Archive for the “Christmas” Category

Christmas is such a magical time of year. The snow glistens as it falls during the day and glows as it falls at night. Homes and businesses are decorated in celebration. People seem friendlier and more joyful.

For the Christian, though, it goes beyond decorations and magical snow falls. It’s not just a magical time of year, it’s a miraculous time of year. It’s the time of year in which we remember and celebrate the miracle of Jesus and the message of Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season. Jesus is the Christ in Christmas – without Jesus there would be no reason to celebrate.

Today  I want us to step back from the Christmas story we’re most familiar with and see what came before it. We’re going to look at what was foretold about Jesus 700 years before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and Joseph. 700 years before the birth of Jesus in the manger God gave Isaiah a message about Jesus. Isaiah prophecied this:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

The story of Jesus didn’t start with His birth or when the Angel visited Mary. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that told the Hebrews – the Jews – that a Messiah, or Savior, would come. It was knowing that a Messiah was promised to them – promised by a God who is faithful – it was this promised Messiah that gave the Jews hope, even during very difficult and dark times.

This verse in Isaiah is one of those prophecies that holds the promise of a Messiah, given to the Jews during a very dark time in their history. The Jewish people had split into two nations – Judah and Israel, and they were each aligning themselves with sinful nations in order to battle one another. The country is in the midst of a civil war, not unlike our own civil war so long ago. I bet many of you had grandparents who fought in our civil war.

It is at this point that God holds out the promise of the Messiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Isaiah’s statement is very simple, but each phrase is important. Let’s look at it closely.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who is giving the sign? The Lord Himself.

Isaiah wants to be sure that we understand that it is the Lord’s sign, given to us. It didn’t originate in the thoughts of Isaiah, but from the heart of God. The sign is God’s gift to us.

Was God obligated to send the Israelites a sign? Absolutely not. They were led by an evil king and aligning themselves with evil nations. God could have said “I’m done with them. They have rejected me.” God didn’t have to give them a sign, He chose to give it.

He’s like that with us. He doesn’t have to come into our lives. He doesn’t have to provide for us and love us and even heal us. He doesn’t have to offer us eternal life. But He chooses to because He is compassionate and loving.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who did the Lord give the sign to? The prophecy is given to Israel, but the sign was given to everyone. The sign wasn’t given just to those who knew the Lord and followed His commands, but it was given to the whole nation – to everyone. Not just to those who believe, but it’s also to those who don’t believe. Signs, by their very nature, point people toward things. Street signs tell you which way to go. Signs in the grocery stores tell you what food is in each aisle. Everyone who sees the sign and follows it ends up where they want to go. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says He is giving us a sign. If we pay attention to the sign and follow it, the sign will lead us – in this case, to everlasting life.

A few minutes ago we said that God didn’t have to give us a sign – He chose to. It is out of His mercy and compassion that God doesn’t leave us to wander around trying to figure everything out for ourselves. He gave us a sign – a pretty significant one – like a blinking neon sign on a dark night! And His sign points directly to Jesus, as we see in the next phrase of the verse.

What was the sign? The next phrase of the verse tells us:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth.”

A young woman who has never been with a man will become pregnant and will give birth. Isaiah must have been thinking “That’s not possible, Lord!” Yet what does Scripture say about the impossible? It says that “with God, all things are possible.” There is nothing impossible with God. No matter what impossible situation you’re facing, you can know that “with God, all things are possible.”

If we had been around before Creation and God told us He was going to create light and the land and the sea and all that are in the land and the sea…we’d have thought “That’s not possible, Lord!” Or maybe we wouldn’t have been quite so skeptical and would simply have thought “How in the world are You going to do that?” or “Can You really do that?” With God, all things are possible. I love that God has creative solutions to those situations that cause us to think “It’s not possible.” When that phrase comes to our minds, we can immediately think of the sign that God gave us – the virgin will be with child and will give birth. God interrupts our lives in miraculous ways. Perhaps not as miraculous as the virgin birth. That was a once only event because it ushered in the promised Messiah. But the miracle of experiencing His peace in the midst of our trials is still God doing what is impossible.

The prophecy of Jesus reminds us that God can do the miraculous. Every time you sing a Christmas carol this year that reminds you of the birth of Jesus, remember that God can do the miraculous.

In this verse, the Jews were promised that God would one day do the impossible and that “impossible thing” would be a sign to us. The young virgin would become pregnant and give birth.

But that’s not all. Isaiah finished the sentence by writing this:

“And will call Him Immanuel.”

The word Immanuel means “God with us.” Isaiah was saying that the child would be God with us – here on earth.

The sign that God would give us would be a miraculous birth. The message on the sign – the words written on it, so to speak – is that the child would be God in the flesh, here on earth. God, born as the baby Jesus. We read the stories of Jesus’ life and they become so familiar to us, that sometimes we forget that Jesus is God in the flesh and He walked here on earth.

In His compassion, God gave us a sign to point us in the right direction.

In His love, He came as a human who could literally put His arms around the disciples and say “Go this way.”

Seeing God’s compassion and love, is important because we know that Scripture tells us that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God’s compassion causes Him to reach out to us, sometimes in miraculous ways, to lead us toward Himself. Jesus is a sign for us today. A Sign that God gave us because He is compassionate and because He loves us. He is a sign that will lead us to everlasting life.

A Child is Born – to Us; The Mighty God and Everlasting Father is Ours

A few chapters later Isaiah continued the prophecy about Jesus and wrote this:

2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….
6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV), 6 (KJV)

Isaiah gives us more insight into the child that would be born. We have heard these words so many times, they almost don’t have the impact on us that they would have had on Isaiah. Think about it – a CHILD is born – and he will be called MIGHTY GOD! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace!

The sign that God would give – the child born of a virgin – would be the mighty God. He would be the everlasting Father. He would be God – with us – Immanuel.

For Him to be our everlasting Father, we must have everlasting life. Jesus became God in human form to show us how the way to have that everlasting life. He tells us this Himself.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (NIV)

The virgin giving birth was given as a sign and the words on the sign were “God is with us.” When Jesus grew up He said it differently – “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In other words, “follow me and I will give you everlasting life.”

If you don’t know the Lord personally, if you don’t know Jesus as your friend, let me introduce Him to you. He is the Child who was given to us. He is the Mighty God and Everlasting Father. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He is the way, the truth and the life. When we follow Him, we have everlasting life. Tell Him you’d like to get to know Him better. That it is your desire to follow Him. He will reveal Himself to you and if you follow that revelation, you will have everlasting life.

Jesus’ birth didn’t just occur by happenstance. God told us in advance:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Will you pray with me? Father, thank you for sending us a sign so that we would no longer have to wander and doubt. Thank you for sending a sign that points back to you. I pray that during the coming Christmas season You would help us to know You better and help us to follow You better. We want to experience “God with us”. We want to know Jesus. We want to follow Jesus. Thank You, Lord, for giving us everlasting life.

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3While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Mark 14:4-9

What surprised me the most as I read this story last week was Jesus’ reaction. I began to think over other stories and parables and it seems to me that Jesus always commended extravagant actions of worship and faith!

While it was customary to anoint the heads of important guests, this woman’s action went above and beyond. The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament points out that “Her anointing of Jesus represents a major sacrifice and indicates the depth of her love.”

Upon reading the commentary, the Holy Spirit brought two questions to mind:

How long has it been since you gave Jesus a gift that represented a major sacrifice?
Or have your gifts indicated that the depth of your love for Him has grown shallow?

And so I pose the question to you, dear reader:

How long has it been since you gave Jesus a gift that represented a major sacrifice?
Or have your gifts indicated that the depth of your love for Him has grown shallow?

It seems like a long time since my gift to Jesus has represented a major sacrifice. My service has been steady, but my sacrifice has been light. Steady service is good, and we probably can’t live our lives in “major sacrifice” mode all the time. But if our love for Jesus is genuine, there will be times when our actions are extravagant and represent a major sacrifice.

During this holiday season, I encourage you to seek God with a sincere heart.

Ask Him what gift He would like you to give Him for His birthday.
Ask Him what He wants from you in 2011.

And celebrate the season with extravagant praise to the One who is worthy of more than our greatest sacrifice and our greatest extravagance.

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I love this passage from Isaiah. Perhaps you do to:

6For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV)

As I prepared to preach at my mom’s nursing home this past Sunday, I was drawn to this familiar passage. What occurred to me was that in its familiarity, perhaps we have missed its application. And I don’t want to miss the application.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;

The Child, the Son, is given to us – to you and to me. Have you received Him? A gift may be given, but until it is received, the transaction isn’t complete. God has given us His Son. Have you accepted the gift from God?

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

In the December issue of Discipleship Journal Online News the editor, Connie Willems, quoted this line from The Message translation of the Bible: “He’ll take over the running of the world!” She went on to express her relief and state the obvious (which is what I so often need to hear):

“If it’s Jesus’ job to run the world, then I don’t have to. True, I’ve never been asked to run the world. But that hasn’t stopped me from occasionally slapping on a crown, waving around a scepter, and trying to force my corner of the world into perfect running order.”

Scripture says that the government will be upon His shoulders. And if He can shoulder the government of the world, He can shoulder the government of my life. Way better than I can. Which begs the question:

Is He that for you? Is He the ruler of your life? Do you give Him full reign in your life?

And His name will be called Wonderful,

Wonderful. Full of wonder. Jesus is, and always has been, and always will be filled with wonder. Truly awe-inspiring.

Is He that for you? Does He inspire your awe? Do you sense His WOW-ness?

And His name will be called Counselor,…

A counselor – a trusted friend who helps us find wisdom and peace in our situations.

A counselor (as in lawyer) – one who pursues righteousness and truth.

Is He that for you? Do you turn to Him for counsel when you need wisdom? When you need peace? When you need to know truth? When you need to find righteousness?

And His name will be called Mighty God, …

In my last blog I recounted about hearing the story of Mary read shortly before getting up to preach, one phrase caught my attention: “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) That message resonates in my spirit as I read Isaiah 9:6 this week. “His name will be called Mighty God.” He is the Mighty God of the impossible.

Is He that for you? It’s too easy to live our lives day after day not expecting the God of the impossible to be our Mighty God. I don’t want to live that way. I want to always know and live like I serve a Mighty God.

And His name will be called Everlasting Father, …

Everlasting. From eternity past to eternity future. More than I can comprehend, but I accept it as fact. Because I have accepted God’s great gift, the Son that was given to us, He is my Father – from eternity past to eternity future. My Father who protects, provides, loves, disciplines, and loves more. He is my Everlasting Father.

Is He that for you? Have you accepted the gift of His Son? Do you allow Him to be your Father, turning to Him for protection, provision, love, discipline and more love? Is He your Everlasting Father?

And His name will be called Prince of Peace.

I am so thankful that the omnipotent – all powerful – God who spoke the universe into existence and holds it together with His very breath – that God, is a Prince of Peace. He is not a warrior God. Yes, He is able and willing to fight battles when they are necessary, but His name, His nature, is the Prince of Peace. He desires to bring peace out of warring chaos – peace that goes beyond our understanding. Peace when it seems there can be no peace.

Is He that for you? Do you allow His peace to hold and keep you?

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,…

Read the words carefully – of the INCREASE there will be no end. Christ’s government and peace will forever be increasing! That means it will always grow, there will always be more than there is now. I can’t wait for tomorrow! More of Christ’s rule, more peace. Hallelujah!

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.

To order it and establish it with judgment and justice forever. I confess – I like order! God’s world will be ordered (that is, not chaotic) and established with judgment and justice. That’s the Kingdom I want to live in. One that is ordered and established with judgment and justice. Don’t read judgment to mean condemnation. It means that He, who is the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Father – He will judge and He will administer justice. Merriam-Webster defines “judge” as “to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premise.” The all-knowing God will carefully weigh all evidence and test all motives to judge righteously and administer justice. I look forward to that day.

And the pièce de résistance is the final line of the passage:

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Why and how will all of this be accomplished? By the zeal of the Lord. By His eagerness and strong passion. His great desire will ensure that this is accomplished. That’s good enough for me!

May I encourage you this Christmas season, to allow Christ to be all that He came to be in your life. It’s His heart’s passion and my prayer for you.

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Check out this YouTube video. It put a more human face on the birth of Christ than anything I’ve ever seen or read. See the joy and awe on the faces of those around Him as He is born.

Lord, let us experience the same joy and awe as we journey through this last week before Christmas.

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      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.
                        Isaiah 9:6  (NIV)

I’ve been meditating on the titles given to Jesus in the above passage for the last few days: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We are so blessed to serve a God worthy of these paradoxical titles. I say paradoxical, because I wouldn’t expect the “Mighty God” to also be a “Wonderful Counselor.” The Mighty God upholds me with his strength and power. The Mighty God goes to battle on my behalf. The Mighty God rides in on a white horse as a “conqueror bent on conquest” (Rev 6:2). Read what Revelation 19:11-16 says about my Mighty God, Jesus:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Are you pumped? I am! Not because I desire war and bloodshed, but because my God is MIGHTY – He is POWERFUL – and He will some day bring justice to this world. Praise God that He has made a way for me to escape His wrath. It’s what Christmas is all about.

Here’s the paradox – that the mighty God described in Revelation is also a Wonderful Counselor! It boggles my mind a bit to think that someone with the mighty power of God is also compassionate enough to be the Prince of Peace. Yet Jesus gave us the following invitation and description of himself in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Now that’s the Prince of Peace – One who lifts my burdens, who enables me to rest when I am weary, and One who gives not just physical rest, but rest for my soul. He takes the bits and pieces that are at war within me and brings peace to them. I am so grateful.

The Mighty God is also gentle and humble in heart. He was born to humble beginnings – wrapped in clothes and placed in a manger, visited by shepherds. Of course He was also born to fanfare fitting for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – An angel announced His birth to the shepherds and then “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel” to sing praises to God (Luke 2:12).

Isaiah 9 also calls Him Wonderful Counselor and Everlasting Father. The word used for counselor means to advise well or reflexively deliberate or resolve – more like a legal counselor than a psychological counselor. Jesus is our true advocate and gives wisdom that is beyond what we can know from this world. And He is our forever God, not our “here today, gone tomorrow” God. Not only is the wisdom He gives appropriate for us today, but is wisdom for all time. It is the wisdom of a father who sees, understands and knows all things. Our earthly fathers may have tried to impart wisdom in us, but it was wisdom that came from their limited life and understanding of life. That didn’t make it bad. It just didn’t make it infallible – without error. God’s advice has no errors and He will never die. He is our everlasting father.

As I contemplated these many aspects of Jesus, the question that formed in my mind was this: Do I allow God to be these things for me? He is these things, but do I let Him be those things for me?

Do I allow Jesus to be my Mighty God when I need a defender of justice, or do I push for my own justice?

Do I seek Jesus’ face when my burden is heavy and my soul needs rest or do I push on to other things or escape into television or computer games?

Do I seek and follow God’s counsel or do I rely on my own wisdom or the opinions of others?

When I need a father – whether for protection, provision, advice, relationship or comfort – do I turn to my heavenly Father or do I try to find a substitute here on earth?

Ultimately the question that God asked me was this: Am I sufficient? Do you allow Me to meet all your needs?

May I encourage you to be challenged by the same questions? Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Is he that in your life? Are you allowing Jesus to meet all your needs? He has the power, the time, the ability, and the desire. Let Him in today.

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Writing about Christmas being 6 weeks away has really gotten me thinking.

I truly believe that busyness causes me to lose so much in life. Busyness is good – when it is being busy with the right things and when it is balanced with regular times of rest. With the Christmas season coming upon us, may I challenge you to be sure your life is busy with the right things and balanced with regular times of rest? If it is not, the season will rush past you in a blur and you will not enjoy it’s wonder. You will miss what God has for you.

Busy with the Right Things
Do you know what God has called you to? Some things are a given.

  • You are called to have a deep relationship with God.
  • You are called to meet your family obligations.
  • If you are married, you have a responsibility to continually strengthen your marriage relationship.
    • If you have children, you are called to love them, care for them and teach them God’s ways.
    • You have a responsibility to honor your parents. If they are alive, that means your schedule will probably include spending time with them.
  • You are called to serve God in some way. That’s a very broad calling. If you are married and/or have children, part of your service to God is your service to your family. If your family requires much time, you will have little additional time to serve God in other ways. Don’t allow any internal or external pressure to cause you to serve God outside your family if it means sacrificing your relationship with Him or your family.
  • You are called to be an active part of the local Body of Christ. That means setting aside time to join with other believers to worship and serve God.

All other activities are secondary. Some secondary activities are important. Some just seem important. Ask God for wisdom to be able to tell which is which.

Balanced with Regular Times of Rest
If you do not set aside regular times of rest, you will be unable to enjoy the wonder of God. The Christmas season is all about wonder. The wonder of a newborn child. The wonder of a God who would step down from the heavens to be with us. Even the wonder of nature as snow falls in large flakes against the dark sky (at least in this part of the country). If you rush through it, you will miss the wonder. And that’s missing a lot!

So look at your calendars for the next six weeks. Be sure it reflects times of busyness and times of rest – in the right proportion. Then enjoy the season!

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The Thanksgiving and Christmas season offers so many opportunities to crash and burn! Over Thanksgiving weekend I was in a department store and saw the holiday decorations and I promised myself that this year I would NOT over plan. I promised myself that I would build in time to enjoy the season. Almost immediately things began to pop up that want to take a bigger bite out of my time than I thought they would. Many are good things. More work is good. Visiting with friends is good. Leading a New Year’s Eve worship time is good. But I am resolved to be like Mary and choose the “better part,” not just the good part.

So I am building in “holiday enjoyment” time this year. Some of that will be just plain fun. Some of it will be spending more time with God, reflecting on His message for me this season. I’m not going to feel guilty about what I’m NOT doing so that I can do these things because I believe that doing these things will honor God MORE than being harried and hassled all season. That’s what choosing the better part means.

Resist Stress

One of the things I’m doing is actively resisting stress (is that in and of itself stress-creating? it can be if you’re not careful) and practicing enjoying the season. But I don’t always get it right. Last week one day I said to Phil “I’m really stressed about meeting this deadline.” His response was priceless (if not original). He said “And how’s that working for you?” In other words, “is being stressed about meeting the deadline helping in any way?” Of course, the answer was “no.” So I took a deep breath and asked God to help me release the outcome to Him as I did my best to meet the deadline. I’m working on “apprehending” or “taking hold of” the grace that God has for me each day (but that’s a blog for another day).

Stop Grumbling

Our pastor has helped, as he’s preached 2 messages on being grateful and not grumbling. I need to be reminded of that from time to time and I appreciated the messages. When I’m overly busy or tired, it’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining. And once fallen in, it can be hard to snap out of it. Something inside of me actually enjoys grumbling! Isn’t that horrible? But I bet you’re like that too. I’ve found that most people are. Yet when we can get out of the trap, life is SO much more enjoyable. And of course we are much more a reflection of God’s grace and peace to the world.
Say “Thank You” to God…In Writing

Here’s one activity I recommend. Find a time (or make a time) to sit down and actually write a Thank You letter to God. I find that writing it down makes me think more and makes the whole process more “real” or “true” than just praying silently or aloud. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to create a Thank You letter to God that was 2 typed pages. I was also amazed at how far-reaching it was. I thanked Him for things that I don’t routinely thank Him for (because quite frankly my thank You’s are often quick and a prelude to what’s next — Ouch!). What that really means is that I was thankful for things I don’t usually reflect on. And what that means is that I am more thankful after writing the letter than I was before writing it because I am more aware of the things I have to be thankful for.

Try it…you’ll like it…and you’ll glorify God more.

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