You Are Here

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“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” Micah 5:2

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a map with one red dot that says, “You are here,” and another red dot way on the opposite side of the map that says “God’s purpose for you is here.” I’m so very far away.  Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy, a young woman was startled to learn that she was pregnant with the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  So was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  God had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).

Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – through the “whim” of a Roman ruler who had no reverence for the God of Israel.

Beloved, God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, is still guiding you.  He knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill His purpose for your life.  Wherever you are today is not the end of your journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.

Big News!

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . . “I bring you good news of great joy . . .” (Luke 1:8,9,10).

We love to make a big deal out of big news. The latest trends in parenting are to make a special announcement – complete with a professional photoshoot – that a baby is on the way and then have a “gender reveal” party to announce whether said baby is a boy or girl. Celebrity pregnancies and births become media frenzies, and when a royal baby is born the entire country celebrates. Yet when the King of the Universe came to earth as a human baby, the big announcement was surprisingly held out of the limelight. Oh, there was an important announcer but it wasn’t the High Priest, it was one of God’s angels. And it wasn’t told to the royal court nor the religious elite. Humble shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy.” There was a glorious choir – “a great host” of heavenly angels who sang the first Christmas carol. But the chief musicians of the temple weren’t there. No reporters or television crews covered this birth. The only witnesses were cows and sheep and perhaps a goat or two.

That is one aspect of the Christmas story that I truly love. God-in-flesh came in the most humble fashion, to the most humble parents, in the most humble place, and the big reveal was made to the most humble folks in Judea. I love that because it means that Jesus came for people like you and me – everyday folks with no important position or high standing or impressive title. He will receive the wealthy and the poor, the learned and the simple, the known and the unknown. Men and women, boys and girls, saints and sinners. All are welcome to worship at the manger.

Come to the stable Beloved – you won’t be turned away. There is room in that tiny space for the whole world.

The Wondrous Love of God

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“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46)

Joy. Peace. Hope. Love.  These are the words we most associate with Christmas and for good reason, the birth of Christ ushers in all of these good things.  Joy abounds in this season, especially on the faces of little children.  The angel brought “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).  And he declared “peace on earth” (v. 14) to the stunned shepherds.  Many a war has called for a “Christmas cease-fire” so that there might be peace, at least for a moment.  The birth of Christ is the promise of the hope of God for all men everywhere.  And Jesus is the embodiment of perfect, holy love.  Those who believe and receive Him are filled with holy love for God and the world.  These are perfect words for the Christmas season.  But one word gets forgotten during this holy time of the year. 

Mary’s song – called The Magnificat – is a beautiful and moving oration inspired by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a humble girl.  Mary’s song doesn’t focus on joy or peace or hope or love.  Mary sings of the mercy of God.  She says “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).   Mercy is as much a part of the Christmas story as the “big four.” 

God’s mercy and His love are interchangeable and intertwined in Scripture.  In the Old Testament, the word ḥesed is often used for both “love” and “mercy.”  You can’t describe the love of God without His mercy and vice-versa. Mercy is love. Love is mercy. Mercy is the outward, active evidence of God’s love.  His love prompted Him to act in mercy.  Love moved the heart of God, mercy built the bridge.  Love saw the suffering of humanity, mercy came down to help.  Love couldn’t bear to be without us, so mercy went to the cross.  And that is where the Christmas story truly becomes a love story.  Because Christmas, with all its joy and celebration, is meaningless without the cross. The story of Christmas is the story of the love – and mercy – of God displayed in the tiny Baby in the manger who would grow up to be the Man on the cross.

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse

Oh, my soul!

Christmas Wish List

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What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart. Maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.” 

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  This same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift and can fill your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this won’t be wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  You’ll find it wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Is This Any Way to Save the World?

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“For to us a child is born . . .”

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money, and more money to appoint a committee to study the matter.  If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and rioters and child abusers and abortionists and drug lords and put them all on a one-way trip to the moon.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would wake from the sleep of death to awaken the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave.

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians, and you and I could never do.  Jesus brought peace with God to the whole world – and that includes you.

Signs of Christmas

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On the day of Pentecost (I know, this is an Advent devotional – bear with me) Peter stood up and said, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . .” (Acts 2:22). Signs were important to the Jews, and they are important to the church today. Signs are markers, signals, symbols, or events that communicate the authenticity of God’s message and messenger. Many miracles and wonders were performed by the prophets of the Old Testament to prove the truthfulness of their message. Likewise, Peter said, Jesus’ miracles and the wonderful things He did were to confirm that He was whom He said He was.

The first confirming sign was not even about Jesus directly. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). The first sign was caused a scandal for Mary, a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth. Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family. Suddenly she finds herself an unmarried young woman with a child in her belly that is not her fiancé’s.  Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. How does a supposed virgin explain her condition? To say God’s call on her life was an inconvenience would be an understatement. She was put in a most shameful situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Her reply to the angel who brought the incredible news was a simple, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:37). The first sign was a young woman with a God-sized problem and the faith to entrust her life to His plan.

Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, something hard, or perhaps even shocking? It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or great sorrow. How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender? Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

On God’s Side

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Like the rest of the world, this year has been rough for me. Sometimes life happens that way, one problem piled on top of another. The question now becomes, how will I react to it? I’ll be honest and say I haven’t always been the paragon of faith I hoped to be. At first, I got upset, even got angry, then I settled into a spirit of discouragement.  Of course, I prayed – sort of. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I whined. “God just look at this – what am I going to do? I can’t take this anymore!” And yes, I am the one who writes constantly about having faith and trusting God in our difficulties. Sometimes it’s had to take your own advice.

Recently, as I whined and cried to God, a verse come to mind (see that’s why we need to be students of the Bible). 2 Chronicles 20:12: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Immediately the question came to my heart, “Child, where are your eyes?” My eyes have been on me, on my problems, on my fears, and what I have to do to fix the situation. They certainly haven’t been on God. All through the Bible, when difficult times came to God’s people, the difference between victory and defeat came down to whether the people were looking at their enemy or their God. David is the perfect example. Goliath was harassing the army of Israel, “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (1 Sam 24). When David saw him, the shepherd-boy advanced with his sling and five stone and declared, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty!” (v. 45). The others saw the giant and ran away from him. David kept his eyes on God and ran with the Lord.  Who do you think won that battle?

Looking back at 2 Chronicles 20, the Lord’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer comes in verse 20—“have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.” Beloved our only hope in these difficult days – whatever they may be – is to turn our eyes from the things that worry us and turn them to God who cares for and is able to help us. God’s never lost a fight. You’re on the side of victory.

Thankful People

The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the Tabernacle that was God’s special dwelling place. David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic with joy and gratitude. They celebrated with sacrifices and offerings to the LORD and joyful thanks. 1 Chronicles 16:41 says, “With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD, ‘for His love endures forever.’” Did you catch that these priests were “chosen…to give thanks to the LORD”? Their sole responsibility was to lead the Israelites in songs and expressions of gratitude to the LORD who was again dwelling among His people.

You and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests. We are chosen to give thanks. We have been given the special calling of leading our families, churches, communities, and nation in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly of all, saved and redeemed us and made us His dwelling place through His Holy Spirit. You and I are God’s priests , chosen to led the way in thanksgiving. Yes, even in 2020. Especially in 2020. As long as there’s breath in your body Beloved, you have a reason to give thanks.

God, I Have a Question . . .

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Doubt and unbelief are part of human nature in the presence of the supernatural. In reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection I discovered a lot of unbelief. Matthew 28:17 says that, when Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples, “they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” The word used here comes from a root that means to take a second look. Luke gives us better insight into their doubts. He reports that when they saw the resurrected Lord, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Luke 24:41). They were overcome with the unexplainable truth standing before them: Jesus, who was dead just days ago, was alive!

Sometimes our doubts and questions can be a powerful tool of spiritual growth if we allow them to make us look again, look deeper, and look for truth. I know that has been the case many times in my life. When I have had questions, and I took them to the Scriptures and to the Lord, I came away with answers that were solid and sure. I nailed down some important points of my faith.

Beloved, if you have questions, if you have doubts, take them honestly to God and ask Him to show you the answers. Dig deeply into the truth of the Word and seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit. The Lord says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is not offended by your questions. He wants you to seek the truth. He wants you to seek Him. He promises: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). That’s a promise worth searching out.

All Tangled Up

tangled Christmas lights - a photo on Flickriver

It’s almost that time! Thanksgiving is only two days away and many people are already decorating for Christmas.  In this year from . . . well you know – lots of folks are making ready for the holidays early to lift their spirits and bring some much-needed Joy to their homes. You know what that means, don’t you? The annual untangling of the Christmas lights. How many hours have we spent trying to turn that snarl of wires and bulbs into a smooth strand? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights?  More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating.  Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free.  I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary (probably) from Magdala who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now.  Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).