Saturday, December 19, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Good Husband

It was more than two decades ago, but I can still see myself, standing in the hallway of the office, one hand on the phone, blinking back tears. Former State Senator Nancy Collins was working at the hospital back then. She had called to ask me to be chairperson for a fund-raiser. I don't remember the cause, but the conversation is still vivid in my mind.

I didn't feel I could tackle a big project, I told her, because I was in the midst of a divorce. It was a devastating time. Between working, dealing with my farm and livestock, and (most importantly) being a single mother, I had more than I could handle already. I was fragile. The thought of adding one more thing to my overwhelming life brought me to tears.

She understood. She'd been there before, she told me, and there were two verses that had sustained her during those difficult days.

Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
Neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.
                                                     Isaiah 54:4,5 nasb

I didn't realize how important those two verses, hidden away in Isaiah, would be to me over the years. The words "your husband is your Maker" rang in my heart. That evening, I wrote the verses on an index card and tucked it in my pocket. I carried it with me until I had memorized the words. They are written on my heart to this day, for they sustained me through a time when I felt shamed, humiliated, and disgraced. A time when I was heart-broken and struggling to carry on.

Nancy was right. My Maker did become my husband, and He has been the best husband imaginable, even though He is a not a "husband with skin on". He's met my needs, provided wisdom, strength, and hope. The shame I felt during that time is only a distant memory.

I've never believed in a "name it and claim it" theology, but I do believe in clinging to truth. Over the years, the truth in Scripture has spoken to me just as these two verses did. It has specifically addressed my need and given me direction, or hope, or strength. Sometimes, it's given me conviction when I was in danger of wandering.

This year, let's immerse ourselves in the Word of God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word we celebrate this season. Whatever need we face, the answer lies in the Word. If we need help, or hope, or strength, we can find it, not in the glitter and rush of this world, but only in God's Word.

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14 nasb

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
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Friday, December 18, 2015

Finding Christmas: Prophecy Fulfilled

Jesus didn't look like anyone expected. Most religious people rejected Him. Despite their enmity, He carried their sins (my sin, our sin) to the cross. Everything He suffered was for us, for me. Because of His sacrifice, we are justified. I am justified. 

He prayed for us as He was dying. He prays for us still.

Isaiah 53 might be my favorite chapter in the Bible. I know that Luke 2 is the passage most people read on Christmas, but this chapter is always part of my personal Christmas reading. Pure prophecy. Every word fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. It's so beautiful that I'm including it, in the NASB version that I prefer, in its entirety. Nothing more. Rejoice today in the One who carried our sin and set us free.

Who has believe our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face,
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; 
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, 
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men, 
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord was pleased 
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, 
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

                    Isaiah 53:1-12 nasb

Merry Christmas, all, as we celebrate the One who came for us.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding Christmas: Prosperity and Success

When I was much younger than I am now, I thought being prosperous was the same thing as being financially wealthy. I imagined how prosperity would look. Big house. Lovely furnishings. Servants (possibly in uniforms). Gigantic bank accounts. New car. Foreign travel. Twin engine plane. 

I thought prosperity was about stuff. 

With that same mindset, I thought Christmas was about the number of presents under the tree, the wrappings, the tinsel and glitter. As a child, I counted the number of presents under the tree with my name on them, hoping I had as many as my sister. If there was stuff to be had, I wanted my full share.

I thought Christmas was about stuff.

I was so wrong, on both counts.

This morning, I was reminded again of the difference between prospering and having stuff. In Isaiah, the words of God, speaking of Jesus, describe Him as prospering.

"Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted." (Is. 52:13) 

This passage continues to describe Him as "marred more than any man" before saying "Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him..."

Being high and lifted up and greatly exalted sounds like prosperity to me. Being "marred more than any man" does not, but it was only in the marring that Jesus achieved His prosperity, His success.

The Hebrew word translated as prosper is sakal and is sometimes translated as to be prudent, to see with insight, to act wisely, to succeed (or prosper). In the passage in Isaiah, it is used as "succeed". 

A close look at Jesus' life reveals little of the world's definition of success. He didn't own a home. He traveled on foot, spent time with gluttons and drunkards, and was despised and rejected by the establishment. He died an ignominious death on the cross. 

By most standards, Jesus was not a success. Until the third day.

On that glorious morning, the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. The enemy was defeated. The Savior was risen. The truth of His success was evident for all who would see. 

The prosperity of Jesus had nothing at all to do with an accumulation of stuff. He prospered because He succeeded in accomplishing the task for which He had come, to be the perfect sacrifice for the Sin of the world. 

It should be no surprise, then, that the celebration of His birth has nothing at all to do with a display of material wealth. Generations of gift-giving have not changed the truth. 

Success is not defined by the accumulation of things, nor is Christmas.

This year, let's focus on our Savior, who found success in the marring, in the sacrifice, in the suffering. The number or quality of the gifts under the tree will never substitute for the gift most needed, that of a worshipping, humble heart.

Start first with the gift Christ most desires this Christmas. Let's give Him our hearts.


The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
 #notaboutstuff #prosperity #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple 
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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Rear Guard

Someone I didn't know well attended a meeting at my house recently and made the most surprising comment. "It's a shame you being alone in a big house like this."

Alone? Me? I laughed. 

I may be the only human living in my house, but I am not alone. The dogs are certainly good company, but there's a steady stream of fellow humans in and out of my house. More important, though, is the "real" company that provides constant companionship. 

King David knew the truth of divine companionship and wrote about it in Psalm 23.

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..." Psalm 23:6

Isaiah also wrote about our ever-present God.

"For the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard." 
                                                                                                                         Isaiah 52:12

Before and behind. Surrounded by the presence of God Himself. I have never been alone, and I'm not alone now. 

The Christ who came as a baby, rose as a victorious conqueror, and returned to Heaven did not leave us as orphans. 

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me... He will guide you into all the truth... whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come..."
                                                                                                                         John 15:26, 16:13 nasb

Christ has risen. The Spirit has come. This holiday season, be comforted in the fact that we have not been overlooked. Before us and behind us, we are never alone. 

He is here. Alleluia.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Finding Christmas: Look to the Rock

When Isaiah wrote "Look to the rock from which you were hewn," (Is 51:1), he was speaking of Abraham and Sarah. If we consider the ones from whom we are descended, however, we need to look to Adam and Eve, because it was to them that the first prophecy of the coming Messiah was given.

Literally, Adam and Eve lived in heaven on earth. 

In the garden, there was no pain. No suffering. No sorrow. No pests. No disease. It was a foretaste of heaven.

Then, Eve saw the fruit. It was a "delight to the eyes" and she believed the fruit, instead of her daily walks with God, would make her wise. 

"...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate."                                                                                                                           Gen. 3:6 nasb

It started by listening to the voice of the enemy. It progressed to looking at the fruit. The fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil seemed to be the most beautiful fruit in the garden. The sight of it delighted her. 

Isn't that how sin begins? We take a quick peek in the direction of sin and it looks lovely. 

We see the glitter and the attraction, but we fail to see the price, the consequences.

When she took the fruit from the tree, her decision was made. Eating the fruit, the one thing God had said not to do, was only seconds behind. Adam quickly followed.

One quick snack of disobedience changed everything. 

They no longer knew only good. After their disobedience, their sin, they knew evil, as well. 

It was the first sin. Adam and Eve are the rocks from which we were hewn, for we have continued their bent for sin, just as God knew we would.

When the Lord came to the garden that afternoon, He spoke words to the serpent that we celebrate this season.

"And I will put enmity 
between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
and you shall bruise him on the heel."
                              Genesis 3:15 nasb

The seed of woman (Jesus), by his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, delivered a fatal blow (bruise on the head) to the evil one. The bruise on the heel (crucifixion) was not fatal, for death could not hold our King.

It is that sacrifice, that fatal blow to the hold of sin in our lives, that Jesus' birth represents. 

This Christmas, let's look to the rock from which we were hewn, two sinners in a perfect garden, and recognize the price of our sin. 

All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to His own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.                     Isaiah 53:6 nasb

This Christmas, let's remember the price of our sin and the One who paid it, but let us also turn from our sin to that Holy One whose sacrifice we celebrate.


The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #ByHisStripes #Rememberthecross

Monday, December 14, 2015

Finding Christmas: Remembering the Stripes

At Christmas, we celebrate the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger. God, stuffed into the confines of human flesh, was wrapped in cloths and laid into a feed trough, and it was a miracle. The miracle, however, was not primarily about the strips of cloth wrapped around that fragile body. The miracle was about the stripes that would, all too soon, be delivered to that fragile back. 

The journey to Bethlehem was only the beginning. The manger was simply the first stop on the road to the Cross. 

I unpacked my Nativity sets yesterday and, like last year, I rested the babe in the manger on a wooden cross as a reminder. 

Jesus didn't come for the manger. He came for the cross. 

Isaiah's words were written prophetically about Jesus:

...And I was not disobedient, 
nor did I turn back.
I gave My back to those who strike Me...

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted. 
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
                                  Isaiah 50:5,6, 53:4,5 nasb

This year, as we look at the displays of babies in mangers, let's remember the stripes that wracked his back, the sacrifice He made. 

Jesu came to present Himself as a sacrifice for my sin, for yours. In the midst of celebrations and gifts and gatherings of family and friends, we must not forget the gift God gave.

He gave more than a baby. He gave the spotless Lamb of God, who took away the sin of the world.

This Christmas, let's Behold the Lamb as never before, for it is by His stripes we are healed. 


The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #ByHisStripes #Rememberthecross

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finding Christmas: Sustenance for the Weary

The Holiday Season (November 1 to January 1) can be exhausting. 

For those who are already busy, adding shopping, cooking, travel, and hosting guests can make a tight schedule overwhelming. I've been there.

The Holiday Season can be heartbreaking. 

For those who are estranged from loved ones or separated by miles or circumstances, the distance can seem insurmountable. Waiting for reconciliation, waiting for change can seem interminable. I've been there.

The Holiday Season can be hopeless. 

For those who have lost loved ones, for those who are suffering from mental or physical illness or are walking through illness with those they love, a poor prognosis can turn a time of hope and joy into hopelessness and sorrow. I've been there, too.

Not everyone's life is full of light. 

All of us have hard times, and in those hard times, we could use an encouraging word. 

Isaiah was referring to the Messiah when he wrote, 

"The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word."  Isaiah 50:4 nasb

When we struggle with exhaustion, heartbreak, hopelessness, or sorrow, there is One who can sustain us. Only One. 

Our Lord can strengthen us with a word, and He will.

Our tendency is to look to the world for strength and sustenance, but the world is a cold and lonely place. It has nothing to give. 

Only our Lord can help us in our hour of greatest need.

Are you overwhelmed? Grieving? Out of hope? Open your Bible and let the Word of God provide you with the Word you desperately need. Let Him pour balm on your soul. 

This morning, look to Jesus for the answers to every struggle you have. He has the words you need to hear. 

Only Jesus.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, 
and I will give you rest. 
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, 
for I am gentle and humble in heart 
and you shall find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29 nasb

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction.
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