Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Lavish Banquet


"In that day" is a phrase that refers to the end times. Isaiah describes a terror so great that people will run from the report of disaster and fall into a pit. When they climb out of the pit, they'll fall into a snare. The earth will shake violently. Break asunder. Reel like a drunkard. Totter like a shack.

I read those words and shuddered. I don't want to be around for any of it. 

While all the reeling and tottering are happening, God will reveal the different kind of adventure planned for His Beloved.

"And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine...He will swallow up the covering which is over all people..." Isaiah 25:6-7

The food will be delicious. The wine will be superb. Best of all, God will remove the "covering" that separates us from Him. 

He will wipe away every tear. 

Think about that for a minute. God will reach out, touch our faces with the hands that formed Adam from the clay of the earth, and wipe away every tear. 

While the earth is shaking and breaking asunder, we'll have a lovely banquet with God Himself.

We'll all say, "This is what I've been waiting for." (v9) We won't be talking about great wine or delicious food. We'll be talking about the presence of God, about His man-forming hands touching our faces.

When we're in His presence, we'll realize it was what we were homesick for all our lives. It will be what we've always wanted, and when we're finally with Him, it'll be worth the wait.

It's Jesus' lavish sacrifice and the empty tomb that made it all possible. 

Let's enjoy the lovely decorations, beautiful music, and delicious food of this season, but never lose sight of the price that was paid and the glory to come.
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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Pollution-Purifier 
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Friday, December 2, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Pollution-Purifier


I was passing through Isaiah 24, on my way to something I wanted to write about a few chapters over, when a verse slammed in to me. 

"The earth is polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant." Isaiah 24:5 nasb

I'm mesmerized by those words.

The earth is polluted by us, the people...

The main problem of pollution is not plastic bags or chemicals in rivers. The problem is US. 

When God made the world, it was perfect. He pronounced it GOOD and set up the entire system to work as He designed it. There were a few simple rules to keep things running properly.

But man...

We wouldn't do what God said from the time of the garden, and we still won't. 

We are the problem. 

We've contaminated the earth by our rebellion. (All the other pollution we've thrust on the earth is a consequence of our refusal to do things God's way.)

But God... 

God had a solution from the very beginning.




In the garden, after the dreadful fruit-eating episode that began our pollution, God revealed the plan. 

"... He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." (Gen. 3:15) 

God spoke to the serpent with the hard news that He would redeem all that the evil one had started with the woman. He would send a fatal wound that would end the grip of evil in the lives of mankind.

The Divine Head-Bruiser was Jesus. 

At Christmas, we celebrate the day we began to see the plan unfold.

When Jesus arrived as a tiny, cooing God-baby, He seemed unlikely to bruise the head of anyone, let alone defeat the main sin-polluter of the world, but He was exactly what was needed. 

Consider that for a moment. 

Jesus is not just the divine Head-Bruiser. He's the divine Pollution-Purifier, too. He paid the price for our sin, once and for all, and made it possible for us to be purified. 

It was the reason He came.

"The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 nasb

As we enjoy the Christmas season, let's celebrate the Babe in the Manger for all He is... gift of God, head-bruiser of the evil one, pollution-purifier of sinful mankind. 

Redeemer. Savior. Master. Lord of all. 
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ps - the photo above is of Holly Springs after the Christmas tornado.

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: The Pride of Beauty
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Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Pride of Beauty


The ancient city of Tyre was a colony of Sidon. It was a merchant city and famous for "Tyrian purple," a dye made from murex shellfish. Because the dye-production process was time-consuming, Tyrian purple was expensive. Only the wealthiest could afford it. It's the reason rich people wore purple.

As a result, Tyre and her citizens were wealthy. This port city (an island) did trade in cedars from Lebanon, copper from Cyprus, silver from Spain, and tin from Cornwall. The world literally made a path to their doors.

They trusted in their wealth, but also in their location. Because they were an island-city, it was difficult for conquering armies to invade them. They took comfort in the assumption that they were safe.

The people of Tyre were honored, famous, and proud of their accomplishments, their wealth, and the beauty they prized.

God didn't see Tyre quite the same way they saw themselves, however.

In the oracle against Tyre, Isaiah wrote that God planned to "defile the pride of all beauty, to despise all the honored of the earth." (Isaiah 23:9)

This is a hard word, but the reason for the judgment against them was pride. Specifically, the pride of beauty.

Eventually, Alexander the Great built a causeway to the city and conquered it. Tyre fell. Their wealth and beauty were gone in an instant. 

Proverbs tells us that "pride comes before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18) and "When Pride comes, then comes dishonor, but the humble is wisdom." (Prob. 11:2)

John wrote about pride, too. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world." 1 John 2:16

In the midst of the glitter of the holiday season, it's important to remember that God has never used glitter to decorate anything. The only lights He uses are the ones He made.

He wrapped the most beautiful gift of all, His Son, in soft strips of cloth and nestled Him in a stone manger padded with fresh hay. The beauty He celebrated was the beauty inside that flesh-wrapped God-boy, the beauty of love that would change everything.

Today, let's take a look at the glitz around us through God's eyes. I enjoy glitter and sparkle, too, but it's important to remember that the glitz we enjoy is a sad imitation of the sparkle of heaven. 

Let's choose to look for the deeper beauty that glorifies and honors God. Let's find the beauty of the babe in the manger and celebrate the gift only God could wrap so well.
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If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: The Promise Kept, The Prophecy Fulfilled 
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Promise Kept, the Prophecy Fulfilled


God told Isaiah what to say, and he said it. Some of the things God said must have seemed outrageous and impossible, but Isaiah repeated them anyway. 

"A virgin will bear a child and call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14) At the time, it was the most unlikely promise imaginable. Everyone knew virgins didn't conceive. 

But one did.

More than 2,000 years later, Isaiah's words don't seem so strange. Mary conceived. Jesus was born. It happened, just as God, through Isaiah, promised. 

The Messiah, Isaiah prophesied, would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, or Galilee. (Isaiah 9:1) You can see by this map that Zebulun and Napathali were in the northern-most part of the kingdom. They were about as far from Jerusalem as you could get. The Messiah, son of David, coming out of Galilee didn't seem likely, either. 

But that's what happened.

God promised it. Jesus fulfilled it. 

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory asa of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:4,5,14 nasb)

As we make our way through the Christmas season, let's remember that Christmas is not about the story of Santa Claus, nor a mythical slide down a chimney with a magical bag of gifts. 

Disciples of Christ, let us celebrate the fact of God's promises kept in the person of Jesus Christ, the God who wrapped Himself in flesh and dwelt among us. There's no magic involved, only the mercy and grace of God. 

It's the most impossible miracle of all, but it happened, just as God said. If there was ever a reason to celebrate, this is it. 

Christ has come. 

He died, is risen, and He's coming again.
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If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: The Question That's Been Answered
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Question That's Been Answered


One of my favorite Scripture passages is found in Isaiah 6. You probably know this story. King Uzziah died after reigning more than 50 years. During the year he died, an amazing thing happened to Isaiah. 

He had a vision and saw God seated on His throne. Six-winged seraphim stood above Him and called out praise to God. The thresholds trembled. Smoke filled the room. It wasn't just intimidating. It was a terrifying sight.

Isaiah shook in his boots as He came face to face with God's glory and His own unworthiness. "I am ruined...", he moaned.

A seraphim touched his mouth with a burning coal and took away his sin. 

Isaiah didn't have time to recover from the fire in his mouth before he heard a voice call, "Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?" 

It was the voice of God, and there was no denying Him. Isaiah spoke up, "Here am I. Send me."

I've read those words hundreds of times and I've always responded in my heart the same way Isaiah did. Send me, Lord.

Perhaps you do, too.

For most of my life, I thought had God heard my response and said, "Nah. We'll leave her where she is."

Last week, I read those words in Isaiah 6, prayed the same thing, and the Holy Spirit said, "Haven't you read Matthew 28:19-20 yet?" 

I laughed out loud. Yes, I have read the Great Commission. "Go into all the world and make disciples..." Suddenly, the light dawned in my heart. 

Jesus changed everything.

The question, "Whom shall I send?" has been answered. 

Jesus has sent us all. 

Every single one of us have been commissioned by God to make disciples. I am sent. You are sent. 

Being sent is not optional.

The question now is, "Will we obey or not?" 

Will we step outside our comfort zone and love the unlovely? 

Will we reach out to our neighbors and love them in the same way and with the same resources we love ourselves? 

Will we share the love of Christ with all who are willing to listen? 

Will we live as a disciple and train others to do the same?

Jesus did not give us a Great Suggestion. He gave us a great command. GO. 

As we celebrate the Christmas season, let's remember that the little baby in the manger was God Himself, and He came to change everything. He came to purchase our pardon and turn sinners into saints. Doubters into believers. Do-nothings into disciples. 

It's our job to live as those who have been redeemed. We don't honor Christ by the number of gifts we buy or the amount of money we spend. We honor Christ by obeying His commands.

Today, let's give Jesus the gift He most wants to receive: an obedient disciple. 

Who is sent? We are. Who will go? I will. 

Will you?

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit..." Matthew 28:19 nasb
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Today is "Giving Tuesday". You can give any day, of course, but if you want to to support this ministry today (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
*****
The Road to Bethlehem advent e-book is free on Amazon for two more days. Here's the link: Road to Bethlehem

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: The Vineyard that Caused Christmas
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Monday, November 28, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Vineyard that Caused Christmas


During the Advent Season, we celebrate the Christmas story. The Virgin Birth. The Baby in the manger. The star of Bethlehem.

What we often forget is the story of why the Baby in the manger was so necessary. 

Isaiah explains the problem in terms of a vineyard that, in a way, caused Christmas.

The Vineyard Owner searched carefully for the most fertile plot of ground. He wanted the land with the best potential. When He had chosen His spot, He cleared the land, removed the rocks, and dug out all the weeds. He planted the best vines, then built a garden shed so that everything needed to care for his vines would be close at hand.

In anticipation that the best vines in the best location with the best care would bring forth the best fruit, He built a wine vat to process his grapes. 

He waited with anticipation to see the beautiful fruit that would be produced. Every vine had terrific potential. Every vine would produce lovely, high quality fruit. He would blend it all together and make a wine that was magnificent, a quality never before seen. 

The sun shone. The rain fell. Nutrients surged into the plants from the fertile soil. The vines grew and flowered. Fruit began to form.

When the first grape ripened, He eagerly tested it. Bitter. Tasteless. Worthless. 

More fruit ripened. Equally poor quality. (From Isaiah 5)

What should He do?

He had already done everything He could do, but there was something inherently wrong with the vines. There was nothing to do but pull them up and start again.

That's where we were. Our sin nature had marred us at the deepest level. Nothing we could produce would ever be pure enough to satisfy our Lord. We were the worthless, failed vines.

We deserved judgment. Annihilation. Destruction.

But our God...

He was determined. He would not be defeated by a vineyard full of worthless, failed vines.

He did what had to be done. 

He chose His Son as the only Vine. He made it possible that we, the branches that failed, could be grafted in because of His great love. Same perfect care. Same rich soil, bright sun, timely rain. 

At last, lush fruit could be produced, even from the wild branches that were grafted in. 

The Vine wasn't sent as a sprout with roots in a bag of soil. The Vine came to us as a tiny baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He was, and still is, the most precious Vine of all. 

Christmas, the Flesh-wrapped God come to live among us, was possible because of God's great love, but we must never forget that it was necessitated because of our great failure, our sin.

Because of Jesus, we can be grafted into His vine. We can bear quality fruit that lasts. And we must. 

But do we?

Today, let's take a close look at our lives from God's perspective. After all, His is the only perspective that matters. Let's invite Him to make whatever changes need to be made, prune what needs to be removed.

The objective is not showy leaves or long branches. The objective is fruit that lasts.

"I am the vine and you are the branches..." John 15:5 nasb
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The Road to Bethlehem advent e-book is free on Amazon for three more days. Here's the link: Road to Bethlehem

If you've been blessed by and are grateful for this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: Stripping Away the Glitter to Find the Beautiful 
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Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: Stripping Away the Glitter to Find the Beautiful


Isaiah wrote about the last days, when God will have a time of reckoning. He will strip away all the things in which people have trusted. Government. Wise leaders. Military might. Fortresses. Food supply. Idols. 

I shudder to think of it. People will want to hide in the mountains to escape.

Women, who have taken pride in appearance and position (beauty, clothing, makeup jewelry, manicures, great hairdo's, fancy undies), will find that God strips all of it away. What remains may not be attractive at all.

The Great Stripping Away will be a terrible time. None of us will like it. 

Because of the Stripping Away, however, something wonderful will happen. 

God will cleanse His people. 

He will make us holy and He will dwell with us. 

His Spirit will cover us. Protect us.

The Great Stripping Away will be worth it. 

My friend posted the photo (above) of her Christmas tree this year. As I read Isaiah 2-4 today, I thought of her "stripped down" tree. It's not covered with ornaments or lights, but it's strangely beautiful because of the truth it conveys.

It's left me wondering how much more beautiful our Christmas season would be if we would willingly strip away all the glitter and get back to the basics of the Nativity. 

There is breathtaking beauty in the truth that God became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Christmas is not made more beautiful by lights and tinsel. 

The Christ Child is beautiful as He is. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

If we strip away the fanciful and celebrate the birth of our Lord, perhaps we would experience His presence in a deeper, more profound way. Perhaps our children would understand that Jesus is the only gift that matters. Perhaps we would understand it, too.

This year, as those who follow the Messiah, let's choose Christ. Let's step away from the Madison Avenue idea of Christmas and simply embrace Jesus. If we do, I can promise you it will be the best Christmas ever.

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Price of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 nasb
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The Road to Bethlehem advent e-book is free on Amazon for four more days. Here's the link: Road to Bethlehem

If you've been blessed by and are grateful for this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Heart of Christmas: The Present on a Tree
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