Thursday, December 24, 2009
As you think of the Christmas story recorded in Matthew and Luke, you will notice Joseph, Mary and the shepherds were confronted with situations that brought such unsettled feelings. However, the word from the Lord through his heavenly messengers – in every case - was “Do not be afraid”:
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:18-21).
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS (Luke 1:26-31).
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-12).
If there is a message our world needs to hear today, it is this one: “Do not be afraid”. As believers and possessors of God’s “great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4), we can cling to these assurances during times when life threatens to overwhelm us. And as God grants peace to us when we totally depend on him, perhaps others will see the difference he makes in our lives. We may then have an opportunity to share with them God’s message of love that “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
As we ponder the message of Jesus’ birth, may we recall that a very real part of the Christmas story is “Do not fear.” And it’s true today because Jesus in near!
Wishing you a blessed Christmas…lefthandrightbrain:)
Sunday, December 20, 2009
"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).
While thinking about this incredible truth recently, the sign for the word “with” came to mind. To help you visualize this, close the fingers of one hand with the thumb resting on the index finger and pointing upward. This is the sign for “self”, and can be used (by making the right motion or movement) to sign “himself”, “herself”, “myself”, “themselves”, etc. Using the sign with an upward/outward motion (as toward heaven) shows the signer is referring to God Himself.
When the two hands making the “self” sign join in front of the body, it becomes the sign for “with” – basically, “self” touching “self”.
Self coming in contact with self…what an excellent illustration of the word “Emmanuel (or “Immanuel”, as it is spelled in some translations). And if we think of the Himself (of God) coming down (go ahead, use your hands to visualize it) to yourself…and connecting – well, that’s even a better picture of the baby Christ-child entering the everyday-ness of life here on planet Earth.
GOD WITH US…incredible, isn’t it? And what has He promised His children a result?
“…For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5b-6)
GOD WITH US…but there’s more:
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).
While walking the dusty Jerusalem streets, sitting on a hillside or riding in a wind-tossed boat, the Lord Jesus was with His disciples. However, after His ascension, He returned in the person of the Holy Spirit to indwell them. Think about what that means. I can be a dear friend or family member, and have a very close relationship with someone as a result. But do I know them inside and out? Have I intimately experienced all the events that make their lives what they are today? Of course not. But as believers, God is both with us and in us. Because He has taken up residence in these bodies of ours, we aren’t just His “kin”, we’re His “skin”.
As we meditate on the incarnation - God with us - let us also ponder our salvation - God in us…forever!
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Friday, December 18, 2009
“And it came to pass” – this is an extremely common phrase used in both the King James version of the Bible and the New King James version. The first reference is found in Genesis 4:3 and shows up regularly all the way into 1 Thessalonians. Normally, it is used to set the stage for an event – maybe a seemingly insignificant happening; maybe one of extremely great significance, as in the above verse. The things that “came to pass” ran the gamut of being joyful, awful, mundane or unusual.
The threads of God’s plans are carried along through many of these things that “came to pass”. Mary and Joseph needed to be in Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth, so “it came to pass …that that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus....” (Luke 2:1). The couple traveled to the city of David - and as we know, while they were there, “the days were completed for her to be delivered” (vs. 4-6).
What God plans, He performs.
“The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:10-11).
These verses certainly detail God’s sovereign power, don’t they? But we talk about having a “free will”. We have the right to decide what we want to do; to chart our own course, right? If not, aren’t we just puppets on a string?
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
God is in ultimate control of the details of our lives. He wants what is best for us. And yes, if we stubbornly plow forward, rebelling against His word and will, He may step aside to let us see just how miserable a job we do when we take the reigns, or how lackluster our lives become.
Joseph knew Mary’s advanced pregnancy would make the trip of approximately 90 miles on a donkey’s back arduous. We know nothing of the communication between him and God during these times. I wonder if he had an “aha” moment when he combined the prophetic Scripture (Micah 5:2) with the required trip. Perhaps this confidence in God’s leading spurred them both on.
“Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses” (1 Kings 8:56).
What God plans, He performs. We can depend on it. And this fact should not cause us to chafe, but to rejoice! Instead of feeling hemmed-in, we should feel liberated; indeed, Paul, in Romans 8:21, calls this “glorious liberty. So in “it came to pass” moments of our life, may we adhere to this well-known admonition of Paul:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
“Good…acceptable…perfect…”. Though things in your life may seem unsettled, just as they could have seemed to Mary and Joseph, don’t fear these “it came to pass” moments. God has you securely in His hand!
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Recently, I attended a special program to gather info for a newspaper story; it will go down as a highlight of this Christmas season for me. In a neighboring city stands the Gautier Community Home - a residential facility for 20 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These residents – and the church who reached out to them with great love – were the focus of the story.
“They look forward to the party all year,” smiled Terry, a member of the congregation and the recreational therapist for these adults. “They keep asking when it’s going to be.” Well, several days ago, it was time.
The excited group joined others in the sanctuary for the Christmas musical prior to the big “party”. During the program there was a time of congregational carol-singing. Hearing some voices that were a bit loud and definitely off-key, I noticed they came from the section where this group was seated. I grinned, thinking to myself, “They don’t know how they sound and they don’t care, and I just know God is enjoying every minute of it!”
As the church family and guests transitioned to the fellowship area to enjoy some graciously-prepared refreshments, those from the group home were helped through the line. Special tables were set for them close to the gaily-decorated tree. Under the twinkling branches, big bags and boxes of gifts awaited the arrival of a man with a white beard and a red suit.
Suddenly, with a loud “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa (looking a lot like a white-bearded church member) appeared on the scene! It would be hard to say who was more ecstatic - these adults, some of whom were at least 60 - or the children of the church family. The special guest wandered around, giving out candy canes to young and old alike, and then enlisted two cherubic-looking young fellows to be his helpers. As names were read, the boys apprehensively delivered the packages to the appropriate recipients. Squeals of glee spread across the group as they tore into the gifts church members had lovingly purchased and prepared. Several paraded around, showing their treasures to those seated throughout the room.
Joy. It was in great abundance that night, and it rightly should be, as one of the season’s hallmarks. Several favorite Christmas songs echo the joy the angel proclaimed on the night “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a).
As we know, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Some may argue that what these mentally-challenged adults displayed that night was happiness, not biblical joy. I’m not going to judge that. But think with me; have we lost the incredible wonder of simple faith as we’ve become more educated…more mature…more cynical? I think God treasures the zest for living these group home residents exhibited. Maybe if our lives were less complicated - like that of these special adults - we would sense a release, and begin experiencing more of this special element of the Christian life...JOY! And we’d be more ready to declare: “Joy to the world; the Lord has come!”
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Obviously, this missionary couple lives in an area of the world where it is dangerous to profess Christ, and could lead to harm for their family or those they serve, if their real names were publicized. At Christmas-time, as in their daily contact with those they hope to see embrace the Lord, they combine Scripture with kindness.
How often we have our own agenda. If we do venture outside our comfort zones, we try to encourage folks to attend church, a Bible study, or perhaps a Christmas program. Of course, we realize their most-pressing need is salvation through Christ, and we often emphasize that at the beginning, which they may perceive as “shoving religion” down their throats. Jesus showed a better way: he modeled servant evangelism. Consider his life as he walked among the people. Matthew 9 shows him restoring health (vs. 7, 22, 35), dining with those outside the religious circle of the day (vs. 10), raising the dead (vs. 25), giving sight to the blind (vs. 29-30), and freeing one from demon-possession (vs. 32-33).
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The shepherds' visit:
“So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:15-16).
Jesus’ presentation at the temple:
“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:21-22; 39-40).
The travels and visit of the wise men:
“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11).
Although the calendar dates differed, both groups did come before the young King with amazement and worship. However, the wise men arrived at the house with well-thought-out, expensive gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”. The shepherds, hurriedly dispatched by the angel, probably arrived with possibly no more than their staff.
However, worship is not about what we bring; it involves what is unseen. God looks on the heart, not our lofty prayer, and not even how big an offering we toss into the collection plate. Consider these components of true worship:
“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
"Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Repentance...holiness...truth...praise. “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!”
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Friday, December 11, 2009
It’s quite a tongue-in-cheek dissertation, but it does have a lot of points that can make us squirm, and some great ideas of ways to bless others at Christmas-time or any time. Here it is:
Letter from Jesus about Christmas –
It has come to My attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.
How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Now, having said that, let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.
Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grapevine if you wish. I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were… If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.
If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth, here is my wish list. Choose something from it:
1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.
2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don’t have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.
3. Instead of writing the Prime Minister complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don’t you write and tell him that you’ll be praying for him and his family this year? Then follow up; it will be nice hearing from you again.
4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can’t afford and they don’t need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
5. Pick someone who has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don’t know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.
7. Instead of nit-picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren’t allowed to wish you a “Merry Christmas” that doesn’t keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn’t make so much money on that day they’d close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.
8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary– especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.
9. Here’s a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no “Christmas” tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don’t know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.
10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don’t do things in secret that you wouldn’t do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of Mine.
Don’t forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I’ll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I’ll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love, and remember:
I LOVE YOU,
I’m writing a few of these down, and pray I’ll implement them in the days ahead!
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Along with basic cookie dough ingredients, the cookies contain dried cranberries, chopped pecans, white morsels, and oatmeal. They are delicious, and they are a temptation! However, I’ve been “good for goodness sake” in my healthy eating plan, so I decided to bake a batch. After working two of the confections into my eating plan today, I felt I was really sacrificing by not having the three more I wanted right then, plus a few more this evening.
Did I say “sacrifice”? Ha! I hardly know the meaning of the word, and most of my family and friends would say the same. However, I know where we can go to find those who are intimately acquainted with the meaning of the term:
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4).
Notice the word, “sent”. God the Father sacrificed greatly to send His only Son - the One with whom He had experienced intimate and perfect fellowship since before time began - into this sin-cursed world. And this Son, who was welcomed to planet earth by some humble humans and a bunch of smelly farm animals, would ultimately pay the greatest sacrifice. Listen to the heart-cry of our Lord Jesus as He faced the temporary suspension of His Father’s fellowship at the time of His crucifixion:
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:36-39).
“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46).
It was for me. It was for you. That we, undeserving as we are, might experience LIFE…abundant and eternal, and all the grace-gifts that accompany it. Shall we pause to praise Him?
“O, come let us adore Him, Christ the LORD!”
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
"And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child" (Luke 2:1-5).
It has been supposed that this census was for the purpose of setting up a tax roll. Families were instructed to journey to their ancestral home to register. Since Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” (see 1 Samuel 17:12), he and a very-pregnant Mary had to make the arduous trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered” (Luke 2:6).
God took the edict of Caesar to get His chosen ones to Bethlehem, because that had been prophesied as the birthplace of the Messiah:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
Did God place the idea for the census in the mind of Caesar Augustus (the first of the Roman emperors) to bring the couple to the chosen city? It seems likely that the Lord took the plans of man, and put His hands on them to bring His purposes to fruition.
Man’s plans, God’s hands. Our Lord is always at work, taking what may seem to be an inconsequential happenstance or a life-upside-down experience involving a friend, family member, boss, church leader, or even someone we don’t know – to propel us down the road of experiencing more of His plan for our lives. We have a choice – to let God handle the situation and direct us, or to bow up our neck against it, and maybe miss God’s best. I pray I’ll remember that God is never standing on my life’s sidelines wringing His hands. I want to learn to relax in His strong but tender grip.
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Makes for good entertainment, but nobody can really tell the future, right? Wrong. God, who is eternal, not only knows the future, He orchestrates it and brings it to completion. Looking back through the classic, “A Handbook for Christian Maturity”, by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Dr. Bill Bright, I found this section:
“Jesus Christ is the subject of more than 300 Old Testament prophecies. His birth nearly 2,000 years ago and events of his life have been foretold by many individual prophets over a period of 1,500 years. History confirms that even the smallest detail came about just as predicted. It confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.”
Dr. Bright goes on to list these Old Testament prophecies, along with their New Testament fulfillments:
His birth: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18, 22, 23.
His birthplace: Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4, 6, 7.
His childhood in Egypt: Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14, 15.
The purpose for His death: Isaiah 53: 4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24.
His betrayal: Zechariah 11:12, 13; 13:6; Matthew 26:14-16; 27:3-10.
His crucifixion: Psalm 22; Matthew 27.
His resurrection: Psalm 16:9, 10; Acts 2:31.
Has anyone ever made you a promise and not come through? Have you made commitments you haven’t carried out? Sometimes situations prevent keeping one’s word, but usually it happens through apathy, forgetfulness, or busy-ness. People aren’t always dependable. And we learn not to fully trust others, especially when we’ve been stung.
God, however, is completely trustworthy:
“There has not failed one word of all His good promise...” 1 Kings 8:56
“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Before Adam and Eve had left the garden, the first prophecy was pronounced (Genesis 3:15). The cry of Bethlehem’s Babe echoed the prophet’s message. The Psalmist’s foretelling resounded on the glorious resurrection morning.
What does this tell us? God is faithful; He’s fully dependable. And when the going gets rough, and I need someone (Someone) I know I can depend on, He’s definitely the one!
As we meditate on the promise fulfilled in that manger-turned-nursery, let’s thank God for His faithfulness to do what He says He will. Think of other Scriptural truths you’ve seen come to pass for you. Yes, life can be tough, but God is enough.
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Saturday, December 5, 2009
This unique ornament pictured was sold at a Christian book shop where I once worked. When they surplus stock went on sale, I bought several, which have been given to missionaries I have known. If you look closely, you’ll see that the “O” encapsulates a golden world.
As I looked at it today, I began to think of the song, “The First Noel”, which reminds us of the angel’s message on the night of Jesus’ birth:
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-12 NKJV).
What a message to these shepherds! The angel told of “great joy which will be to all people”.
Note the word, “all”. I love the word “all” in the Bible. And I think when it is translated from the original language, it means “all”…plain and simple. No one is excluded from God’s call. Just as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, (Romans 3:23), the Bible also teaches us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There’s that word again.
The angels hurried to find the “Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”. On discovering Him, they couldn’t keep the news to themselves:
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds (Luke 2:17-18).
The shepherds became the first witnesses of the Lord Jesus. Others continue this task today. One special part of this season is the opportunity to focus on the work Southern Baptist International Mission Board servants (the shepherds of our day) carry out, bringing the message to “all people” in the far reaches of the earth. Will you pray for them today, learn about their task, and give generously to support them? And whether or not we might follow in their footsteps, God is still urging us, as He did the shepherds, to “widely make known” the message that a Savior has been born!
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins”… Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS (Matt. 1:19-21, 24-25 NKJV).
Can you imagine an angel of the Lord appearing to you with a message while you slept? When you awoke, would you have the courage to act on such? Would you second-guess your decision? After all, it was a dream.
Joseph was called “a just man”. Other translations use the word “righteous”. He walked with God, and was the very one the Lord had prepared to fulfill His promise made to Abraham 42 generations before (Matthew 1:17). Joseph knew the Scriptures, and was confident enough in God’s leading to step out in faith, shouldering the biggest responsibility of his life.
Do you have a “dream” God has placed in your heart? No, not one that happened while you slept, but one the Lord has been impressing on your very soul. Is a nagging dissatisfaction about your current Christian service causing you to dig deeper into the Word, pray more earnestly, and seek godly counsel, perhaps for a major shift in your life’s focus?
Joseph carefully – and surely, prayerfully - considered a course of action. And his first decision would have made perfect sense to his friends and family. But not to God. Joseph chose God’s way, and had the privilege of helping mold the young, tender years of our Lord Jesus. No greater challenge and adventure could be given to any man.
Will you follow Joseph’s example, as he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”? What challenging and thrilling adventure has God planned and presented for you to say “yes” to?
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Thursday, December 3, 2009
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Luke, one of the gospel writers, details these events. In chapter one of the book bearing his name, he recounts two visits of the angel Gabriel, one to an aged priest named Zechariah, another to a young Jewish maiden named Mary. As you read these familiar accounts, consider the messages (a birth of unusual circumstances would occur) and the responses of the two hearers. First, Zechariah’s news:
"In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John…. Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time" (Luke 1:5-13; 18-20 NIV).
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)
In both messages, Gabriel told his listeners: “Do not be afraid.” He shared with both that they would soon have a son, and outlined the events that would accompany the incredible births. Look at Zechariah’s response: "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." Gabriel reprimanded the priest for his unbelief, declaring would be unable to speak until the child was born.
Fast-forward six months to Mary’s encounter with the heavenly messenger. When told she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High”, she responded, "How will this be…since I am a virgin?" In this encounter, Gabriel reacted quite differently to Mary’s perplexity. I’ve often wondered, when both seem to be confused about how the unique births (according to normal human reproductive standards) could possibly take place, and were seeking answers, why Zechariah’s speech was abruptly silenced, and Mary just received a gentle explanation.
I don’t have the answer to that quandary. Perhaps it was because God expects – and requires – more of those who have walked with Him a very long time. Whatever the answer, the births took place at the appointed time, and the lives of Jesus and John were intrinsically intertwined, even from the womb (see Luke 1:39-45). John had the opportunity to be “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘“Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3).’”
As John sought to prepare hearts to receive the Messiah, may we likewise provide Him a similar dwelling place – a soft heart where He can make Himself fully at home. May our attitude be such as that of Mary:
“I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.”
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain:)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We’ve all seen the Christmas plays. Children clad in bathrobes try to recall their lines as they portray the precious story. Sometimes the kindly innkeeper is depicted showing the exhausted Mary and Joseph to a cozy area replete with a feeding trough full of nice, clean hay. A carefully-positioned light and strains of “Away in a Manger” make the scene look almost idyllic as Mary lovingly places her firstborn into the manger-bed.
Reality: The only Scriptural facts are presented in the above verses. How they came to the manger setting is unknown. Our imaginations are all we can use to consider the conditions of the birth. And as far as clean, soft hay…probably not. Joseph may have needed to shoo some slobbering cows away from dinner and dodge droppings to make room for the newborn Jesus.
No room in the inn…before Jesus was even born, He faced rejection.
Have you ever heard the poignant song, “No Room”? It is part of a cantata by John W. Peterson, entitled “Night of Miracles”. Here are the words:
No room, only a manager of hay. No room, He is a stranger today.
No room, here in the hearts of mankind. No room, no cheery welcome could find.
Today, the story is the same. Millions, even billions, have no room for the Babe of the manger who is the Savior of the world. Yet do many claiming allegiance to follow this Christ offer Him much better? At this time of year set aside to celebrate His birth, do we inadvertently become the innkeeper, “taking care of business”, (preparing for and rushing to one holiday event after another) while turning our back on the One we so desperately need to focus on? Or are we deliberately setting aside time to ponder the Scriptures, truly listen to the carols, and seek to give Jesus a gift He will cherish…a daily surrender of our lives to His gracious control?
“Are you ready for Christmas”? I’ve already heard that question this year; perhaps you have, too. I want to have the courage to respond, “What do you mean?” Then as I listen to their answer, I’ll silently pray for courage to say (and truthfully mean it), “I’m a follower of that Jesus the carols proclaim, and yes, I’m daily making my heart ready for Christmas. How about you? Are you ready for Christmas?” That question may open doors for sharing the best GIFT all. Let’s pray together to make it so.
Best wishes from lefthandrightbrain.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
with benefits…” Psalm 68:19a
I’m kinda slow. Sometimes I don’t notice the simple blessings God showers on me daily. Perhaps I’m too busy, or my spiritual radar is off-track. I really do want to be more thankful, so I’m going to ask God to make me cognizant of things to thank Him for – big or small.
“Small” would describe one blessing that brought a smile today. It was the size of a satsuma; actually, it was a satsuma. And not just one, but, as you see in the photo, clusters of the tempting fruit, literally dripping with sweetness.
I had stopped to join some friends for some walking exercise, and as the group readied to leave, my friend asked if I liked satsumas; someone had dropped off a large bag of them. Since I’ve been trying to eat healthier, fruits and veggies are replacing an overabundance of starchy carbs, fats and sweets on my plate. And satsumas rank up toward the top as fruity faves!
Putting them away, I thought of other simple pleasures of the day: having a nice, warm bed to arise from this morning, a clear mind to sort through the activities of the day, lunch with our senior adults at church, a heating pad to ease my aching back this afternoon, and a pair of dry socks and a cup of steamy coffee to enjoy after being in-and-out of the rain for most of the day.
Admittedly, none of these ranks up there with winning the grand prize in a contest you’d forgotten you’d entered, but they are things for which we can – and should - thank and praise God. Can’t you imagine Him smiling when He sees our pleasure in such small favors? He delights in arranging them and presenting them to us. And it’s all because He loves us so!
Maybe my “thanksgiving” should turn into “thanks-living”…copying God’s loving nature by sharing things with others, just as my friend did with me. God, the great example-giver, patterns the way. I’ve but to take up the mantle and follow.