they believe what they do.

How about you?  What do you base your faith on?  Your experiences?  Or the historic facts about Jesus and the truth of His Word, the Word that never changes?  Our experiences will fail us, especially when challenged by the falsehoods masquerading as truth today.  The Bible even warns us not to be lured away by fine sounding teachers and leaders who may be false.  Here is the warning:

13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
                                                                                             (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

In order to test the spirits, we have to have a solid standard to use for the test.  That is why doctrine, what we believe and why we believe it, is vital.  So the good news for us this Christmas is that we can know these things and be prepared by studying the Scriptures to test every spirit.  As you celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus, know that you are celebrating one of the greatest doctrines ever given by God as a gift to us.  And be sure to thank Him for it.  And if anyone ever denies it to be true, know that they are not speaking for the Lord.  They are a false prophet and should be avoided at all costs.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's in a name? Everything

In Romeo and Juliet, it appears that in the famous line "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" that Shakespeare is arguing that names don't matter.  It is the thing itself, not its name that is important.

Yet in the Christmas story I find it fascinating that names seem to matter to God quite a bit.  When Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he and his aged wife are going to have a son, he gives Zechariah a very specific name for the boy.  His name is to be John.  It was and is Jewish tradition to name a son after his father or a close family member.  That is why the Scripture let's us know in light of Zechariah's inability to talk that the family and friends are confused when Elizabeth wants to give their son the name John.  Here is what is said:
   On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”  They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” (Luke 1:59-61)

John means Jehovah has been gracious or has shown favor.  That name was true for Zechariah and Elizabeth but it was also true for us all as a whole.  John was going to be a herald out in front for the Lord and announce how God was being gracious in sending the Messiah.  His name was a part of God's story.

Mary and Joseph both were told to name the son she would bear Jesus.  In Hebrew, it was Yeshua, or Joshua.  It means the Lord saves.  To quote Gabriel, "you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  His name mattered.  It was part of God's story.

Do you know what your name means?  You see there were other boys with the name John.  There were other Joshuas.  But for these two boys, their names described perfectly the role God had for them.  It was part of the story.

So how does your name fit God's role for you?  My name, Patrick, means noble. I desire (and ask the Lord daily to help me) to live a noble life before Him.  Some of us may not be living up to our names at this point or may be oblivious to its meaning.  I encourage us all to know what our name means because I believe God even directs such little things as the name we are given.  It is part of our story.

And the good news is this:  No matter our name now, there is one day when every one of us who knows Jesus will be given a new name that only He know.  (Revelation 2:17; 3:12)

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Christmas is usually a family time.  That can be good and that can be, well, challenging.  I will confess I have shed a tear or two at the commercials or videos showing a returning soldier surprising their spouse and children here near Christmas.  Can't think of a nicer present.  That's good.

The challenging comes in various forms.  The aging forgotten parent, aunt or uncle who sits in a nursing home or with curtains drawn at home, or in the jail house of dementia.  The returned wayward child who seemingly has to ruin the time for everyone once again by their addictive behavior or self-absorption.  The cousins or siblings who have carried the the spirit of unforgiveness and bitterness over a forgotten incident yet another year.  Their arguments hurt the souls of all present.

The reality is that each of us carries within our lineage examples of both.  There are some gems and there are pieces of coal.  The question is to which part do we trace our line?

I've always wondered about the simple few words in the Christmas story when it is speaking of the census being taken.  And it says this about Joseph:

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.   Luke 2:4

He went to Bethlehem.  He traced his line to David, a king.  No, THE king.  Joseph did not stop his line at Rehoboam, the foolish king; or at Manasseh, the evil king; or any of the other kings, some good, most not.  He traced his line to David.  As we know, even the Shepherd boy king David was not lily white in his character.  But he was "a man after God's own heart."  And the promises of God rested on him and his line.  It was promised that he would always have a ruler on the throne.  And the angel had told Mary about Jesus:

32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32-33

Some of us are products of a family line that seems to have little good associated with it.  Some of us can't see any good.  Some of us are leaving little good for those who follow.  Some have received good and are leaving bad.  Some have received bad and are determined to not poison those who follow with the same.  We all have a lineage and we all stand in a long line.

The good news today is that in Christ, we don't have to trace our line to the alcoholic, the mean-spirited, the weak-willed or the unwise.  In Christ, we have a heritage in the line of Him who reigns forever.  In fact the writer to the Hebrews says this:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.  Hebrews 2:11

No matter our earthly line, we can trace our heritage to Jesus.  And living in light of that line causes us to leave an amazing heritage for those who follow us in our human line.  We pass on a godly heritage, not a sinful one.

What line are you claiming today?  What line are you living out?  No matter what our human line we can be transformed by the One who died for us, was buried, was raised three days later, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, and now reigns forever.  Praise God today that you have been adopted into His line!  And if you haven't, today could be your day if you are willing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Life of Anticipation

I love old people.  I have learned so much by sitting and listening to stories of days past and experiences that speak of the glory of God.  I also love young people.  I am inspired and encouraged by their energy and idealism.  They are not so far removed from their childhood as to have lost their sense of wonder.

Sometimes we are blessed to be around old people who have the heart of a young person.  That describes what I read about Simeon and Anna.  The Scripture says of Simeon:

He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

He was expecting, looking to receive to himself, the Messiah, the consolation of Israel.  The Spirit moved him into the Temple courts right at the time Mary and Joseph arrived to follow the requirements of the Law in dedicating Jesus.  Simeon recognized this was the Messiah.  Now God could take him home because His promise to allow him to see the Messiah before he died was fulfilled.  And he spoke to Jesus' parents about Him.  Read more here.  He was living in anticipation and giddy as a little boy when he saw Jesus.  

Anna was next.  She was very old.  Her life was worship, fasting, and prayer.  She came up, thanked God and spoke about the child to anyone who was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Her life was daily anticipation and its fulfillment caused her to talk and talk.  I would have loved to have been on the Temple Mount that day and have seen the interactions.  I can feel my heart skip a beat right now.

That was Jesus' first coming.  The question I had to ask myself as I am growing older is am I living in anticipation with an older body but a young heart?  Ok, I'm not old yet but I'm not young either.  No matter how old I get I don't want to lose a young and vibrant spirit of anticipation.  I want to never quit believing in a God who is redeeming us.  I want to live a life of worship, praise and prayer.  I want to always be looking forward.  The Apostle Peter put it this way:

13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3:13-14

Simeon and Anna knew the promises of God and no matter what was happening around them they believed God was going to fulfill them.  And they lived in anticipation of that day.  And their lives were righteous, holy, and devout in preparation.  My yearning is to live a spotless, blameless life today in anticipation of that second coming.  As it has been said, I want to live today in light of that day.  How about you??

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What About the Cries of the Innocent?

Recently the principal of a public school in New York set policy for the school that Thanksgiving had to be called a Harvest Party; no one could use the word Christmas; Santa Claus is out because he is a religious figure; and no Christmas carols can be sung.  In fact she forbids the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.  This is just one of the more recent examples of someone trying to kill the expression of faith in the public arena.  At the same time I read an encouraging article that spoke of how the skepticism of the historicity of the New Testament that has been prevalent over the past century is being disproved by secular scholars and archeological finds.  Read about that here.

There have been many attempts through the centuries to "kill Jesus" in the public arena.  In fact we can return to the Christmas story to see a prime example. (Matthew 2:13-18)  When his attempt to use the Magi as informants in finding this one born "king of the Jews" failed, Herod sent his soldiers to the area of Bethlehem to kill all baby boys two years of age and younger.  Here is what the prophet Jeremiah had said about his own day and looking forward to this event:

This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15

But Herod was not successful because God sent an angel to have Joseph get the family out of town and remain in hiding in Egypt until after the threat was over. The gifts of the Magi, presented shortly before this took place, provided the funding for the trip.  No man will ever be able to cause God to lose His witness in His world.  He knows how to protect His own.

So when we feel the pain that evil causes and the cries of the innocent are heard, we can rest in the knowledge that God is there.  Not all evil will be ended by God until Jesus returns.  But until then, God will always protect and provide a witness.  He will give us what we need by the time we need it.  He will put us in a place of protection.  He will have us resurface when things are clear.  And His purposes will always be accomplished in the long run no matter what men may do.

I still hear the cries of the innocent today.  I still see the hatred of the anti-Christ spirit in our world.  I see the political and social attempts to remove any vestige of faith.  But I also see the hand of a Sovereign God protecting, providing, and reassuring His people.  And for that I give thanks.

Are you resting in that same knowledge today?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Putting Fear To Flight

Fear.  It is one of our basest emotions.  It causes us to flee, cower or man up.  It comes when we sense that we are faced by a threat, usually one that overwhelms us.  The New Testament journal is filled with the admonition "do not be afraid."  What were the threats?

Jesus told the disciples to not be afraid of those who will stand against them and even threaten their lives.  He said that our greater concern should be fearing and honoring Him above our fear of what men can do to us.  (Matthew 10:26-28)

Jesus also taught that we should not live in anxiety about material needs.  He spoke of being generous by selling what we have in order to provide the needs of others.  The basis of our actions is the fact that our Heavenly Father has been pleased to give us the Kingdom and knows what we need.  He will provide.  (Luke 12:27-34)

The Apostle Paul was told to keep speaking and teaching when he felt alone (Acts 18:9-10) and also told to be courageous in the midst of a ship wreck because God's plan for His life included caring for all the lives on board with him.  (Acts 27:21-26)

There are other examples.  But it is significant to me that all the key players in the Christmas story were told "do not be afraid."  Zechariah was confronted by the angel Gabriel as he did his temple service.  Startled by this sudden presence, Zechariah became afraid.  When Gabriel spoke to Mary it was not his presence that troubled her but his words.  What kind of greeting was this, that says she is "highly favored" and "the Lord is with" her?  Joseph was afraid of the implications of taking Mary home as his wife under the circumstance.  And the angel reassured him that God was in it.  The shepherds were shocked by having their night sky ablaze with the bright light of an angelic presence.  And they were told to "fear not."  This was not a sudden blast of judgment but an announcement of good news.

I've never had an angelic visit (at least not that I know).  Most of us haven't.  But I have had plenty of times when I have been afraid.  Afraid when we didn't know how we were going to pay our bills.  Afraid when I wasn't sure where to go next in leading.  Afraid and hurt when I thought we may lose our grandson at his birth.  Afraid when it felt like I was failing myself and everyone else, including the Lord.  And in each of those times the Lord said to me, "Do not be afraid Pat."  How?  He brought Scriptures to mind that settled my mind.  The Holy Spirit responded to my "Lord help me now" prayer by bringing me a sudden calm in my own spirit or having someone speak something to me that directly addressed my fear.  The person could not have known but He did.  And these actions on the Lord's part brought me peace.

If you are feeling fear at all today, take heart.  Listen to the voice of the Lord.  He is saying to you, "Do not be afraid."  Just seek me.  I know your needs.  I know my plans for your life.  I'm greater than those who are against you.  I have more for you than you can even imagine.  Do you believe this?  If so, let My peace overwhelm you.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What We Treasure

I have a little box in my closet.  In it are treasures of various kinds, mementos of people, events, and places that to others may not seem significant. But because of the impact those "things" represent in my life, I treasure them.  They are safely guarded in order to be revisited.

As the shepherds departed to tell everyone what they had "seen and heard" about this child and other people wondered about it all, Mary did something different.  Here is what Luke tells us:

8 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

It says she took what was happening and preserved it in the treasure chest of her heart.  That is what mother's do with their children.  They treasure each life step for them.  But it says she was also pondering these things.  It means she added this event to the internal discussion she was having about her Son.  The angel said she would bear God's Son.  Now the shepherds spoke of another angelic visit.  Later it would be the Magi.  Then at His dedication at the temple more than a month later Anna and Simeon would speak about Him to His parents.  Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was said about Him.  And Mary was told that her own soul would be pierced one day.  

A dozen years later they came to the Temple from Nazareth for one of the Jewish festivals and lost Jesus for a couple days.  They finally found Him in the Temple courts interacting with the Jewish teachers.  The teachers were amazed, taken back, by His understanding at such a young age.  When Mary chastised Jesus for causing such concern for her and His father, He asked a question.  "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?"  You can read about all this in Luke 2 here.

It says once again that Mary took this incident and tucked it away in the treasure chest of her heart.  She kept adding to the conversation, savoring the reality that this Son of hers was really the Son of the Most High God just as the angel had said.  She was a mother treasuring the moments of her child but she was most importantly a servant who was treasuring the graciousness of her Lord.

It would be two decades later at a wedding in Cana that a problem arose for the hosts of the feast.  Mary presented the problem to Jesus.  They needed more wine and she asked Him to help.  She turns to the servants and tells them to do whatever He asked.  Where did she get such confidence that He could pull off the miraculous?  She had revisited her treasure chest over and over again.

What do you treasure in your heart?  What do you store away that is of value, that contributes to the internal conversations about your life?  Those treasures define us.

While we may treasure some "things" associated with our lives, the most important treasure must be our worship of the Son of God.  I encourage you to open your heart today and ponder with amazement what He has done in your life.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Grace and Truth

Joseph and Mary

The Gospel of John states, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

But grace and truth are not seen just in Jesus at Christmas. When Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant and finds it difficult to receive her explanation, listen to the description given in the Scriptures about him and his actions:

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, planned to send her away secretly.  Matthew 1:19

Joseph was righteous and wanted to do what was right according to the law.  She had violated their marriage vows.  But love demanded that he not seek to destroy her.  So he was planning to exercise grace in dealing with her.  Truth and grace.  And when God intervenes through the angel to confirm Mary's story, he readily takes her home as his wife and does not have relations with her until after Jesus was born.  His desire was God's desires.  He listened to Him.

There is a developed and continuing pattern today among people who call themselves Christians. It shows itself in the lauding of sermons, books and blogs about the grace of God while condemning as legalism any time truth is spoken about the sinful actions of our lives. Christ came to free us and guide us into truth. He Himself would tell Pilate later that those who are on the side of truth listen to Him. (John 18:37)

Because of the continuing epidemic of unrepentant sin among Christians, some wonder if it is worth sacrificially being a Christ-follower at all. And the good news today is "YES." Mary was pure and had a great reputation in heaven. Joseph was righteous, and full of grace, open to all that God desired. They were used of God because they were on His side, the side of truth. They listened to Him. So they were in a position to be used by Him.

God is so amazing. He is willing and desirous to show grace to all, no matter how deep our sin. But grace is given so that we can and will lead a life in truth. And those who walk in truth will be used mightily of the Lord, just as Mary and Joseph were.
Zechariah and Elizabeth fit this category too. We could name countless numbers of people through the centuries that sacrificially served Christ when their contemporaries did not and God highly honored and used them. How about you?

Christmas is an annual reminder that grace and truth are eternally connected and you can't claim one without living in the other.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Looking for Peace?

Peace.  When I hear the word there is a calm that comes over me.  It is soothing.  Peace is turning off all the noise.  Peace is having all the yelling and screaming stop.  Peace is freedom from the fear that something terrible is about to happen.  Peace is a gentle breeze caressing your face while you listen to the gurgling of a bubbling brook.  Peace is staring at the serene look on a baby's face while they sleep.  Peace.  We long for it.  We cherish the moments we enjoy it.  We search for it.

There is an inescapable place where the absence of peace is deadly.  It is in that cauldron of our soul.  External surroundings cannot soothe its churning long term.  Ultimately it is the struggle of defiance and independence from its Creator.  For some it is expressed in guilt and shame.  For others, it is ruthless self-defining.  But for all it is a desperate need for peace and resolution.  The funny thing is that when there is peace in the soul there is a sense of peace everywhere.

There was an idyllic scene suddenly interrupted one night.  It happened in a field where some shepherds were carefully watching over their flocks, keeping the lions and bears at bay.  An angel showed up with some news.  Said it was good news of great joy.  And he told them about the birth.  You know the story.  But it is what immediately follows that can help us today.  Here is the account in the Scriptures:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

A heavenly host was an angel army.  The army was not at war with men but rather was praising God.  Why?  Listen to the connection.  God was being praised in the highest, to the greatest extent, and it was because He was providing a means of peace for those who would experience His pleasure.  The King James says, "Peace, good will toward men."  It is God's purpose and pleasure, His will,  to provide a means by which those He created can walk in the peace and joy for which He created us.  To be at peace with Him.  And when we are at peace with Him, we can be at peace with one another and most importantly find peace within ourselves.  

Later it would be written, For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,  1 Timothy 2:5

Are you experiencing peace today?  It is possible but only through living in relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who has been called the Prince of Peace.  The good news for us today is that His peace is an everlasting peace.  I'm grateful we can experience that in the midst of a world that seemingly has no peace.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace........  Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Ever have a confidence issue?  Me too.  Funny how it affects you.  Because there is so much you don't know you can become indecisive and play it safe.  Dreams fade.  Risk is a stranger.  And life shrinks.  If only there was a way to see into the future?

Most of us who know the Lord would say that He sees and knows.  I was rereading parts of the Christmas story again and it got me thinking.  The angel shows up and tells Joseph to get out of Bethlehem and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is about to search for Jesus to kill Him.  Interesting, Herod had not made that decision quite yet.  After Herod dies, the angel appears and tells Joseph it is safe to return.  When Joseph gets back to Judea he sees that Herod's son who is like his Dad is ruling in  that area so Joseph settles the family in Nazareth.  The Scriptures say that both those incidents fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah.  You can read Matthew 2:13-23 here.

That got me thinking.  How many events, decisions, and actions did God not only know but guide and direct through history that were fulfilled in Jesus' life, death and resurrection?  So I did some checking.  One site lists 354 prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus.  You can read it here.  CBN did an article regarding the over 300 prophecies fulfilled in Jesus and the likelihood of that many being fulfilled in one person is astronomical.  48 of them being fulfilled is 1 in 10 to the 157th power.  The likelihood of all 300+?  Well, its Jesus.  Read the article for yourself here.

We are not the Messiah and there aren't over 300 prophecies about us.  But there are the promises of God for us.  And the same God who brought all those prophecies to fulfillment in Jesus is still governing history in such a way to make sure that all His promises are fulfilled for us.  And in light of that we can live confidently.  Our confidence is not in ourselves but in knowing Him and allowing Him to direct our steps.  What we don't know today, He does.  What we can't do, He can.

So live confidently.  The Lord cares just as much about you and His plans for your life as He did and does about His Son.  That, is an amazing thought.  Do you believe that?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

There's More to The Story

Tower of the Flock - Migdal Eder
God never wastes an action.  Everything He does has meaning and purpose.  The moment Jesus was born carried significance regarding His mission, including where He was born.

Most of us have heard the prophecy from Micah 5:2 that was quoted by the priests when Herod asked where the Messiah was to be born.  In Bethlehem.  But did you know there was another prophecy in Micah.  It is Micah 4:8:  As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold[a] of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”

So Messiah was going to be born, not just in Bethlehem, but in the "watchtower of the flock," or Migdal Eder.  This was a tower that was used to watch over the flocks but included an area with a manger where shepherds would inspect the sheep.  This was especially true for shepherds in the area of Bethlehem because they were not ordinary shepherds but those who raised lambs to be used in the Temple sacrifices.

Genesis 35:16-21 puts the location of Migdal Eder just beyond Rachel's tomb, which is at the edge of modern Bethlehem.  Why is this so important?

First, the shepherd's knew where to go because they went to the place where lambs were inspected and a part of the process was to wrap them in cloths so they would not blemish themselves.  The sacrificial lambs must be without spot or blemish.  The angel's words, "you will find the babe wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,"  told them where to go.

Second, they were accustomed to inspecting and declaring the lambs to be fit.  So when they went out from seeing Jesus and "spread the word" concerning what they had seen and been told, they were letting people know that the Lamb of God had been born, a perfect male lamb.

You can read more about this in a book by Alfred Edersheim called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  What is the good news for us?

God doesn't waste anything in life, even the difficult things.  That is why it says "He works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes."  Romans 8:28

So whatever you have or are experiencing in life, God is going to use in some way for good.  And He will receive glory in how He does it.  So take heart.  God can even use _____________ (fill in the blank) to bring about something good ultimately.  And that can bring us hope in the midst of the storms.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Gift That Keeps Growing

The Magi that came to see Jesus do so because they "saw His star in the east" and came to worship Him.  God used an angel army to extend a birth announcement to the shepherds who were close by.  Now He uses the stars to give an invitation to a group of people who are far away. The whole account is amazing.  In fact, there is a presentation we did at the church last night about the star of Bethlehem that makes it even more incredible.  If you want to check it out, here is a link for the site:

Since the creation of the Hubble Telescope, the vastness of the universe has been opened up to our understanding in a way that it never was before.  There are not just millions of stars but millions of galaxies like our own Milky Way.  And the Scriptures say:

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
                            Psalm 147:4

There are some gifts that we receive at Christmas that are wonderful and we enjoy them and they have a life span of days, weeks or years.  But when we receive Jesus, the One through whom all things were made and without Him was nothing made that has been made, that gift just keep growing.  We walk out on a clear night, and the "heavens declare the glory of God."  So this God, who holds in His hand every one of these universes, cares for us individually.  He is great and we are small.  He is powerful and we are weak.  He is worthy and we are humbled.  And the more we spend time seeking Him the greater, more vast, more powerful and more worthy He becomes.

What does the vastness of the night sky say to you?

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Full Picture

Pictures and videos can take up a lot of space on our devices.  Yet everything from selfies of our visits to favorite spots or Christmas family photos are part of our story.  They give us glimpses of our lives in moments.  And all we have to do to get a fuller picture of our life is to look at the pictures along the way.  One scene tells only a part of the story.  The whole album makes life more clear.

Memory books serve as a reminder
That is what I find when I read through the first chapters of Matthew and Luke.  There are the genealogies of Jesus.  Those pictures are filled with fabled stories, some good, some not so good.  They are also filled with names with no detail.  Unknowns.  There are the pictures of Gabriel meeting with Zechariah, Mary and Joseph.  On the videos of those events you hear encouragements, detailed plans and reminders of promises.  And the birth videos for John and Jesus are joyful parties.  Celebrations are a vital part of life for us.

Perhaps the most helpful parts for me are the music videos.  Ok, on paper we only have the lyrics but my sanctified imagination can hear and see the video.  It is filled with images of God's actions throughout history along with the lyrics.  And what is the main thrust of the songs?  You can read them in Luke 1 (In fact I suggest you stop and do that now.)  Here are some themes:

1.  God is mindful of the frailness of His creation and does great things on our behalf.
2.  God has demonstrated mercy to those who fear Him throughout generations.
3.  God is just in how He handles everyone.
4.  God always fulfills His promises.
5.  God is in the business of redeeming us and enabling us to serve Him.
6.  God will forgive our sins and lead us in the path of peace.

Faithfulness.  Deliverance.  A Mighty God.  Merciful.  Able.  Mindful of us.  Just.  That is the complete picture of our God's family album.

The good news for us today is that we have an opportunity.  If you took a selfie right now, today, what would that snap shot look like?  If you say it is great, then join with Mary and Zechariah and produce a praise video (it can be a prayer of thanksgiving if you don't want to make the video) that worships the Lord for His faithfulness to you and how you see His hand bringing about great blessings to you.  If your situation is a little more troubled right now, take some time to look back through the family album.  Remind yourself that while there have been some difficult times, God has always been faithful, delivering, mighty, providing, able, close to the heart of the troubled, and merciful.  You can trust Him.  And once reminded, praise Him for how He will deliver you in the midst of what you are facing right now.

A Christmas gift for your family may be to put together an album or pull one out and tell the story of God's faithfulness to you as a family.  How do you think it would affect your unsaved relatives if you did a little project like that?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Don't Let Your Religion Get In The Way

There is a fascinating picture in the Christmas story that has always puzzled me.  In fact, it scares me and troubles me.  The Magi travel a long distance to seek out this newly born King of the Jews.  As they arrive in the territory of Judea, they went to the logical place to find a new king.  They go to the palace.  They assumed the current king's family just had a baby.  Little did they know they were talking to the disturbed maniac who would eventually try to assassinate the new king.  But that is another story.

The disturbing part to me is that when the Magi inquire as to the whereabouts of the new King, Herod calls for the religious leaders. Here is the account from Matthew 2:

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”

These were the people's religious leaders and they knew immediately the answer to the question.  But they were missing the birth of their Messiah.  They were too busy being religious that they missed God.  These same people would later plot against Jesus to try and kill Him because He threatened their position of religious importance and influence.

Is it possible today that there are many people who deem themselves "religious" but are missing God?  That is what scares me.  I know it to be true.  It is possible to be very involved in a religious system and yet miss the very One you supposedly are looking for.

The good new today is that as you read through the Gospels there were a number of people among the religious leaders who truly heard Jesus and followed Him.  We don't have to remain blinded by our own religious importance.

Do you consider yourself religious or one who is seeking Him who has been born King of the Jews (and Gentiles)?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Power of a Child

Janessa Grace Krueger
This is our newest granddaughter, Janessa. She survived our recent family picture taking adventure by.....sleeping.  Even as she was being posed between her siblings and cousin she seemed oblivious to her rapidly sinking sitting arrangement.  Nor did she mind or even know about the huge flower growing out of the side of her head.  She simply slept at peace.

 There is something almost paradoxical about a child.  They are absolutely dependent and vulnerable yet they hold great power over those who love and care for them.  Perhaps its the idea that their condition reminds us of the vulnerabilities and helplessness we can feel inside.  As they grow, their interactions with the world around them, their joy and laughter; their insatiable explorations; their wonder about simple things; brings us all back to the essence of life.  In the end, despite our efforts to control and master our lives, we are all as needy and vulnerable as a child in the face of all that is important in our world.  And eternal.....

The power of child-likeness.  I wonder if that is why God chose that means to identify with us by stepping into His creation as a baby.  Isaiah put it this way:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,

  The One who spoke the world into existence and holds it together by His own power became a baby.  He entrusted Himself into the hands of those whom He formed in wombs of their mothers.  And Luke says that as they cared for Him in his formative years that He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with man.  (Luke 2:52)  And once He began to teach, He said that unless we come to His Kingdom like a little child, we will never enter into it.

This will be a fun Christmas for us as we watch the little ones find as much enjoyment in the bows and boxes as they do what is inside them.  But my prayer is that we can feel our need to be just like them.  Innocent. Unpretentious; Dependent; and Loving.  Charles Wesley wrote of the end game of all this in his hymn "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Do you enjoy the peace of a sleeping child in the midst of the chaos around you like Janessa?  Jesus came as a child, lived as an obedient Son to both His earthly parents and Heavenly Father, died and rose again, in order to restore child-like qualities in all of us.  And the good news is that we all can experience that this Christmas.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Listening to God's voice

Pam and I are no different than you.  There are times I just don't listen to her (her take) or hear her (my take).  Either way, I miss it.  She feels, and at times it is probably true, I allow other things to distract me and I listen to them rather than her.   She is gracious towards me, but I would save some heartache if I'd take time away from the distractions.  Listening breeds true relationship and joy.

The Christmas story reminds me of how important listening is.  Mary is shocked when an angel appears and tells her she is going to bear God's Son.  Details about Him including His name are given.  She asks a procedural question (How can I have a baby when I am a virgin?)  But she does not allow her lack of understanding to distract her.  She humbly submits to be used of the Lord and spends her life pondering amazing things in her heart.

Grotto over Mary's Home in Nazareth
Joseph was in a very difficult spot.  He had a fiancee who tells him she is pregnant but not to a man but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That is hard to swallow.  The same angel shows up and affirms her story and gives Joseph the same details, including His name.  Joseph was not distracted by what will certainly be social ridicule and embarrassment.  He takes Mary home as his wife and does not have relations with her until after Jesus is born.  After the birth, he is told in a dream to take the child immediately and leave to preserve His life from King Herod.  Out of jealousy Herod was going to have all baby boys two years of age and younger killed.  Joseph listens and spares Jesus' life.  God pays for the trip by gifts that had been brought to them by the Magi.  Joseph listens once again when the way is clear to return home from Egypt.  But he wisely chose to head north to Nazareth rather than stay in Bethlehem.  By listening this time, it all fulfills prophecies made about the Messiah.  These obedient acts were part of the proof of who Jesus was and is.

Today I want us to be encouraged by a couple things.  First, God knows how to communicate with us.  He uses His Word, dreams, impressions and other means to do so.  The exciting thing is that He wants to communicate.

Second, it is clear from Christmas that when we stop the distractions and truly listen to the Lord, He will involve us in some of the most amazing events and opportunities.  He will protect, provide and direct.  And we will be blessed through it all.

How well do you do at listening?  Or do you allow all the noise of this world to distract you?  I encourage you this Christmas to be still, and listen, and see what He has to say to you.  You will be blessed and amazed by what you hear.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What's Around Us?

Ever  feel insignificant?  I have.  I watch the achievements of people around me and I'm amazed.  I could never do anything like them or be a part of something as significant as what they are doing.  So I shrink into the landscape and just do what I do each day.

Shepherd's Field adjacent to Bethlehem
That may be how the shepherds felt.  They helped raise the lambs that were slaughtered for the sacrifices at the Temple.  But because of what they did they were not even allowed to go near the Temple when they delivered their lambs.  They were considered unclean.  Outcasts.  Looked down upon by the religious elites.  So they spent their lives under the stars praising and worshiping God. And they joined in heart with other people of faith in desiring to see their Messiah come.

A well in the Shepherd's Field
Suddenly, the sky lit up and a whole angel army filled it.  Where did they come from?  They never experienced that before.  And the head angel tells them that they came to tell them good news of great joy that will be for everyone.  They had never seen angels before.  But they were there.  The shepherds had not felt that they were significant before, but God was choosing them to proclaim that His Son had been born.  And they were invited to go and see.  They did.  And it says that they returned rejoicing and praising God for all that they had seen just as it had been told them.  Notice it wasn't the religious elites that got the invite.  God chose simple folks to share the news.

Later, the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Our significance is found in Jesus, not in comparison with other people.  If no one else thinks we are significant or gifted or special, God does.  God places high value on people who know they are foolish, weak, lowly and despised.  It is in them that He can display His power, wisdom and strength.

Two thoughts for the day:

1.   No matter how you feel in comparison to others, you are significant to the Lord who created you.

2.  God is always surrounding us with powerful servants who do His bidding even when we don't see them.  He says they encamp around those who fear Him.  So when you feel isolated, alone, overwhelmed or fearful, you have angels watching over you.

How significant are you feeling today?  What are you basing your significance on?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Can you hear the tune?  "O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.......  I wonder how often we deceive ourselves into believing that the world in which Mary and Joseph were living was idyllic and pastoral, almost like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Or worse yet we may think it a fairy tale made up by weak people for weak people.  If it did exist, it could not have been as tense, violent, or stress-filled as today.  Or could it?

Much as the picture above, Bethlehem would have been a crowded place.  Life was lived under an occupying army.  The government insisted on a forced census, causing a lady who was about to deliver her first child to make an arduous journey by donkey and on foot.  The group with which they traveled probably spent time speaking of the economic hardships they were facing; desires to see the current government overthrown; and perhaps even the idea that God must not care about them at all. How could He allow such things to take place if He really existed?  And there would have been distinctive conflicts between people from different religious persuasions.  The tall structure in this picture is a Muslim minaret and if the camera was turned the other way, you would see the Church of the Nativity,  built over the place where tradition says Jesus was born.  Very stark contrasts and real tensions.

So our world is not so different.  And while their world was much like ours, into the darkness of that night was born one who would be called the Prince of Peace and Light of the World.  The Word who created the world was coming into it.  Isaiah the prophet said much more:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Peace.  What a wonderful thought.  What a sought after goal.  Yet in the midst of the chaos of their world and ours, it is possible to experience being in the company of the Prince of Peace. And this peace will never end because the One who provides it will reign forever more.  He will accomplish all this.

So this Advent season, how is your level of peace?  I'm not suggesting you can and will live without conflict.  For that you would have to leave this world.  I do know you can experience His peace even in the midst of any conflict you encounter.  So how much at peace are you?