Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of they salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalm 51: 10-12).
For weeks we've been planning for Christmas. We hung lights, decked the tree with colorful ornaments, baked cookies, shopped, wrapped gifts, attended parties and excitedly awaited Christmas. The joy of sitting next to family and friends in church on Christmas Eve and singing Christmas hymns reminded us of the miracle that took place over 2000 years ago when our Savior was born.
Now, a week later, we begin cleaning up and putting away. The trash bins are stuffed with wrapping paper, boxes and ribbons. The needles on the tree are dry and dropping and soon, it will be taken down as well. School will resume again shortly, or we'll return to work and life will go back to normal. It is hard not to experience a sense of let-down after the hustle and bustle of Christmas. What now? For some of us, winter will continue its cold presence for another 4 months. What happened to all the joy and laughter that came with the Christmas season? Why can't the thrill and excitement just continue?
How do we retain the joy that we felt at Christmas when the mundane takes over once again? We can fix our eyes on Jesus by making time for Him. It will require discipline to find quiet time to read Scripture and reflect on what we read. Furthermore, we connect with our Savior when we interact with Him in prayer.
As you go about your daily tasks, think about what you are thankful for, and ask God to restore your joy. Remember that He, through His sacrifice on the cross, created a clean heart in you and me. Jesus will renew a right Spirit in us if we submit our lives to Him. He won't cast us away but will intimately relate with us if we seek His presence. Christ can restore our joy with His Spirit:
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence
And take not your holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalm 51: 10-12)
As we enter the new year, I remind you and me to make a habit of spending time with God so that we experience joy in His presence.
I have so much to be thankful for. You died that I might be blameless in Your sight. Help me to make time for You in the new year. Open my heart to learn from Your Word and renew my focus on Your promises so that I find joy in Your presence. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (John 1:1-2)
We've all had the dilemma of buying a gift for someone who seemingly has everything. One of my older sons is very particular about his clothing style which I, of course, can never figure out. Each year for Christmas, I ask him what he would like to which he rarely responds with helpful ideas for a quick, easy purchase. I usually take the easy way out and simply give him money so that he can choose what he wants.
We receive the best gift at Christmas: God's Son came to us as a babe--a human child. He would grow up to be a man who endured the cross so that you and I might have eternal life. This little baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger was God who took on flesh and dwelt among us. Why? Why would God send this gift to us on that first Christmas night? And why would he do this for you and me?
We are rebellious and ignore God, and we often have attitudes that don't reflect God's will for us. We deserve to be punished, not rewarded! Yet, God did not send His Son to earth to punish us for our sins. He came to earth to purify us so that we can stand before Him and His Father clean, with our stains removed. Jesus Christ "provided purification for sins" (Hebrews 1:3).
God realized that something was missing on earth, and He knew the perfect gift to give us. John tells us that "that which was from the beginning" and the "Word of life" describe the gift that came to us in the form of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are rebellious and ignore God's will. By nature, we are sinful beings. Yet, we have been given the gift of grace. Jesus, the babe in the manger, is an indescribable gift presented to us by God out of His love and mercy so that we might have life and live it abundantly.
Prayer: Dear Father,
Because of your gift at Christmas, I stand before you purified from sin. Thank you for the amazing love you have shown to me! Thank you for your indescribable gift. Keep me always close to you that I might glorify you in my thoughts, words and deeds. In Jesus' Name. Amen
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Hebrews 2: 5-18
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet." In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (NIV)
Why would the Creator of the universe place His Son into this world? What could possibly have been the purpose? God brought His Son into the world to personally relate with us, human beings whose lives are disrupted through sin and separation from God. It is our separation from God that leads us to yearn for a relationship with our Creator, and the birth of our Savior made this possible: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).
God allowed His Son to have lower standing than the angels when He sent Him to earth as a human. In Hebrews 2, we read: "we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone' (verse 9). In sending Jesus to live among humans, Jesus became like one of us, like a brother. In verse 11, we are told, 'Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.'
Those of us who have faith in the saving power of Jesus are adopted children of God and are family with Him and His Son. Jesus came to earth as a baby and identified with us as a human. Now, we as his children can also identify with Him. As verse 14 says, 'Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.'
Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a baby. It was a human birth including the pain Jesus brought to his mother during her labor. As Jesus grew up, he got scratches and bruises, just as human boys do. I have mentioned that my teenage son suffered a bad knee injury 15 months ago. He had his second surgery two days ago and is presently in great pain. I know that Christ understands Gabe's pain, and so I pray to God, who can identify with Gabe, that He who had nails hammered through His hands and feet and suffered muscle pain just as we do, will be a comfort to my son. Just as my son has suffered emotionally due to his inability to play sports for the past year and the year to come, Jesus too suffered emotionally. His own people betrayed and rejected Him. He suffered the humiliating death of a criminal when He was nailed to the cross: 'He had to be made like [us], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2: 17-18).
Not only did Jesus suffer as we do, He was tempted like we are. He understands what it is like to be tempted to lie or to want what we don't have, yet He did not give in to temptation.
Jesus, who is crowned with glory and honor with His father, suffered death so that 'he might taste death for everyone' (v. 9). Jesus, the Son of God, became human to identify with us and in so doing, also had to die like we must someday die. Yet Jesus 'tasted death for everyone.' What does this mean? Jesus death was not an accident--it was planned by His father for a purpose--to overcome the evil of the devil (14-15). He died so that we, through His suffering are redeemed. However, we continue to struggle with pain and temptation; yet through Christ's sacrifice, we can eagerly await the day when we will live a life with no pain and suffering with our Savior in eternity. Because of Christ' sacrifice, we will have eternal life with Him. He was born and died so that our sins would be forgiven. We are free from the curse of sin and the law and are no longer in bondage to sin, because His blood made us righteous. As believers, we are adopted sons and daughters in God's family, and His Holy Spirit resides in us. As redeemed humans, we are forgiven, holy, justified, free, adopted and restored in our relationship with God. Praise be to Christ for His amazing blessings! Amen
Thursday, December 11, 2014
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed -- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
As Christmas approaches, many of us run in circles, trying to decorate, plan dinners, buy presents, attend gatherings, and then merely function in the day-to-day hectic that already exists. We may also be busy at work or school or caring for small children, and the preoccupation brought on by the frenetic pace of Christmas makes us wonder if we'll get it all accomplished in time.
My mind is in a whirl as I endeavor to get my school assignments completed, take care of my children and get food on the table. I feel as if I'm in the circus juggling colorful balls that threaten at any time to tumble to the floor. When I finally pause and contemplate what Advent means, I realize how our hurried culture interferes with a true preparation for the birth of the Savior. In my attempt to conform to the "patterns of this world," I don't allow the Holy Spirit to transform me "by the renewing" of my mind. Paul reminds us:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect
will. (Romans 2:12)
The story of Mary and Martha provides us a good example of the value of time spent with Jesus amidst the hectic of the holiday season. Jesus stops to visit with Mary and Martha. Notice that it is Martha who invites Jesus, not Mary. Yet, rather than spend time with her guest, Martha frantically rushes around to prepare the dinner party. Mary, on the other hand, is aware of the significance of her Lord's presence and sits at His feet listening to His wisdom. Piqued by her sister's lack of helpfulness, Martha approaches Jesus asking, "'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed -- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'"
When reading this story, I can better empathize with Martha than with Mary. I rush around doing what I think must get accomplished, and I miss out on the significance of Christmas. I need to purposely stop running in circles and be like Mary who chooses to slow down and listen to her Savior. In Isaiah 55:6, we read, "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near." Will you choose, like Mary, to seek the Lord this Christmas, or be anxiously consumed with planning, decorating, cooking and buying?
Prayer: Dear Lord, You remind us to "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to [You] (Philippians 4:6). And so, we ask You to be with us as we prepare to celebrate Your birth. Help us to slow down and spend time with You. Remind us that peace ensues when we abide in You ("And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7)). In Jesus' Name. Amen
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and hear, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you; God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1: 1-5, NIV)
I've written about my 17-year-old's failed knee surgery. He will soon have a second surgery and possibly a third in three months. The heartache I experience as I watch my son struggle with his anger at God and the world has led to my own doubts and anger. As I was venting my woes to my sister, she replied, "Meta, God is not Santa Claus." I've heard this phrase used regarding the market driven Christmas tradition that focuses on presents and material goods rather than the true source of joy we find in our Savior; but I had not applied it to my own complaints.
Our world is full of suffering, broken relationships, crime, abuse, injuries and disappointment. You might ask as do I, "Why my child? Why me?" Jesus told us we would have suffering in this world (John 16:33). We don't understand its purpose but must trust that God knows: "now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthian 12:13). I may never in my lifetime know the reason or purpose for my son's injury, but God sees the whole picture, and I choose to trust in His wisdom.
It is now Advent, the time before Christmas in which we prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The
word, Advent, means "coming" or "arrival." This is a season in which we reflect in hopeful expectation as we wait for the arrival of Jesus. As in Charles' Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, and my adoption story, Great Expectations: An Adoption Story and Devotional, life often falls short of our expectations. Unfulfilled expectations may lead us to keep yearning for something with which to fill the sorrow left by reality. We may expect God to be like Santa Claus and ask Him to give us what we think we need. But our hearts will not rest until they rest in Christ (St. Augustine). As we prepare for the coming of the Lord, let's live in hopeful expectancy for the Messiah who will carry our burdens and give us rest. Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Prayer: Hymn, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.