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A Christmas Mystery

December 24th, 2012

The mystery of Jesus’ birth is only exceeded by the unequalled majesty of Jesus’ life.

“This is the great mystery of our faith: Christ appeared in the flesh.” 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT.

I love the Christmas season and celebration of the Savior. I love the carols and decorations – children’s faces while opening presents with thankful hugs – singing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King” with the Church family – Christmas Eve Communion and Christmas Day dinner with family and friends. I love Christmas!

Most of all, I love the mystery and majesty of Christmas, a story so inexplicable only God could envision it. How do you describe the wonder this miraculous season can bring – a worried king jealous of his throne, wondering shepherds rushing from their flocks, wandering kings bearing royal gifts from afar, and a worshiping couple still pondering the angels’ startling pronouncements. No wonder Mary “pondered all theses things in her heart,” and all who heard the shepherds’ stories “wondered at their words.”

Not much remains a mystery anymore. Christmas is and will remain so. Paul ponders the mystery as he wrote, “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ appeared in the flesh . . was seen by angels and was announced to the nations.” 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT. This “great mystery” is: where and when would the Savior come – to Bethlehem not to Rome, to a stable not a palace; and how would the Savior come – as an infant miraculously born with our humanity, not a ruling conqueror; and for whom would the Savior come – for the worst and best among us, sinners all, not for the religious alone.

And how did this grand introduction to our world occur? “There were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood before them . . ‘Do not be afraid; I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-14 NKJV. Read Ephesians 1:7-12 NKJV.

The shepherds could have remained with their flocks, retelling their marvelous stories about angels. Instead, they rushed to become eyewitnesses of the Savior. “The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go and see this . . which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger.” Read Luke 2:15-18 NKJV. Inevitably, Christmas will pass, but the Savior will change your life forever. The mystery of Jesus birth is only exceeded by the unequalled majesty of His life in your heart. “We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, [as] eyewitnesses of His majesty . . until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your heart.” 2 Peter 1:16-19 NKJV.The mystery of Jesus’ incarnation does not obscure the majesty of His sacrifice.

When the angels have gone away, will you stay as you were or will you seek a life-changing encounter with the Savior? Christmas is not about listening to the angels’ song; Christmas is about wanting to know the Savior. You have not experienced Christmas until you have personally embraced the One who is “born to you this day, a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” Amid your celebration, reflect with wonder at both the mystery and majesty of “a Savior . .  Christ the Lord.”

This Advent, my prayer for you is that you will see the majesty as well as mystery of His birth.

Devotionals

A Christmas Impossibility

December 21st, 2012

Christmas is any moment or circumstance when eternity penetrates time.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 NIV.

A few words at the end of a commercial caught my attention; “The impossible, true story,” as the announcer described it. What first seemed contradictory suddenly described Christmas perfectly to me, at least the real Christmas – the celebration of the Savior’s birth. God coming into our world, indescribable. A child born to a virgin, impossible. A Savior who came for sinners, incomparable. Christmas truly is the “impossible, true story.”

Centuries before Jesus was born, prophets foretold of Israel’s Messiah who would come. Isaiah wrote the most impossibly true words, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel, God is with us! . . for unto us a Child is born and unto us a Son is given . .” Isaiah 7:14/9:6-7. A Son would be born in Bethlehem; a Savior would be given at Jerusalem. His listeners must have puzzled over at Isaiah’s words, asking themselves, “How can this be?” Still today, Christmas remains “the impossible, true story.”

Christmas is the perpetual reminder that the Almighty God changes impossibilities into possibilities and improbabilities into probabilities; our God delights in confounding the wise by doing what others say cannot be done. Our God is unlike any other! “Christ is the mighty power of God and the wonderful wisdom of God. This ‘foolish’ plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT.

Mary also asked, “How can this be?” Then, with assurance from the angel she rested her impossibility into God’s hands. In a few words from Heaven, Mary’s impossibility became possible. Christmas would forever mean that nothing would – nothing could – ever be the same again for Mary. Christmas is more than a moment of ancient history or annual calendar event; Christmas is any moment or circumstance when eternity penetrates time with the promise of possibilities that can change anything that ever has been and everything that still could be.

For you this Christmas, the Angel’s bold declaration to Mary is still true, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 NIV. Christmas’ truth changed every previous assumption Mary held. The same can be true for you this Christmas. Your situation that appears impossible; your need that exceeds your ability or resource; the obstacle that defies your efforts; the sinful habit that seems indomitable; your failure you thought had stolen your future; all and more are well within the immeasurable bounds of God’s power to redeem. “Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20 NIV.

My prayer for you this Advent is that you invite Jesus into your heart and home as Savior and Lord.

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A Christmas Focus

December 20th, 2012

Life is only complete when you hold the Savior in your heart.

“I have seen the Savior You have given to all people.” Luke 2:30 NLT.

Like Joseph, Simeon is another lesser noticed person in the Christmas narrative. But he shouldn’t be. Uniquely, he was a man with a focus on something more than that with which others were content. “Simeon . . was just and devout . . and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Luke 2:25-35 NKJV. God’s Spirit rests where He feels welcome. What little is known about Simeon is still remarkable; his testimony was that God had spoken to his heart that he would live to see the Messiah. “The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Vs. 26 NLT. Simeon’s heart held a promise; his life had a purpose; his focus was clear.

Generations in Israel had waited for the promise of Messiah. God’s whisper in Simeon’s heart set the course and priorities for his lifetime. Imagine living your life with such a clear, persuasive purpose that supersedes every lesser consideration. See Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV. While others busied their days aimlessly or with trivial concerns, Simeon had a heart with a single focus – to see Messiah, Israel’s hope and salvation. He was single minded, strongly focused, fervently anticipating, patiently waiting, and actively pursuing.

That word in his heart brought Simeon to the Temple precisely at the moment Joseph and Mary arrived with the baby Jesus, now only days old. This was providence not coincidence. “That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord . . Simeon was there.” Vs. 27-28 NLT. Simeon was there, exactly when and where he should have been, because he was attentive to the Spirit’s direction. His life-long quest was fulfilled as he held the Savior in His arms. God can bring you where you need to be for the joy of your life to be fulfilled anew.

Imagine Simeon’s joy, “Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Savior You have given for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel.” Vs. 29-32 NLT. Life is only complete when you hold the Savior in your heart. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him . . you believe in him . .  and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV.

That’s Simeon’s story, but my concern today is about your story, and mine. This Christmas cannot be what it could be, unless Jesus is the heart of your expectation and celebration. There is no better place, ever or anywhere, than when and where your yearning successfully concludes with giving yourself to the Savior who gave Himself for you. Read Titus 2:11-14 NIV/Galatians 2:20 NKJV.

This Advent, the Angel’s announcement to the shepherds is also to you, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today . . a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 NIV. This is my Christmas focus: Christmas is an event too glorious not to be joyously celebrated with abandon, and too precious not to be gladly shared with one and all.

My prayer for you this Advent is that His holy day will be at the center of your holidays.

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A Christmas Truth

December 19th, 2012

Character and obedience always matter first to God.

“Joseph, [Mary’s] husband, being a just man . .” Matthew 1:19 NKJV.

Joseph is little noticed and under-appreciated in the Christmas drama. Yet God chose Joseph just as carefully as Mary. The Bible says that God saw, “Joseph, [Mary’s] husband, was a just man.” Matthew 1:19 NKJV. A just man, that is quite a tribute from the Almighty. Would God have chosen any lesser man to model spiritual devotion for Jesus? Joseph’s character, priorities, example, and personal faith would be extremely influential in the young child’s earliest years. God knew Joseph would face a difficult choice, and God knew that he would make a just and righteous decision. Read Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV. He could protect his good name or provide a home for Mary and this miracle child. He could not do both. Life gives you choices; not all options are equal.

Mary would need a just man to accept and protect her, to stand firmly between her and the predictable whispers of disapproving friends, and maybe even family; Jesus would need a just father to teach Him the ways of God. God chose Joseph, a just and righteous man. Character and obedience always matter first to God. That is a Christmas truth. When God has something important to be done He chooses those who consistently put God first. Who knows what grand plans God has for your life when you put Him first? Joseph had history with God; God could trust his choices. This Advent, do God’s will first and foremost, then all else finds its proper place.

My Dad, a pastor, often “preached” this principle to me, “First things first!” When asked to do something, I occasionally had an option I preferred. I always intended to do as he asked – eventually – but as convenience and circumstance allowed. Care to guess how that worked out for me? Not so well. Early on, I learned that my convenience did not equal my Father’s expectation. To my Dad, that was not an acceptable response; as an adult, I learned why that is not a strategy that works in life.

Priority evidences importance. You choose to put first who or what you consider to be of first importance. Jesus put the Father first because the Father was His priority. Jesus modeled His priority; “I always do those things that please [the Father].” John 8:29 NKJV. Advent is the season to prepare your heart for the true celebration of Christmas. Christmas should be about re-structuring the way things have become, “. . if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” Matthew 6:33 NLT. Are your primary concerns what they should be?

This Christmas – in celebrating the Savior’s birth – seems a perfect moment for an honest inventory of how you and your family reflect this practical issue of keeping “first things first.” Christmas is a good time to be reminded, “[God] has shown you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NKJV. A Christmas truth is that life is to be lived more justly and sacrificially every day, in every way.

My prayer for you this Advent is that your history with God allows fulfillment of your destiny in God.

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The Rest of the Story

December 17th, 2012

Making directional decisions without the wisdom of God can be hazardous.

“Joseph . . being a just man decided . .” Matthew 1:19 NLT.

This morning, I saw a practical application in the Christmas story that my familiarity had previously obscured. I love those times when the Holy Spirit opens one’s heart to an enriched understanding of an already familiar Scripture. Before reading my comments any further, I suggest you read the story of Joseph. Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV.

There will be times when circumstances require decisive action. But be extra careful in such moments. Making directional decisions without the wisdom of God can be hazardous. James 1:5 NIV. The information you know is probably partial, correct but incomplete. Solomon observed the folly of a person, “who answers a matter before he hears it.” Proverbs 18:13 NKJV. Yet people do that all the time, especially when the few facts they know are difficult to hear.

Joseph and Mary had planned their life together; they were engaged and waiting to be married. All was well, until an angel’s pronouncement to Mary rearranged every assumption about hers and Joseph’s future. Read Luke 1:26-36 NKJV. The angel’s visit to Mary changed everything, but at least she had all the truth, directly from Heaven. When you do not know what you do not yet know, a wise decision is chance or providence. When you know what God knows, your situation and future make sense.

Joseph was not as fortunate as Mary, at least not initially. Possibly others, but probably Mary, related this new information to Joseph. It was a strange story indeed. They were not yet married, but Mary was pregnant and some difficult and important decisions had to be made and the sooner the better. Joseph would have to make hard choices, but he did not realize that he did not yet have the facts that God alone knew. He almost missed God’s plan for his life and for Mary’s.

Joseph wanted to do the right thing, but what was the right thing to do? He loved Mary; he didn’t want to shame or hurt her. He was hurting enough for both of them. The Bible records, “Then Joseph . . being a just man, and not wanting to make [Mary] a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Matthew 1:19 NKJV. In a dilemma, Joseph did what I have done on occasion, when not careful. Ostensibly for Mary’s well-being, he considered their situation, evaluated his options, and then made the best decision he could. Here is what Joseph did not do; he did not wait on God for the rest of the story. That’s always a mistake. Bring every matter to God for His wisdom and direction before acting. There are always other lives touched by your uninformed decisions.

God is so gracious. “And an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream . . ‘Joseph, do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit’ . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded.” Matthew 1:20/24 NLT. Joseph listened to God, rather than his own reasoning. Listen to your heart in those quiet times when you “feel” there are things you don’t know but need to know. See Isaiah 30:21 NIV. Don’t rush ahead of God; wait on the Lord for wisdom and trust His faithful direction. Proverbs 3:5-7 NKJV

My prayer for you today is that your heart includes God in every decision and direction.

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