Gifts

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Matthew 6:26

It is impossible to understand the greatness of God’s love.  That the Creator of the universe cares about the twists and turns of our lives is unimaginable.  He knows the stars by name.  He knows the number of grains of sand on the ocean floor.  He knows the number of hairs on each head of every person alive on this planet.  And yet, we struggle to trust Him with the details of our lives.  If He is mighty enough to speak all things into being, isn’t He worthy of our full confidence and surrender?

Have you ever wondered why God chose to give such wonderful gifts?  He didn’t have to give the zebra strips or paint such magnificent sunsets.  It wasn’t necessary to have so many different kinds of flowers, birds, and butterflies.  Who said that sea turtles had to be created with the innate ability to return thousands of miles to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs?  Why such a splendid creation?

Everything in creation shouts that God can be trusted.  God left no stone unturned.  He created a world that is self-sustaining.  Birds migrate, bears hibernate, trees shed their leaves, and plants make food and provide oxygen for us to breathe.  The moon, tides, seasons, and sun work together in inexplicable ways.  Right now we are living on a giant magnetic fireball flying through space, rotating and turning and spinning at just the right degree and speed to sustain life.  Who did all of this?  Who gave such gifts?

If you are like me, there is always great anticipation for Christmas morning.  When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to see what gifts I received; but now, I can’t wait to see others’ reactions to the gifts I give.  There is no greater joy than seeing a gift that I thoughtfully selected and sacrificed to purchase be received with delight, joy and gratitude.

The same is true of God, and even more so.  He is the perfect gift-giver.  His gifts meet our needs and satisfy our desires.  He knows what we need before we even have to ask.  There is no naughty-or-nice list…His gifts are given in grace, not based on behavior.

Look around and choose to see His gifts.  Let them drive you to trust Him more.

Heavenly Father, I praise You and thank You for Your good gifts.  Evidence of Your trustworthiness is everywhere I choose to look for it.  Please help me to remember to give these gifts away to those who so desperately need Your love.  In Christ’s Name, Amen.

The Only Savior

“I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from Me there is no savior.”  Isaiah 43:11

Life is hard.  There is no way around this truth.  As long as we walk on this earth, we will deal with heartache, suffering, catastrophe, death, sickness, and countless other struggles.  Many people use this truth as a reason to reject God.  They reason, “How could a loving God allow such pain?”  If most of us were honest, we would have to admit to wondering the same thing.

In Isaiah 43:11, God makes a bold statement about Himself…”Apart from Me there is no savior.”  God is the only savior.  He is not “a savior,” He is the Savior.  Many Christians know God as our Savior from sin, but what about as our Savior from the hardships of life?  Do we look to Him as our Savior from suffering?  From death and sickness?  From disaster and evil?

Many will rhetorically ask the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”  But here in Isaiah 43:11 God has told us something important about Himself.  He wants us to know that He is our only hope.  He is the only One who can save.  And without hardship, would we really know Him as Savior on this side of heaven?  God wants us to experience Him as Savior now.  He does not want us to wait until heaven.

In the midst of sin, suffering, and the many hardships that this life entails, He wants the world to know that there is no salvation apart from Him.  There is no joy in suffering without Him…because apart from Him there is no savior.  There is no comfort in sickness without Him…because apart from Him there is no savior.  There is no hope in death without Him…because apart from Him there is no savior.  There is no glory in catastrophe without Him…because apart from Him there is no savior.

He is our comfort, our joy, our hope, and our glory – because He is the only Savior.  This does not mean that He will always save us from hardship; but it does mean that He will walk with us through it.  Do you know Him as your Savior?  Choose today to allow trials, struggles or hardships to bring you to your knees at the feet of this glorious Savior.

 

Father, I praise You because You are the only Savior.  You save me from my sins, and from the effects of sin.  No matter what happens, I have hope in You.  Help me to remember this in times of trouble.  Help me to share this truth with others who need You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

 

Humble Beginnings

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”  Luke 2:6-7

As the Creator and Ruler of the universe, one would think that God could have seen to it that there was a guest room available for the birth of His Son.  Instead, the Word became flesh in a cave-like stable, surrounded by animals, with their feeding trough as His crib.

It is true that God could have done things differently.  Jesus could have been born into earthly wealth a royalty.  When tempted in the wilderness, He could have turned the stone into bread.  As He labored in Gethsemane, He could have summoned a host of angels to His rescue.  He could have silenced the jeers of the mockers by coming down from the cross where He hung, suffered, and died.

So often we are asking the wrong questions.  It’s not about what God could have done – it’s what He willed to do.  His will was an exchange…the world order turned on its head.  His will was Christ made poor on our behalf; us made rich by His poverty.  God’s will was death bringing life, suffering producing joy, and wrath bringing peace.  The humble birth was for our sakes.

Ponder the truth that Christ’s road to Calvary began with the inns being full in Bethlehem.  Christ entered the world the same way He died…lowly and without fanfare…stripped of the honor He is so worthy of receiving…followed by shepherds, prostitutes and tax collectors instead of rich, powerful, influential people.  This was the will of God.

Following this humble Savior and Reigning Lord means joining Him in His life, not inviting Him into ours.  He warned His followers, “Anyone who comes after Me must deny himself and take up his cross…” His reminder to us is, “A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.”

Choosing God’s will through faith in Christ requires sacrifice.  As we join in His life, we will imitate Christ, making ourselves less so that He is glorified.  This means willingly placing the needs of others before our own.  It means giving up so that others may gain Christ.  It is death bringing life, the last being first, and the humble being exalted.  This is the Christ-life…and this is why He came.

Father, Your ways are higher and Your thoughts are greater than mine.  Please forgive me for the times I question Your judgment.  Help me to believe that You always know what is best for me.  Help me to depend on You, wait on You, and follow You in all things.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

The Gift of Worship

“To rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”  Luke 1:74-75

Christmas is without a doubt one of the busiest times of the year.  There are parties, family get-togethers, service projects, shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, entertaining, and cards and packages to mail.  Many families add travel to this list as well.  All of this hustle and bustle can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

This passage in Luke is a great reminder of what this season is all about.  Several years ago, the phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season” became popular.  And while that’s easy to say, it is not so easy to live out with so many obligations and distractions.  While none of these are bad things – in fact many are good – we must guard against letting the days pass by without living out the Christmas message.

Christ Jesus came to rescue us, and also so that we would be able to serve Him each and every day of our lives.  It is interesting that the Scripture says we can serve Him, “Without fear in holiness and righteousness.”  Until Christ came, the people of God lived in fear of Him.  They understood His righteous standard; and they knew they did not meet that standard of holiness.  Only the high priest served God in the Temple.  The people were slaves to the law, but did not enjoy a personal relationship with God.

Since we could not go to God, He came to us through His Son.  That is what incarnation means.  That is the miracle of Christmas.  He became like us so that we could become like Him through faith, and thus enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, during this last week before Christmas as you finish up shopping and wrapping gifts, preparing meals and traveling to see family and friends, remember why Christ came to us.  He lived to rescue us, to redeem us, to draw us near to the Father, and to show us the love of the Father.  That is why we celebrate and give.  Let us not forget that the gift people need most cannot be found in a department store or catalog.  The shepherds found Him in a manger, wrapped up not in expensive décor but swaddling clothes.  The thief found Him nailed to the cross, bloody and bruised, mocked and scorned.  Where can the lost find Him now?  He lives in and through His people…you and I…we are His hands and feet.  We are His messengers.  We are His ambassadors.

Heavenly Father, I know it is only because of Your grace that I can serve You.  Thank You for sending Jesus to redeem my life for Your glory.  Please show me today how I can be a messenger of the Gospel in both word and deed.  Thank You for choosing to use me.  In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Walking In Christ

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”  Colossians 2:6-7

“Just as you have received Christ, so walk in Him.”  Think about this simple statement.  How does one receive Christ?  Is it by works?  Is it by our actions?  No, we receive Him by grace through faith.  So Paul says, “The same way you received Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him that way.”  How many times have you heard someone say, “ I have been walking with the Lord for ____ years.”  Notice the exhortation here in Colossians is to walk in the Lord, not with the Lord.  This is a reference to the promised land of Canaan, which is a wonderful picture of Christ in the Old Testament.

Everything the Israelites needed to live was contained in that land.  They simply had to work it, mine its riches, and live off of its fruit. What Paul is saying to the New Testament believers is: “Walk in the real Canaan, which is Christ” – make Him your life, your everything, and you will bear fruit.  If you build anything, build it on the land and take the building materials from the land – build it on Christ, with Christ and for Christ.

In Colossians chapters 3 and 4 Paul talked about the practical things like home life, master-slave relationships, etc.  These other subjects are like spokes in a wheel – the wheel being Christ Himself.  “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:11  He is the big picture, and He is in the details; He’s in the spiritual, and present in the practical. Many Christians are trying to invite God into their stories, but God is inviting us into His…and that story is Jesus Christ.  You are a living epistle (letter) of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:3).  If Christ is in you, then the Christian life is not about striving to be something you are not…it is about becoming what you already are.

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”  Ephesians 5:8

Good works are simply fruit falling off a tree.  If you will sink your roots deep in Christ, who is your life, you will not be able to stop the fruit from coming forth.  Incarnation doesn’t just apply to Jesus – it applies to us (not in the same redemptive way).  When the angel appeared to Mary she asked the question, “How can this be?”  Our question is the same – how can Jesus be born in and grow in me?  How can the Messiah be bodily present with us today?  We have been given God’s Spirit, which makes Christ real in our lives…just as real as He was in Mary’s womb.  Consider that amazing truth as you celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Father, We, Your Church, are the Tabernacle.  You have chosen to make my life Your home…the place where Your Spirit dwells, and speaks, and ministers, and moves.  Thank You for Jesus.  Thank You for the cross and the empty grave.  Thank You for the Spirit who lives in me, so that I may live in Christ.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

100_0751-2