Advent Day 6 – The Perfect Christmas Gift

“The wise men opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

I believe the best gifts come from those who know us well.  My favorite Christmas present came from my sweet husband early in our marriage.  I was an avid cross-stitcher (back when my eyesight was better) and my beloved went to the local craft store and bought every color of embroidery floss that DMC® made, along with storage boxes to keep them in.  I LOVED it!  I appreciated the gift itself, but what I loved  most was the fact that he paid attention to what I enjoyed doing and took the time to learn about my hobby and what it involved. The gift was great, but the love that went into the gift was even greater.

Without a doubt, our Heavenly Father is the greatest Gift-giver of all.  He who created you knows you intimately.  He knows your dreams and your joys and sorrows. He knows what delights you and what frightens you. He knows your favorite color and your least-favorite relative.  He knows what makes your eyes light up and what keeps you awake at night.  He knows your every thought, your hopes and wishes and your deepest, truest love.  And because He knows you so well, He knew the perfect gift for you—Jesus.

James 1:17 reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  Could there be a more perfect gift than His precious Son?  Is any gift as good as the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17)?  This gift is given with overflowing grace (Romans 5:15).  It is a gift that never wears out, never fades, and never goes out of style – it is the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).  It is not something you have to earn – in fact you can’t earn it – you can only receive it by faith (Ephesians 2:8).    It is a gift of immense love given by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

Have you received God’s priceless, perfect gift?

Read Matthew 2:1-12

 

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Child of God

Antonio Allegri’s Head of Christ – Public Domain

“Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:17)

The story is told of a wealthy husband and wife who traveled around the world collecting wonderful and costly works of art.  Their home was filled with the finest sculptures and paintings.  In time the wife passed away and their son grew up, joined the military and went off to war.  One day a knock at the door brought the terrible news that his son had been killed in battle.  The man shut himself away, alone in the house with all his valuable treasures.  Years later, another knock at the door brought a surprise visitor, a friend of his son from the military.  He held a brown-paper-wrapped package in his hands and told the old man that he had been searching for him for many years to give him a portrait he had painted of his son shortly before he was killed.  The father thanked the friend and unwrapped the package with tears in his eyes.  The painter-friend had captured the essence of his son, especially in the eyes.  He took down his prized painting from above the mantel and placed the painting of his son in its place.

When he finally died his estate announced a great auction and the most important art collectors and dealers from around the world came.  The auctioneer gaveled the auction open and displayed the first painting – the simple portrait of the man’s son.  The auctioneer asked for a bid. No one said a word.  He asked again, who will give me just $25 for this painting?  No one moved.  They weren’t there for sentimentality, they were there for the great sculptures and beautiful paintings.  Finally, one man in the back raised his hand, “I didn’t come here to buy anything, I just wanted to watch, but I’ll take the painting for $25.”

“Going once, going twice, sold to the gentleman in the back for $25.”

Then the auctioneer rapped the gavel on his stand and announced, “The auction is now closed.”

“Closed! How can that be?”  “What about all these paintings and sculptures?  There’s a whole house full of treasures to be sold.”

The auctioneer put down his gavel, “The old man’s will declared that only one painting would be sold – the painting of his beloved son.  Whoever takes the son gets it all.”

God set His beloved Son to redeem lost souls and bring them into His family.  He said that whoever chose to believe in His Son would instantly become His child and would have rights to all He owns – which is heaven and earth and all the universe and eternal life.  The Son is the Way to all the treasures of God – actually, the Son is the greatest treasure of God.  And those treasures can be yours if you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.  It’s an incredible offer – you trade your sinful life for the glory of Christ.  Don’t pass it up.

Whoever takes the Son gets it all.

Lord, You are far and above the sinful creatures on earth, but in Your great love for us, You gave Your Son so that we could have it all – redemption, hope, joy, peace and eternal life in heaven with You.  Only a fool would pass up such a wonderful offer.  I chose Jesus.

The Bigger Picture

world-map“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But that wasn’t enough for me.   I needed to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

Of all the lessons the Lord has taught me in the past 45 years, I think the most powerful teaching has been that of gaining a bigger picture.  We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning big events a year or more ahead.  We plan for college educations and retirement and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Life – real life – is eternal, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to have an eternal perspective in all things.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance and consider what kind of impact it will have in eternity.  Is this struggle I am in going to change my eternal destiny?  Will this difficult season continue on eternally?  Yes, this life hands us some very hard and painful things, but this life is also temporary, and eternity is—well—eternal, it’s forever and ever and ever.  Just prior to our key verse, Paul wrote: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).  Though they often do not feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me towards my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “Will the words I’m about to say have an eternal impact?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that my brother’s beautiful, custom-built home can never match.  I will wear a robe of righteousness forever that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.  Even the events of this world don’t seem so overwhelming when viewed in the light of eternity.

Thinking back to my GPS, when we have a “bigger picture” of life that culminates in eternity, we understand the journey we are on and the route before us.  We can traverse twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches and detours with the assurance that none of these will stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its heartache and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.” Deuteronomy 33:26

I grew up on fairy tales and stories of damsels in distress and spent much of my early life dreaming of my knight in shining armor. It’s such a romantic thought. I would be kidnapped and held captive by someone who was just mean and evil and wanted to defeat everything good. My situation would be so dire, but then, here would come my beloved hero, to defeat the enemy and rescue me. I would be swept up on his white stallion and we would ride off – of course into the sunset – to begin our “happily-ever-after” life together. Even as I grew older and left fairy tales behind, I still looked for that one guy who would right all the wrongs and make everything wonderful. I figured out that, no matter how wonderful he is, no man will every measure up to that expectation.

That is until I met the One Man who did. No, it’s not my husband, though he is a great guy. My beloved hero is Jesus Christ. And the scenario is not just my fantasy fairy tale; it’s really true, for me and for you. It’s true for every person that lives today, that ever lived, and that is yet to live.

There really is someone who is completely evil. His name is Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, and he is the enemy of the One who is pure and good – God, the Heavenly Father. God created a perfect world (Genesis 1:1) and then perfectly created two beings in His image: man and woman – we know them as Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7). Satan slid his way into this perfect place and took them captive to sin, and because of sin, to death (Genesis 3:1-6). This curse of death and sin has been passed down to every human being (Romans 5:12). We are all held against our will by Satan. You may find that strange given how humanity has chosen sin for thousands of years, but our true will – the soul which God placed in man at creation – longs for Him. But our feet are in the stocks, even as we roam the earth, bound by the enemy of God. Why us? Why does Satan attack man? Because we are God’s beloved creation, made in His image, and what God loves, Satan hates.

How it moved God’s great heart with compassion, to see us, His beloved creation bound in chains of sin and unable to rescue ourselves. So He sent us a Hero, a Knight in shining armor. He sent us a Savior, His own and only Son. In what is only a God-miracle, He set His glory aside and poured His divinity into a mortal shell. The perfect Son of God became the perfect Man, Jesus. He came, not on a great steed, but in a young woman’s womb. He came, not to brandish a sword and kill a mortal enemy, but to carry a cross up a hill and crush the head of the enemy of our souls (Genesis 3:15). He came to take on every sin of every person in every age – He came to bear your sin and mine (Romans 6:10). He suffered. He bled. He died a cruel and torturous death for one reason: because He loves you and me. He came to set us free.

He came to give us life –the life we were created for, before Satan and sin took us captive. This life is ours once again, because Jesus did not stay in the grave. God raised Him from the dead, and He is alive today (Ephesians 1:20). His death set us free from the curse of sin (Romans 8:1-2). His resurrection gives us life, eternal life, forever life (1 John 5:11). That “happy-ever-after”? It is a promise, not a fairy tale. Heaven awaits, the place of pure perfection, our forever home (John 14:2). One day, Jesus will come again to earth. He will come to finish the battle of good vs. evil. He will bring His enemy, our enemy, to his final destruction. And guess how He will come? Yep, on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). He will come as the Rider who is Faithful and True – the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And He will right every wrong, and put an end forever to evil.

This is not just a great fairy tale, though the world tries to claim it is. This is the true reality. This is the over-arching picture of God’s plan. He created us. He loves us. He saw us captive to sin and death and evil, and He sent His own Son to rescue us. I hope this is real for you. I hope you have received this gift of freedom and life that God has offered to you. For those without Jesus, the final fate of Satan in their eternal fate as well. The promise of forgiveness and redemption and eternal life is only for those who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. If you do not know Jesus, please examine the evidence in the Scriptures I’ve highlighted. Ask Him to show you the truth. And pray the prayer at the close of this devotional. Please let me know if you do. I want to rejoice with you. If you already know Jesus, pray a word of thanks for what He has done for you.

This is real life. This is the only question that matters: What will you do with Jesus?

Dear God, I know that I am held captive by sin and my fate is death. I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died to set me free from sin and death. I receive this wonderful freedom and the promise of eternal life. Thank you God, for saving me. Teach me to love you and walk in Your ways all my days. Amen.

The Hope of Salvation

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

The nation of Israel looked and longed for the salvation of the Lord.  He had promised to send them a Savior, and so they watched and waited with an eye always turned toward the Temple, the Sanctuary of God.  Today we will look at the Hope of God’s salvation in this fourth day of Advent.

The prophets of Old declared the Word of the Lord; a Word that foretold both coming destruction and coming salvation.  The Jewish people would soon fall to their ruthless enemies and suffer great oppression.  But they had hope, because they had God’s promise for salvation from their enemy.  And so they waited for their deliverer.  They waited, not with a “wishful” hope, but with an expectant hope, confident that the Lord their God would fulfill His promise.  And He did – but not in the way they expected.

You see, Israel’s greatest enemy was not a foreign nation.  Israel’s greatest enemy and ours is death-and Israel, like all mankind needed a Savior who could defeat death and give us life.  That Savior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Advent season is traditionally one of preparation and waiting – waiting with that expectant hope and confidence in the faithfulness of God.  Two people are highlighted in Luke’s Gospel as great “waiters,” Simeon and Anna. Scripture says of Simeon, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…it had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25, 26)  When Jesus’ parents came to the Temple to dedicate the Holy Infant, Simeon recognized the Promise of God and, taking Jesus in his arms, he praised God – “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation…”(v. 30-31). Anna was a long-time widow who gave herself night and day to worship, fasting and prayer.  Verse 38 says “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.”  Did you catch that – “to all who were looking forward to the redemption” (emphasis added).

We live in a world fraught with evil, sickness, hatred and despair.  But we are not hopeless.  We have the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation in the God-man, Jesus Christ.  He alone is our hope for salvation.  It is not a vain hope, for Jesus has already defeated our enemy.  By His death, we are free from eternal death; by His resurrection we have eternal life.

As we rush through stores and celebrations and parties, let us commit to keep one eye always trained on He who is the Hope of all mankind, the Promise of God, Jesus Christ – our Salvation.  The greatest Christmas Gift of all.

Oh Lord my God, You alone are “mighty to save (Zech. 3:17).  I rejoice in Your promise of salvation, a promise You fulfilled through Jesus, born as a tender infant, born to save and redeem me.  My hope is in You, my Savior and My God.  Amen

When My Spirit Grows Faint Within Me

“When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way.”  Psalm 142:3

Have you ever gotten weary?  Weary is more than just tired.

Weary goes down into the bones and drains your energy and hope.  Weary affects body, mind and spirit. You know what I mean.  When the stack of bills gets higher but the job prospects are shrinking, when you take your child to one more specialist, only to hear him say, “I don’t know how to help her.”  Maybe you are in a difficult marriage, have an elderly parent you are trying to care for, or are dealing with an adult child who can’t find his way in life.    Perhaps your work is pulling you down or you are struggling with a particular sin you cannot break free of.  You are weary.

David, the author of Psalm 142, understood weary.  At the time of this writing, David is hiding in a cave from the current King of Israel, Saul, a jealous and unstable ruler.  Though he is an innocent man, he has been running for his life for many long months.  He feels all alone – listen to verse 4-“Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me.  I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.” He describes his situation as “desperate,” (v. 6) he sees himself like a prisoner (v. 7).  He is tired, he is lonely, and he is weary.

But he is also wise, because he knows where to go for strength.

He turns to the Lord.  In this Psalm he says; “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord,” “I pour out my complaint before him,”” (v. 1, 2) Because David is confident of God’s mercy (v. 1), he confesses his weakness and finds the strength he desperately needs in the face of his troubles.  He remembers who God is and encourages himself as he declares that God is his refuge (v. 5), God will rescue him (v. 6), and set him free (v. 7).

The amazing thing about this Psalm is that David knows his destiny is not to run and hide forever.  His destiny is the Throne of Israel; for God, through the prophet Samuel, has already anointed him. He cries out to God, and trusts Him to fulfill what He had already promised.  God knew “the way” he was taking , and He knew the way to bring him to the palace.

David is a wonderful example for us.  He took his needs and his feelings to God. He didn’t put on a brave face before God, but was open with his pain and loneliness. He recalled God’s character and His promise to be David’s refuge and helper.  Did you notice that as David focused his mind on God, his lament turned to praise?  Now David is speaking of his rescue as if it has already happened, and he is planning the testimony he will share on the other side of this difficult time.

Are you weary today? Has the path of your life taken you into the wilderness?  Turn to the Lord, and cry out to Him for strength and hope.  Remember his character and His promises.  Remember that, in Christ, you are a child of the King, and your destiny is eternal life with your Father.  Yes, God knows the way you are taking now, and He knows the way to get you where you belong.

He knows the way home.

Holy Father, when the struggles of this life make me weary, You know my way – because You are right beside me, leading me home.  Amen.