Telling the Story of Christmas

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made. A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men” (vs. 8-14)”.

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show. For fifty-six years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that sent His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world. The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels. It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable. But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross. Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Morning Prayer

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You give life where death once ruled.

You give hope in the midst of turmoil, and peace during the storm.

You give assurance in the face of doubts.

You give wisdom when we are bewildered, and strength when we are weak.

You give sweet rest for the weary, welcome to the lonely, and Joy to those who have been trampled by life.

You give cleansing for the stains of sin and redeem all we once thought was lost.

Lord, You are life and love, light and hope, joy and peace.

Oh that my heart would always stay fixed on You.

God teach me to abide in You, until that day when I abide with you for eternity.

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

I Saw God

Photo by Ashley Andrews

“I have seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Have you ever seen God? I’ve had people berate me for believing in a God I cannot physically see. But I saw Him this week.

Many of you know that my granddaughter had a major dental procedure done at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Because of the distance and the early check-in, we had to stay at a local hotel the night before. We had to have gas to make the trip. Joy needed things we didn’t have on hand. And I was broke. So I prayed. I didn’t tell anyone except God about our needs. A few days later, after teaching a Bible study class, I was handed an envelope by someone who didn’t know me. I saw God. The next day, I received a check in the mail from a dear friend. I saw God. I put it all in the bank and my husband and I headed to Waffle House to get a quick bite before we picked up the things Joy needed and hit the road to Birmingham. As we got ready to leave the server informed us that our ticket had been paid. I saw God.

We filled up the truck, bought Joy’s stuff, and headed up 231. When we checked into the hotel I discovered that only part of my deposit was available. I didn’t have enough to pay for our room. The hotel associate covered the $20 difference and I couldn’t find her the next day to pay her back. I saw God.

Joy had had a previous dental procedure by another dentist a few months prior that was handled badly and it had left her traumatized for several weeks. We were concerned about further anxiety, but Children’s is amazing. They gave her an oral sedative and she fell asleep in her Mommy’s arms, they took her to do the work, brought her back to the room and she woke up in Mommy’s arms. It couldn’t have gone smoother. I saw God. You all prayed for her. I saw God.

I know this is not my typical devotional, but I want you to know what God has done for me and my family. I want you to be encouraged that He cares for you also. He cares about your physical needs as much as your soul. Beloved, I want you to see God.

At the Name of Jesus

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The soldiers put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him” (Mark 15:16-19)

John wrote: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:8). Did you catch that? Even those who pierced him! All those who have mocked Him and ridiculed him will suddenly and clearly see Him as “the Lord of lords and the King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). And what will be their reaction? Paul said, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10). Every knee. Every tongue. And they will do so because His majesty will be on full display. Do you see how the soldiers were doing in jest what they and all of humanity will be doing on that glorious day? For those who rejected Him in this life, it will be a moment of abject terror as they confront the truth they so long tried to deny.

But for those who have received Him, who have believed in His Word, who have stood fast in the face of persecution and endured the slings and arrows of the culture in which we live, our knees will gladly bow in honor of His grandeur and our tongues will joyfully confess the Name and praise of Jesus Christ who is forever exalted in heaven and earth. I bow before Him now and offer Him my praise so that when that day of days comes, I will slip into the posture of worship as naturally as drawing a breath.

I pray you know Him today as your Savior and Lord. I pray on that day you will greet him as your King and His Name will roll from your lips with delight at the glorious sight of His face. If you do not know this Jesus, please let this be the day that you say “Yes” to the king of Kings and the lord of Lords.

Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

I am Not a Fan of Jesus

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Celebrity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fans.

Jesus had many fans.  People flocked to Him and hung on His every word. They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  I am not a fan of Jesus. Before you count me out as a heretic, let me tell you who I am.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Yes, I want to be near Him, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because He is peace.  He is hope.  He is wisdom and power.  And He is Life.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identified himself as a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus. He is my Teacher. He teaches me how to walk in righteousness.  He teaches me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends are there after the show.  I love just spending time with Him Monday – Saturday in His Word and through His Spirit.

I am a witness of Jesus.   Jesus saved me, redeemed my life, and gave me a place with Him in heaven. He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

I am a worshipper of Jesus. I will spend the rest of my life and all eternity giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. To be a fan of Jesus falls far short of what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Beloved, don’t just be a fan of Jesus. Be His follower and servant and disciple and friend and witness and worshipper. In other words, let Jesus be your everything.

What if God said, “No.”?

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I had a burden – a heartwrenching, sleep-stealing, desperate burden. I prayed. I called friends and asked them to pray. And God came through. In a big way, as only He could do. He worked beyond my expectations. I thanked Him profusely, proclaiming His goodness, kindness, and faithfulness. Days later, as I was again giving Him thanks and praise for His hand in the situation, I sensed His question, “And what if I had said, ‘No.’ Would you still praise me?”

The Spirit led me to Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. You know this one – King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded all the leaders of Babylon to bow down before his golden image. But the three Jewish men would not worship anyone or anything but the God of Israel. They proclaimed His power to deliver them, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand O king.” (Dan. 3:17).  There was no question of their faith in the power of God. But they also declared that “even if He does not we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v. 18).  The question rang in my heart again: Would I still praise Him if He had not come through for me?

Ten years ago I probably would have said, “Maybe.” My relationship with God was largely about what He could do for me. But after all we’ve been through together, after all He has taught me about Himself, I can say that regardless of what He does or doesn’t do for me, I will always praise Him. Not because of His actions, but because of who He is. He is worthy of praise and worship and wholehearted love because He is God. If all He ever did was exist, He would still be worthy of praise.

Beloved, I pray that you will love and worship God for who He is, and not just for what you hope He will do for you. He has never been less than everything He claimed to be. And He never will.

Even if the answer is “No.”

God is moving . . .

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The Bible is a full-circle story – from Genesis to Revelation and points in between.

In Genesis 11 men, in their ego and disobedience, determined to build a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). In response to their pride and sin, the Lord confused their language so that they could not complete their ego-driven building project and He scattered them across the earth.

Now jump ahead to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they “began to speak in other tongues” (v. 4). Because of the season, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from many different countries and suddenly they could hear and understand the Gospel – in their own language. God was moving . . .

Our final destination in Scripture is Revelation 7:9 where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lamb. The throne room of heaven will ring with Christ’s praises – in every language – languages that came to be because God had to punish man’s rebellion and sin.

God has been working throughout human history for one purpose: the glory of His Son. Every moment, every action, every life is leading us to this scene. Imagine the beautiful sound – praise to the Lamb of God in every tongue known to man.

So what does this mean as you struggle through your day? The same God who is in control of human history is also in control of your life. Nothing, not even your foolishness and failure, is wasted in the hands of the One who holds it all. And just as a multi-language song of praise will fill the heavens, all things in your life will all come together in a beautiful, multi-color picture of God’s glory and grace. Beloved, God is moving . . .