Luke 2- It is finished

The text of Luke 2 will be read this coming weekend in thousands of churches around the world. This portion of Scripture is one of my dearest. Growing up it was read at each Christmas Eve before dinner, before presents, before church. Our family gathered to remember why we were together that night.  It was to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus. It was the beginning of the New Covenant, the Hope from Heaven had come down.

It was also the end. The end of the enemy’s tyranny over mankind. We now had the offer of salvation. Isaiah 9:2, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. There was now an answer for sorrow, for regret. We could know that the wrongs would be righted, the tears would be replaced with Joy. All of this was possible through the birth of Jesus. The baby born in obscurity, miles from any throne room, born as the King, not into the role, but holding the position of King as He was born.

Jesus was described by Simeon (Luke 2:30-32) as the Lord’s “salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus’ birth was the beginning of hope for all humanity. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:10-12 a). 

It was through this little babe that death would lose the grip it held (1 Corinthians 15:53-55, Isaiah 25:8, Hosea 13:14). As the old hymn, This Little Babe So Few Days Old by Robert Southwell (c. 1561- c. 1595) states:

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold doth shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.

A friend recently posted a perfect image of this beginning and end. I do not know the creator of the image, but study it and rejoice in this truth that our joy comes from the birth of Jesus and the death of sorrow. 

 

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das brot- the bread

One of the Christmas traditions in my family includes making breads and cookies to share with extended family. Ginger snaps and sugar cookies from Grandma O, caramels from my mom, and cardamom coffee cake from my great-grandma E. The spicy, sweet smell of this bread heralds in the season in my family.

The recipe has been handed down to my grandma, then to my mom, and now to me. My mom has the recipe in great grandma E’s handwriting and it is a treasure to us. There is no shortcut for this recipe, it takes time and attention to make a successful batch.

Our Christian walk is the same way. We must be intentional about what we add to our lives and what cannot be substituted. It takes time to grow, to absorb the nutrients our soul needs, and to develop into the very person of God we were made to become.

There is a tendency to try to appear more successful and established than we may actually be. We try to shortcut what it takes to meet the requirements. Fast money, quick solutions, immediate success, a kind of drive thru mentality. This walk with Christ is anything but instant. The Bread of Life brings us fulfillment, but it’s a multi-course meal that takes time and preparation.

Jesus said He was the Bread of Life (John 6:33, 35, 48, 51) and as such, we would no longer be hungry. The hunger He would satiate would be long term. It is something that cannot be eaten quickly, gobbled up and then forgotten. This bread Jesus offers is rich, savory, filling, and perfect for us. A kind of bread requires time. Time to mature, to rise, to grow.

Let us remember that anything that is good is worth waiting for, anticipating, and celebrating. Just like we celebrate Advent in the Christmas season, we can celebrate the Bread in our life that will never leave us hungry again.

 

 

 

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Breathing in

I was diagnosed with asthma this week. As much as it disappoints me, it also explains why I am winded so easily. I thought it was my age, but it’s actually my lungs. The pulmonary doctor showed me how the tiny, bronchiole parts of my lungs which carry oxygen to the farthest parts of my lungs weren’t doing their job, like a half-inflated balloon trying to rise to the ceiling.

It made me think of those in our world who have yet to hear or understand the amazing love and grace offered by God to everyone. It could be a people group deep in the Amazon or the neighbor across the street. We are to carry the life-giving message to them. But how can we carry what we do not have it ourselves? We may be telling others we are believers, but if we aren’t drawing in the life-giving air from Heaven, how would they know?

Dear Ones, when we breathe in the Holy Spirit, the very essence of God, we are inviting Him into the places in our heart, our day, our lives, where we need Him most. We are asking Him to take our struggles and calm them, our worries and comfort them. Therefore, when we breathe out, we will be living examples of the goodness of God. His faithfulness and mercies.

Paul explained this in Ephesians 1:11-14, We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory (bold mine).

The idea of breathing in and breathing out is integral to our faith. God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and Jesus breathed His last on the Cross (Mark 15:37). These two events culminate the bedrock of what we believe. With God we have life, without Jesus there is no life. We breathe in what God offers us and we breathe out what Jesus did for us.

Matt Redman’s song, Your Grace Finds Me, is a beautiful description of this give and take we have as believers. May you be encouraged by his words today.

There in the darkest night of the soul
There in the sweetest songs of victory
Your grace finds me
Yes your grace finds me

Your great grace
Oh such grace
Your great grace
Oh such grace

So I’m breathing in Your grace
And breathing out Your praise
I’m breathing in Your grace
Forever I’ll be

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Every, some, any, no

While many people are thinking of carols, presents, and festive gatherings, Christmas makes me think of salvation and Easter. Jesus very reason for living on this earth was to bring salvation to everyone willing to accept it. The salvation He offered and still offers today is not based on a person’s social status, monetary worth, or political standings. Salvation is offered to those who are willing to be humble and submit to the truth that Heaven cannot be attained without accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. He is the key to Heaven’s gates, nothing else will open them.

Some people who heard Jesus’ preaching embraced it immediately, knowing how much His invitation to a different way of life would change them and heal their broken places (Matthew 9:12-13). Others heard His message and scoffed at it. To accept His view of Heaven and the access He said everyone had to His Father went against all of the teaching and laws they upheld (Matthew 9:1-3).

Anyone who hears the news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection and chooses to accept the grace and mercy He offers to them is welcome into Heaven itself (Luke 23:43, Revelation 2:7). As I said before, the salvation that comes through Christ is not based on who we are, what we do, where we live, it is based on what Christ has already done on the Cross (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Before anyone thinks that Heaven is available through any other means than Christ remember that no one other than Jesus has fulfilled the Biblical prophesies spoken about Him, some written 800 years before He was born. The probability of which is astronomical. Let me put it this way:

1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies: Only Jesus!

Taken from http://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/biblical-prophecies-fulfilled-by-jesus

 When I look at Christmas, I think about this fact. Everyone has access to Jesus, Some will accept salvation through Him and some will not. Anyone who thinks that Heaven is accessible through another route is only fooling themselves. No one else, but Jesus, Dear Ones, no one else can, has, or will fulfill the prophesies of Christ, except for Christ Himself. Christmas holds so much more than carols, presents, festivities, and a tree. It points to the Son of God on the Cross- the Tree- dying for you and for me.

The question comes then, what will you do with the Jesus of Christmas? Will you leave Him as the cute baby in the manger, the little doll to put away after the holidays are over? Will you embrace His offer of eternal life? His offer of mercy, love, forgiveness, grace, and restorative healing that only comes through His sacrifice. Jesus holds it out to you today, it’s a question of whether you will accept it or dismiss it.

(for more information, check out the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel)

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let your heart be light

 

As it gets closer to December 25th I am steeping myself in the holiday traditions I have built over the years. Christmas movies, baking favorite treats that have been passed down over the generations, listening to classic Christmas music, it’s been delightful. The sights, smells, and sounds have filled my soul in places I didn’t know were empty.

Some of the posts on my social media are filled with pictures of decorations, families gathered together, celebrating traditions of their own. Other posts are full of sadness and despair, regret and sorrow. Many do not see this time of year as joyous, but instead something to endure and count the days until it’s over.

When Jesus was being expected to fulfill the prophecies from the Old Testament, one of the descriptions of Him was that He was the Light. Isaiah is full of verses about the Light of God, (see Isaiah 42:6, 42:16, 51:4, 58:8, 60:19-20). God’s holiness comes in light a searchlight, seeking the lost and the broken, calling them to safety, to restoration, calling them home.

The first thing God created was light (Genesis 1:3). Why? It is the image of His holiness. His purity and goodness, through God all things are seen. We can recognize what must be avoided, what must be approached, what must be embraced. It is the Light of the World we turn to now who will show us the way to walk.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest, (Isaiah 9:1-3a).

My prayer, Dear Ones, for all of us is that our hearts would embrace the Light of the World, not just during this season, but all year long. We are to be the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).

May we shine brightly for all the world to see.

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bearing fruit

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—  the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace (Colossians 1:3-6). 

Do you remember the day when God’s grace finally started to make sense to you? Did it wash over you? Did it move you to tears? Shouts of Joy? Silent amazement? All of the above? Accepting Christ’s sacrifice in my place overwhelmed me to tears. It still does. God has given me something I could not ever access or create on my own. Salvation comes only through Christ and the Cross, when I allow myself to think about it, I find myself shaking my head at that kind of love.

When my faith grew and I had traveled with Jesus for a while longer, I came to see that His grace for me didn’t just cover the brokenness and sin of my past. His grace covered my unbelief in times of turmoil, my pain when His plans didn’t match mine. I saw how His grace met me when I failed in an area I thought I had beaten. His grace met me in my sorrow when I lost family members or friends.

My faith grew when His grace met me and it bore fruit as I was able to celebrate the ways God showed up. Over the years, I have shared stories with others and they have shared stories with me about the ways God’s grace was enough for them. It has spurred me on when I have struggled and the same for them. When we share stories it gives the glory to God and it reminds us of His great goodness. It’s the same reason stones would be gathered to make a memorial in the Old Testament for a miracle God performed. To help us celebrate Him and to help us teach our children about God’s goodness and trustworthiness.

Best Beloved, who encouraged you when you were beginning your journey with Christ? Whose testimony planted the seeds or helped grow the faith within you? Who are you encouraging today? Are you sharing your story with others when God shows His grace in your life? When we tell others of the goodness of God we help them find the hope they may have lost, the courage they forgot they had. We who have been blessed by God’s grace become a blessing to others.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2).

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fickle hearts and the Cross

During this Christmas season, one would think that drawing near to Christ was easy. There are concerts, gatherings, gift-exchanges, cookie exchanges, craft shows, the annual production of the Nutcracker, and of course, Church services. How can a person miss Christ? Simply by being too busy. Dear Ones, in our attempt to find perfection in the holiday, filling our schedules with good things, we miss the simplicity of the season.

Instead of our hearts growing three sizes like the Grinch, we find our hearts becoming fickle. Our overcrowded schedules make us cranky, we start criticizing, and we turn away from the peace the season is said to bring. While I am not suggesting to do away with all of the festivities, I do offer the perspective of selecting only one or two things in which to participate. Selecting the best from the good, the decision to be present with your family and friends instead of trying for perfection.

Growing up we had two outside traditions during the holiday season. My mom, grandmother, brother, and I would take the commuter train into Chicago the day after Thanksgiving to see the window displays in the stores along State Street. Afterward, we would go to Marshall Fields to eat in the Walnut Room under the Christmas tree. It is one of the sweetest parts of my childhood. There were chestnut vendors on the corners, carolers dressed in Victorian costumes strolling the sidewalks. The people we passed were hustling, but still courteous. It set the mood for the holiday season.

Then on another day, usually during Christmas break, the four of us would drive back into the city to attend a performance of the Nutcracker at the McCormick Center. The whole idea of these traditions were to build the anticipation of Christmas, like I wrote about yesterday, It’s beginning to look a lot like. . .

Best Beloved, at the end of this Christmas season, reflect back and think of the things that brought you the sweetest joy. What made you a bit crazy? Are these things that can be adjusted or removed entirely from the Christmas agenda you have each year? The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas hold opportunities to rest, reflect, and reset your focus before the new year. When we keep busy we don’t allow the Lord to come into our hearts, much like the innkeeper who had no room.

Sweet friend, allow yourself room for exhaling, being still. Even if it means sitting in the car in the garage for a minute or two before taking in the groceries. Close your eyes, breathe in and out and ask God to meet you where you are. Ask Him to open your eyes to see the joy of the season. The joy of the Reason. Just invite Jesus in, let Him give you rest.

Blessings.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like. . .

There are only three weeks until Christmas Day. The snow is no where to be found and the temperature this morning was 61 degrees. It’s hard to imagine the postcard images of snow covered pine trees and ice skaters skimming the frozen pond. Over the years I have experienced Christmas where the snow was in deep drifts and where there was no snow at all. The thing that made it Christmas was not the weather, but the company I had around me.

Silliness and games with my maternal grandparents on Christmas Eve were common. My cousins gathered with me around Grandma and Grandpa W.’s table on Christmas Day, enjoying turkey and laughter. Each evening ending with a candlelight service at each of my grandparents’ churches. There is something about this season that makes me wistful for the things of the past, movies, stories, laughter, people who are no longer with me.

As my sons start on their personal journeys into adulthood, I find myself wondering what they will remember. Will they recall the times they played in my parents’ backyard all bundled up? Will they remember the time we went to Colorado expecting tons of snow, but instead we were greeted by 60 mile an hour winds on the mountain that lifted my father-in-law right off his feet? Do they remember sledding down the hill across from our farm in Illinois?

What makes this holiday season stand out over all the holidays in a year? In a word, hope.  Christmas brings an expectancy. The hope for time together as a family, the hope for the perfect present under the tree. The hope found in the manger that first Christmas morning two millennia ago. It is the Advent period that precedes Christmas. A sense of expectancy, excitement, hope, and anticipation for the arrival of the Savior of the World (Luke 2:11, John 4:42).

As the 25th of December approaches, it is beginning to look a lot like hope, joy, healing, peace, mercy, and grace all coming together in one event– the birth of Jesus.

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.
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. ~Isaiah 9:6-7

This is the promise of Christ written 800 years before His birth. Talk about advent! Isaiah was given a glimpse of the hope, the future, the perfection that would come in Christ’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Now here we are, 2000 years after Christ’s birth and we still anticipate the day we celebrate His birth.

Best Beloved, as the days diminish between today and the 25th, I pray you will prepare your hearts to receive Him once again. No matter whether your Christmas gathering includes extended family, your immediate family, snow, wind, or balmy weather, may you anticipate and celebrate Jesus, Dear Ones. 

Merriest of Christmases, to you and yours.

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the locker room

Growing up with a football coach as a dad, I knew that the locker room was the place to be if you wanted to know the truth about the team. Before the game, at half time, and post-game the coaches, players, athletic trainers and other support staff would gather together to discuss strategy and reassess plays made in the first half. At the end they would gather to discuss and review what had worked, what had not worked, and what must be improved before the next game. If you weren’t on the team, you were not allowed into the locker room. It was for the team and coaches/staff only.

When I think of missionaries and even soldiers, I imagine a gathering like the one in the players’ locker room. The leaders and commanding officers give wisdom, direction, correction, and insight to those who are preparing to go out into the field and onto the battlefield. When the missionaries go out to the field to serve, in this country or another one, they are going to lean on and remember the guidance they received in their “locker room” talks. Soldiers are going to remember what they were taught and trained to do as well.

Second Timothy 2:1-7 covers this so well: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

In other words, Dear Ones, when we are gathered in the locker rooms with our Heavenly Coach, we must be focused on His teaching, His direction, His correction, so we are ready when it is time to go out on the field again. Therefore, when the team gathers in the locker room it is for only a specific period of time. The players must leave the locker room so they can go to the field, the missionaries to serve, the soldiers to battle. There are those who would rather stay in the locker room gathering the knowledge but never implementing in and putting it into action.

Best Beloved, do not get too comfortable in the locker rooms. Remember, a locker room is there for getting ready, reviewing, and correcting our actions, not for long term life.

So, let’s get ready and then let’s hit the fields.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field,” (Matthew 9:35-38).

 

 

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one another

I have struggled with writing this post due to the subject matter. I have been sickened and crushed by the news as person after person comes forward to report offensive behavior.  My heart hurts for those who have been assaulted, the families of the perpetrators and victims. It is overwhelming to me. In the past weeks my social media was full of #metoo from many corners, some I would never have expected.

When God created intimacy in the Garden of Eden it was intended for building and rebuilding the unity between husband and wife. The Fall came (Genesis 3) and one of the first things I believe the enemy did was start to twist the purpose of intimacy. Over the centuries one can track the use of intimacy to control, manipulate, and threaten others. I am not pointing fingers at any one person or entity, it’s one of the battles we face this side of Heaven and on the other side of the Fall.

So, what is a believer to do? How can we battle the enemy when it comes to twisted intimacy? First, foremost, and always– pray. We need to pray for ourselves, those we love, those who are in harm’s way, and yes, those who are perpetrating the harm. Prayer for open hearts and eyes, humility and honesty to confess the troubles being faced, the troubles we’d rather keep in the dark. Dear Ones, we know that when the troubles we face come into the Light of Jesus, they take their true form and can be dealt with through His power and grace.

The next step regarding the twisted intimacy is to speak up, stand up, and do it with an attitude of mercy ( Ephesians 4:2). We are not to judge, condemn, or scold anyone. We are to love them, right where they are- in a crumpled mess on the floor or even standing in defiance. We are to love them. We are not saying we like what is happening, not approve it. But to recognize that love has the power to change- especially love given through the Cross (1 Peter 1:22).

Scripture is clear we are to love one another as Christ has loved us. Sacrificially, with mercy and grace, humility, in His truth. The enemy wants to destroy anything and everything that God declared as good. Intimacy is definitely on the top of his list. Only through the Holy Spirit power will we be able to battle against the enemy.

Let us encourage those who are speaking out in truth about hurts that have been too long in the darkness. Let us stand up, stand beside, take their hand, love and pray, support and believe that truth-telling is needed for redemption and restoration to begin. Just as when we confessed our own sins (1 John 1:9) we knew it was the first step toward redemption, so too is the “confession” of the hurts.

Let us reclaim the intimacy God created and let it be holy and sacred again, redeemed through the Cross.

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