Jesus is for Every Season


This is a post from my other blog, Dadvotionals.com, but thought it was good to share on this site as well. Hope you all had a wonderful and memorable Christmas.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. I love the music, the food, the family gatherings, but most of all I love the reason. Christ come in the flesh, a baby born in a quiet town with shepherds in attendance. A young couple following the advice of angels to make a good start to their new family. The humble manger holding the greatest treasure in all of creation.

Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season, but our love for Jesus should not be seasonal. We cannot afford to be fair weather friends to the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the reason in every season of life. He is the reason we can make it through the harsh seasons and the reason we can celebrate the bountiful ones. His faithfulness never fails and we should make every effort to live likewise.

Christmas is a time to celebrate love and family and giving. Let’s remember to keep giving the gift of our love, faith and obedience to God even after the decorations are stowed away and the tree is gone.

Have a blessed Christmas and face the New Year with hope and peace.

Thoughts on Christmas: A Mother’s Song, A Daughter’s Song


And Mary said:  “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

It must have been an incredible moment, a moment that both women carried with them through the years their sons were growing up and becoming the servants of God they were meant to be.  One a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah; the other a rabbi who bled for the sins of the world. Both of them miracles.

John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents well beyond the childbearing age – the Abraham and Sarah of their day.  Zechariah was commanded by God to name his son John, but was made mute because he questioned God’s ability to give them a son.  Jesus was the Son of God and Joseph and Mary – one by spirit, one by law and one by blood.  Mary was blessed for unflinching obedience and acceptance.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, signifying that he already recognized the one he would prepare the way for in an unprepared world.  Elizabeth is moved by the spirit to prophesy, which in turn moves Mary to sing praise to her God.  It is a holy moment, a sacred moment.  Two holy children destined to change the world and two women chosen to love and care for them joined together by God’s Spirit.

Often the song of Mary is considered a mother’s song, and it is, but it is also a daughter’s song to her heavenly Father.  A song of praise and thanksgiving for all that He had done and all that He would do. A song testifying God’s ability to give her everything she needs to do what she should.  A song for Christmas, when we celebrate the day that God gave us everything we need to do all we should.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas day, it is easy to get frustrated with the un-Christmas-like things around us and around the world.  However, the danger of focusing on the lack of Christ in Christmas in our culture is that we don’t focus enough on the Christ in Christmas.  Think of Mary, a young woman in her circumstances travelling to stay with family, avoiding the shame she might endure.  She carried the light of the world inside her, but knew no one would believe her.  In the midst of all this she sings praise to her God; she remembers what she is about and who she is; a daughter of the King.  Instead of fixating on all that could go wrong, or what was uncomfortable or unpleasant, she recounted what good a gracious God she served.  She was preparing the way for the Messiah.

Maybe that is what we should really be about during the Christmas season – preparing the way.  Like Mary and then John, we should be focused on preparing the way for Jesus to come into moments we share with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers.  Let’s prepare the way in our hearts for Christ to have His way in His time.  Prepare the way, Christmas is coming.

Thoughts on Christmas: Simeon’s Song


Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32

Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God came in the flesh to save the world?  I asked myself these questions a few years ago when I read this verse.  It is one that gets skipped over sometimes because it is stuck in between the nativity and the ministry of Jesus with the disciples.  It struck me that God had ordained this meeting between His son and His servant to confirm for Joseph and Mary that all they had experienced was real.

It is easy to feel a little jealous of Simeon’s experience, celebrating the arrival of God’s salvation by holding it close to his chest, but I have since decided that we now experience something Simeon did not – the indwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  While Simeon knew who Jesus was and had been waiting for His arrival, he most likely was not living when Christ rose from the tomb.  As believers under the new covenant, we have a fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It really is astounding; that God would dwell in us and make our hearts His home.

In this coming year, in the aftermath of the Christmas season and all the un-Christmas stuff that can come with it, remember that we have received Christ.  We hold Him close to our hearts in faith.  We celebrate His presence in our lives.  We say with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation” and give our praises to God.  This is the meaning and momentum of Christmas; that Christ was sent and received and continues to be sent and received through the Holy Spirit to save the lost and heal the sick and feed the hungry.

Now we become the bearers of the gift, carrying it into the lives of others, presenting them with their “Simeon” moment.  Our words and actions open the doors to present the gift to friends, family, coworkers and strangers, bringing Christ near to those He would save.  Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God comes in the flesh to bring salvation to a dying world?  It is our privilege and promise as His children to carry these great gifts every day.  Here is hoping that Christmas does not only mark the end of the year, but gives us the push we need to hit the new year with renewed strength and purpose.

Redefined


For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)

The distractions of today and yesterday too often skew the way we see God and His creation.  We rationalize, contextualize, scrutinize with faulty eyes the way we should act/think/feel in each situation that comes our way.  We use broken eyes, behind broken lenses to perceive a broken world to help define a perfect God and our relationship to him.  But love redefines everything.

Before God first breathed life into the dirt that would become Adam, to his son laying down his life for all, to the day he returns to judge the quick and the dead, one thing remains the same: God loves us.  He created us to love him.  He formed us with love in mind.  We long for it, search for it, try with epic effort to find it on our own, but it is not a love that can be reproduced or replicated.  It is a love that redefines us.

I was typing a note on a tablet and it asked me if I wanted to add “God” to the dictionary.  It seemed an odd question, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how this question reflects a reality in the human – we are far more comfortable defining God than letting God define us.  We add him to our dictionary instead of allowing him to write our dictionary for us.  We like to have our own dictionary because we can control how we see the world, but sooner or later we will be faced with the unchangeable truth that God cannot be controlled by our dictionary.  His love redefines everything.

So we have a choice – to continue in our dream world of self-referencing everything to fit into our broken view through broken lenses, or we can have our sight healed by the love of God and allow ourselves to be defined by his word and will.  Will we be Pharisees or mustard seeds?  Will we be children of God or childish about God?  Will we stamp our labels on people we meet (criminal, homeless, sinner, lost), or will we get close enough to read what God has written on them (hurting, suffering, broken, loved by God)?

Lord, help me to be defined by your dictionary each day.  May my vocabulary increase as my fear decreases and may I find the words to share your love with others.  Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to love without reservations.  Amen.

Poetry: The Thorn in My Side


The Thorn in My Side

 

A gentle prick in my holy veneer

Piercing where no eye can see

Ignoring the pain with a candy smile

The thorn in my side is me

 

Pain and grief and shame pour in

Self-mutilation with the sharp point of sin

Sinful desires rise once again

Leading to places I’ve already been

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m missing the point, but it won’t miss me

The thorn in my side is me

I should get paid, but I’m doing the Devil’s work for free

 

God is patient, God is kind

Hoping He can change my double mind

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

 

Can’t blame mom, can’t blame dad

Don’t see anyone holding a gun to my head

Who can save me from this body of sin?

The son of God, raised from the dead

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m getting the point, I’m beginning to see

The thorn in my side is me

Christ paid the price for one such as me

 

God is gracious, God forgives

In Him alone salvation lives

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

Acting Out Our Faith: Real Power


Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.”  They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. – Acts 8:9-13 (NIV)

There is a great scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is standing on top of a taxi giving orders to some police officers.  When he is done, one of the officers asks, “Why should we listen to you?”  This pertinent question is followed by Captain America’s clear display of power against otherworldly warriors, after which the officer begins to relay the Captain’s orders.  Power can change people’s mind and earn respect, whether it is out of admiration, fear or gratitude.

Simon had followers because he had displayed power, but it was rooted in a limited source.  Simon could only do so much to impress his fans.  When Philip comes to town, the people are confronted with a different kind of power and are changed by it.  Instead of having to go to Simon whenever they want to see power, they are empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of being fans of Simon, they became followers of Christ.  This was such a startling show of power that even Simon believed.

That power is still at work in the world today through God’s people if they choose.  It is not a power that we use to rule over others or hold them in sway.  We are empowered to empower others.  We extend to others that same power that inspired the Psalmist to write, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We get to take our place in the long line that leads others from brokenness to wholeness, from sorrow to joy and from apathy to gratitude.

Motivated by love, empowered by God, we are sent forth to change the world.  The problem for me and the rest of fallen humanity is that we have a long history of abusing power or being abused by it.  We have words of warning about how power corrupts, but the reality is that corrupt power corrupts.  God’s power heals, saves, resurrects and sustains.  It does not corrupt.  He does not corrupt.

I want to be that vessel of clay.  I want to hold the power of God so that it can be poured out into the world and the lives of others.  But I must watch out for the Simon in me; the one who wants power for himself and for his own fame and fortune.  I must watch out for the fawning member of the crowd that can lurk in my heart, waiting for the next magic trick to come along and fascinate me.  I want to be like Philip; a man empowered, but not worried about power.

Lord, empower me to extend Your love, grace, healing and hope.  Guard my heart from worldly powers that might draw me away from You.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Taking the Word


Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. – Acts 8:4

The devil does not give up easily.  He is pride personified and will not stop his rebellion against God.  He incites and manipulates and connives to work against the kingdom of God and he worked hard to squash this new move of God called the body of Christ.  Persecution came in various forms and degrees of harm, but it all worked to overcome something that cannot be overcome – the Word.

The devil’s pride actually becomes a help to those who follow after God.  While the devil was trying to stop the church, the persecution just spread it out and made it grow.  Instead of shutting up and keeping quiet about their faith, believers took the gospel with them to cities, towns and villages.  The good word went with them as the persecution pushed the church out of Jerusalem into the rest of the world.

It is comforting to keep in mind that anything the devil may have planned for us has already been seen and considered by the God who loves and cares for us.  He has already worked out ways for those hellish plans to be fruitless while His children grow and prosper.  This is what happens when we take the word with us through life.  When it sits inside of us and forms our thoughts and guides our paths, we walk in the plans that God has for us and won’t fall into the traps of the devil.

Lord, help me to walk with the word in my heart every step of this life.  My I preach it through action and speech to all who will listen and may I not bring reproach to Your word by my failures and faults.  Make me more and more a man of Your word every day.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Lead With Forgiveness


While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.”  Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation.  So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth?  How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?

Stephen leads with forgiveness.  He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw.  He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy.  At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he.  He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.

Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it.  Stephen is forgiving.  It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring.  That is acting out your faith.

Lord, help me to be forgiving.  Teach me how to lead with forgiveness.  Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: We Must Obey God


Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:29-32 (NIV)

“Obey.”  Talk about a word that has lost its popularity.  Think about how many times you have heard the word used in the last week, or try to remember the last time you heard someone use the term without it being negative.  Somehow our culture came to believe the word was oppressive and limiting.  You don’t hear it very often in wedding vows, even though it is in the Scriptures.  Obedience is for soldiers and pets, but not for us, right?

The truth is that we obey all the time; we just don’t always choose to obey.  Before Adam and Eve fell they had to choose to disobey.  Once sin entered into the mix, humanity has to choose to be obedient to God because our default setting is obedience to sin.  If we are not conscious of this reality, we may find ourselves satisfying the desires of our sinful natures instead of obeying God, and we must obey God.

If we are to be useful tools in His hands, we must obey God.  If we are to be godly husbands and wives and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, we must obey God.  If we want to change the world, we must obey God so that we can be changed first.

Peter knew the price of disobedience.  He knew the pain and agony of denying the truth.  His testimony here is a warning sign to all of us to be careful that obedience to God doesn’t get derailed by anything else.  If God says, “Love your neighbor,” then we must love our neighbors, no matter how difficult that may be.  Peter knew that any obedience he could offer to God was nothing compared to the obedience of Christ who saved him and called him to be His disciple.  We must obey because God is worthy of our obedience.

Lord, help me to understand and live out a life in obedience to You.  Keep my eyes and ears from being distracted by anything that would draw me away from obeying You and Your word.  Teach me the discipline of obedience. Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Influence That Matters


As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. – Acts 5:15 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the only thing of any use my shadow has ever done is keep the sun out of someone’s eyes.  Kind of disappointing in comparison to this passage.  What kind of life convinces people that your shadow can heal?  What past experience promotes that kind of faith in the intangible?  Peter did two things that answer these questions: he followed Jesus and did what Jesus did.

If I want my life to have influence for the kingdom it is good to see how others did so.  Peter may have had a rough start, but when Jesus got him moving in the right direction, not much got in his way.  He pursued the life of Jesus with passion and clear intent.  Peter belonged to Christ and therefore owed nothing to any man other than what Christ supplied.  If I want to influence the world, I can’t do it when other passions and pursuits own me.

It is not enough in this life to act Christian.  Acting Christian can influence others, but usually not in the right way.  It goes much farther to be like Christ and the only way to be like Christ is to follow Him through His spirit.  It is the difference between acting a part and being changed in such a way that you act differently than you did before.  I don’t want to act like anything.  It is tiring and fruitless.  I want to be transformed and be used to transform others to be more like Jesus.  That is the kind of influence that matters.

Lord, help me to be more like you every day so You can use me to influence the world around me.  Draw me further on as I follow Jesus and pursue His life passionately and intently.  Amen.