Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Joy to the World!

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The Lord will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).

 

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

Joy to the World is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

But that is not the last the world will see of Jesus.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return.  “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7)!  Christmas brings us joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

This is the JOY of Christmas!

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

Waiting for Jesus

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The old man shuffling through the temple courts was a common sight. You could tell exactly what time of day it was when Simeon came around. Same gait, same expression, the same sense of yearning. But today there was something different about him. He was excited, his eyes darted around and his feet moved as if every step was determined by a force outside of himself. Suddenly his weathered face lit up like a thousand candles as his arms extended towards a young couple. With Jesus cradled in his arms the old man began to speak in the sing-song voice of worship: “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke2:29-32).

Just then an old woman came up to the little group, her eyes bright with wonder and fixed on the infant in Simeon’s arms. “This is Him! This is the One! Oh, praise the name of the Lord – He has sent the Redemption of Israel!” Simeon smiled at Anna and nodded his head in agreement with her proclamation. They had both held tightly to the assurance that God would one day comfort and redeem His people and he was glad to share this glorious moment with his friend.

For the two elderly people, the baby was the fulfillment of a promise they had long held to and yearned to see. Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, had been assured by God that he would see the Hope of mankind before he died. Anna, widowed early in her life, had dedicated her years to worship, fasting and praying for the Messiah to come. It had been such a long time – not just their lifetime, but hundreds of years for the oppressed nation of Israel. In the temple courts that day, their faith was rewarded and they received the child with great joy.

How do you hold on when the promise of God is a long time in coming? Just like Simeon and Anna did – with faith. They never wavered in their expectations. They never stopped believing that every promise God made was as sure as His name – El Emunah, The Faithful God. Beloved, His name still stands today. You can wait in faith because God is still always and forever faithful. Christmas is the blessed proof that He will never fail to do what He says He will do.

Image: “Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianna

Worship the King!

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What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 1,000 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere.

These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him. You and I have not just ancient prophecies, but we have the New Testament Scriptures that testify that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

A Beautiful, Imperfect Life

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“If you make a stone altar for me, do not build it out of cut stones. If you use your chisel on it, you will defile it” (Exodus 20:25).

For several years my son and I served with Samaritan’s Purse as the Collection Center Coordinators for Operation Christmas Child. We received thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes from churches in the North Florida region and packaged them in shipping cartons for transport. We quickly learned the most efficient ways to arrange the boxes to get as many as possible in the cartons. We turned them this way and that and searched for small boxes to fit in small spaces. It was like a real-life game of Tetris.

We like it when things fit together well, when there is order and balance. But that’s not always going to happen, especially in life. Things in our lives don’t always fit neatly in place, do they? Like that scary diagnosis or the spouse who walked away. Losing your job didn’t fit in with the structured life you had planned, and that hard-headed, rebellious child of yours has turned your ordered life into chaos. Depression doesn’t sit neatly in your tidy world. If only life cooperated with our well-thought-out plans.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, He commanded them to build an altar for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but they must not cut the stones used in building the altar. Doesn’t that seem odd? Wouldn’t it be nicer to cut the stones to size so that they all fit together neatly? It could be a beautiful monument of perfectly shaped stones. But God did not want man’s “perfection.” To me, this becomes a powerful object lesson – that true worship comes from imperfect lives. Try as we might, we’re not going to make all the pieces fit neatly together. But when God takes the pieces of our lives, the odd shapes and sizes, and even the broken fragments, He makes something beautiful from them, something that speaks of Him to a world full of imperfect people.

Real life is not neat and tidy. It’s messy and misshapen and broken. But God – those are my two favorite words – but God can take your imperfect life and turn it into a beautiful testimony of His grace. Put the pieces of your life in God’s hands Beloved, and worship at the altar of His love.